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Laurie Niles

The Week in Reviews, Op. 108: Hilary Hahn, Isabelle Faust, Jennifer Koh

November 25, 2015 14:44

In an effort to promote the coverage of live violin performance, Violinist.com each week presents links to reviews of notable concerts and recitals around the world.

Hilary Hahn performed the Dvorak with the Baltimore Symphony.

  • Baltimore Sun: "In addition to her usual, impeccable intonation and articulation, the violinist offered phrasing rich in shading and poetic contour. Her tone was wonderfully juicy in the first movement, sweet and delicate in the second; the finale inspired a prismatic touch. I was even more impressed with Hahn's encore -- the Loure from Bach's Partita No. 3. She seemed to hold the packed house rapt as she sculpted the stately dance in extraordinarily elegant fashion."
  • The Washington Post: "Hahn remains one of the greatest violinists in the world. The musical architecture is worked out to the millimeter; the flawless brilliance of her top register dazzles the ear; the rock-steady control of rhythm and accents makes everything seem natural and inevitable, and the cleanliness of her bow arm puts a little sparkle on each note. All of this was fully present in the Dvorak, but there were tiny slips here and there that were uncharacteristic."

Hilary Hahn
Hilary Hahn. Photo © Michael Patrick O'Leary.

Isabelle Faust performed the Berg with the Boston Symphony Orchestra.

  • Boston Musical Intelligencer: "...she didn’t put on the flashy, oversized tone of many a violin superstar, but chose a measured tone with a steely core that cut through BSO brass outbursts that have swamped over many a lesser musician. She had technique to burn, making Berg’s fiendishly difficult leaps, rhythmic variation, and frequent triple stopping sound fluid and effortless."
  • Boston Globe: "...the performance of the Berg did not speak with the full lapel-grabbing force this music is capable of mustering. But the evening’s fine soloist, Isabelle Faust, delivered an account whose hushed reveries and cool colors had a beauty all their own."

Jennifer Koh performed the Nielsen with the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra.

  • The Buffalo News: "There are meltingly lovely melodies and Koh, stunning in a long gown of gunmetal blue, played them with warmth and imagination. Her intonation is wonderful. She can repeat a simple phrase and give it a different mood the second time around. As she navigates quick passages, her head bobs and her hair flies. She even broke strings. Good theater!"

Renaud Capuçon performed Bruch’s Violin Concerto No. 1 with the Cincinnati Symphony.

  • Cincinnati Enquirer: "Capuçon delivered a breathtaking performance of Bruch’s Violin Concerto in G Minor. He played with a big, romantic sound and beautiful line from the outset. The violinist poured intensity into each phrase, often turning to communicate with the orchestra, as if playing chamber music."

Jonathan Carney performed and conducted the Brahms with the Pennsylvania Sinfonia Orchestra.

  • The Morning Call: "One could tell things were going to sound special from the very first movement, as Carney skillfully built up the slow, curvaceous opening gesture into a full-bodied crescendo. Although the pure, compact sound of Carney’s violin could make itself heard when it wanted to, a few phrases got buried by the church’s not-so-ideal acoustics. Nevertheless there was plenty of detail to be heard, and the extended cadenza was masterful, chock full of finely shaped trills and virtuosic embellishment."

Elena Urioste performed the Sibelius with the Tucson Symphony Orchestra.

  • Green Valley News: "Her reading of the Sibelius 'Violin Concerto' was incredibly virtuosic in the allegro first movement, and sonorously heartfelt in the Adagio, where the soul of the piece lies."

Leonidas Kavakos performed the Sibelius with the Philadelphia Orchestra.

  • Philadelphia Inquirer: "It was terrific to hear Leonidas Kavakos in the Sibelius Violin Concerto - it is, in fact, terrific to hear him in anything. That immediately present tone that toggles so easily between secure whispering and secure meatiness was all there. Interpretively, he sometimes failed to go deep, especially in the first movement, whose layers of meaning offer tremendous riches to risk-takers."

Karen Gomyo performed Philip Glass' Violin Concerto No. 1 with the Dallas Symphony.

  • D Magazine: "Gomyo is well-suited for this piece. She plays it with a perfect combination of agility and delicacy. She’s also a great collaborator, blending beautifully with the ensemble and never forcing solo sections into unnecessary showcases of virtuosity."
  • The Dallas Morning News: "Karen Gomyo was as compelling a soloist as could be imagined, dispatching the busy figurations with pizzazz, pinpointing high pitches with laser accuracy."

Please support music in your community by attending a concert or recital whenever you can!

3 replies

Violinist Philippe Quint Interviews New Yorkers about Classical Music

November 24, 2015 09:52

In September, violinist Philippe Quint conducted an experiment. He took a microphone out on the streets of New York City and asked about 30 random young people what they thought about classical music.

Philippe Quint interviewing

The results were rather sobering.

His first question was, simply, "What music do you listen to?"

"Out of approximately 30 people interviewed, not one person mentioned classical music as their choice," Quint said. Some of the answers included: hip-hop, rock, house music, dubstep, rap, alternative, R and B, jazz fusion, electronic music, pop, metal, trap music, Bollywood music....

When asked if they were familiar with classical music, many were not familiar with it at all, and some had never heard of the names Beethoven, Mozart or Bach.

"In our generation people don't really listen to (classical music) because I don't know where they would go to hear it," one young woman said. "If somebody gave me a ticket to a classical music concert I'd definitely go, but it's not something I'd think to buy for myself."

Another mentioned that "You turn on the radio, and that's not what's going to come on, you have to really search for the station that is playing it."

The upshot? We have a long way to go, to promote classical music.

"Even though we have folks who are tireless supporters for arts and education, I feel that many, many more must join forces to prevent complete extinction of classical music," Quint said. "Chances are that the kids of those kids I interviewed won't even know that classical music ever existed. That IS scary."

Here is Quint's video, "Violinist interviews New Yorkers about Classical Music":

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Violinist and conductor Joseph Silverstein, (1932-2015)

November 22, 2015 23:15

Violinist, conductor and teacher Joseph Silverstein, former conductor of the Utah Symphony and former concertmaster of the Boston Symphony, died Sunday after a heart attack. He was 83.

Joseph Silverstein

Born in Detroit, Silverstein studied with his father, Bernard Silverstein, a public school music teacher. He later studied with Efrem Zimbalist, William Primrose, Josef Gingold, and Mischa Mischakoff. In 1959 he won a silver medal at the Queen Elisabeth Music Competition and in 1960 was awarded Naumburg Award.

Silverstein joined the back of the second violin section of the Boston Symphony at age 23, moving up to principal second violinist and eventually concertmaster in 1962, serving in that capacity for 22 years. He became assistant conductor, as well, in 1971.

Silverstein came to Salt Lake City in 1983, where he was Music Director of the Utah Symphony for 15 years.

As a teacher, was a professor of violin at the New England Conservatory of Music and the Curtis Institute. He also led the faculty at Tanglewood and was a regular faculty artist at the Sarasota Music Festival.

He played on a 1742 Guarneri del Gesù.

Violinist.com member Nat Little described a lesson with Silverstein: "He told me some old stories about Szerying and things he noticed while watching Heifetz from the concertmaster seat of the Boston Symphony. His main observation about Heifetz was that his left hand never stopped moving.... So from that day on I made sure to vibrate every note. If you listen for this in Silverstein's playing, you will not hear a note go without vibrato. He is very aware of this element of making the instrument shimmer."

* * *

What a sound. Joseph Silverstein performs Bach Sonata No. 3, Largo, as an encore after a concert with the Boston Civic Symphony in March 2001:

And in his capacity as concertmaster, this beautiful solo from Swan Lake:

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V.com weekend vote: Can you sing?

November 20, 2015 14:16

I'm guessing some of you are quite good at it, but not everyone is! In fact, it is possible to play the violin very well, yet sing like a frog.

singing vs. playing

But singing is still a part of our education, and it should remain an influence, when playing an instrument that sounds so much like the human voice. We can help our concept of just about any musical line by singing it, even if we are singing it badly!

Recently Los Angeles Philharmonic violinist Paul Stein mentioned in his blog about bow distribution that "teachers should ask the students to sing during lessons, even if the voice is not developed. Someone with a bad voice should be encouraged to sing something resembling the rhythm of the music. This helps create a connection between the origin of the music in the ear, and what goes in and comes out of the instrument."

I do agree that it's a good idea to make the effort to sing, and also to vocalize rhythms.

So can you sing? Do you sing well?

6 replies

Violinist Itzhak Perlman to be Honored with Presidential Medal of Freedom

November 18, 2015 14:13

Congratulations to violinist Itzhak Perlman, who will receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the United States' highest civilian honor, in a Nov. 24 ceremony at the White House.

Itzhak Perlman
Itzhak Perlman. Photo by Lisa Marie Mazzucco

Perlman’s medal citation says that "Itzhak Perlman is a treasured violinist, conductor and sought-after teacher. Among his many achievements are four Emmy Awards, 16 Grammy Awards, and the 2008 Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award. He was awarded a in 2000 and a Kennedy Center Honor in 2003. A native of Israel, he came to the United States at a young age and was introduced to Americans broadly when he appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show in 1958. Mr. Perlman made his Carnegie Hall debut in 1963 when he was 18. In addition to performing internationally and recording the classical music for which he is best known, Perlman has also played jazz, including an album made with jazz pianist Oscar Peterson. Perlman has been the soloist for a number of film scores such as Schindler's List, which subsequently won an Academy Award for Best Original Score. Alongside his wife Toby, Mr. Perlman teaches talented young musicians through the Perlman Music Program. Through his advocacy and his example, he has been an important voice on behalf of persons with disabilities."

Click here for a complete list of the 17 recipients of this year's Presidential Medal of Freedom, which also includes Barbra Streisand, James Taylor, Steven Spielberg, Stephen Sondheim, Gloria Estefan and Emilio Estefan.

It's been a big year for Itzhak Perlman, who celebrated his 70th birthday in August. In honor of that milestone, Perlman released two major box sets:

  • Itzhak Perlman: Complete Recordings On Deutsche Grammophon, a set of 25 CDs from 1968 to 2001 which includes his Berg/Stravinsky Concerto recording with Ozawa; Elgar Concerto with Barenboim; and recordings of the Saint-Saëns, Wieniawski, Lalo, and Vivaldi “The Four Seasons” concertos. It also includes a recording of Bach Arias with Kathleen Battle and Perlman conducting Ilya Gringolts in the Tchaikovsky and Shostakovich Concertos.
  • Itzhak Perlman - The Complete Warner Recordings (77CD), which reunites Perlman's EMI and Teldec recordings made over a period of more than 30 years, including violins concertos as well as Perlman’s commissions from living composers, Perlman’s own commissions from living composers, crossover repertoire such as jazz, ragtime and klezmer, and more.

Itzhak Perlman boxed sets

* * *

Recently I heard an older recording on the radio of Perlman playing the Tchaikovsky Concerto. For someone my age, Perlman's recordings pointed the way, gave us something to aspire to. These recordings and live performances are a product of their time, and times and tastes have changed. But Perlman created enduring and beautiful moments in time (still does!). Here he plays the Tchaikovsky with Eugene Ormandy and the Philadelphia Orchestra.

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The Week in Reviews, Op. 107: Leonidas Kavakos, Tai Murray, Zehu Victor Li

November 16, 2015 22:42

In an effort to promote the coverage of live violin performance, Violinist.com each week presents links to reviews of notable concerts and recitals around the world.

Leonidas Kavakos performed the Sibelius with the San Francisco Symphony.

  • San Francisco Classical Voice: "Kavakos stripped this extravagant work of all indulgences to deliver a lean, purposeful, and deeply absorbing performance. The sense that something different was about to happen was apparent right away. From a quietly insistent opening phrase to an early cadenza, Kavakos staked out his territory with a woody, fibrous tone – reminiscent of a fine baritone’s probing, amber-toned voice – that seemed to stride into the score instead of sailing across its swooping surfaces."
  • San Jose Mercury News: "...the performance simply failed to cohere. Kavakos is an undeniably skilled musician, and his lustrous tone and facility in the score's challenging passagework were evident. But it was hard to escape the sense that he and Thomas never quite saw eye to eye on matters of tempo and emphasis."
  • San Francisco Chronicle: "It was an awkward, unpersuasive performance, wayward of pitch and rhythm and marked by what seemed like the violinist’s utter indifference to what the orchestra was doing at any given moment. Thomas’ efforts to keep everyone together were practically poignant."
  • Terez Mertes, Violinist.com: "Kavakos had found that place of haunting, bittersweet beauty, where technical brilliance meets vulnerability, and he played the concerto, particularly the second movement, from that space."

Leonidas Kavakos
Leonidas Kavakos.

Tai Murray performed the Sibelius with the Duluth Superior Symphony Orchestra.

  • Duluth News Tribune: "The masterful performance of guest violinist Tai Murray had the locals jumping out of their seats, and that was after she had played just the opening movement of the Sibelius Violin Concerto."

Zehu Victor Li performed the Sibelius with the Allentown Symphony Orchestra.

  • The Morning Call: "The Sibelius concerto is a virtuosic musical storm through which Li, at 18 the youngest-ever Schadt winner, piloted his way with striking finesse. Even at a young age he commands all the trappings of a seasoned artist — a richness of tone, a finely crafted musical line and the apparent nonchalance that only the finest performers seem to muster."

Sergey Khachatryan performed the Beethoven with the Los Angeles Philharmonic.

  • Orange County Register: "He played it beautifully, with a gorgeously full and silken tone, in long, singing, connective phrases, but on Saturday he seemed to broaden a phrase whenever possible and to stop to smell every rose along the way. His reading clocked in at 48 minutes, several longer than many and, at any rate, too long here. Pick up the pace, just a tad, young man."

Vilde Frang performed the Brahms with the Royal Scottish National Orchestra.

  • EdinburghGuide: "Vilde Frang gave us a superb performance, and the audience loved it."

Tianwa Yang performed the Brahms with the Florida Orchestra.

  • Tampa Bay Times: "Yang's palette is vibrant. She handles every part of the instrument, on every level of intensity. She attacks entrances fearlessly and stretches interpretation to something beyond a command of the material."

Yoonshin Song performed the Khachaturian with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra.

  • Detroit Free Press: "(Concertmaster) Song's impeccable but unforced technique, long-breathed phrasing and full-bodied sound — espresso rich and powerful enough to cut through the orchestra or soar above it — were all perfectly suited to the music's songful lyricism. You could bring in many of the star violin soloists on the circuit to play this concerto and not hear a more compelling performance than what Song delivered."

Isabelle Faust performed the Schumann with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic.

  • The Guardian: "Whether or not you give credence to its supposed rediscovery in a seance, Schumann’s long-suppressed Violin Concerto finally seems to be gaining a toe-hold in the repertoire. Isabelle Faust is one the piece’s most eloquent advocates, though her recent recording divided opinion, owing to the quixotic decision to perform it with a baroque orchestra. Petrenko’s gossamer accompaniment ensured that Faust’s filigree lines were always audible and the concluding polonaise danced where it is wont to drag its feet. Reintroducing the shimmery vibrato suppressed on the recording, Faust sounded far more at ease with a symphony orchestra playing softly than a period band scrubbing hard."

Christian Tetzlaff performed the Lindberg with the London Philharmonic Orchestra.

  • The Guardian: "Christian Tetzlaff’s imperious playing of the piece was edge-of-the-seat compelling from first to last, brushing all uncertainty aside. From the high, rapt opening to the scintillatingly vigorous finale, Tetzlaff played with a vehement authority that never wavered, and at times was almost overwhelming."

James Ehnes performed Prokofiev's Violin Concerto No. 2 with the National Symphony Orchestra.

  • The Washington Post: "He executed the solo part effectively without actually being spectacular in it, with a few moments when, despite Noseda’s notable restraint, he was actually hard to hear. The overall result was a reading that felt slightly distant; the third movement, from both soloist and orchestra, lacked the sense of vitality and bite that characterizes so much of Prokofiev in his up-tempo mode."

Please support music in your community by attending a concert or recital whenever you can!

4 replies

V.com weekend vote: Did either of your parents ever study an instrument?

November 13, 2015 15:06

I know an awful lot of violinists whose parents also are musicians, or at least who studied an instrument.

But is that the norm?

It would appear, from statistics gathered from the applicants of the upcoming Menuhin Competition, that it is not. Among their 307 applicants, 82 percent of the entrants’ parents do not play the violin and more than 45 percent of the parents of applicants never played any musical instrument.

parents and kid

Of course, one cannot legitimately extrapolate that to the rest of the population. Nor is our poll going to be any more scientific! But I'm curious about those of us in this community. As for myself, neither parent is a musician, but at least one of them (both?) did take piano lessons for long enough to be able to play a bit. I think that it doesn't matter if the parent is a musician, an avid amateur or just an appreciator of music who never plays, studying an instrument does make a difference in whether or not the family is predisposed to spend time and money on music lessons. I will answer "yes."

How about you? Did either of your parents ever study an instrument? Specifically, did either parent play the violin? And if not, what got you interested in the violin? Please answer the poll and add your comments below.

21 replies

2016 Menuhin Competition London Receives Record Number of Applications

November 13, 2015 13:27

Once again, the Menuhin Competition has received a world-record-breaking number of applications.

The competition, set to take place at London's Royal Academy of Music April 7-17, 2016, reported receiving 307 entries this year from young violinists in more than 40 countries, surpassing its 2014 record of 275 applications from 27 countries when the competition was held in Austin, Texas.

Of those, 44 competitors will be chosen by the end of November to participate. Candidates will compete in two divisions, the senior (ages 16-21) and junior (under 16) sections, for a number of prizes, top among them being Senior First Prize, £10,000 and a one-year loan of a golden-period Stradivari from J&A Beare; and the Junior First Prize, £5,000 and a one-year loan of a fine old Italian violin by Florian Leonhard Fine Violins.

The competition will take place in the midst of a 11-day festival that celebrates the centenary of the birth of Yehudi Menuhin, who helped found the competition and gave it his name.

Yehudi Menuhin
Yehudi Menuhin.

The highest number of 2016 Menuhin Competition applicants from one country were from the United States, with 28 percent. This year's entrants also included the competition's highest-ever number of applicants from the UK, with 28 entrants (9 percent). First-time entries came from nine countries (including the first-ever entry from an African country): Cyprus, Estonia, Georgia, Moldova, Mongolia, Portugal, Slovakia, South Africa and Turkey. The youngest entrant is age 9, from Taiwan. Nearly 40 percent of entrants are from 28 European countries; with the remainder from North America, Asia, Africa and Australia.

The application also contained a survey, and the results of that survey make for interesting reading. Among the findings about the applicants:

  • 82 percent of the entrants’ parents do not play the violin
  • More than 45 percent parents never played any musical instrument
  • 66 percent applicants are female
  • 28 percent do not own their own violin
  • More than 50 percent of the under-16 applicants started violin under the age of 5
  • 40 percent under-16 applicants, compared to the under-22 applicants, performed their first public recital under the age of 5

Applicants also wrote responses, among them this from a British female applicant, about why she likes the violin: "The violin has more places to explore than the entire universe has."

Jury members for the 2016 competition are Pamela Frank (chair), Joji Hattori, Ray Chen, Martin Engstroem, Ning Feng, Don-Suk Kang, Tasmin Little, Julia Fischer and Jeremy Menuhin.

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András Keller named Professor of Violin at the Guildhall School

November 12, 2015 11:54

The London-based Guildhall School of Music & Drama has appointed Hungarian violinist András Keller as Professor of Violin, to begin teaching in January 2016.

András Keller
András Keller. Photo by Benko Sándor.

Keller joins a sizeable string department at the Guildhall School, which has more than 900 students from nearly 60 countries in its higher education programs. Additionally, the school has nearly 2,500 students under the age of 18 enrolled in their Junior Guildhall and the Centre for Young Musicians programs.

Keller was head of the Chamber Music Department at his alma mater, the Franz Liszt Academy of Music, from 2012-2015. Founder of the Keller Quartet, Keller also is director and conductor of Concerto Budapest. Keller began playing the violin at age 7 and studied at the Liszt Academy with Dénes Kovács, György Kurtág, and Ferenc Rados. Later, he studied with Sándor Végh in Salzburg.

"I'm extremely pleased to join Guildhall, where I will do my best to build up a great violin class," Keller said in a press release. "In the past few years, I've met several exceptional young artists from Guildhall, and besides their great technical ability, I find all of them have great musical sense, commitment, interest, and understanding. So I said to myself, this could be 'my school'!"

Keller's early studies at the Franz Liszt Academy of Music led to many collaborations with composer György Kurtág, whose works he has been premiering and performing worldwide since 1978. The recipient of the Premio Franco Abbiati, Liszt Prize, and Bartók-Pásztory Prize, Keller was named an Artist of Merit of Hungary and was also nominated for the United Kingdom’s Royal Philharmonic Society Award. He founded the Keller String Quartet in 1987 and was also the founder and artistic director of the International Sándor Végh String Quartet Competition. In 2007, he was appointed as Artistic Director and Chief Conductor of Concerto Budapest, formerly known as the Hungarian Symphony Orchestra. Under his leadership, Concerto Budapest has earned a reputation as one of the most respected Hungarian touring orchestras, annually presenting over sixty concerts in Budapest, in addition to concerts and festival appearances in China, France, Germany, Japan, and the United States. He is also a prolific recording artist with his recordings being awarded the Caecilia Prix (BE), Deutsche Schallplattenpreis, Edison Award (NL), Grand Prix de l’Académie Charles Cros (FR), MIDEM Classical Award (FR), and Record Academy Award (JP).

Keller teaches annually at the Aix-en-Provence Festival and is a regular guest of Yale University’s Norfolk Chamber Music Festival and the International Musicians Seminar Prussia Cove.

Here is a short excerpt, played by the Keller Quartet:

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Master Class with Lorenz Gamma at Metzler Violins

November 10, 2015 21:32

"You should be the boss of your own vibrato."

That is what violinist Lorenz Gamma told Antonia, 11, who was playing "Meditation from Thais" by Massenet at a master class last week at Metzler Violin Shop in Glendale, Calif.

Gamma, who teaches violin at California State University at Northridge and California Institute of the Arts, touched on a variety of ideas in the master class, including cultivating different speeds of vibrato, the nature of Baroque music, how to use energy yet stay accurate and controlled, and producing an "A-1 sound" using arm weight.

Antonia, 11, already knew how to do vibrato, but mostly at one speed. Gamma suggested that she was ready for the idea of different colors, different speeds of vibrato. He showed her four different ways of practicing vibrato: very wide, relaxed and easy, fast and narrow, and wild-fast. (I liked this approach for a young student, as opposed to using a metronome, which can get overly complicated and distracting.) Here he demonstrates the four different ways for practicing vibrato, and has her try them:

Gamma also encouraged her to use more bow, for the quality of sound. "It doesn't necessarily mean playing louder," he said, "it simply means breathing more air into the phrase."

Gamma had the chance to talk about Baroque music when a student named Saren played the first two movements of Handel's Sonata in D major. Gamma began by talking about the spritely second movement "Allegro," which Saren had played with speed and intensity, mostly on the string.

Lorenz Gamma and Saren

To keep Baroque music on the playful side, "we have to be careful how much energy we give each note." That may mean playing a little lower in the bow, even off the string. The notes can sound tough if the energy and intensity comes out in the form of forceful bowing.

"We can take that excitement and put it into the phrasing -- then we have Baroque music," Gamma said. Of course, Handel does not necessarily give a lot of instructions about phrasing -- very little is in the score, "so this is all up to you to decide."

Throughout the movement there are several fast bariolage passages that serve as accompaniment to the melody in the piano (or harpsichord, or orchestra). "We have a lot of little notes," Gamma said. "We might think they aren't as important, but they are. You want to clean up your little notes as much as you clean up your long notes." In other words: They have to be perfectly in tune, despite the fact that they go by quickly and serve as accompaniment. "You just have to talk to your fingers so they go in the right place."

Those 16th notes also need to have musical shape. "Never play the 16ths in Baroque music as if they were part of an etude -- and don't play etudes that way, either!" Gamma said. Even a Kreutzer etude should be flexible in tempo and beautiful, with a polished tone. "If you go beyond a certain speed limit, it becomes a technical exercise," he said. "Allow yourself to slow down a little, smell the roses."

Gamma suggested a nice fingering for this infamously awkward place:


Going back to the first movement "Affetuoso," Gamma reminded us that in the Baroque period, vibrato was considered an ornament, to be used judiciously rather than continuously. "I'm not saying that you shouldn't use vibrato, but when you do, you can tone it down a bit," he said. When you use less vibrato, "then your bow becomes the primary tool for making music."

Next, Abigail played the first movement of the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto, intense and fiery, with a fast and wide vibrato. Gamma first advised her to keep control of the tempo and energy, so it doesn't snowball into something dangerous that gets beyond control.

"Play with just as much daredevil energy, but not...danger!"

Mendelssohn, considered an early Romantic, still has some of that Classic-period cleanliness, so there won't be as much rubato in it. Gamma had her play a difficult passage slowly, with no vibrato, in order to get clarity and precision. As that became more controlled, he had her add the vibrato and energy back. It definitely made things cleaner.

Alexandra, 20, played the first movement of the Prokofiev Concerto No. 1, and Gamma worked with her on sound production.

"If you give Picasso two tubes of paint, he's going to say, 'What can I do with this?' He needs buckets of paint!"

In a similar vein, we need buckets of sound! That is the reason for cultivating an "A-1 sound" as a starting point. "Start with a lot of sound, and go from there," Gamma said. Here is one way that Gamma described, to set your bow hand and arm for effortless big sound:

"Sometimes it's easy to lose that A-1 sound, then you have to re-establish it," Gamma said. Be sure to bring the violin up "and keep it up, so that your bow knows where the violin is."

Afterwards Gamma answered questions, and he talked about having started violin at age five, with his father, a physician who was an amateur violinist, as his teacher. At around 16, a different teacher suggested that he start practicing seriously, about three hours a day, which he found to be "excruciatingly long." He said it was not until he was 19 that he decided he wanted to take music seriously, and not until he was 22 that he began studying music at a university. He finished his doctoral degree at age 34. So in many respects, he started late and studied for a very long time.

"The question is not how old you are," he said, "but how seriously you take it."

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The Week in Reviews, Op. 106: Nicola Benedetti, Patricia Kopatchinskaja, Christian Tetzlaff

November 10, 2015 11:15

In an effort to promote the coverage of live violin performance, Violinist.com each week presents links to reviews of notable concerts and recitals around the world.

Nicola Benedetti premiered the new violin concerto by Wynton Marsalis, with the London Symphony Orchestra.

  • The Guardian: "Benedetti initially had to tell Marsalis her part wasn’t difficult enough; it’s certainly difficult now, and her sparky performance sold the work to us with all she could muster. It still felt like the longest concerto ever written."
  • The Telegraph: "This concerto has been a labour of love for her, and she soared over its very challenging technical demands with a radiant lofty lyricism, touching intimate bluesiness, and furious rhythmic energy."
  • The Independent: "In her first cadenza, Benedetti let rip with a melange of ferocious sawing and delicate, high-lying threads of melody: this music was technically demanding. The second movement saw her instrument emitting squeaks and chirps over a wah-wah brass bass, and it ended in a Scottish folk song with a double-stopped violin lament. The third movement, a celebration of the blues, felt like the heart of the work. Here Benedetti’s playing was convincingly idiomatic, if it also periodically took on a Balkan tinge; although improvisation was not on the menu, this did feel improvised.:
  • The Arts Desk: " Despite the generally conservative style, it is an ambitious work, its sheer length tending towards outright indulgence. But it received the most committed and consummate premiere performance this evening from Nicola Benedetti and the London Symphony Orchestra. Whatever its faults, it is hard to imagine the work ever sounding better than this."

Nicola Benedetti
Nicola Benedetti. © Simon Fowler.

Patricia Kopatchinskaja premiered the new violin concerto by Michael Hersch... and performed her version of the Beethoven, with the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra.

  • Star Tribune: "The intensity of her playing, along with her near-flawless technique and fetching personality have earned enthusiastic audiences. Surely orchestra concerts are too solemn and maybe Kopatchinskaja is an antidote to that."
  • Pioneer Press: "If there were any outraged traditionalists in the crowd, they weren't evident, for just about everyone was standing and applauding at the concert's conclusion. It was yet another triumph for Kopatchinskaja, currently one of the most exciting artists in classical music and one who might leave you believing we have a bit of a mad genius in our midst, an intrepid adventurer with the mind of a masterful musicologist and the spirit of an adrenaline-addled punk rocker."

Christian Tetzlaff performed the Mendelssohn with the Orchestra of St. Luke's.

  • The New York Times: "... an exhilarating account that reimagined received ideas at every turn. From measure to measure, you had no idea what soloist and conductor alike would do with (or to) such familiar music. Mendelssohn the amiable, pristine and dreamy? Think again: This was a nightmare, and chillingly powerful."

Leonidas Kavakos performed Shostakovich's Violin Concerto No. 1 with the Cleveland Orchestra.

  • The Plain Dealer: "Coming from him, the angst-filled Nocturne was almost more than one could bear, an icy stream of melody. Similarly, both the Scherzo and Burlesca overflowed their emotional banks. The former progressed like a fever, brewing steadily and rising to a fast, almost violent boil, while in the latter, Kavakos struggled not with technical matters but to contain his own virtuosity."

Maxim Vengerov performed the Brahms with the Oxford Philharmonic Orchestra.

  • Evening Standard: "Playing the Brahms Violin Concerto, he was kept in check by conductor Papadopoulos’s sometimes ponderous tempos, yet he still coaxed gorgeous sounds from his Stradivarius. In the first movement’s solo cadenza he displayed a winning hint of devilry, which also served him well in the concerto’s energetic finale, even though the orchestra remained rather earthbound."

Baiba Skride performed the Schumann with the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra.

  • The Arts Desk: "Together, they did everything possible to rescue a work that eludes all but a tiny handful of interpreters....Skride brought a dusky, singing quality to Schumann’s ungrateful writing; her sound has a lovely, affecting catch in its voice."
  • The Guardian: "The most delicate filigree underpinned her at just the right moments, but that’s not to say her performance lacked blood; far from it. There was real drama in the first movement, and the orchestra dug into the heavily accented polonaise of the finale with sprightly verve as Skride raced to the finish with disarming ease."

Rimma Bergeron-Langlois performed Prokofiev's Violin Concerto No. 1 with the Orlando Philharmonic.

  • Examiner.com: "Prokofiev’s Violin Concerto No. 1 juxtaposes warm, yet restrained melodies, with thin and icy structures, to create a delectable soundscape that only gets better with repeated listening. Concertmaster Rimma Bergeron-Langlois captured this duality in her playing to deliver a smooth interpretation. She took the opening lines, over the quivering accompaniment, with subdued dynamics, which gave her the right flexibility to swell as the piece progresses."

Anne Akiko Meyers performed Vivaldi’s Four Seasons with the Pasadena Symphony.

  • AXS.com: "She was dazzling, depicting the singing of the birds, the weeping shepherd’s fear of the pending storm and his attempt to rest by painting perfect pictures through her tones, modulations, and beautiful harmony with the orchestra."

Please support music in your community by attending a concert or recital whenever you can!

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V.com weekend vote: Can you speak, or sing, (well!) while playing?

November 6, 2015 13:23

Christian H singing
Christian Howes sings, while playing.

Can you sing, or speak, while playing your instrument?

We string players have the freedom to use our voices, since we don't have to use them to blow into, say, a trumpet or flute. But whether we can is another issue entirely. Sometimes we concentrate so hard, we forget to breathe with our mouths and noses, much less sing or speak!

On Monday I attended a workshop on improvisation, given by Christian Howes (look for a full article in the near future) at Metzler Violin Shop in Glendale, Calif.. At one point during his improvisation, he started singing along with himself, sort of scat-style. Pretty cool!

Violinists who are in bands often sing vocals, sometimes while they are playing. Sometimes teachers speak while they are demonstrating. There are those who have mastered this kind of multi-tasking!

As for me, I'm not so great at it, I tend to either trip over the words or the notes!

Can you sing and play? Or speak and play? Both? Neither? Answer "yes" if this is a skill you are pretty good at, and if so, tell us how you learned to do it!

19 replies

Lara St. John's 'Shiksa'-- Way Beyond 'Czardas'

November 5, 2015 15:20

You've never heard "Czardas" quite like this....

That track is from Lara St. John's new album, called Shiksa, collection of Jewish, Roma and folk songs, reimagined for Lara and pianist Matt Herskowitz by composers Martin Kennedy, Milica Paranosic, John Kameel Farah, Yuri Boguinia, Serouj Kradjian, David Ludwig, Gene Pritsker and John Psatha -- as well as by Lara and Matt themselves.

Whatever the project, Lara tends to bring her wicked chops and some good irreverent humor to the endeavor. This is no exception. The sources for these tunes range from the violin canon ("Czardas") to: a "scratchy old record from Oltenia," the ubiquitous Hava Nagila, a traditional hammer dulcimer tune, a tune from a klezmer lesson, a tune learned in a bar and more.

Lara is a well-traveled musician with a lot of curiosity and range, who isn't afraid to put a new twist on the well-known -- or to plunge straight into the unknown. Take, for example, Bach. She has made a number of traditional Bach recordings, including the full Sonatas and Partitas for Solo Violin in 2007. But in more recent years, she's also become a virtuoso video editor and taken to Youtube, creating a series of highly creative Bach videos with dancer Stephanie Cadman in which they dance and play, say, a Bourree all over New York, or the G Minor Presto all over Toronto.

Lara St. John
Lara St. John. © J. Farley Photography.

We've known about her Gypsy side for a long time; as well as her penchant for polkas. How exactly did "Shiksa" evolve? I spoke with her via e-mail to find out:

Laurie: I've seen the video for Czardashian Rhapsody -- first, did you edit it?

Lara: Yes, I did edit it! And produced it, and came up with the idea of a harmonium in a 1949 Chevy pickup, because we had a gift harmonium (?), and that awesome Chevy, so it seemed like a natural thing to do.

Laurie: Speaking of Czardas, it's a piece that many people play. Over the course of your violinistic life, how has your view of this piece evolved? I'm guessing you first played quite young, in a much less elaborate form!

Lara: I've been playing a version or another of this Czardas my whole life, but never in the original form - which is actually a Roma tune an Italian guy named Monti wrote down after visiting Hungary. He didn't compose it. He just wrote it down for the first time and took all the credit.

Laurie: What gave you the idea to put together an album like this? Has it been brewing in your mind for a long time?

Lara: Oh yes - since my first trip to Hungary at 11 years old. I was astonished by all the music everywhere and thought that maybe I had been kidnapped by some Canadian family, because I felt like I belonged there.

Since that time, and especially since my year of living in the Soviet Union when I was 17, I've been fascinated with songs and music from many cultures in, shall we say, that general area. The borders are always changing, but the music is the one thing that folks always respond to and recognize.

Laurie: What does "Shiksa" mean, in the context of this album? And all those other words on the front of the album? ("gadji, külföldi, furešta," words in other alphabets...)

Lara: "Shiksa" is a word in Yiddish for a non-Jewish girl. Some half century or more ago, at the time of Roth's Portnoy and Bellow's Herzog it had a derogatory meaning, but no longer. It basically means the same as Gringa, which I I don't find at all offensive (even when it's followed by 'gigante'). Basically, I am a giant (6' ft) rather pasty Canadian with straight blond hair. I'm a total Shiksa, so I figure I might as well own it.

The other words are all the respective cultures' ways of saying Shiksa - in Roma, in Arabic, in Armenian, in Hungarian, Macedonian, Greek........The Greek one means "She who has no colour." Fair enough.

Laurie: How did a "random Canadian chick," as you've called yourself, get this music so deeply into her blood? It's not like you can just get that feeling by looking at sheet music, or even by taking lessons from a Curtis prof, am I correct? For those who don't know your story, can you talk a little about your travels, learning about the Roma music, Klezmer, etc.?

Lara: I went to Curtis as a child (at 13) and left to Moscow a few years later (at 16). By that time, I had already come into contact with a lot of folk musicians - my own Canadian/French Canadian background had taught me about fiddling. But for those few years I studied hard and learned a lot from Felix Galimir, about Schoenberg, for example. I still kick myself for not learning more from him. He was an incredible musician and person.

In the Moscow year, I traveled around the former Soviet Union; to the Caucasus and Central Asia and to then-Yugoslavia, listened and learned - about life, and also lots of songs.

I still occasionally take klessons from Alicia Svigals. You can never have enough klessons (klezmer lessons).

Laurie: I noticed that, for a few of these tunes, you have descriptions like "Kolo comes from an old tune Lara once learned from an old guy in a bar..." So, do you usually take your fiddle to bars, or was it a song you sang..? How about the tune off the scratchy record? I guess I'm asking you to speak to the idea of culture, of letting it grow on you, however it gets to you. How do you nurture this kind of zest for continual learning?

Lara:Well, that Kolo you can't quite sing...it was after a concert in Belgrade and I had my fiddle with me and we went to a Kafana (a resto/bar which has music). I'm not sure how exact it is, but it's what I took away from the evening, so I figured I'd record it myself as a sort of violin troubadour tribute. Some tunes I know from old LPs I found in some street sale, junk shop or similar.....I have a collection of thousands of them.

I have a weird memory, and a love of music in every guise - it's all so intertwined.

Laurie: You have a lot of collaborators on this, how did you pick them? And how did you decide which one would work on which tune? And did you and Matt wind up riffing a little bit on these arrangements?

Lara: Matt and I basically created a few of them out of charts - there are some with no arranger because they're improvisational, so different every time. As for the composers, I started out giving folks lots of cross-cultural tunes - and noticed they always went with their respective backgrounds; at which point, I figured, fair enough. Folks are going to choose what resonates best. The exception is Martin Kennedy, who is obviously not Hungarian, but that Czardashian of his is a badly needed new violin showpiece, and very witty. It brings the house down every time.

Laurie: What's it like to work with Matt Herskowitz? How did you first meet and how did you wind up doing this collaboration?

Lara:Matt is a ridonkulous pianist. He is mostly known as a jazz great, but he also does classical fabulously and I don't imagine there is anything he can't do.

We met as kids in Philadelphia, but neither of us really remember each other too well from then. I played on his Jerusalem Trilogy album (of originals) some six years ago, and from then on we have been partners in many projects, from Jazz to Gypsy to Yiddish to Bach.

Laurie: This is a little bit of an aside, but I watched your version of Anaconda as well as Nicki Minaj's (warning: rather twerky). So somehow you were able to translate this booty-song rap to the fiddle. Was that different for you, translating a rap onto the violin?

Lara: You know, that was really not easy. I had to work for a few days on how to put it in my memory bank at first....because there are no actual notes.

In the end, I just did drawings. Of how she enunciated and spoke - my score for that - just to put it in for my memory - is hilarious - it looks like piles of worms on a staff. I called it 'PlayStimme".

Schoenberg is likely rolling in his grave.

* * *

Lara St. John and Matt Herskowitz do some Romanian honky-tonk accompanied by hot dancers and cheating card players. From the album Shiksa:

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Review: Joshua Bell in Recital with Sam Haywood at Disney Hall

November 4, 2015 22:12

Joshua Bell
Joshua Bell. Photo by Eric Kabik.

A study of contrast, Joshua Bell can strike the attitude of a rock star in one moment, then a poet in the next.

Performing in recital with pianist Sam Haywood at the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles Tuesday night, Bell fashioned a program of pieces that connected him with his late violin teacher, Joseph Gingold, who would have been 106 on Oct. 28. Bell described the lineage of his violin family -- "Wieniawski taught Ysaÿe, Ysaÿe taught Gingold, and...I don't belong in this sentence."

A modest statement, but refuted by the evidence. Beyond his star power and dazzling violin playing, Bell is our living link to that time, those styles, those stories, that tradition.

The recital began with Vitali's Chaconne, a piece that begins as a simple harmonic progression and grows increasingly complex as it unfolds. Bell called it "my favorite piece, at age 11," a work that many great violinists of the 20th century (like Jascha Heifetz) performed but that has fallen out of fashion. From the perspective of a violinist, the piece is frequently assigned to students, who can find it riddled with land mines and hard to fit with the piano part. Of course, these guys had no trouble fitting their duples with triples and synchronizing their syncopations. Bell and Haywood showed this piece for the gem it can be: beautiful lines spilling like water, crystal-clear filigree, music that sighs and declaims and builds to a shivery frenzy, a piece that ends in a victory parade of perfect octaves.

Beethoven's "Kreutzer" Sonata was full of the drama and suspense that have made this piece a favorite, as well as an inspiration for literature and film. The leisurely invitation of the opening, with Bell's deliciously in-tune double-stops, launches into breakneck action. This was an up-tempo Kreutzer. Bell said this was the first major piece he studied with Gingold; he knows it well. He gave himself over completely to this mercurial work, bursting with notes one minute and quieting to near stillness the next. After the first movement, the Angeleno audience clapped with great enthusiasm. After living here 16 years, I still don't clap between movements, but I smile at the idea that a concert has attracted a good many people who do.

The second movement opens with the piano playing one of the most appealing melodies ever written, then passing it to the violin. Here and throughout the movement, Bell spun the melody with great skill, giving every line a sense of inevitable direction. The movement is a theme with variations, repeating itself many times. Bell made a special event of each variation, and I became increasingly convinced that if he were to spend an entire concert playing a solitary note over and over, he'd find a way to make it endlessly interesting. The third movement was full of playful interaction, with a lot of humor in the way Bell kept sneaking up with the melody and then ducking back under to accompany when the the piano took it over.

Besides the Beethoven, other main piece on the recital was the Sonata by César Franck, a piece which Bell recorded in 2012 with the pianist Jeremy Denk for an album called French Impressions. Written by Franck in 1886 as a wedding present for Eugène Ysaÿe, It's a piece that certainly features the piano as much as the violin, if not more, and Haywood brought great skill and amazing chops to the endeavor. In the stormy second movement the piano overpowered the violin somewhat and Bell seemed to be working hard for his sound throughout. That said, he knows how to get what he wants. If anyone needed a primer in the many speeds and widths of vibrato that an artist can employ (including none at all, at times) to produce sound color, Bell's vast repertoire was on full display for this piece. The final movement of the sonata begins as a gentle canon and ends in more of an animated chase - they nearly tripped over each other getting to the finish line, but all's well that ends well!

Three show pieces concluded the evening, almost like planned encores, in place of Sarasate's "Carmen," as was listed in the program. Brahms' Hungarian Dance No. 1 was a familiar virtuoso piece. Bell played Kreisler's "Liebesleid" (Love's Sorrow) in honor of Gingold, explaining that the picture of Kreisler that hung over Gingold's piano now hangs next to Bell's piano in his home. And in introducing Wieniawski's "Scherzo Tarantelle," he described it as a dance that one does after being bitten by a tarantula, and that he last performed it a child on the Johnny Carson show, during which his peg slipped and he basically had to get by on three strings!

Laurie Niles and Joshua Bell

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The Week in Reviews, Op. 105: Gidon Kremer, Leila Josefowicz, Gil Shaham

November 3, 2015 11:53

Gidon Kremer
Gidon Kremer. © Kasskara / ECM Records

In an effort to promote the coverage of live violin performance, Violinist.com each week presents links to reviews of notable concerts and recitals around the world.

Gidon Kremer performed Bartók's Violin Concerto No. 1 with the San Francisco Symphony.

  • San Francisco Classical Voice: "In Kremer's interpretation, the music flowed inexorably but with a light touch. No matter how technically difficult the score may be, Kremer's violin sang with a seamless legato characteristic of only the greatest singers. He consistently shaped the melodic line perfectly."
  • The San Francisco Chronicle: "The evening’s biggest disappointment...came at the midpoint, with Gidon Kremer’s brusque and awkwardly unsentimental solo turn in Bartók’s Violin Concerto No. 1. Written by the young composer as an avowal of love for violinist Stefi Geyer, the concerto can be full of endearingly youthful passion, as it was in 2006 when Lisa Batiashvili was the soloist with the orchestra. Kremer was having none of that. Instead, he charted a rhythmically harsh and often ill-tuned course through Bartók’s score, one that all too rarely caught the romantic ardor beneath the notes. No wonder Geyer turned Bartók down."
  • Examiner.com: "While Kremer kept his body language minimal, his account of those contrasts could not have been more vivid; and Boreyko could not have served him better with ensemble support....this was a performance that prioritized the music itself, allowing the listener to grasp and appreciate even the slightest of gestures that Bartók had tucked away in this highly personal score."

Leila Josefowicz performed Adams' Scheherazade.2 with the London Symphony Orchestra.

  • The Guardian: "In the Barbican, it took a while for the LSO to realise that they were not the centre of attention and that Josefowicz’s wonderfully committed and ferociously intense playing (from memory!) was. But once they had, the balance between orchestra and soloist was much more convincing."
  • Music OMH: "It is certainly a moving work, and the violinist, Leila Josefowicz (for whom the work was written) addressed the virtuoso requirements of the part with outstanding brilliance, but, ultimately it was a challenging piece to listen to. This modern-day Scheherazade is rightly very angry – she inspires sympathy and admiration; we understand her anger and agree with it, but it does not make her loveable in any way, and the fistfuls of notes ripped from the violin attest to this.
  • The Independent: "Now in her full maturity, ex-prodigy Josefowicz is a virtuoso of the old school, and the sheer beauty of her concluding flight cast a redeeming aura over all that had gone before."

Gil Shaham performed works by Bach accompanying David Michalek's film "Bach Six Solos."

  • The New York Times: "(Michalek's film) is the tepid stuff of advertisements for blood pressure medication, not a worthy partner for Bach. Mr. Shaham deserved better: He built in intensity through the long performance, his tempos brisk but never rushed....He delivered the seething, sprawling Chaconne from the D minor Partita with evocative changeability..."

Renaud Capuçon performed the Mendelssohn with the Los Angeles Philharmonic.

  • Los Angeles Times: "Renaud Capuçon managed to make the inescapable concerto fit the occasion by finding a way for predictable music to sound not only unpredictable but also risky. The French violinist's tone is slender, and he glided through the score with tremendous speed and agility but also with considerable refinement, treating the solo part as tightrope act. That combination can keep a listener on the edge of his or her seat."

Pekka Kuusisto performed the Nielsen with the Scottish Chamber Orchestra.

  • The Guardian: "Nielsen was a folk fiddler and Kuusisto made it show in the gorgeous looseness of his rhythms and stripped-back grit of his sound. There’s not an inch of formality to his playing: he might as well have wandered the hall and whispered, crooned and stomped directly into our ears. His encore was a pair of traditional polskas, full of spry ornamentation and raucous swing. What a thrill."
  • The Scotsman: "Kuusisto’s personality shone through from the opening Bach-inspired flourishes, through to the macabre, dance-infused finale."
  • Edinburgh Guide: "The Finnish violinist Pekka Kuusisto is a delight to watch. An astonishing virtuoso violinist he played Carl Nielsen’s Violin concerto to perfection."

Frederieke Saeijs performed the Knussen with the Britten Sinfonia.

  • Music OMH: "Young Dutch soloist Frederieke Saeijs did full justice to the work, playing it without a score and, after a string snapped in the final movement, swiftly swapping violins with the orchestra’s leader, Jacqueline Shave."
  • The Telegraph: "Amid these fascinating sonorities, it makes virtuosic demands, and here the warm-toned Dutch violinist Frederieke Saeijs trod the tightrope brilliantly, not even missing a beat when she broke a string and quickly exchanged violins with the leader."

Arabella Steinbacher performed the Brahms with the Philharmonia.

  • The Guardian: "Her immaculate tone suited its extended lyricism perfectly, though the high technical finish of her playing never came at the expense of emotional truth. Skilfully partnered by Salonen and the orchestra, she gave many individual phrases space to breathe while digging deep into the more vehement passages."
  • Evening Standard: "The programme’s centrepiece was Brahms’s Violin Concerto, given a performance of unshowy virtuosity by Arabella Steinbacher. Her 1710 Stradivarius has a lovely, clean tone, whether singing sweetly or huskily; while other players may find more flash, her lack of exaggeration, even in the storming finale, paid dividends."

Patricia Kopatchinskaja performed the Larcher with the London Philharmonic Orchestra.

  • The Independent: "Kopatchinskaja dominated the second movement with everything from broad, double-stopped melodies to stratospheric yelps and glissandi..."

Please support music in your community by attending a concert or recital whenever you can!

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