NY Phil Audition Challenge: Week 14

Until this week, this was my most recent experience with an etude.

Standing in a very early morning lesson, in a studio in one of the world’s ugliest music buildings, with my teacher. I’m in grad school, relearning yet another piece I studied in middle school. It’s Kreutzer 11—an etude my teacher calls “the Diamond Etude,” because, he says, if you play it well, your instrument will ring and shine and sound like diamonds. Apparently, I am not playing it well. My head is cloudy; I’ve been up for hours already, on way too little sleep. My teacher stops me every time he disagrees with my intonation. I start over, over and over again, trying, and constantly failing, to make it sparklier.

The next week, I brought something else.

I have a (possibly unsurprising) confession to make: I haven’t practiced real etudes since I was in school.  I’ve done scales and intervals and shifting exercises and bow exercises, but the prospect of picking out an etude and spending practice time on something akin to repertoire, but which I would never, ever use… Well, I would think about it, think about the many miserable lessons I’d spent slogging through Mazas, Kreutzer, Rode, Campagnoli, about the hundreds of choices contained within those books, and decide that maybe I should just tackle my technical challenges in context.

I know, I know, I’ve probably been shooting myself in the foot.

But you know what? It wasn’t as bad as I remembered. In fact, it felt a lot like working out—that same kind of satisfying, disciplined work that's so easy to forget you can enjoy once you stop doing it.

In case you missed it, these are the week 14 requirements. First three pages of Schradieck, Kreutzer 9, Rode 6, some preliminary spiccato exercises, and the Classical concerto.

Oh, and creating a practice log!

I just took some weekly planner pages and added them to my excerpt binder. I labeled them and dated them (a great way to waste time, by the way). I've never been so diligent about logging my practice time, even though I find it helpful, so I'm going to continue to share my practice logs in the coming weeks. (Eek.)

Practice challenges and strategies:

PSA: the viola edition of Kreutzer on IMSLP has the etudes numbered differently. My physical copy of Kreutzer is buried deep in some pile somewhere, so I practiced the wrong “#9” for a few days, all the while thinking it didn’t seem right. That was dumb, but lesson learned—always double-check that you have the right music, the right excerpt, the right edition, everything, before committing significant practice time to it. However, practicing the one called #9 in that edition (which is actually #10, an arpeggio exercise) was definitely still good for me. It's never bad to practice arpeggios.

I also didn’t practice Dont for the first two days because, honestly, I had to wait for it to be delivered. Somehow I skipped it when I was young and just never studied it, so I never owned a copy (until now). I always felt kind of cool at summer festivals when my friends were stuck in Dont and I was already doing Kreutzer. Currently regretting that superiority. Maybe it's just because it was new to me, but I actually found this more challenging than the Kreutzer.

I didn't spend a ton of time on spiccato, but what I did was efficient. You can see the details of what I did in my practice log, but I did several different rhythms, with the metronome set between 60 and 92.

Overall, I probably devoted the most time and brainpower to Schradieck. It just feels nice to play through—a nice kind of meditative concentration, a little like yoga.

I faced the most common challenge ever this week: I got called last-minute for a gig. So I spent a day driving and sight reading the music of the Supremes, rather than practicing my own stuff as much as I liked. Such is the freelancing life.

I also received my first real audition list for the fall this week! The Indianapolis Symphony has two section positions, with auditions in October. The repertoire list is here, and it includes the Brahms, the Mendelssohn, the Mozart, the Ravel, AND the Strauss that I've chosen for the challenge! So I feel pretty freaking ahead of the game on the excerpts. However, the concerto is an issue—like many viola auditions, they only want one of the major 20th century concertos (Bartok, Hindemith, or Walton), so I may have to ditch Stamitz in favor of one of those.

In the video:

  • Schradieck (0:00): I didn't do this as fast as possible because I feel like that's not really the point. I played all three pages through, but no repeats, because nobody wants to sit and listen to me do that. Doing it without repeats means you have to split the bowing, though, so you can hear I wasn't quite comfortable with my bow distribution at the beginning.
  • Kreutzer (3:59): Also not as fast as humanly possible, but I did play the whole thing.
  • Spiccato (7:35): I decided to give myself a little break from finger-twisty exercises for a minute and do spiccato next. (You'll notice a cut in the video here, but only because I had to stop my cat from ruining something. This was all one take, just cut for the sake of brevity.) I did triplets, 16ths, and sextuplets at 72 and 80 (my target tempo for the Mendelssohn Scherzo).
  • Dont (8:47): I only played up to the first fermata, about half of the etude. I was getting tired and figured anyone watching might be too, but it still gets the point across, I think!
  • Stamitz (10:02): I didn't realize until after I was done that I didn't actually need to record this. Oh well. It was a little fast and the high runs were a little sloppy, and there's another cat-induced cut here. (I think I'll kick her out of the room next week...) But thanks to Indianapolis, this may be the only time I spend with Stamitz anyway. So, bonus, I guess!


I'm now very aware of my fourth finger/wrist relationship. It feels absolutely fine, but the way it works now makes my wrist look very uncomfortable and... wrong. And I've noticed I do tend to work out my fingerings to avoid using fourth finger unless I absolutely have to, which can get over-complicated. I've been experimenting with centering my frame around my fourth finger, but so far, it feels wrong and completely undermines my intonation, especially in first position. So, yeah. That'll take some time.

I'm definitely going to continue using these etudes as part of my practice routine throughout the challenge. And I'd like to do updates where I play them again—let's say around week 10!

See you for week 13!