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By Robert Niles
January 27, 2015 14:15
In an effort to promote the coverage of live violin performance, Violinist.com each week presents links to reviews of notable concerts and recitals around the world.
Maxim Vengerov performed the Tchaikovsky with the New York Philharmonic.
Photo: Naim Chidiac
Aisslinn Nosky performed the Haydn with the Handel and Haydn Society.
Philippe Quint performed works by Lera Auerbach in recital with Auerbach and cellist Joshua Roman.
Elena Urioste performed the Elgar with the Vermont Symphony Orchestra.
Daniel Hope performed the Korngold with the San Antonio Symphony.
Gidon Kremer performed works by Weinberg and Mozart in recital with pianist Daniil Trifonov.
William Preucil performed the Dvorák with the Cleveland Orchestra.
Julia Noone performed Szymanowski's Violin Concerto No. 2 with the New World Symphony.
Marc Bouchkov performed the Tchaikovsky with the Saskatoon Symphony Orchestra.
Sarah Kwak performed the Glazunov with the Oregon Symphony.
Kyra Humphreys performed Mozart's Violin Concerto No. 4 with the Royal Northern Sinfonia.
Bella Hristova performed the Sibelius with the Omaha Symphony.
And in other news:
The New York Philharmonic has named Esa-Pekka Salonen Composer-in-Residence.
Violinists Itzhak Perlman and Nicola Benedetti will join manager Charlotte Lee at her new agency, Primo Artists.
Please support music in your community by attending a concert or recital whenever you can!
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By Laurie Niles
January 26, 2015 15:16
A high-level music program trains its graduates to be the finest in their fields -- but does it train them to go out and make a living?
The Juilliard School intends to increase its commitment to doing just that, with the announcement last week of a $5 million gift from Juilliard Board Trustee Michael E. Marks and his wife, Carole, to create the Alan D. Marks Center for Career Services and Entrepreneurship. The gift was given in memory of Michael Marks’s brother, the late Alan D. Marks, who earned his Bachelor of Music in Piano from Juilliard in 1970.
“Part of Juilliard’s mission is to provide our students with the skills they need to realize their fullest potential not only as artists, but also as leaders and global citizens," said Juilliard President Joseph W. Polisi in a press release. "Michael and Carole’s gift will reinforce and expand our current programs, allowing us to better equip our students to succeed as young professionals in a rapidly changing world.”
The Alan D. Marks Center for Career Services and Entrepreneurship will include:
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By Kayleigh Miller
January 26, 2015 09:02
When we talk about musician injuries, we tend to think overuse: playing too much or misalignment, which is sometimes (but not always!) the case. In Elizabeth Andrews' book, Muscle Management for Musicians, she outlines three different categories, which I find helpful to look at and expand upon.
1. Musician Versus Instrument: This can mean the size and shape of your particular instrument (one violin vs. another) or having to play a lot of contrabassoon/bass flute/subcontrabass sax/etc. in relation to your normal workload. This can apply to folks who play multiple instruments (violin+viola, or violin +piano) or just people adjusting to a new instrument. This can also be as simple as pointing out that not everyone can reach the keys on a flute (without contorting one's hand) or that a full size violin doesn't work for your body (or your student's) yet.
2. Musician Versus Environment: This is a category orchestral players are certainly aware of- chairs, stand height, conditions of the room/space/concert hall, temperature, etc. This can also include clothing restrictions (violinists in tuxedos, high heels for performance, or simple elevating one foot to play bass or guitar) or even carrying one's instrument.
3. Musician Versus Self: In my mind this includes the other things we do that stress our arms, spine, hips, etc., which includes computer use, cell phone use, driving, standing (!), sleeping, exercise habits, movement habits, etc.
I love Elizabeth's categories, and although I've altered the descriptions a bit to be more relevant, I think they're great points. I would however, add a fourth category.
4. Musician Versus Music: Sometimes, even against your best intentions, the repertoire that you're studying, playing in ensemble, or preparing for an audition is too much for your body. Last week I talked on my blog about how Paganini may have been hypermobile- for some folks, the extensions and left hand demands of the caprices are too intense and not practical. This is true for a lot of contemporary repertoire in general- as our levels of mastery and virtuosity have skyrocketed, so have the demands of our pieces, often bringing near impossible pieces into the forefront of music. (For example, some violists find the extensions in the Schnittke concerto to be too extreme.) That doesn't mean that those pieces don't deserve study, they just may not be the right piece for you, or for you right now, or for you with your current instrument setup. Another example might be an orchestra or opera company planning to do a Ring Cycle performance, which is a huge undertaking for any musician. The rehearsal schedule alone might be very taxing, let alone the music itself. Even if you're doing your best to take care of yourself, the repertoire, concert schedule, rehearsal schedule, or audition list might be too much for you, either now or in general.
If you've been injured, reflect on what it was that may have caused or exacerbated the injury- which categories were applicable? Having an awareness of these categories can certainly prevent future injuries, especially if you know what previously caused an injury.
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January 26, 2015 01:38
I found something like these words on Youtube:
"I think you need to do some scales. Get away from the music. Forget the music because everything can be an exercise. The exercise improves your technique to be able to express yourself. It is a misconception. We are not expressing Schubert. You are expressing your feelings. Its not what's written, it's what you feel. But you have to have the mechanism organized so you can feel free to express yourself."
The speaker is Pinchas Zukerman, and he is giving Helena Baillie a viola lesson. You can start at 3.12 to get right to them if you so wish.
They express why I feel so passionately about Basic things to perfection. In my last blog, the perfectly reasonable recurring point about there "not being enough time to do Basics as well as everything else," cropped up again. In this blog, I am going to try to get around this issue, in the hope that more people will take a second look at what Basics has to offer rather than consigning it to the piano stool. So, first clean up your piano stool and buy it a potty......
The negative response to Basics is often couched in one-hour terms, as in "If only I had an extra hour to spare." Most people don't. But we can approach the problem from another angle. Suppose you adopt my suggestion and just do one exercise from each half of the book every da , for perhaps three days or whatever feels right. Then tick it off and go to the second. Set a kitchen timer for five minutes and read the first page. If you don't have time to do the exercise, who cares? When that ping goes, reset the clock and go to the second half. Reading, digesting and doing the little exercise is probably not five minutes work, so you might even want to stop the clock early. In the space of ten minutes, you have absorbed and perhaps put into practice two crucial aspects of playing and your technical knowledge of the instrument has increased quite substantially. It's quite possible that in the two areas addressed you now know more than your teacher!
That is worth ten minutes, I think.
But even this idea does not fully address what Basics can do. Exercises feed into your playing, both consciously and unconsciously. Let's consider the latter first. Suppose, hypothetically, you are practicing two hours a day. You want to spend half an hour of that time on scales and studies and the remainder on music. You have just reduced your time spent on music by ten minutes. Is that good or bad?
If we recognize that exercises are a short cut to fast and effective improvement in both pieces and scales, then we can answer positively. The unconscious integration of your new knowledge into your playing has already improved the sound you are making by one ten billionth of a degree and increased your satisfaction by a similar amount. It has also decreased the amount of time you might need trying to locate a tension problem so the time saving is already eating away at that ten minutes. But you have just started. In the second half of the week you switch to the second exercise in each section. Now the input can really begin to make a difference and the time saving starts to increase exponentially without you realizing it.
However, it's when you get to the point where you start to consciously apply an exercise you have worked on in this ten minutes that you start to make huge gains. This process may take a little longer, but it will happen if you are consistent in the procedure. Suppose, for example, you are playing a work that requires you to crescendo and increase intensity across a long note. Your teacher has told you this but, as is fairly typical I'm afraid, not told you how to achieve this. Whereas in the past you have fumbled around trying to express the music musically and got more tense and screwed up, now you can remember exercise 39 and move from the fingerboard to the bridge using the slanted bow. This is pretty easy basic knowledge, but in all the years I studied, not one teacher at any level discussed this idea with me!
Or perhaps you are wanting to focus on intonation as the main area for improvement. You can save a lot of time by playing exercise 255 for five minutes in the key of that piece. The actual time on the music would decrease slightly, but the amount of faulty intonation would have decreased without you working on it so more time and space is available for higher order skills.
By Becky Chaffee
January 24, 2015 17:28
I listen to music videos of musicians I stumble upon on facebook. That's how I found Nora Germain who plays jazz violin. I love her style. I know that a jazz education on violin is not so easy to come by. I love jazz music, partially because there was access to jazz in the public schools where I grew up; and because my brother became a jazz, then a Klezmer-Jazz trumpeter, band leader and composer.
Interview with Nora Germain, Jazz Violin Part 1
Nora Germain is a professional jazz violin player, recording artist, composer, producer, singer, session soloist, and string section violinist. She is skilled in on-camera performance/ sidelining for TV and film, recording for soundtracks and scores, and improvising on recordings or in live performance.
She is currently "playing a lot in Los Angeles and San Diego, and sitting in with a lot of great musicians. I've been playing in some movies as well, and getting to do some more recording soon which I am thrilled about!"
Photo by M. K. Sadler Photography, 2014
1. Violettes: I understand, both your parents were professional musicians, but you didn’t start with jazz violin until age 16? Did you not come across jazz in your studies until you went to the high school where Marshall Hawkins (former bassist for Miles Davis, Shirley Horn) taught? Did you specifically apply to this high school to study from Mr. Hawkins?
Nora: I had been interested in improvisation particularly in fiddle music, like Celtic/ Irish fiddling and of course American fiddling. I had heard some jazz growing up, but hadn't become inspired by it until meeting Marshall, and around that time, I discovered Stephane Grappelli, and his music deeply inspired me also.
I applied to Idyllwild Arts, a boarding high school, as a classical violinist and as a dancer for my junior and senior years. I hadn't focused my artistic path and was really into ballet and jazz dance at the time, so my thought was that if I could just get to a school where the whole idea is to sharpen a young artist's path, or further focus the already existing vision (and mine was rather vague -- all I knew is that I wanted to play violin!) then I would find a path. And I did!
2. Violettes: You learned jazz violin from a bass player? Did he have a specific method? Or did you learn the theory, and just practice with people that know what they are doing on a daily basis? Can you tell us a little more about how you became so proficient seemingly so quickly?
Nora: It doesn't seem so quick to me! Ha! There are new things to learn every day, even master players like Marshall still say that! That's the truth.
When I started playing jazz, I had a good ear and had a wide range of musical influences. So many, in fact, that I felt a little lost. I wasn't sure what I really liked versus what was just ok.
I used my ear to really practice improvising on melodies and also playing improvised cadenzas. It was a lot of ballads.
For a while, and I still do this, I'd learn the melodies of ballads or play other tunes slowly, pay a lot of attention to the chords and also the sound of each chord and the feeling of the phrase. Marshall and I would sit at the piano and he'd play the chords and I'd take my time playing the melody on the violin, then repeat it with variation or embellishment, and before I knew it, I was soloing, totally improvising, but in a "melodic context," which is to say, always thinking of a melody. Not the notes, or the scales, but a melody.
Theory can be very helpful and it is an important part of the foundation of a musician, but when improvising, the theory of what I am playing rarely crosses my mind. If there is a tune with particularly tricky chords or something, it's good to take a closer look. In general, I go from the melody. Straight from the heart! That’s swing!
Marshall always taught us to play what we feel and to go for it. Don't shy away from dynamics, extremes in acoustic range or tempo or intensity, a new technique or approach, or even silence. He was and is a man of expression, so we all learned principally that way.
Listening is key also! Especially important to listen to things you are drawn to. They lead you to your own sound if you keep drawing on things you like and keep making them your own. And listening helps you to sharpen your soloing, your ideas, everything! If you don’t like something and you’ve listened to it quite a bit, maybe it’s not meant to influence you, or maybe just not yet.
Some people think it’s interesting that my first jazz teacher was a bassist, and not a violinist, but really, in jazz, no matter if you’re a singer or a guitarist or a trumpet player, you can always be inspired by or even steal ideas from one another. It’s not like classical music where each instrument has its own repertoire and if you play oboe and you want to a play a piece written for cello that it may be weird. In jazz, what’s weird is welcome, as long as it swings!
So learning from a bass player was great. It gave me all sorts of insight that helped me develop my foundation and understand the basics of jazz, like timing, the feeling of the quarter note, the importance of intonation when playing jazz on a string instrument, understanding and feeling bass lines, using the bow in creative ways, and most importantly, learning from Marshall in particular is a school in itself. There will never be anything like it in my life.
See Ms. Germain in action in this delightful video.
Watch for Blog Sequel, "More about Nora Germain, Jazz Violin Part 2"
Visit her web site at: www.noragermain.com
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January 24, 2015 02:31
This week I`ve been looking at Chee-Yun masterclasses and performances. She is a terrific player with a gorgeous sound and tremendous musical sense. I watched three teenagers being taught by her and was very impressed by her ability as a teacher. However the masterclasses themselves probably didn't reveal as much as one could wish for since it seemed to me that she was in a slight dilemma: a masterclass is not a setting in which one begins tearing down an unknown student's technique and yet that clearly needed to be done with two out of three of these young players at the most basic level. As a result I think Chee-Yun found herself in the position of having to just briefly mention the most basic weaknesses (core of the sound, vibrato control etc.). Anything more than a simple suggestion was not really possible.
But the problems of the participants did, in my opinion, raise some very important points. Clearly those players not only had talent, but had worked hard on their major concertos. And it's pretty impressive to be getting through the Tchaikovsky and Bruch at pre-college level, I suppose. But what we saw was to my mind a classic demonstration of the failings of the teaching profession on all continents, which is letting down talented kids like these, through no fault of their own.
I believe this is linked to the following issue. Traditionally violin study has revolved around scales, etudes and pieces (some people started doing songs for some reason, but I have never understood that....) The average talented kid who plays in a good youth orchestra and may or may not go to music college will play scales badly, do a limited number of etudes without knowing exactly why and learn progressively more difficult pieces according to their potential while retaining the same fundamental flaws in the Tchaikovsky that they has in Nardini, Accolay and Kabalevsky.
The reason for this is that violin study actually revolves around exercises, scales, etudes and pieces. The problem is that the majority of teachers don't actually know that many exercises other than the handful they got from their teacher (which may be extremely good). And yet, if I had to choose only two out of four of the above it would be exercises and pieces, hands down. That is why when Simon Fischer published his groundbreaking work Basics ten or so years ago the teaching profession really no longer had any excuses left .
What exercises do is save time. They get to the core of the problem or provide an intense focus on one issue, in a way that many studies don't. And that is how we work best: Short, focused work on one thing. Very often, the exercises in Basics are played on open strings. Again, this enables them to be more focused than etudes because we are only worrying about one thing at a time. That is why I have frequently suggested in a number of forums that teaching exams at music institutes require a working knowledge of Basics. Had the students at that master class been given tone production exercises, intonation exercises, vibrato exercises and so on, in very small doses from an early stage they would not be being held back as they are now by simple things like being unable to use the lower quarter of the bow.
The power of exercises has also created a potential revolution in adult education and late starters. Those players can now build up quickly and easily any aspect of their technique without the help of a teacher who may not even want to be bothered by them. Sadly I often meet resistance to the book by members of this group who feel a little over-whelmed by its apparent density. (Actually its extremely clear and simple.)
Aside from complete beginners, this need not be the case. Slow, careful study of the tone production, vibrato, tapping, finger patterns or whatever exercise will automatically feed into your general playing, perhaps without you realizing it, until suddenly people start complimenting you.... An adult beginner who approaches Basics slowly and thoughtfully in the same way they might learn a new computer program for their job will not only know more about the fundamentals of playing but actually be more competent in performance at their level than those hapless teenagers who, through no fault of their own, will probably never know how good they could have been or how badly they have been let down.
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By The Weekend Vote
January 23, 2015 11:19
These days, teachers are pretty nice.
I have not seen recent masterclasses where a teacher publicly rips a person to shreds, or heard of many private lessons where the teacher rages at the student every week. Certainly, times have changed. People like Suzuki encouraged "nurturing with love" and higher-level teachers like Dorothy DeLay couched criticisms with "Sugar Plum, what is your concept of F#?"
And yet, the violin has a long, proud (?) history of tyrannical teachers!
It can make for amusing stories when it's all in the past, but it's not too fun when you are terrified to go to a lesson for fear of being yelled at angrily, humiliated, etc. I'm sure that teachers still use fear to get results from students; I'm pretty sure that it was used more in the "olden days" than it is now.
I was fortunate that the teachers I had as a child were quite kind. Now, in college -- I did have one good, old-fashioned yeller. I liked him quite a lot, but it was occasionally pretty stressful!
Did you ever have a teacher who used fear to motivate you? Or one who regularly became angry, one who yelled and scared you into playing well? In the comments, you can describe!
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By Krista Moyer
January 22, 2015 16:20
Playing the violin is a little weird. Because what you are doing is showing a piece of yourself to the world, it gets wrapped up in this messy little ball of emotionally charged angst. It’s like being a hormonal teenager without the zits. One moment you love that wooden box; and the next you want to set it on fire just to watch it burn.
There’s one thing that always makes things better. It’s painful, and humbling, but it always works.
I didn’t say practice harder, or longer. I said better for a reason. It never fails, but when I start feeling the most frustrated it’s because I’m mindlessly playing through my pieces without focusing on the details. It’s a lot more immediately satisfying to play something all the way through. Then we can say we “finished” practicing and feel accomplished when all we managed to do was reinforce what we’ve been doing all along.
It’s not fun to tear a piece apart and practice the same three measures (or three notes) over and over until our fingers can’t do it wrong any more. It really stinks. I hate doing it, but it works. When I take the time to identify what is going wrong and work on it until it’s right, suddenly everything else just gets better.
For some reason, one wrong thing can set up a cascading chain of wrong things. Can’t vibrato on that one piece? Maybe it’s because your brain is busy chanting “Oh crap, that string of 16th notes is going to suck!”. And guess what, it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. You were so distracted that not only did the 16th note arpeggio totally fall apart, but you couldn’t vibrate either, and just to make the party fun, your bow started bouncing too. Yay! All that training and it just comes down to whether or not you use your energy wisely.
Also posted to my Wordpress.Tweet
By Laurie Niles
January 21, 2015 21:03
Congratulations to Yu-Chien ‘Benny’ Tseng, 20, of Taiwan, who has won first prize in the first Singapore International Violin Competition, held Jan. 10-21. He will receive $50,000 in prize money, as well as a recording with Naxos, the three-year loan of a fine instrument from the Mr. & Mrs. Rin Kei Mei collection, and other performance opportunities.
* * *
Here is Benny’ Tseng's performance in the Singapore Semi-Finals, from Jan. 15. (Skip to 7:00 for the beginning of the performance)
Program: For more videos of performances, click here for the Singapore International Violin Competition's Youtube page. You might also like:
For more videos of performances, click here for the Singapore International Violin Competition's Youtube page.
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By Laurie Niles
January 21, 2015 14:20
Our very first interactions with the smallest of our kind are so important, and yet they often go by without notice. When we speak to a baby, when a baby tries to speak back -- we send a message and we set a precedent about how much we are willing to tune in to each other.
It might be even more important than violin lessons.
Every child learns to speak. In fact, that was the entire premise of Shinichi Suzuki's "Mother Tongue" approach: every child learns to speak his or her native language, without fail (excepting situations like deafness or severe disability). German children run around speaking German, Japanese children run around speaking Japanese. Children soak it up from their environment, and by the time they're about five, they speak with proficiency. Replicate that patently obvious situation with music -- fill the environment with violin music and supportive parenting and community -- and they can learn to play the violin with the same kind of fluency as they learned to speak.
Except that it's not actually patently obvious to all parents, how to teach language to a child. And the outcomes, in terms of a child's vocabulary and ability to effectively communicate, differ greatly. A recent New Yorker article called The Talking Cure, by Margaret Talbot, made me think more deeply about this. Her article describes an effort to help low-income parents speak more to their children, to give them a better foundation for their education and life.
When I was taking Suzuki pedagogy classes some 18 years ago, I probably learned as much about teaching my own children to speak as I learned about teaching my students to play the violin. In fact, my two-semester Book 1-4 training at the University of Denver, with the excellent pedagogue James Maurer, coincided directly with my first pregnancy -- I had quite the large belly by the end of the school year, and my daughter was born in July.
When Mr. Maurer (I can't call him Jim, none of us can) enumerated the patently obvious ways in which parents support their children's language learning, a lot seemed completely obvious. But -- I would not have acknowledged it at the time -- I might not have actually instinctually known all of it. Here are some of those ideas about language-learning:
I embraced all of these ideas about language learning, but in the back of my mind, I had the vague idea that not all parents do this. Hadn't I'd seen people talk in frustrated tones to their small children, for using the wrong word? Hadn't I witnessed parents withholding something from a child, saying, "Use your words!" The New Yorker article provides more such examples: berating a child, "Quit copying off of me," or discouraging a child who wanted to repeat a favorite word.
Perhaps an underrated component of Suzuki's genius was not just that he translated language learning to music learning, but that he recognized what it was that is actually effective, in teaching children to speak and communicate.
I've been a parent long enough to know that my children's successes are not mine to claim; they are an occasion to give thanks. But I still think Suzuki's ideas helped me do a better job of teaching my kids to speak. My daughter starting speaking when she was eight months old, and it was probably all that Suzuki training that allowed me to see her efforts as words and communication. I loved our interactions. When she pointed at the moon and said, "Ba!" I said, "Yes! It's round like a ball. It's the MOON!" Then her baby voice, "Mooo!" By the age of one, she was kind of the amazing talking baby. Not all kids will speak so early, but they all can be encouraged in the same way: nurtured by love.
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