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Laurie Niles

The Handel and Haydn Society: 200 years of the "Messiah" in America

December 20, 2014 16:46

It's hard to imagine the holiday season without Handel's "Messiah," but the oratorio didn't actually catch on in North America until more than 70 years after its premiere in Europe.

Originally, the piece premiered not during the Christmas season, but during Lent, on April 13, 1742, in Dublin, Ireland. Thanks to the Boston-based Handel and Haydn Society, it arrived in the New World on Christmas day in 1815, and it's had a great run ever since.

The Handel and Haydn Society, known affectionately as "the H & H," has also had a great run -- the group now prides itself in being the oldest continuously performing arts organization in America. This season marks its bicentennial, and H & H just released a recording of the full "Messiah".

One secret to its success is inherent in its name: from the beginning, it aimed to embrace both the old and the new.

"They chose the name 'Handel and Haydn' because Handel was the old guy and Haydn was the young whippersnapper writing that newfangled music," said current H & H concertmaster Aisslinn Nosky. "As a classical musician, I love reminding myself that at some point, this music was literally drying on the page. I still treat it like new music. To me, it's new every night; it's always something fresh."

Through the years, the H and H had been responsible for premiering an impressive collection of pieces in the United States: Handel’s "Messiah" (partially in 1815, and the full version in 1818), Haydn’s "Creation" (1819), Verdi’s Requiem (1878), and Bach’s St. Matthew Passion (1879) among them.

The group has evolved with the times: For that first performance, at King’s Chapel in Boston, the H & H had just been formed by a plucky group of mostly middle-class amateurs, eager to "extend the knowledge and improve the style of performance of church music" in the new country. The chorus of 100 (just 10 women among them) and small orchestra performed an eclectic program that was part-Handel's "Messiah," part Haydn's "Creation" and part hodge-podge, for an audience of 1,000. Over the years, the chorus for the various oratorios grew, ballooning as high as 700 for a five-day Golden Jubilee in 1865.

Here is a picture from H & H's centennial concert in 1915 at Boston's Symphony Hall, with a chorus or more than 200 voices and a sizable orchestra.

But as the 20th century progressed, so did musical tastes and practices -- particularly in regard to Baroque music. The heavy-handed Romantic approach, with its enormous choruses, lost favor as scholarship about Baroque performance practice grew. In 1967, the H & H appointed a new music director, Thomas Dunn, who began a process of paring down the chorus to about 30 and focusing on historical performance practice, though still using modern instruments. In 1986, Christopher Hogwood, a pioneer (some might say The Pioneer) in the period-performance movement who had founded the Cambridge (UK)-based Academy of Ancient Music in 1973, became music director of the H & H and completed the group's transformation into a period-performance ensemble, playing on Baroque instruments.

Harry Christopher conducts a recent performance of the Handel and Haydn Society. Photo by James Doyle

"The mission at the H & H was always the old and the new, and actually in a strange way, by turning the orchestra into a period orchestra, (Hogwood) actually didn't alter that mission," said current H & H music director Harry Christophers. "He was making the old music sound new, using period instruments."

How so?

"When you hear an orchestra playing Handel or Bach on period instruments, you are hearing things that you've never heard before: you're hearing phrasing, you're hearing imitation. In something like (Bach's) Matthew Passion, you're hearing an instrumentation that cannot be reproduced on modern instruments," Christophers said. "The sound of an oboe d'amore or an oboe da caccia is so far-removed from anything that can be produced in a modern orchestra. The Baroque trumpet, the sweet tone of Purcell's trumpets, it's like an extension of the oboe -- it's not the same as hearing a modern trumpet. All these colors were re-inventing this music and making it wonderfully new and alive."

Using period instruments opens performers to a different kind of music-making. "The (Baroque) bow is so completely different from a modern bow, and different things are possible," Christophers said. In some ways it is more nimble, allowing for faster speeds - but faster speeds at a lower pitch. The orchestra tunes to an A at 415 hertz (as opposed to the more standard range for modern performance, which is 440-443 hertz), which equates to about a half-step lower. The violinists and violists play without shoulder rests and often without chinrests, as was the Baroque custom, and it's quite a different technique.

And audiences might be surprised to learn just how forward-looking the music of the Baroque period could be.

At a recent concert, the H & H performed Vivaldi, and "a critic said that (concertmaster Aisslinn Nosky's) ornaments were rather showy and bizarre," Christophers said. "But she had actually made a point in this particular concert to say, 'All the ornaments that I'm going to do in this particular Vivaldi are Vivaldi's very own, they survive in the manuscript.' My goodness me, they were even more way-out than some of the things she would normally do! So it's quite interesting."

Nosky, who also plays in the Toronto-based Tafelmusik, said she was first drawn to period performance by a heightened sense of movement and dance.

H & H Concertmaster Aisslinn Nosky. Photo by Stu Rosner

"A lot of Baroque music is either meant to be dance music or is directly related to dance music," Nosky said. The first time she saw a period performance group, she was taken in by "the feeling of the dance that I was getting, being broadcast to me so clearly from these people playing this music. Even though I already knew works by Bach and Telemann, I think that element of the physical, the visceral, the motion of the dancing -- hadn't really been brought so clearly home to me, before I was introduced to historical performance style."

"Since then I've become fascinated by many other facets of historical performance: the instruments themselves, the materials we use for our strings," she said.

In fact, there is no such thing as a standard "Baroque violin," she said. "There was no standardization in the 18th century; each little hamlet or town or city had to do things their own way, to a certain extent, because you couldn't travel around as easily. Ideas and changes and innovations spread at a very different speed than they do nowadays. So if you say 'Baroque violin,' you're actually talking about many, many different types of violins, as they were slowly transitioning from the old instruments in the 16th century to today's modern violin."

Period performers aim to be authentic, which means gut strings. So are they really made of cat gut?

"Our strings are made out of sheep intestines -- either sheep, or less commonly, cow intestines," Nosky said. "It's actually the same material as the casing that goes around hot dogs or sausages. They clean it, they bleach it, and then specialty string makers stretch them out, twist them up and dry them. They try to keep them straight and uniform in their diameter. It's very difficult to do, because if they have any irregularities or flaws, they tend to not resonate properly, not vibrate uniformly, which will make weird noises. It's a real craft, to make them well. They definitely give a different timbre to the sound; there's a different kind of attack, the start of the note will sound very different when you're playing on a gut string. They're also very sensitive to changes in temperature and humidity."

Also, they break. Very easily.

"Last spring I could not get through one performance of Vivaldi Four Seasons on one string," Nosky said. "It was warm, and I think my hands must have been sweating more than they normally do. I would play two "Seasons" before intermission, change my E string, then have to play the second two on the newer E string, which would be a little bit unstable." That was exceptional, but even under normal circumstances, the gut strings don't last long. "Normally I can depend on getting at least five days of really intense playing out of an E string and as much as three weeks, but never more than that if I'm playing at all. After three weeks it's just going break. You'll get a few weeks out of an A string, it's already thicker."

The D and G strings last longer, but "they're actually so thick that they take quite a while to become stable. I have a spare violin at home that I'm pre-stretching strings on," Nosky said. "I have a bunch of D strings that are pre-stretched so that when I do put them on, hopefully they will stay closer to the pitch that I need."

And speaking of the pitch, gut strings can be, well, pitchy.

"Sometimes it takes one fierce down-bow to make them go flat," Nosky said. "If I'm playing vigorously, if I'm playing Beethoven string quartets, or even a vigorous Haydn string quartet, I will be bowing on my strings hard enough that they'll actually go flat. You get adept at quickly and quietly adjusting your pegs to get them back into shape again. You just start to hear when they're slipping down you learn to poke them back up again, on your own without making noise. 'Virtuoso tuning' all of a sudden becomes a real thing!"

Considering all this fuss, "it completely makes sense that a traveling virtuoso, at the turn of the century, after the Industrial Revolution, would have wanted to find a more stable material to put on their instrument."

So why bother?

"Something people have shared with me is that they love the tone, the color world of old instruments," Nosky said. Not only that, but certain pieces of the repertoire are easier to understand, when played on the instruments of that time. "Some composers will really push the limits of these old instruments, and it adds a certain excitement. For example, if you play Beethoven on old instruments, certain technical aspects of them become even harder." Until she tried playing Beethoven on a period instrument, "I didn't really see as clearly, the fact that Beethoven was trying to break tradition. Playing a Beethoven symphony on a Baroque violin, you feel like you're going to break your violin! Especially the Fifth (symphony). He was trying to push beyond the limits of everything: of form, of harmony and of instruments. For me it's easier to connect with that pushing-boundary when you play an older violin. The strings on the violin will snap if you play on them too hard, they'll just explode. And for Beethoven that's entirely appropriate, he was trying to explode the world!"

While we strive to find the "new thing" that will connect with audiences, we might well think about the opposite: the fact that music can connect us so with history, and in such an immediate way.

"I wonder if there is some basic human need to feel connected to the past," Nosky said. "While the entire tradition of playing classical music is connected to the past, in period performance we are wearing that connection on our sleeve, in a way. With this old equipment we can make the music fresh and new."

* * *

I couldn't find any videos of the H & H performing, but here is a nice one of members of the H & H, (Aisslinn Nosky, violin; Susanna Ogata, violin; Guy Fishman, cello and Ian Watson, harpsichord) playing Vivaldi Sonata 'Folia' at (le) Poisson Rouge in New York:

2 replies

Best American Fiddle Books and Resources for Teaching, Learning and Exploring

December 15, 2014 16:04

For many years, violin teachers have been helping their students explore fiddle and folk music in addition to their classical studies. With help from a lot of great teachers (listed at the end of this article) I've compiled a list of some of the best resources to help teachers, students and musicians explore various types of fiddle music and American music. Categories I've included are fiddle (which includes a variety of kinds of fiddle music), Canadian fiddle, and a few entries for jazz, rock and tango. In the future I hope to make other (or expanded) lists for genres like gypsy, klezmer, mariachi, Indian, jazz, etc. (Tell me which you'd like, most!)

Below, if you click on the name of the book, CD or method, in most cases that will bring you to the link for how to buy it. There are also some great books out there that are either out-of-print or not available on the Internet, and I wanted you to be aware of them anyway. If you wish to find those, I have given links that should provide a lead, and you also might check with your local library or university music library.

I hope this list of resources helps in your learning, teaching and exploration of fiddle music. If you have additional resources to share, please do so in the comments section or e-mail me with your ideas. Enjoy!


A collecting point for folk tunes. Very helpful to get basic versions and many versions of standard fiddle tunes

The Children's Session Book, by Karen Ashbrook
For kids that want to learn Irish tunes.

The Fiddle Series, by Greg Baker
Five books, plus his Fiddle Workshop I and II. Hard to find! Consider looking in a library for this book.

Fiddle Tunes for the Violinist and Violin Pieces Country Style, by Betty M. Barlow
Beginner and first-position pieces, arranged in order of difficulty, with piano accompaniment.

Arrangements from the Canadian band "Barrage," which performs a mix of fiddle, folk, and world music. Intermediate-advanced.

Mel Bay books for violin and fiddle
Mel Bay has more books for fiddle than anyone can possibly describe. Explore them with the link above.

Fiddle Heart Scandinavian Fiddle Tunes, by Göran Berg
Three volumes of Scandinavian fiddle tunes. "Fabulous!"

The Fiddler's Fakebook: The Ultimate Sourcebook For The Traditional Fiddler, by David Brody (Oak Publications)
"This is not a method book, and it isn't really a 'fakebook' in the sense of giving a barebones melody with chord analysis, but it is a good place for teachers or students to go to if they want some ideas about what a particular tune could be like but they don't have a recording or a fiddler handy to go ask. As fiddle tunes morph with age and location, it's only a snapshot of what some fiddlers of the time were doing in recordings, at the time of publication, not a source for what a tune is in it's basic format," said Jenny Visick.

A Guide to American Fiddling, by Andy Carlson
Andrew Carlson provides a detailed technical analysis of Missouri-style fiddling, focusing primarily on the use of the bow. Carlson further offers a comparison of classical and non-classical techniques, a brief history of American fiddling, plus 23 traditional tunes with authentic bowing indications. A CD recording of the tunes is included.

Millionaires Hoedown by Herman Clebenoff
Great for the intermediate-level student. Also available in Solos for Young Violinists, Vol. 2 by Barbara Barber.

European Fiddle Tunes by Pete Cooper
Tunes by British fiddler Pete Cooper, all published by Schott; each book comes with a CD of the tunes played by Pete Cooper.
Irish Fiddle Solos (64 tunes)
English Fiddle Tunes (99 tunes)
Eastern European Fiddle Tunes (80 tunes)

Fiddlers Philharmonic, by Andrew Dabczynski and Bob Phillips
"I am a classroom teacher, but I like Fiddlers Philharmonic. It has easy to make into arrangements versions, and solo versions of each piece in each book," said Kristen Herbert Vance.

Fiddlin' Favorites, by Lisa Manning Deakins
Traditional Bluegrass Fiddle Tunes that correlates with Suzuki Method Violin Books 1 and 2. Compiled, edited, and arranged by Lisa Deakins. This book and digital recording set includes more than 15 solo tunes, several ways to begin and end tunes, and twin fiddling duets.

String Connection Music Book, Vol. 1 and 2, by John Dewey
Fiddle books with CDs (looks like you need to contact John Dewey to obtain the books)

Top Fiddle Solos, by Craig Duncan
60 fiddle tunes, including Dueling Fiddles; Rocky Top; Black Mountain Rag; Tennessee Waltz; Faded Love; Cajun Fiddle; Jole Blon; Gardenia Waltz; Draggin' the Bow; Granny Does Your Dog Bite?; Black-Eyed Suzie; Wabash Cannonball

Elmore Fiddle Camp, by Randy Elmore
Randy Elmore has a fiddle camp and has 10 books with Cd's that can be back-ordered. His specialty is Texas Fiddle/Western Swing. His books also have great tunes taught by all the great players/teachers: the Morrises, Wes Westmoreland, Katie Holmes, Phoebe Hunt, Marty Elmore, Valerie O'Briens. His tunes are usually just the original 2 parts, then it's up to the fiddler to dress them up with variations, but his tunes are usually obscure and fun (whip the devil around the stump, 49 cats in a rain barrel etc...kids like the titles )

String Groove, by Edgar Gabriel
Book and CD with original tunes in the styles of: Irish Fiddle, Smooth Jazz, Jazz Blues, Rock, Middle-Eastern, Old-time Fiddle, Salsa, Heavy-Metal, Cajun Fiddle, Rock Blues, Swing Jazz, Funk. Aimed at teaching improvisation.

Fiddlescapes by Deborah Greenblatt
By Deborah Greenblatt, the past Nebraska State and Mid-America fiddle champion. Contains many tunes from hoedowns to waltzes of all levels of difficulty. Tips on how to buy and take care of a fiddle; performing in fiddle contests; what to do and what to play; backup techniques; and much more.

Fairfield Fiddle Farm, by Charles Hall
Books and CDs for beginners through Suzuki Book 3 and beyond

CountryDance! by Canadian composer Donald Heins

American Fiddler, by Edward Huws Jones
This is just one of an extensive fiddler series by Edward Huws Jones, who has also written an entire series of Fiddler books for students including Celtic, Greek, French, Klezmer, Christmas and more.

Fun Improvisation for Violin and Musical Improvisation for Children, by Alice Kay Kanack
A child-friendly introduction to improvisation, using 28 musical exercises and play-along ideas. (Book and CD)

The Contemporary Violinist, by Julie Lyonn Lieberman
An exploration of fiddle and violin styles, with dozens of left- and right-hand exercises and tunes designed to help develop the feel of a variety of styles and ways they can be used for improvisation.

Bluegrass Fiddle, by Gene Lowinger
Focus on bluegrass and country, covering right-hand techniques, double stops, slurs and slides; with 29 bluegrass and 14 traditional tunes in standard music notation.

The Maine Fiddle Camp website
The Maine Fiddle Camp website has a tunes section with sheet music and mp3s of many popular fiddle tunes.

The Fiddle Club, by Dean Marshall and John Crozman
By the creators of Barrage, fiddle tunes for the beginning and intermediate student. With piano and guitar accompaniments available as well as a CD.

300 Fiddle Tunes, by Ron Middlebrook (Centerstream Publishing)
This comprehensive collection of fiddle tunes that includes reels, hornpipes, strathspeys, jigs, waltzes and slow airs. (Scroll to the bottom of the above link)

Learn to Play Irish Trad Fiddle by Tom Morley
The histories are with the pieces, and it includes a super helpful CD, making it a fine resource. Pieces can easily be made more challenging if needed. Students of all levels love them.

Ruffwater Fake Book, edited by Judi Morningstar
117 reels and 52 jigs. Great for combining tunes in similar keys, easy to read. With chords.

The Phillips Collection of Traditional American Fiddle Tunes, by Stacy Phillips (Mel Bay) (Scroll down to find book)
Volume One contains Hoedowns, Breakdowns, and Reels.
Volume Two contains Rags, Blues, Listening Pieces, Waltzes, Jigs, Hornpipes

A huge online collection of Celtic and American fiddle tunes.

The Portland Collection, Vol. 1 and Vol. 2, by Susan Songer and Clyde Curley
Two volumes. Hundreds of jigs and reels from the Portland, Oregon contra dance repertoire. Irish, Scottish, Québécois, Appalachian, and New England genres are represented. The tunes are both traditional and recently composed, from local treasures to national contra dance standards. There is an extensive commentary on every tune including stories about the tunes from their composers. There are chord suggestions, a discography, a bibliography, and more. Little, if any, overlap with the tunes in the Fiddler's Fakebook.

Ashokan Farewell, by Jay Ungar
Ashokan Farewell is best known as the theme from Kenneth Burns' Civil War television documentary. This is the music to Jay Ungar's authorized solo edition as performed in the documentary series, arranged for violin with piano accompaniment and suggested chord symbols for optional guitar and bass. Also by Jay Unger, Lovers Waltz.

Walker Family Band
American-Irish music from this family band, which also holds summer camps and workshops.

Children's Fiddle Method Books 1 & 2, by Carol Ann Wheeler (Mel Bay)
Has different versions of songs - basic, then rhythm and/ or bowing variations.

The American Fiddle Method, by Brian Wicklund
The method uses traditional tunes in a step-by-step progression, and covers important concepts like ensemble playing, improvisation, and 'jamming' skills. The book includes a CD for listening and play-along. Volume 1 is geared towards beginning to intermediate-level players.

Martha Yasuda arrangements
Her American-themed arrangements include: American Melodies Double Stop Solos and Duets, American Melodies for Four Violins, Cell-Phone Symphony for Four (intermediate to advanced violinists.)

Fiddleworks 1, 2, and 3, by Zav RT (Frederick Harris Music)
Three progressive volumes of jigs, waltzes, reels, marches, as well as Old Time, Celtic, Eastern European, and North American tunes. CD included with three tracks per song: one performance speed, one practice speed and one accompaniment only.Canadian fiddler Zav RT composed and recorded these works. Great fun!


The Dungreen Collection - Traditional Celtic Violin Music of Cape Breton, by Kate Dunlay and David Greenberg (1996)
Detailed transcriptions of tunes performed by recognized greats of Cape Breton fiddling. Includes details seldom seen in books of fiddle music (bow pressure, intelligent discussion of how modes affect harmony, a discography & history for every tune, a listing & explanation of ornament symbols and a truly informative introduction) A must-read for anyone new to Cape Breton music. It appears to be out of print, but here is a starting point (Also, consider searching a library, if you are very interested in this book)

Danse ce soir! Tunebook: Fiddle & accordion music of Québec, by Laurie Hart
Extensive background information, maps, photos, and chords. The book has 122 reels, 6/8s & waltzes, including all the tunes on the CD. Co-author is pianist Greg Sandell. She has a mixture of Euro- American music.

Teaching CDs by Laura Risk
"Tunes 2001" includes two CDs with 65 well-known tunes from Scotland, Cape Breton, Ireland, Quebec and New England, each played fast and then slow. A great way to get better at learning by ear.

The Fiddle Music of Newfoundland and Labrador - Volumes 1 and 2, collected by Kelly Russell
Volume 1: 250 fiddle tunes learned from master fiddlers Rufus Guinchard and Emile Benoit.
Volume 2: features the tunes of 24 other Newfoundland and Labrador fiddlers

The Easiest Dance Tunes from Newfoundland and Labrador, compiled by Christina Smith
Easy-to-play, Newfoundland fiddle tunes. Old favorites (like Mussels in the Corner, Auntie Mary, She Said She Couldn’t Dance and Now I’m 64) along with many unique tunes never previously published. Graded in order of difficulty for fiddle.

Canadian Old Time Fiddle Hits, by Gordon Stobbe
Compiled by Gordon Stobbe, he has three fiddle books, plus he Fiddler's Red Book of Scales and Arpeggios and a book of Waltzes. Stobbe contacted fiddlers and asked them to list the most commonly played tunes at jams & dances and compiled this lists into these books. CD with each volume.


Jamey Aebersold Jazz: Aebersold Play-A-Longs
Books and CDs of jazz standards -- kind of a karaoke system for practicing jazz improv.

Stylistic Duets for Two Violins, by Jeremy Cohen
Nice jazz duets for the intermediate to advanced student. His website also includes Mexican, Tango, and lots more Jazz, including Dave Brubeck for string quartet.

Scott Joplin Ragtime Favourites, arr. by Colin Cowles (Fentone Music)
Violin - Book/CD set.

Jazz Violin by Matt Glaser and Stephane Grappelli
A comprehensive method for playing "hot fiddle," including accurate transcriptions of over 25 solos as played by Grappelli, Joe Venuti and others. Also includes original interviews and tips on improvising from the masters, a complete analysis of each solo, rare historical photos, and an informative discography.

Jazz Improvisation Made Easy by Jody Harmon and John Blake
A modal play-along improvisation method that works well with Suzuki students Bk. 2 and up,

Creative Strings Academy, with Christian Howes
A comprehensive and popular body of instructional materials for "improvising string players."

Jazz Fiddle Wizard by Martin Norgaard
Jazz string methods.


Electrify your Strings, by Mark Wood
School workshops for kids by electric violinist Mark Wood, with arrangements of classic rock and contemporary music.


Folk Melodies of New Mexico and the Southwest, by Susan Kempter and team
About 40 melodies, arranged in pedagogical order, with a history and settings when available, along with photographs, teaching points and changes that were made to the original transcriptions, with CD. To be published in 2015.


Care to Tango, by Michael McLean
Fun tango duets for the intermediate student.

* * *

Many thanks to the following teachers for contributing to this list: Jody Harmon, Kristen Herbert Vance, Becky Lennon, Sarah Montzka, Laura Dalbey, Martha Yasuda, Marcos Kreutzer, Jenny Visick , Michael Fox, Redding Farlow Soderberg, Danielle Gomez, Göran Berg, Julianna Chitwood , Douglas Locke, Keenan Christensen Fletcher, Suzanne Edwards, Linda Louise Ford, S Ann Schluter, Rebecca Appert Kaltz, Julie 'Bamberger' Roubik , Sarah Skreko, Rafael Videira , Nathan Allen Wood, Vera Dragicevich, Laura Nerenberg, Aimee Morrill Briant. Thanks also to Kerstin Wartberg and the Suzuki Teaching Ideas Exchange Facebook group.

13 replies

Laurie's Violin School: Making the Best of "In-Between Time"

December 10, 2014 13:20

What is a music student to do, over the holidays?

Though the holidays can be a very busy time for musicians, music students may find a bit of a lull in their studies during vacation days. Perhaps there was a motivating fall recital or holiday concert, but now it's over. School lets out. Teachers go on break, and lessons go on hiatus. Perhaps one travels to see family or friends.

Should the violin go along, or should it just go on break, too?


I never begrudge people a short break. It's important to connect with family and friends, to do charitable work, to attend a religious service, to throw a party, to do whatever makes that spirit of culture and community come alive for you.

But I'm not ready to tell you to put the bow down entirely! Most people have at least a few days off from work or school during the holidays, and if time and family/religious obligations allow, this "in between" time can prove quite fruitful for you and your violin. Without the pressure of a recital next week or even a lesson next week, you can plan some practice sessions that are purely experimental and a little less goal-oriented. Maybe it's time to sight-read some new music, or just try something that isn't an assignment. Did you stop doing scales, because you were so busy preparing for concerts? Well, do some leisurely scales, or focus on a technical matter that's been on the shelf. Maybe you want to play something from a long time ago, something you just simply liked. Maybe you'd like to just mess around and improvise. If you're lucky, perhaps you will see people who can play chamber music with you, what better way to bond over the holidays?

For some, it's just not possible to take the violin on holiday break, or to get to practicing. If that's the case, then you can still accomplish something by keeping your ears open. Long plane ride? Load your iPod with a recording (or several!) of your new piece and bring some nice headphones. Staying at home? Consider attending a concert or religious service with live music.

What ever the next few weeks holds for you, I hope it will be filled with good music! I welcome your suggestions for making the most of holiday break time.

6 replies

New York Times Refutes Mark O'Connor's Accusations Against Suzuki

December 8, 2014 09:39

Point-by-point, the New York Times refutes all of Mark O'Connor's claims against Shinichi Suzuki in an article published Sunday. Here is a link to the article, if you would like to read it in full. Here is a summation of the major points:

Did Suzuki study with German violinist Karl Klingler?

The article quotes the very well-respected longtime USC Professor Alice Schoenfield:

Alice Schoenfield"'Klingler told me about Suzuki,' she said, adding that while Mr. Klingler did not generally take private students, he made an exception for Mr. Suzuki, whose father owned a violin factory in Japan.

She said that she had the impression that Mr. Suzuki had been an 'on and off' student. 'But he studied with him, and he gave him also a beautiful violin to say thank you when he went back to Japan,' she recalled. 'It was a violin that I played at my recitals. So I know for sure that Suzuki was under his guidance.'"

Did Suzuki have a relationship with Einstein?

Says the article:


'Mr. Suzuki did not claim that he lived with Einstein or that Einstein was his guardian in any legal sense. Rather Mr. Suzuki wrote that when he was a young man in Berlin, a family friend, the biochemist Leonor Michaelis, had asked Einstein to look out for him. He wrote that he had attended some concerts and social events with Einstein and that he had been greatly inspired by him.

Several Einstein scholars said that there were no indications that Mr. Suzuki had a close or lasting relationship with Einstein. But there is evidence that the two men met in Berlin. There is a letter that Mr. Michaelis wrote to Einstein inquiring about a visit from Mr. Suzuki, a letter that Einstein wrote to Mr. Suzuki’s father thanking him for the gift of a violin and a drawing that Einstein inscribed to Mr. Suzuki.'

Did Pablo Casals go to a Suzuki concert, and was he moved by it?

The NYT interviewed Casals’s widow, Marta Casals Istomin:

Shin'ichi Suzuki

"...she confirmed that she had attended the Suzuki concert in Tokyo with Casals in 1961. She said that Casals, who had taken a lifelong interest in children and music for children, had been “very moved” by the sight of so many young children playing music, and that he had embraced Mr. Suzuki, but that he had not endorsed the method or given much thought to it.

'He was very touched to hear these children,' Ms. Casals Istomin said in an interview, adding that Casals had wept, as he often did at concerts. 'At that moment, he didn’t think of it as a method. He thought of it as an idea of bringing young people together with music, not whether it was a good method or a bad method.'

She said that the recording of the event — in which Pablo Casals described the concert as 'one of the most moving scenes that one can see' and praised the adults for training children in music, saying, 'Perhaps it’s music that will save the world' — appeared genuine."

So to Mark O'Connor: When are you going to apologize for contriving this "controversy" in an attempt to ruin the reputation of a man who is not alive to defend himself? When are you going to apologize for the personal and public smear campaigns you have waged against legions of teachers (including me) who have simply tried to point out the truth?

You might also like:

18 replies

The 2014 Violinist.com Holiday Gift Guide

December 3, 2014 21:07

Gift-giving is one of the great joys of the holiday season, and each year we compile a list of some of the year's best new offerings from violinists for you to consider in your holiday gift-giving, gift-asking — and post-holiday loading of the Kindle, iPod or other device! We hope this allows you to consider a music-related gift.

giftsWe would also suggest considering supporting your local live music scene by purchasing tickets to local music events or simply making a year-end donation to a musical non-profit of your choice. I've tried to be inclusive, but I'm sure I have missed some ideas, so please feel free add your suggestions in the comments section. And yes, in this case, you are allowed to toot your own horn and recommend your own CD or book or product! You may also wish to refer to our gift-giving guides from previous years; I've listed links to those at the end of this blog.

Many of the recordings below are linked to Amazon.com. Note that if you follow these links and make a purchase from Amazon, a portion of that will go to support Violinist.com. I've also listed the artists' names in italics, and sometimes those are linked to stories we have written this year about them and their work. And whenever you buy any of these selections, from any source, you'll be helping to support the musicians and other artists who created them.

Happy holidays, and may your season be filled with good music!


Anne Akiko Meyers

The Four Seasons: The Vivaldi Album
Anne Akiko Meyers
Anne Akiko Meyers' debut album on the 1741 "Vieuxtemps" Guarneri del Gesù features both "Four Seasons" and the Triple Concerto by Vivaldi, as well as Arvo Part's "Passacaglia." Performed with the English Chamber Orchestra, David Lockington conducting. Incidentally, the "Vieuxtemps" Guarneri del Gesù was "born" in 1741, and Vivaldi died in 1741 -- the same exact year!

1930s Violin Concertos, Vol. 1
Gil Shaham
In about 2009, violinist Gil Shaham realized that most of his favorite violin concertos were written in the 1930s, that tumultuous decade between two World Wars. After performing these concertos live with orchestras around the globe over the last five years, he has set about recording them. In this two-CD set, Shaham performs concertos by Barber, Berg, Hartmann, Stravinsky and Britten, recorded with the New York Philharmonic, Staatskapelle Dresden, Sejong, BBC Symphony and Boston Symphony.

Sibelius/Adès: Violin Concertos
Augustin Hadelich
If you have not yet heard the fine violinist Augustin Hadelich (even if you have!), here is a good place to start. This recording includes the Sibelius Violin Concerto and Thomas Adès' 2005 violin concerto, "Concentric Paths," as well as "Three Humoresques" by Sibelius. The thoughtful program notes are written by Hadelich himself, who speaks of working with composer Thomas Adès in order to truly understand his intentions. Recorded with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra, Hannu Lintu conducting.

Philippe Quint
Photo by Jeff Gerew

Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto
Philippe Quint
After some 200 performances of the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto, Russian-born violinist Philippe Quint felt it was time to record this work that has been part of his musical backdrop since childhood. His first all-Russian album also includes Anton Arensky's gorgeous Quartet No. 2 in A minor, written in memory of Tchaikovsky and scored unconventionally for violin, viola and two cellos. Quint performs on the 1708 "Ruby" Stradivari.

Bach: Sonatas and Partitas for Solo Violin
Stanley Ritchie
Whether prefer your Bach played in Baroque-style or not, this recording by one of the preeminent Baroque performance experts of our time shines the light in so many new corners of these beloved and seminal works for violin. Australian violinist and Indiana University violin professor Stanley Ritchie performs all the solo Sonatas and Partitas on an original Baroque violin in its original condition by Jacob Stainer, c. 1670, one of whose instruments was in Bach's own collection. Booklet text and essay by Stanley Ritchie presented in English, German, French and Italian.

Ray Chen
Photo by Chris Dunlop

Mozart: Violin Concertos & Sonata
Ray Chen
Ray Chen plays Mozart Concertos No. 3 and 4 with buoyant energy, and with (lovely, clever, virtuosic, IMO) cadenzas that he composed himself. He performs on the 1702 "Lord Newlands" Strad, with the Schleswig-Holstein Music Festival Orchestra. Christoph Eschenbach is both conductor, and also pianist for the Sonata for Piano and Violin, K. 305. (No Mozart 5 on this disc, but looking forward to those cadenzas!)

Paganini: 24 Caprices for solo violin, Op. 1
Ilya Gringolts
The Paganini caprices aren't just exercises or vehicles for virtuosity, "I'm convinced that there is a higher kind of musical agenda there, that (Paganini) is after," said 1998 Paganini Competition First Prize winner Ilya Gringolts. Gringolts' performance of all 24 caprices casts these much-recorded and studied works in new light and does not easily fit the old aural grooves.

Time for Three

Time For Three
Time for Three
A jam-trio, born at the Curtis Institute, featuring violinists Zach de Pue and Nick Kendall, and bassist Ranaan Meyer. When it comes to music, nothing is off-limits for these guys; they draw on the rich and diverse musical mix that has been their American experience, whether it's pop, jazz, folk, alternative or classical. If they love it, they'll weave it in. The result is a synergy of genres, music where Bach's Chaconne ebbs in and out of Bon Iver's "Calgary," or a Beatles tune segues seamlessly into Chopin, and it all somehow makes sense.

Dance of Shadows
Roman Mints
If you like the sound of solo violin, here is an aural treat, a journey sculpted carefully by Russian violinist Roman Mints using various microphone placings (he calls it "Spatial Orchestration") to give a very 3-D and live feel for the listener. The recording includes Ysaÿe's Sonata 2 ("Obsession"); Piazzolla's Tango Étude No.2; Tabakova's "Spinning a Yarn" for violin and the hurdy-gurdy-like Russian instrument, the kolesnaya lira (written for Mints, for his twins); Schittke's "A Paganini" and Silvestrov's "Postlude."

Beethoven: The Complete Violin Sonatas
Daishin Kashimoto
Berlin Philharmonic concertmaster Daishin Kashimoto loves chamber music, and here is the evidence, this excellent recording of the complete Beethoven Sonatas for piano and violin, with Russian pianist (and many would say "genius") Konstantin Lifschitz.

Joshua Bell
Photo by Phil Knott

Joshua Bell
In the liner notes, American violinist Joshua Bell quotes Hector Berlioz: "There is no god but Bach, and Mendelssohn is his prophet." In this context Bell presents in this recording the Mendelssohn-orchestrated version of Bach's epic Chaccone from Partita 2, originally written for violin alone. It's clearly one of Bell's favorite pieces (he played it in the subway, and he says he frequently plays it in his practice as a kind of soul-cleanse) and he plays it with complete ease. Love or hate the Chaccone with accompaniment, it's interesting to discover what Mendelssohn heard underneath this music. Bell also performs Bach Violin Concertos No. 1 in A minor and No. 2 in E major, the Schumann-orchestrated version of Gavotte en Rondeau from Partita 3; and "Air." All performed with the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields, of which Bell is the musical director.

Fantasy and Farewell, Music for Viola and Orchestra
Roger Myers
Let's just put the viola front-and-center, as soloist with orchestra! This satisfying and viola-centric recording premieres Los Angeles-based composer Michael McLean's Suite for Viola and Orchestra, commissioned by violist and University of Texas-Austin Professor and Chairman of Strings Roger Myers as a memorial to his mother. The piece is hopeful in sentiment and lushly orchestrated. The recording also includes two chamber pieces, upsized for viola and orchestra: McLean's arrangement of Schumann's Märchenbilder and Vladimir Mendelssohn's arrangement of Shostakovich's Viola Sonata, Op. 147.

Handel and Haydn Society
The Boston-based Handel and Haydn Society was the first chamber group to ever perform Handel's "Messiah" in America, and now the group is celebrating 200 years of existence. The group has evolved into a period-performance ensemble, and their performance of the well-known "Messiah" oratorio is compelling -- nimble and lively. Harry Christophers conducts.

Franck, Dvorak, Grieg: Sonatas for Violin and Piano
Renaud Capuçon
In a Romantic mood? Here is some exquisite music, all composed 1886-1887, exquisitely played by French violinist Renaud Capuçon and pianist Khatia Buniatishvili. Tracks include: the Franck Sonata, Grieg Sonata No. 3 and Dvorák "Romantic Pieces" Op. 75.

Jennifer Koh and Jaime Laredo
Photo by Juergen Frank

Two x Four
Jennifer Koh and Jaime Laredo
Violinist Jennifer Koh plays with her former teacher and mentor, Jaime Laredo, in a program that relates Bach's Concerto for Two Violins in D minor (which we lovingly call the Bach Double) to three modern works by living composers David Ludwig, Anna Clyne and Philip Glass.

Brahms by Heart
Chiara String Quartet
Members of the Chiara String Quartet weren't just being romantic (or Romantic) when they named their latest album "Brahms by Heart." They actually played all three of Brahms' String Quartets, plus one Quintet -- by memory when they recorded it.

Lara St. John, Marie-Pierre Langlamet, Anna Prohaska, Ludwig Quandt
This is for lovers of lieder, but this lieder is accompanied by harp instead of piano. In fact, all the pieces on this disc have harp in place of piano, for a nice ethereal affect. It also includes Lara St. John playing Schubert's Sonatina for Violin and Piano (Harp), Op. 137.

Cypress String Quartet
Photo by Basil Childers

Middle String Quartets
Cypress String Quartet
Beethoven's "middle" quartets, written in the early 19th c., are the ones that really began to break new ground for the genre, with increasing scope, technical demands and emotion. In this three-disc set the Cypress String Quartet performs Beethoven's five middle quartets: Op. 59 Nos. 1, 2 and 3; Op. 74 ("Harp") and Op. 95 ("Serioso").

Schumann: String Quartets [Blu-Ray Audio & CD]
Ying Quartet
Schumann wrote three quartets, all in the span of a three-week period in the summer 1842, and it's a pleasure to hear them played by the Ying Quartet, which is the quartet-in-residence at the Eastman School of Music.


The Violinist.com Interviews, Vol. 1

The Violinist.com Interviews, Vol. 1
Laurie Niles
This book is a compilation of 27 of Violinist.com's best interviews from the last decade, with lovely photos of the artists and a beautiful cover that looks great on any coffee table. Violinists interviewed include: Hilary Hahn, Joshua Bell, Sarah Chang, David Garrett, Anne Akiko Meyers, Ruggiero Ricci, Maxim Vengerov, Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg, Gil Shaham and Adele Anthony, Rachel Barton Pine, Nicola Benedetti, Anne-Sophie Mutter, Zachary DePue, James Ehnes, Simon Fischer, Augustin Hadelich, Janine Jansen, Leila Josefowicz and Esa-Pekka Salonen, Philippe Quint, Tasmin Little, Elmar Oliveira, Stanley Ritchie, Lara St. John, Philip Setzer, Clara-Jumi Kang and Judy Kang.

A subscription to Strings magazine
Subscribe to receive this American-based print magazine about violin, viola, cello, bass and fiddle once a month. (Also, check out my article about shoulder rests in the January edition!)

A subscription to The Strad magazine
It can be expensive to subscribe to this U.K.-based print magazine, but that's why you ask Santa for it. Sometimes it comes with gorgeous posters of famous fiddles, etc.

Jascha Heifetz

Handel-Halvorsen duet, arr. by Heifetz for Two Violins
Jascha Heifetz, edited by Stephen Shipps and Endre Granat
The Handel-Halvorsen "Passacaglia" is a popular duet written for violin with either viola or cello. But did you know that you can play it with two violins? In fact, Jascha Heifetz wrote a version for two violins, and it was just re-discovered and published in this year. Here is the sheet music.


Aaron Rosand: A Musical Memoir in Live Performances
Aaron Rosand
A 4-disc DVD chronological memoir of live performance from American violinist Aaron Rosand's private audio-visual collection.

Lara St. John
Photo by Twain Newhart

Learning from the Legends: the Bruch Violin Concerto and the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto
Lara St. John
Canadian violinist Lara St. John breaks down two of the most well-known violin concertos measure-by-measure, with complete and detailed lessons on all movements of these famous works. Each DVD includes full performances of the concerti, piano accompaniment practice track, a downloadable edition of the sheet music edited by Lara and Joey Corpus, and Lara's extensive demonstrations of technical exercises.

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Still need ideas? Check out our gift-giving guides from previous years, which also include recent releases and violin-related projects by current-day violinists, composers and authors!

If you would like to consider a music-related gift other than recordings or books, please visit our Violinist.com Business Directory, and support the music businesses that support our Violinist.com community.

1 reply

The Clemens Quartet: Performing 'From the Top'

December 1, 2014 16:27

What is the key to a successful working relationship, as a chamber group?

"Pizza," said violist Patrick Marsh, 17, without hesitation. Marsh is a member of the Los Angeles-based Clemens Quartet, which appears this week on the acclaimed radio show, From the Top. "Order two boxes, and..."

"...everyone just flocks," finished first violinist KJ McDonald, 17.

"If you bring pizza to every rehearsal, then we all have an incentive to come," continued second violinist Jason Corbin, 16.

"We meet once a week, usually at 5:30, and we spend a half-hour eating, and talking and relaxing a little bit," explained cellist Alex Mansour, 17. "Then usually we rehearse for about an hour. We'll rehearse whatever repertoire is most pressing -- if we have something to work toward, or a competition, or if we have a performance opportunity, we'll work on that repertoire, as well as sight-reading other pieces."

Clements quartet
The Clemens Quartet: L-R: Alex Mansour, KJ McDonald, Patrick Marsh, Jason Corbin

In conversation or in performance, this group of young men communicates with an easy rapport, finishing each other's sentences and phrases to make the meaning complete. I had seen them perform once before, and I spoke with them a few weeks ago, between their trip to Connecticut to perform on "From the Top" and the date when it was to be aired. (Today online, and throughout the week on various NPR stations.) Their performance features the (modern and ear-bending) first-movement "Allegro" from String Quartet No. 4, Béla Bartók. (You can click here to view the show online.) For the uninitiated, "From the Top" is an hourlong show hosted by pianist Christopher O’Riley that is broadcast on 250 stations across the U.S. to an audience of more than 700,000 listeners. Each show features five acts, all young musicians, with performances, interviews, sketches and games. They tape about 20 episodes per season in front of a live audience, at various locations across the country.

As for the Clemens Quartet, the group came together two years ago, assembled by the private teacher of both violinists and the violist, California Institute of the Arts (CalArts) violin instructor Lorenz Gamma, and coached through the program Junior Chamber Music. Some members had been playing together before they officially became the quartet they are today, and for a while they just called themselves the "Hangout Quartet" -- named by one of their moms for their part-rehearsal, part-pizza get-togethers.

But this is not to say that they don't take their musical endeavors seriously. It's just that, along with all the rehearsing, practicing, coaching and traveling to competitions, they find music to be fun, and they enjoy each other's company. "Especially in quartet music, you need to have a certain friendship going on," KJ said. You also have to trust each other and to be able to take turns in the spotlight, as quartet music demands.

When they entered the Fischoff National Chamber Music Competition this fall, they decided to go with a different name.

"We needed a more official name than the 'Hangout Quartet,'" Patrick said, and Jason continued, "a more professional name, a name you would actually bring to a concert."

The first piece that they played together as a quartet was Dvorák's String Quartet No. 12 in F major, Op. 96 "American." "That kind of reminded me of Huckleberry Finn, on the raft, going down the Mississippi River and having a lot of fun," KJ said, and that gave him an idea: "Samuel Clemens -- that would be Mark Twain's real name."

Thus they became the Clemens Quartet.

To audition for From the Top, the quartet had to record two pieces and to write essays about arts leadership and about their group. They chose to write statements about one another.

Once selected for the show, the quartet traveled to Storrs, Connecticut, to record it, with "From the Top" paying for most of their related expenses. Their moms went with them, as did their teacher.

"It was a very detailed program that awaited us when we got there," said Lorenz Gamma, their teacher. "It gave them the freedom to concentrate on their music-making."

The program included not just the performance, but also outreach concerts and a workshop on arts leadership. On their first day, they performed outreach concerts at two schools, with a rehearsal in the morning. Their first school was a rather bustling middle school, on Halloween morning.

"The PA kept going on, with the parents dropping off costumes," Alex said. "But some of them, I think, got a lot out of it."

Then they went to a music school, where the performance was more of an exchange, with kids from the school also performing. For those concerts they played excerpts from the Bartók quartet and also, "Viva la Vida" by Coldplay.

The second day was devoted entirely to the show itself.

For their performances they like to all wear red shirts, with black ties.

"It's fiery..." Jason said, "...and it kind of matches our personality," KJ said.

"We've actually been criticized for being too energetic," Alex said. "We do try to work on that, but everything we do is really passionate, there's a lot of adrenaline. I think red is a good color to communicate that. It makes a statement, certainly."

And why do they all wear the same thing?

"When you're in a quartet, you need to conform to one mind, one sound," KJ said. "It's not like four sounds, playing four different solo parts, that happen to be together."

For the From the Top performance, "there was a rehearsal in the afternoon, where they do the sound check, they mike you," Alex said. "They record you playing it (for the rehearsal), and they try to get a perfect take. Then they ask you to do sections again where you may have messed up, so what they ultimately air, they can splice and make it as polished as it can be."

The pre-recording is just a little insurance against the possibility that an audience member has a major coughing fit during the performance, or perhaps a fire truck roars through the room with engines blaring during the live performance. But it's also a great comfort to the performers, freeing them up for some spontaneity.

"For the most part, they want to air what we played live," KJ said. "But that way, we have the comfort of saying, okay, if we make one mistake..."

"...they have a Plan B," Alex said.

"But that didn't stop the adrenaline" for the live performance, KJ said.

"I think part of us thought, why not have a lot of fun with it? We already have it in the bag, worse case scenario, we might as well take risks and make it very exciting and really get into it, rather than playing it safe to make sure that we don't make a mistake," Alex said.

"You can see for yourself, but it was pretty fast!" Jason said.

After playing, they were interviewed by Christopher O'Riley -- who actually made them sing Bartòk! (You'll have to check out the performance for that!)

The Clemens Quartet with From the Top host Christopher O'Riley

On the day after the performance, they participated in an arts leadership seminar, and this seemed to be their favorite part. It gave them a chance to get to know the other young musicians who were performing: cellist Derek Louie, pianist Chelsea Guo, oboist Cassie Pilgrim, violinist Charlotte Marckx and cellist Olivia Marckx.

"I felt like I made a lot of great friends, and I thought that the things they were talking about -- how we need to go out and spread music -- were very inspiring," Jason said. Jason is already involved in such efforts, as vice president of a group called Musicteers, which aims to increase interest in classical music by playing at places like malls and senior homes. Has he had any success, spreading music? He shared a favorite story: at one of those concerts, in a mall, he and KJ were playing a Korean drama song called "B Rosette" and "we inspired this one kid who had put down the violin, because he wasn't interested in it, to pick up the violin and start playing again!"

The seminar allowed them to consider some new thoughts and ideas, as well.

"The biggest one for me was the idea of music needing common ground," said KJ, who also studies with Itzhak Perlman for part of the year at The Perlman Music Program. That common ground doesn't necessarily have to be something simple. Though the quartet they were playing for the outreach concerts is very complex, "the more we played the Bartók for many of these kids, they were actually able to keep up with the rhythm. It wasn't just 1-2-3-4, they were able to do the syncopations and keep along, you could see them nodding their heads a little bit. So I felt like we're not giving these kids enough credit. They do have the common ground, they just don't know where to start with classical music, and I think that is what our job has to be."

"Sometimes when people hear things they don't know about, they'll shut their ears," Patrick said. "But if we can communicate what it is to them, how it relates to the music they listen to and love, they'll show more appreciation for it." Patrick is a mentor at the El Sistema-inspired program called YOLA, and he works in an outreach program at his school, LA County High School for the Arts, called LACHSA on the Road. "We try as hard as we can to organize groups, to listen to different types of music and communicate what all this music is and what it means, so we can culturally extend it to people."

"I think it's very profound how any art -- music, dance, visual art, cinematic arts -- can really translate across the world," said Alex, who also composes film music and is class president at his high school, Chaminade College Prep. "It's very much a universal language. Everybody understands basic human emotion and human experiences, and it's evoking that emotion and making people feel something and changing them in some way through that."

* * *

Click here to listen to their "From the Top" performance and interview online

Below: the Clemens Quartet performs Beethoven String Quartet Op. 18, No.4, 1st movement:

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Previous entries: November 2014

The Violinist.com Interviews, Vol. 1

The Violinist.com Interviews, Vol. 1

Hear more from the world's top violinists in The Violinist.com Interviews: Volume 1, which includes our exclusive conversations with Joshua Bell, Sarah Chang, and David Garrett, and others, as well as a foreword by Hilary Hahn.

Get it now! For Kindle | For iBooks | In Paperback

The 2014 Violinist.com Holiday Gift Guide

The 2014 Violinist.com Holiday Gift Guide

We've compiled a list of some of the year's best new offerings from violinists for you to consider.