Wednesday, March 28, 2012

QE Prep, Part I: Repertoire

Preparing for any competition is a daunting process and I must say that thus far, preparing for one as complex as Queen Elisabeth has been very challenging. Figuring out how to balance the extreme amount of repertoire alone is difficult, let alone everything else! For me, the best way to approach everything has been by thoroughly organizing my practicing, performing, instrument maintenance, traveling, and other logistics. That way, you have control over as many things as possible in a situation where anything can happen.

First, I started by organizing my repertoire for the competition. By going through a checklist of each piece, I was able to determine which pieces needed my immediate focus, those that needed review, and those that were in good shape.

New Pieces                                                                         Pieces for Review
-Schumann  Concerto, 1st movement                         -Bach Sonata no. 3 in C major, I & II
-Ysaye Sonata no. 3 "Ballade"                                      -Paganini Caprice no. 24 
-Kissine Caprice (commissioned work)                     -Ravel Tzigane
-Saint-Saens Havanaise                                                -
Faure Sonata

Pieces (currently) in Good Shape
-Bach Sonata no. 3 in C major, III & IV
-Paganini Caprice no. 17 & 23
-Schumann Fantasie
-Mozart Concerto no. 5
-Sibelius Concerto

Next, I created a rough outline of when I would practice and perform each piece, starting with the repertoire which needed immediate focus and moving on to those that needed review. 

Eventually, the schedule incorporates the entire repertoire list and breaks them down into three lists:

“A” List                                                                    “B” List
-Paganini Caprice no. 17                                   -Paganini Caprice no. 23
-Bach  Sonata no. 3 in C Major, I & 1/3 II      
-Bach Sonata no. 3 in C Major, III & 2/3 II 
-Schumann Concerto, 1st movement                -Schumann Concerto, 1st movement
-Ysaye Sonata no. 3 “Ballade”                          
-Ysaye Sonata no. 3 “Ballade”
-Kissine Caprice (commissioned work)          
-Kissine Caprice
-Saint-Saens Havanaise                                      -Ravel Tzigane
-Faure Sonata, 1st movement                            -
Faure Sonata, 2nd & 3rd movements 
-Mozart Concerto, 1st movement                       -Mozart Concerto, 2nd movement  
-Sibelius Concerto, 3rd movement                    -Sibelius Concerto, 1st movement

“C” List
-Paganini Caprice no. 24
-Bach Sonata no. 3 in C Major, IV & 3/3 II
-Schumann Concerto, 1st movement
-Ysaye Sonata no. 3 “Ballade”
-Kissine Caprice (commissioned work)
-Schumann Fantasie
-Faure Sonata, 4th movement
-Mozart Concerto, 3rd movement
-Sibelius Concerto, 2nd movement

The last few days before the competition will focus entirely on the repertoire for the first round, but for a week or so prior to that each day has a designated list of repertoire to practice, one to play through carefully and methodically at a slow tempo, and one to forego. This ensures that an extraordinary amount of repertoire is covered completely every two days! 

This kind of semi-maniacal organization and planning is rather intense, but it has definitely worked for me in the past. Of course, everything should be flexible--a piece might come together much faster than anticipated and not need as much attention, or another piece might take longer to learn and polish.

That's it for the repertoire planning. Next time, travel plans!


Monday, March 12, 2012

Los Angeles Favorites

Upon moving to Los Angeles, I was shocked at its monumental differences from...well, most cities I have ever experienced. LA is extraordinarily spread out and originally developed as distinct neighborhoods. Its downtown was created in the beginning of the 1900s, consisting mainly of banks and law firms. The addition of cultural institutions, restaurants, cafes, and general signs of city life came rather recently, something long-time LA natives consistently remark upon. Generally speaking, these experiences usually take place outside of downtown and require time and transportation (private, as public is limited).

That being said, there are many places and things to do in Los Angeles that I have come to love!

Little Tokyo is walking distance from downtown and features some of the best sushi and ramen houses in Los Angeles. My favorite is undoubtedly Hama sushi, which serves authentic-style sushi and sashimi in an intimate space. Unless you are with a party of four or more, seating is at the sushi bar and orders are requested directly to the sushi chefs.

Photo credit: kevinEats

Right down the street from Hama is Four Leaf, a cafe that features specialty teas, crepes, and whimsical deserts, such as earl grey creme brulee. My personal favorite is their lavender milk tea.

Photo credit: Four Leaf

My absolute favorite coffee in downtown is at Urth Caffe, where their Italian cappuccinos and Moroccan mint lattes are made not only with exquisite flavor, but also with adorning designs.

Italian Cappucino

Pazzo Gelato in Silverlake is perfect for a quick, midweek break and rotates their unique flavors on almost a daily basis. Some of my favorites are almond fig, white chocolate lavender, coconut macadamia nut, fresh mint chip, and blood orange. Pazzo also purchases as many of their ingredients as possible from the local farmer's market. Win-Win.

Photo credit: LA weekly

Though Los Angeles boasts the huge, flashy Getty center for its visual art, I prefer the smaller, more intimate collection at the Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena. The series of petite Degas sculptures is seemingly endless and the museum houses one of my favorite pieces of visual art (Van Gogh's 1889 Mulberry Tree), not to mention the beautiful lily pond on the grounds.

Obviously SoCal is famous for its beautiful beaches, and it lives up to the reputation! Some of my favorite ways to experience the beach include hiking and biking. Biking between Santa Monica and Venice Beach is beautiful, especially at sunset. Some of my favorite hikes include the Temescal Canyon ridge in Santa Monica and Point Dume in Malibu.

Photo credit: Experiencing Los Angeles

Finally, my cupcake bakery of choice is the original: Sprinkles in Beverly Hills! The cake is unbelievably flavorful and has the perfect texture (not too dense but not crumbly, either) and their frosting is so good that they actually offer frosting shots on the menu! My favorite cupcakes here are the classics: black and white and red velvet.

From bottom left: red velvet, coconut, black and white, dark chocolate

Needless to say, being a musician is extremely time consuming. When I do have a moment here and there, these are some of my favorite things to do.

Until next time,

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Kony 2012: What About Museveni?

Thanks to the video by Invisible Children that has now gone viral, the name Joseph Kony is on its way to becoming a household name. I am ashamed to admit that I had no idea who Joseph Kony was prior to watching the video; after seeing footage of the crimes he has committed against over 30,000 children in the past 26 years, two things become alarmingly clear: the fact that this man, his crimes, and his victims are virtually unknown to most of the world is abominable, and he must be stopped. No matter what your political views are, saving the lives of countless children is unarguably a human issue and one that deserves support.

Seemingly for the first time, an organization is using the technological advancements of today's society to bring awareness to an important issue. With awareness comes support and with support comes results.

However, the film by Invisible Children begs an important question without providing an answer: who has allowed Kony to commit his atrocious crimes for over 26 years? The answer is Ugandan President Museveni and his administration, who launched the pattern of child abduction himself in 1986 and has caused the deaths of millions of people in Rwanda, Uganda, and Congo.

Stop Kony, yes. But also stop to ask why Invisible Children and the United States government has agreed to work with President Museveni instead of stopping him, too.

Despite this, Invisible Children has shed light on an important issue that was virtually unknown in the United States until a couple of days ago. Please take a few minutes of your time to watch and share the video and sign the pledge at If you decide to write to the "culturemakers" or the "policymakers", don't be afraid to ask the following question: why not Museveni, too?

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Recipe: Shauna's Blondies

I'm very excited to share my first recipe post! Baking has become one of my favorite things to do--it's a wonderful way to unwind after a long day of practicing, and I love how something sweet can bring people together. Now, introducing the yummiest recipe for blondies, ever. This recipe is from Shauna Sever, a self-taught baker who shares amazing recipes with incredible wit and charm on her blog.

Here's what you will need:
2 1/3 cups all-purpouse flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspon salt (I used sea salt for an extra kick of flavor)
2 tablespoons malted milk powder
14 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened and cut into 1-inch cubes
1 3/4 cups dark brown sugar
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 cup bittersweet or semi-sweet chocolate chips (I used Ghirardelli premium baking chips)
1/2 cup white chocolate chips
1/2 cup walnuts, chopped (these can be toasted beforehand, if preferred)
3/4 cup malted milk balls, coarsely chopped (optional; I chose to forego these, as I felt that the flavor was already rich enough)

Malted milk power can be found near the teas and coffees in your grocery store. If regular malted milk powder is unavailable, a chocolate malted milk powder (such as Ovaltine) can be used instead. Extra chocolate is never a bad thing!

Start with preheating the oven to 350 degrees. Butter the bottom and sides of a small baking pan. If preferred, line the bottom of the pan with parchment paper for easier removal of the bars.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, salt, and malted milk powder. In the bowl of a mixer, cream together the butter and dark brown sugar on medium speed. Beat in the eggs and vanilla until well-blended and scrape down the sides of the bowl. Add the dry ingredients in two additions on low speed and beat until just combined. Finally, add the chocolate chips and walnuts (and the malted milk balls, if you chose to go with that). Give the batter a final folding by hand to ensure an even mixture. Turn the batter into the prepared pan and smooth it evenly.

Bake in the center of the oven for about 30 minutes (if you have a convection bake oven, check on the blondies at 22 minutes--they will most likely be done in 25). The bars should have an even, golden color (but not too dark, or they will dry out) and a toothpick from the center should come out clean.

Cool on a wire rack in the pan for 20 minutes before removing the bars and cutting them into squares on a cutting board. Once they cool, they can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for up to three days (once you've eaten some, of course). Enjoy!