In music, everything is conveyed through sound. Rhythm, intonation, phrasing, style, music– none of this can be detected unless sound exists first. Like clay for a potter, or marble for a sculptor, sound is the material with which a musician creates. And how does she create sound? By spinning it out.
What does this mean, “to spin out sound?"
Think of a thread being spun from a spinning wheel. What are the qualities that a useful thread will have? It will be long, continuous, even, smooth, solid, and without defect. It will be reliable for whatever purpose it is meant. So it is with elemental sound. A good musician can create sound which is long, continuous, even, smooth, solid, and without defect: reliable. How easy is this to do on the violin? Not very.
Typical flaws include crunching, scratching, pitch variation, airiness, gaps: Problems due to tension and lack of coordination in the bow arm. Training the bow arm to create reliable, beautiful sound takes a good ear, good feedback, and practice. Lots and lots of practice. In the end, like anything well made, sound production can be neither mentally directed nor forced. Reliable sound that can be formed into a musical piece is created with a relaxed, well-coordinated right arm that responds seamlessly to musical thought. It happens by feel.
I made my son clap once. Only one time in my three years of practicing have I made anyone spontaneously break into applause. It was for the first movement of the Vivaldi A minor, which I have now been playing for well over a year. For some reason, no matter how well I know the notes, or remember the dynamics and articulations, it sounds flat when I play it.
As a point of fact, everything sounds flat when I play it. My interpretation of music is like a foreigner’s attempt at a language they have read, but never heard spoken aloud. I can’t pinpoint why that is. It’s not as if I haven’t sought out numerous other performances of the piece, or tried every trick in my limited book to emulate the best of them. The musicality is always the part I simply can’t grasp.
Honestly though, during practice I am practicing. Either it’s drilling a particularly troubling section to get the fingering right, checking bow angles in the mirror, or grappling with getting the rhythm just so. Rarely am I playing with the pure intent of being musical. In fact, that is almost never the point of any of my practice sessions.
The other night I was wrapping up a practice session when my youngest son came down for his goodnight hug. Knowing better than to interrupt before I get to a stopping point, he curled up on the loveseat across from my music stand to wait. Noting he was there, I decided not to concentrate so hard on the technical bits and made the effort to relax and try to have fun with it. Suddenly, something clicked. Everything just seemed so easy and I was playing real music. When I finished, my son jumped up and clapped as hard as he could, then ran to give me a hug. “That was the best song ever!” he exclaimed before running up the stairs.
I haven’t been able to recapture that feeling, but at least now I know that I had it once. If it happened one time, it could happen again.
In an effort to promote the coverage of live violin performance, Violinist.com each week presents links to reviews of notable concerts and recitals around the world.
Gil Shaham performed Bruch's Violin Concerto No. 1 with the Cleveland Orchestra.
David Coucheron performed Mozart's Violin Concerto No. 5 with the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra.
Alina Ibragimova performed the Mendelssohn with the Bergen Philharmonic.
Philippe Quint performed the Tchaikovsky with the KZN Philharmonic Orchestra.
Joshua Bell performed the Tchaikovsky with the Cape Town Philharmonic Orchestra.
Baiba Skride performed the Sibelius with the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra.
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A few years ago, one of my students learned the Joachim cadenzas while learning Mozart Concerto No. 5. They were a good challenge, and I consider them to be classic. Beside that, I'm pretty comfy with those old Joseph Joachim cadenzas. Comfy playing them, comfy teaching them. They are the cadenzas I learned as a child, and they are some of the most commonly-used cadenzas for those works.
But I've decided it's time to step out of the comfort zone.
Now she is studying another Mozart concerto, No. 4, and I thought, why not try something new?
Frankly there are a lot of other cadenzas out there for Mozart 4. To name a few: in the Barenreiter edition we're using, we have Joachim and also Leopold Auer, plus the editor Martin Wulfhorst. With some digging on the Internet and elsewhere, one can also find cadenzas by Eduard Herrmann, Sam Franko, Fritz Kreisler, Ferdinand David, Henri Marteau, Emile Sauret, Nathan Milstein, and Jascha Heifetz. To get a little more modern, there is Robert Levin, plus performers such as Maxim Vengerov, Nigel Kennedy, James Ehnes and Augustin Hadelich.
Have any women written cadenzas for the Mozart violin concertos? The only one I could find was Rachel Barton Pine, and actually, this was the one for which I have the music, because Rachel has made all her cadenzas (for the Mozart concertos, Berg, Brahms, Clement, Beethoven, Paganini...) readily available in her The Rachel Barton Pine Collection. I took a look, and it seemed pretty do-able.
"How about learning a cadenza by a female musician, one who is actually alive today?" I asked my student. She liked the idea, and over the summer, she started learning it. One more thing that makes Rachel's cadenzas accessible is the fact that she played them in her recent recording of all the Mozart violin concertos. A student can listen to the cadenza, played by the very artist who wrote it!
It's going to be a challenge, not just for my student, but for me, to learn new cadenzas at the same time as she does. But I certainly like the idea; I think it brings these pieces alive, to use a cadenza by a living performer. I'd love it if cadenzas written by other current performers were as easily accessible.
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