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The Intermediate Player

By Danielle Gomez
Encinitas, California
Published: October 23, 2014 at 23:10

The concept of being "intermediate" is something often overlooked. Everyone is guilty of this regardless of age. Though most would not admit as much, there seems to be this unspoken expectation that a student goes from "beginner" and then immediately jumps to "expert."

What happened to intermediate?

Understanding the basics of an instrument and achieving a reasonable amount of control is really only just the beginning of the learning process. Just because the student can't play everything doesn't mean that the student is a failure or even that the effort was wasted. Being intermediate at something is the only way to eventually become advanced.

The learning curve is not a straight upward line. It may resemble such in the beginning when everything is a new concept. But eventually this line plateaus. Learning happens in phases and there is a definite possibility that things could get worse at times before things get better.

Being intermediate is far more difficult than being advanced. At the advanced level most music seems achievable given enough time and effort. At the intermediate level the mental knowledge has outstripped physical ability and the result is frustration. The effort of achieving mastery seems daunting, making everything achieved so far appear trivial.

But take comfort in the fact that these feelings are normal. It is part of the learning process and there's no way to skip this step. Every advanced musician that you hear playing was both a beginner and intermediate player at some point.

Rethinking Genius

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A List of Established Modern Violin and Bow Makers from the VSA's New Instrument Exhibit

By Laurie Niles
Published: October 23, 2014 at 14:46

Who exactly are some of the more established modern violin and bow makers who are raising the art of the craft to new level? We hope that the list below can serve as a helpful resource to anyone looking for a fine modern instrument.

Last month during the Violin Society of America's Convention, an entire exhibit was devoted to new violins make by well-established violin and bow makers. Many of these makers have won so many VSA awards that they were no longer eligible to enter the 2014 VSA Competition for makers (Winners of the 2014 Violin Society of America Competition are listed here.)

Called the "New Instrument Exhibit," it featured 120 instruments and bows by 85 makers. Players visited the room all week to test the violins and bows, and they often could meet the maker right there in the room; so it was possible to speak to a maker while testing his or her violin or bow. What an incredible opportunity!

VSA violins

Here is a list of the makers represented in the VSA's "New Instrument Exbibit," all with links to their contact information. I hope you find this to be helpful!

Andrew Carruthers of Santa Rosa

Bill Scott, Gregg Alf and Dennis Braun

Michael Fischer
Michael Fischer of Los Angeles

Skreko Indy
Theodore Skreko of Indianapolis Violins

Zyg and Curtin
Sam Zygmuntowicz and Joseph Curtin


Gregg T. Alf
Pablo Alfaro
Robert Ames
GianCarlo Arcieri
Dimitri Atanassov
Dorian Barnes
Gonzalo Bayolo
David Burgess
Andrew Carruthers
Chicago School of Violin Making
Carlo Chiesa
David L. Chrapkiewicz
Marco Coppiardi
Martin Cornelissen
Thomas Croen
Joseph Curtin
David Finck
Michael Fischer
Ronald L Fletcher
David Folland
Andrea Frandsen
Christopher Germain
Todd Goldenberg
David Gusset
Jonathan Hai
Mark Hollinger
Li Ming Huai
Indianapolis Violins
Feng Jiang
Chris Kiely
Felix Krafft
Francis Kuttner
Christophe Landon
Silvio Levaggi
Zhen Hua Ling
Douglas Martin
Jesse Maschmeyer
Steven M. McCann
Georg Meiwes
Ray Melanson
Thomas Meuwissen
Eduard Miller
Sally Mullikin
Orest Nakonechny
Oberlin Workshop
Phillippe Reynaud
James Robinson
Benjamin Ruth
Andrew Ryan
Julien Schneider
Kelvin Scott
Bill Scott, Jr.
Sigrun Seifert and Joseph Grubaugh
Nathan Slobodkin
Jan Spidlen
David Swanson
Joe Thrift
Stefan Valcuha
Jason Viseltear
Stephan Von Baehr
Marilyn J Wallin
Mark Hough
Ute Zahn
Samuel Zygmuntowicz


Morgan Andersen
John Aniano
Pierre-Yves Fuchs
Lee Guthrie
David Hawthorne
Kwonsu Kim
Rodney Mohr
Evan Orman
Richard Riggal
Steve Salchow
David Samuels
Elizabeth Shaak
Matthew Wehling
Li Xueyong
Roger Zabinski

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A Violin Double Header

By Raphael Klayman
Brooklyn, New York
Published: October 23, 2014 at 12:32


On Sunday, October 19th 2014, I participated in two unrelated but stimulating violin events in New York City. The first was the Contemporary Violin Makers Exhibit. This was organized and hosted by the noted dealer, Julie Reed Yeboah. In the second floor main room of the Kosciuszko Foundation, on Manhattan's East 65th Street, violins, violas, cellos and bows were laid out on tables for talented and curious hands to try. While signing in on the ground floor, my ears were already accosted by the cattle call-like din of fiddlers furiously taking these new instruments through their paces. It only got worse when I got upstairs! With a lot of experience in trying out instruments at auction showings, I learned to tune a lot of this out, in order to focus on my own playing and pay attention to this or that particular violin or bow. This I did, as I soon got to work adding my voice to the general uproar. For a basis of comparison, I brought with me one of my very favorite violins – my del Gesu model Vittorio Villa of 2010 that I've named “Michelangelo”, along with my overall favorite bow, my EA Ouchard.

I started out with the bows. I liked a gold-mounted bow by Matt Wehling, though I think the already-sold gold-mounted bow that he showed me in the New York Mondo Musica exhibition this past spring suited me more. At any rate at this exhibition, my Ouchard was best – at least for my hand and my fiddle. I then made my way through most of the violins, and fairly quickly. I honestly felt that almost none of them offered serious competition to my Villa. Oh, this one had a fine G string, and that one was good in a certain register. But for overall quality, quantity and balance, most fell short. Most. When I tried Geoffrey Ovington's violin I was more impressed. And George Yu's violin impressed me the most. Indeed, it gave my Villa a run for its money, in an apples-and-oranges sort of way. Julie told me that it was already sold, and I congratulate both buyer and maker. I showed her my violin and bow and she said that both were beautiful.

I started getting ready to go. I was putting my violin and bow back in my case, and chatting a bit with Julie when I suddenly heard my name enthusiastically intoned with a Latin lilt: “Mr. Raphael Klayman!” I turned to see the friendly face of a gentleman that I quickly scrutinized for recognition, but could find none. “Forgive me,” he continued, “you don't know me, but we have a friend in common – Mr. Vittorio Villa!” He then explained that his name was Ricardo Morales, a clarinetist with the Philadelphia Orchestra! His wife is a violinist there as well. But it seems that Ricardo was quite a violin aficionado, himself. He told me that he had custom-ordered a new violin from Vittorio. “But how do you know me?” I asked. He told me that he saw my name and my Villa violins on Vittorio's website. “But how did you recognize my face?” I asked, still puzzled. He told me that he got curious about me and looked me up. Hmmm...violin aficionado, or violin FBI? In fact he seemed like a fine gentleman. I showed him my Villa violin. He not only recognized it, but remembered the name I had given it - “Michelangelo”! We exchanged cards and I hope to keep in touch with my new colleague. Our music world can be surprisingly small, and as it turned out, this would be but the first interesting meeting of this day.

I traveled to my second event on a crosstown bus to the west side of Manhattan and the iconic Lincoln Center complex. Its library houses a nice recital hall known as the Bruno Walter Auditorium, where I actually once gave a recital long ago and where a memorial for David Nadien would be held. To those who aren't very familiar with the name, a separate blog would really be necessary to do David Nadien justice. But a few words would be in order to give some idea of who he was and why I, who never studied with him nor worked with him as a colleague, was interested in attending this event. David Nadien, 1926-2014, was known as a violinist's violinist and greatly appreciated by knowledgeable connoisseurs. As a young man he won the prestigious Leventritt competition, when the president of the Jury at the time was none other than Arturo Toscanini! His playing was marked by a technique extremely close to Heifetz' level, a tone and phrasing that could be both brilliant and quite elegant, very expressive nuances, and and a most sophisticated understanding of the music he played. In addition, he was an unbelievable sight-reader. He served for four years as Concertmaster of the New York Philharmonic, and had been heard on a number of occasions as a concerto soloist and as a recitalist. But actually most of his career was as a studio musician in New York, where his great skills, quick reactions and flexibility made him highly desirable in a milieu where time almost literally equaled money. I had heard him live a few times as well as most of his recordings. No, as a soloist, Nadien never had anywhere near the career of an Itzhak Perlman (and how many do?). But according to one of the speakers at the memorial, on at least one occasion, Perlman consulted him! This in a nutshell was a violin Goliath named David!

I actually had a lot of time between the two events. I made pleasant use of the interval by first rummaging in the Julliard bookstore, and I then grabbed a tasty sandwich from a nice deli just across the street. I took my lunch to the spacious stairs just outside Alice Tully Hall, where many people like to sit, enjoying both the food and the mild weather. At last I made my way to the Lincoln Center Library and was one of the first to arrive. Gradually some people trickled in and then as well as later, I struck up some interesting conversations with various people. More people arrived and we all milled around outside the doors of the Bruno Walter Auditorium. A couple, I had previously been in touch with by phone or by email but had never met in person till now. Some looked familiar to me but I couldn't put a name with a face. But at one point a very tall and distinguished looking gentleman entered the lobby sporting a full head of gray hair, finely chiseled features and an erect bearing. I had never personally met him before, but I instantly recognized him as Arnold Steinhardt, long time first violinist of the famous Guarneri String Quartet. This obviously wasn't your every day crowd. Most were former colleagues or students of Nadien. Others, like me, had been knowledgeable admirers. When the doors finally opened and we entered the hall, I chose a seat at random near the back. As it turned out I was part of a most distinguished cross section: next to me one one side were two former Nadien students; on the other side of me was the President of the New York Philharmonic; and in back of him, the parents of the Philharmonic's Music Director, Alan Gilbert. They had both been violinists in the orchestra, and one still is. Speaking of Maestros, at a distance I spotted and later greeted the noted Anton Coppola, with whom I had worked on numerous occasions, and now well into his 90's.

The master of ceremonies was a long time colleague of Nadien, Richard Sortomme. Other speakers included family members, colleagues and admirers, including Arnold Steinhardt who has taken over teaching a top Nadien student, Shannon Lee, who treated us to a beautiful performance of the Chopin-Milstein Nocturne in C# minor. We also enjoyed the very sensitive playing of the noted pianist, Jerome Lowenthal in the Andante Sostenuto from the Schubert Sonata in Bb.

From the many remembrances and anecdotes shared by the various speakers, a collective picture began to coalesce - a coherent mosaic emerged from disparate tiles. Here was a virtuoso who inspired listeners and sometimes intimidated students and colleagues with his fearsome skills and high expectations. Yet here was also a man who was cherished by those close to him for his wit and humor. The memorial ended with the house lights lowered and one of Nadien's many recordings was played: his exquisite rendition of Edward Elgar's Salut d'amour. And the 'amour' was palpable in that auditorium.

After the service there was a nice reception, where many swapped stories over tasty snacks. Having always admired him, his famous quartet and his books, I briefly introduced myself to Arnold Steinhardt and left soon after that to catch a subway back to my home in Brooklyn. While waiting on the platform for my train, who did I spot walking in my direction – but again Arnold Steinhardt! I briefly hesitated to greet him again not wishing to intrude on his privacy. New York has a fine tradition that's generally well adhered to of not bothering celebrities. But we were after all, both more or less in the same biz and I said hello to him again. He immediately revealed himself to be a very nice, open gentleman – and very down-to-earth (not an easy posture when you're well over six feet tall!). We quickly got into a very friendly and lively conversation about music, violins and even compared notes about some of our respective teachers. At one point I mentioned that Nadien's recording of the Elgar was an inspiration for my own recording of it – not equaling him, of course. I had a copy of my 2nd CD with me that includes it and gladly offered it to my distinguished new acquaintance. He demurred but I said that I really wanted him to have it and he thanked me. At one point I asked if I could ask him a question regarding the Guarneri Quartet: I always wondered what a quartet does with its music when it disbands. Does each player keep his own part? Do they put all the parts back and maybe donate them to some institution? He said that it was a very good question and that nobody had ever asked him that before! He said that so far each of them was keeping his parts and in the future they might think about what to do with them. He also told me that he still gets together with his Guarneri colleagues sometimes to play chamber music – but anything BUT quartets! Quintets, sextets etc. were now the order of the day. His stop came before mine and as we shook hands goodbye, he was kind enough to actually thank me again for my CD! I continued on my journey home, aglow with impressions of this most interesting and stimulating day!

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Playing against the Odds: the Violin in Japan

By Margaret Mehl
Copenhagen, Denmark
Published: October 23, 2014 at 04:29

A recent scandal in the world of classical music in Japan eve made it into the foreign press: “'Japan's Beethoven' Samuragochi paid hearing composer to write music,” screamed a headline in the Guardian on 5 February 2014. And on 2 May the New Yorker carried a detailed article entitled The Unmasking of “Japan’s Beethoven” (by Roland Kelts).

Mamoru Samuragochi, born in 1963 in Hiroshima continued to compose even after he allegedly turned totally deaf at the age of 35. His works include the Symphony No 1, "Hiroshima", a tribute to the victims of the atomic bomb in 1945. Japans national broadcasting association NHK aired a documentary in March 2013, which showed Samuragochi comforting tsunami victims during a tour of the Tôhoku region.

When it became known that the figure skater Daisuke Takahashi planned to use Samuragochi’s Sonatina for Violin (recorded by the violinist Ôtani Yasuko) for his performance at the Sochi Olympics, the composer and music professor Takashi Niigaki revealed that he had acted as a ghost composer for Samuragochi. Samuragochi admitted this and apologized profusely, causing considerable embarrassment to NHk and other media as well as Nippon Columbia Co., who sold recordings of his works.

The Sonatina was originally composed for the violinist Miku Okubo, and her story added another dimension to the scandal. Okubo was born with only one fully functional arm, her left one. Thanks to a prosthetic right arm. , she has learnt to play the violin. A TV documentary made in 2008 featured Okubo performing with another famous figure skater, Asada Mao. According to the programme, Okubo dreamt of becoming a violin teacher. Later, Samuragochi became her self-appointed mentor.

The story of Miku Okubo, striving to play the violin against the odds is moving and her achievement impressive. Nevertheless, I cannot help asking myself why she (or her parents, given her tender age when she started learning) decided that she should play the violin, of all instruments. Even with two fully functional arms and hands the violin is surely one of the most difficult instruments to play.

But then overcoming seemingly unsurmountable difficulties is the essence of what made Beethoven an immensely popular figure in Japan long before most of his music could be heard (see my January 2012 blog ”Kreutzer Sonata” ). Another variation on this theme is the well-publicized story of the violinist Narimichi Kawabata. Kawabata began to study the violin at the relatively late age of 10 with a view to becoming a soloist, after an illness contracted during a holiday in Los Angeles caused hi m to loose most of his eyesight.

Choosing the violin may well reflect the high esteem the violin has held in Japan almost since its introduction in the second half of the 19th century. Authors of violin tutors around 1900 seldom failed to point out that the violin was the “King” (or “Queen”) of Western instruments, and when it became fashionable to play Japanese koto (plucked zither) and shamisen (three-stringed plucked lute) melodies on the violin at around this time, representatives of the orthodoxy in the field of Western classical music deplored the desecration of the “flower” of Western music. In the Western world the violin has long commanded a mystique, symbolizing both heaven and hell and inspiring numerous artists beyond the realm of music, as David Schoenbaum shows in “Book 4: Imagining It” in his monumental from social history of the violin. Much of this mystique was adopted by the Japanese together with the instrument, and they moreover added some of their own.

You can read more about the violin in Japan, including the story of Narimichi Kawabata, in my new book, Not by Love Alone.

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Galamian's Principles

Galamian's Principles of the Violin

Long one of the standards for violin teachers and students, Ivan Galamian's Principles of Violin Playing and Teaching offers both principles and practice exercises to help develop violinists of all ages and abilities. This new edition includes a foreword by Sally Thomas.

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