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Monthly Archives: September 2011
We sat down with this weekend’s guest violinist James Ehnes to discuss Brahms’ Violin Concerto, his favorite things about Houston and much more!
How long does it typically take for you to prepare for a concerto?
(The Brahms Concerto) is one of the ones that comes around most often. I’ve performed it I’d say 30 or 40 times. For a piece like the Brahms, you have to get into it pretty thoroughly every time. The thing that’s nice about pieces that you’ve played a lot is that they don’t go away in your mind, they stay there, so when I pick them up, it’s not a question of if I remember how it goes or what I want to do with it musically, it’s really just solidifying it in the hands and getting the hands retrained. You can get into a routine of how you play things, so it’s important to try to give it some sort of a fresh start.
What makes the Brahms Concerto so difficult to play?
The thing about the Brahms Concerto is that there are parts of it that don’t sound very difficult, but they are. I think when the piece was first written a lot of violinists didn’t want to perform it because it didn’t look like it was a lot of work, but it really was! Part of what makes music great is that it makes unique challenges for the player. If you haven’t seen it before, it seems difficult to the point of being unfair, but if you’re a violinist, you play the concerto – it’s what you’re expected to do!
What’s your favorite thing to do post-performance?
Performances take on a very different meaning in your life when you’re doing 90 a year – I just take it how it goes. The performances themselves are still very special, but one of the luxuries of doing enough of them is that you don’t have to get completely freaked out before them – so there’s no need to really “wind down” or analyze your playing.
This is your 6th time performing with the Houston Symphony – what do you like most about our fair city?
One thing that’s great is that I have a lot of friends in the orchestra, who take me places they really like. I’ve got some friends that live in Rice Village and like exploring really cool restaurants and bars. I’m disappointed I’m going to miss the Astros on this trip – I love going to the ballpark!
How did you know you wanted to be a professional musician?
Most people, when they start playing music, see it as a hobby. I didn’t know any amateur musicians as a kid, I knew only professional musicians, so I didn’t think music could just be a hobby. From the moment I started playing I thought ‘maybe I could be like my dad’ who was a trumpet teacher, and saw it as a very legitimate career option. At the point later on when you have to start thinking about that stuff, I never had to – I knew I’d play the violin.
Do you still get nervous before performance?
I do sometimes, but it has much more to do with outside factors in my life (being overtired, for example) than with anything having to do with a reasonable cause for being nervous. I pride myself on being prepared and knowing what I’m doing.
More facts about Violinist James Ehnes:
- James started playing the violin a month before his 5th birthday, and also plays the viola and piano.
- He performs approximately 90 concerts a year.
- James doesn’t believe in pre-concert rituals – he thinks they ultimately do more harm than good.
- Before the end of 2011, James will perform with the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra, Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, as well as other orchestras in Germany, Sweden, Canada and more!
For more information about this weekend’s concert, Brahms’ Violin Concerto, please click here.
Today’s blog post comes from Allison Jewett, who while on medical leave from playing her piccolo in the orchestra has found a way to stay involved … by singing in our very own Houston Symphony Chorus! Continue on to read her perspective on this weekend’s concert, Opening Night: Ode to Joy, and what it’s like to be performing in a different role on stage.
Alle Menschen werden Brüder…
All men become brothers…
Freude! After 50 minutes of brilliant music from the orchestra, the word comes from the chorus without warning. It just couldn’t be contained any longer - JOY! It is what makes Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony an epic and all-time favorite for so many people worldwide. I can promise I’ll be bursting with joy from my seat for this performance, although my seat will be in a slightly different location than usual.
Instead of playing piccolo, I’ll be singing in the chorus! For me, this is a much anticipated return to the stage of Jones Hall. I have not played my flute or piccolo for almost a year due to a neurological condition called focal dystonia. For some musicians, dystonia appears as a lack of control in a finger or two, making it impossible to play fluidly. For me, dystonia affects the facial movements of my embouchure. The cruel result is that I can barely make a sound. Heartbreak!
So, determined to get back on stage I began searching for a new voice. Where did I end up finding my voice? In the highest range – surprise – I am a first soprano! Beethoven’s Ninth is known for its über-high soprano part. But those high-high notes are where my voice is right at home. You see, those same notes at the upper extremity of the soprano range are right in the middle of the range on the flute. Home! Turns out my singing voice isn’t so apart from the voice I thought I had lost. For me those high notes don’t seem out of reach, like an extreme that is just on the edge of possible. When I see those notes on the page my brain thinks: no problem! Joy! Not that singing doesn’t present me with so many challenges. For me the difficulty lies underneath where for most is a more comfortable range.
I like to think of high notes like flying. No matter how dark and stormy it might be on the ground, as soon as you get above the clouds the sun is sure to be shining. There is always an altitude where the light is bright and smooth sailing is guaranteed.
Transcendence! The power of this joy comes with sharing it, and that is what Beethoven 9 is about. It is an awesome feeling joining my voice with so many others. We can’t wait to share our joy as we sing for you:
Alle Menschen werden Brüder…
Froh, wie seine Sonnen fliegen
Durch des Himmels prächt’gen Plan,
Laufet, Brüder, eure Bahn,
Freudig, wie ein Held zum Siegen…
Seid umschlungen, Millionen!
Diesen Kuß der ganzen Welt!…
Freude, schöner Götterfunken!
All men become brothers…
Glad, as His suns fly
Through the Heaven’s glorious design,
Run, brothers, your path,
Joyful, as a hero to victory…
Be embraced, millions!
This kiss for the whole world!…
Joy, beautiful spark of divinity!
Hear Allison and the Houston Symphony Chorus sing during Opening Night: Ode to Joy, this Thursday at Sugar Land Baptist Church, or Friday and Saturday at Jones Hall.