by Varun Shankar, VI Form
Inspiring, relieving and liberating, music has shaped my life just as much as education has. Not surprisingly, it also takes significant hours in my weekly routine, perhaps as much as 12-14 hours. I’ve played in orchestras, chamber groups, and solo recitals, in extravagant concert halls and in log cabins. Besides playing in the Saint Mark’s Orchestra, I’m actively involved with the New England Conservatory Youth Philharmonic Orchestra that meets every Saturday for three hours of practice, culminating in three concerts every year at Jordan Hall in Boston, and an international tour every two years.
Malcolm Gladwell mentions in his book Outliers that 10,000 hours of lifetime practice is what it takes to achieve a level of distinction. For 10+ years I’ve been playing the violin, so I guess I’m only half way there!
Click here for Varun’s performance of Saint-Saëns’ Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso! (This video may not load on all mobile devices)
I’ve been working on this piece since spring of this year, which is typical for any new rotation into my repertoire. My teacher and I get into it slowly section by section, understanding what the composer is trying to emphasize – the musical phrases, the technical positions, and most importantly the dynamics to convey the emotions behind the music. Virtuosos, such as those at the Boston Symphony, probably spend many more months of intense practice, perfecting not just how they want to play it, but how it might sound as part of an orchestra solo.
With its sprightly, syncopated theme and contrasting lyrical melody, Saint-Saëns’ Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso perfectly encapsulates the premise of a true showpiece. Specifically composed for the great violinist Pablo de Sarasate, the piece employs advanced violin techniques to highlight not only the emotion in the music but also the player’s technical skill. Quick, up-bow staccato, which requires repetitive flicks of the wrist, and rapid, continuous string crossings add to the brilliant energy of the composition. Saint-Saëns balances slow, melancholic measures with vigorous virtuosic passages, taking the listener through a dazzling array of emotions that only music can convey.
The piece starts with a beautiful, slow introduction full of free flowing, melodic phrases. This gradually accelerates into a strong close that leads to the main theme: the light, up-beat phrases that are repeated throughout the piece. Between each theme, a verse of sorts is included. These relaxed, melodious passages give the listeners a break from the fast-paced nature of the piece and keep the piece from “running away.” Finally, an animated and lively conclusion ends the piece in the sprightly key of A Major, a contrast from the original key of a minor. Each of these sections invokes a unique emotion or feeling, so the challenge is putting the piece together seamlessly. While working on the piece, I practice each section separately, investing myself in the emotion the section encapsulates. However, the whole piece can be emotionally trying, since it requires rapid switches between various tones and timbres.
Varun Shankar is a VI Form day student from Southborough. He has been playing violin for over ten years and participates in music ensembles inside and outside of St. Mark’s. Besides playing violin, Varun enjoys engineering, is on the robotics team at St. Mark’s, and is part of the STEM Fellowship this year.