Violinist.com members may keep personal journals on the website. Violinist.com's editor selects the best entries for the column below. Links to all other recent blog posts may be found in the column on the right.
By Mendy Smith
June 17, 2012 17:30
A grueling week of 18 hour days that I thoroughly enjoy has come to an end.
"Night Court" is an annual production by the Houston Bar Association to raise proceeds for charity. This year's show was "Viva Laws Vegas" complete with dancing Elvii.
This year was different. We were a conductor-less orchestra on stage rather than in the pit, made all the more difficult as we were all facing the audience and not each other. There was no line of site to other players, forcing this one time per year group to really listen to each other. The results were quite amazing. The sound guys at the Wortham Theater said that we had raised the bar several notches from previous performances.
We were short on the bass line for one piece. Since I had a C-string, and had a whopping one year of lessons on cello several years ago, I was granted honorary cello status. To do the honor justice, I played my viola 'cello style'.
It was a fun show, but I'm glad to be getting back to a more normal routine. Next stop is Interlochen.Tweet
By Jefferson Dixon
June 17, 2012 15:10
As I was shopping for luggage to use for the upcoming school year, I came across a variety of wheeled options —some "spinners" and some "pulled." I'll be traveling from NYC to Atlanta, Georgia to attend Georgia Tech, and one of the pieces of luggage I'll be taking with me for every plane trip is my violin case.
Then I asked myself, "Why doesn't my case have wheels like my other luggage?" It's even taller than my carry-on and just as heavy. Those cellists get wheels, and I can't think of a good reason why we shouldn't. I'm tired of lugging it around even with backpack straps, especially when it's packed with music.
I don't know, it's just an idea, but those "spinner" wheels seem perfect for a violin case. They enable you to drag the luggage along your side instead of pulling it behind you, which seems like a good idea to prevent others from kicking your case. I just can't seem to think of any really good reason why we shouldn't have wheels. The few drawbacks I could think of were insignificant compared to the benefits of saving your neck, shoulder, and back.
Maybe someday our cases will be as good as my new Samsonite carry-on. Until then, I'll have to watch how much music I put in my case.Tweet
By Pauline Lerner
June 17, 2012 13:36
My violin has a beautiful red varnish. It was made some time around the year 1920 in Germany. It belonged to my violin teacher, who lent it to me when I was in high school. It had and still has a beautiful, warm sound. My family didn’t have enough money to buy a good violin like this. After I had played it for a few years, I told my father that I would be very unhappy when I had to give it back to my teacher. “You don’t have to give it back,” my father told me. “It’s yours now.” He had been paying my teacher a small amount of money every week for years. This violin is, in more ways than one, the greatest gift I’ve ever received.
Happy Father’s Day.
By The Weekend Vote
June 16, 2012 19:17
When it comes to sticky, no-good, slipping, impossible-to-tune pegs, I've done my time.
My German violin -- companion through high school, college and beyond -- had such pegs. A few years after college, I had the peg box re-bushed, fixed so that we could cut new holes and install new pegs. Check out the pegs removed from the old fiddle:
Yes, I do believe those are four completely different kinds of pegs!
Not only did my early violin have problem pegs, but I also have taught scores of school children who were playing very cheap fiddles. And what makes a cheap fiddle cheap? One key ingredient is ill-fitting pegs.
Pegs can cause problems in a variety of ways. Traditional pegs mostly cause problems if they don't fit the holes drilled for them in the peg box. Perhaps the holes are just old and weirdly worn. I believe that was the case with my German fiddle. Perhaps they never fit, because no one ever tried for that level of precision. Such is the case with cheap fiddles. But another reason they can "not fit" has to do with changing temperatures and humidity levels, which can throw the different woods of the pegs and peg box out of whack by making one expand or contract more than the other. Thus a change in the weather or climate can cause pegs to go wacky and either slip easily or get sticky and difficult to turn.
Why am I thinking about pegs? I'm still getting over this new revelation that Elizabeth Pitcairn has installed Wittner Fine-Tune pegs in her Strad, something I learned Tuesday at a violin-testing event in Southern California. Strads are notoriously prone to climate-related malaise, and she said that this simple move to planetary pegs has alleviated considerably the tuning problems caused by the frequent climate change she faces when constantly traveling to play in different cities around the world. ("Planetary" refers to the peg's internal gear system, in which little gears orbit like planets around the drive shaft "sun" gear. Traditional pegs work by using friction -- in other words, they are just jammed into that hole, and if they slip, you just jam them further in.)
There are several kinds of planetary pegs; she uses Wittner, but there are also Perfection Pegs by Knilling (which do require that they be glued in; Wittners do not). If you have serious problems with pegs, some kind of modern planetary pegs could be a pretty nice solution.
At any rate, I am now curious about people's peg travails. I now have nice, workable pegs that are the traditional kind. But my struggles with bad pegs were a serious pain. And for a student, just learning to tune, it can be a major barrier. Where do you stand right now in relation to the pegs on the fiddle you most use?
By Jonathan Hai
June 16, 2012 11:35
No, I haven’t started using “French”… I just want to dedicate this post to the two “f‘s” – or sound-holes – of Yonatan’s Quartet, and I couldn’t resist the title :)
As I wrote last time, the “f‘s” were drawn on the exterior of each instrument’s sound board (or front) before the spessori work began. Once the majority of the wood has been carved out, Yonatan cuts them out (well, right now only those of the cello have been completed, and those of the viola will be in just a couple of days).
I asked Yonatan to explain the sound-holes to me and he said that, as in many components of the violin family, the sound-holes have both a functional aspect and an esthetic one. Functionally, they are located on both sides of the bridge, in the narrowest section of the sound-board, where the arch is the steepest. This is the area that needs to be flexible enough to vibrate, but at the same time strong enough to carry the tension of the strings. So cutting open the f-holes is what creates the necessary flexibility, allowing the sound-board to vibrate better.
Actually, this is the same way with what is occupying most of our time these days – redoing the new house we recently bought. I look at various details (e.g. a door) and see such things are functionality, color, shape… and that’s about it. Yonatan looks at the same thing and also notices the way the door interfaces with the door-post, the texture of the paint and the interplay between the lines of the wood and those of the window in the next room… I guess in the end it may mean our home will have the same level of perfection as the Quartet ;)
Unfortunately, at the moment the house looks like a real dump. No windows. No doors. No floors. And in part no roof. If I though four more months to finishing the Quartet is a tight schedule, how about 6 WEEKS to turn this construction site into a livable home?!?! Why six? Because in eight weeks the rental on the house we currently live in ends, and the new house had better be ready for us to move in with all our stuff, three kids, a dog and the fish aquarium.
Jeff Myers wins the 'In 27 Pieces: the Hilary Hahn Encores' online contest; 10 honorable mentions chosenBy Hilary Hahn
June 15, 2012 13:59
We have a winner in the encore composition contest!
Jeff Myers: "The Angry Birds of Kauai"
Honorable Mentions: (in alphabetical order):
Philip Brownlee: "Pariwhero"
Nikolet Burzynska: "Orna-mention"
Tristan D'Agosta: "Piece for Violin and Piano"
Mark Gresham: "Café Cortadito"
George Kontogiorgos: "Before the Rain Starts"
Marius Felix Lange: "Nutcracker's Nightmare"
Garth Neustadter: "Volitation"
Aaron Severini: "Catch"
Rani Sharone: "Tick"
Octavio Vazquez: "NGC 6611"
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And here is an interview with Jeff Myers about his winning composition:
Since its inception, In 27 Pieces: the Hilary Hahn Encores has aimed not only to expand the violin repertoire, but to engage new fans and break down barriers between artists and audiences. In addition to commissioning 26 composers to write short-form pieces for acoustic violin and piano, Hilary Hahn put out an open call for submissions on her website. Over 400 composers of diverse ages and nationalities submitted works. Each entry was made completely anonymously. As Hahn says, "Reviewing the pieces, I was glad that everything about the scores and audio files was anonymous. All I had to go on was the music itself: no identifying titles, handwriting, or names. I was eager to open the files as they arrived. It was interesting to see how different composers interpreted the encore as a musical form." For every encore that was received, $2 has been donated to the music programs of Dramatic Need.
Jeff Myers's work, "The Angry Birds of Kauai," will be performed on Hahn's 2012-13 recital program with 13 other previously commissioned works for the project and will be recorded for release during the 2013-14 concert season. The loudness and power of the native birds in Kauai, near his home in Honolulu, inspired Myers's encore. Of the new piece, Hahn writes, "It is smartly and efficiently structured, with soul and humor in the notes. The instruments are equals, and the violin's capabilities are exercised. There is tons to experiment with interpretively: the way the piano and violin trade ideas is something I had been curious to try in upcoming repertoire. I had been looking for a work like this outside of the contest without fully realizing it, and suddenly it dawned on me that that piece was right in front of me. It fits my technique really well. But not just mine: each musician who takes it on in the future will be able to put his or her stamp on it. And this encore was satisfying to work through in my head. It showed its character to me before I played even a phrase."
The music of Jeff Myers draws on preexisting musical works, styles and genres, as well as visual art and natural phenomena. Filipino kulintang music, works by M.C. Escher, overtone music, folk music, and animals have been a source for inspiration. Currently, Myers is working on an opera about 17th Century Norwegian witch trials (Maren of Vardø) with librettist Royce Vavrek for Center City Opera in Philadelphia, PA. Myers is also composing a one-act opera version of Edgar Allan Poe's "Premature Burial" (Buried Alive) with playwright Quincy Long for American Lyric Theater's "Poe" trilogy. Myers's music has been played by ensembles such as L’Orchestre National de Lorraine, American Composers Orchestra, New York Youth Symphony, New World Symphony, Aspen Contemporary Ensemble, PRISM Saxophone Quartet, JACK Quartet and by violinist Yuki Numata. He has received awards from The American Academy of Arts and Letters, BMI, as well as fellowships from the Aspen Festival, Tanglewood, Festival Acanthes, and commissioning grants from institutions such as the Jerome Foundation, The Fromm Foundation and NYSCA. His music has been heard at Carnegie Hall, The Library of Congress, The Kimmel Center, Darmstadt, Gaudeamus, Symphony Space, and (le) poisson rouge. Myers holds degrees from San José State University, the Eastman School of Music and the University of Michigan. His website is www.jeffmyers.info.
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Honorable Mentions were awarded to 10 additional pieces that Hahn found compelling. These Honorable Mentions will be premiered by Hahn before the end of 2015. Hahn explains, "When I built the contest, I had intended for the Honorable Mentions to be listed on my site so that readers could look up the composers' work and keep their eyes out for those specific pieces once they might be available to the public. As I got to know these ten over the course of deciding the results, however, I discovered that they were such varied and appealing compositions that when it came to making my decisions, I didn't want to part with them! So, I have now committed to performing all of the Honorable Mentions by the end of 2015. How in the world I am going to learn so much music, I have no idea, but I can’t wait to get started."
The composers chosen for Honorable Mentions are a diverse group, from a conservatory student to an Emmy Award-winner to a former New York Ballet dancer to a bassist in an avant garde metal band. Their experience with Hahn's music is as equally diverse, ranging from devotee YouTube video followers, to sometimes radio listeners, to Carnegie Hall audience members. The inspirations for their encores, too, are scattered: the composer Ferruccio Busoni, the writer E.T.A. Hoffmann, the rocky hills of New Zealand, the economic situation in Greece. The composers hail from Eastern Europe, the Mediterranean, the Pacific, North America, and the southern hemisphere. What unites them all is powerful work. As Hahn explains, "An encore has a complicated job to accomplish in a short period of time. If it is played at the end of a program, it has to capture an audience's attention after an evening of engrossing music, create and maintain an alluring aural atmosphere, and prove as evocative as good story-telling. It has to send people away with the feeling that they have just heard something extraordinary."Tweet
By Karen Allendoerfer
June 15, 2012 08:28
Tonight, Nik Wallenda, of the famous Wallenda family of acrobats, is planning to walk across Niagara Falls from Terrapin Point on the American side, to Table Rock on the Canadian side. Aside from this event taking place near where I grew up, it stands out to me for another reason: in 1978 I saw Karl Wallenda, Nik's great-grandfather, fall to his death during one of my violin lessons. My teacher at the time taught in his home, and his teenage son was watching TV in the next room. All of the sudden, the son called to us, and my teacher interrupted the lesson to go in and watch. He motioned to me to watch as well. I wasn't sure at first what I was seeing. It wasn't immediately obvious: Karl Wallenda was walking a wire between two towers in Puerto Rico, holding his long pole. But then he stopped moving, squatted, paused a second or two, and fell. I don't remember any screaming or yelling, just a kind of quiet horror. And then having to get back to the rest of my lesson. I had a hard time doing that. I think I was learning the Bach A-minor concerto.
It was only later that I heard performing on the violin compared to a tight-rope walk, although I think I was familiar with that feeling, unconsciously, much earlier: that there is danger on all sides, that you're out there alone with no safety net, that mistakes are not forgiven. What remains unfamiliar no matter how many times I hear it, is the idea that this comparison is supposed to be a good thing. Performers who feel this way, whether they walk on a wire or tightly stretch smaller wires over a wooden box and try to make music out of it, tend to use the same language: they talk about "dreams" and "exhilaration" and "doing what they love." They talk about risk as a "spice" and danger as something that "makes life worth living." "Don't cry out loud," admonished a popular song, also from 1978. "Fly high and proud, and if you should fall, remember you almost had it all."
Many years later, I was talking to a fiddler in a bar. She was performing with the band later that night, and had started to play the instrument only as an adolescent--no Suzuki for her. She was largely self-taught and fiercely proud of that. "Learning to play the violin is like learning to roller skate . . . " she began, and then paused before finishing ". . . BACKwards . . . . in a TREE!" I was left with a mental vision of her, with her fiddle, roller skating down a tree limb, and rolling right off the end.
My mother assures me that she read that Nik will be wearing a safety tether over the falls, but he is on record as being against that. "I'm wearing a tether because they're making me wear a tether," he says. There is speculation that he might take it off. If he does, I don't want to watch. Because, the fact is, I'm still angry with his great-grandfather, Karl, who wasn't wearing one. I'm angry that I had to watch a man die on television during my violin lesson. Yes, of course I've seen worse things since then, on the news and elsewhere, but that doesn't change how I feel.
As of this writing, I don't know if I'm going to watch Nik Wallenda tonight or not, but I do wish him all the best. The American side of Niagara Falls has fallen on hard times and frankly, could use some good publicity. So I hope they get the feel-good, family-friendly event they are hoping for. And I hope Nik achieves his dream. But I still want to add another voice to the conversation: there are some of us for whom these metaphors, this overwrought language of flying high and magic and dreams, is empty and faintly ridiculous. There's nothing wrong with crying out loud, if that's how the music moves you.Tweet
By Laurie Niles
June 13, 2012 18:05
What does a fine violin mean to a violinist? And what does a violinist mean to a fine maker?
This was the question at hand on Tuesday, when violinist Elizabeth Pitcairn brought her 1720 'Red Mendelssohn' Stradivarius to join several other fine instruments for an afternoon of violin-testing at Pomona College in Claremont, Calif. The event was sponsored by violin maker Jim Brown and the Southern California Violin Makers Workshop, taught by Chicago luthier Michael Darnton (who also happens to be a longtime V.com member).
Besides Elizabeth's Strad, other instruments at this event included Dr. William Sloan's 1714 "Jackson" Stradivarius and 1742 Guarneri Del Gesu; as well as my colleague Laura Rosky-Santoni's Mantegazza; a Vuillaume, and more.
"The advantage of having a student work with a fine violin is that they can take that concept of that sound, and transfer it to another violin," Elizabeth said.
Elizabeth has worked with a very fine violin for much of her life -- she has played (and owned) the "Mendelssohn" Strad since she was 16 years old. Elizabeth has quite a gift for transferring that sound to other instruments, and her ability to do so made for an enlightening afternoon.
First came a performance: a small ensemble (which included me) played the Bach Double to demonstrate the instruments. In addition to being part of the back-up quartet, I performed the first-movement solo second-violin part with Elizabeth. I arrived a few hours early for the rehearsal and had to ponder the following question:
"Would you like to play on one of these instruments?"
Event host Jim Brown, of J. Brown, Violin Maker shop in Claremont, gestured to Dr. Sloan's Strad and Del Gesu. It's not exactly advisable to perform in public on a violin with whom you're only slightly acquainted, but throwing some caution to the wind, I yanked up Dr. Sloan's Strad as my partner for this experiment. I mean, you only live once!
The "Jackson" Strad is a bit larger than your average fiddle, though that didn't bother me. The challenge lay in producing the sound. I'm not completely unfamiliar with the old-Italian genre of instrument, as I play on a mid-19th century Gagliano brothers, but a Strad is older and deeper -- a whole different animal. Those 16th notes (and the first movement of the Bach double is all 16th notes and martelé eighth notes) were sounding mighty scrubby to me, using my decent but not stratospherically amazing German bow.
Backstage, I shared my concerns with Elizabeth: that the instrument really couldn't take a lot of force, and yet backing off didn't really seem to help, either. I was having trouble finding the sound.
She knew exactly what to do, and I loved the way she switched immediately to teacher-mode. She suggested giving every single note, yes, all those 16ths, an almost consonant-like, martele-ish beginning. I had to try a few times, but it really did work. Now, I can't say I was able to immediately adjust and perform the whole first movement that way -- one does slip into familiar habits when playing in front of an audience! But I tried to stay aware of these ideas, and certainly I found it to be an informative experience.
Elizabeth Pitcairn and Laurie; photo by Harold M. Barnes
Playing the second movement with Elizabeth was 11-year-old Lydia Brown, playing on a fractional instrument her father, Jim Brown, made; and for the last movement, Laura-Rosky Santoni, Lydia's teacher, on her Mantegazza. The quartet consisted of those of us not playing solos, plus violinist Danielle Cummins, violist Kira Blumberg and cellist Eric Lindholm.
Afterwards, Elizabeth demonstrated the violins and spoke, from a player's perspective, about their qualities. The 15-some participants at the Southern California Violin Makers Workshop had been studying the creation and design of violins all week: nitty gritty things such as the makers' tools, instrument templates, purfling, f-holes, scrolls, arching, graduation and setup. Here was a way to see how it all comes together -- and in a lovely setting, Pomona College's Little Bridges Hall (the same stage where Jascha Heifetz was shown performing in the 1939 movie They Shall Have Music!):
When Elizabeth went to demonstrate on Doc Sloan's Strad (the one I had tried) she talked about the unusual way a player has to approach a Strad: "It's like going to punch a wall, but then you don't," she said. You can't apply too much pressure, yet you have to nudge it out. "If you want to hear great Strad-playing, listen to David Oistrakh," she said.
"There's a certain quality to a Strad that you can hear right away," she said, after demonstrating an excerpt on Sloan's Strad. "There's a liquid quality that combines in your ear, but there's also a far-away sense, a sense that the sound is there, but it's traveling. It's going away from you."
She said that once she was comparing a Strad with a Vuillaume, and though the quality was very close, she could still tell the difference because the Strad simply had that "old-world sound."
A del Gesu will take more muscle than a Strad will; "With a del Gesu, you can give it as much as you to give it," she said. She complimented Sloan's del Gesu as having more range of color than others, "I'm hearing the bouquet of that great Bordeaux."
Brown observed for the violin-making students: "It seems that the best instruments, to a player, produce a myriad of sounds -- they give you a palette."
As for Elizabeth's own "Mendelssohn" Strad, it does quite a lot of traveling with her. Just this year it traveled with her to Sao Paolo, Hong Kong, Hawaii, Dublin, London, Los Angeles and more, all in the course of a few months. "It's slightly confused," she said. "It is happiest in the type of climate that is Cremona (Italy):" not too dry, not too humid.
She has learned, over the years, that it is important to make her instrument work for her. "I've been on a journey to personalize my instrument," Elizabeth said.
With the right luthier helping, this is possible. For Elizabeth, the right luthier has been New York-based violin maker Christophe Landon, who fashioned her a higher bridge (about 1/2 mm higher) of softer wood, and also made a sound post. The higher bridge has helped her to play better on the G string and the post has helped with the consistency of sound.
She said that, for a while, she and her violin were kind of "sick" at the same time -- she was having shoulder and arm problems, and the violin wouldn't speak. But she and the violin have come out of it together as well, as she has transformed her playing approach to avoid injury and pain at the same time as she has physically made changes to the violin to serve her better.
Violin Making Workshop participant Richard Barnes of Claremont, Calif. talks with luthier Christophe Landon
"Some Strads can be very temperamental," she said, and at one time, hers was, too. But since her efforts to personalize the instrument, "this has been very stable." She has a hypo-allergenic shoulder rest that is just the right height, and she even had Wittner Fine-Tune Pegs installed. (She described them on her website)
"It takes the strength of a butterfly to turn these pegs!" she said, describing how tuning the fiddle used to cause her physical stress. Somehow I missed that Elizabeth has been a spokesperson for these pegs -- and that she had outfitted her Strad with them! Ironically, I had just asked a few of my students to outfit their Kono violins with the Wittner Pegs, and one of them texted me, during Tuesday's performance, "What was the name of those pegs, again?" Indeed they make tuning very easy; and if students can tune easily, their instruments will more likely be in tune.
If we have such technical things available to make our violin playing easier, why not?
Elizabeth stayed around while the violin-making students snapped pictures of the instruments and spoke to each other about them. She tested a few people's instruments for them, and in a very gracious way. I could tell that it was very meaningful to a violin maker, to put his or her violin into the hands of a musician who can really find the core of its sound and appreciate its qualities.
Perhaps as meaningful as it is to a violinist, who can find the luthier who can set her up to play in good health!
* * *
Elizabeth was performing to benefit the Luzerne Music Center Youth Summer Camp, a camp in the Adirondacks for kids ages 11 through 18 which Elizabeth attended as a child and which she now directs.Tweet
By Laurie Niles
June 13, 2012 12:59
Here's some nice news, about a young violinist who is familiar to the V.com community:
Stefani Collins, a violin student of Sylvia Rosenberg at The Juilliard School, received 1st place in the violin division of the 2012 Washington International String Competition, as well as the audience prize. Other winners were Matthew Lipman, viola and Matthew Zalkind, cello. The final round was held on Sunday, June 10th at the Terrace Theater in the Kennedy Center.
The Friday Morning Music Club was founded in Washington D.C. in 1886 with the purpose of enhancing musical culture in the community. With an orchestra, chorale, and education program, the FMMC has over 800 members and gives weekly performances in a variety of venues, ranging from concert halls to nursing homes and schools. In addition to providing the community with frequent concerts, the FMMC also sponsors the Washington International Competition, in support of gifted young musicians.
The competition consists of a three-year rotation between strings, piano, and voice. The 59th WIC was held this year for strings, and began with 203 recorded applications. Twenty six semi-finalists were selected to compete in a live audition for an international panel of judges, which included Joseph Silverstein, Martha Strongin Katz and Marc Johnson.
June 13, 2012 01:13
I’ve never managed to develop a taste for manga and anime. When a student wants to write an assignment about Japanese “popular culture”, I send them to my colleague. When another colleague lent me the first volume of the best-selling manga series NODAME CANTABILE, about the lives and loves of a group of students at a fictional music college in Tokyo, I did make another effort and actually got through it. I gave up a few pages into the sequel, however, even though a Japanese colleague had recommended that I read the lot, 23 volumes, because it would help me understand Japanese images of Western classical music.
But then I discovered that the live action drama was available on Youtube, and was hooked. The music had a lot to do with it, especially Beethoven’s 7th, the first symphony I played after joining the Collegium Musicum as a student at Bonn University. The story gripped my too. It is true comedy, meaning that all (or nearly all) the comic effects are intended - and how many comedies do you know that have classical music as their main theme? The live action drama begins with the childhood memories of Chiaki Shin’ichi, 4th-year piano student at Momogaoka Music College, who spent his early years in Europe. In Prague he was befriended by the famous Italian conductor SebastianoViera. Now he dreams of returning to Europe as Viera’s student, but unfortunately he is terrified of both airplanes and boats. Many laughs result from poor Chiaki’s dilemma.
A brooding, obsessive character, Chiaki supposedly shares traits with Beethoven, his favourite composer. He has nothing but contempt for Momogaoka College of Music and the feeble efforts of his fellow students. After falling out with his regular piano teacher, he is relegated to the teacher for the “losers,” who pairs him off to play Mozart’s Sonata for Two Pianos in D major (KV 448) with Noda Megumi. Nicknamed Nodame, her genius and childish ways are reminiscent of Mozart (as portrayed in the play by Peter Schaffer and the film by Milos Forman). Thus begins a stormy relationship, in which Nodame love is at first entirely unreciprocated. Chiaki is both exasperated and moved by Nodame’s wayward playing, and her messy habits drive him up the wall. Even so, the violence with which he sends her flying and uttering weird noises should be taken with a pinch of salt; it shows the live action drama’s indebtedness to its manga origin, as do the animated hears floating around, pastel purple fluid oozing from Nodame’s trash bags or mushrooms erupting from her dirty laundry.
Luckily for us violinists, the story includes violinists among the characters, most importantly Miki Kiora and Mine Ryûtarô. They represent two different types. Miki Kiyora, the haughty female concertmaster of the college’s elite A-orchestra, seems all set for a career typical of many Japanese violinists in the last few decades; freshly returned from studies in Vienn, she plans to return there after graduation, enter competitions and enjoy a solo career abroad. Her playing is technically flawless. Mine Ryûtarô, on the other hand, seems modelled on the Japanese pop violinist NAOTO http://www.naoto-poper.com/pc/index.php , right down his trademark peroxide-blond hair (NAOTO actually plays the violin for him in the film). Initially he prefers to play rock music on his electric violin and with his band. Like Chiaki, he feels contempt for his fellow-students, but for different reasons; obsessed with classical music and getting the notes right, they ignore the variety of music outside the college and don’t seek to express themselves.
Predictably, Mine is converted to the joys of playing classical music through his encounter with Nodame and Chiaki. He has to play Beethoven’s “Spring Sonata” for his second attempt to pass the end-of-year exam. In his desperation to find a pianist who is prepared to partner him for the exam, he collars Nodame. There is a wonderful scene in Episode 2 where the two kindred spirits play the sonata in a way guaranteed to make purists climb every wall in the studio. Mine is ecstatic; at last someone who can match his style. “We were even together in the mistakes,” murmurs Nodame.
Fortunately for Mine’s exam, it has to be said, Nodame is too ill to play on the day, and Chiaki, who increasingly finds himself in the role of her minder, reluctantly substitutes. Actually, Chiaki, an awful know-all, popular with the girls, multilingual, can not only play the piano, give erudite lectures about composers and their music and cook fancy foreign dishes, but is also a whiz-kid on the violin. He has already tried to reign in Mine and Nodame after hearing the two rehearse in Nodames flat, next door to his own. But as in the piano duo with Nodame, Chiaki rises to the challenge of following Mine’s flamboyant, but not exactly accurate playing. Thrilled, Mine ditches his electric violin (not for good, one hopes, but for the rest of the drama) in order to embrace classical music.
Chiaki has a hard time with the “losers’” orchestra. Among the problems he has to contend with is the tiny double bass player Sakura Saku, who always beetles in late, her enormous instrument on her back. Her playing is behind too. Her father’s antique business is doing badly and she has to work to feed herself leaving little time for practice. When she doesn’t turn up at all, Chiaki and Mine visit her home and discover that her father hoards a collection of priceless violins in a secret safe. “Listen to the tone”, he demands, and proceeds to produces the most appalling screech, because he can’t play. Needless to say, this particular storyline has a happy ending; Saku’s father finally accepts Saku’s love for the double bass and sells the fiddles so she can pursue her calling.
Finally, of course, boundless, enthusiasm, teamwork and love for the music win the day. Mine has the benefit of patronizing advice from Kiora, concertmaster of the A Orchestra. He carries his flair for showmanship over into spectacularly choreographed performances of Beethoven’s Symphony no. 7 and Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue.”
And here is the Beethoven (Spanish subtitles, but then it’s mostly music anyway):
Have a look for yourself! There are 11 hour-long episodes, and then 2 live-action movie sequels, set mostly in Paris. Although Stresemann hails from Germany, the supposed true heartland of classical music, it presumably seemed more in the spirit of a comedy to have Chiaki and Nodame continue their studies in Paris, because of the “dark” and “serious image Germany has for many Japanese. Chiaki and Kiora both enter international competitions.
Here are clips of Chiaki conducting the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto (with a doting Nodame in the audience) as his final piece, and Kiora performing Brahms in her final round.
Japanese fans of the drama include musicians who say that the depiction of student life is convincing. Like all good comedies, NODAME CANTABILE addresses serious issues as well. Perhaps the overarching one is how to do justice to the music, and how to reconcile adhering faithfully to composer’s intention as represented by the score with individual expression. It has become a stereotype that Japanese musicians (and Asians in general) are fixated on technical perfection at the cost of musicality. Discussion threads on violinist.com show that the question of expressing emotions does not preoccupy only the Japanese, but presents food for thought for all musicians in the Western classical tradition. While the depiction of the tension between the following the score and following one’s heart in NODAME CANTABILE might appear cliché-ridden, the experience for many musicians seems real enough. Perhaps enjoying this light-hearted take on the subject might even prove inspiring.
Here are links to Episode 1 (in 4 instalments, English subtitles). The links worked as of 11 June, but locations on Youtube keep changing, because copyright infringements mean that they are regularly removed (for true fans of Japanese TV dramas there are better sites).
Enter to win Leonidas Kavakos' recording of the Brahms Violin Concerto.
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