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Top BlogsBy Laurie Niles
July 3, 2012 16:51
"Your student is here!" my husband yelled up the steps.
Ummm, my student? Now? Which one?!
It's summer, and to say that my teaching schedule is completely scrambled is an understatement. About a third of my students are out of town; another third have requested changes due to their different summer activities like swim lessons, soccer camp and summer classes; and another third are simply coming at their regular time, just like during the school year. Every year I think I can handle this ad-hoc situation, and every year I find my wall-calendar scribblings and memory come up short. Sure, I wrote that Jane is changing to a different time, but I didn't write anything for John. Does that mean he's coming at his regular time, or is he out of town? Or did his mom request a change this week? Maybe I'd better call...
And so I've called people to ask if they are coming, and found them halfway across the country. I've been sure that they were at camp, and then had them come to my door. And occasionally, we get it right!
One thing I've learned, though, is to take my own vacation, whatever the students are doing. Unfortunately it never lines up with anyone else's vacation, and sometimes it means a few months without lessons with me. But when I come back, usually I improve quite a bit, on both the record-keeping and the memory front!
We all need a break now and then!
July 3, 2012 12:42
Music surrounds us. It is arguably the most effective conduit for the expression of emotions and ideas. In fact, it is so effective that we don’t even need words! Yet, we are so accustomed to listening to music that we often take it for granted.
I would like to propose that you join me on a short journey as we stop and smell the roses and contemplate the enriching benefits that violin lessons can bring to you or your child. You may reasonably ask: “Why specifically violin?” You may substitute the word “violin” for “voice, cello, or even kazoo” if this makes you happy. As a professional violinist in Boston, however, I choose to speak about what I know best!
If I had to distill my personal reasons for pursuing my career as a musician into one word, it would be “Love”. In fact, I will go as far to say that this is the most important driving force behind doing anything worthwhile in this world. It doesn’t matter if you are a musician, doctor, or particle physicist. If you love to do something, the rest of your life will unfold like a flower.
Now, I know what you’re thinking: “I was expecting a treatise on the benefits of music in education, brain development of babies, or, at the very least, an article about the sense of discipline that music can teach our children”! While I believe all of these elements to be important consequences of music lessons, they are just that: consequences. Furthermore, as a teacher, I do not know if my violin lessons will have the same impact on every student. This is a beautiful thing. After all, when we learn how to write, some of us use our education to produce novels, others create scientific articles, and others solve complex mathematical formulas. Some do all! Of course, if there is a particular need that I can fill through my lessons, such as a desire to bring structure into the life of a child, I am happy to comply.
The bottom line is that if a student, whether child or adult, shows an aptitude and desire to learn how to play the violin, the rest will follow. Yet, a partnership is needed between teacher and parent so that a student does not give in to the human impulse to give-up when things get harder (violin is not an easy instrument).
Let’s examine what I mean by the word “Love”, as stated above. The giver of love does so through an expression of support that allows the receiver to develop and grow without pressure. It is a sad testament to our society that many do not know what real love is.
I am very lucky. In my formative years, music was always taught to me through love. It was never forced and I was never pressured to be the best violinist in the world. As a result, I was able to figure out things for myself with the guidance of supportive teachers and parents. Because I didn’t feel the need to conform to the standards of others, I was able to find my own unique personal expression. In fact, the journey of personal expression continues to this day and changes in accordance to my surroundings. At heart, we musicians are communicators. As a teacher, my role is to give my students the technical tools to musically communicate. Of course, I have the obligation to teach the traditions of our musical forefathers, but when the student ultimately reaches a certain aptitude for the instrument and the appropriate historical style of the performance, the rest is up to him or her!
Sounds complex? Even a beginning 4 year old can transcend basic music through self expression. They don’t even have to try! Ever hear kids sing a playground song over and over (and over) again? What they are really doing is emoting through the music. As they “work it out”, they are perfecting their own expression in a unique way. Children are already creative by nature.
Applied to violin, once a child knows how to hold the violin and the bow, he or she can make up songs. Adult beginners can also find again what is all-too-often a long-lost creative impulse that we were all born with. In fact, practicing the violin is a wonderful outlet for this, and on an elemental level, is equivalent to singing in the shower. The beauty of this is that the journey never stops. What would you like to do with YOUR music?
I’d love to hear your thoughts!
Daniel Broniatowski, D.M.A.
By Bram Heemskerk
July 2, 2012 15:53
By Arashi Lilith
July 1, 2012 03:46
As a violinist with contemporary leanings, I end up listening to quite a bit of cover songs done by the Vitamin String Quartet. I always feel like I'm discovering a new dimension to my favorite songs as I sit with my computer and studio monitors. However, I've just picked out one new reason for that extra awesome I hear. I can actually hear the bass line!
Seriously, when was the last time you heard the bass line, distinctly, in a pop/rock song? A cello or a standing bass totally fix these issues. Suddenly it goes from a background noise requiring high quality sound to even pick out, to a distinct counter melody.
It's also great to really hear the melody of the vocal parts with the violin. Words in music are great, but they can be distracting. Luckily, most violin music is instrumental, if only because A) singing is difficult with a violin and B) the human voice just cannot compete with the violin's need to steal the show (it's one of the things that makes violin amazing, if you ask me). Modern music, with the exception of the heavily electronic sort, has forgotten this to a large degree. However, the melodies of many songs, when played on an acoustic string instrument, when freed of their vocals in this wonderful manner, tend to take on a whole new life. The beauty of subtle key changes and syncopated rhythms comes to life as in other styles such as jazz, classical, and folk. We get to really notice the influences of these styles on rock and pop, two very confused genres with multitudes of influences from all corners of the earth.
I play contemporary violin because this is what I would like to express in my music. I want to take the classical style and translate it to a new era, where we have chopping bows, and distortion, and synthesizers, and electric violins that look like guitars from the 80s, and you have an entire orchestra at your fingertips, and all the knowledge of centuries of music to draw from, all nice and written down or recorded just for you to make something even more beautiful.
I will still play classical, if only because my weakness for baroque cannot be denied. However my goal is to play every genre that appeals to me, which pretty much means every genre in existence. I'm 20 years old. I have been playing the violin for one year. I am dedicated, I have resources, I know I can do my part to add to this rich pool. But sometimes I do wonder how many people like me are out there. Artist recommendations are always welcome, so if you have any there's a lovely comment box just for that.
By The Weekend Vote
June 30, 2012 17:51
I have found, with my students, that something very important for them is having the opportunity to play their instrument with other children, whether it's in Suzuki group class, school orchestra, youth orchestra or some other kind of regular playing situation. It's important for adults, as well, whether they are amateurs or professionals. If violin is just a solitary activity, it's hard to stay motivated to practice and improve. The problem is easily solved if you are in an orchestra, but it also may mean that you form a quartet, play chamber music, join in a Celtic music band, play at church -- there are many different ways to fulfill this near-universal need to make music with other people.
Do you have the opportunity to play in a group? And feel free to describe your group, or your feelings about this matter, below.
By Emily Hogstad
June 30, 2012 14:45
After I made the decision to delve deeper into the viola, I scheduled a second lesson with my Professional Violist Friend. (Some of you may remember PVF from his appearance in Part 2 of Emily Visits Violaland.)
We talk a lot on this board about good teachers, without often defining what a "good teacher" is. Whatever a "good teacher" is, I have one in PVF. It's always a little disorienting when you befriend someone, and you think you're getting a handle on who they are, and then suddenly they surprise you with a random blinding talent. PVF's teaching ability has been one such pleasant shock.
I didn't have a phone or a watch on me, so I'm not positive how long we spent working, but it was over an hour. PVF made good use of the time, chatting, demonstrating, exaggerating, tweaking, thinking, notating, singing, dancing, and even sharing some inconsequential viola-y gossip in between the brain-twisting. That night I wrote a list of the things we discussed, and I came up with around forty. Talk about intense.
The issues we discussed fell under a few main headers:
I went into the lesson stoked to show off my new relaxed bow arm. That had been the main focus of my last lesson with PVF in January. I'd really taken his suggestions to heart, and I'd spent a lot of time in front of the mirror, and I was finally feeling confident I was playing (drumroll, please) Tension Free! As soon as I finished the Prelude from the first Bach suite, PVF gently pointed out that the tension brought out by the difficulties of the string-changes had not actually disappeared; instead, it had just...moved to my left hand.
And so the endless game of Tension Whack A Mole continues!
I was instructed to play the notes above the fingerboard without touching the string, and then to stop them as lightly as possible. Think of the third and fourth fingers as the base for contact instead of the first finger. Let the elbow be flexible and move around to support them. My fourth finger wasn't coming down smoothly; it was either in an up position or a down position, and when it did come down, it whacked the string with unnecessary force. To help, PVF prescribed a nerdy tabletop finger exercise that will cause people to look at me strangely in public.
Within a few minutes, everything began feeling much more relaxed. It felt easy and effortless and exhilarating. It really is surprising how little weight is needed to stop strings, even on a viola.
One passage (measure 19 of the Bach G-major prelude if you're following along at home) was coming out consistently problematic. It was a descending line of sixteenth notes with a simple down-up-down-up bowing pattern. But I was pulling on the downs so much that it was all very choppy. PVF instructed to accentuate the up-bows. I tried that. Then he told me to accentuate even more. And even more. I finally ended up feeling like I was making all the downs staccato and all of the ups a sweeping legato. "That," he said, "was the smoothest you've played it yet." Well, okay, then. Once again, a reminder that what we feel under our fingers is not always what the audience hears.
I was so busy with the notes themselves that I wasn't paying much attention to the dynamics. "Exaggerate those," PVF encouraged. "Play completely tastelessly." I tried. "No, not tasteless enough." I tried again. "Nope, still way too tasteful. Break up the bows, do something. Make it just totally over the top. Feel what that feels like, and then apply that feeling to the correct bowing." Alas, I never did lose all my taste entirely, but I'll work on it. This was rather a liberating idea. I'm going to have to apply it to other instances when I'm being too straight-laced. Sometimes we need to allow ourselves to go wild...if only for an experiment to see how far we can push our intensity of expression.
Structure of the Prelude!
PVF suggested that it might be interesting to think of the notes after the fermata at measure 22 as a classical era cadenza. Measures 20 to the fermata at 22 are the orchestra with their closing thoughts; the fermata at 22 to the C at 29 is the cadenza; the C at 29 is the orchestra gently coming back in. Thinking that way lent a real sense of cohesiveness and momentum to the second page of the movement.
My Skepticism About the Allemande!
For some reason I have always found this movement problematic. I don't know why. It just seemed kind of...there? Kind of long-winded? I don't know. We'd spent a while with the Prelude and were pondering going to something else entirely when I turned the page to the Allemande and made the fateful, offhand comment that I thought it was boring.
I was interrupted. "Um, no. Actually this is probably the strongest movement in the suite."
"Yeah. It's so strong that sometimes at auditions they will ask for just this specific movement."
"Okay," he said, stepping forward and smoothing down the page. "We really need to work on this."
So I played through the first half of the Allemande. And even as I played it, after just having gotten done working on phrasing and such in the Prelude, I knew I'd been approaching it all wrong. There was so much subtlety there that I hadn't been seeing or feeling before. Phrases echoing one another, long passages stretching for line after line, breaths in and breaths out. I hadn't been hearing long-windedness; I'd been hearing long lines, and getting the two mixed up. As PVF admonished, "If you can't find the phrase in Bach, it's your fault."
At measure 13, when the music switched to treble, I made a mistake I'd memorized. "This is interesting," PVF said. "You're reading this wrong. And you know what? This part is in your clef! You're reading all this alto clef without a problem, and then you made the biggest mistake you've made yet while reading your own clef."
Heh. Maybe I am a violist, after all.
PVF pointed out the dramatic leap of a seventh at measure 13. "Look at that seventh! How can you say that seventh is boring? How can you possibly say such a thing?"
Yeah. He does have a point.
We worked quite a bit on phrasing. The first four measures are a prime example of what can be done with a seemingly simple set of notes. The pattern starts out with a G that comes back over and over. Don't emphasize that as much, because it doesn't change for quite a few measures, and it can start to feel monotonous. Pay the most attention to the changing notes on top. Notice what chords they make. What narrative can that chord pattern be transferred into? Confidence, followed by a slightly less confident thought, followed by true doubt, followed by encouraging reassurance? Try playing the chords unbroken. Don't they sound familiar? They should; they're in the Sarabande. No note is an island. Everything is part of something else. The prelude may be an unrelenting series of sixteenth notes, and for the most part it is, but it also has a narrative arc. Don't be so caught up in what finger goes where and what angle the elbows have to be at that you lose sight of what you're saying. This is an easy trap to fall in. Communication sometimes takes a back seat to learning how to actually do the darn thing. But that is like spending hours and hours learning how to clean a stove, and then not actually baking anything. What's the point (unless you get some weird twisted thrill from stove-cleaning?).
And so on and so forth.
"It's all there," he said, to sum the afternoon up. "The technique is there. Trust it's there. Now it needs humanity."
Humanity: easier said than done.
As we were packing up, we somehow got onto the topic of what size instrument I was playing. "What size is that one again?" he said.
"A fourteen." I took off the shoulder rest and slowly turned it around, looking at the front, the side, the back. "It's nice for the size and for the price, but..." I thought back to all the work I've done with relaxation, all the hours I've spent in front of the mirror. All the dismayed expressions I've made when the rich gutsy viola sound I wanted just wasn't there.
I looked up. "But I'm ready for the fifteen."
PVF smiled. Muahaha, I'm sure he was thinking. Mua-ha-ha-ha-ha.
By Jonathan Hai
June 30, 2012 12:02
Post No. 19
By now it’s time to finalize a meaningful phase in the Quartet construction process – and finally close the “body” of each instrument. As you may remember, at the beginning of the process, Yonatan started with a wooden mold, on which he glued first the ribs and then the back of each instrument. Meanwhile, as I have told you, the sound boards of the cello and the viola have been constructed – including cutting the “f‘s” and reaching the exact “spessori” (thicknesses). But one step remains before the “body” of each instrument is closed. It’s an extremely important and very technical step – fitting in place and shaping the bass-bar (catena in Italian, read ka-tè-na).
As I wrote a few weeks ago, the process of working on the sound-board, cutting the “f‘s”, fitting and gluing the “catena“, gluing the back into place, removing the mold and finally, finally closing the body was all completed first for the cello. This is important for Yonatan, as it allows him to concentrate on finishing the body of one instrument before moving on to the next.
…and here is the entire Quartet, with the viola newly-glued (kinda’ like newlywed…) so still with the special clamps all around it, and the cello already closed and dry behind it.
Pretty cool how they are actually starting to look like instruments, right?
As we summed up what was a truly breathtaking concert: Yonatan had two instruments and a sister on stage!!
By Roy Bak
June 29, 2012 19:54
Dear Fellow Violinists,
As a devoted amateur violinist and reader of the many wonderful blogs on the violinist.com, I thought it my duty to send out an amazing Youtube link of my dear mentor & friend Maestro Ruggiero Ricci. I've already posted on Youtube several personal video recordings of him playing in the mid-80's, but this post was recently sent to me by David Bellugi, who is the son of the esteemed Italian conductor Piero Bellugi. Maestro Bellugi just recently passed away and this concert is a testament of their wonderful collaboration. I think violinists throughout the world can learn much from watching one of the Great Masters performing in his "prime." This is some of the most amazing violin playing I have ever heard or seen. He is one of the true Legends of our Instrument. Note how he holds the violin with his left hand (for those who have read his book on Left Hand Technique). Please enjoy!!!
Here is the link:
By Laurie Niles
June 29, 2012 18:48
It's been an intense few months for Yevgeny Kutik, whose first album, Sounds of Defiance, came to life this spring at the same time that he found himself playing in front of 12,000 people at Auschwitz-Birkenau for the March of the Living, and only a few weeks before the death of his teacher, Roman Totenberg.
The album both recognizes his Soviet beginnings and pays tribute to his Russian and Jewish heritage. The recording includes the Sonata for Violin and Piano, Op. 134, by Dmitri Shostakovich; Sonata for Violin and Piano No. 1 by Alfred Schnittke; "Hebrew Lullaby" and "Hebrew Melody" by Joseph Achron; and "Spiegel im Spiegel" by Arvo Pärt. All are in collaboration with pianist Timothy Bozarth. Yevgeny plays a 1916 Stefano Scarampella violin on loan from a private patron, and his collaborator for the album is pianist Timothy Bozarth.
Yevgeny, 27, was born in Minsk, Belarus, which at the time was part of the Soviet Union. His parents were musical -- his father played the trumpet in the Belarussian State Symphony, as did his grandfather, and his mother is a violinist and violin teacher.
"I was surrounded by music, from before I was born," he said. He started violin at age five.
Times were turbulent in the Soviet Union during the late 1980s, and Yevgeny's family decided to leave in 1989, shortly before the collapse of the Soviet Union two years later.
"Mainly, it was to give my brother and me an opportunity to grow up free from the sort of religious pressure my parents had to face," Yevgeny said. "Anti-semitism was a big problem at that time, and they had to face it on a day-to-day basis. I was so young, I don't remember it firsthand. But at some point, both of my parents just said, 'Enough is enough. We grew up with this, but we don't want our kids growing up with it.' So they made a very brave decision to leave. I can't honestly put myself in their shoes, making that decision and going through with it. It was a massive undertaking."
Leaving the Soviet Union most certainly meant never coming back.
"It wasn't come-and-go as you want. If you left, you left. You gave up your citizenship, you left most of your belongings," Yevgeny said. "We sold our house, but we couldn't take that money. We were penniless, belonging-less, and we went into the unknown."
They left with a wave of Soviet Jews who emigrated in the late 80s due to the slightly more lenient policies of Mikhail Gorbechev. During this time, Yevgeny's family was helped greatly by the Jewish Federation System.
"We were brought to Italy for six months, and we essentially waited for somebody to sponsor us, to host us, because we had nothing," Yevgeny said. "The invitation eventually came from a small Jewish federation in western Massachusetts called the Jewish Federation of the Berkshires. We were their first Russian family. They brought us in, and they started us from the beginning. That's the only way it would be possible -- if you leave with no money, no language, nothing -- what are you supposed to do?"
When Yevgeny was approached many years later to serve as a speaker for the Jewish Federation System, he was happy to do it.
"People from the organization had heard me play and saw my story. They thought, why don't we combine the two? So they invited me to be a speaker," Yevgeny said. He speaks several times a year, traveling to communities around the United States. He tells them his family's story and gives a short recital, emphasizing that his success is "all thanks to people who wanted to give refugees a second chance." He encourages people to "keep thinking about the other people in the world, Jews and non-Jews, who have to deal with pressure because of religious or racial or political reasons. There are a lot of places in the world where people have to deal with similar pressures that my family had to face, or frankly, a lot worse. Give them a chance to grow up, like I had the chance to grow up, without that sort of pressure."
Those pressures and his family's experiences are part of what made "defiance" a meaningful topic for Yevgeny's first recording.
"I put those pieces together, then I thought, what about the pre-Soviet era?" Yevgeny said. "I knew the Joseph Achron pieces ("Hebrew Lullaby" and "Hebrew Melody"), and they're just really beautiful, and frankly, under-recorded. So I wanted to record these as well, knowing the history of what Jews faced in pre-Soviet Russia, with a lot of pogroms and just -- they just didn't like the Jews."
"So those pieces come from a very special place," Yevgeny said. "These composers wrote this music to express themselves, to say something they really needed to say, even though they might have been killed or punished for writing the pieces they did. They were taking a huge risk, and to me, that's a major act of defiance. I think that what my family did was also defiant -- to say, 'No, we're not going to live like this, with the anti-Semitic pressures and not being able to ultimately be free. We're going to be individuals, we're going to start fresh,' -- and that's defiance. I feel an affinity for the Russian aspect of these composers, an affinity for the defiance, and an affinity for the Jewish aspect of Achron."
Making the album was a journey in itself. After playing concerts and having audience members repeatedly ask him if he had a recording, he became determined to create one, even if he had to produce it himself. He started with the idea that he would produce it on his own.
Of course, "it's expensive," he said. "At the time I didn't have a label knocking on my door, offering me a ton of money to make a CD."
So he did what people do these days, he created a Kickstarter, an Internet-driven fundraising campaign.
"I was very nervous, doing that," Yevgeny said. "I had this nightmare: what if I put up this thing, and the next morning I wake up, and absolutely nobody's interested?"
Fortunately that was not the case. "It turned out that there was a ton of interest, and we easily met our goal," he said. Of course, after that, he had a new set of worries: "I saw that the money was starting to come in, so I was very happy about that. But we still had this huge thing in front of us. I went from being worried about waking up in the morning and having no interest, to waking up in the morning and thinking, now I have $10,000, what am I supposed to do? I can't fail, because now it's a crime!"
Fortunately, more help came, unexpectedly, when someone at Marquis Classics in Toronto learned of his project. "They said, I love your project, I love your playing, would you be interested in working on this together?"
"I didn't think that would happen, I really thought that I would do it on my own," Yevgeny said. "I was putting everything in motion to do it on my own, and frankly I was freaking out about it, because it was a massive undertaking. Then when Marquis came aboard, the parameters of the project, the direction of the project, changed a little bit. It was a three-month period where every morning I was waking up and learning something every day. It just took shape and I'm very happy."
The act of "Kickstarting" the project helped him find his focus, his support, and his audience. "It's an incredible way for you to sit down, really start to figure out who you are, what do you want, how hard are you willing to work, and what's your idea. It really focuses your thought. I would recommend it to anybody who is interested in doing this kind of project."
Another person who saw his Kickstarter video was a rabbi in North Carolina. "He invited me down for a concert, and then introduced me to the leadership of the March of the Living, who are based in Canada." March of the Living brings Jewish teens to Poland every year to march from Auschwitz to Birkenau -- the largest concentration camps from World War II -- on Holocaust Memorial Day in April. They invited Yevgeny to play for the occasion.
"It was so overwhelming, what I saw that week," Yevgeny said. "I was absolutely honored to do it. Some of it was kind of unscripted; at Treblinka, which mainly is a big monument, there is one symbolic reminder of a cremation pit, which possibly might be original. I stood by the cremation pit and I played Bruch's Kol Nidrei in the middle of the field, in 45-degree weather, in my coat.
"Something about this emotional, deep music, ringing out in that quiet space -- it really spoke, and it said a lot more than I could ever have expressed with words. It was the same thing at Auschwitz-Birkenau, which was the main killing field. It's essentially just a gigantic field where there were tons of barracks, and most of them are destroyed now. The violin was just ringing out and sounding across this massive space where a million people died. It was incredible."
Yevgeny Kutik plays Maurice Ravel's "Kaddish" at March of the Living 2012 in April, in Krakow, Poland. The music starts at :30:
By Dottie Case
June 27, 2012 09:35
Like many musicians, my 'job' is a cobbled-together combination consisting of of private teaching, church work, orchestral player, pit musician, etc. I conduct a youth orchestra and am the music director (currently an unpaid gig)at a young-but-growing non-profit arts school.
My work calendar roughly corresponds to the school year in that there is a crush of things all at once at Christmas time (concerts, recitals, church music) and in the spring at the end of the year. The period of time between Easter and early June is particularly intense, and I always survive it by reminding myself that summer is a-coming.
Summer--- that season that I always expect to be so restorative---is in reality, just a different type of busy. I only teach students one day a week in the summer...but still, the days are full and over-full with summer work. Last week I taught a week-long musical theater camp for 30 kids. We also began pit rehearsals for Carousel, our July musical. Had a string quartet rehearsal for a wedding. Organized and planned for an outdoor concert my youth and adult orchestras are playing tomorrow evening. Am collecting the string section for the Opera in August. Sunday keeps coming every week. Another camp begins in a couple of weeks....
And every year this surprises me. Every summer, I catch myself at some particularly stressful time and ask myself, "Wait a minute.... wasn't summer supposed to feel like 'less'?"
And we musicians work way into the future. I got a call the other day for a big wedding gig on the Island in October. I am spending time with the other teachers, planning and shaping our class offerings for fall. Concerts are already planned for all of next season, and now is the time to choose music, secure venues, etc.
I'm also in school, finishing the last of my coursework this summer. I still have a thesis to write somewhere on top of all the fall demands. And it's looking like I'll be teaching some at the University this fall.
As my brain swimmingly juggles all the details, I'm doing some hard evaluating. As I'm faced with some possibly hard choices for fall I realize that there isn't a lot that I really want to do without.
I know I'll never stop private teaching (though perhaps 15-18 students instead of 30+ is more reasonable)and you'd have to wrest the baton of my youth orchestra from my crippled hands to get me to give that up.
Still, I need to remember to enjoy the small things on the way...the wedding I'm playing on the shore of Lake Michigan on Saturday will give me a chance to just BE for a bit.
Violinist.com editor Laurie Niles wraps up her coverage of the 2013 Starling-DeLay Symposium on Violin Studies, held at The Juilliard School in New York.
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