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Nucleus



March 24, 08

Serendipity

The body is shoddy and the brain is drained, but what other word can describe the amazing experiences over the past several weeks than "serendipitous"?  Shooting video with my new semi-pro Canon GL2 camcorder featuring clarinetist Jose Franch-Ballester at the Cunningham Piano Factory, sitting on stage at Carnegie Hall with the Philadelphia Orchestra under Maestro Charles Dutoit, discovering Japanese culinary delights in Manhattan with my violin friend Paul Roby, getting invited to write an article for "Piano Magazine" in the U.K., flying out to Cleveland and recording an amazing CD with Gary Schocker in only 2 days, and to top it all off - running into an old friend after almost 15 years, purely by chance at the Philadelphia airport!  There hasn't been any time to really catch my breath, but the ride is exhilarating and the roses are smelling sweet, even if they do tend to fly by at 90 miles an hour!

Life is rich and full - i just wish i was better at finding time to actually blog about it!

(A quick note:  i'm using the new Windows Live Writer to put this blog article together.  Like the nifty "polaroid picture" plugin?)

Jeff Khaner had a good laugh as he mimicked the changes in my seating posture on stage at Verizon Hall with the Philadelphia Orchestra - from edge-of-my-seat rigid with terror, to semi-alert middle position, to a final full-back recline complete with "been-there-done-that" yawn...yeah, yeah, so i'm finally getting the "hang" of orchestra life, har har har!  It's still great fun, and the terror never completely goes away...not yet, at least.  Carnegie Hall was definitely a thrill, and hey - i even got my taxes done on the bus ride there!

Paul Roby, Associate Principal violinist with the Orchestra and a Curtis school buddy of mine, took me out to the most amazing Donkatsu shop for dinner a few blocks away from Carnegie, called "Katsu-hama".  I'm not a big donkatsu fan, since 99% of the time they're pretty poorly prepared in restaurants, but this was a revelation: melt-in-your-mouth pork tenderloin in the most amazing breaded coating fried to perfection, coupled with a sauce that never overpowered the base flavors.  Heavenly!

Afterwards, we walked through Rockerfeller square and ducked into a specialty Japanese confectionary shop, where Paul picked out a box of sweet bean cakes for me and my family.  Again, not a big fan of bean desserts, but this was simply unbelievable!!  The kids inhaled the entire box within microseconds, and i had to dive in to snatch a single cake for myself.  i simply MUST find a way to get back to that shop!!

Here's a quick little souvenir video showing me gawking and fawning over Carnegie Hall - then complaining about how small the hall actually is when trying to fit an entire orchestra on stage!

After finishing the "Masochistic Mandarin" and "Planets" set with the Orchestra, i flew out to Cleveland to record an album with composer/flutist Gary Schocker.  Normally, classical CD's take a full 3 days to record, but things went so well that we actually flew through this project in only 2 days!  Many thanks to the superb production team of Azica records - Alan Bise, producer and Bruce the engineer par excellence -

Alan and Bruce use the same audio software that Da-Hong uses:  Sequoia.  Check out the nifty hard-case setup they have!  Gateway monitor and USB keyboard here...

...linked to a dedicated hard drive/CPU custom-built to interface directly with the Sequoia software.  Sweet!

Repertoire for the album included the Morceau by Faure, sonatas by Poulence and HIndemith, the Reverie and Valse by Caplet, and 2 works by Gary himself - "For Dad", and "Two Flutes on the Loose in Fujian".  Katherine Vogel joined us for the 2 flute piece - she hails as the principal flutist from the South Dakota symphony, and did a superb job!

We stayed at a funky hotel called the Alcazar, built in the 1920's heavily influenced by Spanish architecture and made famous by Cole Porter having written a famous song there.

 

Well folks, it's getting mighty late and the thinker is already heading to la-la land...but let me finish today's recap post with a picture from my serendipitous rendezvous with my old friend Anton Miller, a violinist who i hadn't seen in almost 15 years - we worked together at the old Point Counterpoint summer music camp, then subsequently at the now defunct New Arts Festival in Ft. Myers, Florida for several summers.  It's unbelievable how some people just never age!!  And, wow...what are the odds of running into an old friend like this when traveling on standby flights?



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March 12, 08

Temping with the Philadelphia Orchestra

Best temp job i've had in years - i'm a regular pianist for the Philadelphia Orchestra's auditions and conductor rehearsals, but this is the first time i've actually worked on stage as part of the subscription concert series. This is definitely being chalked up to "learning experience" - Monday's rehearsals saw me flubbing and floundering most of my entrances in the Bartok and particularly in the "Mercury" movement from the Holst, making me a prime target to become the conductor's pinata. Carmina didn't require nearly so much careful coordination with its simplistic, repetitious melodies.

"The Miraculous Mandarin", my foot...that work should be called "The Masochistic Mandarin" instead. Bartok, simply put, is a meanie.

Nevertheless, i'm having a blast, and my tablet pc is still turning out to be a life-saver. I found that scanning miniature scores is much better than full sized scores, since the smaller book format lends itself to closer spacing of the staves and a larger note font in general.

Bartok mini score example

As i mentioned in my previous post, i have an aversion to orchestral tacet counting. The Bartok in particular requires exceptional coordination with the clarinet solos and several other poly-rhythmic tricksy entrances. I absolutely love being able to use my tablet pc's highlighting capabilities within PDF Annotator to quickly see my part buried amidst all the others, as well as creative fingering and beat markings to help me keep on track.

Despite Monday's shaky start, i think yesterday's rehearsal went much better overall. I found myself in a bit of a Goldilocks moment: Monday's pinata beating said that i was too soft. Tuesday's pinata beating said i was too loud. As Luis Biava put it, after cooking the steak too well-done and then too rare, it's now time to aim for "medium". LOL - he's so great!

Sorry for the brevity of this post and its scattered composition - i have to hurry and snarf the rest of my breakfast and take a shower before driving the kids to school and heading out to the orchestra's morning rehearsal. Here are some pictures from my temporary life with the Orchestra:

My partner in crime, David Booth:










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March 07, 08

Out of the pan, into the fire...

A thousand proverbs are reverberating in my mind: "too much of a good thing", "be careful what you ask for", "in for a penny, in for a pound", "fools rush in where angels fear to tread", "The world is full of willing people: some willing to work and some willing to let them ", etc. etc. etc...

Playing "Carmina Burana" with the Philadelphia Orchestra is turning out to be lots of fun, but i may be biting off more than i can chew: the Orchestra just invited me to play next week's subscription concerts as well, which includes the dreaded "Miraculous Mandarin" by Bartok - "fearsome piano part" doesn't even begin to describe the spiny thorns sticking out of this nasty part!! Throw in the celeste part for Holst's "The Planets" and you can be sure i'm not going to be having any free time this weekend...sigh...

If there's one thing about orchestral playing that i absolutely loathe, it's the counting. I've been marveling at the seasoned orchestra players that can sit through 54 measures of rest and come in perfectly and with nary a bead of miscounted sweat! I'm sorry, i run out of fingers after "10", and am too busy with pedals to start counting toes!

My solution? Don't count.

Thanks to my tablet pc, i simply combined my solo part for "Carmina Burana" with the vocal score, allowing me to follow along without the headache of keeping track of long tacets (silent passages in music-speak).

Bartok's Mandarin is going to require something more extreme, as there is absolutely no way in my newbie mind that i'm going to be able to keep track of all that counting on top of getting through the tricksy passages! Thanks to handless page turns with my page turning foot pedal, i'm planning to use a miniature score to follow all the action.

Hope it works...we're heading to Carnegie Hall next Friday with this! Gulp! No Trackbacks | Digg this Bookmark this post on del.icio.us. Submit this post on reddit.com. Submit this post on furl.net.l Bookmark this post on Google. Bookmark this post on Yahoo. Add this post to Technorati Favorites Add post text to Rojo Add this to Co.mments Add this post to Newsvine Add this post to Scuttle Add this post to Shadows Add this to Simpy Add this to Spurl Add this to Squidoo Add this to Stumbleupon

January 09, 08

A Concerto for the Coolest Cats in Classical Music

There are some days that i come home and think that i have the best job in the world. Yesterday was definitely one of those days, after spending time rehearsing a brand new concerto written by Jennifer Higdon for that uber-hip ensemble "Time for Three" and the Philadelphia Orchestra under Maestro Christoph Eschenbach!

Group picture for everyone putting together "Concerto 4-3" by Jennifer Higdon

Bluegrass, rock, classical Americana, combined with special effects from the T43 band galore (bow scrubbing, bass thumping, string slapping, wacky-wild slides...) - Jennifer has really put together a knockout piece that grooves so perfectly with T43's unique sound and musical approach!

These guys really take their rehearsal seriously...

What it looks like to lose yourself in a great piece

Gentle guidance from the composer herself

This was a rarity for me: playing a conductor rehearsal in Verizon Hall itself, rather than in the Maestro's studio. What fun to rip into the piano reduction at full volume!

Nick, Zach, and Ranaan embody an exciting new vision for classically-trained musicians - bold initiative, fearless creativity, rip-roaring fun, mutual respect for each other, an infectious connection with fans and colleagues, all that topped together with artistry of the highest caliber. The future of art music is in awesome hands with these three superstars!

An artsy shot with Zach over Ranaan's bass

Ranaan deserves to look heroic; Jennifer's piece pulls out all the stops with regard to everything you can do with a double bass!

Nick woodshedding onstage at Verizon Hall

I don't know about you, but i guess being a former archer made me fall in love with Ranaan's bow quiver/holster thingy:

Ranaan's cool bow quiver holster thingy

T43 with Jennifer Higdon and Maestro Eschenbach

Go guys, go! This is sure to bring the house down, again and again!

T43 with the Maestro

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December 17, 07

Photo shoot with Christian Steiner

Anyone who is anyone in the classical music world knows that no publicity portfolio is truly complete without a Christian Steiner photo. Some of the most memorable portraits of luminaries such as Pavarotti, Von Karajan, Itzhak Perlman, Leonard Bernstein, and countless others have been captured with Mr. Steiner's lens. Thanks to my recent Hebrew Melodies CD project with violinist Maurice Sklar, i finally had an opportunity to experience a Christian Steiner photo shoot!

Posing with master photographer Christian Steiner in his NYC apartment studio

Many, many thanks to Maury - of all the CD's i've recorded, this is the first time the solo artist has asked me to be part of their publicity photo set. I'm usually relegated to the inner lining (if at all), so to be asked to be part of such a major part of the publicity is a rare and special honor. Here's a picture featuring Maury posing with Mr. Steiner:

Christian Steiner posing with violinist Maurice Sklar

i was struck with the small size of Mr. Steiner's apartment, and the utter simplicity of his studio setup. Somehow i had imagined a vast complex of vaulted ceilings with batteries of cameras, overhead lighting systems, and cavernous rooms with gargantuan backdrop movie studio sets. What a shock to see a basic living room with nothing more than a Bechstein "A" piano, 3 lights, and a 3-color (red, white and blue) paper backdrop frame!

Mastery in simplicity - Christian Steiner's studio layout

Christian Steiner setting up Maurice Sklar with a blue paper backdrop

Christian Steiner preparing a red paper backdrop

There was a powerful similarity between Mr. Steiner's minimalist studio and Da-Hong Seetoo's sparse audio recording setup: both were masters using the simplest of tools to achieve the most incredible results, proving that artistic perfection lies with the eye and the ear, not with the complexity of the technology.

Mr. Steiner shoots his pictures digitally, each shot captured in a 95 MB RAW format on his Canon EOS-1D digital camera:

Christian Steiner's Canon EOS-1D Digital Camera

His mastery really comes to life in the way he sets up his lighting, poses his subjects, and uses the psychology of a trusted musical colleague to put the artists at ease with his vast repertoire of stories and jokes, or in the way he will just gaze at you until he smiles and finds the perfect angle for the shot.

Christian Steiner setting up the perfect light balance on Maurice Sklar for the shot

When it came time to do my solo shots, Mr. Steiner spent a good bit of time exploring all different angles of my profile before decisively concluding that he liked the left side of my face the best ("Your right eye is smaller than your left," he told me). My small eyes were quite a challenge (i've heard that from several professional photographers over the years), and to keep them from squinting closed he purposefully kept me from smiling too much. One neat trick that Mr. Steiner used was to elevate himself on a step ladder, forcing me to naturally open my eyes more to see him at that angle!

I never knew that Mr. Steiner was a pianist himself! That helps to explain the extraordinary rapport he is able to achieve with his classical music clients. In fact, one way that Mr. Steiner keeps an active hand in the performing world is as the founder of the Tannery Pond Concert Series in upstate New York. Here is Mr. Steiner with Nikolai, the "Tzar of Tannery Pond", and his favorite toy:

Nikolai, the "Tzar of Tannery Pond" with Christian Steiner

All in all, it was a grueling 5 1/2 hour photo shoot with a few solo shots of yours truly snuck in for good measure (a much needed update for my own publicity picture portfolio!). I can't think of a more pleasant, inspiring, and artistically captivating photographer to work with! Can't wait for the contact sheets to see how the pictures turned out, bad hair day and all!

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November 19, 07

Under the Microphone: Tales and Tips on Recording CD's

This has been an incredibly busy few months with recording projects. Last month saw me shuttling back and forth to Peabody Conservatory in Baltimore, where i recorded the Janacek and Hindemith violin & piano sonatas with Victor Danchenko.

Recording setup in Friedberg Hall, Peabody Conservatory

Violinist Victor Danchenko

Posing with Tablet PC and Piano in Friedberg Hall

Our engineer extraordinaire was Ed Tetreault, who did a fine job of locating the acoustic "sweet spot" with his beautiful set of Neumann microphones.

Ed Tetreault on the far right, placing microphones

A gorgeous set of Neumann microphones
Note how the microphones are turned slightly away from center - that helped to give a wider stereo pan and a "fuller" tone to the recording. Here's a shot of the internal microphone setup for the piano:

Internal piano mike setup

Peabody has an amazing audio tech setup with a terrific Sony mixing board and even one of those dummy-head microphones that is supposed to produce incredible stereoscopic recordings by simulating the physics of the human head! I'll try to dig up my pictures from our previous session working on the Shostakovich sonata (must be in one of my other computers...) Ed was talking about me coming back down to Peabody for a tech lecture and demonstration at some point next semester for the recording arts students, so i'll keep y'all posted if that comes to pass.

Fast forward to last week, which found me spending about 3.5 days in New York City recording an album of Hebrew Melodies with violinist Maurice Sklar at the prestigious Clinton Recording Studios in Manhattan.

Recording Hebrew Melodies with violinist Maurice Sklar

Everything about this project was high-end top quality - we worked with Da-Hong Seetoo, perhaps the finest classical music recording engineer in the field today with several Grammy's under his belt (Da-Hong produced most of my CD's to date with Aaron Rosand and Jeff Khaner).

Da-Hong Seetoo in his command chair, getting ready to beat us up in the studio

A gorgeous Hamburg Steinway was rented from Pro Piano, complete with piano technician who was constantly on hand to keep the instrument in tune and the hammers nicely scratched (Hamburgs tend to have very hard, densely compacted felts on their hammers - long lasting for sure, but with a tendency to sound a bit brittle unless scratched just so on top).

A gorgeous Hamburg Steinway, rented from Pro Piano

Of course, no Hamburg Steinway is complete without a Tablet PC...

Piano technician John from Pro Piano

The Clinton studios are the most sound-proof recording spaces i have ever come across in Manhattan. Bruce Springsteen apparently was just in the other day working on an album, and the space is used for a lot of orchestra movie music scores.

Maurice and Da-Hong across the street from Clinton Recording Studios

A phalanx of microphone boom stands

Crates full of AKG headphones and vocal wind pop screens

Isolation booth at Clinton Studios

There's even Ed Sullivan's old Steinway (American made) sitting in the studio - a nice, cozy instrument, warm to the touch and ear...

Ed Sullivan's old Steinway

Recording is always grueling work, and this project was certainly no exception. The great thing about having an engineer like Da-Hong is that he's able to make the sessions go by with great efficiency while catching all the details that need to be fixed with laser-like precision. Here are some cool new tips i picked up from this last session:

  • The best way to mute a violin for recording is to stick a rolled up dollar bill between the strings under the bridge (i'm sure a $20 bill will sound exponentially better...lol)

    Dollar Bill violin mute trick

    Detail of the dollar bill mute trick - note how the rolled bill slides under the D and A strings

    You won't believe how warm this makes the violin sound without muffling the high end! Apparently this is a trick well known by orchestra musicians who rush into rehearsals late with missing mutes...


  • The best way to stop a plucked string is with the fleshy part of your right thumb just in front of the bridge.


  • One way to estimate the time it will take to record and fully edit a CD project is with Da-Hong's "10-to-1 ratio" - in other words, he usually estimates that each hour of music will take about 10 hours to record; each hour of recording will subsequently take 10 hours to edit (for a total of 100 editing hours). Keep these numbers in mind when budgeting the use of a professional engineer for a top quality project.


  • Most musicians work best in 2 hour chunks. Sometimes this can stretch to 3 hours, but most folks usually burn out by that time and their playing deteriorates to the point where takes in the third hour become useless. Total daily output shouldn't exceed 8 hours (ex: 2 hours recording, 1 hour break, 2 hours recording, 1 hour break, final 2 hours of recording, go back to hotel and crash for the day)


  • Virtually every CD project i've done takes up 3 days of recording. Budget your time, money, and energy accordingly.


  • Coffee=good. Candy=good. Complex carbs=good. I keep a constant supply of black coffee on hand, along with chewy sugar candies like Bit-O' Honey and Skittles or Fruity Mentos. Beware the post session sugar/caffeine crash though...


  • Keep a sense of humor through the session. Don't waste time apologizing for flubs and musical mishaps - s*tuff happens, get over it and do another take. Smile now. Weep later.


  • BTW, Da-Hong's new session setup allows him to record continuously and mark takes on the fly without interruption. This is an AMAZING way to record, as it keeps the work flow incredibly smooth and seamless! No more, "Hold on, let me get the machine rolling...ok...Brahms, movement two, take 12..." Every recording engineer should learn how he does this!



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    October 16, 07

    Daily Inspiration for the Practice Room

    If you haven't seen this yet, then you really must spend some time over at Dr. Chris Foley's Collaborative Piano blog and his excellent new series of articles titled "31 Days to Better Practicing". Dr. Foley is a master pedagogue with the gift of breaking down materials into bite-sized components, and this series is no exception. Reading through the suggestions ranging from setting a regular practice schedule and warmup exercise ideas, to establishing short, medium and long-term practical goals for your music is sure to inspire you to more constructive and artistically infused practice sessions (and let's face it - at some level EVERYONE hates to practice, especially yours truly!)

    Some of my personal favorites (so far) from the series-in-progress include:

  • Practice Links - A nice collection of tips, tricks and articles from several authors with topics ranging from 'why we need to practice scales' to '5 quick and easy memory tricks', among others.


  • More Practice Links" - Chris has collected a number of great essays and articles on practicing from various online resources here. Be sure to check out his link for finding interesting piano repertoire via Pianopedia!


  • 5 Things to Remember About Fingerings - effective fingering strategies is a personal passion of mine, and Chris does a great job of outlining the reasons for taking this step seriously right from the beginning.



  • Keep up the great work, Chris! A definite "must-read" for musicians at every level!


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    October 15, 07

    Greg Stepanich on Classical Musicians in the Video Blogosphere

    Greg Stepanich from PalmBeachPost.com writes in his Oct. 12th post about the innovative ways classical musicians and institutions are marketing themselves, including an increasing wave of internet videos being used to educate and market classical music. Mr. Stepanich very kindly highlights the blog of "yours truly" as being "one of the most consistently interesting blogs out there..." (Why, thank you!) and points out my video interview with soprano Jacquelyn Familant where she talks about the importance of self-marketing. He also mentions my link to Charles Griffin's website and notes that Charlie is making PDF's of his scores directly available for purchase via PayPal. There's also a terrific reference to the Lynn University Conservatory of Music making their master class and rehearsal videos available for viewing thanks to BandDirector.com. We should see more conservatories following this model, a la shades of iTunes University!

    Many thanks to Mr. Stepanich for recognizing the efforts of musicians trying to find innovative ways to share their art in a visual society!



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    October 03, 07

    Shadow of another Soloist: Midori

    Well, this time i came up even more empty handed in one sense - no autograph, no picture from my conductor rehearsal with violin superstar Midori. This was all i could come up with as a souvenir:


    tn_DSC03745.JPG The concerto this time was by Benjamin Britten. To be honest, i wasn't familiar with the work and wasn't all that impressed when i heard Maxim Vengerov's recording (not to blame Vengerov, who plays it wonderfully - i just found the work way too long and overextended thematically). i suppose one evidence of great artistry is its ability to change opinions - once we ran through the piece with Maestro Eschenbach, i found myself falling in love with the piece, all thanks to Midori's exquisite rendition. Suddenly those meandering lines didn't feel nearly so long, and the lush passagework and extended passacaglia of the last movement gave a complete transport to another world.


    One curious moment: as i checked in with the personnel office, i met Midori face to face as she was looking for an extra towel and introduced myself as the pianist for the rehearsal. She smiled and said yes, she had already seen me. Hm?



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    September 29, 07

    Shadows of Anne-Sophie

    Earlier today i had a conductor rehearsal with Maestro Eschenbach and violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter on the Brahms Violin Concerto in preparation for the Philadelphia Orchestra's Opening Night extravaganza for their 2007-2008 concert season. Several Philly Orchestra colleagues' eyebrows went up in puzzlement when they passed me waiting in front of the Maestro's studio - "Why in the world would she need to rehearse that piece? She already knows that one backwards and forwards!" All i could do was shrug my shoulders and smile - what did it matter? i was looking forward to working with one of the world's most renowned classical musicians!


    Backwards and forwards indeed! The Brahms sounded nothing short of exquisite under Ms. Mutter's hands. Such power and comfortable command of that fearsome piece! And yet, she managed to find extraordinary moments to weave supple rubatos and highly personal statements that wonderfully complimented the towering artifices of the concerto.


    i think Maestro Eschenbach likes to show off my Tablet PC whenever i show up for these conductor rehearsals - he seems to carry such a twinkle in his eye whenever guest artists ogle at my digital music setup, and Ms. Mutter was no exception to that reaction. Best moment during the rehearsal: Ms. Mutter leaning over during the exposition to ask me, "How do you turn the pages?" i replied, "With my left foot!"


    We didn't get to go through the entire work, just key spots for tempi and transitions. What was worse, the Maestro and Ms. Mutter were in such a hurry at the end to get back to the main orchestra rehearsal that i didn't get a chance to snag a tourist picture with Ms. Mutter. Oh well...at least she was kind enough to give me her digital autograph...



    ...and i'll have to settle for this picture as proof of my short, yet extraordinary rehearsal with such a magnificent musician!




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    September 24, 07

    Too much of any good thing...

    i can honestly say that after spending 10 hours playing 2 Mozart Violin concertos over and over and over and over (No. 4 in D major, K. 218 and No. 5 in A major, K. 219) for the huge mass of Philadelphia Orchestra section Violin semi-final auditionees, i am officially sick of both concertos. Mozart-boy-wonder-genius notwithstanding, this is proof that too much of a good thing - even masterpiece-level good - can still eventually spoil even gems of the classical music literature as these.

    Must...have...some...Korngold...

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    May 09, 07

    Pain and Secrets

    Worse than a pronated grip chin-up routine, Schubert's fiendish "Erlkönig" provides a tortured muscle-flailing workout like no other:

    Schubert's Erlkönig - an exercise in repetitive muscle pain

    Think of it: 4 minutes of spastic, non-stop, high-speed, highly coordinated repetitions...my arms feel like falling off barely a third of the way through! What i'd give to be able to play this on a nice, light 19th century Pleyel instead of our modern Steinway elephants...

    My old teacher, Jorge Bolet, was the quintessential master of pianistic cheating. Hand over substitutions, clever fingering, subtle note omissions - his point was as long as it sounded good, who cares how you get the results? Here's my humble approach at cheating the fearsome Erlkönig:

    My Erlkönig cheat

    The red lines indicate where the left hand leaps up to give my right arm some relief - both hands simultaneously finger out the octave orgies with 3-2-1's.

    Interestingly, a YouTube video of Fischer-Dieskau's pianist (whom i suspect to be the famed Gerald Moore, but i could be wrong...) reveals an even cleverer cheat - look carefully at the pianist's hands at the very beginning of the video:



    Here's what this cheat looks like on paper:

    Hey, if it works...

    Essentially what's happening is that the pianist is taking the first note of every right hand triplet (wherever possible) as a single note with the left hand (omitting the top octave note of the right hand). Hey, sounds good to me - and sure is a LOT easier than being slavishly faithful to the masochistic muscle shredding score!






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    April 24, 07

    Bane of the Breeze

    Yesterday was a monster marathon day of viola finals auditions for the Philadelphia Orchestra - 12 straight hours of work! As you can imagine, stress levels were high all around from the participants - accompanying them made me feel like i was the one taking the audition, over and over again. The constant state of intense concentration with no room for error really gets exhausting very quickly, both physically and mentally (and with a nasty cold to boot! Blah!)

    One always tries to come as prepared as possible for these situations, but i really felt bad for some of the folks working with wispy, dog-eared paper copies of their concertos. There was a constant breeze in the hall from the air conditioning system, which in turn made the flimsy paper music flop around and close up for some of the participants, right in the middle of their auditions! Some quick maneuvering from the proctor enabled her to jump around the piano to help keep the music propped up on the music stand, but that certainly can't be something one needs on top of all the stress of the audition itself!

    This is another reason why i'm so averse to paper - no breeze-flopping pages with my Tablet PC!

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    April 17, 07

    Visual Recital 3 by 3

    Yesterday, we had a run-through of my new visualizations designed for 3 piano trio works: the first movement of Beethoven's Trio in C minor, Op. 1 No. 3; the slow movement from Brahm's Trio No. 1 in B major, Op. 8; and the first movement of "Cafe Music" by Paul Schoenfield. During my initial Visual Recital planning meeting with Astral Artists Jennifer Curtis (violin), Susan Babini (cello) and Michael Mizrahi (piano), Jennifer expressed a desire to participate in the 'pedal pushing' activities (she apparently has a lot of experience with a drumset!) My initial idea had been for the pianist to do all the video triggers himself, but getting the other players involved made so much sense!

    The initial problem was finding a hardware solution to allow for multiple pedal and keystroke assignments into a single computer. Fortunately, i found a great product from P.I. Engineering: a USB Switch Interface that allows for up to 12 push button or foot tredle inputs. A friend of mine suggested using standard MIDI Damper pedals with 1/4" - 1/8" mono adapters, and it turns out that they work beautifully as input triggers!

    The P.I. Engineering USB Switch Interface box with 3 damper pedal inputs

    Each pedal was assigned a letter keystroke ("A" for the piano, "B" for the violin, and "C" for the cello).

    Pedals for everyone!

    Happy Feet!

    Splitting the pedal trigger tasks among 3 players makes for a much easier job, particularly in situations with tricky page turns. It also opens up the possibility for much greater complexity and interactive visualizations!

    Running through the visualization of "Cafe Music" with Susan Babini, cello and Jennifer Curtis, violin

    Michael was a brave soul, not only using the pedal trigger for the visual triggers, but also tackling the use of my Tablet PC as a digital music reader with a second footswitch for turning pages!

    Michael Mizrahi tackling both tablet pc's with both feet!

    We're aiming for our first Astral/Visual Recital show at one of the Philadelphia public schools sometime next month. In the meantime, Michael will be borrowing both my Toshiba Tablet PC (which will run the visualizations via Liquid Media) and my backup Fujitsu ST5022D tablet pc as a digital music reader ("Kaylee"), along with the USB Switch Interface and the pedals for the group to practice on. Generous soul methinks i yam, eh? Well, the excitement really comes from seeing other musicians having an opportunity to try out some cutting-edge technology and seeing the true benefits that come from these tools. That can only happen with hands-on experience.

    BTW, special thanks go to David Michie for taking time to show the wares of his beautiful Violin shop (right next to my office!), and to Rich Galassini for the fantastic tour of Cunningham Piano Factory. I'm using pictures taken from both locations for the Beethoven Trio movement, giving a visual "story" of how trees become musical instruments. I can't wait to show you clips from the 'finished product' once we play this show in public!




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    March 27, 07

    Momentum for the Visual Recital Concept

    Things are really beginning to move forward for the Visual Recital concept! Last week i had the opportunity to have lunch with Elizabeth Serkin, daughter of legendary pianist Rudolph Serkin, and Thomas DeWolfe , director of a wonderful classical music outreach program to public schools in Greenport, NY to discuss ideas for how the Visual Recital could be used to connect with young audiences that have had absolutely no exposure to classical music. Much enthusiasm ensued over a delicious lunch at Branzino's! Looks like we'll be aiming to put together a combination workshop/performance project for sometime in the fall, possibly in November, and maybe even some other collaborations with local art institutions in the near future...

    The following day, in a small classroom at Juilliard i had the opportunity to get together with three Astral Artists - violinist Jennifer Curtis, cellist Susan Babini, and pianist Michael Mizrahi - to demonstrate the Visual Recital and brainstorm about creating a new show in collaboration with them.

    Demonstrating the Visual Recital for Astral Artists

    Being able to expose classical musicians to cutting edge technologies like the Tablet PC and multimedia enhancements to live performances is a tremendous credit to both the visionary outlook of Astral Artistic Services and the creative open-mindedness of the artists in their roster!

    Showing my Tablet PC setup for the Visual Recital

    Inara and Zoe, my two tablet PC's

    We're hoping to put together a program of three piano trio movements from Beethoven, Brahms and Paul Schoenfield's "Cafe Music" for a trial outreach at a North Philadelphia public school in May. After having been the only one designing, assembling and operating the whole system single-handedly, it's going to be a lot of fun 'handing this off' to other performers!

    Brainstorming on the new Visual Recital show

    Equally exciting will be the opportunity for the Astral Artists to borrow some of my computer equipment to get some real 'hands on' time with all the technologies i've been so passionate about.

    Showing the Tablet PC up close

    Michael's even open to the idea of trying out my digital piano setup! I can't wait to get his reaction to a program like Pianoteq...

    Michael seems to get the 'WOW' factor when inking with a Tablet PC!


    A warm "Thank You" to Bonnie Slobodien, director of Astral's outreach and education programs, for sharing the wonderful pictures! I'll be sure to keep you all posted on the young wings of the Visual Recital concept!

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    Welcome!

    Thank you for visiting this site! I hope you'll find this to be a friendly place to learn about and discuss the fascinating technologies available for the Classical Musician. A great place to get started is with the ongoing "Getting Started" series. Remember, the worst questions are the ones you never ask, so feel free to email me!

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