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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.

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How Giora Schmidt found his modern violin

By Laurie Niles
October 22, 2014 14:36

For soloist Giora Schmidt, playing a modern violin is no Plan B.

But coming around to that feeling of certainty was a major education and a long journey. Giora spoke about his experience with modern violins at a lecture on violin quality that took place in Indianapolis last month as part of the International Violin Competition of Indianapolis and the Violin Society of America Convention.

His familiarity with both old and new violins is also probably one reason why he was chosen as one of the 10 violinists who took part in the 2012 Paris Experiment, in which American violin maker Joseph Curtin and French acoustics researcher Claudia Fritz devised a scientific study to compare six old Italian violins to six modern violins.

Giora Schmidt, the son of two professional musicians from Israel, began playing the violin when he was four, and he studied with some amazing teachers: Pinchas Zukerman, Dorothy DeLay and Itzhak Perlman among them. He also played some amazing violins early in his career: a 1753 Milan Guadagnini for about three years, and before that, a 1743 Guarneri del Gésu for about five.

Giora-Schmitt

"You do everything you can to get a loan of something big," Giora said of his early playing days. Playing those fine violins for so many years, "I started to get really educated about the sound," he said. But like every loan, the time comes to an end, and you have to give the violin back. The question is always looming: Get another loan? Sell your soul to the devil to try and get a violin priced at $1 million or more? "I came to a decision, when the Guad had to be returned, that I would seek out the best modern instrument that I could for the concert stage."

When he started looking into modern violins, he was happy to realize that not only was this feasible, it also appeared to have some advantages.

"It was kind of exciting, and it was really eye-opening," Giora said.

For him, one of most appealing features of newer violins is their ability to hold stable in changing environments; whereas violins that are several centuries old are notorious for being difficult to play when they are put under the stress of constant travel. For a soloist who is constantly crossing the globe for concerts in various locations, this is good news. "I can do a concert in the jungle of Brazil or the dryness of Alaska," Giora said. His modern violin "holds its pitch and always sounds good."

He considered commissioning a violin but ultimately felt reluctant about the idea. What if you wait four years for a commissioned instrument and then you don't like it? The one that Giora bought "was available; he already had made it."

And who made that violin? In 2011, after much research, Giora bought a violin made in 2000 by Hiroshi Izuka, a Philadelphia-based luthier who actually specializes more in violas. Giora hasn't looked back.

"I have concertmasters ask, 'What Guarneri are you playing?' or, 'What Guadagnini are you playing?'" Giora said.

"Everyone who puts bow to the string looks for a different output," Giora said. For him, he really wanted a violin with power on the D string, for things like certain passages in the Tchaikovsky Concerto.

He was pleasantly surprised at the difference in sticker price between an old Italian and a modern. Though he thought he'd have to spend $30,000 to $50,000 to get a fine modern, he spent less.

"I had a budget, and I ended on the low end of that," he said. It seems to be in our violinist genes, he said, the idea that if something is priced high, then there must be a reason for that. In fact, when it comes to fine instruments, there seems to be no correlation between price and a desirable violin, one with a high quality of sound and good playability. (Note: this is not true at the lowest end student violins.)

For Giora, participating in the 2012 Paris Experiment validated his decision to buy modern and bolstered his confidence in modern instruments in general.

"I tried violins priced in the millions that were not as exciting as some of the moderns I played in Paris," he said.

Something he learned from Paris, where they played the violins with goggles on, is that it's easy to be deceived by looks. That gorgeous antique look does not always equate to a good-sounding violin. Sometimes violins are like Swiss cheese, "there are parts you love, and then there's a hole," he said. "Sometimes you just want a nice solid piece of cheddar!"

Wearing the goggles, "I was surprised to see how, within three seconds, you know: absolutely not, or absolutely yes, or you need more time with a certain instrument," he said. "That kind of pre-selection process was something I'd never done."

In the Paris Experiment, the violinists started testing instruments in a small rehearsal room, playing solo. For the next testing session, they moved to a larger, 300-seat concert hall and also had the option of piano accompaniment.

"What we picked as our foremost (in the first session) changed in the hall," he said. Adding piano then changed perceptions further. "I felt some violins were really enjoyable for playing alone, then certain overtones got enhanced or diminished with the introduction of the piano," Giora said.

The question is: Do you want a violin that covers all the bases: playing alone, playing with piano, playing with orchestra? For Giora, the answer was "yes."

"All of that became very clear, and the results for me were astounding," he said. "All of my choices were modern instruments."

Beyond each player's ultimate choice of instrument, the Paris Experiment took down a lot of data on player's specific reactions to every violin, with players rating instruments in six categories: overall quality, articulation, timbre, playability, projection, and loudness under the ear.

"Joseph knew what I would like, based on Paris, and it was spot-on," Giora said. "There was one that stood alone for me, and it was exactly what the data predicted."

The idea that modern violins can hold their own against million-dollar old Italians is good news for those of us who can't afford a million-dollar instrument (99.9 percent of us, would be a guesstimate). It means that "for the next generation there are options of instruments that are exciting and can hold their own against these instruments that have this mystique associated with them," he said.

For Giora, signs of the strengthening interest in modern violins are everywhere. While in Indianapolis, he was pleased to learn that one of the competitors in the Indianapolis competition was playing on a violin by modern maker Gregg Alf. (Kristi Gjezi, performing on his teacher Svetlin Roussev's Alf violin.)

"I would like to see more of these players playing instruments by the great makers was have among us today," Giora said. "They are alive and well, and willing to work with you. It's not a Plan B to play something modern."


* * *

After the lecture, violinist Giora spoke to me and documentarist Stefan Avalos about his violin, going into fine detail about how he has worked with the instrument to produce the sound he wants and demonstrating with the violin:

Video copyright 2014 Stefan Avalos, as part of his documentary, "The Strad Project."

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Comparing Strads and Moderns, with Phillip Setzer, Cho-Liang Lin and the Paris Experiment researchers

By Laurie Niles
October 21, 2014 14:34

How do modern violins compare to the best Strads, when played side-by-side?

One of the most memorable events in Indianapolis last month was when violinists Phillip Setzer and Cho-Liang Lin took time from their duties as jurists at the International Violin Competition of Indianapolis to perform on Stradivari violins and great moderns, including prize-winning moderns from the Violin Society of America's instrument contest, which took place at the same time. Not only that, but violin maker Joseph Curtin and researcher Claudia Fritz, known for their experiments with modern and old instruments, provided context by presenting some of their thoughts and findings during this event, called "Violin Quality and the Paris Experiment," which was as much a concert as a lecture on Sept. 20 at the Indiana History Center.

Phillip Setzer started by performing his own arrangement of the Schubert Song, Du Bist die Ruh, first on the 1714 "Jackson" Strad, then on Setzer's own violin made by Sam Zygmuntowicz, which was based on the Jackson.

Setzer

He played with pianist Chih-Yi Chen. Frankly I was distracted from the task at hand (trying to discern the difference between the instruments) by Setzer's gorgeous playing. Across the board was his sound, intimate and personal in the beginning, and then flowering and growing through the piece. And what a beautiful vibrato, with such loose fingers! In this case, I couldn't help but think, for the audience, the player makes the music. For the violinist, the instrument is the partner, and an artist's opinion about the instrument has to be connected to whether or not it easily makes the music as he wants it. He may have to try harder to produce his voice and his interpretation with one than the other, but the audience may not discern this when the artist is such a fine one.

Following Setzer's performance, Curtin talked about the myths and beliefs surrounding old vs. new violins. "Stradivari and Guarneri del Gésu are, for me, the greatest makers we've known yet," Curtin said. But their legacy of excellence sometimes causes modern violin makers to live under a kind of paternal cloud, hindered by the feeling of a "varnished spruce ceiling" of violin making. "It can paralyze a young maker."

Curtin challenged some long-held beliefs about old violins vs. new. Among them:

1. Violins improve with playing; the longer and better they are played, the more they improve.
2. Any competent violinist can separate old from new violins by playing them.
3. The best old Italians are quiet under the ear but out-project seemingly louder new instruments in the hall.
4. Strads and del Gésus have distinct voices.
5. The sound of the best old Italians have never been reproduced in newer violins.

These beliefs have evolved over time, and "we rely on what great violinists from the past have said," Curtin said. But are they true? "Scientists don't believe or disbelieve, they just want to test this." What do recent "ear-witness" accounts suggest?

Curtin and French National Centre for Scientific Research researcher Claudia Fritz led the controversial 2010 double-blind study that was held in conjunction with the previous Indianapolis competition.

"We agreed there were limits to the study -- it was the first one we did, and we had to learn from it," Fritz said. Curtin and Fritz took the results and the criticisms, and they devised a new study, to be done in a concert hall with top players and more instruments. The "Paris experiment," as they called it took place in 2012 at two locations on the outskirts of Paris, France, with 12 violins, six old and six new; and 10 soloists with international careers. There were two sessions, an hour and fifteen minutes each, and participants were allowed to use their own bows. They played in a small rehearsal hall, then in a 300-seat hall, with reduced lighting and wearing welding glasses.

Claudia-Joseph
Claudia Fritz and Joseph Curtin, who is holding welding glasses like those used in the Paris Experiment

In the concert hall, they were allowed the feedback of one friend, and they were permitted to have the violins played for them, so they could hear them from a distance, not just under the chin.

Their task: to choose a violin for a hypothetical solo tour, next week.

What were the results of the Paris experiment? Well you can look at them in great detail here, on Claudia Fritz's website.

But here is what Fritz and Curtin spoke about in September: First, "the choices were highly individual," Fritz said. Six participants chose new violins, three chose old, and one waffled before choosing old.

Despite many news media headlines emphasizing A Strad? Violinists Can't Tell as the conclusion, this wasn't the main focus of the study, Fritz said. Violinists were not asked to focus on discerning whether the instruments were old or new for most of the experiment; this task took place at the end of the experiment, when the violinists were given 30 seconds with each instrument to guess if it was old or new. The soloists did not guess better than chance-level.

"We did that at the end because we wanted to focus on preference," Fritz said. Certainly, whether the violin was old or new was not obvious to the players in this context.

At the end of the session, Cho-Liang Lin and pianist Rohan de Silva treated us to the "Blues" movement from Ravel's Sonata for Violin, played once on Lin's own 1715 "Titian" Strad, then on the new violin by Collin Gallahue that had just won a gold medal at the Violin Society of America's competition that week. Lin had chosen that violin from among a number of the winning violins: "I loved them all," Lin said. "I felt more comfortable, knowing how to produce the sound on this one," he said of Gallahue's violin. He attributed that comfort to the fact that it was based on a 1735 del Gésu model, so it felt similar to a violin that Lin owns and regularly plays on, a Zygumunotwicz based on the same model.

JLin-Ravel

Of course we in the audience didn't know which violin was which until afterwards; I had the impression that the second violin (which turns out to be the modern) sounded a little darker, but both performances sounded great and I would not have been able to guess which violin was the modern and which was the old Italian. The performance with Gallahue's violin had the added fun of a string breaking in the middle of all the strumming in that movement. Lin had to stop, run back and switch violins, then complete the piece.

Thank goodness there was another fiddle waiting in the wings.

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The Week in Reviews, Op. 53: Leonidas Kavakos, Isabelle Faust, Simon Michal in Concert

By Robert Niles
October 21, 2014 13:36

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.

Leonidas Kavakos
Photo courtesy Decca / © Daniel Regan

Leonidas Kavakos performed three Brahms sonatas in recital with pianist Yuja Wang.

  • The Telegraph: "He has a naturally noble sound, thanks to his fabulous bow control which can sustain an even unblemished line from tip to heel. It felt exactly right for Brahms, whose own control over his musical materials was equally iron. And in the slow movements, where Brahms relaxes and indulges his taste for rich sonorities, Kavakos’s clean, pure line kept sentimentality at bay."

Isabelle Faust performed the Britten with the San Francisco Symphony.

  • San Francisco Chronicle: "Faust give the piece a thin, laborious reading, in which mournful respect was replaced by grim hectoring."
  • San Francisco Classical Voice: "Her performance and technique were as striking as her bright red, serape-like blouse that evoked the spirit of Iberia."
  • Examiner.com: "Britten’s concerto is as technically demanding as it is intensely expressive. Fortunately, Faust approached the concerto with a solid command of technique (as solid as the technical dexterity she brought to her recording of the Berg concerto). Equally, important was her chemistry with Denève, responsible for providing her with a context based on Britten’s deep understanding of every instrument in a full orchestra."

Simon Michal performed Mozart's Violin Concerto No. 3 with the Juilliard Orchestra.

  • The New York Times: "Czech violinist Simon Michal played with freedom and deep tone. It was a little fussy at times, but his nonchalance and ability to shape a phrase suggested a talent we will hear more from."

Pinchas Zukerman performed the Beethoven with the IRIS Orchestra.

  • The Commercial Appeal: "His performance of Beethoven’s Violin Concerto in D major was a testament to the ways virtuosity can be expressed."

Valeriy Sokolov performed Bartok's Second Violin Concerto with the Ulster Orchestra.

  • Belfast Telegraph: "Intense, vibrant, technically superb, Sokolov exploited every nuance of genius in Bartok's music."

So-Ock Kim performed the Mendelssohn with the York Guildhall Orchestra.

  • The Press: "So-Ock Kim is not your typical violin virtuoso. She has all the ammunition, but she spurns fireworks for their own sake. So her account of the concerto was off the beaten track – and all the more refreshing for that."

Laurence Jackson performed the Bruch with the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra.

  • Birmingham Post: "It was a performance of grace and good taste – a little too much of the latter perhaps."

Please support live music in your community by attending a concert or recital whenever you can!

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What I learned from practicing every day for a year:

By Kate Little
October 20, 2014 20:34

Practice can be defined as a task that is achievable. Holding oneself to an unachievable standard can be stressful and counterproductive. My definition of practice included the following:

  • I must be alone.
  • The environment has to be clear of distractions, particularly electronic ones.
  • My head has to be clear of distractions.
  • I have to choose at least one challenging task and work to improve.
  • I have to be paying focused attention in the moment, and I have to be making progress.

Excluded from my personal practice definition were any sort of rehearsal or jam session, playing through pieces for fun or enjoyment, or performing pieces for others. Also excluded was any particular time requirement, or particular directions from the teacher. I allowed myself to decide each day’s practice content and length. To count as practice, I required myself to make progress at something on the violin solely via my own effort.

___
The smiley face stickers really do make a difference.

It is easier to maintain the momentum of practicing every day than it is to restart practice after taking a break. Once I let myself say, “I'm tired and have too many obligations. I’ll practice tomorrow,” it is easy to say the same the next day and the next day and the next, and all of a sudden a week has gone by with no preparation for the next lesson. Rather than the effort it takes to restart, it is easier, even at the end of a long day, to find something that can be worked on, even if for only 15 minutes.

Family will be supportive once they realize that you are serious, that practice is not negotiable. At least mine did. It was great when we got to they point where they’d say “Can I make dinner, Mom, so you have time to practice?” or “Do you need me to take your carry-on so you can take the violin?” Their support has been crucial.

You don’t ever have to ask yourself, “Do I feel like practicing today?” or “Do I have time to practice today?” Those questions are already answered with a resounding “Yes.” The only questions to ask each day are “When?” “How long?” and “What?” Once you get going with practice-every-day, it’s not that big a deal. If this is something you want to do, and you turn it into an achievable, enjoyable task, the habit is easy to develop.

Practice can be a meditative escape from our high-paced, digitized, electronic world. Practice can be a time to relax and reconnect with one’s authentic, unenhanced potential. Practice can be a time to challenge oneself to see how far one can expand one’s personal capabilities. The rewards of self-discipline, skill, self-knowledge, and music last for your lifetime. They are always yours and can never be stolen away.

.

P.S. October 21, 2013 – October 20, 2014: Thank you to The Weekend Vote & the Adult Starters – Violin/Fiddle Facebook group for their inspiration.

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Laurie's Violin School: What Violin Should You Buy?

By Laurie Niles
October 20, 2014 12:25

Why get a nice violin for your student, if you aren't sure that he or she is "serious" about the violin?

If you enroll your child (or yourself!) in violin lessons, you should be serious enough about the endeavor to try to ensure success, and having a decent instrument is one part of that equation (along with adequate practice time and space, and a good teacher).

All violins are NOT created equal. One can see that just from the price range: about $20 for the cheapest Internet imports vs. tens of millions of dollars for an old Italian Stradivarius. There is a lot in between! Price does not always correlate with the "best" violin for you, particularly when one gets into the $10,000+ range. But below a certain point, a lower price does point to a certain amount of corner-cutting. Anything below about $1,000 for a full-size, and you need to watch what you are buying. Actually, no matter what, you need to watch what you are buying!

First, what's the problem with a cheap violin? If you'd like the long answer, here is the article I wrote about it. In short, if the violin is of bad quality, it's not very fun to play. It's nearly impossible to use the pegs and fine tuners. So it's out-of-tune most of the time. You put your fingers in the right places, and it's still out of tune. You try to use the bow the way your teacher says, and the sound is still squeaky, thin, tinny. The pitch bends. It's not pretty to look at. It smells funny. It feels funny. You try really, really hard to make it sound nice, and it never does, because it's impossible to make it sound nice.

What makes for a "good" violin?

1. Sound. Does it have a pleasing tone; does it respond to vibrato; does it resonate?

2. Fit. For a child, make sure you are getting the right size violin. (Here is more information on determining that.) More advanced students will want to consider: Does it fit your hand? How thick is the neck; can you get around the fingerboard easily? Does it feel particularly heavy or unwieldy? Not all violins are exactly the same shape, so it's important to get the right one for you.

3. Ease of tuning. Do the pegs work? Are they made of plastic or wood? Do they turn easily, or do they stick and slip? Are the fine-tuners metal or plastic? Do they work? Do they appear like they'll hold up under hundreds of tunings?

3. Set-up. Is the bridge set up properly? Is the bridge well-crafted or does it look thick and cheap? Is the soundpost in the right place? This greatly affects how the sound functions. You may need the help of your teacher or of a trusted violin maker to determine this.

4. Composition of the violin. Is the bottom made of maple, the top made of spruce? Is the fingerboard made of ebony or something similar? Those are the basics, and there are variations. But a violin made of cheap, improperly seasoned wood will not sound as good or hold up in the same way.

5. Craftsmanship. Is it made well? Are the seams glued properly? Is the purfling inlaid or just painted on? Is the finish and varnish attractive? Does it smell weird? Sure, some of this is cosmetic. But year-over-year, the sturdiness and beauty of good craftsmanship makes a difference.

How about a cheap violin that is old? Or one that you found in the attic? Keep in mind, when it comes to violins, old is very often (but not always) better than new. Time helps weed out really bad violins -- if it is a truly horrible instrument, people tend not to bother keeping it. You may be able to fix up an old violin and have it sound very nice. You may be able to buy an old violin for cheap, but still wind up having a nice violin. But watch out: you also may have to spend a lot of money to fix it. If the violin has cracks or open seams, you'll need to have a violin maker repair them. You'll need new strings, possibly a new bridge, have the soundpost checked, get new tuners or pegs, etc. So be prepared to pay something for repairs if you want to use the fiddle in the attic, and have a violin teacher or maker look it over and tell you if this will really be worthwhile before you commit.

I hope this helps, and I invite you to add any more considerations to the above list!

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What's in your head as you hear?

By Kate Little
October 18, 2014 12:00

My ability to hear classical music has evolved with time. It used to be that I could not really make sense of music. A symphony was an overwhelming wash of undifferentiated energy, akin to being caught and tumbled about by an ocean wave. Chamber music sounded like irritating static noise. Solo piano or violin sounded like cat scratch and screech. Yet, I was certain that there was something of value in the sound that abused my ears, so I kept listening.

Eventually music turned into a string of black dots. Some dots were bigger, some smaller, some higher, some lower, but otherwise undifferentiated as they continued their march through my ears. The dots’ music was not particularly interesting, but at least it was a step toward differentiated sound.

With time, the black dots turned into shapes (still colorless), and their string became a surface. This added definition and a 2nd dimension to what I heard, but the music still seemed boring. However, increased visualization led to an ability to verbally narrate (silently) a musical piece as it played out. In my head music sounded like: “A sequence. It’s going up. Hear the swell. And there the phrase ended. Oh! A new section beginning. The clarinet and flute are intertwined. Strings providing underlying harmony . . .” A new skill, simultaneous verbal description was developing more detailed and specific hearing, and music was becoming interesting.

By and by, architectural, sculptural and kinetic qualities supplemented the analytical narration. As if I were again a child playing with blocks, a symphony can now feel like a building under construction, as I tour the edifice building a mental map of the size and location of rooms, running a hand over wall surfaces to feel their varied textures. Sometimes this imagery morphs into waves of fabric undulating with the music, defining sonic space with motion, color, and light.


Photo courtesy of Mercedes Smith

It is with these physical interpretations and sensations that music has evolved from interesting to evocative.

Considering the tools my imagination uses to perceive and process music, verbalization is the one which brings specific meaning to what I hear. However, physical and emotional interpretation is what brings enjoyment. For me, the verbal perception of music dominates and it is gnawing at me lately as I now want to feel music. So, at a recent concert by Mercedes Smith, flute, and Karlyn Bond, piano, I decided to turn off the verbal spigot. Surprisingly, the other ways of processing dissipated along with it, and I was left hearing pure sound in my head: Sound with auditory color, shape, form, motion; Sound with dimension, sense and meaning; Sound inducing physical and emotional sensation; Sound carrying me on a journey from beginning to end. Sometimes beautiful, sometimes dark, sometimes melancholy, sometimes boisterous. But moving! And, happily, a long way from the static noise of when I first started listening.

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Nostalgia for 'Hedwig's Theme'!

By Joshua Iyer
October 18, 2014 09:22

I just found this really neat video on the evolution of "Hedwig's Theme". I was a late bloomer to all the Harry Potter fandom, but still, this video is fantastic, as it takes you through the titles of tracks, the films, the pictures, the four composers' takes on William's theme, and the various orchestrations used for the LSO to play this theme all throughout the Harry Potter Decade of 2001 - 2011. Obviously all the instruments change roles, but I think the violins do especially, going from quick runs to having the actual melody of the theme. So anyways, enjoy! Just wanted to share this. :P

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Competitions: A Competitor's Perspective

By Daniel Tan
October 18, 2014 05:46

Up until recently I have only really been an observer of all the major violin competitions; Menuhin, Indianapolis etc. avidly following the coverage, the articles, the debate and of course the performances. Violin (and musical) competitions seem to get an interesting rap among the community. Some people think they're necessary, some people don't; some people don't like the judging, others do... the list goes on. So I was no doubt very curious to see it all for myself when I found myself short-listed as a semi-finalist for the Kendall National Violin Competition (Australia) (August 2014).

For starters, to be honest I have no idea how I managed to make it into the final eight in the first place. Armed will little recording experience and no pianist to record with (up until the week beforehand), I was somewhat surprised when I was informed of my progression into the semi-final round. Nonetheless, it is exciting in itself to see your playing and work validated in this manner (that said I could have been 8 out of 8 applicants for all I know) and I looked forward to the semi-finals greatly.

The competition day began early at Melbourne Airport amid the usual chaos and confusion that air travel often elicits. Sydney is only an hour of flying away from Melbourne so nothing too serious or taxing, and air travel always conjures a sense of excitement for me personally anyway! Despite the jet lag and tiredness, having arrived back from New York less than a week earlier (another story for another time); I hardly noticed due to my anticipation of the day ahead (not to mention my personal machinations regarding getting my violin on and off the plane in one piece).

Despite a temperamental plane door, arriving in Sydney and at the Con was no issue and my Dad and I enjoyed the time we did have to go for a walk around the gardens and Opera House beforehand. Despite being a proud Melburnian, I love Sydney and every opportunity to visit the city.

I had opted not to fly into Sydney the day before because unfortunately university orchestra dealt me a 7 hour rehearsal call the day before the competition. I would just have to manage my performance with one rehearsal before the competition on the day, with the official pianist for the competition. I arrived at the Con around 10:30am just before the first session commenced and was warmly greeted by the organisers and some other competitors before being shown a room to warm up in. Shortly after I enjoyed a smooth rehearsal with the wonderful pianist who also took the liberty to show me around the incredibly large music school that is Sydney Con.

It is worth pausing here to say that despite our best intentions, it is almost always impossible to come into these performances feeling prepared. As I mentioned previously, I had only recently arrived back from a month of study in the US, and was in the thick of a rehearsal period for an orchestral program the following week. As such, in the warm up room and with the pianist, I could feel my lack of preparedness showing. Be it in dodgy intonation, or just a general lack of musical refinement. However, whilst these things add to nerves no doubt, I had resolved myself earlier that day to just fully enjoy the new experience and do my best to make the best music I possibly could on stage later that day.

Thankfully for the semi-final, Kendall's repertoire requirements are not hugely onerous, requiring a movement from any of the solo Bach Sonatas or Partitas, a movement from a major violin sonata, and a show piece. I had chosen to play the following:

Bach, Partita No.2 in D Min, Sarabande
C. Franck, Sonata in A Maj, 2nd Movement
F. Kreisler, Tambourin Chinois (brought in last minute to replace a horrendously under-prepared Introduction and Tarantella)

After warming up, rehearsals, some fresh air and lunch, the second half of the semi-finals commenced. Playing second in this session, I watched one of the following competitors go on and off from back stage whilst trying to direct my own attention to something non-violin related (as I often do to keep nerves in check).

My performance flew by in a blur. I remember having to contend with a shaky bow all through my Bach, before settling much more through my final two pieces. Personally, I often ruminate over technical concerns too much as a violinist, and as such I tried to focus heavily on the music and the gesture of the performance. Whilst it definitely wasn't the most flawless or refined performance I have ever given, I would like to think I achieved the character and musicality I was aiming for that day. To me though, what I most fondly remember of that performance is how much I enjoyed it, and how genuinely lucky and alive I felt to be on that stage that day. Upon talking to some audience members later, I was glad to hear that came across.

However, the highlight of my day came when I finally got to sit down and listen to the two remaining competitors. To cut a long story short, I was absolutely blown away by what I heard. Both had such wonderful sound and suppleness of tone, incredible senses of virtuosity and colour, but above all, great generosity of musical intent. I left those performances feeling thoroughly inspired and renewed in my own quest to better my ability on the instrument.

In general, that is how I felt about the whole day. I didn't get through to the finals in the end (unsurprisingly), but I didn't feel like I had lost either. I had just experienced an inspiring day of music making, welcomed openly and warmly into a new environment by its lovely organisers and stakeholders. I cannot speak highly enough of the competition. I felt incredibly welcome the entire time, and the environment cultivated was nothing but open and friendly. My only regret was honestly not being able to see more of the performances, or to meet more of the competitors properly. I flew home that evening utterly exhausted (I fell asleep against the window, which made me glad I chose that seat) but entirely renewed in my focus and desire to become a better musician.

I hope that I can make it into such competitions in the future, and enjoy more of what other violinists are capable of. With a lot of work, a new program and a bit more new found experience under my belt, hopefully Kendall will welcome back with open arms in 2015.

This can also be read here at my personal blog.

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The Making of A Violin: The Making of A Luthier -- The Template

By Ray Nichol
October 18, 2014 03:22

by: Ray Nichol (Luthier in Training)

In making the violin I will be working with tolerances of tenths of a millimetre or less. Go ahead and take out 2 credit cards and stack them on top of each other. This is the average thickness of the top and back plates of most violins. The ribs are Even less than one credit card! But a violin is made Up of more than 60 pieces of wood and from the inside out and so lets get to the heart of the matter.

Making A Template

Before one line is cut or one line is even drawn, I needed to ask myself a few basic questions which will determine how I will start. Will I be using my own design? Will I be buying a ready-made pattern? How accurate is that pattern? Sometimes, you will be able to get your dimensions from a plaster cast. Like the one in the picture, below, which I made on my first day in the shop.

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Or, if you are like me, you will be lucky enough to be taking the measurements And profiles directly from the violin, a 7/8ths Amati violin.

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When I walked into the shop, on the very first day, John wanted to know if I wanted to build the violin to the best of my abilities or did I want to build the violin as though HE was doing the building. I guess you know what my answer was and all I can say is, 'be very careful For what you ask for.'

The first week was taken up by making three plaster casts from existing plaster casts and relearned how to sharpen. (which went into the following week!)

In making the plaster casts, I first had to clean and scrape anything that through the profile of the top/back off of the existing mould. Next I warmed the mould with a hair dryer so that the Vaseline would melt. The Vaseline will help when it comes time to remove my mould. I next made a cardboard boarder, sealed any spaces, and poured in the plaster. One day later I was able to remove my mould and set it aside to dry for a week or two.

When it comes to sharpening a chisel there are two cardinal rules: first flatten the back edge of the chisel and second never lift your right (or left hand if you are left handed)as this will result in an edge which will also be rounded and this will of course throw everything you want flat to be rounded. Not good. The trouble is that if you are right/left handed that is the hand which wants to lift that chisel. Which is why it takes so long to learn how to sharpen at the beginning.

When John asked me which side of the drawing did I want to use as my standard design. I choose the base side and John agreed.

I then transferred half the pattern, including the center line, by poking a series of holes through the paper and into the pexiglass. John made sure that I filed just past the marks. If I had of kept the line on on each successive transfer I would have ended up with a viola by the end of 6 months. Just kidding, but it certainly would not have been the size I had wanted.

As it was, in most areas I was bang on but there were a couple of stubborn areas. This template helped give me the dimensions and shape for the inside template. This will be exactly 2.5 mm inside the first template. I began to see why it was important which side of the line you file down to.

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Making a Mould

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The mould is the piece of flat wood usually 12 mm thick that is used to keep the corner and end blocks, perfectly at 90 degrees, while you (I) glue the ribs in place. The mould will eventually be removed.

However, ...... if I make a mistake in the making of the mould, such as not having the sides perfectly at 90 degrees, then this will throughout the entire shape of the violin, no matter how careful I am (will be) every where else.

We getting closer to the fun part, Of actually working on the violin, but first I have to get past filing and sanding those sides of the mould. And if it is one thing I do not like to do is sanding. Which is why it took me a day and a half.

Holes still need to be drilled along the edge of the mould and then cutting out the spaces for the four corner and two end blocks Will complete the making of the mould.


John's comment on the mould, "Well done, your work is now spot on. What you unto next?"

Next week I'll be working on shaping the corner blocks, making the ribs, and perhaps even begin working on the neck. Cool.


Buyer's Tip of the Week

If you are in the market for a violin be sure to look at the side of the nut. If its corners blends into the fingerboard and the peg box, nicely, chances are good the luthier has also paid attention to most of other finer details as well.

Thanks for pulling up a chair, sharing a cup of tea, and I will see you all in a couple of weeks.

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V.com weekend vote: Do you make funny faces when you play?

By The Weekend Vote
October 17, 2014 18:12

Do you make funny faces when you play? This was a question raised by Graham Emberton's blog about mirrors this week, and I thought it would make a fun weekend vote.

I certainly used to make faces, when I was a child. In fact, after those early concerts my family often had more to say about my grimaces and facial contortions than about anything else! These were of the inadvertent kind, expressions that come from concentrating very hard. These days, I probably make some funny faces, but I think they tend to be more about the music than about my physical struggles with the violin. I hope, at least!

Many people are quite poker-faced and stoic when they play. Remember the cellist, Janos Starker? Gorgeous music came from his cello, with emotional content running the full range, but his face remained fairly unchanged as he played.

How about you?

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Galamian's Principles

Galamian's Principles of the Violin

Long one of the standards for violin teachers and students, Ivan Galamian's Principles of Violin Playing and Teaching offers both principles and practice exercises to help develop violinists of all ages and abilities. This new edition includes a foreword by Sally Thomas.

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