Monday, June 25, 2012

Assault on Brevard 2012-- Brevard Music Center Week 0

By Matt Lammers of Fein Violins

It feels like it's been just a couple days, but Brevard "week 0" has come to an end. I jumped on a plane in Minneapolis, flew to Charlotte, took a shuttle (...Honda mini van) to the quaint Asheville Airport a couple hours away, and boarded a school bus to complete the sojurn to Brevard, NC, just seven days ago. Here I was greeted by a phenomenal collegiate student body and faculty (high school students and pianists didn't arrive until yesterday).

Scenic Brevard, NC



I disembarked from the well equipped Honda in front of the flagstone facade of the Asheville Airport. It wasn't your typical international airport atmosphere; every other car was a Mercedes S-class with a limousine-extended wheelbase, and it struck me as though most of the guests at the ground transport lane were arriving in North Carolina to set up shop at their quaint summer homes. Having been informed that a "shuttle" would be retrieving me from the airport, I was perplexed by a full size school bus parked on the crosswalk in front of the automatic doors. I wandered inside to track down someone that was in the loop, and I was greeted by a pair of Brevard RAs (resident advisers) rushing frantically to keep track of who had arrived and who may have been floating around the Hudson River on what used to be their cello's seat cushion. Despite this I was warmly welcomed to the south, and my bags were deposited gently into the back of...the school bus. Undeterred by the boiling hot vinyl seats and reinvigorated by a few of my friends from Vanderbilt sweating at my side, I was once again in motion towards some exciting musical prospects. Our bags were generously carried to our cabins by some RAs, we were checked in by an energetic administrative staff, and all the time left in the day was used to get settled in and antsy for the auditions looming over the next day. We settled into our tiny rooms that hadn't been inhabited for eight months--we hope--and mentally ran through our auditions until we succombed to travel induced exhaustion.

The Asheville Airport

One of the BMC's (Brevard Music Center) more notable residents, the white squirrel. There are six on campus

The following morning we woke up to a somewhat paltry breakfast spread and explored the practice rooms. Until the high school and piano students arrived this was not a difficult task. However as of Friday finding a room has been risky business; by the time a high school student is intimidated by our "collegiate bravado" or a pianist comes down with tendonitis, the obscene humidity has time to condense all over our best-friends-for-no-less-than-eight-hours-a-day and make us uncomfortably hot before an already sticky practice session. After warming up on Don Juan, Beethoven's 9th, and Bruch's Scottish Fantasy I made my way to the audition space, an extremely acoustically dry room compared to the boomy practice rooms. The purpose of these auditions was to seat us in the orchestras and place us in studios and chamber ensembles. I came to Brevard with the latter two pre-planned, so my goal was to seat well enough in the orchestras to play alongside a faculty member and to give the panel a good first impression. To my surprise the entire violin faculty, with the exception of Preucil, was there. Slightly phased, the Bruch didn't go quite as planned, but I redeemed myself with excerpts. Comforted by a thankfully warm "good job" from Dr. Huebl as the panel left for lunch, I did the same.

The view from my practice room. Beautiful when indoors, but entrance and exit is made difficult by a hive of surly wasps

For week 0 the college division was split into our two permanent rotations. For this first week, however, both would be playing in the Brevard Music Center Orchestra (or BMCO, where college students and faculty members play side-by-side in the ensemble). My rotation played the opening night's concert on Friday, and the other performed its program Sunday afternoon (see BMCO and Brevard Sinfonia Repertoire). For the next six weeks one rotation will perform with the BMCO while the other will appear as the Brevard Sinfonia, the orchestra comprised of the remaining college students.

The BMCO's home base, Brevard's outdoor auditorium

The BMCO rehearsed two and a half hours a day until our concert. The experience was fantastic. I played in the back of the first row of first violins, which proved to be a great learning experience. Ben Sung, a professor at FSU (Florida State University), spouted tips for compensating for the sound and feedback lag that challenges players in the back of the section. My stand partner from CIM (Cleveland Institute of Music), another of the six students Preucil has agreed to teach (see Brevard Intro), and I were grateful. Equally exciting was the level of musicianship across the orchestra. It was great being able to follow in the footsteps of the faculty, but there were few weak links among students as well. This made for an invigorating, inspiring atmosphere (pardon the musical and educational cliches and alliterations) where playing of the highest level was demanded of us. The culmination of all of this at the opening concert on Friday was, however, even more exciting. For the first time in my life I can say that I had a genuinely fun time performing. Not in a purely satisfying, accomplished way, but in a way that combined a high quality performance with a kind of improvisatory hooliganism. By the last two pages of the Strauss those of us in the back of the section, faculty and student alike, found ourselves dancing the frenzied waltz in our seats, as if all were leading the orchestra and spitting out gestures with our concertmaster, Mr. Preucil. The first three pieces were no different. When the Rosenkavalier at last spiraled to a close, we accepted our applause and shouts of "Bravo" with sweaty brows, laughs, and tired bodies (I even saw a faculty member, who shall remain unnamed, give a hearty smile for the first time all week). Sunday's Tchaikovsky concert was equally entertaining from the audience, even after spending two hours in the parking lot directing irate patrons through traffic in an orderly fashion for work study.

Part 1/2 of Strauss' Rosenkavalier Suite

Part 2/2

Finally, on Saturday I had my inaugural lesson with Bill Preucil. We worked on the first movement of the Brahms G Major Sonata, and it was awesome. I was apprehensive enough to be playing for a musical deity, and I was further unnerved by nearly walking in on some high school auditions where my lesson was supposed to be. I spent the next ten minutes running frantically up and down studio row until I spied him peering out from behind the undergrowth to flag me down in the hopes of avoiding attention at the same time. After a brief warm-up (or in my case, warm-down from my jog around campus) he greeted me warmly and we began. Everything went uphill from there. He stopped me after the first movement and opened with his wise, 40 year old interpretation of what Brahms was trying to communicate. Before long, the melancholic micro-phrases began to differentiate themselves in sound and intent from their hopeful sounding counterparts as my understanding of the piece grew. I finally knew what I was meaning to do: reproduce the bittersweet love and longing Brahms felt for Clara Schumann. I find this sort of musical direction especially useful as a guide to find my own musical motivation. After this revelation and some technical advice as to how I should make my intent especially communicative, we moved on to some of the nitty-gritty grunt work of playing the violin. He shared with me his fingerings and bowings that have survived the test of time and performance as well as other golden morsels of advice for execution. Who knew you could spend ten minutes perfecting eight bars of half note pizzicato? There are, however, about five minutes of the lesson that are a bit of a blur. I spent these ogling his Strad.

Bill Preucil and his gorgeous Stradivarius

To finish up for this week, some trivial complaints:

  • It's humid
  • It's hot
  • It's so humid you can feel water condensing on your forehead walking out of a practice room
  • We have to go into town to do laundry
  • It's so humid my bow got wet when I put it near the A/C
  • We have to climb a mountain to get to our dorms
  • It's so humid we have to hang our towels outside to keep mildew out of the dorms
  • The shower heads are a bit weak
  • It's so humid someone's flute exploded on Thursday
  • The food is a bit hit-and-miss
  • It's so humid none of the practice room doors fit the frames
  • The wireless internet is a legend that only a privileged few have witnessed
  • It's so humid I'm staying hydrated by breathing
  • Your practice room becomes fair game if you leave for more than ten minutes, barely enough time to get to the restroom and back
  • It's hot and humid

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