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Is classical music a living, changing art, or is it frozen in time?
On Monday, Anastasia and pianist Elena Baksht will perform a concert entitled Chaconnes Through Time, at Carnegie Hall's Weill Recital Hall. In addition to Bach's famous and beloved "Chaconne" from the D minor Partita for solo violin (which she will play in full), she will also perform the Vitali Chaconne, the little-known Partita for Solo Violin by Ernst Lothar von Knorr (Anastasia is known for uncovering such things). She will also perform world premiere of Colina’s "Chaconne for Violin and Piano," a piece in nine movements.
Michael and Anastasia met around eight years ago, when a mutual friend connected Anastasia's interest in contemporary music with Michael's style of writing music.
"At that point, Michael had a violin piece, called Notturno, which he needed played," Anastasia said. "I looked at it, and it was spectacularly lovely."
Both agree: Each piece they create together seems to bring up new ideas.
"One of the both blessings and curses of a performer is we are not creators. We need something to recreate," Anastasia said. A recording of "Baba Yaga" was released last fall, and the story behind it is a rather dark Russian fairy tale, which is not well-known in the West. Baba Yaga is a deformed old lady with supernatural powers, who eats children and lives in a hut that stands on chicken legs.
"We are also talking about the Baba Yaga being an older woman," Michael said. "Age itself is so often reviled -- beauty lost and loneliness found. This mythic character hits a spot for lots of people. She's not unlike the witch in Hansel and Gretel, but she has this side that can be redemptive, on rare occasions. She spares the life of this little girl, Vasilisa, who comes to visit her, and helps her, for lack of a better word, take revenge. But all of this is just the emotional life that goes on in creating the music. It's the story around which the music evolves."
Michael is a composer who returned to classical music after 20 years of producing jazz.
"I had stopped composing at 28 years of age and began producing jazz for artists and writing for them," Michael said. "I learned a huge amount from their spontaneity, their willingness to take risks, and their collaborative spirit. I worked with really great people. And at the point where the phone didn't ring any more, I decided that this was the opportune moment to re-find my voice that I'd left off discovering when I was 28. I came to this moment with all of this experience, working with these wonderful, malleable, creative risk-takers. I'd like to think that I brought that to the music I'm writing now -- certainly the collaborative spirit. Anastasia and I really hammer out certain passages, note-per-note."
"He's helped me discover the communicative aspect of the violin," Anastasia said of her collaboration with Michael. "It's one thing to play something that is 100 years old, which is intimately familiar. But a lot of contemporary music has lost sort of a human quality, so I would say he's reaffirmed my faith in the violin's ability to communicate just very bare, emotive, pre-human feelings."
It's also given her hope that there is a future for violin music. "It's very important to me to decide, even for interpretive issues, whether this is a tradition which is now held in amber, forever unchanging. Are we there just to serve history, as an occasional living reminder of what we once were? Or is this still a viable, living, thriving tradition?" Anastasia said. "Obviously, I have a vested interest in it being the latter. But as long as it is, it changes the way I interpret everything else."
"If your approach to Mozart, let's say, is: this is historical, this happened, this is no longer true, your interpretation will be one way," Anastasia said. "If you approach Mozart as: This could be written today, it just didn't happen to be, and I will play it as if I've never heard it before, that's a completely different set of interpretations -- and laws and regulations and issues of taste are often changed by it."
Anastasia's interpretation of the Bach Chaconne has evolved along with her thoughts about the role of music, past and present.
"I've been on a journey with the Bach Chaconne since I was 15 years old, and it's been a very important part of my life," she said. "Through it, I can trace my development as a human being. I've finally gotten an interpretation which I can say is completely mine. It's not unchanging, but the approach to the Chaconne, which I got about two years ago, is one I'm finally happy with. It is neither Romantic nor Classical, it's certainly not historically correct."
That approach has made it possible for her to see the Bach Chaconne as something new, every day.
"For instance, one of the things I like to do is that I look at all the variations -- there are 64 -- as separate entities," she said. "I've found that changing the tempos of the various variations, serves the piece very well, although again, it's not correct, it's not enshrined in the canon. But giving that piece its freedom to expand, to change from Monday to Friday, really brought it out. I just saw the way that audiences responded, and in the past year or two I've made it a personal challenge: that every note that I play should be, in my heart, like something I've never heard before."
Michael's new Chaconne evolved from their conversations about the meaning of the "chaconne," as a personal journey, as a musical framework, and as a dance form which originally came from Latin America.
"A Chaconne is one of the most perfect forms. It's sort of fractal," Anastasia said. "You have a very bare skeleton, which gives you some structure, but great freedom. As I started researching it more, I realized that the Chaconne actually came from Latin America -- Cuba -- and traveled to Spain. For Michael, his Cuban background is something that informs him both spiritually and creatively. So I found this coincidence to be striking."
The difference between the original dance and its evolution in Europe is also striking, especially as it took the form of Bach's great piece for solo violin.
"The Bach Chaconne is a tragic monument to great lost love," Anastasia said. "The chaconne started out being quite joyful -- and somewhat indecent, like many great things. It's very sensual."
"It started off as a dance, a bawdy dance done in bars, in 3/4 with the emphasis on beat 2, and usually with lyrics that were quite risque," Michael said. "Of course it comes back to Europe in the 1600's, and Bach makes this monumental work out of this and -- you can't touch that!"
Michael used the idea of the Chaconne as a launching point, including some of Bach's musical gestures, of ascending notes and descending notes meaning certain things spiritually. He also spells his name out, B-A-C-H, throughout the work, as well as adhering to the chord progression.
"Throughout this whole piece is woven all of these technical tools that I used to create it with," Michael said. "But at the same time, I wanted it to have a very appealing musical face that would still connect."
It's also a challenge for the violinist.
Michael writes at the piano and at the computer. Working on these projects, the two occasionally meet at his home in Florida.
"She would play this and then play that say, 'Why don't we do this?' and I would be recording it on the iPhone, on the video, so that I could take some of her suggestions back up to the studio and work on it more," Michael said. "So that's intensely collaborative."
When they can't meet in person, "he sends me the updated score by e-mail, I send the corrections right away," Anastasia said. "In Tchaikovsky's time this would take a boat and a few weeks, so the process is sped up."
Sometimes it helps not to be working face to face. It allows Anastasia to consider ideas, and whether they are playable, before responding.
"Sometimes he'll send me something and I'll start playing it, and at first I think, 'This is not playable,' but then I'll find sort of a cunning fingering for it," she said. "Whereas, if he were right there, I would say, 'No no, just change it.' So you actually wind up doing more of what the composer wants because you have some time to consider it."
Michael, though he has held a violin and knows how to play one, is primarily a pianist.
"You'll see this in Bartok, Prokofiev -- pianists think in fifths," Anastasia said. "We get four fingers, so a violinist will write things naturally in fourths. One of the central problems in adjusting to anything a pianist writes for you is that there's always an extra note, one second from where your fingers would naturally be. That does affect a lot of my editing."
Both composer and violinist welcome other musicians to have a hand at Michael's compositions, which are published by Bill Holab Music, on his website. (The Chaconne, with its premiere being tomorrow, will be published later.)
"That's actually the point! The point is to bring the music into standard repertoire," said Anastasia, who questions the adherence to the current canon of pieces featured in competitions and in auditions. Something like the Tchaikovsky Concerto is so overplayed, we can hardly appreciate it, she said. "The Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto is a fantastic work. I'm not sure we are even in a place to understand how fantastic it is because it's so constant in our lives. If there was more variety of repertoire, there would be more variety of interpretation and these works could then continue growing and being changes and reinterpreted. With the constant noise of the Oistrakh and the Heifetz and the Perlman and all the interpretations which hue to that tradition, the Tchaikovsky is frozen in time. It cannot grow, because it's ever-present."
"For me, it is essential that beautiful music continues to evolve and exist," Anastasia said. "If we close the door on beauty in music, (if we close the door on) virtuosity, which is part of that beauty, I think our existence will be immeasurably less rich. So we keep trying to keep defining what music is today. Not what it will be in 200 years, we have no control over that. But in the case of Chaconne, this is an attempt not to mimic Bach or even to play tribute to Bach, just to continue Bach."
* * *
Here is Anastasia Khitruk, playing Michael Colina's "Baba Yaga Fantasia for Violin and Orchestra," Movement 1:
When violinist Anne Akiko Meyers announced this week that she had been granted lifetime use of the Vieuxtemps Guarneri del Gesu, a number of people asked why someone who already owned two Stradivari violins would also accept this valuable violin, which apparently was sold for a record-breaking price to an anonymous patron.
After the announcement, I e-mailed Anne, and here is our conversation:
Laurie: When did you first learn about the Vieuxtemps Guarneri del Gesu?
Anne: I read about it when it was being called the priciest violin in the world. I thought it was a little bit of a gimmick but when I got the opportunity to play on the violin for the first time late in the summer I was immediately struck by the sound which had a richness I'd never before heard from a violin. I have played many Strads and del Gesu's throughout my lifetime, but nothing compared to this sound.
Laurie: Were you interested in the instrument, then found a sponsor, or did the sponsor kind of find you?
Anne: I have been fortunate to have violins from foundations and private donors most of my life. When I was about 10 years old, Dick Colburn loaned me many violins (Grancino, Guadagnini) until I made my debut recording at age 18. In my 20's, I played on the 'Rose' Strad, thanks to a private donor, and then performed on several Guarneri del Gesu violins subsequently. It was quite a relief to purchase the 'Royal Spanish' Strad of 1730 in 2005, because instruments that are given on loan are often taken back at any time. The lifetime loan of the 'Vieuxtemps' del Gesu is truly extraordinary because I have an arrangement where I do not have to worry about being asked to return it. I was crying tears of happiness, joy and disbelief when this extraordinary event happened.
Laurie: What are you going to do with your Strads, now that you have use of the del Gesu?
Anne: I believe that instruments should be played -- this is the purpose and end goal of all the makers. Last year I gave away an Arcus bow because I thought it would be better used by an aspiring artist. I also donated a modern violin to a music conservatory in Cartegena, Colombia a few years ago.
The 'Royal Spanish' is on the market now, and I am thinking of Molly's future as well. Since life is full of surprises, it may make sense to always have my own violin. Plus I have restrictions on the use of the Vieuxtemps.
Laurie: Are you permitted to loan out the del Gesu?
Anne: No. I have restrictions on its use to help protect the instrument.
Laurie: How does one go about getting sponsorship for an instrument? How does a sponsor decide whom they'd like to loan a valuable instrument?
Anne: Classical musicians have been helped by great arts patrons for centuries, and for string players, there are a large number of foundations and generous collectors who have made great instruments available. Often, the value of the instrument can be enhanced by the exposure it gets when an important artist plays the violin, so it can be a win-win for both the donor and performer.
Laurie: Do you have anything to add?
Anne: I feel like Cinderella playing this violin. That fate and destiny have brought this unique piece of history into my hands is really humbling and a major responsibility to preserve it for future generations.
Last winter I frequently heard very anxious customers about their instrument going out of tune so frequently in the winter...
One of them asked, "Why don't you write an article about this???"
... uh,of course!
So I wrote this article with 11 winter tips for your instrument... and yourself!
Let's start where it all begins: Wood is material in motion... when changing temperature and / or humidity wood shrinks and expands. As your violin / viola / cello / double bass (mostly) is made of wood, this happens to your instrument.
In the winter, your instrument will go out of tune more often. In winter, the temperature difference between inside and outside is higher (especially when you have the heating on). Moreover, the humidity in the winter is very changeable. Everywhere you go, your instrument has to adapt to the climate of your home, car and the new location.
Winter tips for your instrument
1. Don't be scared if your instrument is quickly and often out of tune. This may have to do with the winter weather. Some people think that they have broken something or done something stupid, but that is most often not the case. Bring your instrument just quietly back into tune and tune regularly until your instrument is more stable during a study session or rehearsal.
2. Keep into account this tuning problem in your timing. For example, leave a little earlier to a rehearsal, lesson or performance, so you have time for your instrument to be tuned and to adapt to the temperature and humidity of the new environment.
3. Avoid changes in temperature and humidity as much as possible. Don't leave your instrument in a cold room, that you heat up quickly when you have to be there. Take care of conditions so that they can be as stable as possible.
4. Are your strings in good condition? Strings get weaker with frequent changes in tension: they snap, go waddle in tone or go out of tune a lot. Take extra good care that your strings are in good condition in winter season. Are your strings older than 1 year? Then they probably need to be replaced. An amateur who plays violin 1 hour a day should replace the strings yearly. Do you play more? Then you need to replace them more often. I replace my violin strings every two months... then they are really gone and I'm happy when I am playing on new strings again.
5. Do the pegs of your violin, viola or cello run smoothly? If your pegs are not doing a good job in the summer, it will only get worse in the winter. Very often it works to treat your pegs with peg soap: remove one string at a time from the peg, remove the peg from the peg box, treat it firmly with peg soap and place the peg and string back. Then go to the next string. It is truly a miracle potion! Didn't this help? Then it may be that your pegs are not a good fit and then you need to replace them or let a violin maker make them fit (by re-bushing the peg box).
6. Is the room of your instrument usually too dry? Drought can cause cracks in your instrument. If the environment is too dry, you might consider purchasing a humidifier. With stable humidity between 40% and 70%, you do not have to worry. Many violin cases are equipped with a so-called hygrometer.
Your main musical instrument is of course your own body...
Tips for yourself
7. Wear gloves often! If you allow your fingers to get too cold, then it takes time to warm your hands before you can play optimally again. If your hands are very cold (and therefore your muscles and joints), then you are more susceptible to injury while playing. In very cold rehearsal rooms, you might consider playing with fingerless gloves.
8. Muscles and joints love heat! If you are cold and you do all kinds of virtuoso tricks, you're likely to experience discomfort ... make sure to do a warm-up -- not only in sports, but also in music! I find stretching (yoga) in between a rehearsals very pleasant to keep the muscles in shape.
9. Rub, rub, rub! You'll probably have seen it in ladies magazines: in winter you should keep your skin hydrated. As a musician, this applies especially to your hands ... playing with a cut in your fingertip is not fine! So buy the thickest hand cream out there and rub it onto your hands! If you can keep your fingers smooth, then they will not quickly become numb. It is also important that you choose a cream that quickly withdraws: you merely want to rub it into your hands and not into your instrument.
10. Take care of your violin spot! Violinists can have more trouble with their violin spot in the winter. A violin spot is a spot / irritation / discoloration in your neck that is created by the pressure of the chin rest. Udder ointment works very well to take care for and reduce your violin stain. Conditions for this to work are of course a well-fitting chin rest and shoulder rest with a good violin: then you have no hassle of a violin spot.
11. Take a hair dryer with you! Yup, here comes Zlata again with a weird tip ... Do you really always suffer from cold hands and no gloves help? Just take a hair dryer with you to your rehearsal and blow your hands warm before you start playing. Just rub with a good hand cream and you're ready to go! Don't worry, there are violin soloists who do this!
Do you have more winter tips for string players? Do you have questions regarding this article? Would you like to comment? You are very welcome to do so below!Tweet
Good violins can be quite pricey.
The most recent record-sale sum is an extreme example: the undisclosed amount -- somewhere in the vicinity of $15 million -- fetched by the 1741 Vieuxtemps Guarneri del Gesu. Many things came together to make this one violin extremely valuable: its age and provenance, its extremely pristine condition, the famous violinists who played and endorsed it, the famous and long-deceased luthier who made it, the publicity surrounding its sale, etc.
But even a violin that costs a fraction of that price can be a huge investment for a person of average means. The purchase of a good violin may require a loan: from relatives, or from a bank (though instrument loans are hard to get). My instrument loan came from the Musicians Interguild Credit Union, a resource for members of the Los Angeles AFM chapter (I like to tell people about this possibility, as it is a good one.)
I never thought I'd put so much on the line to obtain a good instrument, but then I fell completely in love with the one I bought. I've never regretted it, either.
Would you, have you, taken out a loan to get a violin?
Earlier I had played the 3th,4th and 5th violin concerto of Mozart. 130 km from my home an amateurorchestra played the 2nd violin concerto of Mozart. I could join as 2nd violinist and hereunder fragments of the concert on 1 april 2012. Recently I discovered that the soloist Lisette Carlebur (16) had won a youth competition. Here the final with the 1th Schumann sonata:
Here fragments of her 2nd Mozart violin concerto from 3.18 minutes:
Be sure to check out my youtube playlist for left hand technique
The piece performed here is part of Caprice Basque by Sarasate. Here is a video of the complete piece performed by Perlman with images of Basque - enjoy.
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The Fifth International Violin David Oistrakh Competition is going to be held in Moscow, from 21st to 30th September, 2013. The competition is dedicated to the memory of the Great Russian violinist David Oistrakh.
The purpose of the competition is popularization and development the best traditions of Russian violin performing art, discovering young talent musicians supporting them in their professional potential.
The Competition has 2 age groups: Junior (10-16 y.o.), Senior (17-28 y.o.) Most of the participants are already winners of prestigious violin competitions and they perform in famous concerts halls of the world.
The applications for participation in the Fifth International Violin David Oistrakh Competition should be sent before May 31, 2013.
Besides the special prizes and prize amounts (the highest prize of the Senior group is 15000 Euro), winners will get the invitation to perform on the best stages of Russia and Europe.
It's been awhile since I wrote about my A-Z goal. Ironically, I found myself back to "B". I do not know why, but there is an inordinate number of great pieces written for viola by composers who's last names start with the letter B.
This "B" piece is in the Romantic/Modern era, York Bowen's Sonata No. 1. It is incredibly fun to play: just enough of a challenge for me without being overly so, but easy enough to sound musical after a mere week of study. I finally found a piece that I can really do something with.
Interestingly enough, it was recommended to my by my first private viola instructor I had back in the late 1970's who I just reconnected with after more than 30 years. My current teacher never studied the piece, but was interested to learn it along with me and seems to be having fun with it. My previous teacher in Oregon suggested that I find myself a pianist to study this piece more at Interlochen in the summer with one of the other coaches there who specializes in Bowen.
Amazing how dots connect over decades and miles.Tweet
Anne Akiko Meyers has some nice fiddles -- now add the "Vieuxtemps” Guarneri del Gesu to the list, which include her two Strads!
Last time I checked, the asking price for the 1741 "Vieuxtemps” Guarneri del Gesu was $18 million, but no one is saying how much the instrument actually fetched. Anne did not buy the fiddle herself, but it was bought for her lifetime use by an anonymous sponsor. The violin was purchased from Ian Stoutzker, a London banker, through the dealer J & A Beare, Ltd. for an undisclosed amount. The one hint about the selling price, though, is that it exceeded the previous world-record sale price of the "Lady Blunt" Strad, which was sold in 2011 by Tarisio Auctions for $15.9 million.
In the fall of 2010, Anne bought the 1697 "ex-Molitor/Napolean" Strad for a then-record-breaking price of $3.6 million . She already owned and had been playing the 1730 "Royal Spanish" Strad since 2005. In 2012 she released a recording called Air: the Bach Album in which she played the Bach Double with herself, using the "Molitor" Strad (which she calls "Molly") for the first violin part and the "Royal Spanish" Strad for the second.
“I have never heard another violin with such a beautiful spectrum of color,” Anne said of the "Vieuxtemps” Guarneri del Gesu in a press release today. “I am honored and humbled to receive lifetime use of the instrument, and I look forward to taking the violin to audiences all over the world.”
The violin is also an exquisite work of art, light in weight and color, pristine in condition, without a crack in the wood.
The violin is named for its original owner, Henri Vieuxtemps, but it was also played by Eugène Ysaÿe and Yehudi Menuhin. The fiddle recently spent time at Bein and Fushi of Chicago, where a number of artists tried it out, including Joshua Bell, Vadim Gluzman and Philippe Quint.
Below is a video of Anne talking about the "Vieuxtemps” Guarneri del Gesu, with excerpts from December 2012 of her performing on the instrument, playing the Barber Violin Concerto with the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra in Carnegie Hall; and playing Mason Bates' new violin concerto with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, led by Leonard Slatkin.
"Always grow, as a musician and as a teacher."
That's a philosophy that the teachers in my Suzuki group (Suzuki Talent Education of Pasadena) share for our students and ourselves. Over the weekend we expressed that belief, and expanded our horizons, with a celebration of Mexican mariachi music for about 70 kids, representing 17 studios in the Los Angeles area.
For about two years we'd been planning Fiesta Mariachi: a day with classes in Suzuki repertoire, Mariachi repertoire taught by Mariachi musicians, a Mexican-themed lunch, a concert by a professional Mariachi group, Mariachi dance lessons, and then a big concert with kids and teachers playing with the Mariachi band.
This follows several other events we have presented as a Suzuki group: a Fiddle Fest in 2011 that featured the music of Mark O'Connor's emerging method as well as fiddler Pattie Hopkins; a Tango workshop with music composed by Michael McLean; an Irish music workshop and a Klezmer workshop. They all followed a similar format: playing new repertoire of a particular style, hearing professional musicians play in that style, working with those musicians, learning how to dance to that music, and playing a big, combined concert at the end.
For this particular workshop, I was a member of the planning committee, and for the event, one of three "point persons" for the day. Or as I preferred to be called for the day, "Laurita Rosita Fiesta Mariachi Chiquita"!
The pink dress, borrowed from a student, worked its Mexican magic on me, and I was speaking Spanglish all day.
We began by having our students play their familiar and shared repertoire from Suzuki books, with classes at various levels. Even those adorable beginners had a "Pre-Twinkle" and "Music and Movement" class. Here they are, practicing how to shake maracas so that they can participate in the final concert. They are gathered around teacher Nonie Reesor, who also thought to incorporate a little Spanish counting in there:
More advanced students had learned excerpts three Mariachi tunes: Cielito Lindo (muy popular), El Jarabe Tapatio (which you might recognize as the "Mexican hat dance") and La Culebra ("The Snake"). They worked with a Carlos Samaniego, a violinist from the group, Mariachi Bohemio.
Carlos' story is especially interesting for late starters: Carlos began studying music formally in middle school, with the guitarrón as his first instrument. He switched to violin when he was 14, began taking classical violin lessons and attended LACHSA (Los Angeles County High School for the Arts). After high school, he attended Cal State LA, studying both violin and voice. His Mariachi music has brought him to international folk festivals in both France and Italy, and to various music festivals in the United States, including at the Hollywood Bowl, the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, Madison Square Garden in New York City, and Radio City Music Hall.
When Mariachi Bohemio played for us, I noticed that every single one of the band members -- which includes three violinists, a trumpeter, guitarrón player and vihuela player -- all SANG. In fact, Carlos was teaching the students to sing as well:
Ay, ay, ay, ay
Canta y no llores
Por que cantando se alegran
Cielito lindo los corazones
Ay, ay, ay, ay
Sing, don't cry
Because singing makes us happy
My love, my dear friends
The singing style goes between extremes of tender expression and near-bellowing. Sometimes they showcase the ability to sing a note for an extremely long time. (I wonder, was fútbol announcer Andrés Cantor inspired by Mariachi?) But back to Mariachi singing, it's quite powerful and beautiful, when it's loud and long, or when it is soft and heartfelt. Why are we fiddle players so reticent to sing?
For me, one of the funnest parts of this day that I obsessively helped to plan was the part that did not go as planned! Our dance teacher, Marta Navarro, and her husband, were teaching our advanced violin students a dance to El Jarabe Tapatio, when they discovered that they actually did not have the recording they needed! I went running to see if someone else had it -- he didn't. When you are the Pink Muchacha in charge, you'd better come up with something, so I said, "We have no recording, but we have some musicians, willing to play for free."
So my colleague Liz Arbus and I played, while the students danced. It was so fun! At first we just played by ear, then a student found a copy of the extended music for this tune (which has many different musical iterations). My daughter shot just a few seconds of us playing with the dance class:
The dance teachers kept showing step after step, verse after verse. Not everyone could copy this final flourish:
It didn't really matter you couldn't exactly do the dance or play the tune perfectly today -- this day was about stirring the desire to do more later -- to learn more, to try new things. I hope everyone came away a few ideas, musical and cultural, and a little more curiosity and courage about exploring the world around them!
"Always grow," after all.Tweet
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