Yo-Yo Ma on Intonation, Practice, and the Role of Music in Our Lives

Reprinted from Strings Magazine, September 17 2015

By Martin Steinberg:


A cellist walks on a beach and picks up a bottle. A genie pops out and says, “I give you two wishes.” 

The cellist says: “Wow, I’d like to have world peace.” 

The genie thinks for a second and says, 

“That’s too hard! What’s your second wish?”

The cellist says, “Well, I’m turning 60 and I want to play in tune.” 

The genie thinks for a second and says, “What was your first wish again?” 

Musicians, take heart. That joke was told by the cellist Yo-Yo Ma during an interview ahead of his 60th birthday on Oct. 7. After 55 years of playing, yes, even Yo-Yo Ma needs to practice. Continue reading

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Opening the Beethoven A Major Cello Sonata: Obsessing Over the First Five Bars

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By Brian Hodges:

The five Beethoven Cello Sonatas are iconic for a number of reasons. First and foremost, they’re some of the first pieces to include the cello in a true duo partnership, something the violin had been enjoying for a long time.

While the first two sonatas (Op. 5, 1 and 2) are actually listed as Sonata for Piano and Violoncello, things have changed by the third sonata, Op. 69 in A Major, with the cello now getting top billing. The sonata was written during Beethoven’s middle period and immediately one can sense his expansive creativity at work in full force.

Continue reading

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Petition to Change British Airway’s Instrument Baggage Policy

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Reprinted from The Violin Channel on 6-11-2016

A change.org petition has been launched today calling for British Airways to change their instrument baggage policy – following a June 4th incident at Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport where Dunedin Consort Concertmaster, Cecilia Bernardini was refused entry inflight with her 18th Century violin and case. Continue reading

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Some Hassles of International Cello Travel

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By Zachary Mowitz:

Curtis Institute cello student Zachary Mowitz tells the story of his recent travel to Europe, and the stress and aggravation caused by inconsistent cello policies between airlines, and untrained and uninformed airline personnel.

As a student cellist I’ve had several occasions to travel by plane with my cello, both domestically and internationally. This is the first journey where I’ve had any difficulty at all– every time I’ve traveled before, I’ve always been let on (I even traveled to Europe with Lufthansa a couple years ago, and they were one of the most helpful back then), with at most a look of incredulity at my bringing a big guitar on board. Continue reading

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Curtis on Tour is Stalled by Airline Refusal To Take Cello

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Reprinted from Slipped Disc May 21, 2016

Students from the Curtis Institute were boarding a plane at Philadelphia this weekend at the start of a tour of Spain when a Lufthansa official refused to take a cello on board.

The cellist, Zach, had to take another plane – American Airlines, no problem with cello – but he could only get a flight to London and spent many hours trying to connect up with the others in Valencia. Continue reading

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Great Chamber Music Reading and Watching

Besides enormously enhancing listening skills, chamber music study also develops a players’ ability to sight-read, note read and watch. These are skills that are vital in orchestral situations as well. However, this is not about that kind of reading and watching! This is about books, movies and videos that will also greatly enhance the skills of anyone playing chamber music. Continue reading

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So Why Is Improvisation So Important?

Like so many classically trained cellists, improvising was never something that I felt very comfortable trying. And although most of my professional life has been in the world of new music, improvisation was not something that I had explored in depth until a few years ago.

My improvisational journey began literally the day after my final day with the Kronos Quartet when I played a concert at The Stone in New York with John Zorn and several others on one of his monthly improv nights. For those of you who have never been to one, the way that these concerts work is that everyone sits downstairs in the basement and one by one people decide in the moment who plays with whom. It can be duos, trios or quartets – you literally have no idea what you are playing or whom you are playing with until two seconds before walking upstairs. Everyone then comes together at the end to play in one giant improv. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I was taking my first step into a new world that, over time, has increasingly become a large part of my performing life. Continue reading

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A Chamber Music Concert is Worth a Thousand Words

One of the goals of good teaching is assisting students to develop into interesting, compelling and communicative artists. Of course, there are many influences that create artistic musicians and many of them can be discussed and demonstrated in lessons. However, one of the factors that I believe is extremely important is also one that cannot actually happen in a lesson. For it to get done, you must often rely on the parents of your students or, for collegiate students, the student themselves.

That factor is getting students to attend concerts to hear and watch professional and artistic musicians performing “live”. Continue reading

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100 Cello Warm-Ups and Exercises Blog 21: Alexanian Exercises

Today’s Blog is devoted to some thumb position exercises by Diran Alexanian that my teacher in Freiburg, Spanish cellist Marcal Cervera, gave to me in 1972. These exercises are not in included in Alexanian’s seminal book on cello technique, Traite Theorique et Pratique du Violoncelle  (Theoretical and practical treatise of the violoncello).Alexanian’s book includes several pages of other thumb position exercises (pages 125 ff.) which are well worth practicing, but I believe that these 13 exercises have never actually been published.  I do not know how Cervera got these exercises, but I copied them from his notebook, and studied them with him.  I find them to be very useful.

Alexanian was born in Armenia in 1881. He became Casals’ assistant at the École Normale de Musique in Paris. His treatise was endorsed by Casals (on the cover it says “compiled in complete accord with Pablo Casals”), and in the preface Casals writes: Continue reading

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What?….I have to listen too??

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For seven long minutes he stood. Then he stirred
And he said to the bear, “do you know what I heard?
Do you see that far mountain…? It’s ninety miles off.
There’s a fly on that mountain. I just heard him cough!
Now the cough of a fly, sir, is quite hard to hear
When he’s ninety miles off. But I heard it quite clear.” Dr. Suess

In Dr. Suess’s story, “The Big Brag”, the rabbit goes on and on about how well he can hear. Of course, that is not the point of the story, which is about how dumb it is to brag about how great you are. (That is a possible topic for another article…not that musicians ever do that!). But it does have an important message that many musicians, especially younger musicians need to learn. Our ears are remarkable and can hear at an amazing level of detail. But it is also remarkable how poorly many music students really listen. Continue reading

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