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By Laurie Niles
March 7, 2014 15:03
The 300-page collection includes more than two dozen exclusive interviews with top violinists that I've done for Violinist.com over the past six years, including pictures of the artists. Which interviews are included in this book? You can get a magnifying glass and look at the cover art, which includes all the names. Or, you can just look at this list:
Anne Akiko Meyers
Though this is a long list, I still was not able to include everyone that I wanted to include, which is why I've called this book "Volume 1."
As I assembled this collection, I was pleased to find that far from being 27 completely separate stories, there are a great many threads that connect one violinist's story to another's: common teachers, repertoire, experiences, approaches -- even instruments that start in one violinist's hands and end up in another's! At the same time, there is great diversity of thought as well; for example, the story of James Ehnes' arduous search for just the right instrument contrasts completely with Nadja Salerno Sonnenberg's humorous banter on the same topic. What kind of violin do you play, Nadja? "I play a used one," she said, "I found a good instrument and I just stuck with it. There are better instruments out there, certainly there are worse instruments, but I feel fine."
Some of the interviews are several years old, and one can see that the seeds of the future lie in the things that violinists said years ago. For example, Anne Akiko Meyers speaks in 2008 of having to borrow many instruments in her early career, and how returning them was "like having your left arm amputated." She now quite famously has been guaranteed lifetime use of the "Vieuxtemps" Guarneri del Gesù.
The book also contains a special interview with Ruggiero Ricci, which I did with him in 2007, just five years before his death.
Each interview has an introduction, written especially for the book, that makes some of these connections and brings the reader up-to-date with a developments that occurred with the artist after the interview.
So I invite you to buy our book! If you buy a paperback copy of the book through Amazon, you soon will be able to add a Kindle version for just $2.95, under Amazon's Kindle Matchbook program.
We're planning a book launch party in Pasadena, as well as some other promotions for the book. In the meantime, we appreciate all the support from our friends and readers in buying the book and rating it highly on Amazon.com. Your purchases and recommendations encourage Amazon to suggest the book to other customers, helping expose it to more potential readers. (And if you'd like to "like" the book on Facebook, the official page is at facebook.com/violininterviews.)
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This business of publishing a book brought me to another question, one that I'm making into this week's "Weekend Vote": Do you prefer to read paper books, or e-books?
I feel like this difference has less to do with age that it does with personal preference. For example, my teenage daughter, certainly a member of the "digital native" generation, prefers paper-and-print books to her Kindle. In fact, her tech-savvy grandfather has pushed two separate Kindles her way over the years, and she's completely rejected both. She just prefers the feel and the look of a "real" book and loves visiting used book stores, where she can scoop up of a pile of old paperbacks.
That said, her grandfather -- who is of a generation that grew up with print books -- fully believes that "there will be no print books" in the future and that the e-book is the best and only way to go.
I can see both points. I have a Kindle (the easy-on-your-eyes older model), and I love to read the New York Times on it, instead of reading the paper either on newsprint or on the Internet. I enjoy taking it on the plane because it is so compact and lightweight, yet can carry dozens of "books" in it.
At the same time, I don't feel I can flip through the Kindle in the way that I can flip through a paper book. Yesterday, I showed my book to a long-time student, one that has never taken a huge interest in the larger world of violinists. As she leafed through it, she said, "I think I just want to look at the pictures." But as she was examining each picture, she started asking, "Who is this? What is her story? What is his story?" Even as libraries go digital and the world goes digital, I still don't ever want to give up the experience of going to the book store or an old-fashioned library: the smell, the feel, the real-world feeling of a book. It feels like a connection to the past, too: Who held this book before I did, who wrote that note in the margin?
So which is your preference these days, when reading a book? Do you prefer it as a paper book, or in e-book form?
By Laurie Niles
March 6, 2014 16:03
At one point during his technically astonishing performance of Waxman's "Carmen Fantasy" during the Junior Finals of the 2014 Menuhin Competition in Austin, the 14-year-old Japanese violinist Rennosuke Fukuda seemed to completely take over as leader of the orchestra. The tempo was his tempo, the music was his music, the spirit was his spirit.
Thus I wasn't surprised to learn, when interviewing him backstage after he was named the First-Prize winner, that beyond his violin studies, Rennosuke aspires to be a conductor.
Rennosuke does not speak English, so I interviewed him with the help of Tomoko Kashiwagi, who served as both his piano accompanist and his translator throughout the Menuhin Competition.
"A conductor has the job of bringing everybody together, and to do that makes everybody happy," he said. "I want that kind of job." He has tried his hand at it, conducting for his public high school in Japan on occasion. What pieces would he most like to conduct? Without hesitation, he said he'd like to conduct Beethoven's Ninth Symphony. Beyond that, perhaps Beethoven's Fifth -- these are simply great pieces, he said.
What was his favorite thing about the Menuhin Competition? "Playing the Carmen Fantasy by Waxman," he said -- the performance he had just given. It's a piece that he'd been preparing for two to three years, he said, and he loves it because of the way it feels: grand, tumultuous, full of tension.
Rennosuke started playing the violin at age three, and he won his first violin award at age four. Even before he was born, "my mom already had the idea that if I was a boy, I would play the violin," he said. He studies violin with Machie Oguri, and most recently he won first prize and the "Virtuos" prize at the September 2013 15th Kloster Schöntal International Violin Competition in Germany. He also performed at the 2013 UNESCO charity concert in Paris for victims of the Great East Japan Earthquake.
What does he like best about the violin? "I'm happy when everybody claps for me," he said. (It must have been a happy week -- he enjoyed many ovations, for his performances that occurred over the 10-day Menuhin Competition!)
Photo courtesy The Menuhin Competition
Those happiest moments are the result of a great deal of hard work. When I asked, "How long do you practice?" he needed no translation to understand that question; he's heard it before. Rennosuke said that he practices three or four hours on weekdays, and six to seven hours on the weekend, if he's feeling good. (Just four if he doesn't.)
Do you like to practice? "I hate it!" he said, laughing. But the performing is another matter: "I try to enjoy the performance; I try not to think too much about it (as a competition)," he said.
Some of his favorite violin pieces are the Bruch and the Tchaikovsky Concertos, he said. He looks up to a number of violinists, including Japanese violinists Mayuko Kamio and Daishin Kashimoto. He also likes to listen to the recordings of Perlman and Heifetz, and he likes recordings by Olivier Charlier, one of the judges for the competition.
He said that he made a lot of friends at the Menuhin Competition. "Everybody is so good, I was really surprised," he said. He thought a lot about how to make his own unique character come forward and to enjoy the performance, he said, so he had fun with it. He also learned a lot from the other competitors; he particularly admired the sound of fellow finalist Daniel Lozakovitj, who placed second. "His sound is just so pretty," he said. He thought that some of the competitors that didn't advance from the first round were also technically very sound. Seeing the other competitors play gave him a lot to think about, he said.
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In case you missed them, here are some videos of Rennosuke's performances at the Menuhin Competition.
Junior Final Round: Rennosuke Fukuda played Franz Waxman's "Carmen Fantasy" with the University of Texas Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Gerhardt Zimmerman.
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Junior Final Round: Rennosuke Fukuda played Beethoven Sonata No. 1 in D major with pianist Tomoko Kashiwagi, Op. 12; Handel-Halvorsen Passacaglia, with cellist Bion Tsang
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Junior First Round: Rennosuki Fukuda played the following, with pianist Tomoko Kashiwagi:
By Samuel Thompson
March 6, 2014 10:55
Humility, responsibility, and gratitude definitely go hand in hand. I was again reminded of this fact on Tuesday when, after many things out of my control resulted in missing a bus to Philadelphia and consequently missing a rehearsal, I had to make a call.
After getting the times of the next schedules out of Baltimore, I both called and emailed both the conductor and personnel manager, and waited, thinking "If I'm replaced, then so be it."
Fortunately, the conductor was forgiving, and I'm still playing the concert. THAT, however, is not what this essay is about.
One of the things that I love about my life in Baltimore is that I live in a part of the city that is a serious transit hub. Not only is the light rail station ten minutes away, but the corner of Falls Road and Northern Parkway is a transfer point for three major bus lines here, including the #27 which takes me literally from my front door to the Greyhound Bus Terminal. That in mind, waiting for the bus home from the Greyhound was no big deal.
As I waited, a blonde man came walking towards me - he too was going to take the #27 Northbound. He said hello, and we exchanged a few words. This man seemed to be a humble man, a kind man - and a man who needed a great deal of compassion as he had in his possession a LARGE suitcase (with wheels), a smaller suitcase (also wheeled), and three handbags of various size that were overflowing with aluminum soda cans, potato chip wrappers, and many other things.
Of course, when one gets on the #27 in that part of Baltimore one should expect the bus to be crowded. It was - I let the man go before me, as he had a lot to carry while I had my violin case. Again, I found myself impressed by this gentle soul as he both smiled and apologized to the people sitting at the front of the bus.
The other passengers, however, spent most of the ride laughing at and talking about the man. The words are words that I shall not repeat, and I trust that I do not need to as we have probably all either said them or thought similar things upon seeing someone in such dire straits. I remained silent (and uncomfortable) as a few people, while ridiculing this weathered man under their breath, took photos of him to post on Instagram (?!). They all got off of the bus before he did - in fact, he exited just a few blocks away from my home.
You may ask why I write this tonight - and here's the answer. We've all read stories of incredibly educated and visibly wealthy people who, after series of unfortunate circumstances, become homeless and destitute. Furthermore, I'm sure that more of us have lived on the edge of homelessness than not. Perhaps we should remember that and resolve both to live with a bit more gratitude while also thinking AND acting with a bit more compassion when we see a fellow man in distress of any kind.
Perhaps? YES, we should - because the switch could flip for any of us, at any time...and at that time, shall we remember feeling pity, giggling, or reacting with a bit of disdain and disgust upon seeing the person carrying the weight of the world (and all of his worldly possessions) in two suitcases on a crowded bus?
Back to Paganini Caprice #11,
By Karen Rile
March 6, 2014 08:48
As you'll quickly discover, however, the one-size-fits-all COA figures published on college websites are just rough estimates. Expenses are not identical for all students; nor are they for individual students over a span of four years. Where your family happens to live relative to the college will effect costs in a dramatic way. Is your kid's dream school two hours away by car or two thousand miles by plane? Even little things, like ground transportation and luggage fees add up. Unless they can book on Southwest, violinists and violists will need to pay to check suitcases every time (so they can carry on their instruments.) Cellists and bass players will tell you that's nickel-and-dime stuff, compared to the cost of an extra seat or cabin freight.
Housing is the most expensive item on the COA sheet after tuition, and at many schools housing costs drop dramatically when students migrate from dormitories to cheap off-campus digs after the first year. At the Cleveland Institute of Music, for example, all freshmen and many sophomores live in the dorms and eat at the dining commons, at an average cost of about $13,000 (double room, ten meals per week.) But older students typically move off-campus, for which CIM budgets about $8100, or $900 per month, a substantial savings of almost $5000 a year. A savings like this could mean that your student would not need to take a Stafford loan.
But, wait: look closer. Let’s say your daughter finds an off-campus apartment to share with friends for $500 per month. That leaves her $400 per month to spend on food, heat, electricity, internet, and rent. So far, so good. However, off-campus apartments come with 12-month leases, and CIM’s budget reflects a 9-month academic year. That means your student will probably need to cover her rent out-of-pocket during those three months when she is away. In a city like New York or Boston she could probably find a sub-letter, but despite the famous 30 Rock propaganda, that's unlikely to happen in Cleveland. So figure that your $500 Cleveland apartment room will cost you and extra $1500 a year than budgeted in the school's COA estimate. This means either more out of pocket for your family, or less for heat and food for your kid. At least during those summer months the fuel costs will be low. One of my daughters had a drafty, spacious Cleveland apartment that seemed wonderfully thrifty until winter hit and the cost of keeping the thermometer at 60 shot up higher than her rent. In other words, beware hidden costs.
Off-campus students also need to consider the variable prices of food and local transportation. Once classes start, busy college roommates rarely find it practical to shop and cook together, so off-campus students tend to rely on convenience food and take-out, which is pricier than the kind of bulk food shopping you do for your family. Will your student walk to campus, bike, take public transportation, or drive? CIM students receive free transit passes—contrast that with the $1000 price tag for 9 months of New York MTA cards. No sane person would bring a car to school in Manhattan, but in many places off-campus life is far better if you have a car for grocery shopping, socializing, and general horrible-weather commuting. In many locations, a car may be necessary to drive to lucrative off-campus gigs. Add in, then, the price of insurance, maintenance, gas, and parking fees. But subtract the cost of airfare, if your student can use that car to travel home for holidays and summer—a whopping savings, if a cello is involved.
Your student’s personal standard of living will have an immediately impact on their cost of living at college. Does she know how to budget money? Will he be treating himself to Starbucks on his way to class every morning? (Those caramel macchiatos add up—figure about $1000 a year for the Starbucks habit.) Other costs, such as sheet music and accompanist fees can vary widely from student to student. Will there be extra tuition charges if your kid decides to double major in French? What if he wants to study viola on the side—is there a fee for secondary lessons? (At some schools there's no charge. At Juilliard, it’s $10,000 per year.) Do you plan to give your kid an allowance, or will she be left to her own devices for pocket money? Do you expect her to contribute to her tuition and rent?
Here's good news: unlike most college students, music conservatory kids have marketable skills that can earn them more for their time than a typical $7-$10/hour student work-study desk job. Many conservatories have concert offices that coordinate off-campus gigs for student groups. There may also be in-house work: check to see if there's a "lab orchestra" that pays instrumentalists to labor under the baton of student conductors. There may be teaching and outreach fellowships for qualified upperclassmen—not income you can count on as an incoming freshman, but something to aspire to. Ambitious students have always found work gigging at private events, subbing in orchestras, and teaching private students. My daughter has juggled up to three simultaneous fellowships, along with gigging, baby-sitting, private teaching, and miscellaneous other jobs: enough to earn a 5-figure W2 income while still an undergrad. As a musician, she has used her skill set to much earn more in college than any of her sisters, who were stuck with the typical student work-study and retail jobs. Her earnings have gone a long way to help offset her expensive education.
When it comes to earning money while in school, location matters. The larger and denser the city, the more potential teaching opportunities and gigs. It helps if your city has a good transit system (that $112 monthly New York subway pass quickly pays for itself.) If you attend a conservatory in a more isolated part of the country, you may be still able to find relatively well-compensated work subbing in a regional orchestra, but you'll need car to get (see above.)
Of course, not every 19- or 20-year-old is ready to handle many hours of responsible work in addition to classes, lessons, practicing, and rehearsals. But if your student is able to contribute meaningfully to the cost of her education, don't hold her back. The life of a working musician is busy and fragmented, and it's not a bad idea to get used to splitting time among many different arenas. Conservatories understand this, which is why they generally make paid employment opportunities available for their students. After all, a 21st century musician needs to be fluent and flexible, as much as she needs multiple income streams.
Cost of Attendance is more than a balance sheet of charges and receipts. For some students, the best decision is immediately clear, but for many, the real price of a conservatory education can difficult to pinpoint with so many variables involved. More so than in the case of future doctors, lawyers, and engineers, the conservatory or college your music performance major attends will create a network of connections, both collegial and regional, that will jumpstart his career. In that sense, it can be short-sighted to make a decision based on tuition prices only.Tweet
Menuhin Competition 2014: Jurors Brian Lewis, Ilya Gringolts and Olivier Charlier Give Master ClassesBy Laurie Niles
March 5, 2014 17:50
Having a master class with a jury member is one way to get an idea of what details they are seeking in a competitor's playing. At the Menuhin Competition, all of the jurists gave master classes. We already visited the master classes given by Pamela Frank, Joji Hattori and David Kim; on the final day of the competition were three more sets of master classes by Brian Lewis of the Butler School of Music, Ilya Gringolts of the Hochschule Basel, and Olivier Charlier of the Conservatoire National Superieur de Musique et de Danse de Paris.
Unfortunately, many of these classes were happening simultaneously, so I regret I could not attend them all. Particularly, I was unable to see the master class of the French violinist Olivier Charlier, about whom many students were raving with gratitude afterwards. I saw mostly the master class by Brian Lewis, with a little peek into the class given by Ilya Gringolts.
The first student who played for Brian Lewis was Ari Boutris, 13, with Wieniawski's "Polonaise."
After Ari played, Brian started by describing the composer, Henryk Wieniawski: "He was a very wild man with big appetites," he said, adding that he liked to gamble (even losing his del Gesù in a bet once) and to drink a little too much, er, milk.
"When you play this, you have to be very wild and find each character of each section," Brian said. "Each gesture means something."
The music is also full of "appoggiaturas," a great word that literally means "to lean," he said. Musically, "we're going to lean on the note that doesn't belong. Mozart is full of these," and they create musical tension.
He asked Ari to name three things in his playing that he was already doing well (and there were more than that!) When Ari hesitated a little, Brian explained, "All my students can easily list what they what to improve, but you have to be able to let the things that you do well, also, and be very specific in your analysis." They came up with a list of three things he did well already, and another list of three things to improve, one of which was intonation. On the subject of that, Brian quoted his own late teacher from Juilliard, Dorothy DeLay; "Intonation is the thing you'll be doing your whole life," he quoted, adding, "you won't ever get done with intonation work!"
Brian emphasized that one must relax the body, as "physical tension is the enemy of music." He then asked everyone in the room to stand up, so we could all learn some exercises to do, before playing the violin. Brian said that he does these exercises every morning, starting with a pretty simple swing of the arms, coordinated with knee bends:
Unfortunately my phone-video did not capture the entire demonstration, so here is a description of the other warm-up exercises Brian recommended:
Next was Esther, a student from the Butler School, who played part of the Elgar Violin Sonata. When she finished, Brian said that "I would love for you to live in a bigger box." For example, Elgar write "fff" at one particular spot; "he wants volume of sound." Brian had her play about three places in the sonata that were similar in terms of notes, but different in terms of dynamics, just to illustrate the range of dynamics needed.
He also wanted more character, and one way to do that is to be more demonstrative about when the bow stroke changes in the music.
Brian talked about "zero-gravity playing," playing in a position where the bow slides neither toward the bridge nor toward the fingerboard, but just rests where it is because the violin is held flat, not sloping down. Such a position allows for maximum projection; "Take your sound and bring it to everyone in the audience -- fill the space."
Another exercise for opening the elbow and adding speed to the bow stroke is to do scales with a tiny down-bow at the frog, then travel in the air to the tip for a tiny up bow, then continue: frog, tip, frog, tip. Then double the speed! Here's a short example:
He said that when you perform something, really go for the "wow" factor, try to find "what makes you special with your voice." Performing is your chance to really say something; "when you are standing up performing, it's the only time people aren't going to interrupt you!"
Brian answered questions at the end of his class, for example: How do you stay inspired to practice? He said he is inspired by going to concerts, and also by learning new music. "You don't have to learn the whole thing at once, start with just one phrase," he said.
To make practicing more appealing: The first thing he does when practicing is to spend 10 minutes playing anything he wants, anything at all. It helps him open the violin case -- because "the hardest thing about practicing is opening the case." He said he also likes to read and learn the history behind the composers and pieces he is playing.
Listening also is important. If you listen to a number of versions of the piece you are playing, "there is a history in your ear about how the piece goes." And that doesn't mean that you will wind up trying to clone the pieces you've listened to; instead it simply gives you a point of departure. Because, of course, you are going to…"study the score -- the full score," he said.
One way to approach a new piece is to simply read through the whole thing and put brackets around the places you can't play. Then go straight to those places and practice them. As a student at Juilliard, he once took a challenge to learn the Sibelius Concerto in three days, with the help of his teacher, Dorothy DeLay. They canceled all his classes and went to work; he practiced eight hours a day; two and a half of those with piano. "On the third day, I had to play the whole concerto in master class!"
But it taught him an important lesson: "By knowing how to organize your practice time, you can learn more and more." Keeping a practice journal can help with that, as can keeping consistent practice. He said that at one point when he was younger, he went for seven years without missing a day of practice!
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I peeked in for a few minutes for a master class given by Ilya Gringolts, who was helping a student with phrasing.
The student was holding every fourth beat, without really being conscious of doing so. "It's predictable and harmful to the melody," Ilya said. "You have to think over the bar line, think longer phrases." He asked her, what is it in music that moves people? "I'm thinking of two things, he said, "rhythm and harmony. Those are the two things that move us the most in music."Tweet
The Week in Reviews, Op. 21: Clara-Jumi Kang, Arabella Steinbacher, and Menuhin winners Stephen Waarts and Rennosuke Fukuda in concertBy Robert Niles
March 4, 2014 13:00
In an effort to promote the coverage of classical music, each week Violinist.com brings you links to reviews of notable violin performances from around the world. We'd love to hear about any recent concerts and recitals you've attended, too. Or just tell us what you think about these reviews!
Arabella Steinbacher performed on the same program with Menuhin Competition winners Stephen Waarts and Rennosuke Fukuda and the Cleveland Orchestra in Austin
Clara-Jumi Kang performed the Mendelssohn with the Bangkok Symphony Orchestra
Zach de Pue performed the Szymanowski Violin Concerto No. 1 with the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra
Tai Murray performed the Panufnik with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra
Christian Tetzlaff performed the Widmann with the National Symphony Orchestra
Joshua Bell performed Symphonie Espagnole with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra
Patricia Kopatchinskaja performed works by Bartok, Janacek, Brahms, and Mendelssohn with the Britten Sinfonia
Vilde Frang performed Prokofiev's Violin Concerto No. 2 with the St. Petersburg Philharmonic in Las Vegas and San Diego
Audrey Wright and Foster Wang performed Vivaldi Violin Concerti with the New World Symphony
Eugene Urgorski performed the Tchaikovsky with the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra
By Kate Little
March 4, 2014 12:29
Bayla Keyes, founding member of the Muir String Quartet, and current member of the piano trio Triple Helix, is also a faculty member at the Boston University College of Fine Arts School of Music. At BU, her studio consists of about 20 Bachelors, Masters and Doctoral candidates in Violin Performance. In addition to all of their other classes, lessons, rehearsals and performances, Bayla requires her students to attend weekly a studio technique group focusing on scales, and appropriately referred to as Bayla’s Scale Class. Recently, i had the opportunity to sit-in and observe this group at work.
Scale Class is actually led by a former student of Bayla’s, Sean Larkin, under her guidance and supervision. After some warm-up ensemble exercises, Sean returned to examining specific motions of the left hand and fingers, the form they create, and intricacies of stopping a string to pitch. This led to partial scales on single strings, along with some discussion of bowing and shifting. When ready, the group began 3-octave scales at a slow tempo, increasing the speed with repetition. The end-of-semester tempo appeared to test everyone’s facility to varying degrees.
Instruction was organized, focused, and articulate. The atmosphere, serious and encouraging. Clearly momentum would build over the semester, and the group would accomplish multiple practical goals. Scale Class provides significant opportunity for students at all levels to increase dexterity and accuracy with scales; and by ever increasing their facility at this foundation, they will ever increase their facility at playing violin.
I believe that this type of technique class is unusual for an advanced studio, and that typically such students are left to self-motivation and their own devices for technical maintenance and improvement. Some manage on their own, and some don’t. Certainly the instruction and group study provides significant motivation to attend to fundamentals, and these students are lucky to encounter this demand by their teacher. They will all be better violinists for this reinforced, guided habit of continual attention to foundational technique.
I couldn’t help but to wish, from my lowly position as a beginning adult, that I, too, could have access to this type of instruction, consistent, demanding work on fundamentals, to supplement my own private lessons and practice. The opportunity, and its promise of clear sound and expressive ability pose as gates to violin heaven.
By Laurie Niles
March 3, 2014 22:44
AUSTIN, Texas — Yehudi Menuhin said that two things make for a fine violinist: First, being a master of the instrument and a servant to the music; and second, accepting a social responsibility, to use music to bring people together and give them hope.
That's what Aaron Menuhin told the young artists who participated last week in the competition founded by and named for his grandfather.
The Menuhin Competition concluded on Sunday with the announcement of special prizes and a sold-out Gala Concert at the Long Center for the Performing Arts in Austin. The concert featured first-prize winners Rennosuke Fukuda and Stephen Waarts performing with the Cleveland Orchestra, as well as a performance by jury member Arabella Steinbacher.
At an awards ceremony preceding the concert, Butler School of Music Interim Director Glenn Richter said that the competition had brought a certain excitement about classical music to Austin, where the competition rounds and performances drew increasing crowds over the 10-day event. A children's concert that was given Saturday by the Cleveland Orchestra for local youth also put a spotlight on the special events going on as part of the Menuhin Competition.
"The buzz comes from the talent of all the competitors," Richter said. "I think that Austin gets it."
Aaron Menuhin gives Junior Competitor Alex Zhou his award. Photo courtesy Menuhin Competition
Here is a run-down of the winners and the prizes they received, including the additional prizes:
Seniors additional prizes:
Juniors additional prize:
All unplaced Junior finalists receive US$500.
After the ceremony I spoke to one alumnus of the competition, and also a Junior participant in this year's competition.
"It is like a family -- all these guys will keep coming back," said Juilliard student Ariel Horowitz of the participants in the competition. An alumnus of the 2012 Junior Division Menuhin Competition, she had come from New York to help with the "Passing of the Bow" ceremony. She said that though she did not place in the 2012 competition, "it didn't matter at all. It changed my life and opened so many doors for me."
"It definitely makes you practice more, seeing all these competitors," said Ari Boutris, 13, a Junior competitor this year. I asked him how he prepared for the competition, and he said that he had to work in his practice time between regular school and baseball, but it's a challenge. "A thirty-hour day would be helpful!" added his mother, Mika.
"This is my first competition, so I'm learning so much, just being here," Ari said. "Hearing the judges play and the competitors play was so inspiring." During the competition, he stayed with a family in Austin, and a Senior competitor also stayed at the same house. "It was so inspiring, just hearing him practice." He also enjoyed hearing more in detail what judges thought, when they gave master classes.
The Gala Concert took place in the evening, and it began with the aforementioned "Passing of the Bow" ceremony.
Passing of the bow ceremony. Photo courtesy Menuhin Competition
The 2016 Menuhin Competition will take place in London, so American competitor Claire Wells of Texas walked on stage, wearing her cowboy hat and playing some Texas fiddle music. She then passed the bow to competitor Daniel Lozakovitj (of Sweden, as there were no competitors from U.K.!), who walked off stage, playing Elgar's "Pomp and Circumstance."
The Cleveland Orchestra started with "Carnival Overture," followed by Junior First Prize winter Rennosuke Fukuda playing "Praeludium and Allegro" by Kreisler.
Rennosuke Fukuda plays with the Cleveland Orchestra. Photo courtesy Menuhin Competition
Senior First Prize winner Stephen Waarts then played the first movement from Prokofiev Concerto No. 2.
Stephen Waarts plays with the Cleveland Orchestra. Photo courtesy Menuhin Competition
Next, Arabella Steinbacher, dressed in flashy hot pink, played Ravel's Tzigane with great flourish. One hears that piece played with piano so often, I enjoyed hearing the color of the orchestra part.
Arabella Steinbacher. Photo courtesy Menuhin Competition
Last on the program, the Cleveland Orchestra played Tchaikovsky's Symphony No. 5. It's frequently played, but what a treat, to hear it played so well. When the Cleveland Orchestra lets loose, they do so through such a focused channel; it's so powerful! I hadn't seen Giancarlo Guerrero conduct before now (in fact I haven't seen Franz Welser-Möst either, at first I thought it was him!), and I enjoyed watching him. Whatever his gestures do for the orchestra, they serve as a great audience surrogate, as if one could simply conjure these kinds of sounds with those sweeping gestures.
Cleveland's magnificent sound reminded me of the power of hearing music unfold live. It washes over the listener, the energy given off by the gestures of every single musician, the intelligence and intent behind each individual. It all culminates in a whole, in one live moment in time. This was full hall contained more than 2,000 people, on stage, in the audience. They all shared one experience: a wash of sound waves that vibrates the walls, the chairs, the program in my hand, the bones in my body. That's power. Big, Texas-style power. It can't happen through computer speakers; it can't happen alone in a room -- that's just not the same experience.
As I left Austin Monday, waiting for a much-delayed flight back to Los Angeles, I picked up a T-shirt in the gift store. It says, "Austin, Texas: Live Music Capital of the World!" Of course, the words appear over an electric guitar, with a swirl of stylized piano keys and horn bells, and wings for special effect. Austin is a town with a proud tradition of live music, with singing on the street and a band in every pub. But as host to an international violin competition, Austin proved fertile ground for live classical music as well. May it grow!
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For those of you who were curious about what kind of violins the competitors were playing, I compiled a partial list. (Email me if you'd like to add information to it!)
Stephen Waarts: Vuillaume, 1868; self-owned
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One more note: We're not yet finished with our coverage of the Menuhin Competition! I have a post from Brian Lewis' master class, as well as interviews with first-prize winners Rennosuke Fukuda and Stephen Waarts still to share with you. Watch for those later this week on Violinist.com.Tweet
By Emily Hogstad
March 3, 2014 16:57
Meet Maddalena Laura Lombardini Sirmen.
According to Wikipedia, she was born in 1745 (roughly a decade before Mozart) and she died in 1818 (roughly a decade before Beethoven). We don't know a lot about her. But what we do know is fascinating. She was a violinist, composer, harpsichordist, singer, and businesswoman. When she was 21, she married another violinist and composer named Ludovico Sirmen. Ludovico eventually became involved with a countess, while Maddalena traveled across Europe with a priest. She performed in many of the cultural centers of her day, in the process overcoming a widespread societal antipathy toward professional women. But unfortunately, if predictably, her career has been largely forgotten. In fact, if her name is ever mentioned today, it is invariably because her teacher was Tartini (he of Devil's Trill fame), and he once wrote her a famous letter about violin technique. But Maddalena Lombardini Sirmen was so much more than a Tartini student. In later blog entries, I'll try to fill in some more of the details. But it'll take some time and detective work.
Maddalena has had an IMSLP (International Music Score Library Project) page since May 2009. For a very long time, the only work listed by her was the Two Duos for Violin in C-major. Very cool, but not very...hefty, for lack of a better word.
But then the other day I noticed that way back in April of 2013, someone had uploaded something very cool...something that I'd completely missed, since at the time I was busy fulminating in Minnesota Orchestra Lockout Induced Rage. Here is a set of not two, not three, not four, not five, but six violin concertos by Maddalena. Who, I'll remind you, was a woman...
Sometimes I get exasperated that our historians have fallen asleep at the wheel.
A few recordings of Maddalena's work have found their way onto Youtube. Not that I'd endorse you doing this kind of thing (cough), but you can go there and search for "Sirmen violin" and see what you can find. If you like what you hear, buy the set. The tracks appear to be available through the Naxos Music Library and Itunes.
According to this book, Maddalena's six violin concertos date from around 1768. They are the work of an assured, accomplished, and ambitious young woman in her early twenties. (There are parallels here with Mozart's...his famous set of five would come around 1775, when he was in his late teens. Fascinatingly, in 1778, Wolfgang's prickly, perfectionist father Leopold actually praised one of Maddalena's concertos in a letter to his wife and son.) Maddalena's works remained in print for sixty years. It appears they only fell out of favor once the Romantic Era came whirling through the European music scene. Methinks her work is due for a resurrection.
I hear you already. You want to know, are these concertos any good? *shrug* I think they are. Are they masterpieces? I'm not in the business of arbitrating masterpieces. (Besides, are only masterpieces worth knowing? And is the definition of an eighteenth-century masterpiece different than our own? What has the idea of a Sacred Immutable Steadily Progressing Western Canon of Art Music done to our ability to absorb and enjoy music of this era? Lots of thorny questions here.) Do I think Maddalena's concertos are fresh, engaging, and clever? Yes, yes, and yes! Do they deserve a larger audience? Yes, absolutely! Are they written well for the violin, and are they very difficult to learn? We'll see; I'm printing out the score to the fifth concerto and putting it on my music stand. I can tell one thing already: the lady liked her trills.
This series will not have a set number of installments or a preordained direction... It will just be a touchstone topic as I explore various related subjects: the fifth violin concerto of Maddalena Lombardini Sirmen, her mysterious biography, eighteenth-century performance practice, and my feelings about the process of adopting, studying, and resurrecting an infrequently played work. If you're a violinist looking for a new and quirky challenge, feel free to join me! The sheet music to Maddalena's six violin concertos is available for free on IMSLP.
This is an edit of an entry that originally appeared at my blog Song of the Lark.Tweet
By Laurie Niles
March 2, 2014 02:51
AUSTIN, Texas — By any standard, the music-making was exceptional at the Senior Finals concert for the Menuhin Competition, in which each of four finalists performed a full concerto with the Austin Symphony Orchestra for a full crowd of more than 2,000 at the Long Center for the Performing Arts in Austin, Texas on Saturday.
We know how it all came out, but I will do my best to bring you there with words. Unfortunately, the Competition was unable to obtain permission to live-stream or record this concert. However, Sunday's evening Gala Concert will indeed be live-streamed at this link. It will feature the Junior and Senior first prize winners, the Cleveland Orchestra, and jury member, violinist Arabella Steinbacher.
On Saturday, our performers for the evening were the Senior Finalists: American Stephen Kim, 18; American/Korean Christine Seohyun Lim, 19; American /Dutch Stephen Waarts, 17; and Korean In Mo Yang, 18. Every performer was younger than 20, but each played with professional polish, reliability and presence. To hear any one of them at a symphony concert would be a pleasure, to hear all four in one night -- what a treat!
The evening opened with a performance by Christine Seohyun Lim, who played the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto.
Ah, the opening of the Mendelssohn Concerto -- so pleasing to the ear and so awkward for the fingers! Not for Christine. Her opening was absolutely solid, with dead-center intonation and a beautiful musical line. Throughout the piece, she coordinated well with the orchestra, and her first movement had some exquisite moments of silence, particularly in the cadenza. She really kicked out the triplets that often get lost, for an intense and effective accelerando at the end of the first movement. The second movement opens with a singing melody, and hers was so vocal, I could almost hear the lump in the singer's voice from being on the verge of tears. Best of all was the last movement. As I listened to the dizzying 16ths, I suddenly understood her (awesome) swirly mermaid dress and how it related to this piece! Beyond dizzy, it was smiling, playful, and a wash of notes, like a back-and-forth conversation with the orchestra, or maybe a playful chase. What invigorating playing.
American Stephen Kim, 18, played Prokofiev's Violin Concerto No. 1 in D Major, Op. 19. This concerto opens with a haunting and continuous line, which he played with a lovely tone. Eventually the music maxes out at the top and breaks into kind of a flurry. Here, orchestra and soloist were not together (and this happened a second time with In Mo Yang's performance of the same piece, so we can't blame the soloist entirely). Stephen's high filigree at the end of the first movement was accurate and other-worldly -- this movement seems to end in outer space and fly off on an alien ship. Stephen's playing brought forth some vivid images for me. Prokofiev is hardly cream-puff music; especially in the second movement "Scherzo vivacissimo," which sounds brutal and spooked out, like running through a kaleidoscope of distorted and unpleasant images. The end of the last movement sounded to me like a warbling bird that loses its balance and falls from the sky, then returns and makes it to the top. The audience fell silent for a long time, then much applause.
After an intermission, Stephen Waarts performed the other Prokofiev Violin Concerto, No. 2 in G minor, Op. 63, which begins low and spins out a line that seems quite melodic until it breaks into spikiness. The first movement is full of interruptions and nonsequiturs: fast playing that sounds out-of-breath and hurried. Stephen was pulling off broken bow hair already by the first orchestral interlude. I have to note that conductor Peter Bay, excellent partner that he was, kept smiling at the soloist, and this seemed so incongruous to me in this piece!
The way Prokofiev set up this piece, every time the movement seems to get going with a gorgeous melody, it trails off into choppy waters. At those times, when the music presented a thick texture of busy string crossings, angular double stops, big leaps and notes, Stephen was always able to find the musical line through it all. The second movement has a clear melody and statement, and Stephen made it with gorgeous tone and well-suited vibrato. Stephen also had no trouble landing the sudden and extreme leaps up the fingerboard to catch very high notes. In fact, this movement has some of the highest notes in the violin repertoire, and they sounded just gorgeous in his hands. The last movement was a wild, rollicking, evil dance with lots of double stops. The music fits together like a complex and intricate clock made by a madman genius. There's a great deal of fast-paced asymmetry and offsetting things by just a few notes. It sounds wrong when it's right, and so how does one know if it's right? On this night, I finally knew. In fact, I heard a few things I hadn't heard before because they meshed just right; I saw how they fit. The movement ends in relentless and rather repetitive passagework, but Stephen had us hanging on every note.
Korean violinist In Mo Yang, 18, gave the last performance of the evening, Prokofiev Concerto No. 1 in D major, Op. 19 (the same piece that Stephen Kim played).
As I mentioned, the orchestra and soloist had some ensemble problems toward the beginning, after which all went well in terms of collaboration. In Mo also was able to take a thicket of notes and give it meaning; in this case, a certain jazzy and syncopated feeling. His moments of stillness were very effective, and his high filigree at the end of the moment really rode the flute (piccolo?) solo. The second movement was indeed "vivacissimo" -- so fast! There is a series of fast glissandi up the fingerboard, and he nailed the harmonic at the top of each one every time. The end was so fast it sounded like a bee buzzing around the room -- a very in-tune bee. The last movement sounds like a series of attempts to climb up the side of a mountain, each climb a little different. His pacing and dynamics really helped build the tension, until it goes back to the the simple theme from the first movement, set to trills. In Mo's trills are really, really fast. Beautiful playing, and he got a standing ovation.
And speaking of a standing ovation, take note of these young artists and all those who participated this week in the Menuhin Competition: They are the future of music!
Violinist.com Editor Laurie Niles went to Austin, Texas to cover the Menuhin Competition 2014, watching some of the world's top young violinists. Read her ongoing coverage.
Violinist.com has not reviewed, and does not endorse, the content of any of the articles below.
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