NEW YORK - A full moon hangs over Manhattan tonight, and I watch it between the skyscrapers, from the 44th floor of the Hilton New York. The Starling-DeLay Symposium on Violin Studies has me totally exhausted.
But over at Juilliard, violin pedagogue Simon Fischer is still giving his morning lecture on "The Basics of Intonation."
"You'll have to finish by 11 p.m.," warned Juilliard administrator Rob Ross. Of course, Fischer hasn't actually been talking since 9:30 a.m. (though I suspect no one would have complained, or stopped him, if he had been). The well-known author of Basics and Practice, and of 195 columns for The Strad, simply wasn't able to finish his lectures during his allotted two morning sessions, and he generously offered to continue the lecture after the evening recital.
"My goal is very, very high. My goal is to change your life,"" Fischer said at his lecture "The Basics of Tone Production." Fischer is also working on a new book, "The Violin Lesson," to be published in 2008.
"If you are a player and you don't know these exercises; once you know them, your life changes," he said. "If you are a teacher and you don't teach these, and you start to teach these, your student will take off like a rocket. You can take a scratchy 12-year-old, and within 10 to 15 minutes you can get them playing with a cultured sound. I've done it thousands of times."
He turned to his student for the day, Michelle Shin. He asked her to play something, just to see where she was at.
"I tell you I can fix any car. Give me a wreck of a car, and I can make it go. And you give me a shiny BMW!" he said of her well-played Sibelius.
But did she know the mechanics of tone production?
"What does the hair of the bow do to the string?" Fischer asked her. "Most people say it makes the string vibrate."
Actually, the hair of the bow catches the string and pulls it sideways, then releases it. It's possible to show this by putting the bow to the string, and pulling sideways just barely until it releases, making one tiny "tick."
"Let's play tennis," Fischer said. "I'll serve." Tick, went Fischer's violin. Tick, Michelle's. Tick. Tick. Tick-tick.
The French words for "up-bow" and "down-bow" actually are "pull-bow" and "push-bow."
"The string is swinging from side to side under the bow hair, this is called the amplitude," Fischer said. If you press the bow too hard, "it inhibits this swinging under the hair. So, use speed, not pressure, to create tone.
His first exercise, which evolved from an exercise Dorothy DeLay taught her students (including Fischer), involves playing whole bows at each of five sound points on the bridge. Suzuki teachers talk about the "Kreisler highway," the road the bow travels on. Imagine it has five lanes, with the closest one right by the bridge. These are the five sounding points.
He took a moment to correct Michelle's posture, "I lengthen my back by flattening my fiddle, and I flatten my fiddle by lengthening my back."
She started on soundpoint (or lane) five: the lane closest to the fingerboard. (DeLay used these numbers in reverse, Fischer said.) She played, then he demonstrated, using her bow on the violin under her chin. He asked her to look for the swinging of the string, the amplitude, and try to make it as wide as possible. Also, listen, feel the bow in the string, and think.
"See how wide I'm making the string go?" Fischer said. "Listen for the ring."
The violin is a resonating box, he said, and the soundpost transmits the sound into the violin. But try thinking of the ROOM as a resonating box, with the fiddle being the soundpost, or the vibrating string.
"You play the violin in the room," he said to Michelle, "You should play the ROOM."
Even with very advanced students, lessons in basics are important.
He remembers DeLay, giving a lesson to the young Midori, who had played the Chausson "Poem."
"She played it so well, I was nearly on the floor," Fischer said. "What did DeLay do? She showed Midori's mother how to line her up in front of a mirror to draw a straight bow!"
"You give the same lesson to a beginner as to an advanced student," Fischer said. "If it isn't simple, you haven't broken it down enough. If you want to be a genius teacher, just say very simple things."
For example: "Just put the bow on the string, without doing anything else," no hunching over, no shoulder going up, no physical drama. "That is actually very profound."
When playing on the five sound points, "Let the bow play with its own momentum, and follow it," Fischer said. "The hand goes with the bow. Follow the bow and let it play."
"The bow has this wonderful bendiness," Fischer said. "We don't use the bow, we use the forces inside of it."
The string on the violin is springy. The hair on the bow is springy. The wood of the bow is springy.
"You put these three springinesses together, and you get a wonderful contact," Fischer said.
As Michelle got closer to sound point two and one, right next to the bridge, Fischer observed that she had scarcely any rosin on the strings there.
"Evidence of non-use!" he said.
Fischer asked her to play right next to the bridge. He observed that when there is not enough bow pressure one hears high-frequency, glistening sounds. When there is too much pressure, there are low-frequency, scratchy sounds.
She drew her bow, at first with some glistening sounds. He coached her through: "More pressure, faster, less..." She made a nice tone, right by the bridge.
"I didn't think that was possible!" Michelle said.
Those three ideas, speed, pressure and distance from bridge, can be used to diagnose and correct just about any tone production issue. "Dorothy DeLay said that every sound that comes out of the violin can be described in just a few words," Fischer said. The goal is total purity of sound.
Next he described the "Moving in and out" bow exercise, in which the bow is steered thus in order to learn control over moving from one sound point to another:
The "Pressure Exercise" involves starting with a heavy bow and lightening it. One starts by doing once using the whole bow, then doing it twice in a bow, three times, and up to 24. The "Speed exercise" starts with a burst of speed and slows, and again one does it with one bow, then two to a bow, etc.
"If you can get speed, pressure and sound point right, you can play a note as well as anyone in the world can play that note," Fischer said. "You can say to yourself, at least I can play one note as well as anyone in the history of the world. It's a good starting point. You've arrived, you are playing the violin for that one note."
As for bow changes, Fischer advocated NOT doing any fancy finger movement. "It's something you want to throw out the window," Fischer said. He quoted Flesch as saying, "If it can be seen, it can be heard."
"There's a danger of increasing the bow speed just when you want to slow it down at the bow change," Fischer said.
Fischer did talk a bit in his morning session about intonation. He asked for his student and audience to listen for the pulsing as he played a D against a Db. Many people never really notice this pulsation.
"When Dorothy DeLay first played this for me, I said, 'What? What?' And I still couldn't hear it," Fischer said. "I only know about it because it was pointed out to me."
A perfect unison, which happens in tuning the fifths of our violins, has no beats, or pulsations.
Fischer also spoke of the violin's resonant notes, E's, A's, D's and G's, which vibrate in sympathy with open strings.
"It's like tuning to a radio station: a little this way, a little that way, got it," Fischer said. "In this way, intonation is part of tone production. You can make anything vibrate like a Strad this way."
"When the note isn't absolutely smack-bang where it should be, it gets a hard, quality, a dead quality," Fischer said. There is a soft center to the note when it is in the right place.
And with the other notes, using expressive intonation, generally sharps lead up and are thus played higher. Flats lead down, and are thus played lower.
If you play everything tempered, it becomes all neutral," Fischer said.
In general, one must work at technique every day in order to have it.
"It's nonsense that if you are born gifted you can just play," Fischer said. "Anyone who is very good has worked very hard."
NEW YORK - Say something!
That was the message from violin great Itzhak Perlman, who lent his generous presence to Juilliard's Starling-DeLay Symposium on Violin Studies on Wednesday.
"You need to say something, express your feeling about the music," Perlman said. "The minute you express it, your audience will know it."
He described the technically perfect performance, that somehow leaves the listener feeling empty. That kind of performance can be redeemed when the performer plays those same notes with an idea in mind.
"The minute you concentrate on what you are going to do, you will do SOMETHING," he said.
Unfortunately, many of us fall into patterns in our playing, patterns that become so ingrained that we don't know we have become a slave to them. This is especially true when we are playing composed music and practicing it frequently.
"The danger in re-creating music is that it can become stagnant," Perlman said. This is especially true when one has to perform the same piece over and over again.
"Let's take a nightmare scenario that happened to me long ago," Perlman said, and with his characteristic deadpan, "back when I played fast notes."
"I had six performances of the Paganini concerto, right in a row. That's hell."
How can one get through it? Certainly one must not just resign to playing it passively, or just getting through with the attitude, "That's the way it goes," he said. "Music should always be evolving."
"I want to see if we can play something, and then paint it in different colors," Perlman said. He described the painter ("Was it Monet?") who painted many sunsets, all with different colors.
"That's what I need in music," he said. "I need sunsets at different times of the day," the different brushes, different shades of paint.
Perlman had brought 10 of his students to demonstrate his point, not telling them in advance what he'd be doing with them. At this point, he chose to have each of them play a short part of their current piece, then try to paint it in new colors.
He polled the students on their current pieces, and when he came to the Elgar Sonata, he polled the Symposium participants about their familiarity with the piece. Not too familiar! So he chose the student playing the Elgar.
"It's a nice piece," Perlman said, and waiting a beat, "for the player!"
The young man played, with much head shaking and bodily movement. Perlman asked, "Has it ever occurred to you to give it a different flavor?" Perlman suggested making it "more intense."
"In general?" asked the student.
"No, in-tense!" Perlman said, making his audience laugh once again.
The student decided more vibrato speed, more bow speed and more... rosin would help. He quickly left the room for a quick rosin-up.
When he entered with the newly rosined bow, Perlman roared, "Now you're going to hear intense like you've never heard before!"
He played again, with much the same sound but even more movement. "Any different?" Perlman said. "No? Well you LOOK different..."
"Do it again, don't move!" Perlman said.
He still moved.
"There is a thing you constantly do," Perlman said.
"Yeah, 'cause I like it," the young man answered.
"Yes, but you are trapped!" Perlman said. "I want you to be flexible in what you do."
"How do we get out of our musical jail?" Perlman asked the audience. "It doesn't mean that freedom is so great, but it means we can do more."
To a girl who played the first movement of the Franck Sonata, he said, "For us to say something, we have to react to the music."
In other words, we have to listen when we practice and perform. Perlman gave an example.
"I was practicing the Mendelssohn concerto, and I realized I've been slowing down the second theme. Why have I been doing that?" Perlman said. "I tried not slowing it down -- I liked it."
"It only took me 40 years to realize that!" he laughed.
Another young man played the Beethoven Romance, not apparently fully aware of how much rubato he was taking.
"What would happen if you don't take time at all?" Perlman asked. Perlman had to wave his hand in front of his face to keep time, but when he played it rhythmically straight, it forced a different kind of color into several notes, sounding much better.
"When you do something right in music, it's contagious," Perlman said. It's like a chain reaction.
"Don't get used to playing it a certain way," he said. "Only get used to playing it. You did stuff that was new; you were not playing it as you practiced it. You were re-creating it."
To a girl playing a Vieuxtemps piece, he emphasized the need to experiment in the practice room. "If you don't experiment with other ways," he said, "you come to the concert and nothing else will occur to you than to play it the same way."
He asked a student playing the Devil's Trill to imagine she's performed it seven times, and "it's really beginning to bug you." Then for a final performance, she has to play it for the pianist's relative in a small village in Ohio, in a barn, for 30-40 people who love music. "How will you make it interesting for yourself?"
After she played, he said, "You should play in a barn more often!"
Another student played the quirky and rhythmically driven final movement of the Shostakovich. Without a melody to play with, what could she do to make it interesting?
"Try pretending that we can't hear you, that there is a glass wall here," he said, "And choreograph what you are playing."
She tried, and he said, "Now choreograph to THEM," pointing to us in the audience, "not to the floor, because the floor is not interested. You look at the floor only to dig a hole for yourself."
As she played, he came forward, pointing to the audience, trying to direct her playing to her audience.
* * *
(Hey, you know I had to get a picture....)
NEW YORK - After teaching his master class at the second day of the Starling-DeLay Symposium on Violin Studies at Juilliard, Itzhak Perlman stayed to chat with Symposium participants, answering questions from Symposium Artistic Director, Brian Lewis.
"What first attracted you to the violin?" Brian asked.
Perlman said "I heard the violin on the radio, and I love the sound." He said he loved the recordings of the greats such as Jascha Heifetz, Alfredo Campoli, Ida Haendel, David Oistrakh, and Isaac Stern.
"What about Heifetz did you like?" Brian asked.
"Oh, just that he was God," Perlman deadpanned. "He had so much character in his playing; it was so individual."
Brian asked Perlman if he thought it was important to listen to recordings, and Perlman said that "the danger comes in listening to just one recording."
For example, he's encountered a number of "Heifetz victims" in his life, even one "Milstein victim."
"They need an exorcism!" Perlman said. "Victims take the obvious idiosyncrasies about (their idol) and magnify them."
Perlman said he doesn't like to demonstrate much for students, as he doesn't want them to become imitators.
When Perlman came to America at age 13, his first teachers were Dorothy DeLay and Ivan Galamian.
DeLay was much different from the strict, Russian-trained teacher he'd had in Israel. For example, DeLay "believed in involving the student in the decision-making about music."
"She would say, 'Sugarplum, what are you missing here? Where are the sequences?' or 'Sugarplum, what's your concept of G#?"
Galamian cut more to the point.
"IT'S OUT OF TUNE," Perlman said, in Galamian's Russian-flavored accent.
"Galamian was able to take people who were moderately talented and make them play well," Perlman said of his mentor. Though he studied with both, "I worked harder for him than I did for her, because I knew she wouldn't KILL ME." (Cue audience laugh track....)
Galamian had a deep concept of what makes a sound, what is at the core of the sound. On the other hand, DeLay "taught me how to think musically," Perlman said. "The way I teach -- a lot of it is inspired by her example."
"Any experience you can have teaching will improve your playing," Perlman told the audience. "When you teach, listening is the number one quality you need."
Brian asked Perlman what his most challenging performance was.
Perlman said he could remember some memory slips. "I had a couple where I actually composed a piece," Perlman said. "For about 10 seconds I composed a piece---10 VERY LONG seconds...." Perlman imitated the bewildered conductor, then imitated himself -- lost but improvising.
An audience member asked if Perlman recommended a specific practice regimen. Perlman said no, but "I recommend not over-practicing." After five hours, the brain loses its capacity to absorb anything, he said. "Don't practice blindly. You have to have a reason to practice," something particular to accomplish. "Put as much music into your practicing as possible," he said, so it is not all technical work. "Technique must make a connection with the music you are making." Also, practice in rhythms. "Get really used to one rhythm, then destroy it with another."
One teacher asked him how he can play in tune so well with such large fingers.
"Well, I'M TALENTED," he said, drawing more laughter.
"No no. Look, it's difficult," he said. "Each finger, I sort of push the other away. Sometimes I play four notes in a row with the same finger. I believe every note has its own house up there."
Asked about the importance of chamber music, he said, "Chamber music, for me, is the essence of everything that is right in music. Being able to breath with other musicians, being able to work as one with other musicians."
"If someone is good at chamber music," he said, "They can do anything they want to do in music!"
NEW YORK - What on Earth could anyone find wrong with this Tchaikovsky Concerto?
These were my thoughts as I listened to 15-year-old Robyn Bollinger, of New Jersey, as she played the first movement of the Tchaik for Stephen Clapp, violin professor and dean of the Juilliard School. She was the first performer for the first session of the Starling-DeLay Symposium on Violin Studies at Juilliard. What could he even say? I wondered.
Something about this young lady's joyful, smooth and seemingly problemless performance brought unexpected tears to my eyes. Not just the simple tears of feeling moved by music, either. More like the tears of a great burden, lifted.
What can anyone find wrong...People have found something wrong with the Tchaikovsky Concerto ever since Leopold Auer received the gift of its composition for him with the now-legendary pronouncement, "It's unplayable!" As one who has struggled to play the piece, I can say that it can feel so wrong. One goes for a lesson on the Tchaik, and well, it's all wrong. It's so technically demanding, one wants to chuck the fiddle out the window. And it carries a certain musical stigma. Many musicians who have my deepest respect have something close to contempt for the piece. How could it be your favorite piece? It's just so full of moments that don't make musical sense, it's too sentimental, it's too Tchaikovsky, for heaven's sake!
Yet I've always loved it dearly. And when Robyn played it today, it all made sense. It was so delightfully right!
"I was told I could stop you after the cadenza," Clapp said, after she'd finished playing the entire 13-page first movement for us. "But I didn't want to keep you from the opportunity of playing the whole movement." Or keep us from hearing it, I'm thinking!
He asked her how many times she'd performed the piece publicly, (seven), and how she had prepared.
"Well, mostly performances in the living room," she said with a broad smile.
Clapp emphasized that one's first performance of a piece is crucial and affects subsequent performances.
"Preparing for the first performance is always critical," Clapp said. "You create a good experience the first time, and then you can create a good experience the second time, and the third time," it all builds on itself.
He encouraged her to "look for those places where you can enjoy the music a little differently. Something that you have performed seven times, you want to find some little thing you can get excited about that's new." In the introduction, he encouraged her to look on the second note of the piece, the Bb, as an arrival, and to vary the bow speed.
I noticed that Robyn was a sponge, meeting Clapp's suggestions with a receptive smile and then a committed try. It occurred to me that this kind of receptivity is what allows a student to, say, be able to jam on the Tchaik at age 15. Can it be cultivated? I wonder. It's a kind of trust. I suppose by carefully choosing trustworthy teachers, giving a student an environment that feels safe and secure....
Next came Brandon Garbot, 13, of Oregon, who played the Fugue from Bach's G minor Sonata; a performance that was well-controlled, with good intonation and musical ideas.
You could tell what a bunch of violin geeks were gathered in the room, when, in measure 38, Brandon chose...NOT to arpeggiate! Instead, he simply placed the appropriate chord at the beginning of each four notes. A low murmur, almost a gasp, swept through the room, as people checked their scores only to find, well, Bach never did really write that arpeggiation in there, either.
But it's how we all do it!
"I hadn't heard that before," Clapp said of the different interpretation. "I like it, it has a simplicity to it."
He also noted that, in m. 47-50, which usually is played as all statement and echo, Brandon chose instead to crescendo on the last four notes.
"Bach didn't write any dynamics, so you can do whatever you want," Clapp said.
It occurred to me that you have to present a rather educated interpretation before anyone, teacher or audience, loosens the leash in Bach! Do whatever you want, hah!
Another point Clapp made throughout the day is that your audience does not necessarily hear your performance the same way as you do. For student Hannah Tarley, who played part of the Beethoven "Spring" Sonata, this meant bringing up the volume for the lower registers of the violin, which seemed to disappear in the hall.
"You may feel it's not musical," Clapp said of bringing out the bottom notes. "But if you'll just do it, even though it seems strange," it will help the performance.
It really is hard to hear the difference between what is under the ear, and what is out in the hall. A teacher can almost just sing it back to make a the point; this is what Clapp did. I wasn't even listening for that, but once he pointed it out and got her playing louder lower, the interpretation made much more sense.
Hu Shenghua, 20, of China, treated us to a Mendelssohn last movement with much spark, and Clapp told him he could go even farther.
"In the practice room, go WILD!" Clapp said. "If you haven't experimented in how far you've taken something, then you won't know how far you can go in performance. The more you can go wild in the practice room, the more spontaneous you can get with an audience."
Stefani Collins, of North Carolina, ended the master class with everyone's amorphous favorite, the Sibelius. It's such a picturesque piece, and though I thought she got it right, Clapp went deeper.
"What is the landscape in this piece?" Clapp asked her.
"Cold, and desolate," Stefani said.
"You see long expanses, and then little notes," Clapp said. "The little notes need energy."
He praised her warm vibrato, but then told her to cool it off for the beginning.
"Stay in the ice cubes for a little while longer," he said. Indeed, it made for a much chillier beginning. "This creates a whole different landscape."
The day ended with a recital by violinist Augustin Hadelich, 23, of Italy, the winner of the 2006 International Violin Competition of Indianapolis. He played with pianist Robert Kulek. During the lovely Mozart Sonata in F, K. 376, several cell phones interrupted. Somehow this modern intrusion is particularly jarring when performers are creating something so fine-tuned, when all the subtleties of sound are attended to with such great care.
Fortunately, it didn't happen again!
The Schnittke Sonata No. 1 was full of wonderful moments: a breathless quiet moment in the first movement; the commotion, sick carnival, railroad train and sustained G of the second movement; the redemptive chord that keeps returning in the third, which ended with wicked-high, whispering harmonics. And of course the fourth movement, which sounded to me like people exchanging a series of expletives, which turn to questions and answers, then ultimately into a dance. The pizzicato at the end was so controlled in its tapering dynamic, I was just in awe. I don't think anyone was breathing.
As Hadelich played the Brahms G major sonata, I reflected on how many great musicians have played at Juilliard, played here just on the cusp of their greatness. What a delicate place they are in. How hard they have worked. They need a very particular kind of nurturing; something that will inspire an ambitious and talented player to keep striving, not to be content with whatever considerable accomplishments brought them thus far, but also not to be crushed by their own perfectionism.
At the conclusion of Hadelich's recital, the audience came an immediate standing ovation, after which he played Chopin's C# major Nocturne as an encore.
Let's hear it for these young artists, who have worked so hard!
NEW YORK - This morning we took an exploratory stroll up Broadway, where we discovered at least eight Starbucks between our base camp at the Hilton New York and Juilliard, where I'll be attending the Starling-DeLay Symposium on Violin Studies this week. Eight Starbucks... that's eight green pins for the mental map. It also means probably another 12 non-Starbuckian coffee stores lie around corners and in-between; a good coffee quotient for my eternal search for the best vanilla latte on the planet.
Soon we arrived at the Lincoln Center fountain.
"Can I have the camera?" said Brian.
He peered through the lens, aiming it up and then down. He backed up, then moved forward. He knelt down, stood up, tilted the camera this way and that.
"Take the picture already!" I said. After a few minutes his sister Natalie repeated my plea, and soon Robert joined in as well. But he was too involved to listen to any of us. He kept taking pictures.
After the lengthy Lincoln Center fountain photo shoot, we rounded the corner to find the Juilliard School very much under construction:
Now that I could put Juilliard on my mental map, we headed back toward Central Park, stopping for lunch at Whole Foods at the Time-Warner Center.
At Central Park, the kids climbed rocks:
Then they played on the playground, rode the carousel and managed to get us to buy them ice cream bars.
My children are seeing New York for the first time, and it definitely is spinning their world view, which has thus far been shaped by the sprawl of Los Angeles and the expansive nature of the western United States. The density of population, close proximity of so many towering buildings and intensity of cultural collision gave my daughter a kind of ADD feeling.
"Every time I walk out onto the sidewalk here, I totally lose my concentration," said Natalie, 9. "It's like I don't have any attention span any more. Why is that?"
Brian just thought it was BIG.
"I feel so small," he said, craning to see the point where a certain Manhattan building meets the sky. "I can't tell which buildings are taller than which!"
Hard to size up a place like Manhattan!
NEW YORK - Greetings from New York!
I'm here for the fourth biennial Starling-DeLay Symposium on Violin Studies at Juilliard, which begins on Tuesday. Basically, some wonderful teachers and pedagogues will be teaching master classes to a group of young artists, and giving lectures and pedagogy classes to a larger group of violin teachers like myself. And of course I'll write about it all this week!
I can't believe I'm so ridiculously excited by the prospect of a Symposium, but this list of Big Names and events is a violin teacher's dream (only surpassed by that dream of having Heifetz drop in to play the Mendelssohn Concerto at your school's final concert...)
Check it out: Legendary violinist Itzhak Perlman, Juilliard Dean Stephen Clapp, CIM professor Paul Kantor, NEC professor Donald Weilerstein and Violinmasterclass.com guy Kurt Sassmannshaus EACH are giving master classes. Indianapolis International Violin Competition winner Augustin Hadelich will play a recital, as will a number of other fine young artists. And Simon Fischer, most famous for his books, Basics and "Practice," will speak on "The Basics of Intonation," while Indiana University violin professor Mimi Zweig will lecture on "Kreutzer Etudes and the Development of the Young Artist." Also lecturing are Robert Duke and Brian Lewis, both of the University of Texas at Austin.
Everyone included, the gathering brings together people from 38 states and 15 countries.
P.S. Brian, my six-year-old, took my new profile photo. And the Times Square photo!
We just started an official Violinist.com group on YouTube. I've uploaded each of my 24 performances of all the Paganini Capricci.
Actually I uploaded a video of these cool purple trees that are in bloom here in Pasadena.
I invite all of you to upload your performances and whatever else you encounter in the world that you'd like to share with other V.commies. Once you have uploaded a performance to YouTube, you can add it to the Violinist.com group. You can also submit the embedded code to our In Concert page.
We are trying to find as many ways as possible to get people to watch our Violinist.com members' performances.
One of my smaller students is given to some mental wandering during her lessons.
The other day her eyes rolled up to the colorful pictures on my wall, the fiddle fell to her side and she said,
“I dreamed I was Red Riding Hood.”
“Really?” I said, getting into tangent mode.
“Yes!” she giggled, turning to her mom, who also smiled patiently.
“Well, I hope you didn't run into the big, bad wolf,” I said.
“I DID run into the big, bad wolf!” she said. “He was trying to get me!”
“Oh no!” I said.
“But I played my violin for him, and he stopped,” she said. “I kept playing quieter and quieter, until he fell asleep. Then I tried to run away, but as soon as I stopped playing, he woke up!”
“What did you do?” I asked.
“Well then I tried to sneak away while I was playing, but he still woke up,” she said.
“Did you ever get away from him?”
“NO!” she laughed.
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Joshua Bell will join the faculty of Indiana University Jacobs School of Music, and he will start teaching in the fall of 2008.
Here is more on this story
Did anyone notice what the Los Angeles Philharmonic just did?
They went and hired a new conductor.
On April 7, Esa-Pekka Salonen told his orchestra of 15 years that he would step down as Music Director in 2009, and directly following his announcement, that night, was the news of his successor, Venezuelan Gustavo Dudamel , who already had been hired.
No public fuss. No newspaper stories about orchestra infighting over various conductor candidates. No big battles between board, administration and orchestra members. No critics telling us the merits of this conductor over that one. No publicly-apparent bad feelings about the outgoing conductor, or the incoming conductor, or even about the change itself.
How is this possible?
As a member of various orchestras, I've lived through a number of conductor searches, some lasting as long as three years. At best, the long search suspends the organization in a state of artistic stagnancy. At worst, it pits board and administration against musicians, shines a public light on grievances both public and private, and drags a string of promising young conductors through a great deal of public scrutiny and criticism, all on the basis of their one or two audition concerts.
Though the news from the LA Phil came as a surprise, the organization's change of guard came as the result of long planning by LA Philharmonic President Deborah Borda.
Instead of having a public search, with the musicians, board members and newspaper critics evalutating a slate of "conducting candidates" over several years, the LA Phil did things differently. They chose a small Artistic Liaison Committee, composed of Borda, Salonen and select members of both orchestra and board. That committee then began quietly reviewing all the guest conductors that passed through, with a mind toward Salonen's replacement.
This is not to say there wasn't an extensive stealth campaign to supplement the activities of this committee. Salonen, who is 48, had identified the 26-year-old Dudamel as a "real conducting animal" while serving on the jury of a conducting competion in Bamberg, Germany, according to the April 30, 2007 New Yorker. (I'd highly recommend this excellent profile of Salonen, "The Anti-Maestro", by Alex Ross.)
According to the New Yorker article, Borda has spent the last few years traveling the globe to hear Dudamel conduct, getting to know his family and ultimately snatching him from about a half-dozen other orchestras who were courting him, including the Chicago Symphony.
Ross describes Dudamel's signing of the 5-year contract with LA Phil CEO Borda in March, during a tour in Lucerne: "'We did it about two in the morning someplace,' Borda told me, relishing the cloak-and-dagger aspect of the operation, 'I don't think anybody knew, even with the crème de la crème of the European managers dancing attendance.'"
Indeed, the LA Philharmonic pulled off something remarkable, something that goes counter to the way other orchestras have been approaching the selection of a new music director.
What do I see in this whole turn of events? Leadership. This organization found a new way to do it, and they weren't afraid to act on their innovation. If it takes a leader to find one, the LA Phil will be in good hands.
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