Expressive string technique

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While driving to a rehearsal today  I was completely inspired by Heifetz’s expressive string technique when listening to a marvellous cd of his encore pieces, many of which were originally recorded in the 1940s. My favourite tracks were Jeanie with the Light Brown Hair and Deep River – both of which are full of intense, passionate slides. The cd includes Heifetz’s arrangement of White Christmas – the first time I have ever liked this song – and a recording of him playing a sentimental 1950s pop song on the piano that he wrote himself under the name of Jim Hoyl (see below) .
https://youtu.be/stl4pnBlkaUv

Piano or Strings?
As you can hear,Heifetz brings great warmth of tone to the piano – an instrument which I
think it is the best for just sitting down and enjoying playing music because it is so complete in itself.  What I miss on the piano though is the ability to slide, to crescendo on a note, or to do vibrato – all expressive string  technique that Heifetz uses superbly.
Anyway,  the Heifetz cd motivated me to write my own violin and cello duet arrangement of Jeanie with the Light Brown Hair which you can buy here:
https://www.fedorastrings.com/product/jeanie-light-brown-hair/
Jeanie with the Light Brown Hair

Quartets at Burghley House Stamford

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Yesterday we played quartets at Burghley House Stamford. The architecture of  this Elizabethan stately home is extraordinary and as you drive through the grounds it is almost impossible not to stop the car and gaze in admiration!
Quartets at Burghley House Stamford

The programme
We played in the Great Hall and the minstrels’ gallery, and, as well are normally a duo,  were joined by two members of the excellent Bingham String Quartet – leader Steve Bingham and the violist Brenda Stewart. The programme included Mozart’s Divertimenti, Eine Kleine Nacht Musik and Alleluila, Handel’s Water Music and Vivaldi’s Seasons as well as other well known classical tunes plus songs from West Side Story, Les Miserables and Fiddler on the Roof.
Burghley House Stamford

The setting
This was an especially elegant  and impressive venue and it was a pleasure to play in such a spectacular setting.

Alexander Technique and string performance

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Last year I had some problems with repetitive strain injury and to help resolve these I took lessons in Alexander Technique and string performance. I found the lessons extremely helpful, and they have improved my playing and given me a greater feeling of security. One of the things that especially appeals to me is that Alexander Technique is not just about learning to be as effectively co-ordinated as possible, but  also about how your feelings affect the way you move.

Putting it into practice
The string duet parts  we perform have lots of beautiful cello tunes, so there will be plenty of opportunities to test new approaches out in a concert situation.But the easiest way to observe perfect co-ordination  in everyday life is simply to watch your dog or cat!
alexander technique and string performance

 

String Duet Concert in Leicester

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Yesterday we gave a string duet concert in Leicester at All Saints Church. The programme was mainly baroque music and included our own arrangements of  Clarke’s Prince of Denmark’s March, Corelli’s  Violin Sonata No 1, Handel’s Arrival of the Queen of Sheba, Purcell’s Fairest Isle  (one of my favourites at the moment), some of Bach’s two part inventions,  Pachelbel’s Canon and Vivaldi’s Gloria.

string duet concert in leicester

 

Audience Members
After the concert we  chatted to Father Martin who had been a   professional cellist before he joined the church and had taught at the Menhuin School. This was an occasion where you are suddenly alarmingly aware that some of your audience have been  extremely knowledgeable – but Father Martin was very generous and we came away with happy memories of the event.
To buy our baroque sheet music arrangements click here: https://www.fedorastrings.com/product-category/baroque/

 

Baroque Sheet Music for String Duet

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Roger is busy working on new baroque sheet music for string duet at the moment. We feel strongly that many of the  pieces suitable for wedding ceremonies are not usually performed, and it’s these which we’re intending pioneering. We now have our own versions of Vivaldi’s Gloria, Charpentier’s Te Deum, some movements from a Corelli violin sonata, Jeannie with the Light Brown Hair and Lark in The Clear Air; and more music is underway. My own commitment to this has been to promise to work out how to use Finale Print ( a computerised music notation system), so that I can arrange music myself. .Our other motive is that we love the music and are desperate to play it!

 

A Persian Wedding

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Yesterday we played for a Persian wedding where the reception was at the bride and groom’s home. We’d given a concert here before, at a birthday party last February, so it was especially enjoyable for us to meet this couple and their friends again and be part of such an important occasion in their lives.

We played two Iranian pieces at the start of the reception. We’d prepared these especially for this event  and liked the music so much that we decided to include it in our normal repertoire. There was a Persian wedding ceremony after the traditional church one, and while this took place we moved to the huge and luxuriously furnished marquee in the garden and then played for two hours while the guests chatted and had drinks and canapés before the main meal.

I’d been working as a music examiner in Northern Ireland the previous week and had borrowed a cello so that I could play in the evenings and stay in practice. Roger had arranged Rimsky Korsakov’s Hindu Song , which we performed for the first time, and the whole occasion was very friendly.

 

Fedora Strings’ Recital

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Last week Roger and I gave a recital at Wadenhoe Church, near Oundle. We chose and introduced a programme of our own arrangements of duo music ranging from Mozart and Boccherini to Cole Porter and Gershwin, and included John Rutter’s royal wedding commission This Is The Day as we’d been asked to play something connected to the Diamond Jubilee.Afterthe concert there was food and sparkling wine so we could relax and chat with everyone. Wadenhoe Church is a joy to play in: I think it’s my favourite church in the world.

A Performer’s Guide to Baroque Music

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Last week I came across a fascinating book by musicologist Robert Donington entitled A Performer’s Guide to Baroque Music.
A Performer's guide to baroque performance
About the book
We are playing a lot of baroque music at the moment so I was interested to know what the author would say – although I expected it to be rather dry, a bit like the ornaments’ section of Grade 5 Theory.  Imagine my delight then when , opening the book more or less at random, I came across the following impassioned statement:

“We are of this modern age; and much has changed which could not be changed back even if we so desired. But not our deeper human nature, and not the essential musicianship so intimately bound up with our human nature. These do not change. The start of good baroque performance is knowing that there were ordinary human beings under those concealing wigs and crinolines. Obviously there is discipline in great baroque music: but it is a discipline of strong feeling, strongly ordered. Cold formality and cautious reticence have no place in good baroque style.”

More inspiring quotes 
A little further on he continues:“In baroque music the performer is king. It is baroque spontaneity we are trying to recapture. It is always a mistake in rehearsal to press a point of style against the convictions of the musicians concerned.”

This is worth buying
I couldn’t borrow the book so I wrote the quotes out by hand.I’ll  buy a copy of his book now to find out what else he has to say.  If the rest is as full of feeling as this, it will be a joy to read.

Unaccompanied Bach cd

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This Wednesday I’m going to be recording an unaccompanied Bach cd of cello suite no 1 at Wadenhoe Church. I’ve spent a lot of time listening to other cellists’ recordings, most of which are excellent,  and also recordings of unaccompanied Bach by violinists. With so many superb interpretations around why bother to record it yourself, you may ask? A good question, especially as I usually find solo playing quite stressful.
Bach cd
Why record an unaccompanied Bach cd?
I suppose the main reason is that I love the music, and live performance is so ephemeral and subjective that I would like to have a something permanent which will always remind me of how I play. Performing unaccompanied is revealing and technically demanding, but this suite is very happy in mood.

What was Bach’s life like when he wrote this?
The suite is in G major, one of the most relaxed and calm keys, and was written at a time when  Bach was in his mid thirties, healthy, well respected and had a secure job at the court in Cothen. Some of Bach’s greatest music, including the six Brandenburg Concertos, was written at this time and I think this unaccompanied suite reflects Bach’s confident state of mind. Above all, it expresses that wonderful sense of balance that is so characteristic of Bach’s music and shows a great love of life.

About key colours
About forty years after Bach’s death a scholar called Christian Shubart’s  wrote a book on key characteristics and described  G major  like this: ” Everything rustic, idyllic and lyrical, every calm and satisfied passion, every tender gratitude for true friendship and faithful love – in a word every gentle and peaceful emotion of the heart is correctly expressed in this key.” What wonderful words. If I can manage to achieve just a little of that in my playing of the first cello suite, I’ll be pleased.

 

Arrival of the Queen of Sheba wins award

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Arrival of the Queen of Sheba violin and cello duet wins award

We were  pleased to find out that last week our performance of Arrival of the Queen of Sheba violin and cello duet was chosen to be first on the  Best You Tube Videos of Handel compilation by www.musicsense.org  – especially as there are over 4000 videos of Handel on the internet.

More about the duet and filming
The award winning string duet is our own arrangement. We were lucky enough to have an excellent film crew –  Lux Technical – and  recording engineer – Hugh Davies – and English Heritage very kindly allowed us to make the film at Kirby Hall which is an ideal setting for classical music.

More about the Queen of Sheba
The Arrival of the Queen of Sheba
 music is famous,but who was the Queen of Sheba herself? This work is part of Handel’s oratorio Solomon which is based on the romantic, not to say sexy,  old testament story in the Book of Kings which  tells how the queen arrives in Jerusalem as a guest of King Solomon and  ends up spending the night with him.
Arrival of the Queen of Sheba

What would Handel have thought?
 Handel originally wrote the piece for full orchestra, not string duo, but I imagine he would have been pleased that nearly three hundred years after it was written his music was  still being arranged for  many different combinations of instruments because it was so popular. He’d probably have been impressed that he had such a high profile on the internet too!