Violinist.com members may keep personal journals on the website. Violinist.com's editor selects the best entries for the column below. Links to all other recent blog posts may be found in the column on the right.
By Laurie Niles
December 12, 2013 15:59
Last week I found myself listening to some very young string quartets playing very old and established music, the Beethoven String Quartets.
The concert was a "Beethoven Quartet Celebration," the culmination of a semester-long examination of these works, led by cellist Paul Katz, who spent this past semester as a guest professor at University of Southern California's Thornton School of Music, which is where the concert took place. Katz is a Professor of Cello at New England Conservatory and was cellist of the Cleveland Quartet for 26 years. He also founded the fantastic cello online community, Cellobello.com.
Katz and other chamber faculty from USC -- Karen Dreyfus, Tien-Hsin Cindy Wu and Che-Yen Chen -- coached three quartets of USC students, as well as six high school quartets from the Los Angeles area. The high school quartets had one coaching and two masterclasses; the college students, more.
The concert began with the high school groups each playing one movement from a Beethoven quartet, then progressed to the three USC quartets, which each played a full quartet, one each from Beethoven's Early, Middle and Late Periods (Op. 18 No. 6; Op. 135; and Op. 59 No. 3).
It was interesting to see what went right and what went wrong for the high school chamber groups. Most had trouble justifying their intonation with each other, resulting in a distracting lack of agreement on pitch. The better the quartet, the more "in-tune" they seemed with each other, both musically and inter-personally. I noticed a better ease in the quartets that could breathe together, or that could raise their heads from their music and look at one another. One of the high school quartets had been together for some time, and it really showed. What was it, besides better intonation? More ease in physical movement, a better sense of collective effort and, then, end result: joy and fire. It seems to me that quartet-playing takes a certain capacity to yield to the group, and yield to the music. My pitch isn't right if our pitch isn't right, my rhythm isn't right if our rhythm isn't right. The logical step the dedicated quartet takes is: We do a lot of work to get it right!
USC Professor Che-Yen Chen and violinist KJ McDonald
I'm glad all those high school groups could sit in the audience to see their older colleagues in the USC quartets, which were fantastic, playing with a high level of technique and musical sophistication. Katz admitted afterwards, he pushed them hard!
That seems about right for Beethoven, whose music, life and personality would be fairly well summed-up in the word "intense." This music is rhythmically complex and intricate; bombastic in one moment; breathtaking in another.
Katz wrote in the program notes that Beethoven was just finishing his Opus 18 string quartets when the reality of his hearing loss became apparent; by the Late Quartets, he was deaf. Katz quoted Beethoven: "…I might easily have put an end to my life. Only one thing, Art, held me back. Oh, it seemed impossible to me to leave this world before I had produced all that I felt capable of producing, and so I prolonged this wretched existence." Beethoven's triumph over self-destruction is apparent in his Middle- and Late-Period music, in its general strength and optimism. (Remember, it's an "Ode to Joy" in that last Symphony.)
I sensed that so much Beethoven would have to have an effect on these students, and it seemed most pronounced in the group that played the Late-Period quartet. Cellist Yoshi Masuda stood up to say a few words to the audience, before he joined his colleagues, violinists Gahyun Cho and EuEun Kim and violist Erkman Karagul, in playing Op. 135 in F major, which was Beethoven's last work, written four months before his death.
Erkman Karagul, Yoshi Masuda, Paul Katz, GaHyaun Cho and YuEun Kim
Writing this quartet, Masuda said, Beethoven was completely deaf and facing much adversity, including the attempted suicide of his beloved nephew Karl. The last movement is entitled "The Difficult Decision," and in the manuscript Beethoven actually wrote "Must it be?" over the introductory chords, then "It must be!" in the Allegro that follows.
As they played the quartet, I thought about the miracle of live music; that this group of musicians could play the last work that Beethoven wrote, in this very moment, in the very room where I sat. "Must it be?" No, it's not inevitable; young people will not necessarily take up Beethoven -- we have to make it happen. But when we invite young people to bring the music alive -- then it can live on.
By Karen Rile
December 12, 2013 14:06
Every fall I teach an advanced fiction-writing class. Now that the semester is over I can report that my students were terrific this year, every one of them. Our discussions were dynamic and stimulating. The creative energy was sky-high. The did a lot of writing, and a lot of deep, thoughtful revision. Over the course of the past fifteen weeks, each of them has produced an exciting, well-crafted portfolio of new work. It’s my best class ever.
I’ve said that a lot over the years: “This is my best class ever!” I always mean it sincerely, but you've got to wonder if I’m just temporarily blinded by my enthusiasm for the writers I’m spending so much time with. Or is it actually possible that the students at my university are getting better and better?
If you go strictly by numbers, then yes. Over the past decade, our university has risen toward the top of national ranks. Back in 1980, the year I graduated, about 40% of applicants were accepted. That number has now plummeted to 9.5% for regular decision applicants. (Makes me wonder if I’d be able to get back in, if I tried.) Clearly, my current students have a lot going for them. They’re plenty smart; they have the APs and GPAs to prove it; and they know how to ace standardized tests.
But that’s not what makes them good writers. Like music and painting, creative writing is an art that demands technique and imagination. These are qualities that can’t be quantified by SAT scores (not even the verbal scores.) What good's a great vocabulary if you don't know what to do with it?
You may have noticed that I avoided the t-word when I described my class in the first paragraph. Okay, I'll say it now: some of my students are very talented. All of them have what it takes to make a living in publishing, if that's what they choose, and at least one is so lavishly gifted that we've taken to saying, "When you publish your first collection of short fiction…"
It would be disingenuous to deny that talent matters, but I have a problem with the romanticization of talent in our culture. Non-writers and novices often assume that the fiction they read springs fully formed from the heads of their creators—as if authors take direct dictation from the muse. This is a dangerous and discouraging concept. Sure, sometimes inspiration comes easily, and you don't need to wrestle through quite so many revisions. But you can rest assured that, as the old chestnut goes, Easy reading is damn hard writing. If anyone tells you different, that's just spin.
Writing (and painting, and violin-playing) is painful hard work. Talent plus hard work can produce brilliant results. But talent without work? All that and five bucks, as they say, will get you a gingerbread latte with extra foam.
Over the years I've witnessed many talented young writers surrender up dreams at the the first sign of frustration or disappointment because they assume that if it doesn't come easily it can't be done. Meanwhile, their less-gifted peers go on to achieve success in the publication world. When something comes easily, when you have a gift, you need to work hard against the impulse to rely on that gift to get by. In a way, giftedness is almost an impediment.
In the old days, in every class I taught there were one or two stand-out students whose stories and essays I secretly looked forward to every week. Many of them have gone on to fine careers in writing and editing—and many have not. But I can tell you that when you’re the star of the class, when you're alone at the top, peerless, praised and recognized by all, it’s much more difficult to gather the internal resources needed to improve your craft. We all need pushback, dialogue, inspiration, and even a little friendly competition in order to grow.
Which brings me back to the original question: is it possible that my students are getting better, year after year? I believe they are, but it's not because the baseline level of creative talent has changed, or even (directly) because they've scored perfect 800s in their SATs. They’re getting better because they’re getting better—together. You work harder and care more about your work when you’re surrounded by hard-working, dedicated, talented peers. My students are better writers, because they bring each other up. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy.
And what’s this got to do with conservatory applications? When the question arises, Do I want to be a big fish or a small fish in this pond?, consider the profound effect of a talented, hard-working, and dedicated peer group. Consider who you'll be playing chamber music with, and who will be sitting beside you in studio class. It's true that you may be able to study with the same teacher at a less competitive school—and you may even get to be the concertmaster at that school, and win the concerto competitions. And receive all kinds of glory that would be out of reach for you at the uber-competitive school. But at what price, this glory? An elite peer group may help push you to achieve your full potential. And that's a lotta latte.
December 12, 2013 11:20
I am now one week into my Paganini project. Having worked on the first caprice no more than two hours a day, I'm able to play it legato at half-tempo, with the metronome, without stopping— my first goal. There are a couple of places where the intonation is sometimes suspect, but I'm lucky to have relatively thin fingers (I don't know how Perlman does it with his kielbasa hands), making the contracted positions, like the Italian chord before the minor section, easier to hit. In fact, I have only a couple of truly atrocious hand positions in this caprice.
I feel good about the work I did this week, but it's not perfect even at half-tempo, not to mention musicality and the ricochet. This week, I'll be working toward 66 to the quarter, continuing slow intonation work, and starting to practice the ricochet stroke on select passages. My goal tempo is 88 to the quarter, so I have a ways to go! Then again, those of us who can't effortlessly breeze through the caprices have to start somewhere. Good thing I am on my winter break.Tweet
By Robert Niles
December 10, 2013 12:00
Each week, Violinist.com brings you links to reviews of professional violin performances from around the world. Please share your thoughts about this week's concerts (and reviews), in the comments.
Isabelle Faust performed the Britten with the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra
Augustin Hadelich performed in recital at the Frick Collection in New York, with pianist Charles Owen
James Ehnes performed the Shostakovich with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra
Anne Akiko Meyers performed the Bates with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra
Steven Copes performed Bach's Second Violin Concerto with the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra
Christian Tetzlaff performed the Mendelssohn with the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra
Vasko Vassilev performed the Tchaikovsky with the Brighton Philharmonic Orchestra
Nurit Bar-Josef performed Mozart’s Violin Concerto No. 4 with the National Symphony Orchestra
Mayuko Kamio performed the Tchaikovsky with Symphony Silicon Valley
By Laurie Niles
December 9, 2013 17:52
Gift-giving is one of the great joys of the holiday season, and each year we compile a list of some of the year's best new offerings from violinists for you to consider in your holiday gift-giving, gift-asking — and post-holiday loading of the Kindle, iPod or other device! We hope this allows you to consider a music-related gift.
We would also suggest considering supporting your local live music scene by purchasing tickets to local music events or simply making a year-end donation to a musical non-profit of your choice. I've tried to be inclusive, but I'm sure I have missed some ideas, so please feel free add your suggestions in the comments section. And yes, in this case, you are allowed to toot your own horn and recommend your own CD or book or product! You may also wish to refer to our gift-giving guides from previous years; I've listed links to those at the end of this blog.
Many of the recordings below are linked to Amazon.com. Note that if you follow these links and make a purchase from Amazon, a portion of that will go to support Violinist.com. And whenever you buy any of these selections, from any source, you'll be helping to support the musicians and other artists who created them.
Happy holidays, and may your season be filled with good music!
Mendelssohn & Schumann: Violin Concertos; Beethoven Romances
A Violin's Life: Music for The 'Lipinski' Stradivari
Brahms Violin Concerto; Clara Schumann Three Romances for Violin
Dvorak Cypresses for String Quartet / String Quartet No. 13 & Op. 106
Musical Gifts from Joshua Bell and Friends
Saint-Saëns: La Muse et le Poète
Histoire Du Tango
In 27 Pieces: the Hilary Hahn Encores
Signs, Games and Messages
Brahms Violin Concerto
Hindemith: Violinkonzert, Symphonic Metamorphosis, Konzertmusik
Violin Sonatas by Shostakovich, Janacek, Bloch
The Soviet Experience, Volume 3 and Volume 4
Made in Germany
Bach: Sonatas & Partitas 1
Jascha Heifetz: Early Years in Russia
The Violinist.com Interviews, Volume 1
Duet Arrangements for Suzuki Volumes 1-8
The Violin Lesson
* * *
Still haven't found the right gift? Check out our gift-giving guides from previous years, which also include recent releases and violin-related projects by current-day violinists, composers and authors!
If you would like to consider a music-related gift other than recordings or books, please visit our Violinist.com Business Directory, and support the music businesses that support our Violinist.com community.Tweet
By Krista Moyer
December 9, 2013 12:25
One of the reasons so many adult amateurs are nervous about playing in public is that we think that people will think poorly of us if we aren’t perfect. I know I feel that way. But I think that line of thinking might be wrong. Fellow amateurs, I have good news. We aren’t being judged.
In my year and a half of playing, I have only played in public a very few times, and that only in jam sessions with people I already knew, or felt comfortable with. Last Friday, I played to an audience for the very first time. Sure, people might have listened before, but we were practicing, darn it. No one expects practice to be flawless. And yes, the program was only a medley of simple Christmas carols in a church with the parents of the local arts academy in attendance. So what? It was my first performance. That’s a big deal to anyone.
Maybe it helped that I was playing with seven children between the ages of five and eleven so I got to stand in the back. Most of them were better than me. I’m fine with that. They have been playing longer, after all. What I really liked was the feeling of acceptance. It didn’t bother them a jot that I was there, or that I screwed up a few string crossings.
I expected to be nervous, and I was a little. I didn’t want to make any mistakes, but I made a few. What surprised me was the feeling that it was all OK. Nobody expected perfection. If I forgot all about rest position, nobody cared. If I got the bowing wrong, at least the notes were mostly right. I might have felt a bit silly playing with a group of children, but they ARE better than me. It’s always good to play with folks who are better than you, I have found.
So I think I have learned a few lessons:
The best part is that I didn’t even start shaking until we left the stage. Maybe it was relief. I might have to jump a few hurdles every time I perform, but at least now I know I can.
By William Rhoden
December 9, 2013 10:31
What do you do when you can't practice every day? Many of my students ask this question, and it is beginning to dawn on me that during my class is the only time many of students play their instrument. I only get perhaps around 10% return on my mandatory weekly practice assignments, and some of those I am suspect about. It is very unfortunate that we do not have a culture here that encourages instrumental practice, and the lack of private teachers makes changing that a very difficult reality.
So as a teacher I must use the time in my class most effectively. That means the maximum amount of critical playing per student every time I have class. For my middle school intermediate/Advanced group, this means sectionals. I thankfully have great 8th grade leaders, and every section is improving. Students used to get lost in the sea of 47 bodies, now they are getting the attention they need. Problems of counting and note identification are being fixed at a much faster rate than if I try to run a large rehearsal every time.
Of course I am going around make sure the sections are on task and constantly need to isolate issues within the section. I provide feedback and instruction, and most of the time I see great student collaboration. Considering I only see the orchestra every other day (block schedule style), it is necessary that the students own their sound individually and do not forget what they learn. Ideally they would practice on the off day, but most do not make it a priority.
The kids are excited, enjoy orchestra, and are making progress. When we do have large group rehearsals there is significantly less stress, and we actually accomplish a lot. Who would have thought such a simple tool such as sectionals could make such a difference?Tweet
By Robert Niles
December 9, 2013 10:30
The Recording Academy has announced the nominees for the 56th Grammy Awards, and while the pop acts get all the airtime on the awards show, many classical musicians we've covered here on Violinist.com in the past year are up for awards, too.
Violinist Leonidas Kavakos earned a nomination in the "Best Chamber Music/Small Ensemble Performance" category for his recording of the Beethoven Violin Sonatas with Enrico Pace. In addition, Esa-Pekka Salonen earned a nomination in the "Best Contemporary Classical Composition" for his violin concerto while violinist Leila Josefowicz was nominated in the "Best Classical Instrumental Solo" for her recording of that work, with Salonen conducting the Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra.
Esa-Pekka Salonen and Leila Josefowicz. Photo: Mathew Imaging
Finally, the Minnesota Orchestra, under the direction of Osmo Vänskä, earned a nomination in the "Best Orchestral Performance" category for its recording of Sibelius' Symphonies Nos. 1 & 4. The Minnesota Orchestra is currently locked out by its management, and conductor Vänskä has resigned his position, in solidarity with the musicians.
Here is the complete list of nominees in these categories:
Best Orchestral Performance
Stravinsky: Le Sacre Du Printemps
Atterberg: Orchestral Works Vol. 1
Lutoslawski: Symphony No. 1
Sibelius: Symphonies Nos. 1 & 4
Schumann: Symphony No. 2; Overtures Manfred & Genoveva
Best Chamber Music/Small Ensemble Performance
Beethoven: Violin Sonatas
Roomful Of Teeth
Times Go By Turns
Cage: The 10,000 Things
Best Classical Instrumental Solo
Salonen: Violin Concerto; Nyx
The Edge Of Light
Bartók, Eötvös & Ligeti
Corigliano: Conjurer - Concerto For Percussionist & String Orchestra
Lindberg: Piano Concerto No. 2
Schubert: Piano Sonatas D. 845 & D. 960
Best Contemporary Classical Composition
You can find the list of all nominees in all categories (and it's huge!) at www.grammy.com/nominees. The Grammy winners will be announced on Sunday, Jan. 26.
By Mendy Smith
December 8, 2013 21:37
After weeks in and out of the veterinary hospital, Kisha is home again. She still has to get sub-Q fluids twice a day, but she is on the path to recovery.
Kisha is a nickname I gave her over a year ago after surviving a severe case of anemia that nearly killed her. Her full name is Karishma - which means miracle in Sanskrit. This little gal has earned that name two times over now.
During this latest crisis, I've barely touched my viola. Most of my time has been spent in caring for this little girl. But day by day she is getting better and I'm moving back into my normal routine.
Oddly enough, some of my technique has improved despite the lapse in practice, most notably in phrasing and musicality. It may be due in part to seeing death on the doorstep. Who really knows.
Either way, I'm happy that my little girl is back home.
By Kate Little
December 8, 2013 20:29
Variations of this question pop up on V.com from time to time. This essay examines one solution to this problem. It is an analytical, practical approach. The description is intended to allow the reader a point of comparison for her own practice, and to serve as a possible source of ideas to experiment with. Alternatively, a teacher may find this essay useful to help explain some concepts about practicing to students. If you, dear reader, do not fall into one of these categories, you might wish to skip this blog entry, as it may well feel dry and dreary to navigate.
Two weeks ago I was assigned the 5th entry in Suzuki Book 3, Gavotte in Gm (Becker), to learn. My first impression was that it was long and complex, with lots of scary new technique, and that my normal approach of starting at the beginning and learning the notes and measures to the end would not work well. I sat down to take a close look, sans instrument, at the piece. What I quickly saw is that the 76-measure piece only has about 16 measures of unique music, and about 6 of those are variations of previous measures. Everything else is a form of repetition. This simplified the task considerably.
It works like this: The form of the piece is A-B-A, with a D.S al Fine creating an exact A repeat. This eliminates learning 25 measures. Each major section has an inner triad structure, giving the piece an overall structure of a-b-a’, c-d-c’, a-b-a’. Thus, 50% of the musical material has been eliminated. Each of these nine 8-measure sections is divided into 2 very similar 4-measure phrases. Again, each of the 4-measure phrases includes various sorts of rhythmic or translational repetition. The examination revealed that only about 20% (16 out of 76 measures) of the notes in the piece actually had to be learned. This was going to be do-able.
Now, where to start? I decided on where it looked easiest: with the legato ¼ notes, which also happened to be the middle of the piece. This had the added advantage of allowing me to build the piece from the center out, thereby creating an evenness of technique throughout. This contrasts with the beginning-to-end approach, which inevitably leaves me with a strong opening and week finish to my piece.
Choosing m35-38, along with its variation m39-42, I had the notes and bowings down in an hour-and-a-half on a Sunday afternoon. Practice showed that I could learn a 4-measure phrase in about an hour, or in about 15-minutes per measure. This would mean 4 hours to learn the core notes and phrases of the piece. I figured double that to 8 hours to put them all together. As it was, at the end of 10 hours practice on the piece over a 2-week period, I could play it all the way through at a VERY slow tempo, with some hesitations and errors.
This was as of two days ago. It felt like a huge accomplishment from the nothing that I started with, but there is still a lot to do.
Having projected 8-hours (and taken 10) to get to the initial play-through, the following projections should serve as guidelines as further work: another 8 hours to massage in basic bowing, fingering, shifting and relaxation techniques, bringing pitch, rhythm, quality of sound and ease of motion into phrases; and add to that 16 hours to knit all the phrases together and play the entire piece close to tempo.
Up to this point, the goal will have been (1) to correctly learn all the notes, and (2) to incorporate all of the technical facility that I have learned over the course of my lessons (or at least as much I am capable of incorporating independently). With a total of 32 hours of preparation, the Gavotte will now be ready to present for the first time at a lesson. To bring in any less effort or execution would be to waste my teacher’s time.
Corrections will be made and advice given, figure and additional 32 hours to integrate teacher’s suggestions, take it to another lesson for more feedback, and then give it 64 or so hours of polishing. At this point, the Gavotte will have received something like 128 hours of attention, probably across 4 months, and should be ready for a recital performance.
Is this a hard-and-fast time frame for learning Becker’s Gavotte? No. It is simply a gauge to help me structure learning the piece, and to give me approximate time frames for the learning and refining process. This is a step forward from two years ago when I began studies, and had no clue what-so-ever as to how much work and effort learning music took. Now I do have a clue, and can plan accordingly. This is useful.
I have also come to understand that the honing a piece takes ever-increasing amounts of time as the level of refinement increases. This is a basic concept of learning an instrument that is important to understand when reaching for ever-higher levels of mastery.
Most importantly, this calculation serves as a reminder that learning to play my instrument is MY responsibility, and that I should arrive at every lesson, every rehearsal, every performance having done everything that I am currently capable of in preparing for that event.
And now, dear reader, if you made it to the end of this very long and somewhat tedious post, congratulations! You get a Gold Star!
Violinist.com has not reviewed, and does not endorse, the content of any of the articles below.
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