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Violin Blogs

Violinist.com members may keep personal journals on the website. Violinist.com's editor selects the best entries for the column below. Links to all other recent blog posts may be found in the column on the right.

Top Blogs

Listen to Laurie's Public Radio Interview about Violinist.com

By Laurie Niles
August 29, 2014 21:33

I wanted to share with you a link to a radio interview that I did, talking about the many wonderful violinists I've had the privilege of interviewing over the years as editor of Violinist.com.

Here's the link; WVXU (Cincinnati): A new book of interviews of top violinists from the editor of Violinist.com


After being the "interviewer" for so long, I was a little nervous to be the "interviewee"! I was in great hands, though, with the easy-talking and deep-voiced Mark Perzel, host of Cincinnati Edition on Cincinnati Public Radio (WVXU). In our conversation we talk about interviewing Hilary Hahn, Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg, Sarah Chang, Anne Akiko Meyers, David Garrett, Ruggiero Ricci, Lara St. John, Midori, Aaron Rosand, and about the new book that contains many of those interviews, called Violinist.com Interviews, Vol. 1. We also talk about the history of Violinist.com and about the upcoming International Violin Competition of Indianapolis. Why Cincinnati? It's home to my parents and sister's family, and while visiting this summer I did a little book-signing recital.

I hope you enjoy the interview; please share the link if you do!

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V.com weekend vote: When is the last time you played something by memory?

By The Weekend Vote
August 29, 2014 10:09

When is the last time you played something by memory?

koko spotlight

Performing a with the music and performing by memory involve different levels of preparation and different kinds of concentration.

"If you don't know it by memory, you don't really know it. It has to become part of you," said Curtis Professor of Violin Aaron Rosand in a recent interview with Violinist.com. The English language has a nice idiom for playing by memory: "playing by heart." Anyone who has put in the effort to memorize something knows that this saying contains much truth.

Students routinely memorize pieces for their teachers and often are required to perform them in recital. In the early stages, some students prefer playing by memory to reading music. But what happens when we move on from being students? Once we get adept at reading, though, we can also grow reliant on it. The wonderful thing about reading music is that it allows us to play new music on sight and prepare a performance without as much rehearsal as memorization would take. Orchestra playing often involves just a few rehearsals -- with music, of course!

And once you move past having a teacher, do you memorize music on your own?

When was the last time you memorized music, and performed it? Please vote, and share your thoughts about this topic in the comments section below.

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Busking For Life

By Karen Rile
August 28, 2014 22:38


I hadn't even heard the term "busking"until my kids told me that they wanted to do it. When they did, I grabbed a dictionary: to play music or otherwise perform for voluntary donations in the street. That seemed a little—how could I put it?—unsavory. Or, on second thought, maybe not. We'd spent, after all, thousands in lessons and instruments, which they had worked hard to learn how to play. Maybe it would be a lesson in personal economics, like a lemonade stand.

The girls were eight and ten at the time, and their goal was to earn enough to buy a Playmobil Grand Mansion dollhouse from the toy store up the street. The dream dollhouse was a very large and, I thought, unattractive object comprised of hundreds of tiny parts, something I really did not want inside my life-size house. And it cost over a hundred dollars, which I doubted they would be able to earn. I gave them the go-ahead to busk, expecting they'd earn a few dollars and spend it on ice cream.

They made their goal in a single afternoon. Apparently, little kids playing Bach are hard to resist, so the empty half-size violin case they'd set out on the corner with its hand-lettered sign, "Busking for a Doll House", quickly filled with cash. Their dollhouse, purchased and painstakingly assembled, took over the living room.

Next week they went out to busk some more.

Ours is in a quirky but pleasant urban neighborhood where cops patrol their beat on horseback and neighbors plant free lending libraries in their front yards. We have a lot of garden festivals and craft fairs where you'll see street musicians, both those hired by the business association and those playing for tips. Even on ordinary week days, our main street, lined with restaurants and coffee shops is a perfect place for busking. You don't need a permit like you do downtown or in the subway. Passers-by are friendly—no one shrieks at you to be quiet or tries to rip you off— and, rather than shooing you away from their stores, shop keepers cheer you on. Busking draws a crowd, and crowds are good for business.

I was never a hundred percent pro-busking when my kids were growing up because it ate into practice time. And you could hardly call it high-quality performing. Busking is something you do as a treat after your chores are done. It's a specialized skill: you don't play your real repertoire. You play arrangements, pieces that are recognizable, or at least easily digestible. Audiences want Pachelbel, not Paganini. You need to be able to grin back at dancing toddlers while their mothers pepper you with questions about Suzuki method and the best age to start lessons. You have to field requests ("Do you know anything by Beyoncé?") But the pay is great.

When they were younger my kids often busked to raise funds for charity. Once, outside of Starbucks, they earned a record-breaking $300 in less than an hour for earthquake rescue efforts in Haiti. The Starbucks manager brought them free Frappuccinos because they were attracting so many thirsty customers. Then the manager from the cheese store up the street came out and told them they could play in front of his place any time. Over the years my kids and their friends have done a lot busking, in lots of different cities. One of my daughters now lives in New York, where she busks in Central Park with friends whenever she can fit in a spare hour or two. Even though she's a far better musician now than at age eight, the take isn't as good there as it was years ago back home—only about $50/hour. Or maybe the take is lower because she's grown up.

It's been years since she busked in the neighborhood. When she's home now busking is the last thing on her mind. She's focused on the family, or practicing in the quiet of our house, or getting ready for a real performance. But I'll admit I miss walking up the street and hearing the sound of her Bach traveling on the wind.

Photo credit:Brian Fass, Bethesda Fountain, Central Park

Before my kids started busking I barely noticed street musicians. But now I give money to all of them, no matter what they're playing or how well. It's a compulsion shared by many parents of musicians. I start digging in my wallet as soon as I hear the music: the erhu player outside the Art Institute; the subway saxophonist; the accordion player in lederhosen with a stuffed monkey clipped to his shoulder. I can't walk by without stopping, and listening, and giving.

The other day I was out walking my dogs when I heard a faint but unmistakable sound: a fakebook arrangement of "Some Enchanted Evening". The busker I found when I rounded the corner was 87-year-old Patricia Woods Sellers, tapping away on a portable keyboard plugged into the electric supply of the hardware store. I stood there, my dogs wagging their tails, held in place by her jaunty, indomitable style.

I know it's not polite to talk to buskers, but I also know they're adept at talking while they play. So I asked if I could photograph her (she was all for it) and I asked her about herself. She told me that in 2011 she was fired from her job of 24 years at our neighborhood Cricket Club. (I don't belong, but yes, our neighborhood has a Cricket Club.)

"New management took over and they got rid of the old," she said, smiling dryly without missing a beat. Without a real piano now (she had to sell hers, she said) she makes do with a borrowed keyboard, busking for tips on the sidewalk in good weather.

I don't know the real story behind the employment dispute, but if you do the math, this 87-year-old was 84 in 2011 when she was let go. And here she is, dignified, beautiful, and playing well. "I'm here mostly on Saturdays," she said. If the weather's good this weekend, I'm going back to look for her. I want to hear her while I can, before the chill of winter.


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Maths/Violin + Practice = Ability (true)

By John Berger
August 27, 2014 23:20

Some time ago one of my father's business friends called me, asking if I could tutor his 13 year old daughter in maths. She was lagging behind everyone else in the class, he said. I explained to him that I only taught violin, not mathematics. Although I'd taken it at university for a couple of years and still had an intermittent interest, I suggested he would be better off with an experienced maths tutor. Nevertheless he persisted, so I reluctantly agreed to give it a go.

Carly was a conscientious student who'd lost confidence due to a string of poor test results. I wrote out for her a few problems similar to the ones she'd had trouble with. While there was little wrong with comprehension, some of her processes and calculations revealed some basic errors.

Unsure what to do, I started from scratch, systematically going through the multiplication tables with her until we discovered a few uncertain areas. After a bit of work on these, I set some Kumon-like repetitive homework on these tables to be practised daily - violin style. Carly got the idea and practised every day. At our next session the mistakes caused by multiplication were gone, so we moved on to the next source of errors - long division. Each week thereafter we continued on like this, adding more fundamental skills and processes to be practised along with the others. During the next four or five weeks she fixed everything and I marvelled how quick it had been.

It got me thinking. I'd seen how Carly's maths textbooks focused mainly on problem-solving and comprehension exercises. Essentially it required translating questions and problems into mathematical forms before carrying out the calculations. This was fine, but there was less emphasis on fluency in the processes and calculations themselves, and it was hard for students to identify what skills they needed to practise to perfection. Also, at school it was normal for a proportion of the class to continually make mistakes of one kind or another - despite lessons moving on to new mathematical areas. Only a handful ever got 100%.

Musicians wouldn't (or shouldn't) study this way. As you know, we build ability by practising a skill, technique, passage or piece over and over correctly until it is a part of us. Then we try to solve the problem of how to interpret and communicate the music. It showed me again, as if I needed persuading, the value and benefits of studying violin. It teaches you how to learn. Carly's remarkable turnaround showed the folly of leaping into concepts of creative thinking and problem solving, without completing the task of building real skill and ability through simple practice.



This is a link to teachsuzukiviolin.com

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Indianapolis: Prepare for a Violin Takeover! Competition and VSA Convention start next month

By Laurie Niles
August 26, 2014 21:19

If you love the violin, you might consider coming to Indianapolis next month. Why? You will be able to watch dozens of the world's finest young violinists perform over two weeks, and you also can examine and even play instruments from hundreds of the world's finest modern makers.

This violin takeover of Indianapolis is called the "Festival of the Violin," and it's a confluence of two events: the International Violin Competition of Indianapolis (IVCI) and the Violin Society of America's annual convention and biennial instrument competition. The IVCI begins Sept. 5, then the VSA convention starts Sept. 15; both end Sept. 21. It's the first time these two events have occurred simultaneously, and the result is a true celebration of the best in both violin playing and violin making.

We've put together a little preview, to give you an idea of what will be happening:

The Ninth Quadrennial International Violin Competition of Indianapolis

Forty violinists ages 16-28, will compete in the IVCI for more than $250,000 in prizes, career management, international concert engagements, a Carnegie Hall recital debut and the use of the 1683 "ex-Gingold" Stradivarius. The violinists -- chosen from 179 violinists from 31 countries -- represent 12 countries, including Australia, Finland, France, China, Greece, Japan, Poland, Russia, South Korea, Taiwan, Ukraine, and the United States. They will be judged by an international panel of nine jurists. Preliminary rounds begin Sept. 7, with the laureates announced Sept. 20.

Clara-Jumi Kang

2010 IVCI First-Place Laureate Clara-Jumi Kang performs in the Finals. Photo by Denis Ryan Kelly, Jr.

COMPETITION ROUNDS: (click here for detailed repertoire requirements for each round):

  • Preliminary Rounds: Sept. 7-10 at the Indiana History Center. Repertoire: Bach unaccompanied movements; two Paganini Caprices; a Mozart Sonata; Encore piece
  • Semi-Finals: Sept. 12-15 at the Indiana History Center. Repertoire: Beethoven Sonata; Late-Romantic or Modern Sonata; Tone Poem/Concert piece; Commissioned work: "Fantasy for Solo Violin" by Ellen Taaffe Zwilich
  • Classical Finals with the East Coast Chamber Orchestra: Sept. 17-18 at the Christel DeHaan Fine Arts Center. Repertoire: Haydn or Mozart Concerto
  • Finals with Indianapolis Symphony: Sept. 19-20 at the Hilbert Circle Theatre. Repertoire: Romantic or Modern Concerto
  • Gala Awards and Reception: Sept. 21 at the Scottish Rite Cathedral

Some of the other IVCI events of interest will include:

  • Pre-Concert Discussion: Creating an Artistic Identity, with Joel Smirnoff. (7 p.m. Sept. 17, Christel DeHaan Fine Arts Center)
  • Pre-Concert Discussion: Instant Access to Classical Music News and Reviews, with Violinist.com Founder Laurie Niles (me!); Violin Channel Founder Geoffrey John; and Classical Music Blogger, Jay Harvey. (7 p.m. Sept. 19, Hilbert Circle Theatre)
  • Violin Quality and the Paris Experiment, with Claudia Fritz, Joseph Curtin, Fan-Chia Tao, Cho-Liang Lin and Philip Setzer. (10 a.m. Sept. 20, Indiana History Center)
  • Old vs. New: During final deliberations, audience members will see if they can tell the difference between fine 17th- and 18th-c. violins and fine modern violins. (Post-Final Concert, Sept. 20, Hilbert Circle Theatre)

For 2014, the international jury includes Jaime Laredo (Jury President), Ellen Taaffe Zwilich, Miriam Fried, Dong-Suk Kang, Boris Kuschnir, Cho-Liang Lin, Philip Setzer, Dmitry Sitkovetsky and Kyoko Takezawa.

Jaime Laredo Ellen-Taaffe-Zwilich Miriam-Fried
Dong-Suk-Kang Boris-Kuschnir Cho-Liang-Lin
Philip-Setzer Dmitry-Sitkovetsky Kyoko-Takezawaz

About the IVCI: The IVCI was founded in 1982 under the artistic guidance of the late Indiana University professor of violin, Josef Gingold (1909-1995) and takes place every four years. You can find a complete list of past laureates here; some include Clara-Jumi Kang, Benjamin Beilman, Augustin Hadelich, Simone Lamsma, Yura Lee, Bella Hristova, Soovin Kim, Judith Ingolfsson, Stefan Milenkovich, David Kim, Leonidas Kavakos, Andrés Cárdenes, Ida Kavafian and Yuval Yaron. You can read our coverage of previous IVCI competitions at violinist.com/indianapolis.

The Violin Society of America's 42nd Annual Convention and 21st International Competition for Makers

Hundreds of violin, viola, cello, bass and bow makers will gather for the Violin Society of America's annual convention, which will include lectures and seminars on violin-making and related topics, as well as the biennial VSA Competition.

For musicians, this creates a unique opportunity to see a wide variety of modern instruments, all in one place. One important event that is free to the public is the New Instrument Exhibit, which will take place Sept. 17-20 at the Hyatt Regency. "Musicians can come in and try those instruments and bows any time during the day," said VSA President Chris Germain.

VSA judging

Another place to find fine modern instruments will be the Competition Instrument Exhibit on Sept. 19, when the winning instruments from the 2014 VSA Competition for Makers will be displayed and also played by the Tone Judges. This year, the competition has attracted entries from 312 separate makers, representing 26 countries. Countries most-represented are the U.S. with 150 competitors, and China with 69. There are 16 from France, 15 from Italy, 14 from Canada. At this point, the competition has a total of 542 entries, including 246 violins, 110 violas, 69 cellos, 9 basses, 80 bows, and 28 instrument quartets. Instruments will be judged over a three-day period for each category, with awards including a Certificate of Merit for Tone, Certificate of Merit for Workmanship, and for overall Gold and Silver medals, given prior to the exhibit, at a Sept. 18 banquet.

VSA display

In addition, the VSA Convention will feature lectures, workshops, exhibits and concerts on a broad range of topics. Here are some highlights:


  • New Instrument Exhibit -- free admission to public (9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sept. 17-18-20; and 9 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. Sept. 19; Network Room, Hyatt Regency)
  • Lecture: The Rugeri Family: A Bridge from Amati to Bergonzi, with Carlo Chiesa (2:30 to 3:30 p.m. Sept. 17; Discovery Room, Hyatt Regency)
  • Ivory Import Issue Panel, with Yung Chin, Colin Gallahue, John Bennett (3:30 to 4:30 p.m. Sept. 17; Discovery Room, Hyatt Regency)
  • Lecture: Did the “mini Ice Age” prior to 1781 Create “Special” Old Wood Not Found Today? with Steve Sirr and John Waddle (9 to 10 a.m., Sept. 18; Discovery Room, Hyatt Regency)
  • Play, Listen, Measure, Intervene: an Integrated Approach to Optimizing Violin Sound, with Claudia Fritz, Joseph Curtin, Fan-Chia Tao (2:30-3:30 p.m. Sept. 18; Discovery Room, Hyatt Regency)
  • Playing of the Award Winning Instruments by Tone Judges (1 to 1:45 p.m. Sept. 19; Indiana History Center)
  • Competition Instrument Exhibit -- free student admission with current ID (8 to 11:30 a.m. and 6 to 10 p.m. Sept. 19; Regency Ballroom)
  • Violin Quality and the Paris Experiment, with Claudia Fritz, Joseph Curtin, Fan-Chia Tao, Cho-Liang Lin,Philip Setzer -- free admission to public (10 to 11:30 a.m. Sept. 20; Indiana History Center)
  • Vendor Retail Shop, instruments, bows, strings, accessories, cases, etc. (9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sept. 20; Cosmopolitan Ballroom)

"There's going to be a lot going on, and it's going to be a very exciting event," Germain said. "We're really at a time when the art of violin- and bow-making is at a very high level, and that's reflected in the numbers of people who come to the conventions and competitions and the quality of the work that you see and hear there. It is a world-class event, and probably the largest instrument-making competition in the world."

About the VSA: The VSA was founded in 1973 to promote the art and science of making, repairing, preservation and restoration of stringed musical instruments and their bows. Membership in the VSA is open to all who share an interest in the violin, viola, cello, bass and their bows, and reflects a broad and diverse range of interests including craftsmanship, acoustics, innovation, the history of the instruments and performers, technique, performance practice and repertory. The VSA, jointly with Oberlin College, sponsors summer workshops in violin and bow making, restoration, and acoustics.

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By Bram Heemskerk
August 26, 2014 16:10

In my village some people took the initiative to make artistic graffiti of some composers because some streets had the name of these composers like Bachstreet, Beethovenstreet, Chopinstreet, Mozartstreet. Nobody spoils the drawings who last here for 1 year. This is the result of this tunnel, named after our king (here still prince)Willem Alexander.

Here an example of "normal" Graffiti:

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What Are the Benefits of Playing the Violin? Some May Surprise You.

By Thomas McGregor
August 26, 2014 16:04

I'm very excited about this article! Mainly because we are flooded with so much negativity in the media today, over and over again throughout each day. Forget all that, today we are talking about the awesome-jump-up-and-down-smile-from-ear-to-ear-amazing-surprising-true-benefits of playing the violin! These you benefits you can pull out anytime a student asks, at the dinner table or at the post office. These facts will serve you anywhere at anytime to support the art form you love - playing the violin.

Mental Benefits:
1. Your muscle memory will improve as you become better at playing violin. It also gives you the opportunity to memorize songs and play without sheet music, which sharpens your memory even more. Your mind will sharpen as you refine your focusing skills, and those mental muscles will become easier to fire when you want to use them.

2. When you're stressed, playing the violin is a very healthy way to let off some anger. The sound of the music can even be calming, and playing a song you know well can provide relaxation. After practicing, you may feel as though you've been meditating. Playing a comfortable song can put your mind at ease and but you in a really good space.

3. According to a study review presented by the Willson Center for Humanities and Arts, school-age children who play the violin often see a boost in academic achievement compared to their non-musical peers. Your ability to process information will increase the more you play the violin. This is because when you play the violin you are processing multiple streams of information stemuli. Your arms are moving, in accordance with the notes you are reading, that you in turn make sound as you hear it in your head. The amount of information that is processed is quite amazing, literally!

Physical Benefits
1. You may find yourself getting tired after first starting the violin. This is completely normal. As your arm muscles and upper body become stronger, they become stronger and this fatigue will lessen. As a result; stronger arms, more stamina, and burned calories. That's right! When you build muscle you burn calories - every time! It was said that violinist Jascha Heifetz lost up to 3lbs every time he performed. If you perform twice a week, you could drop optimistically 6lbs a week. Talk about motivation!

2. Another amazing benefits of playing violin is that it requires you to have impeccable posture. This means you’ll need to have your back straight, shoulders back, and limbs relaxed. As a result, you become stronger. Also, your posture becomes better in more ares of your life. Dr. Oz once stated that good posture could prevent many every day illnesses because of the increased blood and oxygen flow to the brain and the rest of the body. This will clear up mental fog, stress and tension in your joints.

3. When coordinating both your fingers and your arms simultaneously, you build hand eye coordination AND finger dexterity. This is HUGE! When playing the violin you are building to very valuable skills simultaneously. When you play, you are required to match up your left hand with your right arm movements. At the same time your left hand fingers need to hit specific spots on the fingerboard, which, are only indicated by the sound you here. This means you are relying several mechanisms in order to link everything up. This is a massive achievement within itself. An achievement that strengths your mind, dexterity and coordination.

Social Benefits
1. When you perform, or simply play in front of an instructor, you build confidence. Every time you receive positive feedback from an external source, your confidence builds and that, in turn, positively impacts your playing. This confidence builds on itself until you are a mountain of confidence that allows you to play strongly and with conviction.

2. As you zero in on things you'd like to fix in your playing, you develop higher standards for yourself. This, if you'll let it, will impact other areas of your life. Once you've built your confidence, and you know you can achieve a higher level, you'll continuously apply constructive criticism on your art. This will flow into other areas of your life; relationships, finance, health, etc. This is a major benefit, and everyone will notice it.

3. Just by being a violinist, you are apart of history. This will give you a sense of community and connectedness to a larger whole. The violin has a massive history and, whether you are playing the classics or composing original material, every time you play your violin you are continuing a legacy that spans 400+ years! This is an incredible feeling and can propel you to feel as though what you are doing is part of a bigger story - and it is!

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The Week in Reviews, Op. 45: Augustin Hadelich, Joshua Bell, Patricia Kopatchinskaja in concert

By Robert Niles
August 26, 2014 10:10

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.

Augustin Hadelich
Photo: Lee Salem

Augustin Hadelich performed the Dvorák with the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra

  • The Dallas Morning News: "With more tonal projection this time, Hadelich set lyrical music soaring sweetly, but he tossed off the fleet finale with apparently effortless élan. Harth-Bedoya and the orchestra collaborated savvily. For an encore, as on Friday, Hadelich whizzed and skittered through Paganini’s Fifth Caprice with jaw-dropping brilliance."
  • Fort Worth Star-Telegram: " Hadelich played it with a warm and accurate tone and a mastery of technique that was thrilling....Hadelich brought down the house, as he had Friday night, with an encore: Paganini’s Caprice No. 5, in a stupendous performance."

Joshua Bell performed Mozart’s Sinfonia Concertante in E flat with the Mostly Mozart Festival Orchestra

  • The New York Times: "Wednesday’s concert was a reminder of (Bell's) irresistible talents: his unforced, easy playing and his choices of speed and volume, which are dramatic without feeling exaggerated or indulgent. Spinning out a golden wire of sound, he was answered by the coppery light char of Lawrence Power’s viola. If, in the final movement, it sometimes felt as if the two soloists were pressing a bit faster than the orchestra’s tempo, that added a feeling of urgency more than of uncertainty."

Patricia Kopatchinskaja performed the Martin with the Mostly Mozart Festival Orchestra

  • The New York Times: "The somber (Mozart) Requiem was preceded by more religious exploration: Frank Martin’s elegantly angular violin concerto, 'Polyptyque: Six Images of the Passion of Christ' (1973), with Patricia Kopatchinskaja a fiery soloist, unafraid of sounding raw and scorching. Its movements were divided by five shining chorales from Bach’s 'St. John Passion.' While this made for an illuminating conversation across two centuries — 'Polyptyque' restless and impassioned, the 'St. John Passion' heartbreakingly serene — even very good music can start seeming pallid this close to the best of Bach."

Itzhak Perlman performed Bach's Violin Concerto No. 1 with the Philadelphia Orchestra

  • Albany Times-Union: "The quality and character of Perlman's playing was somewhat inconsistent and took a while to find its mark, as has been the case with a number of his other local appearances. By the time the third and final movement reached a vigorous allegro, Perlman had also rallied."

Nicola Benedetti performed the Korngold with the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra

  • Herald Scotland: "Opportunities to hear Benedetti playing big pieces in such company can seem scarce, but this was not only the sort of expressive repertoire at which she excels, but also the piece she took into the pop chart, never mind the top of the classical one, at the heart of her Silver Violin album."

James Ehnes performed the Tchaikovsky with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra

  • National Post: "This acclaimed Canadian can make the relentless passagework of the first movement sound like music-making rather than bushwhacking. His way with the Canzonetta was sombre; the finale unfolded with engaging changes of tempo rather than as a mindless charge to the finish."

In other news, authorities have arrested two men in connection with the brutal murder last week of New York violinist Mary Whitaker, 61, who played with the Westchester Philharmonic and in the summer with the Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra. Her last concert there was the night before she was killed. This is one of the more detailed accounts of what happened, and it is quite disturbing: The New York Times. Our hearts go out to her family and friends.

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The Very Sung Hero – Right Down to the Wire, Rehearsals and Performances in New Jersey

By Amy Beth Horman
August 26, 2014 08:51

To say my drive to New Jersey was difficult would be an understatement. A trip that was slated for less than 4 hours ended up at over five with traffic jams, leaving me only time to tune and use the restroom before the opening bars of my concerto. I had to laugh (rather than cry) because really, what is an extra half hour of practice when you have only had two days to prepare anyhow? I decided to keep my head up and use the rehearsal for information for my next practice session, which would be the next day, the day of our first concert.

That first rehearsal with orchestra was stable and solid which was what I was aiming for. They were happy I was there. They remembered me from my two prior performances with them (Barber and Tchaikovsky) and they were genuinely relieved to see me try and step up to the plate. I felt supported, “rooted for”, and bolstered by a conductor who is both sensitive and incisive with the baton. He helped me play better by making decisions for me if I faltered. We made it to the end and I had no major mishaps. A sense of accomplishment came over me – first rehearsal: CHECK. I then went to dinner followed my hotel room where I marked down everything that went wrong so I could problem solve without practicing it physically. The conductor and I set a time to get together the following morning to go over things.

When I met with the conductor the following day I knew we would get right to work. His audiences are enthusiastic and lovely but also very informed. We needed to pull up my Brahms to that level and quickly. It was stable the night before but I knew it could really shine if we buffed it up together. It truly helped that we knew each other. I trust him and he knows I will try to grow musically even if my back is up against a wall. I listened to every comment he made. I tried everything he asked and even agreed to shape a few things differently after I realized my reasoning was not in keeping with the piece as a whole. There was a five-minute period where things got very intense with him asking for something patiently and me failing to deliver it cleanly. My technique was up and running – but to elongate it and really sing? I wasn’t quite there. I felt my heart pounding for a second and I briefly doubted I could deliver this to him in time. But then I remembered how much he knew my playing and I allowed his faith in me to replace my own. And then it happened. I turned a corner and it all started to flow.

A few hours later we hit dress rehearsal and I felt like I had entered a totally new zone. It was all coming together and everyone was more together. With my own playing now plugged in musically, everyone was feeling it and the enthusiasm was palpable.

I wish I could report that I never doubted myself from that moment. In my twenties, I might not have. But the hour before we performed, I wondered if adrenalin would kill this wave for me. I was already fascinated that my muscle memory was so readily available but under pressure, would it falter? How elastic could I be with a full audience in front of me? I texted my brother to come back and see me. Luckily he responded and was there to come give me a hug. Somehow this made all the difference to my nerves. I wasn’t alone and it reminded me of how my whole studio was rooting for me at home from a distance. I thought of my husband and my kids and how they had rearranged their lives so I could have this beautiful experience. I wasn’t going to allow fear to steal it from me.

The performance itself was surreal. I had nothing to lose because of the short notice and I had everything to gain to see what I was capable of. It made me really re think how I approach fully prepared concerts. I took risks and followed my ear and the orchestra was right alongside me. The audience gave us two standing ovations – one after the first movement and one at the end of the concerto. We did it all again the next day with identical standing ovations at the Borgata.

Under the heading of “the universe smiling down on me”, while leaving the theatre after our performance at the Borgata, I turned back and saw a sign drop from the ceiling on stage that read, “ COMEDY CLUB” and laughed. I hadn’t laughed like that in days. As I exited all of the electronic billboards had already changed. I smiled. Poof, it was done! It was the quickest prep and performance I had ever done.

I am so grateful for having been asked to do this. I think so often we doubt what is possible with our own technique and muscle memory. I spent most of my childhood practicing and a fair bit of that went to the Brahms Concerto. That young girl back in conservatory was fearless and had a laser focus on her musical voice. I had the time to work hours a day on deep thoughtful practice way back when. While I don’t have that same luxury now with three kids and a full studio, life is richer and there is still that pilot light of focus and ability. This will be a weekend I will never forget.

The following are youtube clips of all three movements from my rehearsal with the Bay Atlantic Symphony and Music Director, Jed Gaylin.

1st mvt:

2nd mvt:

3rd mvt:

Photo credit: ArtC New Jersey


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Interlochen Adult Chamber Music Camp 2014

By Mendy Smith
August 24, 2014 18:11

Camp this year was wonderful. It was the perfect time of year to leave Houston for a week. While temperatures down here were soaring, weather at Interlochen was mild if not a bit chilly.

I had a potential issue with getting my viola onboard on the last leg of the flight. As I told the flight attendant, the viola will fit. It always fits, especially when everyone else has to check in their bags no matter how small the plane:

This year was a bit different than last that there was a new emerging quartet in residence "invoke". The quartet was formed from a college group out of the University of Maryland. The violist Karl was my stand-partner for a week in the morning sessions reading through Beethoven Op. 132. We got into a little bit of mischief when we spent a wee bit too much time discussing fingerings and bowings. All I can say about them is WOW! Keep your eyes and ears for these guys and check out their kickstarter campaign:

This year was the inaugural year for the "Secret Viola Society". Surprisingly there was an abundance of violas this year, twenty total. Some of us took advantage of this opportunity to thieve a piece from our violin brethren: the Bach Chaconne, transcribed for four violas:

In the last days of camp, we got some coaching from the Enso quartet on the Rebecca Clarke quartet. It was new to us as well as Enso. It was educational to see how a professional approaches a new piece of music never seen nor heard before. Besides getting the notes and beats to line up, there is a lot of score study to determine the melody line, especially when it is broken up across parts, and in determining dynamics. It was fun to introduce a new piece to a pro group.

And finally, the last evening was spent playing through the Mendelssohn Octet - until midnight.

Can't wait until next year.

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