August 2010 Convention
Anaheim, CA

Point, Counterpoint: One Performance, Two Viewpoints

Fenwick Smith

Leone Buyse and Fenwick Smith jointly coached two mixed-chamber works: Madeline Dring's trio for flute, oboe, and piano, and Martinu's trio for flute, violin, and piano.

In the first movement of the Martinu trio, performers were encouraged to aim for a more aggressive approach to the meter of the work. This "bite" or "edge" to the meter punctuated the phrases and helped keep the ensemble together, especially in the 16th-note passages. In the second movement, Buyse pointed out that the tendency to make a legato line, following the composer's slur indication, can actually sabotage the phrase "cells" that start out soft and then grow. Performers were encouraged to approach the work from a broader perspective, and Smith suggested that the accumulation of small gestures, while matching phrase inflection within the ensemble, would highlight the "architecture" of the piece. Buyse added that it is easy to become a "tone junkie," that we can get addicted to sound, which can lead to overly romanticizing a phrase. In the third movement, contrasts in tempo were the main challenge. Buyse pointed out that "transitions are always scary, in music and in life!" She noted that the flute should be very clear when cuing the "poco meno" tempo, and added that this section's new key is another indication that the composer desired a significant character change. At times, intonation in the high register of the flute became problematic with the violin. Buyse suggested that these inconsistencies can often be an issue of timbre, not necessarily pitch. She also mentioned that an effort to match the violin's articulation can lead to tension in the throat, which can in turn affect intonation.

Leone Buyse

The approach to the phrase was the topic that surfaced after a performance of the first movement of Dring's trio for flute, oboe, and piano. Smith pointed out the importance of approaching cadences within the ensemble and suggested the three members communicate about the way each phrase should end. Buyse supported the observation by asserting that the recognition and parallel treatment of inflection of each phrase is vital within the ensemble and that the exaggeration of these elements will explain the work's structure to the audience. Additionally, performers were asked to match and clarify articulations by allowing for space between a grace note and the note before it. In the third movement, Buyse reminded the audience of the element of humor in Dring's music, suggesting that an exaggerated dynamic scheme can really make this work speak to the audience. The accelerando that ends the work took on a new energy after Buyse suggested giving it a more "conclusive" feel, while an audience member's comment that the ending sounded more "intentional" was an indication that Buyse and Smith had made these ensembles' already well-prepared performances come alive.

—Martha Councell-Vargas

photos by Christian Steiner and Brian Covington