In conjunction to UCSI University Maestro Series concert on March 22, 2014 by The Orfeo Trio, four masterclasses were held in UCSIU on March 20th and March 21st. A masterclass on chamber ensemble were among those that were held in these two days. This masterclass featured four different ensembles, each with a chance to showcase their ensemble playing as well as learning to improve them with the help of great chamber musicians of The Orfeo Trio: Julie Bees (Piano), Evgeny Zvonnikov (Violin) and Leonid Shukaev (Cello).
The masterclass started off with an ensemble of 2-piano, 4-hands (2p4h) performed by Nicole Chan and Nikie Wong. They played the Prelude from Suites for Two Pianos, op.6.
Leonid Shukaev started by explaining that in Shostakovich’s music, variety of sound must be audible for the audience to hear and that leads to his advice for them to portray different timbre from the piano. Julie Bees got in depth by giving tips on pedaling and how it can affect the tone of the piano. Most of the time both Julie Bees and Leonid Shukaev mentioned about imitating the sound of bells, Russian bells in particular and from there Julie Bees gave more tips on the touching technique and focusing on bringing out the desired notes to be able to produce tone colors that fit into Shostakovich’s style.
The next ensemble to perform was two violins and piano, performed by Keng Xin Tian and Loo Mei Hui on the violin, as well as Jecelyn Chong on the piano. They played a famous concerto by Vivaldi; the first movement of Concerto for Two Violins in A minor, op.3, No.8.
The emphasis of playing in the right style was again mentioned during their session with this group. Evgeny Zvonnikov talked about the style of Vivaldi and he also compared how Xin Tian and Mei Hui’s playing were closer to the style of Romantic composers. He talked about the technique of the right hand (bowing technique) and playing with the correct strokes to play it in the appropriate style for Vivaldi’s music. Also, both Evgeny and Leonid mentioned about emphasizing the main notes to create better shape and direction of the phrases instead of playing all the notes equally, which will result to the music sounding flat and undeveloped. The last thing that Evgeny mentioned was to have the understanding of the type of vibrato to use for different kind of music. In the case of this music, no expressive vibrato was required. As for Julie Bees, she briefly mentioned to Jecelyn on the hierarchy of the lines, which was the bass being the most important while the harmony works as the support system for the two violins.
“It was an enjoyable experience to have a chamber masterclass with The Orfeo Trio. Through this masterclass, we learned how to improve our playing by exploring different ways of playing to produce different articulation and shaping. This learning opportunity was very much appreciated.” – Keng Xin Tian
The third ensemble to play was a piano trio with Onn Jian Yaw (Violin), Sophia Ng (Cello) and Koh Li Qing (Piano) and they played Premier Trio en Sol, 3rd movement, Andante espressivo by Debussy.
In the beginning, Julie Bees and Leonid Shukaev explained to Li Qing about accompanying cellist, as the introduction of the movement was a solo from the cello. Both of them mentioned about the range that both cello and piano and how it effect different strength in the tone and Julie Bees explained on controlling the tone so that the solo from the cello can be heard. As for the rest of the session, The Orfeo Trio mostly talked about playing the music as a team by knowing and understanding each other’s part rather than individual parts. For example, when the violin enters with the same melody after the cello solo, Evgeny Zvonnikov mentioned that Jian Yaw should play the melody in the same style as how Sophia did it in the beginning so that the phrases are connected and related. Julie Bees also mentioned on playing out the right voice on the piano so that even when playing a series of chords, the melody can still be heard on top of all the chords. The last advice The Orfeo Trio gave to this ensemble was to look at the music in a bigger texture on how the music developed throughout by learning to listen better while rehearsing.
The last ensemble to perform for the Chamber Masterclass was a unique trio combination: Chan Hoe Yin (Oboe), Cheryl Choi (Viola) and Evelyn Chow (Piano). They played Schilflieder, op.28, No.2 by Klughardt.
There was a poem that came with this piece, which was a love story with darkness atmosphere. The advice that they gave; as performers, we need to use our imagination to bring those words to life through what we play in every different sections of the music. In the beginning, the piano sounded like thunder and storm, so Julie Bees mentioned about having the right sound without trying to make it sound clean or clearly articulated because that is not how thunder sounds like in reality. There was also the issue of balance, because of the timbre of viola and oboe is different, the balance within the ensemble needs more sensitivity. Another tip that they taught was to play the phrases to build better intensity for the climax, which was a good trick, that showed immediate result because the performers were thinking in longer phrases rather than by beats.
“For me, the masterclass was scary at first, but I really learned a lot. For example, he (Leonid Shukaev) said I should play louder on my lower strings because it is different from the violin. The register is very low, so it is difficult to be heard when playing with the piano. It was very good and effective, yes, they also pointed out my minor weaknesses that I didn’t realized even if I play everyday. These little weaknesses actually do affect the tone quality of my music.” – Cheryl Choi
The Orfeo Trio gave really good advice that focused more on the musical aspects, which is, what the audience wants to hear during a performance. They talked about things that students rarely focus on, which are integral aspects of a piece, such as playing in the right style with the right sound, being aware with what others are playing in the ensemble. We sometimes focused too much on the technical aspects of playing that we forgot to “play” the music. It was indeed a productive day for those who attended the masterclass and I’m sure all who attended got a tip or two on ensemble performing.
Pictures courtesy of Wani Ismail.
This article was written by Nur Izwani bt. Ismail, 3rd year student of the B. Classical music program.