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Review: IVCI Finals Begin with Tessa Lark, Jinjoo Cho and Ji Yoon Lee

By Laurie Niles
September 20, 2014 05:12

Whatever anyone's opinion about the standing of each finalist in the International Violin Competition of Indianapolis, Friday was an exhilarating night of music-making.

The competition's final round began with performances by violinists Tessa Lark, Jinjoo Cho and Ji Yoon Lee with the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra at Hilbert Circle Theater, with Joel Smirnoff conducting. For this round, each is required to play a full Romantic or Modern concerto with orchestra. Saturday will feature Ji Young Lim playing the Brahms; Yoo Jin Jang playing the Tchaikovsky and Dami Kim playing the Sibelius. (Listen to these performances on the live-streaming or archived performances.)

On Friday, Tessa Lark played the Walton Violin Concerto, a piece less familiar to me (and to many) than the other pieces on this program, which were the Korngold and the Tchaikovsky. She played with guts and great intensity, without ever over-playing.

Tessa Lark
Photo by Denis Kelly

She also showed a great ability to pick notes out of the sky and just nail them to the wall, the intonation was so satisfyingly good. The second movement to me seemed a study in circular motion, from the spinning of a tornado to a lost-in-a-foreign-land dizziness, ending in breathless perpetual motion, up and down and all over the fingerboard. Tessa played the third movement with authority and strong voice, overall a really generous performance that had people on their feet right away.

The cinematic wonderland of the Korngold Violin Concerto felt just perfect after the real-world modern drama of the Walton -- like genius programming rather than the happy coincidence of the competitors' choices. The first movement of the Korngold requires that the violin produce massive long-tone sound for what seems like the whole movement-- Jinjoo Cho made it sound beautiful and easy.

Jinjoo Cho
Photo by Denis Kelly

The second movement sets the violin melody against a backdrop of amorphous bells, clavichord, harp -- she was able to get that veiled affect while still holding steady and clear. Everything seems under a spell, floating up and away, until the wake-up call of the third movement. Here is where I noticed the joyful and abundant energy of conductor Joel Smirnoff, whom I'd seen in his roles as a soloist and teacher, but until this moment, not as a conductor. When everything is so well in-hand one can relax and enjoy what the music is saying. For example, his concerto has such an extended ending, it's almost comical. Again, the audience responded very warmly to Jinjoo's performance.

Ji Yoon Lee played the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto, certainly the best-known and most-played of the three concertos tonight.

Ji Yoon Lee
Photo by Denis Kelly

The first movement requires both chops and stamina, and Ji Yoon certainly has both, full of energy to the end. The second movement calls for a mute to dampen the sound throughout the movement; not everyone does it, but tonight Ji Yoon did it, to good effect. Her violin (a 1730 Petrus Guarnerius from the Deutsche Stiftung Musikleben) was powerful enough that the volume never fell below the level of the orchestra. It really does make that middle movement both a break in the action and in the volume of sound. It's usually a break in speed as well, but she took it on the fast side. It brings out the third movement's volume and speed, though her train was a bit too speedy for the orchestra, they fell out of sync briefly. But especially toward the end of the piece, she seemed clearly to be having fun, and that was infectious.

* * *

Late Friday night, IVCI Executive Director Glen Kwok announced that jury member Miriam Fried was asked not to vote at all in the Classical Finals and Finals because she has three current or former students in the finals. Here is more about that story.

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IVCI Jury Member Miriam Fried Asked Not to Vote in Finals

By Laurie Niles
September 20, 2014 04:36

Jury member Miriam Fried has been asked not vote in the finals of the 2014 International Violin Competition of Indianapolis because of the six finalists, three of them are current or former students of hers, the IVCI announced Friday night.

Other members of this year's IVCI jury are Jaime Laredo (Jury President), Ellen Taaffe Zwilich, Dong-Suk Kang, Boris Kuschnir, Cho-Liang Lin, Philip Setzer, Dmitry Sitkovetsky and Kyoko Takezawa

FriedIVCI Executive Director Glen Kwok issued this statement Friday night:

"One of the hallmarks of the International Violin Competition of Indianapolis (IVCI) has always been the integrity of its judging process. From a strict no discussion policy amongst the jury members, to abstentions by any jury member who has a student in the competition, to a sophisticated computerized scoring system which eliminates any possibility of score manipulation, multiple safeguards have been implemented to ensure a fair, honest and transparent process. For the first time in IVCI history, three of the six Finalists are students of a single jury member. Given this unprecedented scenario, the IVCI has decided to take the extraordinary additional measure of requesting that Miriam Fried recuse herself entirely from voting during the Classical Finals and Finals in order to avoid any possibility of jury partiality."

The situation was causing controversy, especially on social media. Curtis Institute teacher and Aaron Rosand, who has several current and former students in the IVCI, sent me this statement last night, before the announcement:

"Although the teachers cannot vote for their pupils, they can simply give lower grades for other worthy candidates. This tactic I have witnessed too many times when sitting on international competition juries. On several occasions, I have even seen teachers coaching their pupils between rounds. This nonsense must be discontinued if we are to have fair and unbiased judgement. A rule should be established barring jurors from having their students participating in a competition. The Indianapolis competition has shown how lopsided results can be when five of six finalist are students of the teachers on the jury. Remembering my experience in 1990 when I was a juror for this competition, I wonder how my dear old friend Joseph Gingold would react to this turn of events."

The program for the IVCI lists all major teachers, current and past, with whom each contestant has trained. For this year's finalists:

Tessa Lark, 25: Miriam Fried, Lucy Chapman and Kurt Sassmannshaus
Jinjoo Cho, 26: Jaime Laredo (present), Paul Kantor, Joseph Silverstein and Pamela Frank
Ji Yoon Lee, 22: Kolja Blacher (present)
Ji Young Lim, 19: Nam Yun Kim
Yoo Jin Jang, 23: Miriam Fried (present), Nam Yun Kim
Dami Kim, 25, Mihaela Martin (present), Miriam Fried, Aaron Rosand

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Top Modern Violin Makers Honored in the 2014 Violin Society of America Competition

By Laurie Niles
September 19, 2014 13:10

It's a new Golden Age of violin- and bow-making, but how can you find those amazing modern violins that sound as good, hold up better and sell for a much more reasonable price than the old Italians?

Here is one very good place to start: this list of the winners in the 2014 Violin Society of America Competition. I have provided as many links as possible to their websites, if you wish to connect with any of these makers.

This year, the competition has attracted entries from 312 separate makers, representing 26 countries. There were a staggering number of instruments -- 25 judges evaluated a total of 542 entries, including 246 violins, 110 violas, 69 cellos, 9 basses, 80 bows, and 28 instrument quartets. Instruments were be judged over a three-day period for each category.


Here are the winning luthiers and bowmakers in the violin and viola categories:


Jeff Phillips
Jeff Phillips, with his Gold Medal-winning violin
Gold Medal for Tone and Workmanship: Jeff Phillips

Gold Medal: Collin Gallahue

Silver Medal for Workmanship:
Stephan Von Baehr and Paul Belin
Philip Valentin Ihle
Andrew Ryan

Silver Medal for Tone:
Damon Gray
Xuelin Zhang

Certificate of Merit for Workmanship:
Stephen Quinney
Wei-Xian Zhu
Georg Meiwes
George Yu
Ryan Soltis
John Young
Stefan Lindholm
Haide Lin and Wu Zu Liang

Certificate of Merit for Tone:
Paul Crowley
Artur Friedhoff
Stanley Kiernoziak
Hongbai Qin
Zhen Nian Wang


bow table

Gold Medal: Emmanuel Begin

Certificate of Merit:
Victor Bernard
Eric Fournier
Eric Gagne


Gold Medal: Jason Viseltear

Silver Medal for Workmanship
Petio H. Kostov
Jeff Phillips

Silver Medal for Tone:
Edwin Halloran
James Robinson

Certificate of Merit for Workmanship:
Borja Bernabeau
Paul Crowley
Shi Liao and Li Xiu Ding
Zi Qiu Li
Paul Noulet
Ryan Soltis
Isabelle Wilbaux and Louis Gord
Ming-Jiang Zhu

Certificate of Merit for Tone:
Zhi Xin Huang
Guy Cole
Antonio Donato
Anton Domozhyrov
Mark Hough
Yang Kai
Zhen Hua Ling
Steven M. McCann
Georg Meiwes
Jeffrey S. Robinson
Ryan Soltis
Ken Su
Isabelle Wilbaux and Louis Gord


Gold Medal: Eric Fournier

* * *

The VSA's instrument contest certainly is an opportunity for luthiers and bow makers to get their name out by winning a medal, but it also brings together new makers with more experienced ones, and thus allows the opportunity for mentorship.

"It's such an opportunity for everyone to learn something," said luthier Christopher Reuning, who has served as a judge in the past. "Sometimes they are just this close to winning a medal, and there's just one little thing you can tell them -- then they come back and win the next year."

After the judging, makers who entered the competition have chance to talk about their instrument with a judge. Below, judge John Montgomery reviews instruments with makers.


* * *

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Classical Concerto Finals, Night 2: More Mozart and New Cadenzas

By Laurie Niles
September 18, 2014 22:20

The all-Mozart Classical Finals continued Thursday night in the 2014 International Violin Competition of Indianapolis at the Christel DeHann Fine Arts Center, and it did bring to light a few new cadenzas, at least for me. (You can listen to these performances on the live-streaming or archived performances.)

Thursday night featured three finalists: Ji Young Lim, Yoo Jin Jang and Dami Kim, all of South Korea, in concert with the conductorless East Coast Chamber Orchestra. They followed Tessa Lark, Jinjoo Cho and Yi Yoon Lee, who played their Classical Finals Wednesday night.

The first two finalists played Mozart's Violin Concerto No. 4 in D.

Ji Young Lim, 19, played first. Her well-articulated bow arm made for a clear and uncluttered sound, which projected quite well.

Photo by Denis Kelly

She produced a nice unbroken melody line in the second movement, drawing a sweet and beautiful tone from the 1794 Giuseppe Guadagnini, on loan to her from Kumho Asiana Cultural Foundation. A few times she and the orchestra fell out of sync; Concerto No. 4 might be a bit harder to do without orchestra than Concerto No. 5, which all contestants played last night. For example, in the second movement, there are quite a few lines in both orchestra and solo part that begin on an off-beat. She played the traditional Joachim cadenzas.

Yoo Jin Jang, 23, was the only one on this night who played most of the orchestral tuttis (those introductions and bridges written for the orchestra, not the soloist.) This got soloist and orchestra off to a collaborative start, even before the first solo entrance.

Photo by Denis Kelly

I did not recognize the cadenzas she played; later she told me that they were cadenzas by the pianist Robert Levin, originally written for violinist Gidon Kremer. One moment was particularly sweet in the second movement, just a bit of sublime playing high on the E string. She seemed to connect well with the orchestra.

Dami Kim, 25 showed a real gift for pacing, able to get the momentum rolling, moving the music forward without rushing or going too fast.

Photo by Denis Kelly

She also played cadenzas by Robert Levin, which felt a little fuller and more fitting in the fifth concerto than in the fourth. ECCO responded immediately to her dynamic scheme in the third-movement Turkish section, and that was a joy.

One thought for ECCO about playing with soloists: the ladies of ECCO wear beautiful, colored long gowns for performance, and I loved that look. But sometimes their beautiful gowns competed just a bit with the soloists' beautiful long gowns. Maybe wear black, when there's a soloist? (Opinions on this?)

After the finalists played, ECCO treated us to a wonderful version of "La Follia" written by one of their members, Michi Wiancko, based on Geminiani's version of this work. This was a tremendously fun piece for all, but especially for anyone who has ever played or heard Corelli's "La Folia" from Suzuki Book 6. It starts innocently enough, in Baroque style, then gradually the not-Baroque elements sneak in: a violinist puts down the fiddle to play a castanet for a variation, they start passing their passagework around the room, a violist gets out a tambourine, and before you know it we've have a few variations written in the style of a mystery genre -- (tango? new age? easy listening?) that is certainly modern. Then it jerks straight back to Baroque, as if that were all a dream, but it can't stay there. There's Riverdance-like stomping...If you want to hear this piece, check it out on their album.

* * *

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Tweeting Beethoven @haikuconference

By Karen Rile
September 18, 2014 21:10


Last weekend, reporting for another publication, I dropped by several sessions of the HAIKU Conference at the University of Pennsylvania. Devotees of Japanese verse may be disappointed to learn that this two-day event had nothing to do with seventeen-syllable poems, but instead with a rather momentous topic: the future of arts in and humanities in research universities.

"HAIKU" turns out to be the awkward, if easy to remember acronym for "Humanities and Arts in the Integrated Knowledge University." The question at hand being, what is the future of these disciplines, given a climate where institutions of higher learning are scored for financial considerations, punishing colleges majors that do not lead immediately to lucrative paychecks? Under such a system, STEM and business studies are rewarded, but the study of humanities, arts, and pure science is marginalized, or even eliminated. And that's a scary future.

The conference was wide and free-ranging, with contributions from scholars and artists of many persuasions, and everything was live-tweeted by Art History PhD student Iggy Cortez on the @haikuconference Twitter stream. There was even a keynote address by Harvard professor Howard Gardner, the developmental psychologist who will be familiar to many of you as the author of the theory of multiple intelligences.

(An amusing sidenote: during the break, I approached Gardner, who was in the process of being grilled by some zealous grad students, and to thank him personally because his work had a direct impact on the way I raised my own for daughters. He asked what they were doing now and I replied "aerial theater artist, glass artists, musician, and actor/playwright." He paused and said, "Well the wonderful thing about this time we live in is that they can always do something else." )

My favorite session of the weekend was titled "Neuroscience, History, and Social Dynamics in Beethoven's Great Fugue." There was a neuroscientist who happens to love classical music; a terribly proper young British musicologist "particularly interested in the intersection between music analysis and recent Continental philosophy"; and an ethnomusicology professor who moonlights as an indie-rock drummer when he's not studying Tamil Hindu ritual musics in post-tsunami and late-war Sri Lanka. If that sounds a little unfocused, okay it was. And that's fine. A loose panel leaves room for brainstorming, reflection, and imaginative interaction.


The Beethoven session opened with a performance of the Fugue by the Daedalus Quartet, a gorgeously nuanced and intelligent display by this first-rate string quartet, currently in residence at both UPenn and Columbia Universities. At Penn, the music department focuses almost exclusively on scholarship and composition. And while Penn has produced many first-rate composers, including Jennifer Higdon and Osvaldo Golijov, there is little music performance at the university. Students can take lessons and enroll in ensembles for partial credit. Aside from an occasional exchange student who wanders uptown from Curtis, you don't run across many professional-level chamber musicians in the classrooms.

Which is why, of course, it's so important for the university to provide its community with listening opportunities from high level performing artists. The quartet's performance, along with the rest of the conference took place in a chilly auditorium, really an oversize classroom, in the basement of the university museum—not your typical setting for a recital. As they played, on the screen behind them the fugue was converted into a live visual data stream demonstrating overtones (or something—I was a little lost, but the visuals were impressive, if distracting.)

The quartet members spoke in turn, interacting with each scholar at his or her level of musical understanding, and taking into account the undoubtedly wide range of sophistication among the varied audience. First violinist Min-Young Kim, a Harvard and Juilliard grad, carefully defined "fugue", giving historical context and explaining how the Great Fugue defied listener expectations. She got the audience to sing the difficult intervals of the fugue's first subjects (they did a pretty good job of it) and noted, "My desire has always been that people will walk out humming the theme. Maybe this time it will happen!"

Screen Shot 2014-09-19 at 12.02.55 AM

Quartet photo Courtesy of Penn Arts & Culture.

The Daedalus Quartet performs a FREE recital of music by Mozart, Bartok, and Ravel this Sunday at Penn's Rose Recital Hall (4th Floor, Fisher-Bennet Hall, 34th and Walnut Streets), 3 PM.

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Classical Concerto Finals: Playing Conductorless with ECCO

By Laurie Niles
September 18, 2014 08:04

The stage was set for the Classical Finals round Thursday night, when a stagehand walked across the floor and removed the music stand that had been set out for the conductor.

That's because there is no conductor for the East Coast Chamber Orchestra (ECCO), the group accompanying the six finalists in their performances of Mozart Concertos Wednesday and Thursday. The lively, self-directed ensemble proved a great choice for the task, as their structure demanded that each soloist bring a certain presence and level of leadership to the job. At the same time, having such a sure, competent and frankly cheerful back-up band seem to help put each violinist at ease.

Tessa Lark, 25, of the United States started the evening by playing Mozart's Concerto No. 5 in A major, the same piece that all three finalists would play Thursday night.

Photo by Denis Kelly

Tessa's version was energetic and individual, while still adhering much to the urtext. When ECCO played its orchestral tuttis, she joined right in, completely melting into the orchestra until it came time to stand out as the soloist. (On that topic: considering how many accomplished soloists are in ECCO, they do not sound like a choir of sopranos. They absolutely blend as one voice.)

I did not recognize her cadenzas; later she told me that she wrote them herself. She wrote the first-movement cadenza in 2009 and the rest of the cadenzas in 2012, making some revisions to the second-movement cadenza during yesterday's rehearsal. "Some day, the goal is improvisation!" she said.

Her second movement was straightforward in sound and tone, and during that cadenza I felt for a moment that she'd managed to make all the molecules slow down in the room. The last movement was a raucous ride, with its "Turkish" stomp in the middle, with joyful interaction between soloist and orchestra. Tessa was playing on a 1675 Tononi, on loan from the Ravinia Festival.

Next came Jinjoo Cho, 26, of South Korea. This concerto contains a lot of repeating phrases and toward the beginning she slipped into wrong version in a different key, but then recovered quite quickly. ECCO was with her the whole way, even mirroring her gestures.

Photo by Denis Kelly

Jinjoo used the traditional Joachim cadenzas, with a shortened version of the second movement one. Her playing warmed up as she went on and in the last movement she and the orchestra had worked in some nice ideas after the cadenza. Before she bowed to the audience, she applauded her collaborators.

Ji Yoon Lee, 22, of South Korea brought out the tension and harmonic pull of the second movement. She also played the traditional Joachim cadenzas, also shortening the second-movement cadenza. Her playing seemed to gain strength in last movement, which she took at full speed and seemed to want to play faster. Ji Yoon played on a 1730 Petrus Guarnerius, on loan from the Deutsche Stiftung Musikleben.

Photo by Denis Kelly

* * *

Tomorrow night Ji Young Lim, 19, and Yoo Jin Jang, 23, will play Mozart's Violin Concerto No. 4 in D; and Dami Kim, 25, will play Mozart's Concerto No. 5 in A. All are from South Korea. You can listen to these performances on the live-streaming or archived performances.

* * *

Before the concert was a discussion about "Creating an Artistic Identity," with Cleveland Institute president Joel Smirnoff, who answered questions from IVCI Executive Director Glen Kwok.

Photo by Denis Kelly

Smirnoff said that when one is seeking an artistic identity, one can look to mentors and to success stories. The best artists, in any field, "they're confident, they enjoy being in front of an audience, and they are generous." The kind of artist who endures is someone who is willing to go on stage and share for long enough for people to get a picture of what they are like as an artist. It's a presence that is beyond musical training, and a persistence about achieving that. The best performers take the act of performing and giving very seriously.

Smirnoff referred to a wonderful YouTube video of 'As Time Goes By' that features a version by Stephane Grappelli. "That one song becomes the basis of a whole soundtrack and the fulcrum of that whole movie," he said. In that way, a violinist with an artistic identity will make something of a phrase in the middle of a piece -- the artist knows which one -- and the audience will never forget that phrase.

The world is different now, for an artist building an identity and a career. Many years ago, if you won a competition, you would win, and then wait for the phone to ring. These days, the Internet connects us on a daily basis, and an artist can start building there, for better or for worse.

Both Kwok and Smirnoff also addressed the issue of the overwhelming number of South Koreans in this year's competition -- five of the six finalists are South Korean. Kwok said that there were 179 total applicants to the 2014 IVCI, and they were from 31 countries. Thirty percent of the applicants were Korean.

Smirnoff said that one reason is teachers such as Nam Yun Kim: "She came to this country and studied with the best there is," then she went back. "She is responsible for so many amazing musicians and she is a complete musician herself." Also, countries in Asia have embraced Western classical music and created a large market for it there. "There is an appreciation of the history and the best of Western culture in those countries -- perhaps even more so than here."

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4 Ways to Improvise

By Michael Fox
September 17, 2014 12:59

When I first walked down this path of using strings to create sound, I was unaware how versatile it could be, or how the same instrument could make me comfortable in a huge variety of settings. I have inserted my voice into all kinds of situations – sometimes projects involving many hours of rehearsal, and others involving street musicians I’ve never met before who simply see my case and say something like “Why don’t you join us, man?”

One thing I hear a lot from ethnomusicologists is that “music is not a universal language, but it is a universal phenomenon.” In other words, the same piece of music isn’t going to mean the same thing to everyone. Based on numerous, sometimes unknown and uncontrollable factors, the same song could sound scary to one person, sad to another, exciting to someone else, romantic to another person, and spiritual to yet another set of ears.

But not only can music be heard in a number of different ways, but it can also be made in a number of different ways. Playing with a string quartet and playing in a street jam session require different parts of the brain, and totally different approaches to knowing what notes make sense in a particular context. In the area of improvisation, there are a number of different ways to go about learning how to "jam" over a piece. I believe that to be truly proficient, all musicians should be pushed to be comfortable making music in all different ways possible.

There are, I think at least four ways to approach learning or creating a song, and all four can be jumping off points for improvisation. To help me keep things straight, I’ve decided to label each way of musical creation with the part of our bodies from which that way of playing originates. Of course, anyone playing will be using all these different parts all the time, but I feel that certain styles of creating music demand that one part gets more attention at certain times.

1) Playing by sight – reading what’s written on the page.

This the path emphasized by traditional Western music education, of reading sheet music. It is a valuable way of learning songs, but I would argue that it should not be the exclusive one. However, some people critical of Classical violin training scoff at the process of sight-reading, believing it is uncreative and a simple robotic bending to the will of a God-like composer. However, this is very much not the case. Sheet music provides a blueprint for a piece, but there is still a lot left up to the individual’s creative interpretation. A composer might want a song to sound soft in a particular section, so he or she will put a stylized “p” for piano under the staff. However, what does “soft” really mean? It’s up to the player to decide just how dramatic that “piano” should be emphasized. That’s just one of hundreds of decisions a player must make. So that's why Jascha Heifetz can sound so different from Hillary Hahn. And why, if you're classical trained and intimidated by the concept of "improvising," you're actually being more creative and spontaneous then you may realize.

2) Playing by ear – playing by hearing and imitation, learning a song the same way a growing child learns to speak language.

This is the primary way most of the world’s cultures learn their “folk songs,” as the song leader teaches others to join in through listening, imitation, and repetition. Once a tune has gotten so far in your system to be known, the ordination is up to you, and can be improvised in the moment, often never really played the same way twice. Some styles of music, like classical Arabic music, and old-time Appalachian fiddling allow several people to play the same tune together, with the subtle differences each musician brings blending into one whole.

Here's a cumbia (a popular style of Latin American dance music) song that can be a good starting point, as an example for its relative simplicity:

After careful listening to this song a few times, you'll start to notice this is built along a minor scale, and has two different melodic phrases, starting at different pitches, jumping up, and then descending. Simply try repeating the accordion introduction, and trying to play along on your instrument, listening carefully and adjusting until the notes match. Before long, you'll start to really get this repetitive and catchy melody so "known" in your ears, mind, and fingers, that you can experiment with branching off - keeping the melody in your head, while trying out other "licks" that might sounds good.

3) Playing by brain – using the chords figuring out the skeletal “song behind the song,” and then building melodies that fit around this internal melody. This is the central place for jazz, rock, and pop improvisation.

Going back to the aforementioned "Rumba Cha Cha," careful listening to the piano part can show you that there's more going on in the song then just the melody. Advanced knowledge of composition or jazz theory could go all over the place with this song, but at it's most basic level, the song goes back and forth between two chords. - E minor and D major.

Looking at a piano, and playing the triad, or the (1st, 3rd, and 5th notes) of both of those scales will give you the most basic internal melody, namely.

E – G – B


D – F# – A

That’s three notes that move down either a whole or half step. To create a solo that makes sense, be aware of this movement, and emphasize those notes. Of course, in the heat of performance, you shouldn’t have to be aware of all that. Practicing the different scale and arpeggio possibilities over the song will eventually cause the process to become automatic.

4) Playing by heart (or gut, if you prefer) – Playing spontaneously, creating something that is uniquely yours. This is the home of the composer and improviser. Whether spending hours carefully crafting a symphony, or exploring the sounds that emerge when you mindlessly let your fingers glide on the strings, utilizing your own music voice is an essential part of what it means to be a full musician. Getting comfortable creating music when there are “no rules” other then ones you decide to put on yourself will enrich your ability to play with true expression and heart in all the other modes of playing. Plus it’s great therapy!

Different people are going to find different that one pathway is going to come easier to them then the others, and that’s ok. But I feel that since music can be made all of these different ways, that it’s my goal to become more comfortable with all these different methods.

Do you think there are any other ways or approaches to making music that I’ve left out? Let me know your thoughts!

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Is it fair, if your teacher is on the jury? An explanation of procedures in the International Violin Competition of Indianapolis

By Laurie Niles
September 17, 2014 09:10

A number of finalists in the International Violin Competition of Indianapolis have connections to jury members, as current or former students. Is this appropriate? Some have been questioning that matter.

I'm not going to take sides, but I'd like to explain the IVCI process, as I understand it.

Here are the rules, with regard to jury members and their own students (the rules are stated in the program, which you can read online at this link. The "scoring procedure" is outlined on page 37, and here is what it says with regard to this matter:

"In order to further reduce partiality, jurors are recused from voting for participants with whom they have had any past relationship as a primary teacher. By processing the scores to the same statistical distribution, players who are students of jurors will not be affected by their abstention."

In other words: 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. (This can actually work against those students, and some would argue that in the past, it has.) The finalists advanced based on a combined score: 70 percent of their semi-final scores plus 30 percent of their scores in the preliminaries.

The program also lists the teachers, past and present, for all the students. Here is that list for the finalists. (Current IVCI jury members are marked with an asterisk):

Tessa Lark, 25, United States
Miriam Fried*
Lucy Chapman
Kurt Sassmannshaus

Jinjoo Cho, 26, South Korea
Jaime Laredo (present)*
Paul Kantor
Joseph Silverstein + Pamela Frank

Ji Yoon Lee, 22, South Korea
Kolja Blacher (present)

Ji Young Lim, 19, South Korea
Nam Yun Kim

Yoo Jin Jang, 23, South Korea
Miriam Fried (present)*
Nam Yun Kim

Dami Kim, South Korea
Mihaela Martin (present)
Miriam Fried*
Aaron Rosand

The members of the jury include: Jaime Laredo (Jury President), Ellen Taaffe Zwilich, Miriam Fried, Dong-Suk Kang, Boris Kuschnir, Cho-Liang Lin, Philip Setzer, Dmitry Sitkovetsky and Kyoko Takezawa. Many of these jurists are indeed some of the most prestigious violin teachers in the world, and their students win other competitions.

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

I hope this information helps. If you are wondering if the outcome of the competition is legitimate, I recommend that instead of looking at who is studying with whom, or worse, the racial profiles of the contestants, the best way to determine the level of everyone's playing, and to judge whether the outcome is fair, is to listen and watch these excellent young violinists play. Their performances can be found here:

Archived performances (ones that have already occurred)

Live-streaming (if you'd like to catch the performances tonight, and the rest of the week)

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Review: 2010 IVCI Gold Medalist Clara-Jumi Kang plays with the East Coast Chamber Orchestra

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

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How To Be A Productive Perfectionist

By Claire Allen
September 16, 2014 17:44

I am a perfectionist. I have been one for as long as I can remember. My mother often tells me the story of how my second-grade teacher told her that I would always be harder on myself than anyone else would. And it's true.

Perfectionists get a bad rap in society. Sure, our work is praised, but as people we get a reputation for not being very fun to be around. We're easily upset if we or our work isn't up to our impossible standards. We're always stressed. Our fear of not being perfect sometimes paralyzes us from even trying something new.

"Just relax," people say. "All you have to do is be yourself." "It doesn't matter what anyone else does." "I love you just the way you are." "You can do anything you put your mind to."

You know what? None of that helps. I know. I've had all of that said to me and more. And none of that made me feel a single bit better when I could hear that my violin sound was vastly inferior to the people around me.

Here's the thing: People know when you're lying to them. So, every time that someone praised my violin playing, I was comparing myself to Hilary Hahn in my mind. I was comparing myself to the students seated higher than me in my orchestra. I know that I'm not the best violinist in the world, or even close to being world-class. So telling me that "Yes, you are that good," is a lie, and I know that. It made me feel worse.

I was in a pretty bad place, both with my emotional health and with my violin playing, when I met Burton Kaplan. It's only a slight exaggeration to say he saved my violin life. In one of my very first lessons with him, he told me something that I still remember. He said, "It's good that you're a perfectionist. It means you won't give up until you get it right."

This was the first time that anyone had ever told me it was a good thing that I was the way I was. People were always telling me not to be so hard on myself, to do yoga, to do deep breathing, to just relax.

What actually made me relax was Burton telling me that it was good that I was the way I was.

You can't stop being a perfectionist. At least, not in my experience. But you can channel it into something productive and use it to your advantage, rather than letting it destroy your peace of mind.

Here are six things that have helped me channel my perfectionism into a force for good.

1. Stop all negative self-talk immediately.

"I suck." "I'll never get better at this." "I'll never be the best." "I'll never be good enough." All these thoughts need to stop immediately. These are general thoughts of negativity. They are not helpful, they are not productive, and while you may never be the best violinist in the world (after all, that title can only go to one person, and even then it probably depends on the day), you can certainly make leaps and bounds of improvement.

2. Adopt an analytical mindset.

Treat yourself as a scientist and your playing as your experiment. Rather than say "Oh, gosh, I sound so bad," remove yourself a level. You're reacting to something in the sound; therefore, the logical conclusion is that something about your tone is off. Specifically describe what it is you don't like about the tone. And do refer to it as "the tone" rather than "my sound." Taking personal pronouns out of it makes it less personal.

So, "The tone is scratchy." Now, be even more specific. Is the tone uniformly scratchy? Is it scratchy all the time or are there some notes that sound more scratchy then others? If so, what is happening in the music when your tone scratches?

Let's say that your tone is the most scratchy when you cross to the E-string. Here's where you go back to your fundamentals. Observe yourself (you may need a mirror or a video recording to do this). You might notice that when you cross strings, your elbow neglects to move with your hand, or that your bow slides close to the bridge.

Now, take your information and try something new: Focus on keeping your bow on the middle sound point and using your elbow to cross strings.

Evaluate: Was the sound better, worse, or the same? In what specific ways?

3. Be specific about what you don't like.

Maybe your intonation is good but your rhythm is unsteady. Pick one aspect of your playing to improve at a time, rather than just repeating something over and over and hoping that it'll get better.

4. Listen to yourself. For real.

We perfectionists have a tendency to get lost in our heads. All that thinking sometimes drowns out the actual sounds we're making on our violins. Shift your focus to the actual sounds coming out of your violin at the present moment. If this is hard to do while playing, this is where a video recording of yourself comes in. Spend the first part of your practice playing and videoing yourself, then spend the second half watching that video, taking notes, and observing your sound. Again - be specific.

5. Set specific, attainable goals.

"I want to be the best." "I want to be first chair." These are things that you can't control. The only thing you can control is what you do and how you sound. You can't control that about anyone else, and you can't control what judges will say or do in a competition setting. Your goals should be about your playing. For example, "I want to play this piece and hold my violin up the whole time." "I want to listen to the way each note connects to the next." "I want to start my crescendos softer and get louder more gradually." These are all things that you can achieve in your practice session and that will make your playing better.

6. Confront your weaknesses head on.

I've always been afraid of doublestops. My hands tense up, my heart starts pounding, and I panic. So, for years, I avoided them. Now, I've created a Doublestop Bootcamp practice regimen for myself to tackle them head on. Don't avoid things that you don't think you're good at. Give them a try, and use the rest of the tips in this blog to make them better. Do them first in your practice session so you are freshest and get it over with.

One last thing: Remember that you are deserving of love and good things because you are a human being with a beautiful soul. You are worthy of love because you are you. Your violin playing doesn't determine your value or worth as a human being.

Love yourself, love your perfectionism, and use that perfectionism to make yourself a better violinist.

Originally posted on my website

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