October 2012

Happy Halloween!

October 31, 2012 10:37

Happy Halloween, All Saints' Day, and Dia de los Muertos. Here's an oldie but goodie , to get you in the mood: "Night on Bald Mountain," as imagined in Disney's Fantasia. (Music starts at 1:15, if you want to skip the introduction!)

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Review: Renaud Capuçon Plays Korngold with the LA Phil

October 29, 2012 13:10

I don't always notice how a piece's dimensions grow when played live, as opposed to in my car or through earbuds, but this really struck me, listening to the Violin Concerto by Erich Wolfgang Korngold, played Saturday by French violinist Renaud Capuçon with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, Daniel Harding conducting.

Somehow this was the first time I'd heard it live, despite being a longtime fan of this work (and longtime second-violinist in dozens of orchestras). It's even more of a crowd-pleaser than I realized, and it certainly has that big-screen, movie-composer scope, though the program notes rightly acknowledge: The European-born composers like Korngold brought this Viennese opera-house Romanticism to film, not the other way around.

Renoud Capucon
Photo: Renaud Hennekeuser

The first movement has a feeling of wonder, with strumming harp, celeste and reverberating vibraphone filling out an already-full orchestra. I thought of Bali Ha'i, with birds chirping overhead; a dense, ringy thicket of sound. The violin has to sail on top -- though it seems a lot like sailing in soup. Good soup, I grant you. I did get the sense that Capuçon was fully employed, getting that gorgeous 1737 "Panette Guarneri del Gesu" sound to remain atop the churning orchestra.

He did succeed, and maybe part of the fun of this piece is that feeling of the solo violinist, as heroic navigator in a bright but challenging adventure in which the violinist is certain to reign triumphant. Capuçon indeed won me over, with his beautiful tone, full engagement with the music and no-nonsense, spot-on technique where needed.

For a piece that is so sweet and sentimental, so easy in its familiarity, the Korngold certainly is complex. The violin part alternates between rapid, obstacle-course fireworks and melodious passages that have to pour forth from the violin's highest-possible registers. The orchestra has a good deal of back-and-forth, and the music turns strange harmonic corners, despite its easy-going overall tonal quality.

Capuçon played beautiful filigree in the upper register during the meandering second movement, then Bam! The last movement was so energetic, Capuçon was literally hopping and kicking! To me, this movement has an element of humor, in the playful exchanges between sections of the orchestra: they punt around the melodic line as though playing keep-away with a ball. This interplay is so much more evident when seen live.

The last movement is where Capuçon the chamber musician came out; he played with great sensitivity to his fellow musicians, turning to the first violins to play with them, fitting his rhythms into the wild orchestra, turning to concertmaster Martin Chalifour when he played his solo. Capuçon rode this Tilt-a-Whirl without a hint of getting dizzy, executing seamless artificial harmonics and clear-headed yet passionate playing throughout. The final bars of this piece were hilarious to me, as if Korngold didn't know how to end it so he simply threw down every type of ending in the book. Well done! My only regret was that Capuçon played no encore!

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Violinist.com interview with Renaud Capuçon

October 25, 2012 14:15

A soloist who has played with many of the world's finest orchestras, French violinist Renaud Capuçon nevertheless finds much of his artistic nourishment in chamber music.

Earlier this fall, Capuçon released a recording of two major works for solo violin: the Brahms and Berg Concertos, performed with conductor Daniel Harding and the Vienna Philharmonic. Harding -- a longtime friend -- will also join Capuçon this weekend in Los Angeles, for three performances the Korngold Violin Concerto with the LA Philharmonic. It's a piece that Capuçon recorded in 2009, alongside the Beethoven Concerto.

Capuçon's achievements in chamber music are equally impressive. His long list of collaborators include: Martha Argerich, Daniel Barenboim, Elena Bashkirova, Hélène Grimaud, Yefim Bronfman, Myung-Whun Chung, Stephen Kovacevich, Katia and Marielle Labèque, Mikhail Pletnev, Jean-Yves Thibaudet, Vadim Repin, Yuri Bashmet, Truls Mork, Paul Meyer -- and his brother, the cellist Gautier Capuçon.

Capuçon, who was born in 1976 in Chambéry, France, plays the 1737 "Panette" Guarneri del Gesù, which once belonged to Isaac Stern. He is married to the French journalist Laurence Ferrari, and they have a two-year-old son.

Capuçon and I spoke over the phone on Monday about his journey on the violin, the benefits of playing chamber music, and the violin concertos of Brahms, Berg and Korngold.

Renoud Capucon
Photo: Renaud Hennekeuser

Laurie: What got you started, playing the violin?

Renaud: As a young child, I was in an ear-training class -- there was a woman playing piano and we sang and did rhythms. This woman told my mother that I had a very good ear, and perhaps I should begin the violin. So that's how I began!

Laurie: How old were you when you began?

Renaud: I was four, and I began with a Vivaldi movement, which was kind of the Suzuki method. The great thing with this method was that you played straightaway with others. We had some individual lessons, but we also some lessons with other kids. Right away, I developed a love for playing together. I think I went on stage at four and a half, not playing more than four open strings, but at least doing a concert!

Laurie: I understand you play on Isaac Stern's Guarneri del Gesù and also took a number of masterclasses with him. What was that like?

Renaud: I had six or seven lessons with Isaac Stern in Verbier 1995, which was absolutely amazing. It has no relation with the fact that I play his violin -- it's just a nice story! The funny thing is, in 1995, I asked him to write me a recommendation letter because I was looking for a good violin -- of course, not a del Gesù at that time. I needed a recommendation letter for a sponsor. He wrote me an amazing letter, saying that I deserve to have an instrument. And just 10 years later, I was playing his violin! Of course, he had already died when I started playing his violin, so he couldn't know it. But I think life is nice sometimes this way!

Laurie: What is that violin like?

Renaud: It's a perfect violin. What I love about it is the way it speaks. I wouldn't say it's loud, or it's strong -- it's just large. I like its dark colors. Yet it can also be absolutely sparkling -- if you play Mozart, it's absolutely fine. I think it helps me a lot, because I'm perhaps lighter person, and the violin is more dark. It gives me a lot of different colors.

Laurie: How long have you been playing it?

Renaud: I've been playing it seven years. It's wonderful, it's really the violin of my life. I remember the first time I played it, I played the Brahms Concerto. I clearly had the feeling that the violin had sounded so many times with the Brahms Concerto, that the harmonies were already there. Of course, I mean this in a humble way. I play completely differently than Isaac Stern; I wouldn't ever compare myself. But the great thing with a violin is that, even if I were to buy it one day, it would never really be mine. After me, it will be played by somebody else.

Laurie: It has its own life!

Renaud: Exactly.

Laurie: You mentioned the Brahms, and this is one of the concertos on your new recording. Tell me a little bit about your choice of using the cadenza by Fritz Kreisler for this recording of the Brahms.

Renaud: I used to play the Joachim cadenza, and I play it very often in concert. When I set about recording it, I wanted to do the Kreisler cadenza, just because I love it, and I'd never played it before. Also, it's in the 1954 recording I cherish of Christian Ferras playing the Brahms -- he plays the Kreisler cadenza also. So it is a double homage to Ferras and to Kreisler. I also listened to the Busch cadenza, and to the Reger cadenza…

Laurie: There are a lot of cadenzas for the Brahms!

Renaud: There are a lot! I didn't listen to all of of them. I love the Milstein one, but then I thought, it can't be played by anyone other than Milstein! (He laughs) You could say the same with Kreisler, but at least, I tried to do it.

(Editor's note: Out of curiosity, I did some research. I found 21 Brahms cadenzas, and I'm pretty sure I'm missing a few! Besides the original cadenza by Joseph Joachim, others were written by: Leopold Auer, Joshua Bell, Adolf Busch, Ferruccio Busoni, George Enescu, Hugo Heermann, Jascha Heifetz, Nigel Kennedy, Franz Kneisel, Fritz Kreisler, Jan Kubelik, Henri Marteau, Nathan Milstein, Franz Ondricek, Rachel Barton Pine, Max Reger, Ruggiero Ricci, Edmund Singer, Donald Francis Tovey, Eugène Ysaÿe. Here is a link to music for various cadenzas that are in the public domain. Also, in 1991 Ruggiero Ricci made a recording in which he performed 16 different Brahms cadenzas!)

Laurie: In in the liner notes, you formally dedicate this recording to Christian Ferras.

Renaud: His recording is my favorite recording of Brahms concerto, perhaps, ever. Of course, I love the one with Stern, and the one with Milstein, as well as some other recordings. But for me, as a French violinist, it was a great inspiration to be able to record this piece, 60 years later, with the same orchestra. When I stood up in front of the Vienna Philharmonic, I was thinking about him. I never met him -- he died before I was able to meet him -- but he always was one of the violinists I admired. I know his sonority. Even though we are completely different players, he's a great inspiration to me. So I wanted to dedicate the CD to him.

Laurie: So when you were younger and first listening to this recording by Ferras, did you have a big vinyl record of his 1954 performance?

Renaud: Yes, of course! And when I did this Brahms Concerto, I asked the CD company to do a vinyl record. So we did a CD, and also a vinyl record! It's really beautiful. There is just the Brahms on it, because they couldn't fit both concertos. But I wanted it, just to be able say that one time in my life I did a vinyl recording! (He laughs)

(The vinyl recording is only available in Europe - they did a very limited pressing of it.)

Laurie: I wanted to ask you about the Berg Concerto. In the liner notes, you called it "the great concerto of the 20th century." What makes it so?

Renaud: First of all, the structure and the way it's written is pure genius. You could ask any musicologist -- it's one of their favorite pieces, because they can explain every single beat, every single bar! It's everything: it's logical, it's clever, it's well-done. But it would be very boring if it were only a case for musicologists. The fact is, it's one of the most emotional pieces written for the violin. Of course, you have to know it very, very well to get from the structure to the emotion -- you have to get to know what's inside.

People always talk about the three B's: Bach, Beethoven and Brahms. In my mind, I would love to make the fourth one, Berg. I really, really think the Berg Violin Concerto is a masterpiece.

Laurie: A lot of those 12-tone works from the 20th century didn't go over so well.

Renaud: I know. But this did! (He laughs) I guess because it's not just a musicologist's project. It's really done from the heart. You can feel that it's carried by this love of this daughter of Alma Mahler and Walter Gropius (Manon Gropius, who had died from polio at the young age of 18, and for whom the concerto was dedicated "to the memory of an angel.") You can feel that he's deeply concerned about this, and he puts all his heart into the composition of this piece.

Laurie: Speaking of other 20th-century pieces, you're going to be in Los Angeles this weekend, performing the Violin Concerto by Erich Korngold with the Los Angeles Philharmonic.

Renaud: I've loved that piece for a long time. I discovered the concerto with the CD of Gil Shaham, which came out in 1994, with the Korngold and the Barber.

Laurie: That's when I discovered it, too!

Renaud: I guess a lot of people discovered it at this time! Thanks to Gil, I learned it very quickly, and I've played it almost 10 years now. I love it. It's one of the concertos you can't be bored of playing. It sings all the time, and its proportions are very good: it's rather short but not too short. It's very well-written for the violin. We don't have so many concertos like this, from this period of time.

Laurie: The Korngold is such a sunny piece, considering that it was written in 1945. The Shostakovich concerto was written just a few years later, and it's the opposite in disposition.

Renaud: I know. But I wouldn't say the Korngold is a sunny piece exactly -- it's a sweet piece. It's a Viennese piece. We forget, especially in America, that Korngold was a Viennese composer, a guy who came from central Europe. We just think of him as a Hollywood composer, but he's not! He brought his music from Europe and adapted it to Hollywood, which is completely different.

From the violin concerto, I discovered Korngold, and then I dug into all of his chamber music. I played his trio, I recorded his Violin Sonata last year, and I played his suite, I played his piano quintet, piano quartet -- I played almost all his chamber music.

And it's interesting to play the Korngold Violin Concerto, also knowing his opera, Die tote Stadt, which is a masterpiece, and knowing his Symphony in F sharp major. It's great music; it's fantastic music.

Laurie: I was reading your biography, and you've collaborated with a lot of musicians, including your brother, Gautier Capuçon. Did you start playing with your brother when you were a child?

Renaud: No, because he is five years younger than me. When I left (to study at the Conservatoire National Supérieur de Musique de Paris at age 14), my brother was still at home. We began to play together when I was 19 or 20. It's great, of course.

Laurie: How much chamber music do you do, versus solo playing?

Renaud: I began to play chamber music when I was very young. Of course, these days I play a lot of solo concerti. As much as I love performing concerti, I couldn't do just concerti! I always try to balance it. I need chamber music; for me, it's like bread and water. When you are playing a trio or string quartet, you build the performance with a lot of rehearsals and share ideas. When you go on stage, you are sharing the spotlight with three or four other musicians.

Also, playing chamber music nourishes your view on the concerti. You play concerti differently, and you play chamber music differently, if you do both. It's like reading books written by the same author: you like one book of Victor Hugo, then you want to read everything. It's exactly the same.

* * *

Here is a French treat for you, Renaud Capuçon and Hèléne Grimaud perform the first movement of the Ravel Sonata:

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Violinist.com Interview with Augustin Hadelich: Beethoven, Strads and the Virtues of Practicing Slowly

October 18, 2012 12:18

While violinist Augustin Hadelich was in Los Angeles to play with the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra, I had the pleasure of sitting down to chat with him over lunch between his rehearsal and concert (pasta before a performance, he said. And he knew a lot about pasta!)

Tonight Augustin will perform Lalo's "Symphony Espagnole" with the New York Philharmonic at Avery Fischer Hall (Oct. 18, 19, 20, 23), after which he goes to Houston to play Bartok's Concerto No. 2 with the Houston Symphony. The rest of his schedule is on his website.

Winner of the 2006 International Violin Competition of Indianapolis, Hadelich has spent the last six years hopping the globe. Born to German parents, Hadelich grew up on a farm in Italy. His recordings include Flying Solo, with works for solo violin by Bartok, Ysaye, Paganini and Bernd Zimmermann; and Echoes of Paris, with works by Poulenc, Stravinsky, Prokofiev and Debussy, performed with pianist Robert Kulek. Over the summer, Augustin collaborated with guitarist Pablo Sainz Villegas on works by de Falla, Paganini, Piazolla and Sarasate, for a recording that will come out next March. Next summer he is scheduled to record the Thomas Adès and Sibelius Concertos with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Hannu Lintu.

Augustin Hadelich

In Los Angeles, Augustin said he enjoyed working with conductor Jeffrey Kahane, who is an accomplished pianist (in fact, he was playing the Ravel Piano Concerto, in the same concert!)

"We had 30-minute meeting, playing through some places. He'd sit down at the piano and he had a great time playing the piano reduction!"

"I think every time I've played this piece, it's been with symphony orchestra, not chamber orchestra," Augustin said of the Beethoven Violin Concerto. Of course, it's a piece that can be played with either set-up, but a lot of the balance problems that arise with the typical symphony performance simply were not issues with a chamber orchestra.

"The whole approach is different," he said. "It's quite easy to be flexible in tempo, because (chamber musicians) are so used to listening. With a big symphony orchestra, if you want to move the tempo, it's so difficult. The conductor can do it, but it isn't easy because sometimes the conductor will do it and they don't even pay attention. Of course, there are moments in the piece -- some of the big tuttis, big climaxes -- where having the full, big orchestra sound is incredibly good. So it can work several ways."

Figuring out the tempo is one of the most challenging things about the Beethoven Concerto.

"I've gone back and forth many times. Sometimes I've played with some stern older German conductors who want it very, very slow, and it can work. It becomes other-worldly and quiet," Augustin said. Then again, "if you just look at the orchestral introduction and think about what tempo it should go, and not think about any of the rest of the piece, you arrive at a tempo that is much faster than how most people play." When the violin enters and plays these themes, they are ornamented and full of passagework. "I think the mistake that a lot of violinists make, and I used to make as well, is that you try to play that ornamentation melodically. I think it bogs down, suddenly you have to play it much slower, and you lose the large structure."

So for a while, he tried playing the piece at the tempo of the introduction. "I really went for it -- and it was really fast. It becomes a really different piece," he said. "I was pretty unsatisfied, actually, afterward. The problem was that somehow, it felt restless. It no longer had the depth, and the time and space."

These days, he looks for the compromise that is both fast enough to be flashy and to give the listener a sense of the larger structure, but slow enough to show the piece's ethereal quality and peacefulness.

"I was around eight when I started playing the Beethoven," Augustin said. "As a child, you don't really understand Beethoven at all. The violin part is very exposed, so it's very useful, having played it that long. Although, some places never get easier! It's one of those pieces that I can do 100 times in a row and not be tired of. It's such a gorgeous piece."

For about two years, Augustin has been playing the "Kiesewetter" Stradivari of 1723, on loan from the Stradivari Society.

"It's a great instrument, it sounded good right away, but it's a process, to get used to the way it sounds," he said. "The one I had before (the ex-Gingold Strad) was really different."

Most Strads are fairly finicky, and in the last six years, Augustin has become a student of how to finesse a Strad. When it comes to sound production, "you can't press too much, and you have to use enough bow," especially with the earlier Strads.

The "Kiesewetter" is from a later period, and "it's somehow more resilient. It goes through changes in humidity and temperature, and it will sound sometimes a bit better, a bit worse, but the difference is not so great that an audience would notice anything -- you notice as a player. You do have the option, when you're really in trouble, like you're just playing in the worst hall possible or the orchestra is way too loud, you can push it, you can press on it, and it does actually have a reserve that you can push out and make it sound even better. It's quite good as a soloist's instrument."

"And I think it has a very beautiful sound, and it has more colors than the other one," he said. "It's not so sweet, so when you play music that is not always just beautiful, you play the Shostakovich, or composers who write music about the ugly sides of life, then you need to be able to get colors that are really different, and that was really difficult on the other one. It was just so sweet all the time!

Like Mr. Gingold!

To get a fast response, he was changing the strings every 10 days or so with the ex-Gingold. He found that Vision Titanium strings gave the fastest response, if not the prettiest sound. "I still use those strings on this one, but I can leave them on for a month now, and it still sounds fine. It speaks."

"That Gingold Strad, I had to sort of tame it. It's gorgeous, the sound that comes out in the recordings, when you don't have any balance problems and you can put the mike really close, it has such a beautiful sound. I really loved it. I had to have it adjusted all the time." That is, he eventually started taking it to the luthier every week.

"She was just down the street in New York, and she was really nice," he said. "We would just check. Sometimes things happen, like cracks or seams opening. Depending on what condition the violin is in or what repairs were done how long ago, it can happen quite frequently. Once dirt gets into the seams, they open up very quickly again. Also, with every little weather change, you have to do the soundpost again."

"With the one I have now, I go three times a year. I don't really get soundpost adjustments because it sounds good, even when it's out of adjustment! It's very stable. It's made my life a lot easier."

Nonetheless, the ex-Gingold was special. "Wherever I went, in every orchestra, every place, there was a student of Joseph Gingold who came up and wanted to see the violin," Hadelich said. "Gingold was so loved by everybody, and the violin really does sound the way he did. It's a really beautiful instrument, and I have to say, I learned a lot about playing on the violin, because when you're struggling and you find the way to really get the most out of it a the moment, and learn to be able to play with this full bow -- something you don't need on every violin. It's interesting, when you look at Oistrakh, he uses a lot of bow on the finale of the Beethoven. He also had an early Strad that also doesn't project much, so he was compensating a bit for it."

Hadelich also became adept at dealing with a "wolf" -- when a specific note on the G string tends to crack when played and sound like an opera-singing frog.

"The violin I have now usually doesn't have a wolf - only if the weather is really bad," he said. "Most violins have a wolf on the B or C or C#, that range, and I can feel it on this violin, the notes are always more precarious when you are up on the G string. But if it's stable enough, then you play them and you usually don't have trouble. But when the wolf is really strong, you can start having a wolf on every string, for those same pitches on the D string or on the A string. It has to be the same pitch, whatever pitch the wolf is on, you can have it on the D or A as well."

Here's the secret to dealing with it:

"The Gingold had a wolf on the B natural on the G string. If you are playing a piece like Tzigane, where you play that note a lot, you have to find a way to get the note to speak. It is possible, actually. You can compensate for it with your bow pressure and bow speed. It's hard to just start playing the wolf-note, but if you arrive to it from another note, and you get the string to really ring on the previous note, whatever that note is, and you build the sound and pressure and bow speed up, then if you switch to the wolf note and you keep it the same, or you can decrease it, and it won't do the wolf thing to you. But, if you increase it, or if when you switch to the wolf note for some reason the sound is stopped and you have to restart it, then it will be wolf-y. You can't really crescendo well on it, then. That's when it gets really precarious, if you increase the pressure or bow speed on the wolf. So the trick is, usually you will arrive to it from another note on the G string -- you get the string to really, really ring, then play the wolf just a tiny bit softer, or just relax a little on it, and then it will be fine. If you have to start on the wolf note…There's a way you can attack it, you attack it then you let go of it. But once it starts doing the wolf thing, it's over!"

Augustin has found that, with all the traveling and playing with various orchestras, he has had to change his practice routine.

"My practicing methods changed a bit over the last year, because I had a bout of tendonitis in one of my fingers," Augustin said. "I never used to warm up or anything like that. I always practiced only at tempo and not slower." The stress of switching pieces frequently -- playing Sibelius one week and Mendelssohn the next week -- caused stress, which led to tension in his hand.

"I really overdid it one week, and suddenly I had tendonitis," he said. "So for a while, I couldn't practice very much, but I still had concerts. So I started practicing very slowly. Suddenly, I discovered that I was actually playing better, even though I was doing so little practicing. I did two things: I practiced very slowly, and I would go through the piece in my head. I'd look at the score, and go through it. So my idea of the piece, how to interpret it and structure it, was much clearer. And, I was practicing slowly -- there's a reason why people always say you should practice slowly, I realize now!" (He smiles)

"Of course, now my finger is all better," he said. But he has become more aware of the warning signs. "I learned how to figure out when there was tension when I was playing. I'm better at not doing it. There would be certain moments in the piece, where I would tense up. If I practiced it a bit more, or practiced it slowly, and then I wouldn't need to be so tense."

"I used to think that if you practice it at a slower tempo, you only get better at playing it at that tempo," he said. "There is some truth to that: when you play it faster, everything is different. If something doesn't work, you can slow it down and figure it out, or get a clearer idea in your head, but it is important to practice at speed as well."

"At the same time, you can get a passage a lot better by practicing it slowly. It doesn't put any strain on your hand," he said. "So that's become a big part and now I do warm up as well, when I start playing in the morning."

"I felt really stupid when this happened last year, because it didn't really come from the way I was playing the violin in general, it wasn't anything major I had to change, it was just the kinds of things that are sort of common knowledge," he said. "When you're very young, you don't absolutely have to warm up before you play. You can just pick the violin up and everything works. The body is really resilient. Then at some point you just have to - warm up!"

"Even stuff that's very difficult, your hand CAN do it in a relaxed way, if you practice it," he said. "The faster the passage, the less your fingers have to press down on the string, and that can take care of a lot of tension, when there's something very fast." For example, in Lalo's Symphony Espagnole, a piece with a lot of fast notes: "A lot of times, your fingers just don't need to go all the way down. The faster the passage is, and the higher up, the less they have to go down. That can take care of a lot of tension as well."

And here's another thing: "It's important to enjoy it -- you are up there for 40 minutes, you should really love the experience," Hadelich said. For example, in the Beethoven: "When the orchestral introduction starts, I try to have a good time and enjoy the fact that I'm playing one of the most beautiful pieces ever written."

Hadelich played Paganini 24 as an encore in Los Angeles, here is a live performance from 2010 in Saarbrücken, Germany:

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Rewarding Practice: Creative Bribery

October 17, 2012 08:26

As the parent of one teenager and one almost-teenager, I no longer have too many illusions about how much control or influence I have over my kids: in this season of life, pretty close to none, at least directly!

And for this reason I'm instituting a new plan, when it comes to music practice: bribery. Judge me, if you will, but the parent of a student came up with a plan that is working so well for her 13-year-old, that I must try it. Said student is now practicing every day and moving forward, after a period of treading water for a while. As her teacher, I'm loving it, and I get the feeling that she will soon start connecting her new success on the violin with her practicing.

Here's the plan: Get a jar, or piggy bank. Each time junior practices, put in a dollar (or whatever amount of $ you deem appropriate). At the end of one month, junior gets all the money in the jar. It's direct, it has no pretensions. It's one answer to the question, "Can I have money for the movies?" And the more junior practices, the bigger his/her end-of-the-month "allowance."

Piggy bank

Put the jar in an obvious place, as a reminder of the "reward" for practice.

Do I want my kid to practice for the love of music? Yes indeed. But let's be honest, the practice has to become before the love. The love happens when you get good at it. I've said before that it takes 21 days to get into the practice routine, and I still find that to be true. But sometimes everything breaks down, and you have to establish those 21 days again. Getting those 21 days can be a real struggle.

Wish me luck. Also, you can make your suggestions for making practice happen below, in case this one doesn't work!

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Violinist.com Interview with Leila Josefowicz and Esa-Pekka Salonen: Violin Concerto 'Out of Nowhere'

October 15, 2012 22:45

I'll be honest, not all new works for violin thrill me; fairly often I feel no great desire to hear them twice. But the fully modern Violin Concerto by Esa-Pekka Salonen grew on me fast. The first recording of the piece, called Out of Nowhere, is being released today, and I recently spoke to both Esa-Pekka Salonen and violinist Leila Josefowicz about this concerto and their partnership in creating it.

Written in his final months as Music Director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, Salonen's Violin Concerto was premiered in 2009 by Josefowicz, for whom it was written, with Salonen conducting the LA Phil.

Esa-Pekka Salonen and Leila Josefowicz
Photo: Mathew Imaging

The new recording, "Out of Nowhere" is named for the notes the two penciled on the first page of the Violin Concerto. Indeed, the violin seems to come from nowhere to start the concerto, entering alone in a flurry of notes. That flurry becomes a wash of sound, as the orchestra picks up and echoes the violin's motions in the first movement, called "Mirage." The inner movements are called "Pulse 1" and "Pulse 2." The first "Pulse" is full of harmonics, set to the rhythm of lovers' heartbeats in the dark. The second "Pulse" is noisy and rhythmic, perhaps depicting the chaotic culture clash of LA, complete with a drum kit to amp things up. The last movement, called "Adieu," is slow and emotional. Salonen writes, "For myself, the strongest symbol of what I was going through (during his final months in Los Angeles) is the very last chord of the piece; a new harmonic idea never heard before in the concerto. I saw it as a door to the next part of my life of which I didn't know so much yet, a departure with all the thrills and fears of the unknown." Out of nowhere, into the unknown. It's a piece full of poetry.

It's also a piece born of two hard-working musicians at the top of their game. Salonen, after his graceful departure from the LA Phil, in which he left the orchestra in the good hands of Gustavo Dudamel, remains Conductor Laureate of that orchestra and Principal Conductor and Artistic Advisor for the Philharmonia Orchestra in London. Leila Josefowicz has made a reputation as an interpreter of new works, having also premiered works written for her by Steven Mackey ("A Beautiful Passing") and Colin Matthews; and having played first performances of Thomas Adès’ violin concerto, "Concentric Paths". She was awarded a MacArthur Foundation Fellowship for her advocacy of modern works and was featured on the cover of October 2012's The Strad magazine.

Leila grew up in Los Angeles, during the time when Salonen was Music Director for the LA Phil. Over the years, they performed quite a bit together: chamber music, new music, a choreographed "L'Histoire du Soldat." They performed the Oliver Knussen violin concerto as well as other major performances. And Salonen attended concerts, such as the one in which she performed the John Adams Violin Concerto.

It was Josefowicz who first suggested the collaboration -- long before it happened, and before many of their performances together. "I did write him a letter, just saying how much of a fan I am of him, and if he were ever to write me a piece, it would be my biggest dream, and I'd put all my efforts into it…" she said, laughing. "A few years after I wrote my letter, I thought, how else can I show him what effort I would put into a piece, if he were to write me one? And one of the ways in which I did that was to record his piece, 'Lachen Verlernt' For Solo Violin for Warner Classics. It's an 11-minute unaccompanied work, it's very good."

Leila Josefowicz

When it came to the Violin Concerto, "I knew, I just knew, that if he was going to write something, it would be a big success, and it would be an amazing thing to do with him," she said. "Now, looking back, this has been even more incredible than any of us could have imagined."

Indeed, the concerto was met with critical acclaim from the beginning, and Salonen and Josefowicz have taken it on the road, performing the concerto in Paris, Stockholm, Lisbon, London, Berlin, Chicago, Philadelphia, Boston, Brussels, Luxembourg, Dortmund, Ferrara and New York City. Last year, the piece won the prestigious 2012 Grawemeyer Award for Music Composition.

For Salonen, Josefowicz "was the most fantastic partner in this," he said. "She's pretty much fearless, she has an amazing technique, and she's very tenacious. Very rarely did I get the kind of feedback that this can't be played, or this is too difficult."

Josefowicz did not want Salonen to feel constrained by the limitations of the instrument -- or her ability to play it. "One thing I did NOT want him think about, with me, was technique," she said. "I said, look, forget about any rules you knew about the violin."

And he already knew a lot: "I'm not a string player by training, but I know the violin well, obviously, based on the fact that I've been conducting for 30 years, but also I've been married to a professional violinist (Jane Price) for about 20 years," Salonen said. "So whenever I've had violin-related questions in my writing or other works, I just point to my wife and ask, How does this work? When I started writing this piece, I felt I had a fairly good idea about idiomatic violin writing. Of course, I know all the major violin concertos rather intimately as a conductor, so I had this reference as well."

"However, I thought that what I would like to do is to kind of stretch the expression of the violin beyond the normal limits. I thought it would be interesting to have as wide a scope of expression and sound as possible, without going into extended techniques -- scratching, and so forth. That's why I wrote the third movement in sort of synthetic disco rock music style…to contrast with the essential lyrical finale of the piece."

Josefowicz encouraged Salonen to write whatever came into his head that would get across his ideas, regardless of the difficulty. "I'm the messenger," she said. "I said that I'd tell him if something was truly physically impossible to play."

And by impossible to play, she meant impossible, not "difficult."

"Those two things are very different," Josefowicz said. "When people said that the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto was unplayable, they meant that it's very difficult. It's not unplayable. So unplayable would be combining some incredibly high note with some low note that couldn't be played together because the G string and the E string can't be played at the same time."

To be sure, we are talking about "playable" for Leila Josefowicz, not necessarily for mere mortals! And even for her, it was a lot of work, in a short period of time. For example, the wickedly fast and intricate first movement. "He got the first movement to me first, thankfully -- because that's a big job, with the notes and the memorization. But the other movements were, too. I was on him, every week, in this process, to get me more material. I was very insistent. And he went with me, he was great, absolutely fantastic. I probably had three months before the performance, when I knew it in my mind already. But I never worked harder, in my life. It was a lot of work."

"We were a great team; it was a fantastic example of teamwork and what quality can be accomplished well within a certain time period," she said. "Sometimes, I think this is the way great things are created -- it doesn't always take forever, if two people -- and especially the composer -- have their mind on it."

Their process of collaboration had a 21st-century dimension.

"We did some of the cooperation over Skype, and a lot of it was done over email," Salonen said. "I would send her little scraps of ideas and phrases to play, then she would play them back for me over Skype sometimes. I had sort of a live laboratory going with her."

"There were only a couple times where she said, well look, this really doesn't work very well, and she once had a comment about the form," Salonen said. "I had a different ending for the third movement in my first sketches, and she just instinctively didn't like it. I went back to my studio and I thought, she's absolutely right. I re-wrote the whole thing: the last two minutes or so. It's incredibly valuable to have that sort of feedback. The problem with composing is you're sitting in your studio, alone, and you have no concrete feedback until the first rehearsal. Then, quite often, it's kind of late. You can always correct balance and little instrumental inaccuracies in the course of the rehearsals. But if there's a formal problem, a deeper problem, there's nothing you can do about that, at that point. So I felt really privileged to work with her in this way."

One of the things Josefowicz requested for the Violin Concerto was a slow movement. "It was something I requested and will continue to request from composers," she said. "It may be risky, in some ways, for composers to do, because they can't get too fancy. No fireworks, no crazy things going on in the score, but just something very still and very simple.

Josefowicz brought up that idea before Salonen had written one note, he said. "A great player can draw some poetry out of one or two notes, just with a subtle change of tone, color, dynamics and phrasing," Salonen said. "She felt that many modern concertos don't offer that option to the soloist; everything is busy and tightly controlled by the composer, so there's no space for individual interpretation. I have had this kind of feeling myself sometimes, over the years. I've premiered about 400 pieces so far in my life, as a conductor. Some of them have been absolute masterpieces and some of them have been absolute crap, and then you know, (he laughs) a whole lot of stuff in between! So I could relate to this."

Esa-Pekka Salonen
Photo by Nicho Soedling

"I thought about my own works, and I thought that what was missing was a big slow movement in the sort of tradition of Bruckner, Mahler, Brahms, and Beethoven," he said. "I'm not trying to compare myself with those guys, but in that sort of vein: a long slow movement that becomes the main movement of the piece, as it does in, say, Bruckner's Seventh Symphony or in Beethoven's Seventh. So that the weightiest emotional and expressive material is in the slow movement. That's what I wanted to do in this case, because I had never done it before."

Salonen's slow movement comes at the end of Violin Concerto, his heartfelt "Adieu."

"It was written during the time that it really hit me, that okay, my 17 years (as Music Director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic) is coming to an end, and is this the biggest mistake I've ever made in my life, to leave? Or is it something that makes sense and is organic?" Salonen said. "I think a lot of that somehow went into the Violin Concerto. I can't say the bar numbers or anything like that, but when I hear it these days, in my mind it very strongly connects with my last months and weeks in LA. It will always be like that, I think."

"I was very, very positively surprised by the reception, and by the fact that orchestras want to program it around the world," he said. "It's very encouraging, and also, somehow it tells me that the genre of sort of the big, virtuoso instrumental concerto is not over. There's still life in the old horse, and we should keep writing music."

For violinists wishing to take up the concerto, there is a piano reduction of the orchestra part, Salonen said, and the score is almost ready for final print. The concerto has been played by a few other violinists already, including Patricia Kopatchinskajas, Thomas Zehetmair and Pekka Kuusisto. Also, Akiko Suwanai will perform it in February 2013 with Philharmonia Orchestra in Tokyo; and Julia Fischer will perform it with Vienna Philharmonic in May 2013.

"So it's kind of leaving home these days," he laughed, "which is nice, but at the same time it's a rite of passage. It really is out there, no longer in your hands. You lose control over the piece because you're no longer there to guard it! That's a healthy, normal situation, and of course I'm privileged to have all those people play it."

* * *

If you are interested in "Out of Nowhere," the recording of Salonen's Violin Concerto and orchestra piece, "Nyx": here is the iTunes link and the Amazon link.

1 reply

Review: Augustin Hadelich Plays Beethoven with the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra

October 8, 2012 14:28

I've seldom, if ever, heard the Beethoven Violin Concerto played with a chamber orchestra, rather than with a full symphony orchestra. Either ensemble is appropriate, as the work stands right at the crossroads between the spare elegance of the classical period and the big drama of the Romantic period.

But a chamber orchestra has its advantages, and this was on obvious display Sunday night as violinist Augustin Hadelich teamed up with the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra and conductor Jeffrey Kahane for a breathtaking performance of the Beethoven at UCLA's opulent Royce Hall.

Nimble and energetic, the musicians of LACO played the long introduction to the Beethoven Violin Concerto with so much taste and confidence, I began to forget that we were waiting for a solo violin entrance! But not for long: I could only sit still and feel the goosebumps rise on my skin when Hadelich played the opening: those ascending octaves that melt into a pure line of melody. It was impeccable; he seemed to hold the entire audience in suspense, judging from the quality of the silence in the hall.

Augustin Hadelich performing Beethoven with the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra
Photo: Lee Salem

I don't know if it was a testament to Hadelich or to LACO that, on this night, I could hear absolutely every note the Hadelich played on his 1723 ex-'Keisewetter' Strad. Whether it was meant as melody or as accompaniment, the solo violin sound popped out with just the right balance. Though Augustin clearly was the soloist, he seemed in this context to be part of a chamber orchestra rather than a single voice against an orchestra as backdrop. It was such a smooth partnership.

The Beethoven Violin Concerto is one of the most pure and beautiful pieces written for violin, yet the first movement is built on a whole lot of scales and arpeggios. How does one reconcile "scales" and "beauty"?

Not a problem for Hadelich, whose scales were gestures with inevitable direction. A chromatic scale floated upward with the grace of a balloon released into the air, as though he were playing without having to use fingers.

His energy never produced an ugly sound -- he played the cadenza with no crunch in his chords, yet still with decisive energy. In the simple melody that followed the first movement cadenza, he seemed to use pure sound to arrest all the molecules in the room.

I'd never really noticed the playfulness of the second movement -- a little game in which the orchestra makes a statement and the violinist responds with a little show-offy answer. He set up a convincing feeling of improvisation -- a real trick in a piece that's been around for more than 200 years!

I had no sense that either audience or orchestra had to be awakened after the slow movement for the outburst of the third movement. I suspect that Hadelich was joyriding on the fast car that is LACO -- he took the final movement at a very speedy clip, which was both effective and exciting. His apparent enjoyment was infectious -- it felt like he was inspiring his colleagues in the orchestra, and they were inspiring him in return. As in the rest of Hadelich's performance, every single note popped out -- all 1,000 kazillion of them! It was so playful it seemed like a scherzo.

In the final movement's cadenza -- the Kreisler cadenza, played as fast as I've ever heard it -- the notes were so specific, I felt as though I had put on glasses and was finally seeing all the detail in something I'd viewed many times. It was so impeccably accurate, I was just beside myself.

Within a few seconds of finishing, Hadelich had a standing ovation from the audience of 1,253. He played an encore -- the 24th Caprice by Paganini, not exactly an easy-breather, after the exertion of the Beethoven! And yes, he threw it down: the quadruple stops, the left-hand pizzicato, the crazy-high superfast notes, the tenth runs, etc. etc. But more than that, he played it so musically and fluently -- so inevitable, the way the notes fell in his fingers.

What a treat.

I've gone on quite a bit about Augustin, deservedly. But I must mention the fact that this entire concert by the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra was well-rounded, enjoyable and thought-provoking. The first half included the Ravel Piano Concerto in G major, played by conductor Jeffrey Kahane, and two new pieces, "The Great Swiftness" by the Andrew Norman, and "True South" by James Matheson. Both composers attended the performance.

Jeffrey Kahane conducted from the piano, which faced the audience and afforded a nice view Kahane's hands as he played.

Ravel's Piano Concerto in G was written in 1929, just a few years after Gershwin wrote his Piano Concerto in F, and one can certainly hear the influence of jazz -- perhaps the direct influence of Gershwin -- in this piece. Kahane was such a dynamo, deftly handling both the demands of the piano part and cuing tempos for an attentive orchestra.

The second movement begins with a gentle melody in the piano, with a simple lefthand accompaniment, which was so perfectly calculated in Kahane's hands. A little dissonance sneaks in later, after which the movement gravitates toward a lush and consonant kind of piano playing reminiscent of Rachmaninoff.

The galloping third movement was percussive and busy, and at this point Ravel reminded me of Ravel, and no one else. This is a perpetual motion movement, like the last movement of Ravel's violin sonata. Its unrelenting speed obscures, the sound becomes a wash of color. So well played.

"The Great Swiftness," a piece by Andrew Norman, was inspired by the public art statue called La Grande Vitesse in Grand Rapids, Mich. (A picture of this statue would have made a nice addition to the program notes…!) Kahane said it best, talking about the piece with the composer before the performance: "It was amazing, how you translated the gesture of the sculpture into the gesture of the piece." The piece started with a fanfare in the winds, which became an echo in the strings, with gestures speeding up and thus shrinking, then expanding, slowing to a single note and ringing out again. I liked its clarity of ideas and restraint.

"True South," by James Matheson, was inspired by Antarctica, a place that attracts perpetual wanderers and people who live at the periphery, as explained in the program notes. The piece begins with a driving, syncopated pattern in the strings and included many special effects, even a steel drum!

* * *

Next week Augustin will be performing Lalo's "Symphony Espagnole" with the New York Philharmonic at Avery Fischer Hall (Oct. 18, 19, 20, 23), after which he goes to Houston to play Bartok's Concerto No. 2 with the Houston Symphony. Don't miss hearing him live if you possibly can! The rest of his schedule is on his website.

Another note: On Saturday I spoke with Augustin about Beethoven and other violin-related things, and so I will post that interview sometime in the next week.

3 replies

Violinist.com interview with Roland Vamos

October 5, 2012 11:29

When one of the foremost experts on violin technique writes a book of double-stop exercises, one must take note!

The expert I speak of is Roland Vamos, who is one-half of the husband-wife teaching team known as the "Vamoses," the other being Almita Vamos. They currently teach at Northwestern University.

Roland's exercises are called Exercises for the Violin in Various Combinations of Double-Stops, published last summer by Carl Fischer, with an introduction by Rachel Barton Pine.

Roland Vamos

I recently spoke to Roland Vamos about both these technical exercises and about his full and fascinating journey as a musician.

In her introduction to Roland's book, Rachel writes that she began studying with the Vamoses at age 10 and spent the next eight years in their studio. Roland primarily led her technical development, while Almita took charge of her musical development and repertoire. "In one of my first lessons with Dr. Vamos, he handed me a one-page photocopy containing a set of double-stop exercises of his own devising. Little did I know that this innocent-looking little page was actually an entire exercise book, and that it would prove to be such a valuable tool in my technical development."

The one-page photocopy became legend -- circulating through the Vamos studio and beyond. "Explanations of how to decipher and use it were passed by word of mouth from one player to another," Rachel writes.

Roland told me that these exercises evolved from some of his earliest learning on the violin. Roland studied with a number of famous teachers, including Oscar Shumsky and violist William Lincer, but one of his most important teachers was the one he had as a teenager, named Susanne Gussow. She had studied and worked as an assistant to the great Czech violin pedagogue, Otakar Ševcík.

"I studied with her from the time I was 12 through the time I was 18. I went through just about everything that Ševcík ever wrote, and that's quite a bit," Roland said. "So I went through a huge amount of extra studies, while I was studying the repertoire."

"She gave me a book to study, a very thin book of double stops by this Russian pedagogue, Sergei Korguof," Roland said. "There were two Russians who came to the United States in the 1920s: Korguof came to Boston Conservatory, and at the same time, Leopold Auer came to Juilliard. The only reason I know that Korguof went to Boston is that this thin book was printed by the Boston Conservatory Press. I studied this book when I was young, then I always used it as a warmup. Somewhere along the line, I started expanding it. I changed the order of the exercises, I added something to do before it to develop the flexibility of the first joint, and something after it to add a bowing component to the exercise. So actually two-thirds of it is mine, and only one-third of it was Korguof's."

The exercises evolved both as warmup exercises for Roland, and as teaching exercises for his students.

"I did it for myself, and I still do it when I want to warm up," Roland said. "And my students all learn it. It's a wonderful exercise that goes through seven combinations of double stops, going through seven positions on each set of strings. It covers anything that you would do in one position; it doesn't cover shifting."

The exercises are appropriate for intermediate and advanced students who have already studied some positions. Roland said that they have helped students correct and perfect their left-hand position.

"It self-corrects," he said. "If you have a bad hand position, and you do these exercises correctly -- carefully and slowly -- over a period of time, your hand position is getting corrected by itself. Little-by-little, you develop a solid, good hand position."

One warning: don't over-do it. These kinds of double-stop exercises can cause strain, if done incorrectly. "You have to be careful not to tense up," Roland said. He has devised some exercises to loosen the fingers, prepare the hand and take tension out of the thumb, before the student begins the double-stop exercises. He writes about these in the Introduction and illustrates them in the DVD that accompanies the book.

He has also changed the notes from eighths and 16th notes, as they were written in Korguof's book, to quarters and eighths, to emphasize the fact that these should be played slowly.

"At first your muscles can't take too much, so at first maybe you'll only do four positions," he said. "Then after a week, go to the next combination, the next exercise." In the back are some charts, meant to help the student keep track of doing the exercises. Once you get good at it, you can go through all the exercises, in all the positions and on all strings, over the course of 21 days.

"There are a lot of teachers that teach technique only through the repertoire, and I disagree with this approach because I think it develops a spotty technique," Roland said. "You might spend three months on a concerto, and during that three months you're doing this little technique here, this little technique there. The next thing you know, you get another piece. Maybe one of those techniques will be the same, but there will be a few others. It will take you forever, and you wouldn't be systematically going through all these things. If you can develop a systematic approach, you've learned all the combinations, now you just have to put the combinations together in a musical setting. Now, when you go to the music, instead of taking 10 hours of practicing until you learn a certain passage, you learn it in one or two. Over a period of time, of course."

Roland Vamos's life and early career is a testament to the fact that the road success can be a circuitous route, and that late bloomers can indeed bloom.

Roland was born in New York to non-musical family, though his father was an amateur violinist. By profession his father was a house painter and his mother worked in a millenary shop. Roland started playing the violin at age 10.

"My father sort of psychologically wangled me around into thinking that I was the one that wanted to start, but I think he was the one that wanted me to start!" His father remained the force behind his practice sessions. "He would work with me all day long. I had to practice two hours a day -- two of HIS hours. I would think, 'I've practiced one hour, I've got one to go,' then he'd say, 'You call that last hour practicing?' So I might end up with four hours anyhow. He was a taskmaster. I hated the fact that I had to do that instead of going out and playing ball! But that's what probably gave me a firm technical foundation: I had the instrument in my hands a lot."

Roland's father died when he was 15 years old, and when he was 17, his mother had a stroke that paralyzed her left side.

"Someone had to earn a living, and there was an audition for the Denver Symphony," Roland said. "Next thing you know, I was on my way to Denver." But he was back in New York after just a season or so, due to the not-so-great pay in Denver.

"I came back to New York, where all the auditions were," Roland said. At that time, "all the conductors came to New York. They would hire out a hall and listen to auditions there. Then they went to Philadelphia and they hired a hall there, and then they went to LA and hired a hall. Basically, they would go to those three major cities to get their players. Anybody that wanted to take an audition went to one of those cities to audition with them."

He found a better deal with the Houston Symphony, "and I decided wow, this is great, I think I'm going to stay here forever." But then he ran into a major career roadblock: "there was a little thing going on called the Korean War. My brother was already on the front lines, fighting in Korea, and I was led to believe by my draft board that I would be in the Army by the fall." He let the Houston Symphony know that they needed to replace him because he would be drafted.

"I left Houston and came back to New York, and for three weeks I was practicing the baritone horn." Roland said. "I figured, if you're drafted into the Army, and they say, 'What do you do?' and I say, 'I'm a musician.' Then, 'What do you play?' and, 'I play the violin…' They'd hand me an M-1 rifle and send me straight to Korea! Maybe if I said, 'I play the baritone horn,' I'd get into an Army band. So I practiced four hours a day, until I couldn't feel my lips, they were so numb."

Around that time, a friend told him that the University of Miami orchestra conductor was in town, looking for scholarship students. It had been too late to try out for Juilliard, so this looked like a good possibility -- one that would help him get a student deferment. "I hadn't touched the fiddle for three weeks," he said. "So I opened my fiddle case and made sure I still had four strings on it. I took the audition downtown in New York, and I got the student deferment. They accepted me as a full-time student with a scholarship and everything."

His draft board agreed to the deferment, and he was off to Miami. "At that time, you couldn't earn a living in Miami by playing legitimate music," Roland said. "The only kind of music that was possible was strolling violin in the nightclubs and the hotels. So I bought a Fake Book that had 1,000 tunes in it, with the lyrics and everything. I took that and started trying to memorize tunes! Every tune has a beginning part, a middle section (which you call the 'release') and then back to the beginning. I always got my releases mixed up -- I would start one piece and then go to the release of another piece, and then how in the hell did I get into that?"

He stayed in Miami two years, strolling and studying, then he finally decided, "I should get this darn Army business out of the way and then go about my business, living my life."

The U.S. Army band looked good, as it did indeed accept violinists, and with just a three-year enlistment. "The audition was the longest I ever had in my life, it lasted around three hours!" Roland said. "They had a stack of (music) books to read, and they gave me some reading from everything you could imagine." Of course, the Army could afford to be very picky at these auditions. "During the wartime, every decent instrumentalist wanted to get into a service band because they'd avoid having to go overseas and fighting."

"I got in," so he spent the next two years in Ft. Myer, Va. Toward the end of his enlistment, a friend encouraged him to come back to New York and audition for Oscar Shumsky at Juilliard.

"So at age 25, I started my college career," Roland said. "I spent five years at Juilliard, where I was majoring in violin. By age 30, I got a bachelor's, and I got a master's degree, and then I was working in Radio City Music Hall, playing in the pit."

While at Juilliard, he met a rather younger girl -- Almita. She was still in high school!

"She was hanging around the school, and I got to know her. She also studied with a teacher from the Juilliard School." Roland said. "I was hanging around with her a lot, and then at a certain point, hanging around got more serious. When I discovered that she was that young, it was too late already!"

The pair have been married for 52 years. Somewhere along the way, each of their careers became "our career."

"At a certain point, it got to the point where I wouldn't accept a job, nor would she, unless it came as a packaged deal," Roland said. "Somehow or another, we didn't have any trouble getting these situations. Of course, both of us are qualified enough that you weren't going to get one person and say, well we'll have to take the weak sister with it. You were going to get two decent players that were both qualified, and two decent teachers."

The Vamoses (the "Vami"?) currently are on faculty at Northwestern University and at Music Institute of Chicago. But they have taught all over the U.S. Midwest: at the Oberlin Conservatory of Music, Western Illinois University and the University of Minnesota.

Many students over the years have studied with both husband and wife, simultaneously. Roland said that this kind of collaboration evolved several decades ago, when the couple was teaching members of the Ying Quartet.

"The violist wanted to take lessons with me, while the first and second violinist took lessons on the violin with my wife," Roland said. "I was giving the violist a bunch of technical things to do, and the first violinist said, 'I'd like to do some of that, too!' The next thing you know, they were all taking lessons with me, devoted mostly to technique, while my wife was continuing to work with them on the repertoire. When it got close to the concert, I'd move in on the repertoire. By then they'd gotten tired of hearing my wife say the same things over and over again, so a new voice saying the same things was good. It was a combination that worked pretty well."

That's an understatement. The combination of Almita and Roland Vamos has "worked pretty well," not only for the Ying Quartet, which is the quartet-in-residence at the Eastman School of Music and maintains a full performing and recording schedule, but for an entire roster of today's hottest violinists and violists. Former and current students have placed in (and won) the world's most esteemed violin competitions and have gone onto careers as well-respected soloists, concertmasters, professional chamber and orchestral players. Those students have included Rachel Barton Pine, Jennifer Koh, Benjamin Beilman, Cathy Basrak, Benny Kim, David Bowlin, Alexandra Switala, and many more. (Here's a more complete list).

7 replies

Violinist.com Tote Bags and T-Shirts Now for Sale!

October 5, 2012 09:28

Good news, at last you can buy our nifty Violinist.com tote bags and t-shirts!

We have our online store up and running, and here are the links:

Music bags: http://violinist.ecrater.com/p/15977334/violinistcom-music-bag

T-shirts: http://violinist.ecrater.com/c/1616122/t-shirts.

Also, we did make them NICE! The tote bag has all the fancy features a tote bag could have: it zips to protect your music, it has two side mesh pockets for water bottles, another front pocket for perhaps your shoulder rest, adjustable straps, even a couple of outside loops for keeping your pencils handy. Here's a picture (you do have to provide your own books!)

Violinist.com music bag
Violinist.com music bags!

As for the t-shirts, we have the nice women-shaped ones for women, and your regular t-shirt shape for guys, and they are 100-percent, really-nice, organic cotton. Also, when we had these printed, we did not use some cheap online shop. We actually went to a local silkscreen shop and drove them crazy, making them do it over at least three times, even having them create an extra screen to get the color gradients right. These shirts should go with jeans, khakis, a black cardigan -- pretty much everything. Perfect for rehearsals, practicing, sleeping, exercising, wearing to a gig...We love them, and we hope you do, too!

Women's T-shirt Men's T-shirt

P.S. They even go with a yellow hat and mountains, here's a picture of me in my V.com shirt, up in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado last summer:


3 replies


October 2, 2012 11:25

Here are three versions of J.S. Bach's "Sarabande" from the D minor partita, for your enjoyment this Tuesday:

Julia Fischer, 2008:

Hilary Hahn, 2010

Anne-Sophie Mutter, 2010

13 replies

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