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Violin News & Gossip, Op. 2, No. 47

July 23, 2006 at 11:51 PM

‘Tis the season of violinists at London’s famed Proms concert series. Thirteen concerts will contain 14 violin concerti this summer. In order:

1. Thomas Zehetmair of Austria played the Brahms concerto on 7/21.
2. Leila Josefowicz will play Shostakovitch No. 1 on 7/26. She recorded this work with the same conductor and orchestra last January.
3. Tasmin Little will play Glazunov at the end of July.
4. Janine Jansen of Holland will play Mozart No. 5 on 8/12.
5. Maxim Vengerov will play and conduct Mozart Nos. 1 and 4 on 8/13. Then, the performance will conclude with Mozart’s Sinfonia Concertante, with Lawrence Power on viola.
6. Christian Tetzlaff, Musical America’s Instrumentalist of the Year for 2005, will play the Beethoven concerto.
7. Vadim Repin will tackle the Sibelius Concerto on 8/19. At least one critic is predicting this will be the highlight of the Proms this year.
8. Nikolaj Znaider will play the Mendelssohn E minor concerto on 8/25.
9. Gil Shaham will play Stravinsky’s rarely performed violin concerto on 8/26.
10. Frank Peter Zimmermann will play Szymanowski No. 1 on 9/2.
11. Leonidis Kovackas, 1988 Paganini Violin Competition winner will play Mozart No. 3 on 9/4.
12. Joshua Bell will play the Bruch G minor on 9/7.
13. Viktoria Mullova will close the Proms season with Prokofiev No. 2.

It’s hard to imagine a more compelling lineup of today’s violinists! Who would you pick as your one must-see from this season?

My money would be on Vengerov’s marathon concert. To play and conduct two concertos, then go right into the Sinfonia Concertante, is something only the most confident artist would dare to do. I’m betting he pulls it off brilliantly, though he’s not necessarily the first person to come to mind for Mozart. However, I’m also partial to Josefowicz and Bell. How about you?

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7/21/06 – The Atlanta Journal-Constitution contained an interesting commentary on standing ovations: "an applauding audience coming to its feet is so commonplace, its meaning is at best muddled ... Some suggest today's audiences are less sophisticated than those of previous generations; others say clap-happy audiences are simply discarding stuffy performing-arts protocols." James Darsey, a Georgia State University professor and "a specialist in American public speeches," comments: "Not so long ago, the standing ovation was a mode of public criticism, a signal that the performance got two thumbs up ... Now it's pro forma, and the statement becomes the audience congratulating itself, as in, 'I appreciate this art form.' " The writer quotes psychologist Frank Farley: "Social relationships, even at a superficial level, are deeply important to most of us, and imitation is a key factor in binding us as a group. Clapping and standing ovations are likely primal, pre-speech behavior that can be very satisfying."

Musician News

Audiophile Audition reviewed a disc by violinist Kolbjørn Holthe and pianist Tor Espen Aspaas. Most of the reviewer’s comments centered on the repertoire’s background—Richard Strauss’ Violin Sonata in E-flat Major, op. 18 and George Enescu’s Violin Sonata in A minor, op. 25. And, in typical audiophile fashion, he commented on the recording quality and jewel box art. Here’s all he had to say about the performance itself: “Young violinist Holthe and pianist Aspaas have been performing these two works in concert for some time and feel they have been milestones in their development as instrumentalists. They began collaborating in 1991.” Oh well—at least it’s nice to see relatively obscure musicians receive some exposure.

7/26-27/06 – The St. Lawrence String Quartet will be performing at Bay Chamber Concerts, in Camden, ME, with two special guests: legendary pianist Menahem Pressler and violinist Livia Sohn. Pressler, of course, is the founding pianist of the Beaux Arts Trio and Sohn is the wife of St. Lawrence first violinist Geoff Nuttal. The couple rarely performs together, but are apparently making their Maine performances part of a family vacation.

7/20/06 Israelnationalnews.com features a profile of the Israeli band Simply Tsfat. The band performs hassidic melodies and original material using voice, violin and guitar. Many songs are in the klezmer style and may be sung in Hebrew, Yiddish or English—some even mix languages. Here’s what the article has to say about American-born violinist Yehonasan Lipshultz: “Starting violin at the age of seven, little by little Lipshultz gave up music as he and his wife became more and more religious. Eventually he sold his violin to finance the down payment on their house. A book by Rabbi Nachman of Breslov encouraged him to continue becoming more and more religious and to eventually move to Israel arriving two weeks before the beginning of the Gulf War. Lipshultz became enthralled by the Shabbat songs in the local Breslov synagogue in Tsfat. ‘I started learning all these beautiful niggunim instead of Bach and Beethoven and Mozart. One day I said, gee, I could play those melodies, if only I had a violin.’ When he was in the town of Uman, Ukraine that he saw a man selling a violin on the street for 10 dollars. Although Lipshultz too, incorporates some of his musical past in Simply Tsfat's music, he doesn't miss classical music. ‘As I started reconnecting with my Jewish past, I started thinking - no - feeling, how all that musical culture stood by, as a supportive witness, while we walked to the gas chambers’.” The group’s home city of Tsfat is currently suffering through rocket attacks in the region’s unrest.

7/19/06 – Last week violinist James Ehnes wowed ‘em in Cleveland. This week he conquered Philly, making his debut with the Philadelphia Orchestra playing the Dvorak Violin Concerto. Here’s what the Philadelphia Inquirer had to say: "The Mann Center often puts barriers between the audience and detection of a soloist's personality, but Ehnes came across strongly. He has a gorgeous, saturated tone -- alive with vibrato but clear and honest. He's measured and solid, yet he's not hesitant to outline phrases in bold edges." Furthermore, in the second movement, Ehnes showed "a great ability to draw listeners into intimate moments."

7/19/06 – Teachers from the nationally renowned Betty Haag Academy in Buffalo Grove, Ill., are running a Suzuki camp in Winona Lake, Ind., reports the Warsaw (IN) Times-Union. “Last month Haag and 40 students toured Italy. The visit overseas included a performance before Pope Benedict XVI at a special Vatican Mass. They were scheduled to play for 30 seconds. Benedict indicated they should continue to play before the crowd of 100,000.” Haag expects the students to perform at high levels. “They don’t need to be mediocre. They realize they can reach a much higher level.”

7/19/06 – The Toronto Star ran a brief profile of "Indie rock violinist for hire" Julie Penner. “[She] estimates she has recorded or performed live with at least 40 artists and groups, including Do Make Say Think, the Weakerthans and the FemBots, as well as heavy metal outfit Cursed.” Penner says, “I quit violin for a couple of years when I was 15. All the music I listened to and would go see was pop music. Then I decided to start a group with some friends. I didn't give it much thought. Violin is the instrument I play. So I decided to make it work. Since then, I've played on everything from super-folky stuff to metal. Actually, the violin really suits heavy metal because it can get so high and scary-sounding…I can't tell you how many times I've played a show and gone off stage and people, usually girls, have come up and said, ‘I play the violin. And I never thought I could play in bands that I listen to. And now I see that I can’.”

7/10/06 – According to the Baltimore Sun John Fenton Mathews, former principal bass of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra for a quarter-century, died of leukemia July 10 at his home in West Brooklin, Maine. He was 80. The obituary notes Mathews's positions with the Dallas Symphony Orchestra, the Seattle Symphony, and the Houston Symphony Orchestra, adding: "In 1959, he won the audition for the BSO's principal bass chair, a position he held for 25 years. He also performed at Wigmore Hall in London and at a small auditorium at the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam, Netherlands. He made his New York debut with a recital at Town Hall in 1963 and six years later took part in a State Department-sponsored tour from Rome to Oslo, Norway, as soloist on the viola da gamba. He taught at the Peabody Conservatory and for many summers was associated with the chamber music school at Kneisel Hall in Blue Hill, Maine. His final public performance was at Peabody in October."

Orchestra News

7/21/06 – The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported troubling news regarding the Atlanta Ballet: "In a move it says will save more than $400,000 annually, the Atlanta Ballet has made the 'hard decision' to use only recorded music for future productions, starting with its season opener, 'Giselle,' in October. Ballet officials told members of the company's orchestra Thursday that they won't renew the musicians' three-year contract, which expires at the end of August, said production director David Tatu ... Andrew Cox, secretary-treasurer of the Atlanta Federation of Musicians Local 148-462, said Thursday that he couldn't comment on the ballet's decision because he hadn't had time to discuss it with members and the union's lawyers." Many professional ballet companies have begun using recorded music to save money, although leading ballets such as the New York City Ballet and the San Francisco Ballet still employ live orchestras, said James Fayette, an executive with the American Guild of Musical Artists in New York.

From Wayne Schafer
Posted on July 24, 2006 at 12:59 AM
Re: Standing ovations. On July 21, Soovin Kim received a standing ovation for his performance of the Mozart Violin Concerto no. 3 with the Baltimore Symphony. My son, Peter remained in his seat and informed me that he was starting a movement for meaningful standing ovations. Peter was, however, appreciative of a great performance.
From Gregory Zinkl
Posted on July 24, 2006 at 12:14 PM
I'm sorry, but I can't think of anything more disgusting than going to a ballet with recorded music (ok, I can think of more disgusting stuff, but this is pretty horrifying). It seems ignorant of the art form, ignoring any kind of interaction between the artists--musicians, conductor, and dancers.

I will never voluntarily go to such an event. I might as well watch a video of dancing robots.

From Gregory Zinkl
Posted on July 24, 2006 at 12:16 PM
In my experience, standing ovation frequency is also a product of local culture.

When I lived in Boston, it seemed that everytime the orchestra tuned, the audience lept to its feet. You really needed a volume-o-meter to tell if it was an enthusiastic ovation or not. You really needed to count the times the conductor reasonably came out for subsequent bows.

In St. Louis, it was much harder to get a standing ovation.

In Chicago, it is almost impossible (exceptions being the CSO). You could be part of a life-changing concert, and in some parts of the city, the audience acts like they are wearing un-removable seat belts! Now when I am part of a concert where the audience stands, I am gratified.

From Kelsey Z.
Posted on July 25, 2006 at 3:46 AM
I wish I could hear the SLSQ again before Barry Shiffman leaves. They are such a great quartet. Geoff and Livia are really cute together and both great players and teachers.

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