Jul 2, 2007

Saint-Saens 3

Download SaintSaens.mp3

Last month I put an mp3 file of the solo from the Saint-Saens 3rd symphony on this website. This month I want to describe my thought process when approaching this excerpt. This is a very challenging excerpt, especially when you are required to play this in an audition with no orchestral accompaniment. Playing it in the orchestra has its own challenges, because you have the problem of other people's tempo and style to match, rather than just your own. Of course this is offset by the fact that in an audition you are exposed completely by yourself, which is it's own challenge.

I have a thought process that will really help you perform this excerpt successfully. It involves imagining spacers inside your slide. Each one is about 4 inches long and about the consistency of pizza dough with a coating of olive oil. When I am playing this excerpt, which is almost completely legato, I imagine pushing and pulling the spacers with the slide in order to get from note to note. I don't move the slide without thinking of having to either push (going out with the slide) or pull (going in) the spacers. Imagining the consistency of something like dough inside really helps to move the slide smoothly, and makes sure that the air (sound) is glued to the slide, and also makes sure the slide NEVER GETS AHEAD of the sound. The thought of pushing and pulling those dense spacers really helps to get the slide and air FLOWING together, totally unified and inseparable.

Question; What is the most important note in this excerpt? Answer: the 1st note. The quality and resonance of the entire excerpt will be determined by the sonority of the 1st note. Most players have a tendency to be far too cautious in playing the 1st note, a low Ab. Even though the dynamic is piano, and as much of a fanatic as I am on soft dynamics, it is absolutely essential that this note be played with the biggest, clearest, fattest, most resonant sound that can be produced at a piano dynamic. Then it is a much simpler matter to keep this sound going from note to note in each phrase. If the 1st note starts too small and thin, it is very difficult to then reestablish the proper sound for this excerpt. Make no mistake, it is a sound excerpt and not a soft control type of excerpt such as the Rhenish, which I covered last month.

Another important concept that applies to this excerpt, and one which I have been advocating in recent articles, is the importance of refocusing the embouchure, and therefore the sound after each breath and phrase. This is especially important in an excerpt such as the Saint-Saens because of it's tessitura, which is entirely in the low-middle register. Such a tessitura has a tendency to cause the embouchure to sag, especially in legato, and cause a significant loss of focus, and therefore sound quality. Each breath and phrase gives us a chance to collect the embouchure and refocus the sound, because a clear sound is a great sound.

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