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Back on Stage...(III)

The last Open Podium evening in Nordhorn (see Back On Stage II) encouraged me in a positive way. The preparation routine served me well. Time for the third edition of my performance practice!

A theme performance around an individual composer - last time it was Alfred Cottin, a late 19th century French composer - appeared a useful concept. It provides a bit of consistency in the programme and it’s a nice opportunity to present relatively unknown composers.

This time I selected works by the Spanish composer/guitarist Jose Ferrer (1835 - 1916), romantic music in a friendly style. It’s no dead easy music, but it is not so difficult that it causes cramp in your fingers. The only criticism from my guitar teacher is, that the music is rather predictable. On the other hand, complex contemporaries that are hard to understand will not entertain a general audience either. Moreover, I like to play these "predictable tunes" myself.

I had three pieces in mind, in sequence of advancing difficulty Tango Nr. 3, Gerbe des Fleurs and Charme de la Nuit. The advancing difficulty was a hint from the past, start with something more easy to get used to the stage pressure and warm your fingers.

Tango Nr. 3 sounds typically tango! Outer movements in A minor and a middle section that flees into the warmth of A major. The triplet - two eigths structure is often used. I had to keep in mind to stretch the triplet a bit in relation to the eigths and to play these constructions consistently throughout the piece because they are characteristic features. To keep things exciting, the piece has a few nice position changes.

Gerbe des Fleurs - the Flower Basket - is a little suite with the movements Cantilene Espagnole, Pavane, Mazurka and Berceuse. All pieces are spiced up with the characteristic romantic grace notes.

Cantilene Espagnole is a dansant piece in 6/8 measure. The characteristic Spanish harmonic modulations make the piece quite familiar. Ferrer often composed in a strict almost rigid structure. Just like this piece: Theme, little excursion, clear transition and back to the theme. This clarity works well with a performance.

Pavane might cause some dispute concerning the tempo. With a Pavane I am thinking a bit in terms of slowly and stately, but that did not fit this piece. So I’ll play it lighthearted and a bit quickly. Doing so, I must take care to put the emphasis on the leading note rather than on the grace notes.

On paper, Mazurka looks the most easy piece. Appearances are deceiving indeed, this piece is tricky in its own way! The first phrase resembles a Viennese Waltz, the Mazurka character does not show up before the second phrase. Because the piece must be played fast, slurs are a good solution. Unfortunately they are hard to play smoothly on specific positions. A fast tempo has a disadvantage, the piece is over before you know it. So I add a da capo after the repeats.

Berceuse is a lullaby in 6/8 measure. Here the atmosphere and the tranquility is important. So I should not cut 16th notes, but give them time to sing.

The final piece: Charme de la Nuit. This is the most challenging piece, so I’ll keep that as the last one. As we are used from Ferrer, the piece has a clear structure. An introduction leads to a Cantabile phrase that must be repeated once. Then we arrive at a middle section that starts easily but gets more excitement on the run. A cadenza forms the conlusion and the intro to the repeat of the Cantabile. Then the piece gets an appropriate ending with some nice broad chords.

Charme de la Nuit has more technical issues. Tranquility is important, do not hurry the Cantabile, even though you climb up the fingerboard and slide down again. Do not accelerate in the Cadenza either, if you do so, you are bound to fail.

I practiced this programme like last time. I put the scores in the binder in sequence and rehearsed them including page turns. Once every day and if a piece was not satisfactory in my opinion, I gave the relevant passages some extra attention.

Of course I practiced in the dark with my Mighty Bright again.

As an extra, I wrote down my announcement for the pieces in German and put it in the binder in front of the pieces. Last time the announcements in this foreign language did not go very well, so a little A4 with some remarks would spare me the tedious search for the right words.

At a certain moment I noticed that my motivation for the daily rehearsal dropped a bit. Maybe that was the point to take it more easy. I started again the last weekend before the open stage.

This time an extra addition to the programme emerged. Sarah Rootveld plays the celtic harp and would like to hit the open stage as a surprise for her brother. Because life on stage is more pleasant in ensemble setup, we decided to play a piece together. So I made an arrangement of a harp song - Love for Ever More - a song with the sound and atmosphere of an Irish folk song. I would play the melody with some variation and I would abbreviate the piece slightly because five stanzas were a little bit too long.

It has been quite a while for me for serious ensemble play! After two rehearsals and some adaptations we were ready for it.

***

On the Open Stage evening I noticed that more and more players had found the stage. This time my wife Erna went with me. That’s a good sing because normally she rather stays home than seeing me "suffer" on stage (she recognizes that much better than the average person froim the audience)..

I was scheduled right after the first break, so I had all the time to get in the mood in a positive way.

The advantage of the schedule was that I could do the ritual of getting seated and tuning in the break, the concert hall was almost empty. That was a nice opportunity to move the fingers a bit. Obviously I did the warming-up with other pieces than the ones I was going to play, just to keep the element of surprise.

The cooperation with Sarah on her harp was excellent. The ensemble sounded beautiful and my guitar appeared sufficiently loud to play a convincing melody.

Sarah left the stage and there I was, all alone! The sheet with the announcements in German appeared quite useful, I was not at a loss for words.

The Jose Ferrer programme went well. I had just a few glitches and I kept my balance sufficiently to be able to phrase. That brought me a bit of tranquility. With dynamics I did not as well as I liked. At times I had the impression that I overloaded my Kwakkel. I guess it is psychological, because the instrument has a lot of power in its sound, reaching the back rows should not be a problem. A practice spot for the next time, I guess I have to exaggerate more and start my crescendo’s much softer.

My right hand fingers showed me, that I was not playing completely stress-free. As a consequence of sweaty fingers the string contact became a bit fuzzy at times, so it seemed I could not play full power. Compare it to yelling with a hoarse voice. Luckily I left my finger nails long enough to protude above my (slightly swollen and sweaty) fingertips. A point of attention, keep nails sufficiently long, even if it looks uncomfortable at home!

The adience was quite satisfied and so was I! A nice step towards playing on stage more easily!

Thus I was able to enjoy the rest of the programme, and the aprés musique!