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.
By Laurie Niles
September 16, 2014 22:08
The sun came out Tuesday afternoon in Indianapolis...
...and 2010 IVCI Gold Medalist Clara-Jumi Kang also came back to town, to perform in concert with the East Coast Chamber Orchestra (ECCO) at Butler University's Schrott Center for the Arts.
Clara-Jumi Kang after the concert with me
The evening was full of energy, solid playing and appealing works.
The program began with Grieg's "Holberg Suite" played by ECCO, a conductorless chamber group with members who are known outside of the group as soloists, concertmasters, recording musicians and award-winners. (For example, violinist Nicolas Kendall of Time for Three, soloist and recitalist Tai Murray, 2014 Primrose Viola Competition third-place laureate Cong Wu, and that's just to name a few!) ECCO also will accompany the Finalists in the IVCI as they play their Classical Finals Wednesday and Thursday.
As I was speaking to members of the audience before the concert, one commented that she was looking forward to hearing the "Holberg Suite" played well, as this well-known piece gets too many tortured readings by lesser groups, perhaps with help from overzealous conductors.
She was right, this young and vibrant ensemble gave the "Holberg" drive and made it ring. As I listened to the familiar second movement, which seems to weep, sigh and revel in its own beauty, I thought about the fact that much of the modern world favors much harder edges these days: clashing sounds over smooth, harsh rap over singing melody, in-your-face conflict over sentimentality. But something like the "Holberg" is such a soft pillow, is there a place for it in this hard world? I think so. I think it's a reminder that under the cement floors, the steel structures, the wired walls and the flat screens through which we increasingly view the world, there is still the soft earth, and there is still life in the third dimension.
The musicians of ECCO play without fear or hesitation and with astonishing synchronicity, without a conductor. Let's say they watch the road while they're driving, they aren't constantly checking the GPS screen. Actually they do a bit more than watch one another; they breathe together, move together and seem to feel this music together.
Clara-Jumi Kang joined the group for Piazzolla's "Four Seasons of Buenos Aires" -- and apparently she is the first soloist to collaborate with ECCO. Elegant in a black-blue dress, Clara-Jumi brought her own intensity to this piece, which is constantly turning corners, from sultry and full of slides, to urban and ghostlike, back around to a driving rhythm. She played the 1725 "ex-Moeller" del Gesu, on loan from the Samsung Music Foundation, Korea. Here and there along the South American soundscape are scraps of Vivaldi that Piazzolla threw in -- call it Vivaldi deconstructed. Cellist Michael Nicolas played a stand-out solo -- silky and well-spun -- in the "Autumn" movement. The last movement, Spring, begins with a kind of tango fugue, and soloist and ensemble build and build and go and go. What energy!
After intermission, ECCO played Tchaikovsky's "Serenade for Strings," which the group also recorded in 2012. (It is a nice recording, check it out. It also has a version of "La Follia" by Geminiani which is wonderful listening for any Suzuki Book 6 student, or anyone who likes that piece, for that matter!)
As members of ECCO returned to the stage, I noticed that everyone took a different place. Not only do they stand for their entire performances (all but the cellos, of course), but they also rotate and take turns as section principals and concertmaster. Their playing was fun, it was convincing, and in the second-movement "Valse" I wondered if they might just start dancing with each other, but then I realize: no need. They are dancing with their instruments!
Members of the East Coast Chamber Orchestra
By Robert Niles
September 16, 2014 16:59
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.
Photo: Decca/Sara Wilson
Janine Jansen performed the Poème by Chausson at the Last Night at the Proms
Nicola Benedetti performed the Beethoven with the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra
Itzhak Perlman performed the Bruch with the Dallas Symphony Orchestra
Anne-Sophie Mutter performed the Bruch with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra
Augustin Hadelich performed the Shostakovich Violin Sonata with Boston's A Far Cry
Gidon Kremer performed Gubaidulina’s “In tempus praesens” with the Dresden State Opera
Please support live music in your community by attending a concert or recital whenever you can!Tweet
By Laurie Niles
September 16, 2014 13:40
The art of violin-making has taken center stage in Indianapolis, as hundreds of stringed instrument makers from around the world have arrived for the Violin Society of America's annual convention, which began today with the opening of exhibitions for stringed instrument makers at the Hyatt Regency.
It was also the start of the closed judging sessions for more than 500 instruments that were entered by makers from 26 countries for the VSA's 21st International Competition.
I enjoyed getting an insider peek at the many materials and methods that go into the making of a violin: the wood, the bridges, the pegs, the specialty tools, the hair for bows, and more. I chatted with both exhibitors and makers, and here are some pictures and excerpts from our conversations.
As I walked into the exhibit hall, I noticed that many luthiers were on the prowl for wood. For example, here is luthier Martin Heroux, of Quebec, examining wood.
This exhibit floor also is a great place for luthiers to find the tools of their trade -- and many of these tools are highly specialized and rare. Let's just say that you can't find many of them at your local hardware store.
And despite the fact that this craft is 400+ years old, people are still creating new tools for the creation and repair of violins, violas, cellos and basses. "After a few years, you thinkg you have all the tools you need, but sometimes someone comes up with another," said Andrew Carruthers of Santa Rosa, holding up a special clamp used in the repair of cracks on the edge of a fiddle.
And believe me, there were plenty of tools to be had here; this is just one table of them from the International Violin Company:
There were also many "parts" for fiddles: bridges, pegs, fingerboards and more. Another vendor, Talwar Brothers/Acura Meister of India, was displaying a special kind of end button -- you can take off a little cap and then peek through the button into the belly of the violin, to see if the soundpost is standing correctly. Vie President Abhi Chakrabarti demonstrated:
I also found luthier Antoine Nédélec of Dallas, who was milling around the exhibit floor as one of his violins was being judged downstairs in the VSA's 21st International Competition for makers. He and Geoffrey Allison were also shopping for wood. "This is such a treat, to look at, rather than mail-order my wood," Allison said.
Though most vendors were wholesalers, displaying violin parts, a few were showing finished violins. Among those was Snow violins of Beijing/New York:
Erich Husemoller of Pioneer Valley Luthier Supply Co. told me a little about the horsehair that we use for bows, most of which comes from China. He said that a major factor that affects the quality of horse hair is the washing of it, once it's harvested from the horse's tail. "It's a very dirty, smelly process," Husemoller said. If one uses hard detergent such as soda ash or bleach, it dries out the hair, making it more brittle. A softer detergent, used with a process with longer soaking and less emphasis on making the hair perfectly white, yields stronger, more flexible bow hair.
Kevin Reynolds of Larsen Strings was explaining to me the difference between their "Virtuoso" strings (brighter) and their "Tzigane" label (warmer), when he got a little more philosophical on the topic of strings. "These instruments are like living, breathing animals, and strings can pull them in different directions," Reynolds said. Your set of strings is "not an accessory, it's a tool." String makers strive to find the kinds of materials that will hold up under the extreme tension we musicians put them under, with the constant vibrations we make. He described the difference between how the player views a durable string, and how the maker does: "The player thinks, these strings will last a long time," he said. "The string maker thinks, I'm trying to keep my baby alive as long as possible!"
Around the corner there were more strings; Chris Rohrecker of Connolly showed me Thomastik-Infeld's latest strings, the value-price "Spirits." I also was happy to run across New York-based luthier Charles Rufino.
I wish I could have made it to every table -- there were so many! But it certainly is interesting to take a look into the fine details that go into the making of every violin.
UP NEXT: At 8 p.m. tonight is a concert featuring 2010 International Violin Competition of Indianapolis laureate, Clara-Jumi Kang with the East Coast Chamber Orchestra, and tomorrow will bring lectures and more exhibits from the VSA Convention.Tweet
By Laurie Niles
September 16, 2014 00:13
I arrived late Monday, and I was happy to find it rainy and about 55 degrees here -- truly! (Yesterday in my hometown of Pasadena it was 105 degrees!) On the airplane from Los Angeles I discovered Dr. Bill Sloan, whom you remember for his violin, the 1714 “Leonora Jackson” Stradivari, a fiddle recently celebrated its 300th birthday.
He was on his way to the Violin Society of America's Convention, also taking place this week in downtown Indianapolis, in conjunction with the competition. In fact, I saw quite a few people carrying violins at the airport, and checking in to my downtown hotel.
I arrived just in time to catch the last concert of the IVCI semi-finals. As I made my way to the concert on this rainy evening I was working against a wave of Indianapolis Colts football fans, headed for the Lucas Oil Stadium, just a few blocks away -- Monday Night Football! The concert took place in the beautiful Basile Theater at the Indiana History Center downtown.
For the semi-finals, each participant played a Beethoven sonata; Late-Romantic or Modern sonata; a tone poem/concert piece; and the commissioned work: "Fantasy for Solo Violin" by Ellen Taaffe Zwilich. For a limited time, all the semi-finalists' performances will be available for viewing on the IVCI website, if you'd like to see how they played for yourself.
I spoke briefly to composer Zwilich, who is also on the jury, during intermission. She said that it has been interesting, seeing how each of the 16 semi-finalists performed her piece, "Fantasy for Solo Violin," which is a virtuoso, blue-grassy piece with plenty of tricks. "I tried to give them room to be individual," she said.
The two performances I saw were by Dami Kim, 25, of South Korea, and Christine Lim, 19, of the U.S.; one made it in to the finals and one did not. Both played beautifully, and this was something that many people who had witnessed the entire competition said to me: whereas in some competition the frontrunners emerge as very obvious choices, this was not the case in this year's IVCI. In fact, it was very hard to predict who would advance to the finals, because everyone in the semi-finals had played so brilliantly.
Here again is a picture of the finalists, Dami Kim, Ji Young Lim, Yoo Jin Jang, Tessa Lark, Ji Yoon Lee and Jinjoo Cho.
Photo by Denis Kelly
They advanced to the finals based on a combined score: 70 percent of their semi-final scores plus 30 percent of their scores in the preliminaries. Some people have questioned competitors whose teachers sit on the jury for this competition. I read over the rules and here is the rule on that: Judges with students in the competition are not permitted to vote on their own students; scores for those students are based only on the scores from the other jury members.
No matter who advanced, every participant has accomplished a great deal. The repertoire for the semi-finals took each participant a little more than an hour to perform. The Beethoven requires a thoughtful collaboration with a pianist; the other sonata requires making a good choice that will showcase the violin. For the commissioned piece, they each had to learn a never-before-played virtuoso piece from scratch. Top it off with a virtuoso piece that requires high-wire technique and agility, and this is quite a lot.
As I watched these violinists perform so well, at such a high level, I thought: for the audience, all of this is a dream. Literally: it's like a dream where you can run forever and never get tired, or stay underwater for long periods of time and never seem to need air. When someone performs music live for you, you get to experience all that energy, momentum, emotion, feeling -- without having to live it or create it. But let's not forget: someone is up there running the marathon, diving into the deep water without oxygen! As these remarkable young violinists put themselves up for this high level of scrutiny this week and last, let's not forget their accomplishment and its generosity.Tweet
By Laurie Niles
September 15, 2014 20:19
Six finalists were announced Monday night in the International Competition of Indianapolis. Congratulations to:
Dami Kim, 25, South Korea
Photo by Denis Kelly
The finalists are all women; five are from South Korea and one is from the United States. In the semi-final rounds, contestants were required to play a Beethoven Sonata; Late-Romantic or Modern Sonata; Tone Poem/Concert piece; and the commissioned work: "Fantasy for Solo Violin" by Ellen Taaffe Zwilich. Finals will begin on Wednesday.
Wondering what these performers sound like in performance? Check out their archived performances in the semi-finals.
By Laurie Niles
September 15, 2014 12:34
The more we elevate the level of music teaching, the more we elevate the level of music education. The more we elevate the level of music education, the better appreciation our society has for music.
So how do we elevate the level of teaching? With the widespread sharing of all our teaching secrets. That's right, stealing ideas from other teachers!
In fact, this very idea is something I've stolen, from Shinichi Suzuki. (And from whom did he steal it? I'm not sure!) Not only did he invite teachers from all over the globe to watch him teach and "steal" his ideas, he also encouraged teachers to do the same: Have an open studio, where teachers, parents and other students are welcome to observe. Learning from other teachers is so critical that many teaching programs, including SAA's Suzuki pedagogy program, require aspiring teachers to observe established teachers for a certain number hours.
But of course it doesn't matter whether you are a Suzuki teacher, traditional teacher, or for that matter, a trombone teacher. The point is that when it comes to educating students, we need a lot of ideas, and sharing those ideas only helps us reach more students in more ways.
Now, when I say "steal," I don't mean to use people's copyrighted music or texts without payment or permission. I simply mean to seek, test and use new ideas on a regular basis. Push yourself beyond your comfortable habits. In turn, share your best ideas with other teaching colleagues.
Here are a few ways to renew your store of teaching ideas on a regular basis:
When it comes to teaching children, there should be no "secrets" about how to do it. If you find something that works, use it. If you see someone else doing something that works, use it. And give credit where it's due; acknowledge the sources of your ideas and publicly praise your colleagues for their best ideas.
Also, remember your purpose as a teacher. You are not in a competition to be the "best" teacher in the world, or to prove yourself "better" than the teacher across town. You are not trying to find the secret best method that propels your students "ahead" of everyone else's. Those kinds of goals are isolating and can lead to ugly comparisons between teachers and between students. Those goals focus on your Big Teacherly Ego, rather than on your student's progress and learning.
You goal is to teach the student or students in front of you, to the best of your ability. Keep working on connecting your students with music and with their own abilities, and everything else will fall in place.Tweet
By Daniel Broniatowski
September 15, 2014 09:16
As you read this, you might be asking yourself, "What the heck is a viola?" - "Did they spell violin wrong?" Could it be a violin that is missing its strings? Or maybe it's what happens when you cross a violin with a tuba? OK - Enough with the viola jokes already!
A viola is an instrument shaped like a violin but slightly larger. Like the violin, the viola is held under the chin. Its sound is lower and is best suited for harmonizing. While the violinist might be the "star of the show", the violist is often the "support network". Of course there are certainly instances and pieces where the roles are reversed, when comparing these two instruments. Yet, by and large, the violist plays the role as the trusty side-kick, always providing a warm and fuzzy backing to the melody. Consequently, the kinds of people who go into viola often tend to also be very nice =).
Here are five reasons to take viola lessons:
1. You love the sound of bowed strings but find that violins tend to sound a bit squeaky in the high register.
2. You have big hands and a larger frame, and find the viola more natural than the violin.
3. You don't like to be in the spotlight but love to be a team-player.
4. You will always be in much greater demand, since violinists are a dime-a-dozen!
5. That C string just makes you feel warm and fuzzy inside! (That's the lowest string which is missing on a violin).
By Robert Niles
September 14, 2014 10:03
Can classical music survive? The future seems grim, with so many record stores having closed and classical music labels cutting back their rosters and promotional budgets. Every year brings a new round of orchestras locked out or on strike, it seems, as pay for musicians in many surviving orchestras declines. And a drive to bring private-sector-style "competition" to public education is forcing districts to drop school music programs, despite music education's proven benefit in raising student test scores.
What terrible time to be a violinist, you might think.
I disagree. While the music business has descended into a period of great turmoil, that disruption also has provided an opportunity to build a better, more sustainable music business. For centuries, classical musicians have depended upon the whims of patrons. But under that system, while classical music lives by their largess, it dies by their indifference.
It's not necessary to go on living that way. The same economic challenges that have the potential to drive musicians apart also have the potential to bring musicians together. Technological change empowers musicians to build a music business that relies upon the support of musicians and music fans, instead of the tax write-offs of corporations and socialites, many who really couldn't tell Sibelius from Schumann.
Making connections on YouTube
No, young prodigies aren't going to find many lucrative recording contracts awaiting them on the other side of the competition circuit any more. But they have a global network of social media available to them — allowing artists to build an audience without ever having to go through a recording company A&R rep. Record stores might be closing, but fans now can buy music anywhere at any time, from a wider range of artists than ever available before.
This has created an unprecedented opportunity for entrepreneurial musicians. If you have the talent, and the ability to connect with an audience, you can begin your professional career right now. No need to wait for a "big break" — you can make that break happen, yourself.
Pop musicians are showing the way, such as violinist Lindsey Stirling, who built a wildly popular channel on YouTube into an emerging performing and recording career. If working the competition circuit and making connections with New York labels was the old template for a soloist's career, the new one is growing equally clear. Launch a YouTube channel. Connect with an audience. Raise money with a Kickstarter. Use that money to produce recordings, then sell them online.
Of course, that's easier written than done. Aspiring artists face the age-old chicken-or-the-egg dilemma in trying to attract attention on forums such as YouTube and Kickstarter. You can't get YouTube to suggest your videos to others if no one's watching them in the first place. And crowd-funding campaigns works great where you've already built a crowd of supportive fans. What do you do when you're just starting? What can you do to attract attention to your work when you don't have music label's PR department working on your behalf?
Well, that's where we come in, at Violinist.com. We've already built a large, global audience of violinists and violin fans, and we would love to help aspiring world-class violinists to use this community to help launch their professional careers. I've written a post on this topic called How to get publicity on Violinist.com, and stand by its advice.
The TL/DR? Join our Performer Directory. Then start blogging on Violinist.com. Use your blog here to introduce yourself and to embed your latest YouTube video. Treat the blog entry as previous generations would their album "liner notes" or a pre-concert audience talk. Tell us about yourself and the piece you are playing. Why this piece? And why should we care? Engage us with a story or two — get us excited about watching your work. When the time comes, tell us about your Kickstarter and how funding it will give us something that we will ultimately enjoy. Then tell us about your new music download for sale, and why it's worth our money to buy the piece.
When posting to Violinist.com — or anywhere else on the Internet — remember that your work should not just be about helping yourself. Everything you do as an artist — from recordings to performances to blog posts — should meet some need for your audience, instead. Be instructive. Be inspirational. But always give something back to your audience in return for your fans' time. If you work only to promote yourself, you'll remain forever in the margins, never building the community of fans that will bring you ad revenue on YouTube, donations on Kickstarter, and paid downloads on iTunes. Work instead to serve the classical community, in whatever way you can, and you will win the fans that your talent and skills allow you.
And, as fans, we ought to return the favor. Let's use forums such as this to spread the word about new artists we're discovering. Let's reward new talent now just with our time and attention, but with our recommendations to other fans, friends and family, as well.
That's the spirit of cooperation and service that we need to bring to music education, too. Laurie Niles, Violinist.com's editor, has posted 12 Ways To Be a Supportive Teaching Colleague. It's essential reading for music educators — instructive in cultivating a supportive environment that can help us work together to promote the violin as a worthwhile activity for all.
Public schools don't have money or class time to introduce musical instruments such the violin to students en masse anymore, despite the growing evidence of music education's value, especially for low-income students. In addition to working together for the education of the students we have already, we must collaborate in developing community programs to introduce new generations of students to the violin, if we're to ensure its future. Perhaps we stage events that include the siblings and classmates of current students. Or we build our own in-school music programs. But we must do something, or else watch our beloved violin community wither without replacement.
A more collaborative spirit can save and revitalize live, professional music in our communities, as well. Perhaps that attitude might help repair the frayed relationships between orchestra boards and their musicians. When a love of music motivates board members, patrons and musicians alike, such as in Los Angeles, orchestras continue to do great things, thriving even in a challenging economy. But when anti-union fervor consumes board members, or when bloated organizations become more focused with debutante balls and home showcase tours than cultivating classical music, musicians need to work together with those patrons who do put music first and create new opportunities for live performance in their communities. Sometimes, the only way forward is to set aside that which holds us back.
One of those things, regrettably, is the world's largest music marketplace: iTunes. Apple's music download store provides a great opportunity for independent artists, as anyone can upload and sell music and media there. (Full disclosure: I have three eBooks for sale through iTunes' bookstore.) But Apple built iTunes around the song as its core musical format. While that's great for the pop genres, the song is far from the dominant format of classical music. Ever hit "shuffle" on your iPhone when you're on a classical playlist? You get individual movements from all your symphonies and concertos, blended together, with no option to simply shuffle the various whole compositions, keeping their movements together in their proper order.
We need an iTunes-like marketplace (and app) that supports the sale and playback of music in the multi-movement symphony and concerto formats, in addition to individual tracks such as songs. But this unmet need can't shake my optimism about the future of classical music. While iTunes might not be perfect for classical music, it's still a multi-billion dollar forum, open to all. So long as we work together, building and growing our community, we'll keep supporting violinists there. And, who knows? Maybe along the way we'll encourage some violinist with a knack for computer coding to build the online marketplace that can take digital classical music sales to the next level. (Maybe she or he will get a job with Apple, too!)
We don't need to pine for a financial savior. We don't need to long for the record labels to come back. We don't need to use gimmicks to win over donors who haven't developed a love for music first. With the Internet uniting the world in communication, we can build a violin community that can grow a sustain a classical music economy stronger than ever before. So let's do it.
The old classical music industry is dying. Long live the new classical music business.Tweet
By Kate Little
September 13, 2014 14:26
Precise intonation is essential in playing violin. For some of us intonation does not come easily or naturally, and we have to actively work at developing an acute sense of pitch. I spend up to a half hour of every daily practice session working solely on intonation, and also revisit before each exercise and piece worked on that day. Here are some useful methods:
Tuner: Keep the tuner on and in sight when practicing. If fingered a, e, b and f# are not precise in first position, work every day at finding and memorizing the sound, sight and feel of these four notes.
Keep the tuner on the entire practice session. When practicing a scale, exercise or phrase, if the tuner indicates that a pitch is not correct, work at fixing it before working on other aspects.
Drone: Drones are excellent for tuning pitches via harmonic interval. One can create a drone via a double stop, which requires having developed the ability to play a double stop. If a chromatic electronic tuning fork is available (free cell-phone aps are available), a drone can be played through speakers, or, if the volume is turned down low, through headphones or ear buds (my preference). Make sure you can recognize the sonic qualities inherent to perfect intervals.
Sing. Sing. Sing. The ability to hear, sing and play pitches are intimately intertwined. If you can’t hear and sing well and easily, you’ll probably have difficulty with intonation on the violin. Join a choir if you can. Sing pitches and phrases before playing them. Sing them multiple times and check vocal intonation with the tuner. Developing your voice is akin to learning to play violin.
Listen. Listen. Listen. Make sure you can recognize Tartini tones, beats, and the clarity of perfect intervals. If you don’t know what these are, or how to hear them, have someone teach you, and then listen for them. Use them to improve your intonation.
Teacher: Choose a teacher who is insists on accurate intonation, and who is diligent (and kind) in teaching this skill.
Self-awareness and self-discipline: Pay attention to your own playing and the little needle on your tuner. What is it telling you? Don’t ignore it. If the needle is off, if the red light is on, do something to fix it. Mix up your methods and keep fixing until the needle is consistently straight, the light is consistently green. Listen to your own intonation and insist to yourself that you get it right.
As difficult as intonation can be on the violin, it does improve with intentional practice, as does the inner ear.
P. S. As can be inferred from reader comments, using a tuner to assist in developing intonation skills is controversial. All I can say is: Be practical. If a method works for you, use it.
By Kayleigh Miller
September 13, 2014 10:46
Most of us musicians have heard of the"fight or flight response," or at least we've felt it, but we often lack the understanding of why the nervous system functions this way. Why do we get so nervous when we speak in front of people, compete, and perform? Why do our palms sweat, our knees shake, and breath speed up?
Violinist Hilary Hahn offers the foreword to The Violinist.com Interviews: Volume 1, an engaging collection of interviews with some of the world's top violinists, including Sarah Chang, Maxim Vengerov, David Garrett, and of course, Hilary herself.
Violinist.com editor Laurie Niles is in Indianapolis for our daily coverage of the ninth quadrennial international violin competition.
Violinist.com has not reviewed, and does not endorse, the content of any of the articles below.
2014 Indianapolis International Violin Competition (Semi Finals Analysis & Commentary)
The Music of Final Fantasy - Orchestral Album (2012)
'Musical Minds' Series -New Chamber Music Curriculum for Children
Tanayut - Deserted City - Siam Sinfonietta | Konzerthaus Berlin
How Hard is it to Start Playing the Violin, Viola or Cello as an Adult
Please consider supporting Violinist.com by becoming a sponsor, and reaching our dedicated community of violin professionals, students and fans!