Wednesday, July 18, 2012

A Double Dose of Schubert at Humboldt, Day Two

The Schubert Trout Quintet is a very famous and beautiful piece of music. Orchestral bass players often get to play it--or you may even say HAVE to play it--to satisfy the cravings of other musicians to play along with the biggest member of the string family.

Well, luckily, I LOVE the piece. I've already had two runs through it--and it's only Wednesday early morning.

The Piano Quintet in A major (Trout is really its nickname) is called that because it's based on a song Schubert wrote about the sad tale of a fish who struggles with the fisherman and dies (that's the thumbnail description). In reality, it is an achingly beautiful piece that gives a pianist and one representative from each member of the string family a workout.

My group met about 9 a.m. in our practice room to start. I was a little miffed because I had climbed the stairs to grab my bass, carried it all the way down to our morning meeting spot, only to find out that my assigned room was across the hall from my locker! Back up the stairs I went.

We quickly got down to business and the lovely sounds of the piece wafted through the room. After around 45 minutes, Daniela, our coach arrived. She did what good coaches do, and helped us identify areas we needed to work on (namely, all of it!). We selected the first movement and had to make a cut to get it down to a five-minute playing time. Then, we worked on the rough patches, and especially on the usual goal--playing well together.

We had no problem as people--I had a nice group-as I always seem to have. One of the many wonderful things about playing for five days in a row is that you get a different set of new friends each day. In this case, I had already played with two of the members and two were new to me. We worked through the piece in two morning and one afternoon practice sessions, broken up by our a.m. coffee break and lunch.

Strange for July--even in Northern California--was genuine rain--so our breaks were inside. I wore my porous and absorbent Levi jacket, but seemed to fare fine--it was not windy or particularly cold, so it just felt refreshing.

The joys of chamber music are great--if you like that kind of thing. We worked hard, but saw, over the day, our performance pick up speed, lock together, and by the end we were pretty happy that we had it down well. We drew the absolute final performance of the day, so we played after dinner. I wasn't sure I'd like that, but I had heard so much fine music by our turn that I was really in the mood.

After a brief reconnection before the evening session--and a few minutes in the green room, we stood backstage waiting, listening to a finely rendered trio just ahead of us on the other side of the curtain. Then, we strolled onto the stage for our turn.

It's funny that the stage looks far away from the seats but the people look close when you're up there. I glanced out briefly, but spent most of my time and attention on my music stand--and feeling my fingers on the familiar fingerboard of my bass as I listened and played along with our group. Nana, our violinist, counted us in and off we went!

The bass part has some wonderful half and whole note runs that flow below the more active melody parts that are incredibly enjoyable to play. One section, in the middle, is a piano solo, and I like to sing along with the part. One of my colleagues noticed this and teased me about it later (in a good-natured way, of course). Sorry, it's the Trout, and I can't help myself.

After our successful performance (we came back for a second set of bows), I went right behind the stage to a practice room to tackle Schubert's Octet. In this case, we played as a tiny orchestra, with violin, viola, cello, bass as well as oboe, bassoon, clarinet and horn (is that right?).

The piece is fairly long and twists and turns through slow and fast sections, but other than a few stops to re-sync ourselves, it flowed along nicely. I was pleased that all the players sounded good--and seemed to be having as much fun as I was. By around 10 p.m. we played the final notes, and smiles broke out everywhere. We had made it--and topped off another fine day of chamber music.

Then--two hours of drinking and snacking in the dorm meeting room. Ah, the college life!

No comments: