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By Thomas Cooper
May 4, 2012 14:22
Not long ago, I wrote a blog entry describing the heartbreak in the NEC Youth Philharmonic Orchestra over the firing of renowned conductor Benjamin Zander. For over 38 years, he led passionate young people on journeys through some of the most difficult pieces in the orchestral repertoire. Indeed, the YPO recorded pieces such as Strauss’ Ein Heldenleben, Tchaikovsky’s Symphony no. 5, and Mahler’s Symphony no. 1. The Youth Philharmonic Orchestra became world famous for tackling these works, and playing them well, inspiring many. Most recently, the orchestra, under Benjamin Zander, played a sold out concert of Mahler’s Ninth Symphony in Vienna at the ancient Musikverein, the Golden Hall of Vienna. The crowd was moved to tears. However, in January of 2012, Zander was fired, and there were tears of a different kind as the YPO sat upon the stage of Jordan Hall and played Elgar’s Nimrod (Zander’s farewell piece) unconducted in honor their lost leader. I remember looking around the orchestra myself as I played, watching my friends play with tear-glistened cheeks. Following the concert were protests of all kinds, ranging from a public statement, to picketing on the steps of the Coply Plaza Hotel as the Board of Directors at NEC sat inside. However, as protests died down, and conductor auditions for YPO came to a close, the chance for Zander’s return to the podium looked slim. In spite of all this, news came today that has brought hope to so many members of the orchestra.
Zander announced the inception of his own youth orchestra yesterday, in conjunction with the Boston Philharmonic. The Boston Philharmonic Youth Orchestra promises to be a top notch Youth Orchestra, just as the YPO was. While there are many differences, such as member age ranging through 21, and performances at Boston’s Symphony Hall instead of NEC’s Jordan Hall, the orchestra, in my opinion, will not be so different. I expect that it will still start weekly at TEN PHAST THREE, just as YPO did, and I do expect there to be “white sheets” to Mr. Zander every rehearsal. Just like the YPO, the BPYO promises to be a tuition-free, touring ensemble, bringing top notch music to the world.
On the program for the first season, starting in September of 2012:
“The first two concerts are scheduled in Boston's Symphony Hall on November 25, 2012 and March 10, 2013. Other events in planning include a concerto concert for BYPO members and a May performance in Carnegie Hall.” –Boston Philharmonic Youth Orchestra Directors
By Laurie Niles
May 3, 2012 12:40
Longtime Eastman School of Music violin professor Zvi Zeitlin died yesterday at the age of 90. He taught at Eastman for 45 years, and his students have gone on to careers as concertmasters, professors, competition winners, orchestra players and recitalists all over the world.
Zeitlin joined the Eastman faculty in 1967 and was founding member of the Eastman Trio.
"Mr. Zeitlin was very clear in his teaching, giving the bare bones of the technique to the students, making it much easier for them to execute their notes and musical ideas," said violinist Brian Hong, who vividly described his lessons with Zeitlin from the summer 2009 in this blog. He said he was a demanding teacher who "was also very persistent about not using the terms, 'up' and 'down' bow, but rather using the French terms, 'push' and 'pull', respectively, to help with my mental image of tone."
Zeitlin was known for his passionate intensity; students have said that he could get pretty worked up at a lesson.
"Mr. Zeitlin is a knowledgeable, tactful, and effective teacher," Hong said. "Even though he can be a bit sharp and gruff, he is a very caring person and only becomes more intense because he cares about each and every student he works with and wants them to reach their full potential. He was such an incredible, generous human being; what struck me at first when I met him was the fact that he would practice for 3-4 hours every morning, no matter what. Simply amazing."
Indeed, Zeitlin continued to teach, and to play the violin, until the end of his life; here he is, at age 88, performing the Mozart "Rondo" K. 373 with pianist Barry Snyder.
Violinist.com member George Philips said that "I have the utmost respect for his students. He makes them do so much more than just play their parts. For example, he'll make them read Brahms' letters if doing Brahms, write out the piano parts, study the culture of the time, etc. It's a process that seems to be slowly dying nowadays."
He also engaged in that old-fashioned (but wonderful) practice of playing a bit of the orchestra part along with a student, as you can see, in this video of a masterclass with Zeitlin.
A native of Belarus, Zeitlin grew up in Israel and attended Hebrew University. He came to Juilliard at age 11 as the institution's youngest-ever scholarship student. He studied violin Sascha Jacobsen, Louis Persinger, and Ivan Galamian.
Zeitlin was known for championing Arnold Schoenberg's Violin Concerto, which Zeitlin premiered in 1964 in Buenos Aires. He recorded the work in 1971 with Rafael Kubelik and the Bavarian State Orchestra for Deutsche Grammophon, and that recording was reissued in 2004. He was also the dedicatee of Gunther Schuller’s first Violin Concerto, which was commissioned by Eastman as part of Zeitlin’s appointment as Kilbourn Professor in 1976.
May 3, 2012 03:03
If you love something, won’t you want to share it?
Well, I guess that depends on what it is. If you have to lose or divide something in order to share it, maybe not.
But how about other things? For example, music?
When it comes to music, I always think that it goes the same with joy: you have it, you share it, and it doubles.
But today, after this brief exchange of comments (I was CW), I realize that not everyone thinks so. But I’ll talk about this later; although that post was what made me decide to write this long blog, I have been thinking about related topics for several months, and I think it would be useful to first talk a little bit about my classical music listening experience.
My story with the violin music started almost as early as with classical music, but until several months ago, it was mainly about indifference and missed opportunities. I loved the cello for its dark, warm sound, and its extraordinary ability to sing lyrically. As for the violin, for a long time, I thought of it as a squeaky, melodramatic “sawed” instrument that gives blisters to my eardrums. And isn’t fate a wonderful thing: my ex-boyfriend used to play the violin. So despite my “hate at first listen” of the violin, I did want to try to enjoy violin music. I tried some famous violin concertos, some Schindler’s List, some Secret Garden, and some Bach Sonatas and Partitas. Among them, as it turned out, what I liked the most was the Bach – mainly because I like almost anything by Bach. So in the end, I was “ok” with the violin, but wasn’t interested enough to listen further.
Then I came across this singer, Josh Groban; I was blown away by his voice. There was a violin solo in one of the songs, Mi Mancherai. It was the first time that the sound of a violin really caught my ears. And I learnt the name of the violinist: Joshua Bell. However, having been living under a rock (i.e. not actively seeking out information), all of the violinists I had heard of were dead people. I had no idea who this Joshua Bell person was. My residual prejudice toward the violin didn’t help, either. Even though I was moved by his playing, I didn’t try to find more of his music. At that time I was snobbish and close-minded, with a lot of preconceptions about certain kinds of music and composers. Hell, I even looked down upon Tchaikovsky, so of course I couldn’t be bothered by a nameless(!) violinist who played half a track on a pop singer’s album. How foolish and ignorant I was.
For another few years, I kept expanding my knowledge in some parts of the classical world – early music, renaissance, more Bach, 20th century, a lot of choral music, and almost anything cello… But I didn’t listen to the Romantic repertoire or the violin music. Sure enough, I hear bits and pieces; it’s just that I didn’t pay enough attention to the violin to allow it to grow on me. Outside of the classical world, however, that nameless violinist kept reminding me of his existence – the “Angels and Demons” soundtrack, his second collaboration with Josh Groban, etc. The exposure was enough to make me aware of how good he sounded, but again, being my foolish self, I didn’t listen.
Everything changed, when I stumbled upon his infamous performance in the metro. That night, I was in the mood of a little Chaconne, so I took out Milstein’s DG recording (the only violin album I had in my dorm at that time, and shame on me, I bought it for Bach, not for Milstein). After repeating it twice, I suddenly had an urge to look for other people’s renditions. After some googling, I opened the Washington Post’s article (which I had somehow failed to hear of), and at the top of the page was a link to Bell’s metro performance. I listened to it while reading the interesting article. Then, a couple of minutes later, it hit me – music flowed out of my laptop speakers, at first like a rivulet, gently shimmering; then it gained momentum, growing, taking up more and more space, so powerful yet so light, as if a torrent was taking flight; it soars above the noise of the passer-bys, higher and higher … And the magic faded. The rivulet returned, along with the stomping footsteps. I had tears in my eyes.
I always knew that Chaconne was a great piece. But not like that. The playing was not perfect, with a few glitches, but it sounded so right. I bought the Milstein because I was told by many people that that was the “best” version. It was beautiful Bach, but I had never liked it as much as I treasured my various recordings of the Cello Suites. However, at that moment, I felt I finally understood why so many people hold the Chaconne at such high regard. And why so many people love the violin.
So started my obsession with the violin. In a few months’ time, I have accumulated more violin recordings than all the cello recordings I have ever bought (thanks to cello’s small repertoire), went to a few concerts that featured violin soloists, and loved the violin more and more. And I really embraced Romantic music.
I guess now you can see why I got all protective towards Joshua Bell. I don't think he's the "best" (whatever that means) violinist out there, but I know I love his sound. And he was the one who opened the door to this whole new world for me.
I have to admit that I was taken aback when I first saw certain comments about certain violinists. The kind of dismissive comments directed at some violinists was quite an eye-opener. Needless to say, being the crossover matinee idol, Bell got his share of all sorts of criticism, from his intonation to his hairstyle. That was unexpected when I started to love the violin music. My listening experience with the cellists was simple – they play, and I listen. I have my favorites, but I would never say things like “Starker is better than Rostropovich” or “Fournier is the best”. In my heart they are all great cellists, and the difference in my liking has nothing to do with their level of artistry. It never occurred to me that Yo-Yo Ma’s venture out of the classical realm can be a problem; I have never heard criticisms of his repertoire from the cellists I know, either. I felt confused, even pained; surely a musician is good enough if he can touch people’s hearts? And why do people have to compare one violinist to another, anyway?
Later I realized that this difference probably has a lot to do with the competitive environment that violinists are in. And sfter I read some comments about singers, I have a feeling that there’s perhaps more to it than competition.
From some of the remarks, I get the impression that the commenters take issue with some musicians’ attempts to popularize classical music. They consider that a selling out. I never quite understand that. Of course a professional musician is going to play music in exchange for money; it’s not as if they can eat sheet music for dinner. And of course they want to sell more records and have a bigger audience; no musician would want to play in an empty concert hall.
And I wonder why. I had a vague idea, but it was today’s comment that put all the pieces together.
A few weeks ago, I went to a Philly Orchestra’s concert with my friend. The wonderful Orchestra has an incredible student program: for $25 a year, a college student can get access to almost every subscription concert. The seats are not too shabby either: that week, we sat in the back of the orchestra floor, on one end of the middle section. Sitting next to us was an old lady. We didn’t do anything inappropriate, but for some reason, she kept glaring at us disapprovingly. In the end of the concert, when we all stood up to give the orchestra a standing ovation, the lady wanted to leave. I moved back as much as I could, but she kept saying “excuse me, I need to get out”, so I told her that I couldn’t move. There was enough space for her to get out, but she looked really offended, scolded me, and muttered something about college students before she squeezed past me.
Looking back, I do think that I could have done better – I could have walked out of the section to give her more space. What I do take exception, however, was her attitude towards us. Yes, it’s true that we can’t afford the tickets if the Orchestra didn’t offer us the student subscription, and yes, we might not have a lot of knowledge about classical music. But that doesn’t mean we don’t deserve to come to these concerts, or we can’t enjoy the music. If I manage to live to her old age, I'd only be too delighted to see youthful faces filling the concert hall. That would mean that the orchestra I love would be doing fine after my generation is gone.
Coincidentally, dear Joshua recently chose to appear on Dancing with the Stars, which caused quite some discussion on this page and this page. So came my little conversation with Mr./Ms. Ariel. After seeing his/her second reply, I decided not to respond. I simply can’t win. When one is convinced that he/she has the best taste and knows best, there is no way to make him/her see it otherwise. When one genuinely believes in the existence of the “yahoos”, you can either agree with him/her, or become one of the “yahoos”.
I would rather be the latter. I don’t think I have the right to judge other people’s taste, nor am I an “elitist” (elite) player of any sort.
Compared to the vicious attacks that some listeners throw at certain musicians or a group of audience, sports hate looks like such an innocent thing. The sports hate is completely emotional and utterly irrational – one can hate a player or a team for the most childish, ridiculous reasons. But reasonable sports fans all know that. They bash their rival teams and their supporters, but they wouldn’t seriously believe that they are superior to other fans.
I wonder how a piece is like in those people’s ears.
And I wonder whether these “elitist” people also think that by listening to elite music, they become the elite.
So I guess it is not about the music itself, after all. It is about those listeners – they want to keep the music to themselves, so they can maintain their status, their sense of superiority. What they don’t seem to think about, is what happens to the music, when they do keep it to themselves.
And what eventful lives these extraordinary instruments are living.
During his concert, when Joshua Bell turned around to conduct the orchestra, I had the chance to look at the back side of his 1713 Gibson ex-Huberman. It was a poignant sight – close to the lower edge, behind his shoulder rest, the beautiful red varnish wears thinner and thinner, and finally fades into the muddy brown of the ancient maple wood. 300 years ago, when a Cremonese luthier painted his newest creation with the red varnish that he rarely used, would he imagine that the violin would be treasured and played by many masters, travel with them, outlive them, and still have the power to bring people to tears 300 years later?
I remember reading a discussion post about the varnishes. In the post, someone mentioned that the varnish on the well-preserved Messiah or Lady Blunt look different from that on a Stradivarius that has been played heavily by players, and that those heavily used violins are all “messed with”. But I think those violins are beautiful precisely because of that. A violin ages, but it is constantly given new life. Every day it goes to work, it faces a new audience; every note it sings is different from last. It travels over continents with its master, being used and sweat upon day and night, its parts repaired and replaced over the years. I have seen a few precious violins in the concert halls, and they all sound and look beautiful, but I think I will always remember the worn face of the Gibson ex-Huberman. The bare wood is the scar of a soldier, a veteran’s badge of honor, a reminder of the great journey it has gone through, of the beautiful music it has produced, and of the joy it has brought to people. To me, a “messed with” violin like that is the perfection of imperfection.
Someone very wise once told me, ‘I don’t worry about my old age, because there is only one way to avoid aging.’ That is to die. These words come to mind whenever I hear that a great instrument is sold to a private collector, or look at the pictures of those instruments in museums. True, the Messiah is beautifully preserved, and it makes a great exhibit. But I can’t help but feel sad for it – if you were a musical instrument, how would you feel when so many people come to see you, but your only listener is the curator? For instruments like the Messiah, the museum cabinet is their coffin. Once entering it, they become museum pieces, perfectly embalmed, but lifeless as 18th century naturalists’ specimens. A Stradivarius or a del Gesu is deemed valuable because of its beautiful sound. And if it no longer makes a sound, is it still a great violin, or merely a silent ghost of its real self?
A great violin is a great piece of art, but it is first and foremost a musical instrument, a tool for the musicians. In this sense, the Gibson ex-Huberman is a fortunate violin – it would have been a German collector’s museum piece if Bell didn’t buy it. After all the turmoil, it is now in good hands, its voice heard and admired by people all over the world. And I can imagine myself going to those concerts year after year, seeing the violin cradled in those hands, hands that are now strong and masterful, but will one day be weakened and wizened by age. And maybe someday, I will see the violin in a new pair of hands, singing in a youthful voice, living life anew.
And I’m reminded of those great violins handed from one great violinist to another. When these masters are gone, their precious instruments, their singing companions, live on.
Like the pieces by those great composers in the past – centuries after their death, their creations live on.
Not on paper, but in people’s ears.
I do understand the urge to possess certain things. When you love it so much, you are afraid that it would be messed up, if someone plays with it. Interpreting a piece, or playing an antique violin is like that; you are taking risks. In fact, it shouldn’t even be called risk, because the damage is a given. For a violin, any playing adds to the wear and tear; for a piece, any kind of interpretation has imperfections.
Ken, a classical music lover who also works in a record store once said, a perfect piece is the piece that’s written on paper. How true. It’s just like the violins in museums, perfect, and perfectly silent.
May 1, 2012 13:21
I got tendonitis in my left forearm last year and I couldn't play my violin for several months. I recently played in my school's production of the Wizard of Oz and I played for four hours, every day of the week and I had no pain.
By Laurie Niles
May 1, 2012 12:51
This is from the first round of the Queen Elisabeth Competition, which began today in Belgium:
Here is the link for the podcast of all performances from the first round:
By Laurie Niles
May 1, 2012 08:50
This morning I read our friend Norman Lebrecht's blog, Joshua Bell played last night on Dancing with the Stars. Why?
Dear Norman, why must there be a why?
I'm just not going to turn my nose up at it. For those of you who missed it (we'll see how long this stays up!):
How fun is that? It looks like a lark to me, and a pretty painless way for a person to make his next Strad payment. I think I even spy a few of my LA friends, being employed to play live music in the orchestra. A full-voice "Hooooraay!" for that!
I even kind of dig the people dancing around in period costumes. Why do we spend a cazillion hours in the practice room learning to play the fiddle, if we can't have a little fun now and then?Tweet
By Terez Mertes
April 30, 2012 12:52
While a longtime fan of Tchaikovsky, I must confess that, up to a year ago, I’d never heard his Symphony no. 1, subtitled Winter Daydreams. Further, a lot of times you have to hear a symphony a few times before it impacts you. You sit in your symphony seat and think, Hmm. Interesting. Possibilities. Not this one. The music slipped right past my inner-music-critic, through the back door of my heart and settled right into place with an uncanny familiarity and sense of rightness. It produced a palpable thrill, a quickening in my heart. All I could think, that night at the San Francisco Symphony, was, “where have you been all my life?” And to think it had been there all along, overlooked, tucked beneath the majesty and weight of Tchaikovsky’s later symphonies.
My fondness for Winter Daydreams has only grown since that first listening experience. Interesting, then, to learn that such a lovely, assured, balanced symphony actualized only after a tremendous struggle. Program notes, CD liner notes and the Internet have provided me with a fascinating (if conflicting) history of this symphony’s creation. The story has it that Pyotr, twenty-six, newly graduated from the St. Petersburg Conservatory, struggled terribly with it, partly owing to his challenges with writing in the era’s accepted symphonic style. His former tutors, Anton Rubinstein, founder of the St. Petersburg Conservatory, and Nikolai Zaremba, were slavish followers of the symphonic model established by Haydn, Mozart, reinforced by Beethoven. It’s also what they wanted to see from their Russian students. Tchaikovsky had tried, of course, to emulate the masters, their Germanic form with its rules of exposition and proper development, but kept falling short. His efforts sounded melodic, not symphonic. They sounded Russian, imbued with folkloric character and flavor. When Tchaikovsky tried to make his music sound like Beethoven, all that came out was Tchaikovsky. The symphony work challenged him, taunted him, stressed him to the point of near-breakdown, but he persevered.
Finally, he had a quasi-finished product. Aware of what he would come up against, Tchaikovsky nonetheless made his way back to the St. Petersburg Conservatory to seek the opinions of his former tutors, Rubinstein and Zaremba, resulting in an exchange that might have sounded like this:
Rubinstein: [Shoves Tchaikovsky’s score back across the desk.] It’s lame. Fix it.
Tchaikovsky went home, looked over the revisions he’d made to suit his former tutors and realized they were as “meh” as they’d accused. Over the next few months he switched it all back to the original, 100% Tchaikovsky version. Well, 95%, because, as it turns out, he’d thrown away some of his original notes and therefore, within the first movement, had to keep the revised second thematic voice, incorporating Zaremba’s suggestions.
It worked. Pieces had previously been considered performance-worthy: the Adagio, then the Adagio and Scherzo, but only now did the full symphony find favor, with Rubinstein’s brother Nikolai, in charge at the Moscow Conservatory. In February 1868, it was performed, and deemed a success. Oddly, Tchaikovsky whisked it back into his possession, pulling it out to revise again, years later, and its second performance wasn’t until 1874.
Winter Daydreams is a delight: fresh, assured and just plain fun to listen to. The violins introduce the first movement with a shimmering, sweet tremolo, giving it a dreamy, gossamer texture, that perfectly illustrates the movement’s subtitle, “Daydreams of a Winter Journey.” Listening, a shivery magical feeling comes over me. I’m a child again, listening with wonder as the music conjures the excitement, the thrill of dreaming, a young person’s imminent discovery of the wonders of the adult world. The second movement, the Adagio, subtitled “Land of Gloom, Land of Mists,” is not gloomy in the least. It’s lovely, pensive, evocative. Images come to mind, a winter twilight, being indoors with a fire crackling in the grate, roasting smells wafting from the kitchen and outside, snow gently falling. Yeah, that kind of feeling. The third movement, the Scherzo, more lighthearted and jaunty, offers melodic little precursors to Nutcracker’s “Waltz of the Flowers,” and displays the broad, sweeping expansiveness of Tchaikovsky’s music, so perfect for dance. What challenged Tchaikovsky so much in the symphonic form is decidedly spot-on for the ballet.
The fourth and final movement develops from somber into wildly triumphant. Its flavor is exuberant and proud, as if to state “this is me, Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky and you’ll never mistake my music for anyone else’s.”
You’ve got to admire the man’s spirit and tenacity, not to mention his musical genius. You’ve got to love his Winter Daydreams. Or at least get out there and give it a listen. If you’re a Tchaikovsky fan, it won’t disappoint.
Here is the second movement, "Adagio cantabile ma non troppo," from Tchaikovsky's Symphony No. 1, played by the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra of Amsterdam, Bernard Haitink conducting, 1994:
By Jonathan Hai
April 30, 2012 12:04
Post No. 11
From this canal, the arching of the entire back and front piece begins to rise. At first in a rather rough form, using increasingly smaller and more exact gauges:
Up until recently…well, actually up until a few minutes ago, I thought the difference was that the smaller the thumb-plane was, the more delicately it scraped, and the finer the trucioli that it produces. Well, let me tell you, when I said this, Yonatan gave me the most incredulous, condescending look. He explained that “obviously” that’s not the case, and the difference is that you can use the larger planes on the larger instruments, where the curves are much wider. The smaller and more exact planes are used to follow the curves of the smaller instruments in the quartet. Of course! Silly me! I guess this stuff should be basic pre-marital education for any and all violin-makers’ wives…
By Emily Allen
April 29, 2012 21:07
Tomorrow is the big day! I am traveling with my orchestra to perform the Verdi Requiem at Lincoln Center! It is going to be so much fun...especially since I have never been to New York City before! For the last few days, our campus had been filled with "Verdi Fever" in anticipation for our big trip. I can not wait to share this amazing music in a new city for TONS of people!!!Tweet
By Joshua Iyer
April 29, 2012 16:39
It was 5:30 in the evening and I was practicing violin when it hit me: playing the violin is the best thing in the world. I felt a sudden rush of - not quite happiness - something big, like eating dark chocolate on a rainy summer night. Or like Christmas Eve, where outside it is snowing, but you're snug as a bug on the couch with a blanket and hot chocolate. I really want to pursue a career in any field of music, but preferably a violin teacher and movie composer. I just really enjoy playing the violin, and all of my instruments (piano and guitar) for that fact, and I really hope life stays this way.Tweet
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