October 2011

Violinist.com is now more mobile-compatible

October 31, 2011 15:40

Good news, now you can participate in the discussion board and blogs from your mobile device!

Violinist.com on iPhone and iPad

In the words of Robert Niles, my husband and the technical wizard for Violinist.com, here is what we did to make the site more mobile-compatible: "Many of you might not even notice the switch, but we're back to using a 'plain text' window for discussion board input. That means that you'll have to use the HTML code for hyperlinks, images and YouTube embeds, if you wish to include those in your post. The input window will no longer automatically pick up text style and links pasted from Microsoft Word or other word processing programs.

As a result, you now should be able to post to the discussion board from iPhones, iPads and other smartphone devices, as well as from your computer."

The "plain text" windows are also in place for blogs.

If you created something back when we used the old editing system, you can still use that system if you need to change that post or blog.

The main reason we were using that system in the first place was to make it easier for you to post hyperlinks, images and video. So how do you do it now? You'll have to use a bit of HTML code, and here are some guidelines:

Hyperlinks: If you would like to include a link in your post, please use the HTML code for a hyperlink to the URL you wish to link. Here is an example: <a href="http://www.violinist.com/">This is a link to Violinist.com</a>

Images: If you would like to embed an image, please use the HTML code for images: <img src="http://www.violinist.com/art/members/laurie.jpg"> (Please do not embed images more than 500 pixels wide.) You can upload and store your photos to any of a variety of services, including Photobucket, ImageShack.us, Flickr, or Webshots.

YouTube Embeds If you would like to embed a YouTube video, go to that video's YouTube page. Under the video, click "Share." A code will come up, highlighted, but that's not the code to use. Instead, click on "embed," and another code will come up. If it has a width of more than 500, go down to the blue box that says "custom" and type in 500 as the width. That will change the code to be the perfect size for Violinist.com. Then highlight the code, copy, and paste.

Thanks for your patience with these changes, and we hope they make Violinist.com more usable for you! Don't hesitate to e-mail me if you have any questions or need help with the new system.

1 reply

Halloween treat: Witches' Dance, played by Eugene Fodor

October 31, 2011 13:20

I still mourn the fact that I will never again hear violinist Eugene Fodor play live, but here he is at his best, playing Paganini's "Le Streghe" from his 1990s recording called Witches Brew. The pianist is Kiyoshi Tamagawa. (BTW I recommend listening but the visuals might make you a little dizzy!)

More on the piece: Nicolo Paganini had the reputation of being in league with the Devil, as people couldn't understand how he could play so well (my hypothesis: practice?). A version of this piece has been made famous by its appearance as the eighth piece in Suzuki Book 2. Suzuki students, if you've never heard the original, take a listen!

1 reply

Violin Community News 2011, Op. 9

October 26, 2011 15:09

Hilary Hahn

Hilary Hahn has announced how she will be selecting the 27th composer for her project, In 27 Pieces: The Hilary Hahn Encores: the composer will be chosen from blind submissions to the website, HilaryHahnContest.com. One Grand Prize winner will be named the 27th composer, and the winning piece will be programmed on Hahn's 2012-13 recital program with 13 other previously commissioned works for the project; toured around the world; and recorded for release in the 2013-14 concert season. (The first 13 pieces of the project were premiered earlier this month in Cincinnati.) Honorable Mentions (not to exceed 10) will also be awarded to the pieces that Hahn finds most compelling besides the Grand Prize winner. These Honorable Mentions will be listed on HilaryHahn.com. For every submission received, $2 will be donated to the music programs of Dramatic Need.

The competition is open to composers of all nationalities, with no age restrictions. The compositions submitted for the competition must use both acoustic violin and piano, and nothing else, and may not involve any form of electronic or pre-recorded sounds or vocalizations. The pieces must be between 1.5 and 5 minutes in length, and only completed works will be considered. Each entry must be original music written by the composer, and only one entry per composer is allowed. No changes may be made once a piece is submitted, though the Grand Prize winner will have a chance to make small revisions once the piece is chosen. The submitted compositions must be written specifically for this project and not submitted to any other contest, and must not have been performed, published, or recorded in any form.

Submissions will be accepted on the website from November 15, 2011 to March 15, 2012. Each submission must be comprised of a PDF and a MIDI file. Results will be announced on June 15, 2012. For the full list of rules and submission requirements, please visit HilaryHahnContest.com.

* * *

The new documentary, "God's Fiddler: Jascha Heifetz," by Peter Rosen, will have a sneak preview as part of New York's Documentary Festival at 1:30 p.m.; Sunday Nov. 6 at the IFC center in New York. Here is a link for tickets and more information. It will be officially premiered on Nov. 11 at the Quad Cinema in New York, for one week only. Tickets for the Quad can be purchased here, and there is also more information on the documentary's Facebook page. The documentary, which I reviewed after its LA premiere in the spring, traces Heifetz' life and legacy, putting it in historical context while also showing new footage that violin fans will appreciate. The documentary is also now out on DVD and can be purchased through Shar.

* * *

Violinist and Sphinx Organization founder Aaron Dworkin will be sworn in as a member of the National Council on the Arts this Friday in Washington, D.C. Dworkin is President Obama's first nominee to the council, which is the advisory body for the National Endowment for the Arts. Other members include James Ballinger, Miguel Campaneria, Ben Donenberg, JoAnn Falletta, Lee Greenwood, Joan Israelite, Charlotte Kessler, Bret Lott, Irvin Mayfield, Stephen Porter, Barbara Ernst Prey, Frank Price, Terry Teachout, and Karen Wolff; and six ex-officio members from Congress -- Senators Claire McCaskill (D-MO) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), and Congressman Patrick J. Tiberi (R-OH) (Appointment by Majority and Minority leadership of the remaining Members of Congress to the Council is pending). The National Endowment for the Arts, established by Congress in 1965 as an independent agency of the federal government, has awarded more than $4 billion to support the arts in the United States.

* * *

For those in the LA area: Violinist Daniel Hope will perform a recital at 8 p.m. Tuesday at Zipper Hall, and the Colburn Chamber Music Society is offering $10 tickets for Violinist.com readers. Order discounted tickets and find more information here: http://ccms2.eventbrite.com/?discount=Violinist10 The program will include Prokofiev: Overture on Hebrew Themes, Op. 34; Schulhoff: String Sextet; and Brahms: Piano Quartet, Op. 60 in C minor.

* * *

Bob Shlasko, a longtime supporter of Violinist.com and author of the children's book Molly and the Sword, was recently featured on the Lifetime Show, The Balancing Act. His book is about courage, and I enjoyed how he wrote about his own feelings about being on T.V., "During an interview about Molly and the Sword, I became overly emotional and kept tapping my chest with my finger. What I forgot was that I was also tapping on a microphone clipped to my shirt. The result was loud drum-like roars. Fortunately, through judicious editing the ace production team on The Balancing Act on Lifetime Television was able to salvage the result into the allotted five-minute segment."

1 reply

How to practice, in six steps

October 21, 2011 11:05

"I think I forgot how to practice," said my student.

Well, I guess it's better than forgetting TO practice, but this is a problem that needs addressing. In fact, I'm finding that as my students get older, I need to take time to talk about practice strategies in a different way than I did when they were younger. Sure, I can identify their problem areas, but they need to start learning to do so on their own, and it isn't always obvious how to go about it. So let's say you are working on this week's etude, or a page of your concerto, or your orchestra music; here is a basic plan:

1. Identify difficult spots

This seems obvious, but due to a common affliction known as "denial," students often fail to effectively find their own trouble spots. Muddling your way through a page of music, fixing this and fumbling that as you go, is not the same as playing a page of music correctly. But sometimes we don't "count" the fixing and fumbling.

Recently I used an iPhone to videotape a student playing through her weekly etude, which she thought was fairly well prepared. After I taped her etude from start to finish, I set her in front of her music with a pencil and told her to circle any notes, measures or passages that she wanted to fix. I placed the phone on the music stand, hit "play," then sat in my chair while she listened to herself and circled passages. At the end, I asked, "Did you have more mistakes, or less mistakes, then you thought you had?"

"I definitely had more!"

I was not surprised; I suspected that she had not been hearing her mistakes. This is understandable; sometimes the concentration on playing makes it hard to step outside and hear what's actually happening. So recording yourself and listening, pencil in hand, is one way to find those areas needing help.

Another way is to simply be very aware of when you are stopping, when you are fumbling, when you are playing out of tune. You can circle such spots as you go along.

2. Take each spot and identify the difficulty.

One of my students found a spot that needed practice, and I asked, "So, what happened here?"

"I missed the note!" she said, and we laughed. Well, yes! But why?

Often times we write off "missed notes" as one-time events that just happened because our fingers stumbled. But usually those "one-time" events happen every time you play it, believe it or not. And they happen for a reason. Finding that reason is the key to effective practice.

Here are some commons reasons why we make mistakes: missing the mark on a difficult string crossing; misreading the music ("I always think that G is a B…"); shifting too far; shifting not far enough; fingers stumbling on a difficult finger pattern; mis-placing fingers too high or too low; misunderstanding the rhythm; anticipating a shift and moving before you should; anticipating a string crossing and moving before you should; being in the wrong part of the bow; running out of bow; mistaking two similar passages for each other; etc. It's a fairly endless list! But your job is to find the exact reason why you stumbled.

3. Learn to play the spot correctly

This may take several attempts and strategies, but it is important that you conquer your problem before you simply start "practicing," or repeating the passage. If you play something over and over again incorrectly, or with stumbles, or with playing the wrong note first and sliding around to the right note, then you are practicing exactly that: playing it incorrectly and stumbling around. When you go to play it for your performance or for your teacher, you will inevitably land incorrectly and stumble around, exactly as you practiced. Then you'll say, "But I played it right at home…" Grrrrr!

Let's say you had a problem shifting: you need to practice the shift until it's correct. If it was a problem with getting the fingers to go down correctly, you need to identify which fingers were out of place and slow it down until you can do it all in a row correctly, then maybe even practice some rhythms. If it was a bowing problem, you need to practice getting to the right part of the bow, maybe even changing a bowing. If it was a reading problem, you may need to write in a fingering or note or sharp or flat, to remind yourself.

Whatever it is, get fully to the bottom of the problem and fix it.

4. Repeat the spot CORRECTLY, numerous times.

Experience will tell you how many times to repeat something in order to learn it, but usually 10 times works well. You have to be very honest about this: if you did not play the passage correctly, you can't count it as a repetition. If you continue to make mistakes, then you have not fixed the problem and you need to go back to Step 3. Only correct practice yields progress. It can be slow, it can have a few pauses, but it has to be correct.

5. Put the corrected spot into context of the piece.

Back up to a few measures before the trouble spot, then see if you can still play it correctly within the context of the rest of the music. Try going from the beginning of the page, or the beginning of the piece, to see if you can still remember and perform your perfected spot, within the music.

6. Do it again tomorrow.

Usually one day won't completely fix a problem, though it will go pretty far. Make sure you continue to hit those special spots.

Obviously, there are many ways to go about correcting problems that you are having in learning music, especially when it comes to Step 3. But I hope this helps break down the practice process for yourself or for your students. Happy practicing!


14 replies

Violin Community News 2011, Op. 8

October 19, 2011 15:24

Former New York Philharmonic Music Director Lorin Maazel is putting his 1783 Guadagnini up for online auction on Nov. 10 through Tarisio. Maazel has owned the violin for 66 years, first playing it when he was 15. Proceeds will benefit The Castleton Festival, which Maazel launched in 2009. More on that story from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

* * *

Earlier this month, conductor Gustavo Dudamel was named Gramophone's Artist of the Year. Dudamel is Music Director for the Los Angeles Philharmonic, principal conductor of the Gothenburg Symphony in Sweden, and he frequently conducts the Simon Bolivar Youth Orchestra in Venezuela, home to the "El Sistema" program where Dudamel honed his incredible conducting chops. Here is his acceptance speech for the Gramophone award. Better yet, here he is, conducting!

* * *

Musicians of the Philadelphia Orchestra accepted major cutbacks in a contract agreement that was approved last week between the orchestra's labor union and management. The agreement reduces musicians' salaries, cuts the size of the orchestra and, according to the American Federation of Musicians, allows the orchestra to back out of $35 million that it owed the AFM pension fund on behalf of its musicians. The orchestra had filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in April, and the new contract is subject to approval by the bankruptcy court. Here is more on the story.

* * *

Are you interested in composing for viola? The American Viola Society has announced its Second Biennial Maurice Gardner Composition Competition, with a submission deadline of December 15, 2011. Compositions must be new, unpublished works; a maximum of 15 minutes in length; written for solo viola, viola and piano, or viola and electronic media. The winner will receive $1,000, and the winning composition will be performed at the 40th International Viola Congress, which takes place May 30 through June 4, 2012 at the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, New York. For more details, click here: http://www.acteva.com/booking.cfm?bevaid=223712

* * *

Violinist Hilary Hahn premiered 13 of the encore pieces that she commissioned as a part of her project In 27 Pieces: The Hilary Hahn Encores in a recital with pianist Valentina Lisitsa last week at the new Constella Festival in Cincinnati. About 300 people attended, according to an article in Cincinnati.com, in which reporter Janelle Gelfand also wrote, "More than just 'encores,' which are often viewed as trifles or 'bonbons,' they ranged from reflective to joyous and unfolded like mini-tone poems, each evoking vivid imagery."

Here is a list of the pieces Hilary premiered:

"Speak, Memory" by Lera Auerbach

"Thin Blue Line" by Tina Davidson

"Memory Games" by Avner Dorman

"Levitation" by Søren Nils Eichberg

"Coming To" by Christos Hatzis

"Echo Dash" by Jennifer Higdon

"Solitude d’automne" by Bun-Ching Lam

"Blue Fiddle" by Paul Moravec

"Two Voices" by Nico Muhly

"Whispering" by Einojuhani Rautavaara

"Mercy" by Max Richter

"Bifu" by Somei Satoh

"Torua" by Gillian Whitehead


4 replies

Happy birthday to Shinichi Suzuki

October 17, 2011 12:21

Happy birthday to Shinichi Suzuki (October 17, 1898 – January 26, 1998), a kind man who changed the world!


1 reply

Live at a theater near you: the symphony

October 13, 2011 12:46

I've played in many symphony concerts, I've attended them live, but I've never gone to see a symphony concert at a movie theatre.

That is, until Sunday, when I went with one of my students and her mom to the local AMC movie theatre to watch Janine Jansen play the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto with the Los Angeles Philharmonic and Gustavo Dudamel. The all-Mendelssohn also included the Hebrides Overture and the Scottish Symphony.

LA Phil Live

As you can see, the sight lines were excellent! (I took this picture with my cell phone) Though this experience is not the same as going in-person to a symphony concert, it is still an experience that is satisfying and worth the time and money. Speaking of which, tickets to the movie theatre version of the concert were $18 for children, $20 for seniors and $22 for adults. Tickets for the actual concert at Disney Hall ranged from $75 to $185 apiece (plus the $11 to park!).

I love a live performance -- the feel of the sound waves coming straight from the instruments and bouncing around in a great acoustic hall, the presence of so many people, all dressed up and sitting quietly, occasionally holding their breath all in the same moment. An invisible current runs through everyone, in a live performance.

In the movie theatre, the concert had the feeling of, well, a movie! The sound, while good, still felt a little canned. At the same time, this kind of experience has its merits. The seats were quite cosy, the darkness of the theatre helps one focus on the concert. Also one can munch on popcorn and candy -- though as I discovered, popcorn is a little crunchy and loud while listening to a symphony concert!

Being accustomed to disappointing turnouts for classical music events, I fully expected to be the only little group in attendance. Not so! We arrived 15 minutes early, and the place was packed. There were about 125 people in the theatre, mostly senior citizens, but including a decent number of young and middle-aged adults (I counted two kids, both violin students!).

The ability to introduce each piece with an in-depth video proved to be perhaps the greatest advantage of viewing the concert in this format. Before the Mendelssohn Concerto, for example, an introductory video blended excerpts from an interview with Janine Jansen, an interview with Gustavo Dudamel and clips from the rehearsals held before the concert.

For example, both Dudamel and Jansen spoke about how, in the Mendelssohn concerto, the violin enters so quickly, after just a measure and a half. With that music playing in the background, the video panned to Jansen, saying, "It has to come from nothing, but make all the sense in the world." These well-edited, intelligently assembled previews gave added dimension and context to the performance. I especially enjoyed hearing Dudamel speak of the Scottish Symphony, while leafing through his score, the video panning back to rehearsals in which the orchestra was playing and rehearsing those passages he described.

The live performance was shot with many cameras, which could point the viewer to things to hear. For example, a passage of bass pizzicato in the second movement of the concerto might go unnoticed, but visually focusing on the bass section brings forth that part of the music. On the whole, this visual element helped bring out the layers of the music, though once, during the entrance after the cadenza in the first movement of the Mendelssohn concerto, I really wanted to watch Jansen's fancy bow-work with the spiccato bariolage, not the orchestra, even though the relevant melody in the orchestra and not with her!

My only major complaint: There was a slight sight-sound delay, so that the visuals were slightly ahead of the audio. The faster the music was (for example, the last movement of the Mendelssohn concerto), the more the delay distracted from the music, as the performer's fingers were flying out of sync with the music. Fixing this small detail would make a big difference in my perception of this "feeling" more live.

Overall, I think this movie theatre set-up would work very well for young people who would benefit from the detailed introductions to each piece, for people who would have a hard time with the considerable logistics of going to a live concert, for those who simply can't afford the ticket price and for those who would like to make a little event of seeing high-quality concert that is taking place in another city. I think classes could take advantage of the educational nature of these concerts. I could see a continuing education music appreciation class doing this as a field trip. I hope that symphonies continue to explore these new ways of getting their performances to a wider public.

For more information on these kinds of programs, you can go to Fathom Events. Here is where the The Met Opera is also doing a number of theatre broadcasts, the next being Anna Bolena, on Nov. 2. I also noticed they are showing Lang Lang with the Philadelphia Orchestra later this month, on Oct. 22 and 24. You just type in your zip code, and they point you to theaters in your area.

If anyone knows of other such broadcasts, you are welcome to share the link below.

4 replies

V.com interview with Hilary Hahn: Ives Sonatas

October 11, 2011 11:38

Once again violinist Hilary Hahn has dived headlong into a set of worthy compositions that many of us have overlooked, and presented us with a fully realized argument for their consideration.

Today Hilary releases Ives: Four Sonatas, recorded with pianist Valentina Lisitsa. The duo toured for several years with these sonatas, and the CD package includes performance notes written by Hilary Hahn herself, as well as program notes by Robert Kirzinger.

Hilary Hahn

Though Charles Ives (1874-1952) is perhaps best-known for his compositions such as "Three Places in New England," Symphony No. 3 (for which he won a Pulitzer Prize in 1947) and "Variations on America," the composer's four sonatas for violin and piano, written in the 1910s, reflect much of what the composer was all about: American music, experimentation, and beauty of melody. While the first Sonata is in fairly traditional form, movements from the sonatas carry the titles, "Autumn," "In the Barn," and "The Revival." The fourth sonata is subtitled, "Children’s Day at the Camp Meeting," and contains a good many quotes from church hymns.

Ives was the son of a band leader who liked conducting experiments such as having two bands play different tunes at once from different sides of the town square. Ives became a church organist at the age of 14, and after studying composition at Yale University, he went on to make his living as an insurance agent. His music seems to synthesize much about that time in history, spanning both the late Romantic period and early 20th century, with harmony, dissonance, melody and the dissolution thereof. Much to ponder here.

I spoke over the phone with Hilary a few weeks ago when she was in Birmingham, Alabama to play the Edgar Meyer Violin Concerto with the Alabama Symphony. On Thursday she will be in Cincinnati for a recital with Valentina Lisitsa, in which they will premiere 13 new works she commissioned for her project In 27 Pieces: The Hilary Hahn Encores.

Laurie: How've you been? I see you've been interviewing fish lately!

Hilary: (laughs) It's interesting how people are reading into that interview -- different interpretations my friends have. It's been as entertaining as actually doing the interview.

Laurie: I liked it. I do all these interviews all the time, and I thought, 'That sounds exactly like me!' (laughs)

Hilary: In fact, it was not my intention, I was not trying to criticize any journalist. It's just kind of funny, what the responses have been!

Laurie: I think it's kind of one of those, 'What do you see in this ink blot?' You can put whatever you want there.

Hilary: Yes…

Laurie: Anyway, let's dive into Ives, here. Something that you mentioned in the liner notes really struck me: that you and Valentina never lost enthusiasm for the sonatas, even under the intense circumstances of recording them. I wondered if you had any thoughts about what makes these pieces continue to be interesting for you.

Hilary: I thought about this a lot since we recorded them. When learning the Ives, I think you have to put it together, logically, in order to internalize the music. But once you internalize it, it has its own life. With these particular pieces, we go out on stage and we kind of know what we want to do -- but that's just what we want to do, it's not want the music wants to do. It's very strange, this repertoire has such determination: some nights there's this rhythmic impulse in a certain part, then other nights there's a need to linger… you just have to follow that.

I think his notation is just a way to get the music to the player, and then the player initiates a lot of things about the interpretation based on what the piece wants to be doing on that given evening. Because they are kind of complex at any given moment, you can focus on one thing, or you can focus on another.

For example, I'm working on the first sonata from the Bach Sonatas and Partitas for solo violin again right now. One reason they are so intriguing is there's so little written in the music. There's the notes, but there are very few markings, as far as phrasing and other things are concerned. Ives actually writes a fair amount in the music, but it's only the basics, as it turns out. There's a lot that he doesn't even reference that you can do with it. It's very creative music to start with, and there's a lot of room (for more interpretation.) He takes traditional melodies and he makes it his own, he re-sets it.

Laurie: I found it was really interesting, the way a melody would come up, but he'd never stay on it long enough to really hang your hat on it. He'd always turn in a different direction…

Hilary: It's kind of like a melody passing through your head, you follow it until it runs itself out, and then it becomes something else.

Laurie: I thought the harmony was kind of the same way, too. Something would start to sound really harmonious, and as soon as I would start groovin' on it, it runs in another direction.

Hilary: The music does turn on a dime, but as a player, you can follow that or not. It just kind of depends on how it's all falling together in that particular concert.

Laurie: You know, I did not realize how rhythmically complex these pieces were until I decided to go out and get some of the music -- I was looking at the second sonata. Even when I was looking at the music the first time, I thought, this is in 3/4, in the key of C, doesn't look too complicated. But then, looking at it closely, it's pretty rhythmically complex!

Hilary: It is. It's not easy to put together. I thought that I knew what the piece was, when I learned the violin part. Then I got into the room with the pianist, and it was a whole different piece. I had to re-learn it, with the piano.

Laurie: Listening to what you did, and looking at the music, I thought, this has to come a long way before this music on the page becomes that interpretation. I wondered what your strategy was for taking something that is rhythmically and harmonically complex and drilling down to the music.

Hilary: I just try to get it into my system. Somehow these patterns -- that I didn't create -- have to make sense to me. The same thing goes for phrasing; I have to find where the phrases are and they have to make sense to me so that I can carry that on into an interpretation. Sometimes it happens more quickly than others. Sometimes I really struggle, and other times it feels like I've been playing the music already for years, even if I've never heard it before.

Laurie: I was also wondering, just listening to all four of these, if someone wanted to make these sonatas part of their repertoire, which would be the best one to start with? What are some techniques that a person might either need -- or learn -- by doing them?

Hilary: Of course it's easy to say that they should start with the fourth, because it's the shortest and seems like it would be the most accessible. But you can start anywhere you want. I think people should listen to all four and see what they hear in them. Which one gives you the most ideas for what you want to do with it when you play it? That's what I do when I'm trying to pick from a set -- I ask, which one do I feel compelled to play, for some reason?

We started with the third sonata, and I'm really glad we did -- it's really hard to put together! We couldn't just kind of skim by; it wasn't a little, bite-sized piece. It was actually diving into the deep end. In that sonata, a lot of the things we would identify with are kind of hidden, so I really had to re-inspect what I was doing with the music when I got it. I thought I knew what I wanted to do, but I had to un-do that first, in order to be able to build up my knowledge of the piece.

I think when something feels really short, easy, accessible, you're not forced to dig into the very core of the music. That's why I'm glad we started with the one we started with.

But you do have to have a great pianist for these pieces.

Laurie: It seemed to me that these pieces have a pretty substantial piano part. It's certainly not violin, accompanied by piano.

Hilary: But the violin doesn't accompany the piano, either. It's an interesting exchange that the violin and piano have. I think that both are equally important; I think that Ives was really pushing the piano to its limits, to get what he wanted out of it. The violin is challenged in other ways. I enjoy playing the violin parts, they're amiable, they're emotional, they're quirky, very melodic and also there's this underlying rhythmic drive that you can choose to emphasize or not. I would not say they're technically forbidding, but I would say it's a challenge for a duo. You have to have somebody who's going to put in the time to work on it with you, when you're doing the violin part with the piano part.

These pieces (by Ives) were a completely new language to me, when I learned them. And since then, I have actually used everything I learned in them in various contexts, whether it's a piece I've known for a while and I just applied something I learned in the course of the Ives Sonatas, or whether it's something written since the Ives Sonatas, something that draws on those techniques of composition that he used. There's a lot of music that derives from the things Ives innovated, whether consciously derived or not. If you can build up your knowledge of the repertoire so that you have played some Ives, a lot of other things will make more sense. I didn't realize how much Ives is related to other, more contemporary music.

So even if you don't intend to perform them, if you can find someone who wants to work on them with you, then you can both learn a lot. You learn a lot about playing with a duo partner, as well. You have to be independent performers, but you have to be acutely aware of what the other person is doing at any time, you have to know where you're supposed to play, so you have to know what to back off of interpretively and where you can initiate ideas.

Laurie: Was it that interaction, that informed you about other kind of repertoire?

Hilary: It was more the rhythmic structure of it, and the kinds of passages he writes. It was actually more how it's written for violin… I don't know how to describe it. The experience of playing the violin part in the duo -- that's what challenged me the most, and that's what I learned the most from.

Laurie: In what other pieces did you find those echoes of Ives?

Hilary: Well, I first learned the one Ives sonata, and then the next season we programmed the rest of the set -- we programed three more Ives sonatas. At that time, I was also getting ready for the premiere of the (Jennifer) Higdon Concerto. So what Jennifer had written was new to me, what Ives had written was new to me… I got to the point where I was trying to learn so much new stuff -- just new ways of writing that I had never experienced before. I thought my brain was going to explode. So I had to take a break from the Ives and go to the Higdon. And I realized that there was a lot that I'd already learned, in the work I'd done on the Ives, that I could apply to the Higdon concerto. Since then, I've noticed it in a lot of places. I can't really name them off the top of my head, but things are influential without even realizing that they are. I don't know if it's a zeitgeist thing, or if it's that one person hears it and that person becomes influential, or if the material itself is influential, but there is definitely a continuum.

Laurie: Since we are speaking of sonatas, here's a little controversy: Should a violinist have the sheet music out, when performing a sonata with a pianist? A number of influential teachers argue that this is an absolute must because a sonata is chamber music.

Hilary: Well, I think you have to be practical with these things. The reality for me is that I'm near-sighted, and I don't like playing with contacts or glasses when I want to look at the violin.

I have very good close-up vision when I'm playing; it doesn't bother me to look at the bow. But if I'm wearing glasses or contacts when I'm playing, then my eyes aren't comfortable looking at the contact point with the bow; the closest I can look is my left-hand fingers, and for some reason, since I was six years old, I've always felt compelled to look at the bow contact point when I was on stage. I don't watch it constantly, but I need to be able to look there, and it actually gets in the way to wear glasses or something that would help me see the music.

And if I'm not looking at the violin, I don't play as well. I've noticed in recording sessions where I wasn't required to memorize the music -- and everyone else noticed it, too -- there was a night and day difference between when I played from the music and when I left the music aside and played by memory.

Mr. Brodsky said that I should have the sheet music because it looks funny if the violinist doesn't have it and the pianist has it. So I had it up there for a long time, but then it looked even weirder because I wasn't even looking at it, I was standing five feet away from it, because where I stand on the stage, I stand so that I can see the pianist's hands, I don't stand in the bend of the piano. So if I had it in actually the right place to look at, it would block the pianist. So I have to have it so far away, that there's no way I'm going to see it. In order to turn the page I have to walk all the way across the pianist -- walk in front of the pianist and turn the page. So I was turning the pages between movements, just for show, and I thought, that's even sillier. So for me, I play better without it, it's less of an awkward set-up, and I can't use it anyway because I can't see it. So I think you have to take practicality into consideration. If you're using the music, fine. If you're not using it, you can decide what you want to do.

Laurie: That adds a good dimension to this conversation; I don't think anyone's mentioned vision concerns.

Hilary: I notice this with discussions about shoulder rests, bow grip, vibrato, this kind of thing… people are always concerned about what the "right way" is, and honestly, half of the reason I hold my bow a certain way is because of how my hand is built. People are comfortable vibrating with different coordinations. Everyone has a slightly different combination of features and coordinations, and you just have to work it out for yourself, to make sure things are really working for you, not just seeming to work. They shouldn't look like they work and feel weird. You have to feel like it's working. That's what you build up over years of performing: that knowledge of yourself and the knowledge of what is right for you. In order to do that, you have to go out with conviction and do what you think is right in the moment.

I think it's a big struggle after people graduate from school and they don't have a teacher any more. What is right for me? I know what's right for other people, I know what other people think is right for me, but what is really right for me? It's good to know what your options are and what the expectations and impressions are, related to each option, but there is no one answer, for a lot of these things.

Laurie: I wanted to see how your Encore project is going and if you are ready to tell us about the mysterious way that you're going to select the 27th person…

Hilary: We're still putting off the announcement until next month but we promise details by the end of October. It will be clear, and no, I'm not the composer! I've seen a lot of speculation that maybe I'm composing it, but no. I'll leave it up to someone who is interested and is good at it. That's not the surprise.

I think there are a lot of pieces in this project that will appeal to people of different musical preferences, of different playing levels, different techniques. Because of the length they are, they'll be accessible to students, as well as very polished professionals. There are some that are really hard to play -- I like that challenge. But there are others that are gorgeous and they fit in the hand so well. They're all different from each other, and people have done really nice work for this. I'm really enjoying learning these pieces.

Laurie: Will they eventually be available as sheet music?

Hilary: They will. Not immediately, because I'm going to be playing them myself for a few years, just to get them out there and to get as much focus on them as possible. But then at a certain point they'll all be available. Each composer has their own arrangement with their own publisher, so it would be very difficult to do a compilation, all-in-one printed version. But each one will be available for getting, learning and performing.

Laurie: Do you plan to record them?

Hilary: I do, I'm going to record the first set this season, after I've finished performing them, and I'm going to record the second set, the rest of the premieres, next season, then it will be out the season after. So it will be out in 2013-14.

5 replies

Hilary Hahn's Ives Sonatas CD giveaway this week on V.com

October 10, 2011 20:42

Charles Ives wrote four violin sonatas, and Hilary Hahn and pianist Valentina Lisitsa make a strong argument that we ought to be playing, programming and studying these pieces more often with their release this week of Ives: Four Sonatas. For me the sonatas fall pleasingly in between being Romantic and being hard-core 20th c. (like, sorry, Schoenberg). It makes sense, given the time they were written and Charles Ives' life (1874-1954). Ives was the son of a band leader with some mad ideas about harmony, he was a church organist from the age 14, and he made his living as an insurance agent -- he was less part of the musical in-crowd during the early 20th c. His music goes its own way, occasionally happening on a church hymn, or going on a rhythmically asymmetrical romp. A cross-eyed, bitonal march might slide into an almost cheesy, Rachmaninov-like harmony. Yet it all tends to favor the violin's most melodious qualities. It's full of interesting discoveries, and I find it grows on me.

Happily, Hilary Hahn has given us three of these CDs to give to Violinist.com members this week; we'll have new questions on Wednesday and Friday. To enter to win, please go here: http://www.violinist.com/contest.

2 replies

V.com interview with Rachel Barton Pine: Franz Wohlfahrt Etudes

October 7, 2011 12:17

Ah, the violin etudes of Franz Wohlfahrt. The English-speaking pre-adolescent dreads having to say the man's name too loudly -- but often shows surprising devotion in learning his studies.

Teachers have turned to these etudes for more than 100 years, and it's been nearly that long since anyone took a look at the editions we use -- mine, for example, was last edited in 1905.

Enter Rachel Barton Pine, who professed her love of etudes earlier this fall in an article she wrote for The Strad magazine. Rachel is in the process of re-editing and recording the Wohlfahrt etudes, and her first book and DVD on the subject, published by Carl Fischer, is due for release later this fall. (Editor's note: the link for the book and DVD, now available, is here: Wohlfahrt Foundation Studies for the Violin)

I spoke with her last month, after the summer release of her album of Spanish and Latin American music for unaccompanied violin, Capricho Latino, and just before the Sept. 16 arrival her daughter, Sylvia Michelle.


Rachel Barton Pine

Laurie: Do you remember learning the Wohlfahrt etudes as a child?

Rachel: I thought they were great -- and actually, my teachers -- Roland and Almita Vamos -- were very savvy. They said to me, 'Don't let your studio-mates know how much you like etudes. They might not understand, and it might be harder to make friends with them!' (laughing) In other words, don't let them know you're so weird! But now, of course, it says right on the cover of the September issue of The Strad magazine, 'Rachel Barton Pine: Why I Love Etudes!'

Laurie: You're out with it.

Rachel: I guess I have enough friends that I'm not worried about admitting that any more!

Laurie: Somehow the Wohlfahrt etudes get the reputation for being boring studies.

Rachel: I think they're very far from that -- these little pieces have so much going on, once you seek it out. Things like Ševcík and Schradieck don't have any redeeming musical value, except for the interesting element of paying attention to your technique.

Laurie: I find that my students like the Wohlfahrt etudes. Whoever they are, whether they're extremely serious about the violin or not, they tend to do their assignment when it comes to the Wohlfahrt etudes.

Rachel: That's great to hear. I really think they are appealing.

Laurie: Do you know much about Mr. Franz Wohlfahrt? You mention in The Strad article that he lived from 1833 to 1884 in Leipzig, Germany, and was the son of a piano teacher.

Rachel: I have yet to go to the library -- because of the baby weighing me down, I haven't been able to run that errand! I eventually do want to get over to the library and find some old, German-language music dictionaries from the 1800s and see if he pops up in there. But all the usual sources -- the current English-language dictionaries like Grove, even Wikipedia -- there's virtually nothing about him. You can't even find his exact dates. He's a surprisingly, almost shockingly, obscure guy!

Laurie: Tell me about the new edition you are creating.

Rachel: This is a Carl Fischer compilation, and there will be two volumes. One volume is first position only, then the second volume moves through the positions. It draws from Wohlfahrt's Opuses 45, 54, and 74, covering most of the etudes, leaving a few odd ones left out.

Basically, these etudes were compiled at the beginning of the 20th century by a guy named K.H. Aiqouni. Carl Fischer themselves have no idea who the heck he is. They don't know whether he was one of their in-house editors, using a pen name, or whether that was his real name but nobody can find him any more. It's completely mysterious. Anyway, he took took the best of the etudes from those three opuses and put them in a very logical sequence, organized by skill level, by key, and so on. I think teachers have really appreciated the graded series of the etudes. However, his editing is a little outdated, in terms of some fingering choices, when to hold fingers down or not -- it just feels not-quite-current.

Laurie: How did you wind up being the person to bring it up-to-date?

Rachel: What happened was that Carl Fischer invited me to record the etudes. I'm such an etude geek that I was super-excited! Not quite as excited as for my concerto recordings, but pretty darn close. People might think that's a silly attitude to have, but really, they're like old friends, not only from having played them, but from having taught them when I had a studio in the mid-90s. They're very appealing little tunes. I thought, this is a great thing to leave for posterity.

As I started practicing them and using this edition, I realized that I needed to do a little something with the editing so that my playing would match what was on the page, or vice versa, as the case may be. I also decided that a DVD would be an even better way to go because then students could see the bow distribution, see the technical set-up, and so on. So we decided to do that.

I had to play each etude through perfectly, in a single shot, because we weren't going to be splicing the audio, whatsoever. So even though they're short and they're in the first position, I definitely had to be very in shape to get through every single one, perfectly.

Laurie: You had to practice Wohlfahrt etudes!

Rachel: Yes! (laughing) Who ever thought I'd be doing that again?

Laurie: What kinds of changes did you make in editing the music?

Rachel: Wohlfahrt's etudes are almost entirely blank, unlike Kayser, for example, who has very detailed dynamic schemes for each of his etudes. The question became, do I play them very straightforward, in a basic kind of way, or do I give them an interpretation?

A couple of things controlled my decision. First, Wohlfahrt lived in the 1800s, when individuality was so prized among artists. It was common practice for artists to take great compositions and change the dynamics or do their own thing -- they had no qualms about that. There was nothing like an urtext mentality; it was all about bringing the music to life. Perhaps Wohlfahrt might have even left the page a little bare in order to give his students the extra element of crafting their interpretations. Obviously, in exercises like Schradieck and Ševcík, you don't add dynamics. But these Wohlfahrt etudes are little pieces; they have harmonic and structural development. How can you, as a musician, ignore what's underlying these pieces?

Thinking back to my student days, studying these etudes with Roland Vamos, he would actually go over to the piano and show me the chords. I was supposed to come each week with at least one new etude fully memorized and interpreted. He wanted me to know things like: When does the key change, especially between major and minor? Where are the echos, or the same phrases repeating more than once? Where does the recapitulation begin? He made sure that I understood the architecture and the chordal structure of every one of these little etudes I was practicing, in addition to whatever I was supposed to be thinking about my left and right hands, technically, for the etude.

It makes a lot of sense. As I was working on the technique, I was also thinking about the character of the music: whether there were strong parts, light parts, extroverted parts, introverted parts. However the music was ebbing and flowing would directly translate into my articulation, my amount of vibrato, bow distribution and everything else. As I was studying technique, it was intrinsically tied in with musicality. That's the whole point of technique: to serve the music. I think that's the most real-world way to study these etudes.

I felt that not every teacher might be able to go over to the piano and play the chords like Roland Vamos did, and not every student might not be home-schooled like I was and have the time to do the amount of experimentation that it takes to try to craft their own interpretation for every single etude. So I decided to add dynamics to all these etudes. Certainly, they are suggestions only. My hope is that students will not just blindly follow the fortes and mezzo-fortes and pianos, but that they'll listen carefully and try to understand why the dynamic is changing -- if it's based on the harmony or if it's based on the architecture -- and really start to understand the way the music is put together and relate that to their technique.

So that was quite a big project, adding all of that to all of these etudes, but I think it's really going to bring them to life, and hopefully make them that much more enjoyable for anyone who studies them. They're not just boring, straightforward notes, but they're actual little pieces of music.

Laurie: They are also pretty read-able for the violin student.

Rachel: Roland Vamos had me -- and all the students -- use them as sight-reading practice, and I think that was very valuable. Each new etude would be something that we'd never heard before, unlike other repertoire, where we would have heard older kids in our studio play it already or heard recordings of it. Unless you have an older sibling studying the exact same instrument as you, when you get to Mazas No. 38, why would you have ever heard it before? The same can't be said about any piece of repertoire. So it was it was useful opportunity to practice learning music from the page, as opposed to having it in your ear already.

So whenever we got a new etude, he would tell us to set the metronome a couple of notches faster than was comfortable and force ourselves to keep going, no matter what. He wanted us to get a couple of play-throughs under our belt, making ourselves sight-read. Then of course, after that: slow it down and learn it carefully, making sure we had the exact right notes, rhythms, and all that good stuff.

The question I had to ask myself was: What about this recording I'm making? I don't want students to use it like a Suzuki recording and listen to all the etudes 100 times before they ever study any of them. That was not the point. In my forward to the book, which I hope people will read, I actually say that I think it's valuable to do this sight reading practice and that I would encourage people to listen to the DVD track of a particular etude only after they've practiced and learned it. It's not my intention for students to use this recording as a shortcut, or for learning by ear.

Laurie: What else is different about this edition than previously published editions?

Rachel: Wohlfahrt includes bowing variations for a number of his etudes, the ones with notes in groups of six notes and in groups of eight notes. I took all of his bowing variation suggestions from all of his etudes and collated them into one big compilation at the front of the book. Then I say that every etude with groups of notes in eight or six can be played with all of the bowings for each of those rhythmic combinations. Certainly kids would go crazy if they had to play every single variation for every single etude -- you'd never finish the book! But the point is that teachers can pick and choose. Every kid is different; some might need more work on certain bowing patterns than others and the teachers might want to use those for multiple etudes, and then other ones that they seem to get pretty quickly they might skip and not bother to do them with most of the etudes.

I didn't think there was any particular reason to have these few bowings for this etude and these bowings for this other etude. I thought having all the bowing options would be useful. I also added, within the slur and separate patterns that he gives, options for doing them legato, staccato and even off-theing, spiccato, if kids are ready and the teacher finds it useful.

Laurie: Sometimes students wonder why they have to do so many bowings before they can get to the next etude. What makes this a useful exercise for students?

Rachel: If every bowing you practiced was always with a new melody, then you would always be having to think about the new melody. Once you know how the etude goes, you no longer have to think about the notes, and you can really put 100 percent of your attention into each new bowing pattern. It allows you to concentrate on the bowing, more specifically.

Laurie: Why not just do that with scales? Why would it be important to do it in an etude?

Rachel: Well, now, doing it with scales is going to be even more boring! (both laugh)

Laurie: There's one reason!

Rachel: Actually there's a much more pedagogically logical reason, which is that in scales, you're either going up the notes or down the notes. Etudes, of course, have all kinds of different string crossings and fingering patterns. If you break it down, you might have three notes on the A string, two notes on the E string, two more on the A, a couple on the E -- you're doing all these different kinds of patterns, in terms of string crossings, and then you combine that with different finger patterns. It allows you a greater scope of how you're applying each bowing.

And teachers can decide, for each student, what they want to do. If there's 50 possible bowings for etudes with notes in groups of eight, they might do five bowings for each etude, every etude with different ones. Or they might stick on the same etude for a long time and go through most of the bowings and then decide which ones need extra attention and do only those ones with subsequent etudes. I thought by compiling and collating all these bowings, it would give people more options to personally design how they wanted to assign the different bowings to the different etudes to which they could apply.

Laurie: Do you have a favorite Wohlfahrt etude?

Rachel: Probably Opus 45, No. 4, which is No. 6 in the Foundation Studies. It was one of the first ones that I learned -- it's a particularly nice little melody:

I just have a real fondness for it. There are so many good ones: dramatic ones in minor keys, cheerful ones in major keys…playing them just makes me happy.


12 replies

Violin Community News 2011, Op. 7

October 5, 2011 14:22

What could be better than popcorn, Milk Duds and Janine Jansen with Gustavo Dudamel and the LA Phil? The LA Philharmonic is broadcasting a performance live at 5 p.m. Eastern (2 p.m. Pacific) this Sunday in 440 movie theatres across the United States--  a performance with Dutch violinist Janine Jansen, playing the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto, with conductor Gustavo Dudamel. I, for one, am planning to take a group of students to the local AMC! 

Janine Jansen
Photo by Decca/Sara Wilson

Other pieces on the program are Mendelssohn's Hebrides Overture and Symphony No. 3, “Scottish." If you are interested in finding a screening in your area, here is the link: http://www.fathomevents.com/performingarts/event/laphil_mendelssohn.aspx, just enter your zip code and the theaters will come up. You may have to call to order tickets; I couldn't get the online purchase thing to work.

It costs a bit less than actually going to the symphony: pricing generally ranges from $16 to $22 (depending on child, adult, senior). Some theatres have student and group pricing.

* * *

Violinist Midori Goto will perform a benefit concert along with pianist Özgür Aydin at 7 p.m., Oct. 24 in Anne and Howard Gottlieb Hall at Merit School of Music, 38 S. Peoria St. in Chicago.. 

Photo by Timothy Greenfield-Sanders

The program will include: Sonata for Piano and Violin in E-flat Major, K. 380 (374f) by W. A. Mozart; Sonata for Violin and Piano, Op. 134 by Shostakovich; Sonata for Piano and Violin in A minor, Op. 105 by Schumann; and Fantasie in C for Piano and Violin, D. 934 by Schubert.

Tickets are $100 each. For more information, contact Merit’s Development Associate, Ellen Gibbon, at 312-676-3692 or egibbon@meritmusic.org.

The recital is sponsored by Chicago arts patrons Mr. and Mrs. Robert W. Galvin and will directly support Merit School of Music’s Scholarship Fund. Merit provides nearly $3 million in support annually to its students in the form of financial aid, scholarships, program subsidies, instrument loans, music supplies and more.

Midori, who performs 100 concerts a year across the United States, Europe and Asia, played her last Chicago recital in July 2010. At that time, she also visited Merit and taught a master class for some of its violin and chamber music students.

Merit School of Music is a non-profit community music school providing classical and jazz music education to 6,000 Chicago-area students, from newborns to age 18.

* * *

Anne-Sophie Mutter played "It Ain't Necessarily So," accompanied on the piano by her ex-husband Sir André Previn on Sept. 30 on The Late Show with David Letterman, to promote her career retrospective boxed set, ASM 35: The Complete Musician. Here is their performance:

Archive link

Ticket Giveaway: Frank Peter Zimmerman plays Bach in New York next week

October 5, 2011 13:46

We thought V.com members might enjoy the opportunity to win tickets to especially enticing performances, so in addition to our CD contest this week with Rachel Barton Pine, we're also offering you some tickets in the New York area:

Do you live in the New York area? Enter to win two tickets to hear Frank Peter Zimmermann perform The Complete Bach Sonatas for Violin and Piano (BWV 1014-1019) with pianist Enrico Pace in New York City. The concert is 7:30 p.m., Tuesday Oct. 11, at Avery Fischer Hall. Here is more information about the concert. This same duo also created a CD in 2008 called Frank Peter Zimmerman & Enrico Pace: J.S. Bach - Sonatas for Violin and Piano/Bach and Me.

To enter to win, please click on this link to our Ticket Contest Page and answer the question at the bottom of the page. You have until the end of the day on Saturday to enter; we'll announce the winner on Sunday.

Here are Zimmerman and Pace playing the Adagio from Bach's Sonata for Violin and Piano in B minor, BWV, to get you in the mood:

2 replies

CD Giveaway: Rachel Barton Pine's 'Capricho Latino'

October 3, 2011 12:35

This week we are giving away three copies of Rachel Barton Pine's Capricho Latino, with new questions going up on Wednesday and Friday. To enter to win, answer the question on our contest page.

What a lot of treasures Rachel Barton Pine has uncovered in her latest album of solo violin works, Capricho Latino. Rachel and I spoke last year about her lifelong quest to discover works -- both new and old -- for unaccompanied violin, and specifically about many of the works on this album, a number of which were written for Rachel. (Here is that interview) One of my favorite pieces on this album is her rendition of Francisco Tárrega's "Recuerdos de la Alhambra," arranged by Ruggiero Ricci. (As a matter of fact I even downloaded the music!) Though a Latin thread runs through it all, this "Capricho Latino" covers a broad range of styles, from the very contemporary-sounding "Rapsodia Panameña" by Roque Cordero, written this century, to Rachel's own arrangement of the well-known traditional "Asturias (Leyenda)" by Isaac Albéniz (1860-1909); as well as Ysaye's Sonata No. 6 and "Ferdinand the Bull," narrated by Hector Elizondo. Certainly, if you need a little inspiration, and perhaps another piece for your recital, listen to this album!

Enter by going to our contest page

Look for our interview with Rachel Barton Pine, later this week, all about her upcoming recording and new edition of the Wohlfahrt etudes.

2 replies

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