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The Week in Reviews, Op. 41: Tasmin Little and Isabelle Faust at the Proms

By Robert Niles
Published: July 29, 2014 at 11:20

In an effort to promote the coverage of live music, each week Violinist.com brings you links to reviews of notable violin performances from around the world.

Tasmin Little performed the Moeran at the BBC Proms

  • The Independent: "Little’s playing had poise and purity of intonation, but it was curiously passionless, and she didn’t project her sound to fill the hall; up high, she was barely audible."
  • The Guardian: Tasmin Little shaped the solo part beguilingly, though, and brought a real warmth to the lingering fade of the finale, but a bit more backbone ought to have come from the orchestra, and that might have defined the outlines of each movement more precisely.
  • Listen to the concert, via the BBC! Part 1, Part 2

Isabelle Faust
Photo by Felix Broede, courtesy the artist

Isabelle Faust performed Bartók’s Violin Concerto No. 2 at the BBC Proms

Gabriel Prokofiev's Violin Concerto, performed by Daniel Hope, makes its world premiere at the Royal Albert Hall tonight (1:30 pm ET)

  • BBC.com: "Prokofiev says he wanted to convey a broad picture of what was happening in 1914 - a year he describes as 'the end of the old world, the old ways, the old hierarchies.'"
  • Daily Express: "'...I think I have finally found my own voice as a composer and I hope people can hear the Russianness in my music,' (Prokofiev) adds. 'My grandfather composed music that has a dialogue with the public and that’s what I want to achieve.'"
  • Listen live on BBC Radio 3, or follow the links for the rebroadcast... Part 1, Part 2

Gil Shaham performed the Britten with the National Youth Orchestra

  • The New York Times: "Mr. Shaham brought glowing sound, subtle shadings and effortless technique to his performance."
  • New York Classical Review: "The first thought that comes to mind seeing over 100 teenagers dressed in red pants, blue blazers and white shirts on the stage of Carnegie Hall Tuesday night, was: 'How can anyone think classical music is dead?' There’s never enough money — there never has been — but money is neither alive nor musical. These kids were there to play a concert of classical music, and a good number of them, if not all, will continue playing classical music through their lives."
  • The Boston Globe: "Shaham has the subtle technique to project the harrowing intricacies of this score, but his feeling for this music’s larger expressive arc, its grammar of burning tension and release, was less apparent, so the concerto even in his capable hands never really added up to more than the sum of its parts."

Joshua Bell performed the Bruch with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra

  • Chicago Tribune: "...his account of Max Bruch's First Violin Concerto was unruffled and pleasingly worked out, with not a bit of rough tone or heightened tension. Few would call it distanced, but a difference was noticeable between Bell's lacquered perfection and Conlon's more shaded orchestral contribution."

Dmitry Sinkovsky performed works by Vivaldi with the Australian Brandenburg Orchestra

  • The Age: "Sinkovsky is the real deal: a passionate and adventurous musician with a slightly overwhelming array of talents."

Did you attend a concert in the past week? If so, please tell us about it in the comments. Please support live music in your community by attending a concert or recital whenever you can!

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To Practice or not to Practice While Vacationing: That is the Question

By Shauna Kaske
Chicago, Illinois
Published: July 28, 2014 at 14:14

It's always difficult to decide whether or not to bring the violin to a week of stress-free vacation that comes around only once or twice a year. Usually, when I travel to Florida or Nashville, I opt out and leave the precious goods behind, but when I was given the opportunity of a lifetime to spend a month of the summer in the south of France- (the first time in my life it was a major vacation that did not involve musical reckonings) I was torn. Lately, with all the trouble musicians have been enduring with airports and their bows, I was especially nervous (on my way back to the States I had to catch three separate planes, and once again go through security). It was going to be the only time as of yet where I would feel like work was not my first priority.

My trip was spent on the breath-taking and incredible landscapes of Cassis, where we went kayaking and snorkeling in the lagoons. We spent a week in Paris, and then later a weekend in Barcelona, but aside from the time spent in Paris and Barcelona, I was able to miraculously set aside time to practice nearly every day.

I think every musician deserves at least one week of the year off, where they're not intensely performing in the orchestra pits, or practicing for countless hours a day. So, I let myself enjoy the beautiful sights that are Paris and Barcelona, but I was also able to nourish a different side of the music that sometimes busy musicians don't have time for: I was able to sit back and watch others perform.

One day, after buying our lunch from a bakery and heading to a park, we ditched the park when we saw a violinist playing on the steps of the Musée d'Orsay. We listened to him for about an hour, playing gypsy music- so different from the classical training that I am accustomed to. It pleasantly surprised me how many people sat on the steps and watched the violinist, and most sat for a long period of time.

Another day, we we lucky enough to snag seats to a fabulous concert in one of my favorite venues in the world: Paul Rogers playing the Vivaldi's Four Seasons at the Sainte-Chapelle church in Paris. He lived up to the virtuosity of the piece and we sat mesmerized, listening to the vibrant sounds of the strings in the glowing world-famous stained glass chapel. I left enchanted.

While in Cassis, we journeyed to a nearby town and watched a pianist play Beethoven accompanied by orchestra in the hills. Every concert was magic.

I fulfilled my dream of visiting L’Opéra national de Paris, or the opera house of Paris, and merely taking a tour left me astounded by the beauty of it. To get the chance to play music in what seemed to me, a sacred place for music, was every musician's dream.

Sometimes, the classical scene in the U.S. is a bit worrisome, with the orchestra lockouts becoming more and more common. What was refreshing to me, as a young musician, was to see the fervor that people felt about music in Europe.

To attend a concert in the Musée d'Orsay, people lined up outside as early as two hours before the show, and when we finally did make it inside, we could barely see over the sea of people in front of us.

I was fueled by the atmosphere, the charm of the music scene over there. One day, while walking near the River Seine in Paris, where there are always small stands lining the sidewalk, I spotted an old score of the Lalo concerto, which I just happen to be currently studying. Of course, I had to buy it.

Yes, we climbed the Eiffel Tower and went to the Louvre, but it was all these "little elements" of the music that made this trip so memorable to me.

Occasionally, life throws you these little signs that you should keep doing what you're doing.

Whenever I wasn't practicing, I was able to relish these moments of music and beauty. It gave me perspective because maybe one day, I can travel with my music. It gave me hope, and sometimes that is all one needs to get back on their practicing grind when they return home.

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Expressing Individuality in Faculty Recitals

By Penny Kruse
Bowling Green, Ohio
Published: July 28, 2014 at 11:06

One of the things I have enjoyed most about teaching at Bowling Green State University College of Musical Arts is planning and performing my annual faculty recital. I feel fortunate to have outstanding faculty members who are eager to collaborate. As a violinist, I always have a running “bucket list” of pieces that I have never played and want to learn. In addition to performing with members of our piano faculty and my other string colleagues, I have programmed works on my faculty recitals that include clarinet, trumpet, harp, and narrator. Some of the pieces on my “bucket list” are war horses that I want to add to my repertoire. Others may be something that I stumbled onto on the internet or browsing in a music store in Australia!

Last year when a doctoral pianist told me how much she enjoyed my faculty recital, she said, “It was so YOU!” I knew exactly what it meant, because my repertoire choices reflected much of my personality. I included a beautiful work by Rebecca Clarke, Three Pieces for two violins and piano. Having grown up with my older sister also playing the violin, I always think I know the entire repertoire for two violins or two violins and piano. However, musicologists continue to discover works that have not been published. These beautiful pieces by Rebecca Clarke fall into that category. Having heard them on a recording, I knew I had to play them. I had a new violin colleague last fall and so it was a wonderful way to include him in my recital program.

Another piece on my recital, Ferdinand for Violin and Narrator by Alan Ridout and text by Munroe Leaf, was something I stumbled onto surfing the web, curious if there was anything written for violin and narrator. This humorous piece is based on the children’s story of Ferdinand the Bull. Geoff Stephenson who teaches voice and musical theater at BGSU was more than a willing and enthusiastic conspirator. Such fun to interact with Geoff and hear the audience laughing at a violin recital! If interested, you can watch our performance on YouTube.

My repertoire selections also reflect my current interests. One year I performed works by all women composers. Having attended a performance of Blue Man Group, I wanted to find a way to break down the division between the audience and the performers. I wrote first person narratives on each of the composers. I had female members of my studio stand up with only a flashlight and speak the narrative before performing each selection.

So what will I play this year? This program may be the most atypical to date. Of course there is a piece from my “bucket list.” I will play Jennifer Higdon’s String Poetic. Higdon is a BGSU alumna. I will also play a piece that I have performed many times throughout my life and one of my dear friends played it at my wedding, The Lark Ascending by Vaughan-Williams. The second half of the program is when I will step outside my comfort zone. First, I will play A Night in Jakarta by New York composer David Snow for 5-string electric violin and recorded sound. I first performed this piece at BGSU on a Halloween concert, the fall after I had convinced my department chair to purchase an electric instrument. A large number of my violin students coming to BGSU already owned an electric violin.

For the first performance of David Snow’s piece, in keeping with the Halloween theme, I dressed up like Mark Wood! I do not know what I will be wearing in September, but I will not be hiding my identity this time. The violin I will be playing is a Mark Wood Stingray that he has autographed. The next piece will be Improvisation on a Bach Prelude for Solo Violin and Loop Pedal by Christian Howes. In July 2013, I attended Chris’ Creative Strings Workshop. I am taking baby steps in learning to improvise. Once again, I convinced my department chair to purchase more equipment, including the looper. At string conferences, I attend any sessions that deal with looping. Playing this piece in public involves a large leap of faith in electronics that I do not understand, as well as freeing myself from playing what is written on the page. Keep in mind, I have spent many years practicing to perfect the art of playing what is on the page. The final piece on my recital will be Adam DeGraff’s arrangement of Led Zeppelin’s Stairway to Heaven. When I was in the Kansas City Symphony, I was hired to play concertmaster for the re-emergence tour of Plant and Page. We rehearsed without the band to a CD, playing what we call footballs, whole notes that sounded quite beautiful. Our naiveté was revealed when we approached the deafening sounds of the arena. We did not play in every song. There was no conductor and I was a fearful leader. The presence of sound shields was comical. One piece seemed to run right into the next one. We could not even tell if we were supposed to be playing. Though this felt and still seems horrifyingly embarrassing, I do not think the audience noticed or cared. If you had told me then that I would one day play Led Zeppelin on a Faculty Recital, I would have declared you insane!

Yes, I will be stepping out of the comfort zone, but I will also be having fun. I hope the audience will as well! Wednesday, September 3, 8 p.m., Bryan Recital Hall, Moore Musical Arts Center, Bowling Green State University, Bowling Green, OH. Also streamed live on the web at http://www.bgsu.edu/musical-arts/college-information/media/live-streaming.html


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Helping Students and Parents Enjoy the Competitive Journey: Part III, Preparing for Final Rounds

By Amy Beth Horman
Washington, Washington
Published: July 28, 2014 at 06:19

This is my third installment in a blog series intended to help me gear up for another competitive calendar in my private studio. As I reflect on what has worked for us, I hope it sparks some discussion with other teachers who have similar challenges. Click here to read Part I, The Application Process and Part II, Managing Expectations.

This blog centers around the invitation to be “in the arena”! You are in the finals! Nothing is more joyous than getting phone calls from students as they receive this news. I was actually able to deliver this news to someone last year and it was thrilling for both of us. The students work incredibly hard and the process for some of the larger pieces spans an entire year of preparation. Being recognized in this way is indescribably validating and rewarding for all involved. Happiness all the way around! But now what?

First we celebrate by announcing studio wide and take a moment to catch our breath. Then a new exciting phase of preparation begins! I divide this preparation for final rounds into three categories - mental prep, musical prep, and studio networking for moral support. Of course their violin playing has to be on point. But in addition to that, their heads have to be in the right place, and their support systems should be called in to cheer them on.

In our studio, over the course of the last few years, we have accumulated personal accounts and files on our regional competitions and even a few national ones. As a student completes a final round, I request that they answer a small list of questions detailing their experience. During the competition itself, I task the parents with taking simple pictures of the halls, practice area, warm up rooms, even parking and nearby facilities. I offer this folder of info to the finalists and their parents each year so that they can familiarize themselves with the unknown – their venue, the orchestra and conductor if applicable, the stage, and the facility. Sometimes we might have a testimonial or two about the organizers themselves if they are incredibly organized….or the opposite! Even pictures of what previous finalists have worn can be helpful. What color is the concert hall or the drapes? Is the stage elevated? What kind of piano is there? If we are new to the competition, I email the organizer and ask similar questions politely and collect information for the whole studio so we don’t have to ask it twice. This is undoubtedly an exciting time. You can see it in their faces as they walk in for every lesson. The students are starting to visualize themselves on stage and playing their best.

Having said all of that, if I have learned one thing in the past several years with kids in the final rounds, it’s that you can always expect the unexpected no matter how prepared you are. Even with a file of things to familiarize them, you can always count on a fluke to enter in there somewhere. I can’t protect them from that. The best I can do is to tell them to be ready for it and smile as they see it. I compare it visually to an elf entering the room. He is like an extra variable meant to put you even more on your toes, and strengthen your resolve. We are covering the rest so thoroughly that my hope is that this will reserve some coping energy for whatever surprise the universe has in store for them.

The musical preparation and practice is different for each child. If they are still adjusting to performing their work on stage and it is “in process” we might schedule another practice performance through the studio. I try and form an ideal schedule of lessons and rehearsals specifically tailored for each of the students as soon as they are announced as a finalist. If we are blessed enough to be playing with orchestra in the finals, I shoot their full score up on a wall using a projector in their lessons to help them visualize and quiz them. We even rehearsed their concerti movements with arrangements for string quartet and a conductor last year. I was delighted to find area players were happy to volunteer for them to simulate the need to telegraph. They even got a sneak preview to challenges in transitions or the allowance for rubato. And of course we record lessons, rehearsals, prep concerts and take notes to apply to our work. Rinse, lather and repeat!

When I was growing up and competing, finalists weren’t friendly with one another, sometimes even within the same studio. Last year we always had multiple students in the finals together. One competition even had three of our kids together in the finals so we found ourselves communicating a lot for common questions, strategies, and scheduling with pianists. I loved seeing the kids get closer even in the planning stages of the final rounds. They had been in enough studio events together outside of competitions to get to know one another and friendliness prevailed. In one competition, I watched my students fist bump one another as one walked off stage yielding to the other. In another, I saw two of them snapchatting each other and giggling. I realized as I witnessed it that this is something I always want to nurture and encourage in my studio. Anything that helps this feeling of being one with their classmates is so golden and they all play better for it. By creating common opportunities and opening up rehearsals, they were able to celebrate each others’ strengths and genuinely root for each other in that final round. They saw the placement of prizes shift and swap around as the competition year went on and celebrated each others’ victories knowing they were all sharing the stage.

Over the past many years we have accumulated a nice following for our students through events we host. There is a good amount of networking between youth orchestras, teacher organizations, and other studios. We also all participate to maintain a strong online community and this contributes to the kids feeling supported and encouraged. Between school orchestra, youth orchestra, family, friends and church, there is a virtual fabric of support that is truly palpable. So last year one thing I started doing to celebrate the announcement of finalists was to invite this studio following to the live final rounds. The finals are exciting and full of great talent. I also invite the rest of the studio. Many students who attend are not competing yet but will be in a year or so and they are very inspired just watching the process with a classmate involved. Frequently the finalists themselves have their own troops to call in. I then get the privilege of getting to know them as well. Celebrating the final round as an achievement in and of itself helps reinforce the idea that being “in the arena” is winning already and whatever happens after that point is icing on the cake. I want the finalists to feel the warmth of people who have seen them grow both as musicians and also as people. They have rooted for them all along in all of their separate circles and share a sense of pride for all they have accomplished. We have a quote we use in all of our programs in the studio which reads “the development and success of an artist is always connected to the support of their family and community”.

I hope that by preparing them in all of these ways I am not only helping them experience something empowering for each event but that I am also contributing to them managing this on their own one day. They have so much to offer through their music making and I believe preparation often gets lost in a practice room. By employing all of these methods of preparation, they are honoring every part of themselves and each other.

Next in this blog series: Competition Etiquette, and Carrying the Experience Forward.

PHOTO CREDIT: Inju Heo
* The picture above features student Sean Yongjoo Lim with quartet musicians Gavin Fallow, Christian Simmelink, Howard Van Der Sluis, Steven Honigberg, and conductor Joel Lazar preparing for the Landon Symphonette String Competition Finals.
Joel Lazar is currently the conductor of the Washington Sinfonietta and the Symphony of the Potomac.

hormanviolinstudio.com

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