NATIONAL CELLO CONGRESS REPORT
by TIM FINHOLT
I attended the 1996 National Cello Congress in Tempe, Arizona. What
are the highlights of my 30 pages of notes:
1. Check out the movie "Deception," starring Bette Davis and Claude
Claude Raines plays the role of a concert cellist. As you would expect,
there is a lot of cello music. Featured in the soundtrack is the late
Eleanor Aller playing the Korngold and Haydn Concerti, beautifully I might
2. The California Cello Club paid tribute to the late Margaret Rowell.
Irene Sharp quoted Rowell as once saying, "Be a human being first ...
then a cellist."
3. FRITZ MAGG MASTER CLASS (Professor Emeritus from Indiana University)
a. You must have both strength and suppleness, resilient strength.
b. Don't lose the "small notes" in the Haydn C Concerto.
c. Play harmonics with more strength when in the middle of a passage so
there is an even tone.
d. Always stop and figure out why you are making mistakes. Don't just go
with the music.
e. "When I started concerning myself with the division of the bow,
a much better cellist almost immediately."
f. Good exercise for bow control -- Extremely slow bow close to the bridge.
g. Crescendo is also created with an increased intensity in vibrato, not
just with the bow.
h. Practice scales slowly.
4. VICTOR SAZER LECTURE (author of "New Directions in Cello Playing")
a. We build up layers of tension that we aren't aware of. The body adjusts
as a protective mechanism to prevent injury, which can add up to lots of
b. The basic cause of pain: repetitive motion and over-use. Vibrato is a
classic example of repetitive motion.
c. The body is like a scale, it seeks balance. Don't inhibit this.
d. Pressing is unhealthy and must be transformed into the more natural
motions of pulling and lifting.
e. The breath test, comparing the ability to breathe deeply in different
positions, is a great indicator of when you are playing in a more natural
f. Sitting: A 60 degree angle between your thighs and the vertical is
optimal. This can be achieved with sloped cello cushions or chairs.
g. Feet placement: Place in front of the knees, not tucked under the chair.
You will notice that your arm weight seems less when you do this.
h. Back problems are most common in cellists, harpists, and pianists.
i. Down bows are aided by "steering" with the right foot. Up bows
by "steering" with the left foot.
j. Leverage: Your leverage is better if you have a broad base (feet spread
in front of your knees, which are angled 60 degrees from the vertical) and
the cello is held off the center-line of your body.
k. Cello Placement: The idea of holding the cello in the center of your
body comes from the old end-pin days. Align the cello with the left side
your body, keeping it away from your neck and shoulder. This will open up
the left arm (a good thing).
l. The body naturally moves in curves. The right hand naturally moves in
counter-clockwise direction. The bow hand should travel in a figure-8
pattern when bowing.
m. Do not lean forward over your instrument. This inhibits free movement
and breathing. Sit up straight.
n. The bow does not necessary need to travel parallel to the bridge to have
a good tone. It may be more natural to be angled such that the frog is lower
than the tip on a down bow, and the frog higher than the tip on an up bow.
o. Slow bows are difficult because the body stops moving while you are
bowing. Keep the body in motion at all times. Immobility causes tension.
p. The left thumb doesn't necessarily want to be opposite the second finger.
Let it go where it wants, depending on the passage being played. Release
the thumb when playing fast notes.
q. The 4th finger is only weak because of the standard hand position. Roll
your hand as you play each finger so that the weight is transferred to each
5. ZARA NELSOVA MASTER CLASS (world renowned soloist)
a. Always listen to what your are doing musically.
b. Roll the bow so you have more bow hairs in contact with the strings.
c. You need to hear the music in your head before you know what to search
for musically when you play.
d. Imagine you are playing to the last row of a concert hall to develop
intensity in your playing.
e. Place the bow on the string for clean starts.
f. Practice fast passages under tempo.
g. Use the relaxed weight of the body, not squeezing, to create pressure.
6. JANOS STARKER LECTURE (world renowned soloist) -- Studies: Cello
a. Starker feels he teaches a method of thinking, not playing.
b. There are three basic fingering positions/types: the 4-finger positions
(all half-steps between fingers), the 3-finger positions (5th position through
7th position), and thumb position. There are eight 4-finger positions, four
3-finger positions, and 32 thumb positions.
c. Starker thinks of shifting as changes from position to position, not
finger to finger. When shifting one must decide which finger leads the
travel, when you start the travel, on which side of a bow change the shift
will occur, and whether the shift is a one-action of two action shift (the
There are two kinds of connections between positions, the anticipated
connection and the delayed connection. In the anticipated connection, the
time is taken from the 1st note with an arrival on the next note, the sliding
occurring on the previous bow. In the delayed connection, time is taken
the next beat, with the departure starting on the next bow.
In the 2-action slide, the elbow dips. The motion of the arm must be timed
to fit in with the music.
d. The 1-action slide makes a "vowel" sound, a softer smoother
2-action slide makes a "consonant" sound, a more abrupt percussive
e. The best practice method is thinking and planning what you are going
e. Always play with motion in curves, avoid angles, i.e.. keep curved thumbs.
f. Bow changes: The arm must anticipate the next bow and the next string.
g. Extensions of the left hand: Use only if unavoidable. Relax hand
immediately after a stretch.
h. I asked him how one plays without tension and still play with emotional
intensity. He said one must have the will to create the excitement in the
music, but do it through other means.
i. Bow Grip: Please do not "grip" the bow.
7. JANOS STARKER MASTER CLASS
a. As Casals said, "Intonation is a question of conscience."
b. When shifting to thumb position, think of shifting to the thumb, not
c. Left hand power comes from the thumb, 1st, and 3rd fingers in thumb
d. Kodaly Sonata: Don't play with the same emotional involvement as
Schumann. Kodaly's ponticello was intended as a more distant sound, not
sound effect produced in modern ponticello where to bow is played close
the bridge. Starker should know, since he knew Kodaly personally.
e. The most important word in music is "and," the upbeat. In other
play rhythmically correct and don't cut notes short. Play the full value
f. Counter-pressure: Press the cello with the left knee to maintain
pressure of bow at the tip.
g. In thumb position, play with the thumb UNDER the fingerboard. When the
thumb is placed on the strings, though there is more of a sense of security,
it cuts off overtones and results in less freedom of motion of the left
8. PANEL DISCUSSION: CAREER DEVELOPMENT IN MUSIC.
The panel consisted of:
Eleonore Schoenfeld, USC Cello Professor
George Moquin, Head of the Leonard Rose Competition at the University of
Evan Drachman, Soloist/ Recitalist and Self-Managed Artist
Ron Leonard, Principal Cellist of the LA Philharmonic and Cello Professor
Janos Starker, Soloist
Larry Lesser, President of New England Conservatory
Esther Prince, Artist Management
a. Piatigorsky wanted Lesser to pursue a performing career before he started
teaching, "Only somebody who is rich can give something away."
b. A minimum of a Masters degree is required to get a teaching position
c. Musicians need to have more versatility in order to have a career in
music. They may need to teach cello, teach music theory, or teach choir
order to make a living.
d. It is no longer considered a lesser career to play in an orchestra.
Music schools need to have orchestral repertoire classes to help students
competitive in the job market. One should work on excerpts while in college,
not wait until after graduation.
e. Orchestral playing should be thought of as chamber music; it's just a
f. Orchestras sometimes hold auditions and don't choose anybody. Starker
says this often occurs because the auditions are required by law as part
the Fair Employment Act. The orchestra may not choose anybody because they
are saving money by not adding a player to their orchestra.
g. It was agreed that one doesn't really learn anything about a player in
20 minute audition.
h. Starker told the musicians to be wary of the politics of the music world.
He told the story of a woman who was auditioning for the principal clarinet
position in the Berlin Philharmonic. The audition process involved playing
with the wind section. The wind section allegedly purposely played out of
tune so that she would get the job.
i. A common practice is to have auditioners play chamber music with members
of the orchestra.
j. Ron Leonard said that good rhythm is very important in orchestral
auditions. Don't play with too extreme an interpretation, with too much
personality. You need to be able to fit in to the cello section.
k. Play for as many people as you can before an audition to help with
l. Janos Starker once played in a competition where he got the 6th place
award and his student got 3rd place.
m. George Moquin: You must want to pursue music more than anything else
become a star. You must learn to live with rejection and must learn to
n. Eleonore Schoenfeld thinks that the attitude, "Let's TRY,"
destructive. You must assume you are going to win.
o. Starker has no problem with "Let's try," since it is an accurate
statement. He offered the following compromise wording for a vote, "Let's
give it a whirl." :)
p. It is very difficult to get artist management these days.
q. You can only get management if you can prove that you don't need it.
r. Agents rely on competitions to determine which artists have solo career
potential. Everybody is so good these days that it is hard to tell who is
SELF-MANAGEMENT (Evan Drachman)
Evan Drachman, grandson of Piatigorsky, travels throughout the country,
playing in small towns, nursing homes, schools, etc. He founded the
Piatigorsky Foundation, which is dedicated bring live performances to those
who would not ordinarily get to hear them and to increase the performing
opportunities for young performers.
s. Only 15% of music graduates make a living in music.
t. Only 2% of the population listens to classical music. So there is a vast
pool of potential listeners to attract.
u. Play as many concerts as you can so you learn to communicate with the
audience. Play ANYWHERE!
v. Tell the audiences about the pieces before you play them so that can
follow along better.
w. You don't have to play a full two hour recital. Concerts are never too
x. Always charge for your concerts. It's a question of respect for the
professionalism of the musician, and is a symbolic gesture by the audience
that they are doing something worthwhile.
y. Don't follow the examples of the people on the panel. The music world
very different today than it was 30 or more years ago.
z. Janos Starker -- Do what you love to do, what you are trained to do,
what is for the greater welfare of your community.
aa. The legendary violinist Joachim one said that your music career
potential is based on three parts: 1/3 talent, 1/3 character, and 1/3
health. Character is vital and involves perseverance, vision, ambition,
9. LARRY LESSER MASTER CLASS (President of New England Conservatory)
a. The power of imagination is more important than your volume. Do not try
to overpower the orchestra or overcome the acoustics of a hall.
b. Push and pull sound with the bow. Do not press.
c. Emphasize the note before a shift or big bow skip in strings. You must
start from a place that is solid, not shaky, in order leap to the next note
or string with confidence and accuracy. Look at a cat, which crouches to
test its footing before it jumps.
d. Practice bowing in the air while fingering the notes. This will help
iron out kinks in your bow motion.
e. A sustained sound does not necessarily mean an even sound. It's
perfectly fine to have an impulse at the beginning of a note. The impact
what we hear as the volume of each tone, i.e.. at the beginning of the note.
f. Good exercise: Crescendo from frog to tip on a down bow, and diminuendo
from tip to frog on an up bow.
g. Schelomo: The piece is rhapsodic, but it is still written with a meter.
Don't lose a sense of overall pulse and direction. The score says
"miserato," which means measured. Don't play with a constant vibrato.
Maria Callas learned each piece EXACTLY as written first. She let herself
"straight-jacketed" by the role, before she allowed herself more
interpretation. This process should be followed with Schelomo too.
10. ELEONORE SCHOENFELD MASTER CLASS (Professor at USC)
a. Flying Spicatto: Turn bow so hair is flat on string. Have a loose
b. Emotion is conveyed when the playing feels less planned and less
c. Sing the music before you play it on the cello.
d. A tight bow hand is bad for flexibility and nuance.
e. The little notes are the spice of the piece.
f. Cello playing has similarities to string playing: the fingers are the
lips and the bow is the breath.
11. RON LEONARD MASTER CLASS (LA Philharmonic Principal Cellist and
Professor at USC)
a. The dynamic "piano" doesn't mean inhibited.
b. The fingers in the bow hand are used for bow articulation.
c. Pressure at the tip is created by pronating the arm, not by pressing
lifting the wrist.
d. Changing strings with the bow is done by pushing the arm forward and
backwards horizontally, not by lifting the arm.
e. Don't raise the shoulders when playing.
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