February 2010

Violin Community News 2010, Op. 7

February 24, 2010 13:56

Unfortunately, much of the audience apparently had a cold when violinist Joshua Bell and pianist Jeremy Denk played works by Bach, Schumann, Saint-Saens and Ravel to a nearly-sold-out crowd Monday as part of the Seattle Chamber Music Festival.  "Two world-class musicians at the top of their game played before a Seattle audience that did not have the good sense to invest in a few cough drops," observed Sumi Hahn, writing for The Seattle Times. Hopefully the pair will have better luck when they perform many of the same works in a recital this Friday at Disney Hall in Los Angeles.

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Violinist Jaime Jorge will perform in a concert called Hope for Haiti"s Children, to benefit UNICEF"s emergency relief efforts, at 6 p.m. March 7th a the Albuquerque Convention Center in New Mexico. A native of Cuba, Jorge immigrated to the United States when he was 10 and studied with violinist Cyrus Forough.

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You may have heard that Gil Shaham is working through "Concertos of the 1930s," this year, performing seven of the some 14 concertos written during that decade by great composers such as Samuel Barber, Béla Bartók, Alban Berg, Ernest Bloch, Benjamin Britten, Karl Amadeus Hartmann, Paul Hindemith, Walter Piston, Sergei Prokofiev, Arnold Schoenberg, Roger Sessions, Igor Stravinsky, Karol Szymanowski and William Walton. This story, written by Barbara Jepson for the Wall Street Journal, goes into some depth about Shaham's project and about the coincidence of all those concertos written so closely together: "It would be foolish to read too much extramusical content into these pieces; all composers are primarily concerned with abstract issues of form, structure, harmony and the like. Yet many of these concertos convey an underlying unease," she says.

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"Lutherie...like many of Europe"s historic crafts, is coming under threat from cheap Chinese products," according to an article in the Brisbane Times, which compares the violin-making situation in Cremona, Italy to that in, say, Xiqiao, China, where more than 40 companies crank out cheap violins. Italian makers also are seeking to stop counterfeits – Asian violins claiming Cremonese origin.

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Russian violinist Viktoria Mullova played Brahms’s Violin Concerto last week at Avery Fisher Hall with the Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra. Steve Smith from the New York Times observed that she had recently played the work with a period ensemble, and "here, watching Ms. Mullova play from a score, you sensed that she was thoroughly reconsidering a canonical work without having reached any firm conclusions. There was no faulting her rock-solid technique or coolly incisive tone. She was imposing in Joachim’s first-movement cadenza, gracious in the Adagio and just buoyant enough in the finale."

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A few more symphonies announced their upcoming seasons, including the The Philadelphia Orchestra and the The Boston Pops.

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What to do with a VSO ("Violin-Shaped Object")?  A number of symphonies put such fiddles in the hands of artists: not musical artists, but visual artists, who transform the objects into fodder for fundraising. Personally, I think it"s a good use for VSOs, as long as no one tries using a Strad as a  canvas. Here is a gallery of violin objects-made-art-objects for a fundraiser by the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra.

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Violinist.com interview with Sam Weiser

February 24, 2010 00:49

In some ways, playing the violin is simply playing the violin, whether you play classical, jazz or folk.

"One of the things that's really similar is technique," said 16-year-old Sam Weiser, talking over the phone in late January. "I certainly try to keep it similar. People seem to think fiddle players have terrible technique. I feel like it's important for me to incorporate all the classical technique –  a good tone and a nice, good-looking posture -- into the fiddle playing."

Sam should know. In addition to studying both classical and jazz violin at the Manhattan School, last week he released a CD called Sam I Am, which includes an eclectic mix of jams and songs written by Carlos Santana, Eddie Vedder and Mark O'Connor, as well as four compositions written by the album's producer Sonia Rutstein, who also sings on the album.

As a stand-out young fiddler at the Mark O'Connor String Camp two years ago, Sam won the year-long use of the Daniel Pearl violin, created by luthier Jonathan Cooper  in memory of  the Wall Street Journal reporter who was slain in 2002 by Pakistani terrorists. All the proceeds from Sam's new album will go to the Daniel Pearl Foundation, as well as to FODFest  – the "Friends of Danny Festival."

The album has a little jazz, a little folk, a little Latin – just about everything but classical. That's not to say Sam doesn't like classical, he does. He plays in his public school orchestra in Connecticut and has served as the concertmaster of the Norwalk Youth Symphony, among others. He also plays viola; in fact on his MySpace page he lists his instruments as: violin, 5ing Wood Viper electric violin, 2009 artisan-made Jonathon Cooper 5ing viola, David Segal viola, mandolin, guitar.

As the first student to study both classical and jazz violin simultaneously at the Manhattan School's PreCollege Division, Sam also is helping blaze a new path for violinists who seek to study alternative styles seriously. He studies classical violin with Patinka Kopec.

"Saturdays are a long day," Sam said. "The pre-college program is a Saturday program, then I'm in the public school for regular school," Sam said. "I'm not the only violin player in the jazz program, but I am the first to be doing both classical and jazz."

The big difference, when it comes to classical vs. jazz and folk traditions, lies in the initial approach to the music. "So much of fiddle music is traditional, and so little of it is written down. It's 100 percent by ear," Sam said. "Learning a fiddle tune means hearing someone else play it 12 times, and then making them play it slow 12 times, then slowly catching on."

When it comes to jazz, "the violin is still a very touchy subject, there are still a lot of people who don't like the sound of a violin in jazz," Sam said. "They say it's not meant for jazz; horns are meant for jazz. But I ignore it. If I get my chops good enough to be able to play with them, they're not going to complain. I use it as motivation to continue practicing.

Do you have to find a new sound for jazz on the violin, or imitate other instruments?

"I don't think I need to find a new sound," Sam said. "I guess I do sometimes try to imitate, but that's usually when I'm doing something like transcribing. When I'm transcribing someone, I feel like it's really important to try to get their sound. Sometimes it's not what they play, but how they play it, that makes it so great, or so unique. As far as sound goes, that goes back to my classical technique: I want the sound to sound good. I don't want it to be raspy, I want it to be a full, rich tone."

Somehow, Sam has explored a lot of territory for a teenager. How is it possible?

For one, he started rather early. "I've been playing the violin for almost 13 years," he said.

Sam was two when he fell in love with the girl next door's violin playing.

"She was in the fourth-grade orchestra at school. She came over and played the violin for me, and I loved it," Sam said. "I guess I loved the sound." When he was about three, his mother got him his first violin, he said.

Sam started violin with the Suzuki method and "at our Suzuki school, once every six months or so, a fiddle player – first it was Stacy Phillips – would come and teach us one or two fiddle tunes. They were very basic," Sam said. "I just kind of liked it. My mom did some research and we found the Mark O'Connor String Camp. I was nine years old at my first Mark camp. That was just unbelievable. It was really my first exposure to alternative styles, beyond a very basic look. It was such an eye-opening experience, just to learn that there were so many other styles out there for violin, besides classical."

It was at the Mark O'Connor camp that Sam was awarded the Daniel Pearl violin to use for a year. Though that violin has been passed to another student, the connection he made with Daniel Pearl's legacy was life-changing, and the message has stuck. One event that became important to Sam was the festival Danny's friends created in his honor, "FODFest.".

"It is a little tour that is run by Todd Mack, who was one of Danny's best friends," Sam said. "It's a great tour, with different musicians for every show, and it supports the message that Danny believed in, which is that music is a universal language. People can be connected through music; it can serve as a means of communication for people who would otherwise be unable to communicate because of language barriers."

FODFest also is where he met Sonia Rutstein ("SONiA"), who would later become the producer of his first album.

"I met her two years ago at FODFest, and at that point the whole album was really barely even an idea, it was a conversation here and there between my mom and me," Sam said. "We talked to Sonia about it, and she was totally on-board with the idea and absolutely wanted to make it happen. It was great because she put it together really quickly."

I asked Sam what he might have missed, had he gone the straight classical route.

"Flexibility, being able to think in such a creative way," Sam said. "In classical, there's no leeway, as to what notes you're going to play. You're going to play the notes that the composer wrote next. In that way, I'd feel a little bit more constricted, I'd feel like there was less way for me to creatively voice my ideas."

"For example, I was just playing Mozart. That stuff has been played a million times, and there aren't that many things that haven't been done. Whereas, in a piece of jazz, no two improvisations are going to be the same. So I guess I would have missed out on that, being able to be that creative."

Is it possible for a person to improve their improv? How?

"I think it's just listening. I feel like listening is so monumentally important, and it's something that I didn't really learn until maybe a year ago," Sam said. Listening gives a person a larger repertoire of songs, as well as a bigger vocabulary for improvising, he said. "Just hearing it enough and transcribing more solos leads to more things being engraved in your fingers and more things starting to come naturally when you improvise."

"Transcribing is definitely important because, like I said, it gets the licks in your fingers," Sam said. "Even if it doesn't instantly pop into your head, you can think more chordally, rather than just listening by ear, playing what you feel. You can think little bit more analytically: I know I can play this lick, and I know it fits over this chord; I'm going to play this lick. "

"I remember, one of my first jazz lessons that I ever took. My teacher told me that jazz is as much creative input as it is feeling a lick that you heard from somewhere else," Sam said. "Everyone takes licks from people, it's the way to practice: transcribing, along with putting the notes into your fingers. It also makes your ear more accustomed to the sound and more accustomed to the tempo, and maybe more accustomed to the really weird array of chords."

What's next for Sam?

"I definitely want to go to college, and I definitely want to go to an academic college as well as a conservatory," Sam said. "partially to keep my options open, but partially just so I feel educated. I definitely want to go into music, but I don't know if I really see myself performing. As fun as it is, and as much as I like it, the more I'm getting immersed into the world of music, the more I'm realizing how many jobs within music I could do, beyond just being a performer. I feel like that's really interesting. "

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Violin Community News 2010, Op. 6

February 17, 2010 12:44

About 850 string teachers America and beyond are gathering in Santa Clara, Calif., today for the annual American String Teachers of American (ASTA) convention this week. The event includes a long list of speakers, student performances and educational workshops, held today through Saturday.

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It's the time of year when orchestras announce their 2010-2011 seasons, and here's the news from two of the Big Boys:

The Los Angeles Philharmonic announced its season online, with a video interview between conductor Gustavo Dudamel and board president Deborah Borda. Let's cut to the quick and talk about violinists: in the 2010-2011 season, the LA Phil season will  feature violinists Hilary Hahn, Robert McDuffie, Martin Chalifour, Natalie MacMaster (fiddle), Sarah Chang, Nikolaj Znaider and Leonidas Kavakos, with recitals by Midori, Pierre-Laurent Aimard, and Itzhak Perlman. Here is the full season schedule.

Los Angeles Philharmonic Music Director Gustavo Dudamel. Image courtesy LA Phil

The New York Philharmonic also announced its 2010-2011 season, with plans to feature violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter as its artist in residence, as well as performances during the season by violinists Itzhak Perlman, Joshua Bell, Pinchas Zukerman, Anne-Sophie Mutter, Gil Shaham, Lisa Batiashvili, “and more." Here is New York Philharmonic's full 2010-2011 season. The NY Phil also plans a three-week festival led by conductor/composer Esa-Pekka Salonen (who recently turned over the LA Phil baton to Dudamel) and two European tours. The orchestra’s board also has turned its attention to Avery Fisher Hall, considering possible restructuring needed in both the short and long term, according to the New York Times.

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The auction house Tarisio announced this week that it will sell the contents of the recently closed William Moennig and Son shop in Philadelphia. The sale is planned for June, though the date is yet to be announced.

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Haitian Violinist Romel Joseph, still recovering in Miami from the severe injuries he suffered the earthquake, received a gift from Stevie Wonder: two keyboards. "I'm honored that I will be playing on the keyboard that you have played," Joseph told Wonder in a CNN interview from Jackson Memorial Hospital. Here is the story (with video) in the Miami Herald.

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Soviet-trained violinist and longtime Indiana University professor of violin Nelli Shkolnikova died earlier this month in Melbourne, according to The Strad, after a battle with cancer, according to Wikipedia. Born in the Ukraine in 1928, Schkolnikova studied at the Moscow Conservatory Yuri Yankelevich and won first prize at the Long-Thibaud Competition in 1953. In 1970, Soviet authorities restricted her performances to only Eastern bloc countries, but in 1982 she defected, first teaching in Melbourne at the Victorian College of the Arts, then from 1987 to 2005 at  Indiana University. Here is a 1959 recording of Shkolnikova playing the Tchaikovsky Concerto:


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Violinist.com interview with Dylana Jenson

February 15, 2010 21:57

To understand the story of violinist Dylana Jenson, just listen to her new recording of the Shostakovich Violin Concerto. It stopped me in my tracks -- the strength, the spark and mad talent, the deep sadness and longing – it made me listen, made me weep.

Whatever happened to violinist, Dylana Jenson? asked a thread that got 100 responses two years ago on Violinist.com.

She is here; she is playing, but it hasn't been easy.

Dylana Jenson. Photo courtesy the artist

Dylana was a child prodigy; she started playing the violin when she was two; by eight she was concertizing; by age 13 she was playing with major orchestras, and at age 17 she won a silver medal in the International Tchaikovsky competition in Moscow. She studied with Manuel Compinsky, Nathan Milstein and Josef Gingold. At the age of 20, she made a recording of the Sibelius Concerto with Eugene Ormandy and the Philadelphia Orchestra – a recording that people still list as a favorite.

Then at age 21, she married conductor David Lockington. When the wealthy violin collector who was lending her a 1743 Guarnerius del Gesu learned she was to marry, he demanded his instrument back. Losing that violin sent Dylana into a tailspin that lasted longer than anyone could have imagined, until luthier Sam Zygmuntovicz – after a long labor – produced a violin she could consider her voice again.

Her husband of nearly three decades joins her in the new recording, which includes the Barber Violin Concerto as well as the Shostakovich, performed with the London Symphony Orchestra.

When producer Michael Hampton met with her and asked her what she wanted to record, "I thought to myself, this is it. This is my testament, this may very well be the last thing that I say. So what is it I want to say?"

"I've always loved the Shostakovich Concerto, and Oistrakh was the love of my life as a child," Dylana said, speaking by phone last week from Grand Rapids, Michigan, where she has lived for more than a decade. "In fact, my parents told me that, when I was 16, I could move to Moscow and study with him. But he died before that time, which was really devastating."

"I feel very close to the piece for many reasons," she said. "My parents were Communists, they met in the Communist Party. My mother had a great love for the struggle of the Russian people. Putting aside for the moment what happened in Communist Russia later – there was an idealism; many people had great hopes that this could change the direction of the world, and this incredible idealism was part of my childhood."

"Of course this is a protest piece, I'm aware of the history of it," Dylana said. "But I didn't feel emotionally that I was using it as a vehicle for protest, it was for me an emotional journey – I think there's tremendous sadness, and there's peace, angst, I think there's suffering, I think there's a huge amount of love and yearning, and for many of these things, I've always been drawn to it. It is exhausting, emotionally, to play it. If you don't feel that, I think you haven't gotten it. It really drains every cell of your body."

But really, why would this be a "last testament"?

"Well, I'm quite middle-aged and I don't have a manager," said Dylana, who is 48. "I don't personally have money myself to make another recording. [This album was published independently, not on a major label. - Laurie] All I want to do in my life is play, to perform, that's what I feel like I'm supposed to be doing, that was the message of my childhood. The confusion that I'm not doing that – I live with all the time. It's not that I feel hope-less, but I try not to live with hope because I feel that desire is very dangerous. I had a desire to have a violin for a long time, and it can be very negative, for me, to desire and to hope to have something different than what I have. So I have done the Shostakovich, I am so grateful that this opportunity was given to me, I'm so lucky, and to expect, to hope or to desire that I will be able to do more is really kind of a treacherous territory, let's put it that way."

When Dylana started playing the violin, the Suzuki movement was still in its infancy in the United States, so the fact she started so young is a testament to her mother's determination.

"What happened was my mother was obsessed with music – she always wanted to be a musician and never had the opportunity," Dylana said. "In high school she actually pretended to play the violin, so she could sit in the orchestra. She never touched the bow to the string for the whole year, just so she could sit there."

"So my mother wanted for all of us to play instruments, but it was very difficult at the time because there weren't any teachers who would teach little kids," Dylana said. "My brother wanted to play cello – he was obsessively playing the cello by himself when he was 18 months old. But they were very frustrated, trying to find him a teacher."

"When I was two and a half, in 1964, Suzuki came with his first tour," Dylana said. "My parents saw a brochure, and they went to the concert. Nobody knew anything about Suzuki, nobody knew what the method was, and everybody was obviously bowled over and awed by this tour. So my mother said, 'Well, this proves that it can be done, and I'm just going to do it!'"

Her mother, a native of Costa Rica, went to the library, got some books and taught herself how to play the violin, so that she could teach her children. "She started three of us at the same time, and was able to get the first Suzuki book," Dylana said. "She would teach herself at night what she would teach us the next day. And she did this all the way until the Bach Double Concerto. It was pretty remarkable for her to be able to accomplish this. It was truly the 'Mother Tongue' way of learning."

Has Dylana done the same kind of thing with her own kids? Her four children range in age from nine to 25.

"Oh my kids – all my kids play many instruments, but..." Dylana said, laughing, "I was very open with the teachers, I would come in and say, 'I'm here for my nap...' I am the worst Suzuki parent of any Suzuki parent you're going to have, but I will just put myself in the chair and I would have the exact nap, 29 minutes."

Dylana did not go to Juilliard or Curtis. She was mostly home-schooled, in a rather lively home of artists and frees spirits, she said. Her sister, Vicky Jenson is a DreamWorks animator who served as a director on both "Shrek" and "Shark Tale," and her brother Ivan is a painter and poet.

Dylana did spend time with some of the great violinists of the 20th century, for example, Nathan Milstein.

"It was like sitting in front of God," she said of the two-week stints she would spend with Milstein in the summer. "It was profoundly life-changing in so many ways. Speaking from a purely technical standpoint, the only thing he encouraged me to change was to bring my fingers back together in my bow hand. I had met Itzhak Perlman when I was 10 or 11, and Perlman suggested I separate my fingers and use my index finger more to help draw out the sound. When I went to see Milstein, he was playing the way I had grown up playing. So I changed that back. It took a little while to be comfortable with that, it was like I was holding a club in my arm, it was not refined in any way."

By fingers together, Milstein meant, "together, touching. If you look at Milstein and Heifetz, their fingers are squished together. I would say mine are not squished, they are just relaxed in that position, and touching," she said. "He was trying to encourage me to use back muscles for bow technique, to support the arm and to have greater control over small movements by using larger muscles, rather than trying to use small finger muscles to control a small movement."

Milstein often used the example of an eye surgeon. "When a surgeon would make an incision in the eye, which was very delicate and very tiny, that the surgeon would use a weighted scalpel, using the bicep muscles to make the cut, not using the fingers with a tiny little knife trying to make an incision." With the little muscles, there would be less precision and more error – when you get nervous, little muscles shake. "You gain a tremendous amount of control, I think, from using larger muscles."

Dylana enjoys teaching, and she addresses these kinds of issues in her own students.

"I'm setting up their body, so that they can practice and play as long as they want, for the rest of their lives without pain," Dylana said. "It has to be an evaluation of the different issues. I see a lot of problems in the left arm, in the left elbow, for instance; or in the neck, or twisting. Where teachers are recommending ice and rest, I'm saying, that's not really the answer. For instance, with the left arm: it would be bringing the violin more around to the front, untwisting the arm, bringing the violin down, getting the shoulder rest off, changing the way the thumb works so the hand can be straighter, facing you straight instead of twisting. In the right arm, in the bow arm: if the fingers are very separated, that creates a lot of tension in the hand.

"So I recommend – Suzuki always set up students this way – you shake the hand out and the hand falls – that should be the maximum you stretch the fingers apart. If you allow the child to stretch their fingers, then you have already set up a tension in the hand that's going to be there for however many hours they're practicing. So my whole approach is to get back to the the basics, to the tradition of what has worked for a long time and with a lot of wonderful great masters of the past."

Not only was Milstein helpful in getting Dylana back to a more natural way of playing, but he also was "so authentic and completely comfortable and strong in being himself and expressing himself directly," Dylana said. "No pretense, whatsoever. He knew who he was, he knew what he had to offer, it wasn't about ego, it was an inner confidence that projected in a very calm, beautiful way."

"We play the person we are," she said. "If you're lucky enough to have the technique and the connections to be able to express yourself through your music, the only person you can express is who you are."

In the years leading up to her silver-medal win at the Tchaikovsky Competition, Dylana lived in Bloomington, Indiana. "I was too young to be going to the University, and I was traveling a lot, performing, but I was kind of studying with Josef Gingold," she said. "I say 'kind of,' because he was a great mentor at the time that I lived in Bloomington, and so was the school. I would go to everybody's master classes. Gingold would play me old records of all the old artists. But I lived there just a little less than two years. Actually he went to the Tchaikovsky Competition, he accepted being a judge, the year that I was in the competition. He said he was going to make sure that the competition was fair (she laughs). But little did he know that it was very complicated when you got there, it wasn't as easy as he thought."

Just as her career was going full-tilt, she was hit with the loss of her primary instrument. It seems unreal, that a person could lose their violin over getting married, but that's exactly what happened to Dylana.

"I thought, men get married, women get married, what difference does it make?" Dylana said. "So I sent an invitation that I was getting married (to the collector who was lending the violin), and he called me and was very angry. His words were 'Well obviously you're uncommitted to your career if you're getting married, so you have two weeks to return the violin.' I begged him to let me have it for a month because I was playing Brahms Concerto with the San Francisco Symphony – those were the last concerts I played on that del Gesu. It went back into a vault for over a decade. It had been in a vault for about 17 years before I played on it, then it went back in the vault."

"When I lost the violin, I really didn't have anybody that I could turn to that could help -- I didn't have those kind of connections," Dylana said. "Unfortunately I was one of the early women, breaking through in this different kind of solo career. The men that were surrounding me, I tried very much to say 'yes' as much as I could to whatever I was told to say and do, because I didn't want to offend anyone. But I was given very poor advice, and looking back, of course, I should not have given myself over in that way.' "One big piece of advice I had from my management at the time was, 'You can't let anyone know that you don't have a violin, because then I won't be able to book any concerts for you...' That was a really big problem for me, because it was a couple of years before I could even be open about the fact that I didn't have a violin," Dylana said. "At that point everything had fallen apart – the record company was angry with me because I was supposed to be recording every year for 10 years. Everybody just started to be very angry with me because I couldn't solve this problem. They didn't feel it was their problem to solve, it was my personal problem to solve, and I didn't have a way to solve it."

"I had a kind of naïve feeling – I don't know how else to put it – that if what I had to offer as a musician was worthwhile, that someone would come forward and help," she said. "It wasn't about owning it or anything like that, I could care less. I had so many schemes, you have no idea. So many schemes, so many letters, I made so many trips to talk to different people. I always had some way of getting a violin. When my second daughter was born, a week after she was born, I was back in California, talking with somebody else that might be able to help with this and that – it was an insane period of time, where I was trying to go on with my life, just as a person; at the same time it was a constant, constant obsession of how to solve this seemingly unsolvable problem."

Little did she know that there was a luthier – growing in his artistry – who had an award hanging on his wall. An award from 1980, the year he graduated from violin making school and came to New York – an award that happened to be signed by Dylana. That luthier was Sam Zygmuntowicz.

"During the time when I didn't have an instrument, I was invited to be one of the tone judges at the Violin Society of America makers competition that they have every year," Dylana said, "and one of Sam's instruments won a gold medal for tone in that year – my signature is on that certificate. I remember being there, and I remember judging them all, but of course they couldn't have labels, and I didn't know who he was or what the instrument was. But he also was growing as a master violin maker. So our paths had to just continue crossing until such a point when here we are today. "

They wouldn't cross for more than 15 years. Meanwhile, well, you have to play a lot of fiddles before you find The One.

"I had a lot of violins," said Dylana, "one year I had more than 21 instruments. I had a very close friend who had a small shop. I was just trying to get anything to play on. I played on many, many modern instruments. I've probably played on more modern instruments than anybody I know. Sometimes a friend would have a violin; they'd loan it to me for a few months. Once I had to go to a city; I didn't have a violin, I had a concert with a small orchestra, and I just borrowed one from somebody in the orchestra to play on. Then David's father had a violin that he had in his closet, I played on that for a couple years."

"This wasn't even a matter of, did I prefer Strads or del Gesus or Guadagninis – these were complete student instruments, not even of a great quality," Dylana said. "I played Brahms Concerto with the Philadelphia Orchestra, and the concertmaster went out in the hall to listen during the rehearsal. He came back to me and said, 'Don't try to do any nuances, because you really can't hear you anyway.' That's when I thought, I shouldn't be doing this, this is not right. I was getting hired because these orchestras were expecting something, and I simply couldn't do it."

"It was more than the fact that I was not being heard – I mean I had plenty of reviews that said, 'Concerto without Violin,' and that was devastating. But it was more that," Dylana said. "If you took Pavarotti and you replaced his voicebox with Adam Lambert... you know, they're both great voice boxes, but could Pavarotti be who he was if you did this surgical replacement? The violin is just your wooden voice box. I wasn't even at the point where I was looking for my personality in a violin, I was just trying to get a violin that didn't sound completely nasal, didn't sound completely closed-off, washed, didn't have a lot of wolfs, something I could practice on... that's all I was looking for."

Was she really just taking off time from her career, to have a family?

"No, I didn't have a violin," Dylana said. "It never occurred to me at any point in my life that having children, which is just part of living one's life, would ever interfere with my career part of playing the violin. It never occurred to me. And even when I had children and they were young, if I was lucky enough to have a concert, I just took them with me. Sometimes I traveled with all three of them because I never had babysitters. But children were never an obstacle, and if my career had been otherwise, either I would have had the money to have a nanny or I would have taken them more often. Either way, children were never an issue, that was just part of life's journey."

"I've had a lot of people make a big deal out of it because I'm a woman, and I think it's dangerous territory to make assumptions. One woman," she said, laughing, "she was the artistic administrator of a major orchestra, and I remember her saying to my manager at the time, 'I just can't believe that Dylana would leave her children to go off and play a concert.' Then soon after that, she said, 'I can't believe that Dylana left her career to have children.' No matter what I did, it wasn't going to be right, and the reality was that neither of those were the truth, anyway!"

Finally, in 1996, her path crossed with Sam Zygmuntowicz again, when she commissioned a violin from him. But that wasn't the end of the search. It took a while for him to create a violin she could consider her "voicebox."

"I actually have two Zygmuntowicz now: the one that he made for me, which I didn't use for a long time," Dylana said. "I was gifted another Zygmuntowicz that was a fabulous-sounding instrument. In fact, that was the one that inspired me to commission the other one. I started playing on that one quite a lot, and actually listened to a lot of recordings on it, of live performances, and didn't feel that it was my voice for recordings, but I was happy to have it.

"After I got my commissioned instrument and just couldn't make it work, Sam kept saying, 'Dylana, I know that the one that I made for you, I know that you're going to love it better, I know that it's the one for you,' and he kept reassuring me. And years would pass and years would pass."

She did finally send back the violin Sam had made for her, and he spent many, many months working on it. In 2005, he presented the violin to her again.

"When I got it back, I didn't even take it out of the case for two weeks, I was so petrified," Dylana said. "I thought, it's been so many years, I've repeatedly been disappointed, I don't know that I can handle another disappointment... Then finally, I had the guts to open it up."

When she played, and liked what she heard, the emotions were overwhelming. Could this be it?

"I immediately went downtown to the hall here in Grand Rapids with both of the instruments, to see if what I was hearing was really what I was hearing," she said. And apparently, it was. "I love it. I absolutely love it. Sam is one of the most genuine, beautiful people I know. From the first time I met him, he really put everything aside to help me. He said he listened to my Sibelius recording while he was making the violin for me, over and over, and I think that he was so incredibly thoughtful in wanting to solve this problem."

"So I'm really really so lucky to have it, and the journey has been one of tremendous confusion," Dylana said. "Life, I guess, is not what you expect it to be, and only when you get as old as I am do you realized that what people said all along becomes the truth: You're not in control of your life. Life is very unexpected, and if you think that you're on a particular path, then think again. The years that I didn't have a violin to play on, when I had to really walk away from my career, I was so, so terribly sad and in pain. It got to a point where the sadness was so overwhelming that I had to find some kind of peace. And it wasn't that I was letting go of my love of giving whatever it is that I have that is worthwhile for someone else to listen to, it wasn't that, it was letting go of this dream that maybe some day I would have a violin again...Really, until (the violin from Sam) was re-made, I didn't feel like I had a violin to play on."

19 replies | Archive link

Violin Community News 2010, Op. 5

February 10, 2010 14:13

The 13th annual Sphinx Competition announced its 2010 winners last week in Detroit:

In the Senior Division:
First place: Violinist Gareth Johnson, 24, of Wellington, FL
Second place: Violist Paul Laraia, 20, of Boston, MA
Third place: Violinist John Sanderson, 20, of Bloomington, IN

Gareth Johnson

In the Junior Division:
First place:  Violinist Randall Goosby, 13, Bartlett, TN
Second place: Violist Andrew Gonzalez, 17, of Chesapeake VA
Third place: Cellist Anna Maria Litvinenko, 15, of Miami, FL

Randall Goosby

Detailed biographies of the semi-finalists can be found here. The competition was created in 1996 by violinist Aaron P. Dworkin, with the aim of increasing black and Latino participation in music schools and increasing the ranks among professional musicians and classical music audience members. Another aim has been to encourage works by Black and Latino composers. The first-place Senior Division winner will receive a $10,000 cash prize, solo appearances with major orchestras, performance with the Sphinx Symphony Orchestra at the Finals Concert, professional CD through Naxos label. The first-place Junior Division winner will receive a $5,000 cash prize, solo appearances with major orchestras, performances with the Sphinx Symphony Orchestra and at Finals Concert, national radio debut on From the Top. Here is the Detroit News story about the competition.

* * * 

Many have been mourning the closing of Moennig & Son in Philadelphia; here is another story about it, from ABC News.

* * * 

Last week some 400 amateur musicians had the chance to play with the Baltimore Symphony in a concert called Rusty Musicians With the BSO, a brain-child of conductor Marin Alsop. Among these musicians were a  number of V.commers, who have been talking about it since November. We even got a little mention in the Washington Post, which said: "The discussion board on Violinist.com has been abuzz with the debate of just how fast Alsop's tempo would be at the start of the Tchaikovsky movement, which is a knuckle-bender even for professional string players. (Alsop finally called up her label and asked them to make a download of her performance of the piece available to participants.) Ellen Pendleton Troyer, a violinist with the BSO, was impressed with the results. 'My stand partner was nailing everything,' she said." In sum: It would appear that a fun time was had by all. Kudos to Marin Alsop for thinking up an exciting and original way to reach out to the community.

* * * 

Andre Rieu's collection of Strauss waltzes, Forever Vienna, has just become the highest-ranking orchestral album ever, according to the BBC. Highest ranking on what chart? If you can tell, let me know; I searched in vain.

* * *

Anne-Sophie Mutter was talking about the difficulties of being a world-class, globe-hopping violinist and mother, and she explained to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette:  "'The funny thing is that my wedded name is Wunderlich, and sometimes on my plane ticket they cannot print out my [complete] double name, so it says Mutter-Wunder,' she says with a hearty laugh." That would be "Wonder Mother" in German – she went on to say that music is simply part of who she is, as is motherhood.  Mutter was in town to play the Brahms Concerto with the Pittsburgh Symphony; here is a review.

* * *

Flutist James Galway, 70, canceled an upcoming performance with the Dallas Symphony Orchestra, and waiting in the wings was not another flutist, but Grammy-nominated violinist Caroline Goulding, age 17. The performance will be March 18-20; here is the information.

* * * 

The power of the arts to transform society – this will be the topic of conversation Feb. 18 at Carnegie Hall for an event called Arts Leadership in Focus. The event includes a panel discussion with El Sistema founder Dr. Jose Antonio Abreu, LA Phil CEO Deborah Borda as well as other cultural and business leaders. An evening concert will feature violinists Joshua Bell and Julian Rachlin, the Youth Orchestra of the Americas, musicians from El Sistema of Venezuela; and conductors Valery Gergiev and Carlos Miguel Prieto.

* * * 

When the review is entitled, Zing Went Her String we might all be able to guess what happened! But apparently violinist Lindsay Deutsch handled the situation with poise when her E string broke right at the beginning of "Bess, You Is My Woman Now" during a concert with the New West Symphony in Oxnard, Calif. Her performance included three pieces from "Schindler’s List" as well as the Gershwin/Alexander Courage "Fantasy on Themes from 'Porgy and Bess.'"

2 replies | Archive link

Violin Community News 2010, Op. 4

February 3, 2010 15:53

Violinist Frank Huang was named the new concertmaster of the Houston Symphony Orchestra, to join the orchestra at the beginning of the 2010-11 season. Huang will leave his post at the Eastman School of Music as well as his position as first violinist of the Ying Quartet. Huang, who also was 2002 Laureate of the International Violin Competition of Indianapolis, is originally from the Houston area. "Growing up in Houston, I loved going to symphony performances, and I feel so honored to be able to come back now and actually be a part of them," Huang said in a press release.

Okay, which one of you was smooching Gerard Butler in Venice Beach, Calif.? 'fess up!

This is interesting: album sales figures are low enough for classical music that the sale of “200 or 300 units" are enough to land an album in the top 10 on Billboard Classical Charts, according to an article in the Washington Post which goes on to say:  “It's not exactly news that album sales in all genres have been declining for years. Nor is it news that classical recordings are not top sellers. 'The classical charts have always been looked at as in the 3-percenter club,' says Alex Miller, general manager of Sony Masterworks. 'Three percent of total music sales are in classical music.'"

– Are you wondering where you can find a list of all the Grammy winners in the Classical Music category? Well here is a nice, concise list for us, thank you Pauline Lerner for compiling it!

-- Speaking of the Grammys, the Emerson String Quartet won for its album, Intimate Letters, but it does not appear that any violin soloists won. Violinist Caroline Goulding, nominated for Best Solo Instrumental Performance (Without Orchestra) for her debut album, was a good sport, telling the Times Herald of Port Huron, “It gives me something to look forward to..I wouldn’t be able to fully appreciate it at this point in my life." Violinist Philippe Quint also was nominated for Best Instrumental Soloist Performance for his recording of the Korngold concerto, but when he didn't receive it, he said he simply enjoyed the opportunity to see Elton John play live.

– I did watch the Grammys on Sunday night, and when a big, live string section came wheeling out behind Dave Matthews, three words came to my mind: “Yes, yes, yes!" I only wondered why some of the others opted for synthesized strings, what, you don't have the budget? It's always a mystery to me, why a vocal artist would go to the trouble of giving a high-profile performance or recording a tune for posterity, and then use synthesized strings instead of real string players. It's like setting your real diamond in a ring from a bubble gum machine.

– Rock 'n' roll Viper man Mark Wood announced his first-ever Mark Wood Rock Orchestra Camp, which will be July 19 - July 25, 2010 at MidAmerican Nazarene University in Olathe, Kansas and is open to students entering 7th grade or higher in fall 2010, college students, and adults of all ability levels (beginner, intermediate, advanced, professional, educators) .

-- Schools all over the United States are facing ugly budget cuts, but here is the story of an energized group of parents, students and educators who are determined to block cuts to the instrumental music programs in their district, Fairfax County. Students showed up for three days of budget hearings, carrying empty violin and trombone cases, and the Fairfax Arts Coalition for Education gathered 11,400 signatures on a petition and commissioned a cost-benefit analysis of the potential cuts.

– Here's a nice interview with Joshua Bell that came out last week in the Akron Beacon Journal. In the interview he said that his New Year's resolution was to take ping pong lessons, and he confessed, “'I can very easily give up the violin for a few days and don't miss it,' said Bell, who's also a big computer, PlayStation and Wii enthusiast. 'I'm not a workaholic, that's for sure. I enjoy the downtime.'"

– Violinist.com member Kimberlee Dodds Dray shared with me that “Violinist.com is largely responsible for keeping me involved, giving me lessons when I couldn't afford them and helping me achieve a lifelong dream to play the Lark Ascending with an orchestra." Here is a video/news story that features Kimberlee, with her thoughts about coming back to the violin after a fairly long hiatus, and making a dream come true. Thanks to all who helped her along the way!

1 reply | Archive link

More entries: January 2010

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