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A Week in the Life of a Classical Musician

March 31, 2015
Carissa Klopoushak with the1869 Jean Baptiste Vuillaume violin (with Vuillaume model bow)

Carissa Klopoushak is a current recipient of the Canada Council's Musical Instrument Bank (MIB). In 2013 she competed for the opportunity to borrow the Instrument Bank's 1869 Jean Baptiste Vuillaume violin (with Vuillaume model bow) for a period of 3 years. This summer she will return the instrument so that other musicians can vie for the chance to push their creative boundaries, be competitive on the world stage, and share their talent with audiences across Canada and abroad.

In this post, over the course of a week, Carissa shares a personal slice of her life, her relationship with the instrument and the impact of the MIB experience on her career. 

Continue to follow Carissa on her website or @cklopoushak.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Mile End, Montreal

It's Sunday morning, and I'm off to Montréal for a couple of days of editing. Before hitting the road, I pulled out my Vuillaume and played some solo Bach, my go-to when I don’t have a lot of time to practice. 

I love driving on the highway; it’s the best place for me to think things through, listen to music, and to get creative. (I should also mention that as a Saskatchewanian, I believe I am at a disadvantage on time change day. Even after 8 years in Eastern Standard Time, I cannot get the hang of it and am groggy and confused.)  I arrived in Montreal safely (thanks, coffee!) and met with Barbara Scales, my agent.  We’ve been working together for about 7 months now, and meetings with her always leave me inspired and energized.

After more coffee in the Mile-End, I met up with Jeremy Tusz of Diapason Mobile to begin the editing process of my upcoming release.  In late December, my good friend Philip Chiu and I recorded music for violin and piano with Jeremy at the console. The album features three sonatas written by Janacek, Debussy, and Healey Willan, all composed within three years of one another, and two other shorter pieces by Pat Carrabré and Claude Vivier. The album will be released this fall. I can’t wait to share the final product!      

We started by listening through takes of Claude Vivier’s Pièce pour violon et piano. The editing process is really intriguing! It was fascinating to spend time critically listening and choosing the best (or most interesting) takes. I was surprised at how many interpretive choices could be made even after all the playing is done! The Vivier Pièce is a dynamic work, in which we could explore many levels of intensity, many different colours, and many sound possibilities on our instruments. I really enjoyed the experience of recording on the Vuillaume, being able to access its brilliance and its depth…  Listening back to the takes highlighted for me just how special it is to have this instrument on loan.  Another thing I learned about editing? It takes a lot of concentration – an awful lot - so Jeremy and I took a well-deserved dinner break at Nouveau Palais and made a game plan to conquer Day 2.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Kali, a Golden Doodle puppy

This morning, I woke up ready and refreshed, encouraged by yesterday’s progress. I stayed over at my good friend (and former roommate) Andrea’s house, and had a nice visit.  We had a beer or two, and I got some puppy time with Kali the Golden Doodle!  Puppy snuggles are the best, aren’t they? After a nice breakfast, I went back to Jeremy’s studio for Day 2 of editing. We decided to start with the Janacek Sonata, and spent the day working on the first and third movements.

This was a particularly interesting process, because of the rhapsodic nature of the work. I had many great takes (and a few garbage ones!) to choose from, each with its own flavour. 

Many of the takes were complete performances, really in-the-moment, so the editing process is allowing me to create an idealized/perfected version of these takes, taking the best or most interesting parts and combining them into one performance. For example, the Janacek sonata opens with a solo violin outburst, followed by a really long and relentless musical line. It was really fun to choose which performance would best open of the movement (and in this case, the album!) and reflect the character of the moment.

The whole recording process is quite interesting and involved. I began by putting together a programming proposal, enlisting Phil and Jeremy, finding three consecutive days that our three (very different!) schedules could accommodate, and then setting up some preparatory concerts. We recorded over three days just before Christmas, left the result to marinate for a bit, and here we are!  Yesterday and today are our first days of editing so far – Jeremy and I will continue the process over the next couple of months, aiming to have things mixed and mastered by June or July. This will leave enough time to have things printed and pressed and released sometime in the early fall. 

I’ve got a big week coming up this week: the National Arts Centre Orchestra (of which I’m a full-time member) is playing a really fun Ravel/Beethoven program, I’m playing a piece of new music on stage with the visiting LA Dance Project, and I have a few meetings and phone calls to organize my future projects. I’m also getting really excited to perform some chamber music this weekend! I put on my playlist of upcoming music and hit the road back home to Ottawa.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Closeup of the 1869 Jean Baptiste Vuillaume violin

This morning, I went to rehearsal for our next NAC Orchestra program: Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony, Ravel’s Piano Concerto in G, and his Mother Goose Ballet. Over the last few weeks, I’ve noticed that the Vuillaume is sounding a little tight and closed, so after rehearsal I took him in to get some spring-time love in the form of a sound post massage. (Yes, “him”) It’s amazing what a millimetre can do to make the instrument feel more open, resonant and easier to play. What’s funny is how much that small adjustment (well, huge adjustment) affects me. I always start wondering if I’ve forgotten how to make a good sound, etc., but then (thankfully) realize that it wasn’t ALL me. #musicianproblemz

After the sound post adjustment, I returned home and sent a few emails about the album and the little chamber music festival that I run in my hometown, Saskatoon, called Ritornello. We’re in the final stages of programming and hiring our 2015 artists, and we’re planning a launch party for mid-April. 

I also practiced a bit this afternoon. One of my greatest challenges is finding time to practice just for fun, or music that I don’t need to learn for a particular rehearsal. Some days, it feels like triage – dealing with the most urgent thing first. I’m sure everyone deals with this kind of work/life balance struggle.

This evening, I’m heading back to the NAC to prepare for a different kind of gig. The LA Dance Project is in town performing an evening of contemporary dance, and I’ll be performing on stage with them tomorrow night.  But more on that tomorrow!  On the way to the NAC, I stopped in at the Ottawa Chamberfest office to sign a contract for an upcoming April 1 concert with my good friend and NAC colleague Julia MacLaine.  We’re meeting for cocktails and chat about programming tonight.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Carissa Klopoushak, LA Dance Project Performance

This morning we rehearsed the NACO program a bit more, working with the guest piano soloist Inon Barnatan. As we played Ravel’s Mother Goose Ballet music this morning, I wondered if instruments experience the equivalent of ‘feeling an affinity’ for music from their place of origin… which sounds bizarre. But, it seemed like the Vuillaume was made for making the sounds necessary to perform this music. Perhaps there’s a connection. Again today, I spent some time on email – this time organizing an upcoming recital in Regina, a quick recording session in Ottawa with harpsichord, and music rental for Ritornello. 

Tonight, I had the unique opportunity to perform live music for contemporary dance with the LA Dance Project. They were touring through town performing a ballet called “Moving Parts,” the music for which was composed by one of my favourite living composers, Nico Muhly. Scored for amplified clarinet, violin, and organ, the piece is in four parts. At the premiere, the organ was performed by the composer himself, but subsequently, the organ part has been pre-recorded onto a track, which also includes a click track to help coordinate the two “live” musicians with the organ.

My friend and NACO colleague Sean Rice (clarinet) and I prepared our parts individually, and then met with the dancers and the Tech crew to rehearse with the organ track for the first (and only) time last night. The piece is really amazing - the violin and clarinet parts are often in canon (the same material, in this case one beat apart from one another), and the organ is constantly undulating.  From coordinating the earpiece, amplification, and orienting ourselves to the organ track, the click, the dancers, and to each other on stage, this piece was a bit of a challenge - but nothing we couldn’t handle! 

I had never performed on stage with dancers before, and I loved the experience! The dancers were lovely, gracious people who really appreciated having us perform with them. I was very glad to have met and worked with this wonderful group.  Thinking back to my earlier reflections on instruments and the music they might ‘relate’ to, I wonder how playing new music like this, so foreign to Vuillaume’s ears, fits into that idea?  I guess that at the end of the day, music is music, and it’s for everyone at any time. 

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Dvorak Quintet score

After my morning coffee, I headed over to the hall for a warm up before our NACO dress rehearsal. Matthias Pintscher is the guest conductor this week, and many of us are looking forward to the performances. After lunch, I met with the rest of my (newly-formed) string quartet for a quick, strings-only rehearsal of Dvorak’s famous piano quintet. The quartet includes violinist Jessica Linnebach, cellist Julia MacLaine, violist David Marks, and me - all NACO players. Our first performance together was at a newly-launched series called The WolfGANG Sessions which took place at the Mercury Lounge in Ottawa’s Byward Market, where we performed new quartets by Esa-Pekka Salonen and Ana Sokolovic. Amazing pieces!  It’s going to be fun to switch gears and play some Dvorak.  This week’s piano soloist, Inon Barnatan, joins us to perform the work on Sunday. Today’s rehearsal was really fun - we got our bowings coordinated and played around with different musical ideas, a nice thing to do before we rehearse with Inon on Saturday. Most of us have played this piece many times, but it’s always possible to find something new in the piece each time you tackle it!

I’m sure you’re feeling the same way as I am these days… We’re ready for some spring weather, and the cleaning and little tune-ups that come with it. For the Vuillaume, it’s no different. At this afternoon’s rehearsal, I noticed that the instrument felt twice as resonant, warm, and rich after the sound post adjustment on Tuesday. It still amazes me that one small tap can create such a difference to the sound and playability of a violin. It feels really empowering to have an instrument that is responding so well, especially when carving out the lower octave melodies of a second violin part. The 1869 Vuillaume is one of the beefiest violins in the Canada Council collection, which makes it the very fun to play in the lower register. Fun fact: Jessica Linnebach was the person who had this Vuillaume before I did - actually, we’re the only two to have played it!  (See the cumulative list of winners here.) She’s since bought herself an 1840s Vuillaume. Needless to say, we sounded pretty good together!

Tonight we had our first concert of the Ravel’s Mother Goose Suite, G major piano concerto (which Inon played beautifully!), and Beethoven's Pastoral Symphony. I'm looking forward to performing it again tomorrow night!

Friday, March 13, 2015

A Casual Fridays show

Having a free morning is a wonderful thing. After my morning coffee (are you sensing a trend yet?), I lazed about a bit before having a nice practice, where I looked over our Dvorak Quintet and prepared some music for upcoming shows. I always practice best first thing in the morning, so when I can, I try to take full advantage.

This afternoon, we had a rehearsal for our second orchestra concert, a Casual Fridays show, which is a really different kind of event. Tapas and drinks are served in the lobby before the show, the concert lasts 90 minutes (no intermission), and the party continues in the lobby afterwards. These shows feature intricate camera work, showing close-ups of the musicians on side-stage jumbotrons, and are hosted by pop musicians like Sam Roberts. Today’s rehearsal was more for coordination of the cameras than for the music-making, but it made the event run smoothly.

In between scheduled events today, I dedicated some time to Ritornello, my festival which is coming up at the end of May in Saskatoon. I founded and co-direct this festival with my good pal Jacqueline Woods. We’re very excited to host many Canadian artists at this year’s festival, including violinist Lara St. John. Over the last few weeks, I’ve been communicating with Lara about some programming ideas, finalizing other artist and programming details with Jacqueline, sorting out travel arrangements and accommodations for everyone, and trying to have everything together for a Festival Launch Party sometime in April! Thankfully, no one this year is flying with a cello… (Perhaps I’m jinxing this by putting it into print, but I’ve never had any problems flying with my violin. Maybe it’s because more of us are constantly on the move!) Jacqueline and I are in charge of all aspects of this growing festival.  Beyond programming and hiring concerns, we also secure venues, deal with posters, flyers, ads, everything!

This festival has been an important way for me to still remain active out west, where I grew up. We initially started the festival to bring professional performers from Saskatoon and area, now living in other centres, back to perform – and this mandate guides us still, although slightly more loosely. It has been challenging to run things from afar, but it is very much worth it – it’s a way to stay connected to a musical community that raised me, and it is an opportunity to collaborate with friends and artists near and far. I can’t believe it’s 7 years old already! If you’re in Saskatoon May 29-31, come check it out!

Saturday, March 14 and Sunday, March 15, 2015

We had an early Dvorak rehearsal yesterday at the National Gallery of Canada. It’s always fun putting together a major chamber work in one rehearsal. It’s really interesting to see how we can combine years of experience and different approaches to the same piece into one solidified interpretation so quickly.  We worked at a pretty relaxed pace, playing into the afternoon. And what better to do afterwards? A little more solo practice, rest, and a Korean food outing!

This morning I woke up very excited – I love that feeling! One of the best parts of being a musician is the excitement that we feel concert to concert, no matter how seasoned we get. This concert was particularly exciting because we are still a very new chamber group, joined by a visiting pianist, playing to a full house. Collaboration with this crew is very easy.  Even though we’ve played only two concerts together, I realize that we’ve played together every day for the last two years (since we all joined the orchestra) – just with an extra 50 people or so! Some of our colleagues opened the program with a gorgeous rendition of Mozart's C-major flute quartet, then Inon performed a piece for solo piano. We would take the stage after intermission.

The first movement was exhilarating! As we finished, we could hear the audience murmur with excitement as we tried to regain our composure to begin the second movement, a gorgeous Dumka. This piece is especially fun for the second violinist (me) because the part has a lot of little solos and melodic bits, and there is a lot of interplay between the two violins. The performance was really spirited, full of harnessed nervous energy, and the audience really responded – such an incredible feeling! 

While we were hanging out backstage pre-concert, Jessica and I completely nerded out and played each other’s instruments, comparing them. Her Vuillaume is 20-25 years older than mine, and we found that while they do share a few similar traits, they’re certainly not identical. The biggest difference is that the Canada Council instrument is so dark it’s like a mini-viola, but it has a nice brilliance on the E-string.

I think we’re all feeling quite a high after our performance this afternoon, but as usual, all good things must come to an end.  We said goodbye to Inon, who was off to catch a plane back to New York, and went for a celebratory beer.  Seeing that it’s Sunday, we’re all off to a family dinner of some kind.  Tonight, it’s time to rest up and prepare for whatever exciting project comes next!