Yes, I know, a year and a half since my last post – apparently I don’t have the energy to run an Instagram account (@martinashmusic) and a blog.
However, this is fairly big news within my small musical world. Yesterday I received the feedback on my LTCL (Licentiate of Trinity College London) viola diploma recital. No idea what that is? Nor do many people, even within professional classical music, but it’s essentially an exam equivalent in standard to the final recital of a conservatoire undergraduate degree. So possibly an adequate response to my lack of an actual music / performance degree, if not to the chip on my shoulder about it. Assessed entirely on a 45-minute performance and a few marks on the planning of the programme however, and studying independently (while it’s awarded by ultimately the same body as Trinity Laban conservatoire, it exists more in the same space as their grade exams than their degrees).
Most importantly, I’m relieved (after three and a half weeks of nervy waiting) to say I passed – and with a solid mark, more than half way to the distinction bound. The feedback also contains much that is gratifying, certainly for someone like myself with generally little opportunity to get input on my playing in a solo context at a pro level (lessons even leading up to this were when I could justify and afford them, and had fitted in enough practice around paying gigs and health constraints for it to make sense to have another one).
The examiner and moderator summarised my performance as ‘a committed and fluent recital’, with ‘keen sense of performance detail’ and in which ‘musical intentions were always clear’. Those who know me will know I appreciate the last comment, as someone who believes performers almost always have to make decisions about interpretation rather than finding (or receiving, or reading off the page) the one right way to play a piece. Even more in tune with my personal preferences and simply what I enjoy is the praise for ‘pleasing interplay with the piano’ and ‘effective engagement in duo playing’ – arguably the musical situation in which I’m least at home is with no other live musicians to engage with, though I included an unaccompanied piece in this programme.
Similarly, my insistence on understanding and thinking about what I play makes me value being told I showed ‘a keen structural sense’ and ‘stylistic sensitivity’. As a viola player specifically however, it would be against all the grain of the qualities of the instrument and good writing for it if I didn’t rate ‘rich projection’ (and another passage being described as ‘richly announced’) highly. However, I must credit my teacher Jim Sleigh for bringing me to a point where my vibrato was commented on favourably as both ‘used effectively throughout’ and ‘suitably modulated’, given I would have rated it (especially variation within using vibrato) as a weaker area of my playing until very recently.
In fact I should finish by thanking both Jim, a teacher who adapted superbly to the idiosyncracies of this advanced yet non-conservatoire and elsewhere committed student; and my pianist Laurie O’Brien, who learned some very technically demanding parts and was a responsive duo partner, rightly treating it as an ensemble performance.
If you’re interested, my programme was:
Arnold Bax: Legend for viola and piano (he wrote other, unrelated, pieces with similar titles for different instruments)
Max Reger: Suite 1 for solo viola in G minor, first and last movements
Henri Vieuxtemps: Sonata for viola and piano in B flat major