It was a very close race, the semi-final between the Tchaikovsky and the Sibelius Concertos, but the Sibelius won by three votes!
Now we enter the final round, in which either the Beethoven or the Sibelius will be voted the winner of our Violin Concerto Tournament. (We will not call either "the Best" or "Our Favorite" concerto -- because we do love them all. But this has been a fun way to get talking about concertos!)
By the way, of all those who submitted brackets, we have two people who are in the running to win that cool V.com totebag, depending on the outcome of this vote. Steven Juarez, with 23 points, is the winner if the Sibelius prevails. Michael Bechtel, with 22 points, gets the prize if the Beethoven wins.
So in the spirit of this tournament, which concerto do you like better and why? Which do you want to win the tournament? Please vote, and share your thoughts and post your favorite recordings (I'll go in and make them "live" if you don't know how to hyperlink or embed video):
Beethoven Violin Concerto vs. Sibelius Violin Concerto
Violinist Mark O'Connor seems to be everywhere -- on Facebook, on Twitter, promoting his compositions, touring, posting videos old and new. But I'd argue that one of the most important things he's doing these days is rather more academic and quiet: writing a history of American violin music, in the form of his O'Connor Method.
"I kind of started this whole concept when I began my camps 20 years ago," said Mark, an award-winning fiddler and composer who lives in New York. "I had the idea for an American string school and method, and the camps really embodied that, with the idea of having classical music being taught alongside of jazz violin, folk fiddling and world music."
He has planned 10 books for what he calls his "New American School of String Playing," and just last month he released Book 3 in the series. (All of the O'Connor Method books, written for violin, viola, cello and orchestra, are available through Shar Music in Ann Arbor.) His new recording, American Classics, consists of all the songs in his new Book 3.
Since the release of his first two books in 2009, Mark and long-time Suzuki teacher Pamela Wiley have conducted about two dozen teacher training seminars throughout the United States and Canada, introducing the O'Connor Method to about 350 teachers (listed on this page) from 40 states in the U.S., with a handful from Canada, Brazil, Finland, Germany, Korea, and Trinidad. (I took the class in 2010 and wrote about it here.)
This year his String Camp in Berklee, which has long been a camp for adult players and professionals to go for cross-genre education, also will offer tracks for O'Connor Method students ages of 5 to 13, as well as teacher training. Also, he's holding a special O'Connor Method Camp (July 30-Aug. 3) in Charleston, S.C. especially for children who are studying the method and for teachers who wish to train in the first three books.
What of the books? Certainly American folk music and art music deserves a bold place in both violin repertoire and pedagogy. But can this kind of method can stand alone, without its European roots? Does it really need to? Mark has called his method a "cultural correction" to the Suzuki method, but frankly, they could work pretty well together.
I don't think I exaggerate when I say Mark's books are works of art; they include a graded progression of American music of all genres: fiddle music, Mexican music, Canadian music, Native American music, classical, blues, rock 'n' roll, ragtime, African American spiritual music, tunes by O'Connor himself, and more. The pages are filled with color photos and illustrations, and the books come with recordings of Mark playing the pieces, as well as piano tracks. The books also include detailed histories of every piece, with eye-opening revelations about the violin's prominent place in the history of America.
"I've been a bit of a musicologist, really, since I was a a kid," Mark said. "I've always been interested in the stories; this is one of the reasons why the stories are in the books. The history of the music is actually part of the method. The importance of American music has been downplayed in academic circles and I think part of the reason is because we actually don't know much about it. It's hard to play it up when you don't know much about it."
As for the future books, "Book 4 will be a more advanced version of Book 3, which will bring it to high-intermediate and maybe beginning advanced," Mark said. "Book 5 through 10 will be advanced books with a lot of repertoire." Starting with Book 5, the repertoire will include materials not arranged by Mark. "I'm going to bring in complete pieces and complete repertoire -- everything from Stephane Grappelli transcriptions to Maud Powell pieces to Jascha Heifetz's Gershwin adaptations to the Barber Violin Concerto. It will be a complete American String Method."
It's an exciting prospect, the idea of assembling together some of America's finest music written for the violin, across many genres. It also opens the opportunity for teaching new skills on the violin (improvisation, an American musical dialect), as well as helping teach the skills we all need to know (positions, string crossings, good tone, bow strokes), using different music and coming at it from a different angle.
For example: jazz and improvisation. How do you teach that? Mark says you start with the blues, the spiritual, hoedown and ragtime, "and you'll find all of those foundational styles in Book 1 or 2, as well as in Book 3," Mark said. "In acquiring the technique to play jazz, one must acquire the language of the music. So Book 3 reveals that for the first time, which is very exciting because of course, jazz is a more complex musical style."
Here's the first "real" jazz piece introduced in the O'Connor Method, "Lazy River," a 1930 tune by "Hoagy" Carmichael.
"I chose 'Lazy River' because it's a very slow-tempo jazz, swing piece," Mark said. "It almost sounds like it's slowed down for a student, but it's not. The tempo is natural to the piece of music, and therefore the slow tempo is going to be friendly to learn how to play jazz for the first time, to a student, but not feel like they're having to slow the whole thing down and be less-than. This is actually the way the music goes."
It's the kind of tune that can introduce a student to the idea of "swinging" the beat. "The beauty about swing is that it's individual -- everybody swings different," Mark said. "You can swing it a little bit, you can swing it a lot, and it's all okay. It's just how each student wants to interpret the music."
What's swing? "The name of the style 'Ragtime' is actually derived from a term called 'Ragged time,'" Mark said. "It was an African-American musical terminology from the early 1800s. Rather than playing straight eighth notes, you start playing them raggedly, meaning one would be longer and the other short."
Another ongoing lesson has to do with the nature of improvisation, that it occurs within a framework. "If you went up to a violin player and you said, 'Improvisation,' their head would come apart," Mark said. "They would think that they would have to improvise every single note, every single measure -- from scratch. But No jazz musician thinks like that. No blue grass musician thinks like that." The first song in Book 3, the "Rubber Dolly Rag" is structured in such a way that certain anchor notes are clear, and some simple improvisation can be inserted around those.
As for those skills that every violinist needs to learn, Mark has incorporated pieces to help with that as well. "A lot of the techniques that are in Book 3 are still about learning how to play the violin better," O'Connor said. "The big technical acquisition for Book 3 is going to be shifting to second position and third position." For that, "I chose two pieces that inherently go into second position and third position naturally and organically, and repeatedly, within the phrase."
The music he uses to introduce third position is a fiddle tune called Grey Eagle, which, as he explains in extensive notes in the book, was a favorite tune of Thomas Jefferson, third president of the United States, who played the violin himself. "Grey Eagle is the very piece that I learned how to shift into third position," Mark said. "So this is really the method I used."
Here is a version of that tune (the one in the book is simplified for a level-three student):
The shifting even comes with a nice, big slide, and "the slide itself is a part of the music, so you don't have to go, oh gee, it's unfortunate that I have to do this sliding," Mark said. "They can actually take their time with it, they don't have to worry about making it a quick gliss, and they can find their pitch that way, too."
Mark presents Scott Joplin's "The Entertainer" to introduce second position, and it works in a similar way: the shift comes repeatedly in the melody - six times in the "A" section. "It's a very natural motion, to go back and forth and get the feeling of shifting, and the musicality of it, until hopefully it becomes second nature," Mark said. "And it's such a strong melody, that's the other thing. When the student is enduring learning these technical feats, they're actually liking the music they're playing. Once they've got the shifting done, they've got the tune, so they can play it, they can entertain somebody with 'The Entertainer'!"
Whether these pieces will work as planned, remains to be seen. My own students have played music from these books, with mixed results, mostly because many of them need something more advanced that does not yet exist in this method. They've enjoyed learning to enhance a song with slides, to improvise, to swing a rhythm. One of them can't stop playing "Florida Blues," from Book 2. Of course, I'm not trying to make her stop! They've learned the music quickly, but as teachers know: learning some pieces and learning to play are two different things. Learning to play involves a great breadth. My most fiddle-hungry student, a regular improviser who also needed some extra work in second position, tried "The Entertainer" but found it so repetitive that she politely asked to get back to the Vivaldi concerto and Wolfahrt. I imagine that Mark's upper books will give her more of a challenge.
But it seems to me that she, and many others, will be interested in both Bach and Barber, in both Vivaldi and Grappelli.
Shinichi Suzuki had thousands of children playing at a very high level before teachers starting begging him to share his ideas. Even then, he would not call his philosophy a "method." His method was a means to an end, not an end itself. So I hope we keep an eye on the prize. Certainly American music, with all its rich history and unique components, should be part of the picture. But it's a big picture. I love the idea of the O'Connor Method, but time will be the real test of where it belongs and how it helps best, when it comes to teaching the violin and helping students become fluent in music and their own cultures.
It's the last day before the final round in our Violin Concerto Tournament, and today we decide which concerto will go up against the Beethoven Concerto. Will it be the Sibelius or the Tchaikovsky?
This is a actually a pretty tough contest: two very lyrical, popular pieces, both by composers who were a bit less absolutist than, say, Beethoven, Brahms, Bach or Mozart. While they are both well-crafted, they are more emotional than intellectual. Which will it be?
Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto vs. Sibelius Violin Concerto
Benjamin Beilman's plays the first movement of the Sibelius during the final round of the "Montreal International Musical Competition":
Josh Bell plays the first movement of the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto like it's an old friend, nailing every thing along the way (2010 performance, with the? Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra, Sakari Oramo conducting the Gala Concert during the Nobel Prize Ceremonies):
We have reached our Final Four in the Violin Concerto Tournament: the Mendelssohn, Beethoven, Sibelius and Tchaikovsky concertos!
Now the voting gets downright near-impossible; and yet, we all have our favorites. Be truthful! Share your favorites, your thoughts and your arguments.
Mendelssohn Violin Concerto vs. Beethoven Violin Concerto
And for your listening pleasure, a few oldies but goodies:
Christian Ferras plays the Mendelssohn:
Jascha Heifetz plays the Beethoven:
Today we choose the last of our "Final Four" best violin concertos, which will go on to the third round of our concerto tournament, starting tomorrow. (See our Tournament Page for more details. So far, the three finalists are: the Mendelssohn, the Sibelius and the Beethoven violin concertos. Which will be the other one? It's a choice between:
Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto vs. Bach Concerto for Two Violins ("Bach Double")
Rachel Barton Pine plays the first movement of the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto, May 2011, with conductor David Handel and the Moscow City Symphony "Russian Philharmonic" in Moscow,
The last movement of the Tchaikovsky requires a combination of raw energy and refinement, and Janine Jansen brings both:
When it comes to the Bach Double, a lot of us know the first movement, which appears in both Suzuki Books 4 and 5, and whether one is a Suzuki student or not, it's usually part of the pedagogical plan for the aspiring violinist. But the other movements are equally wonderful -- arguably, more so!
The second movement often pops up on albums with titles such as, "Best Most Relaxing, Peaceful, Beautiful Classical Music to Chill Out To…" etc. For once, the marketing directors have a point, it is some of the best-crafted and peaceful music in the classical literature:
And how about some period instrument playing? Here is a pair with both great expertise and duet chemistry, Rachel Podger and Andrew Manze playing the third movement:
We are still in the process of picking our "final four" here in Round 2 of the Violin Concerto Tournament. Just to bring you up to date, last week Mendelssohn solidly won out over Vivaldi Four Seasons, 78 percent to 22 percent, and Sibelius squeaked past the Brahms Concerto, 58 percent to 42 percent. (Ben Beilman, I think this might have been due, in part, to the video of your performance!) If you want to see how this has unfolded from the beginning, please visit our Tournament Page.
Today, please choose your favorite between….
Beethoven Violin Concerto vs. Bruch Violin Concerto No. 1 in G minor
…and let's have some fun listening to these pieces:
Sarah Chang plays the first two movements of the Bruch:
Itzhak Perlman plays the last movement of the Beethoven, with Daniel Barenboim and the Berliner Philharmoniker:
As always, please add your thoughts, your favorites, your outrage, your gratitude, etc.
We're in the second round, and we're narrowing things down to our favorites of the favorites. Today's decision is nearly impossible (for me, at least!) but let's think about these concertos. Which do you love to play, which do you love to hear? What kinds of things do these concertos do with the sound of the violin? What are your favorite recordings? Ultimately, which concerto do you favor?
Sibelius Violin Concerto vs. Brahms Violin Concerto
And some more listening for you:
Brahms Concerto, II. Adagio: Gidon Kremer, with conductor Leonard Bernstein and the Vienna Philharmonic.
Sibelius Violin Concerto, III. Allegro ma non tanto: Violinist Benjamin Beilman, at the final round of the Montreal International Musical Competition:
Well, we've picked our favorites, and now it's time to pick our favorites of the favorites!
In other words, our Violin Concerto Tournament enters Round 2, and the decisions will only get more difficult. For the record, we have whittled it down to eight violin concertos: Mendelssohn, Vivaldi 'Four Seasons,' Sibelius, Brahms, Beethoven, Bruch, Bach Double and (probably) Tchaikovsky. (For an overview and links to previous votes, please see our Tournament Page)
Today we have (drum roll)…
Mendelssohn Violin Concerto vs. Vivaldi Four Seasons
Just for fun, here are some more recordings for your listening enjoyment, and feel free to list your own and lobby for your favorite in the comments below:
Gorgeous first movement of the Mendelssohn with Henryk Szeryng; they have the video embedding disabled, so here is the link: http://youtu.be/C0aZt5vgFHE
Here's the third movement of the Mendelssohn, Anne-Sophie Mutter, with Kurt Masur and the Gewandhaus:
Vivaldi's "Summer" -- on accordion! http://youtu.be/NiRNzIUkDuk
Brrrr, "Winter"! Here is a Baroque instrument version, with violinist Giuliano Carmignola and the Venice Baroque Orchestra, directed by Andrea Marcon:
Today we move to works by Eastern European composers, both which are highly Romantic works that require feats of great violin technique: the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto vs. Wieniawski Violin Concerto No. 2
Violin Concerto in D major, Op. 35 by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky
Tchaikovsky wrote his violin concerto in 1878 and dedicated it to Leopold Auer, who famously pronounced it "unplayable" and refused to play its premiere. (Adolph Brodsky played the premiere in 1881) Of course, Auer later revised that statement -- after many violinists found it quite playable, indeed: "It is incorrect to state that I had declared the concerto in its original form unplayable. What I did say was that some of the passages were not suited to the character of the instrument, and that, however perfectly rendered, they would not sound as well as the composer had imagined," Auer wrote in 1912. Well, it's all water under the bridge. Auer later embraced the concerto (with a few of his own edits, which some people play and others don't), and the rest of the world certainly has embraced it.
Isaac Stern in his prime, playing with Philadelphia Orchestra, Eugene Ormandy, conductor, in 1958. Sorry no visuals!
I. Allegro moderato
II. Finale: Allegro vivacissimo
Violin Concerto No. 2 in D minor, Op. 22 by Henryk Wieniawski
Written in 1856, this concerto was most certainly a vehicle for the virtuosity of its composer, the violinist Henryk Wieniawski, though it was dedicated to Pablo de Sarasate. (Here are some informative program notes on the work) The whole concerto is awash in Romanticism; the middle movement heavenly (I like to play it just to feel better about life) and the last movement is a great way to show off your amazing spiccato, if you have it!
Here's another purely musical video, of violinist Michael Rabin performing with the London Philharmonia Orchestra, Eugene Goossens conducting:
I. Allegro moderato
II. Romance: Andante non troppo
III. Allegro con fuoco – Allegro moderato (à la Zingara)
(And just for fun, part of the third movement is here, you can see 14-year-old Itzhak Perlman performing wildly well - he has the amazing spiccato/sautille/everything going on - and also see Ed Sullivan butcher the name "Wieniawski"! http://youtu.be/amS4IZfA_tc)
Let's talk about the divine sounds of Beethoven -- and the divine sounds of Bach. Why? Because today's tournament concertos are the Beethoven Violin Concerto vs. the Bach A minor Concerto!
Violin Concerto in D major, Op. 61 by Ludwig van Beethoven
Most of us revere this work as one of the most perfect, golden-spun pieces of music devised for the violin and orchestra. But when it was premiered in 1806, audiences cast it aside as inconsequential. Even the violinist who performed it, Franz Clement, felt the need to spark up the premiere performance by inserting pseudo-circus feats between movements, playing a little ditty on one string of his fiddle, turned upside-down. Fortunately for fans of the violin, the concerto came back to life nearly 20 years after Beethoven's death, when Joseph Joachim, who was 12, performed it with Felix Mendelssohn conducting. It's a popular piece, and Wikipedia lists 19 violinists who have written cadenzas for the work, though there certainly are more.
Here is a full performance by Arthur Grumiaux, with Antal Dorati conducting the Orchestre National de l'ORTF Performanc, at the Salle Pleyel, Paris, 1965:
I. Allegro ma non troppo
III. Rondo. Allegro
Violin Concerto in A minor, BWV 1041 by Johann Sebastian Bach
Bach wrote a number of violin concertos, including his double concerto and his concerto for violin in E major. The A minor concerto was written in about 1748, and many violinists play it today because of its inclusion in Suzuki Book 7. Bach was a violinist, and this concerto is delightful for its clever writing. To play it is to negotiate a fast ride full of twists and turns, even a few thrills. To listen is pure pleasure.
David Oistrakh :
I. Allegro moderato:
III. Allegro assai:
"Don't Stop Believin'" for solo violin? You'd better believe it!
That's right, Adam is challenging people to learn his solo violin version of Journey's Don't Stop Believin', that 80's tune made newly popular by The Sopranos and by Glee). Post your performance to Youtube, and Adam has lined up some best-performance prizes from the Electric Violin Shop of Durham, N.C., including a Realist Acoustic Electric Violin for the first-prize winner and a Coda Bow for the second-prize winner. (He explains it all right here.)
Adam, a Northwestern University-trained classical violinist who turned to improvisation and rock 'n' roll after a stint as concertmaster of the Richmond Symphony Orchestra, is one half of The Dueling Fiddlers (Russell Fallstad is the other violinist.) You also may remember Adam's Rockin' Fiddle Challenge of 2010, in which he challenged violinists to learn his (rather difficult!) arrangement of Guns N' Roses' Sweet Child O' Mine. The winner of that one was Amy Lidell of Indiana.
"Last time was a lot of people signed up (about 2,000), but the piece was so difficult," Adam said. (I can confirm that -- I tried it!) "I think I ended up with some frustrated people, and that wasn't my intention, to stretch people to their limit!" The new piece, which he's calling Violinists Don't Stop Believing, is arranged for the intermediate player. "Anybody who can handle basic double stops would be able to get through this. The way it's arranged, the melody will kind of hold its own." (I also tried this one, it's easier, and shorter, this time around!) Like last time, Adam will give a series of tutorials, working on one small part of the music at a time, until the whole song is covered.
Adam wants to let people know that it's possible to rock out on the violin.
"There are all these awesome violinists out there, and their friends think that they're nerds because they play the violin," Adam said. "We know that's not true, of course, they're super cool kids. But their friends think that the music that they play is something that they don't like. So a bunch of kids started taking my arrangements and Dueling Fiddlers arrangements and playing them at their schools' talent shows." For example, this performance of Stairway to Heaven was done with Adam's arrangement of the song. "It's amazing how the crowd goes wild at the end! I started thinking, okay, that's my audience for this Rockin' Fiddle Challenge: those high school kids who want to get up and play something that their friends will recognize and that will also really encourage them to practice super-hard so that they can make it sound like the original piece that they know."
Adam wanted to use "Don't Stop Believin'" because it has stood the test of time.
"I put up a cover of Rihanna's 'We Found Love', and people seemed to like it. But -- I don't think 'We Found Love' is going to be a cool song in six months," Adam said. "It's a great song. I like it, I had a lot of fun with it, and it was number one on the charts for about six weeks this year. But I don't think, next year, people are going to remember that song. So I decided that I'm not doing any more arrangements of pop and rock songs that I don't think are going to be around forever."
One song he has in mind for a violin version is 'Rolling in the Deep' by Adele. "It just won every Grammy there was, and I believe that song is going to be a classic," Adam said. "Even though it was written last year, it will turn into a classic."
"I just want to put up music that is meaningful to people, it doesn't have to be pop or rock," Adam said of his arrangements. "When they get up in front of an audience, I want them to be proud to play it, and they won't need anything else, other than their violin. Even though I'm playing the five-string violins now, I'm writing these arrangements all for four strings, so you don't need to have a five-string to pull these off."
Adam recently wrote a version of Amazing Grace in honor of his longtime musical partner, pianist Lynn Wright, who died earlier this month from cancer. Together they formed the group Pianafiddle.
"The truth is, without him, there would not have been the first Rockin' Fiddle Challenge, because I never would have gone so far off the deep end with my playing!" Adam said. "In a nutshell, Lynn and I found ourselves in the same remote place at the same time. I had quit my job with the Richmond Symphony Orchestra, and Lynn had retired. He'd actually come to West Virginia to die -- that was his kind of tagline. There weren't a lot of other musicians in the area, and we just started playing together. At first I think he was kind of rolling his eyes, playing with this classical violinist. He didn't read a lick of music, it was all improvisatory. He was the pianist at the Silver Dollar Saloon in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, for years. At the same time, he was also an Episcopal priest. He was probably the most interesting musician I had ever met."
"We started playing together, and it was just fun. There was no thought of ever making it a commercial venture," Adam said. But then it evolved, and they wound up playing together for six years, more than 400 concerts in 42 states. "We had a bus tour, the whole nine yards. Pianafiddle turned into this big Nashville-based touring act. And the whole time, it was all about improvisation. We never wrote any music down."
"I was never allowed to do things the same way twice, because if he saw me trying to do that, he would throw me a curveball: change the key or change the tempo," Adam said. "There's a great video I just re-posted of me doing Wizard's Walk, which is by J. Unger, with Lynn. The great part of it is not necessarily my playing, but of Lynn, halfway through, deciding to double the tempo! There was just a huge grin on his face and he just went 'Hah!' like, 'What are you going to do now?'"
It was Lynn who told Adam to go in the direction of rock 'n' roll after his solo video of Sweet Child O' Mine got so many hits. "He just e-mailed me out of the blue and he said, 'Adam, the people are speaking. This is what they like,'" Adam said. "That's what got me thinking about really putting it out there. What a great guy."
We resume our Violin Tournament today, with the Sibelius Violin Concerto vs. Prokofiev Violin Concerto No. 1!
Yes it's a vote, but please also look at it as a chance to measure your thoughts, talk about your favorite recordings, share experiences, historical info, and whatever else you'd like to add in relation to these concertos.
Violin Concerto No. 1 in D major, opus 19, by Sergei Prokofiev
Premiered in 1923, the concerto begins with a dreamy first movement, moves to a wickedly wild "Scherzo" second movement (fast, not slow!) then a third movement that's kind of all over the place, with moments intimate and very outward, big and small, meandering in places and directed in others. It has that signature eloquence mixed with abandon that musicians tend to love in Prokofiev.
Here is violinist Hilary Hahn, performing with conductor Lorin Maazel and the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra.
Part 1: Movement 1, Andantino
Part 2: Movement 2, Scherzo Vivacissimo
Part 3: Movement 3, Moderato
Violin Concerto in D minor, Op. 47, by Jean Sibelius
Jean Sibelius completed his violin concerto in 1904, apparently in an alcoholic fog. He was a late-starting violinist himself (having taken it up at age 14), and his love for the violin was deep: he aspired -- and failed -- to become a great violinist. Nevertheless he wrote one of the best violin concertos we have. In fact, the violin concerto was the only "concerto" he wrote for any instrument. It's like no other violin concerto; what piece of music depicts the beauty of an icy landscape better than the opening of the Sibelius VC?
Here is a really lovely performance, with violinist Lisa Batiashvili, conductor Sakari Oramo and the Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra
Part 1: Movement 1, Allegro moderato
Part 2: Movement 1, continued, cadenza.
Part 3: Movement 2, Adagio di molto
Part 4: Movement 3, Allegro ma non tanto
Happy St. Patrick's Day! How did I ever miss this performance from 2009?
This just goes to show what skill you can develop if you practice your Kreutzer!
Party safe out there, friends. No drinking and unicycle driving....
We continue with our effort to fill the air with talk about Violin Concertos over talk about college basketball….(Just look at the kind of effort put into the NCAA college basketball tournament brackets in the U.S.!)
Today we have the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto vs. Bartok Violin Concerto No. 2:
Violin Concerto in E minor, Op. 64 by Felix Mendelssohn
Mendelssohn wrote his E minor violin concerto for the violinist Ferdinand David, who premiered the work in 1845 in Leipzig. The first movement's cadenza is fun for its ricochet bariolage (rocking a bouncing bow across four strings -- it takes some figuring out!), the second for its use of double-stops and the third for its spritely motion. The concerto has three movements:
I. Allegro molto appassionato
III. Allegretto non troppo – Allegro molto vivace
Here is a performance of the entire Mendelssohn Violin Concerto, with Dutch violinist Janine Jansen and the BBC Symphony Orchestra at the BBC Proms. In the video, little notes about the piece and performance pop up along the way, and they are actually quite informative. You can choose to read those or tune them out and just enjoy the performance:
Violin Concerto No. 2, BB 117 by Béla Bartók
Written in 1937–38, this concerto was dedicated to the Hungarian violinist, Zoltán Székely. Its aesthetic fits with the Interwar era in which is was composed; dabbling with serialism and 12-tone themes.
Here violinist Kyung-Wha Chung with Suedwestfunks Symphony Orchestra conducted by her brother Myung-Whun Chung; filmed in 1984 for SWR Germany.
Part 1: Movement 1, Allegro non troppo:
Part 2: Movement 1, continued; Movement 2, Andante tranquillo: http://youtu.be/XTL53WOpAKo
Part 3: Movement 3, Allegro molto: http://youtu.be/el-0eMk7jkM
Part 4: Movement 3, continued: http://youtu.be/kIro_rAc73k
Today the "Bach Double" goes up against Mozart Violin Concerto No. 4
(For previous day's Tournament results and links to previous articles, please go to our Tournament Page.)
Concerto for Two Violins in D minor by Johann Sebastian Bach
Bach wrote the piece we call the "Bach Double" between 1730 and 1731, and even after nearly 300 years, it never gets old or tired, at least for this violinist (who has both parts memorized for the first movement and plays it with students very very often!). The first movement is part of nearly every violinist's studies, the second movement is pure gorgeousness and the third is just plain fun. Bach wrote two parts that are equally challenging, and he even has the second violin open the piece. No one has to be the "underdog" in the "Bach Double"!
Here, violinists Isaac Stern and Shlomo Mintz perform the "Bach Double."
Part 1: Movement 1, Vivace:
Part 2: Movement 2, Largo ma non tanto: http://youtu.be/d9ZRN5l97O8
Part 3, Movement 3, Allegro: http://youtu.be/ZLWdVUSPI9w
Concerto No. 4 in D major, K. 218, by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Not only was W.A. Mozart a fine violinist, he also inherited a wealth of knowledge from his father, Leopold, arguably one of the finest violin pedagogues to have lived. Written in 1775, Concerto No. 4 sparkles with good humor, energy and elegance.
Here's a performance from the 2006 BBC Proms with Maxim Vengerov, UBS Verbier Festival Chamber Orchestra at the Royal Albert Hall, London. Vengerov plays his own cadenzas.
Part 1: Movement 1, Allegro:
Part 2: Movement 2, Andante cantabile: http://youtu.be/w4c6wPg8vCM
Part 3: Movement 3, Rondeau. Andante grazioso - Allegro ma non troppo: http://youtu.be/jULh4_PyPv0
Are you ready for Day 3 of the Violin Concerto Tournament? Today it's the Bruch Violin Concerto vs. the Shostakovich Violin Concerto
Violin Concerto No. 1 in G minor, Op. 26 by Max Bruch
This was Max Bruch's most famous composition, completed in 1866. Though his first violin concerto assured him a kind of immortality, he never received much money from it!
Here is Joshua Bell playing the first two movements (I love the way he plays the Romantic lit) and -- since there was no Youtube of Josh playing Movement 3 -- we have Maxim Vengerov, which I like because he plays it with finesse; it's not violent! (We sometimes can get violinists really assailing this last movement!)
Part 1: Movement 1:
Part 2: Movement 2, Adagio: http://youtu.be/aZjw9pN0kX0
Part 3: Movement 3, Allegro energico (with Maxim Vengerov): http://youtu.be/KbDhd-XgJWw
Violin Concerto No. 1 in A minor, Opus 77 by Dmitri Shostakovich:
This was written in the late 1940s but wasn't played until 1955 because the Soviet Union's government had denounced Shostakovich for failing to comply with Soviet cultural policy. The concerto was dedicated to Soviet violinist David Oistrakh. Here is David Oistrakh, with Heinz Fricke conducting the Deutschen Staatsoper Berlin:
Part 1, Movement 1, "Nocturne: Moderato"
Part 2, Movement 1 continued; and Movement 2, "Scherzo: Allegro": http://youtu.be/QpvCbtMWr0s
Part 3, Movement 2, continued; and Movement 3, "Passacaglia: Andante": http://youtu.be/8OTq7uhzT8w
Part 4: Movement 3, continued; cadenza: http://youtu.be/7QDfwcFxz6A
Part 5: Movement 4 "Burlesque: Allegro con brio - Presto": http://youtu.be/_2ee-GPDIek
It's the second day of our Concerto Tournament, and as we saw yesterday, every vote is important! In our first vote, Vivaldi's "Four Seasons" squeaked past Mozart's Concerto No. 5 by a tiny percentage: 51 to 49 percent! They were neck-and-neck all day long.
Today we have another difficult decision: the Brahms Violin Concerto vs. the Barber Violin Concerto.
Here are a few things for you to consider, and please add your own thoughts about these pieces in the comments below:
Violin Concerto in D major, Op. 77 by Johannes Brahms
Written in 1878, Brahms dedicated his violin concerto to the great Hungarian violinist, Joseph Joachim, his good friend who collaborated closely with the composer and wrote the cadenza which is still most frequently played. I love the hilarious criticism by Hans von Bülow, who said after hearing its premiere that it was a concerto "against the violin." It is so very Brahmsian (to me, that's a good thing…) long, symphonic, rich and beautiful.
Here we have Julia Fischer again, playing with conductor Michael Tilson Thomas and the North German Symphony Orchestra .
Part 1: Movement 1, Allegro non troppo (btw, after the orchestral intro, the violin entrance is at 3:35) :
Part 2: more Movement 1: http://youtu.be/ZQ0BYRes-rQ
Part 3: rest of Movement 1 and cadenza: http://youtu.be/-MV5B1F61gg
Part 4: Movement 2, Adagio: http://youtu.be/JWGrZgRf8wo
Part 5: Movement 3, Allegro giocoso, ma non troppo vivace -- Poco più presto: http://youtu.be/bOx0eKhD9f0
Violin Concerto, Op. 14 by Samuel Barber
Written by Barber in 1939 for Curtis Institute school mate, Iso Briselli, there was all sorts of fuss over whether this piece was adequate for the artist, for the person who commissioned it, etc. Complaints included the idea that the first two movements were too easy; then the last was too difficult; the last movement didn't match the first two, etc. Briselli even declined to premiere the piece. Barber held to his convictions about the piece and didn't alter a thing. Aren't we glad? This concerto begins with two movements of lush, beautiful violin music, followed by a totally crazy-difficult third movement -- full of land mines in performance, but exhilarating when negotiated well.
I chose Gil Shaham's version of this one, live with the BBC Orchestra, David Robertson conducting. Gil's 1994 recording with the London Symphony Orchestra and Andre Previn is what made me really fall in love with this piece in the first place, and it remains one of my all-time favorite recordings of anything.
Part 1: Movement 1, Allegro; and the first part of Movement 2, Adagio:
Part 2, more Movement 2; and Movement 3, Presto in moto perpetuo: http://youtu.be/l21FHDoWI88
How can you choose between Mozart 5 and Vivaldi Four Seasons?
How can we choose between any of our favorite violin concertos? Many of you love them all; I certainly love every one that is on this list of 16 for the Tournament! These were the top 16 of 92 that all of us nominated -- that means that every single choice is in the top 17 percent. None of these line-ups will likely present an easy decision, but please vote for the concerto you'd most like to win, based on whatever criteria you feel are most important: beauty, playability, originality, audience appeal, lasting appeal for the musician, etc. And do keep in mind our larger goal: to share our thoughts, favorite recordings and editions, performance ideas, etc. about our favorite violin concertos.
Here is your first choice -- you have 24 hours to vote:
Here's a brief bit of information on each one, and some listening:
Violin Concerto No. 5 in A major K219 by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: This concerto gives us some of most elegant A major violin goodness ever composed; Mozart created a vehicle for milking the violin in exactly the manner it likes: with long ringing tones, passagework that seems to compose itself, simple beauty. Composed in 1775, the last movement inspired its nickname, the "Turkish" concerto, as it shows flashes of raucous Turkish music. Personally, I love the opening, which is such a celebration of the violin. The orchestra moves along, happily, for quite some time. Suddenly, everything stops, so that the violin can enter all by itself. It's as though the most beautiful girl in the world has arrived at the dance. Everyone must pause in their tracks, so that they can admire her in her stunning gown -- perfectly shaped, in exquisite taste, casting just the right color on her complexion. Suddenly the dance resumes, and the music continues merrily, with the benefit of her sparkly presence. Mozart was a violinist himself, and he wrote five concertos for violin. Generally, Concertos No. 3, 4, and 5 are played quite frequently; No. 1 and 2, less so.
This 1966 recording with is a rather Romantic interpretation of this Classical piece, but lovely. I enjoyed watching the handsome and (relatively) young Herbert von Karajan conducting the (all-male) Vienna Philharmonic in this room full of candelabras, chandeliers, heavy drapes and ornate wallpaper. I think Menuhin is at his most elegant here, and that's what Mozart calls for. Please feel free to tell us about your favorite recordings of this work as well!
Movement 1, "Allegro Aperto - Adagio - Allegro Aperto":
From the same performance by Yehudi Menuhin:
Part 2, with the rest of Movement 1: http://youtu.be/xsGbvEe9Gqw (extra credit point to anyone who can tell us whose cadenza he's playing?)
Part 3, Movement 2, "Adagio": http://youtu.be/ULSLkLwYEOE
Part 4, the rest of Movement 2: http://youtu.be/KcPydWaoVuQ
Part 5: Movement 3, "Rondo - Tempo di Minuetto": http://youtu.be/L9iS5a4SBA8
"The Four Seasons" by Antonio Vivaldi is perhaps one of the most instantly-recognizable pieces in the violin literature. What a creative endeavor it was -- composed in 1723, Vivaldi painted a musical picture of each season, even including a sonnet to describe each season. (Click here for the texts of the sonnets; most scholars think Vivaldi wrote these himself) The sound-painting includes things like birdsongs in "Spring," buzzing flies in "Summer," and the chattering of teeth in "Winter." Vivaldi was a priest (his red hair led people to call him the "Red Priest") and he wrote some 500 concertos, most of them for the girls at the Ospedale della Pietà, the orphanage for girls in Venice where he was musical director for many years.
For the Four Seasons, I've chosen to give you Julia Fischer's 2004 version with the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields National Botanical Gardens of Wales, which gives you a combination of being able to watch her play and also looking at pretty nature scenes. Looks like you can get the BBC DVD if you'd like it, too.
From this same series by Julia Fischer:
With all the talk about the sound of modern violins rivaling the sound of seasoned Stradivaris, one might wonder: Who are today's up-and-coming violin makers, and how do their violins really sound?
If you seriously wish to explore that question, you might consider a trip to Omaha, Neb., for The Art of Sound, an exhibition of new violins and violin-making competitions that will run March 31 through April 21 at A. Cavallo Violins.
The 22-day exhibition will include about 150 violins representing 90 violin makers -- all living -- from all over the world. Among those will be about 30 violins to be evaluated in a competition that right before the exhibition. Judging for the violin-making competition will begin March 29, culminating in an awards dinner March 31. "The Art of Sound" exhibition has taken place annually in Omaha for five years, said Alex Ross, owner of A. Cavallo Violins, and the violin-making competition is a new part of the event this year.
"We wanted to do something a little different," Ross said of the competition. Only violins made by professional makers will be entered in the contest -- no cellos, basses, or bows. Two panels of judges will evaluate the instruments over the course of three days: a panel of violin makers, and a panel of professional violinists. Members of the violin maker panel will be John Waddle, Amos Hargrave, and Stephanie Voss. Members of the playing panel are to be announced.
"All prizes are going to be given by consensus. There will be the playability judges and the workmanship judges, and they're going to decide on the grand prize together," Ross said. There will be an overall Grand Prize, a gold medal; and five certificates of merit for: overall workmanship, best original model, best antique replication; acoustics; and best violin by a maker under 30 years of age. Playing judges will be looking for more than tone; "They'll be looking for playability, accessibility, ease of execution on the instrument -- things that are important for the player," Ross said. In addition, the judges will be free to give out certificates of merit in other categories of their choosing.
Then all the violins will be on display through April 21, with a closing event April 20 called "Violin and Wine Tasting."
These days, the level of violin-making around the globe is well worth celebrating, Ross said. A new "Golden Age" of violin making has produced fine violin makers who are practicing their craft in the Americas, Europe and Asia.
"Do you know why there was a "Golden Age" (of violin making) around 1700 to 1750?" Ross said. "Because there was relative peace and prosperity in Europe, so there was a demand and there were resources. We're seeing now that there's a worldwide demand that's increased."
Why is that? Ross feels that many of the older fine instruments are reaching the effective end of their lifespans. "Some of the great old Strads, and older instruments, especially Amatis, are really reaching in the end of their lifespan," he said. "They can't be restored any more -- there's been restoration on top of restoration."
Stephanie Voss, a violinmaker who will serve as a judge in The Art of Sound violin-making competition, said it best, Ross said.
"She did a workshop for us, four shows ago, and she presented to the audience a whole lecture about styles, materials, workmanship," Ross said. "At the end, she was answering questions, and someone asked, 'Do you know the secret of Stradivarius?'"
People say it's the varnish, or it's the way the logs were floated up the river from Venice -- "none of these things is true," Ross said. "He used several varnish recipes, eight models of violins, how many molds did he use? -- there's no consistency, really."
But Stephanie said, "Yes, I know the secret of Stradivarius. Do you want to know what it is?" Everyone leaned forward to hear her potentially earth-shattering answer: "He was a damned good violin maker!"
Ross laughed, "I thought that was a great statement. And I think that, right now, the level of damned-good violin-making is really up there."
"I think it's economics, I think it's technology," Ross said. Thanks to the Internet, people can readily communicate with makers all over the world, and they can shop around.
Unfortunately, "there's also a lot of shysterism out there." Faked certificates, Chinese white violins standing in for bench-made ones…and yet the fraud is nothing new. The Internet just allows it to flourish in new ways. "In the violin business, there's a tradition of sliminess."
The nice thing about a modern instrument is that there is no doubt about the instrument's origin -- you can confirm it with its living maker.
"I also love the diversity," Ross said. "There are some makers that are very technologically-oriented, they do tons of testing. John Waddle does CAT scans, density testing on the wood, resistance testing…and his product is beautiful. Then there are other makers like Keith Hill and Doug Packs, who are completely intuitive workers. And they do beautiful work, too. There's a wide range of how people achieve great violins, but I think the level is high, no matter how they achieve it."
"My favorite thing is discovering a new, pending superstar, and we've got a couple of those right now," Ross said. "I just sold a Christopher Ulbricht violin; he's a really good maker in Indianapolis. I have a Christopher Jacoby that I just bought, a magnificent maker in Salt Lake City."
For a violinmaker to become a maker of fine violins, "they've got to make a lot of violins," Ross said. "There are a lot of makers who are kind of stuck in school mode. They've finished at a really good place like Salt Lake (Violin Making School of America) or Chicago (Chicago School of Violin Making) or Boston (North Bennet St. School.), and in the last five years they've made three violins. Their work is kind of nice and interesting, but then there are those like Chris Jacoby, who at age 30 is on violin number 50, or Mark Womack, who's made 300-400. We bought one from Ray Melanson at VSA, and I talked to Ray, and he was already on the fifth or seventh violin after that. These guys are really productive."
Why is productivity a plus? For one, a maker needs to get his or her instruments into people's hands in order to establish both a reputation and a market value. Also, there's that old saw, "Practice makes perfect."
"There's a lot of intuition in the process of making a violin, even if you're a very scientific maker," Ross said. "I don't think you achieve that level of intuition unless you're repeating the task more than a few times. "
What is the price range for a modern fiddle?
Instruments by living makers start at about $6,000-7,000 and go up to the $50,000's or so, Ross said."Typically, most average makers are between $7,000 and $25,000."
Are there regional differences in violin-making?
"I have to say, some of the Eastern Europeans are brilliant," Ross said. "It's a very interesting school, there's a whole list of Polish makers who are brilliant, like Wojciech Topa, Dimitar Dimitrov. There's a lot of individuality expressed in them; they're not quite so rigid. Probably the most rigid tradition is the German. They show the most discipline in their making, generally speaking. And that's a good thing! But it also limits them sometimes, too."
"The Italians, on the other hand, are pretty free," Ross said. "Interestingly, in Mittenwald (violin-making school in Germany), if you do the master's exam, it's very rigorous. It's very time-oriented, and you have to do all these skills by a certain time in the exam or you don't pass. It's very tough, and it's a long period you have to go through. In Italy, if you want to be a Cremonese master, you go and work with Maurizio Tadioli or Luca Salvadori, or one of those guys. You work with them, and then one day they say, "Oh, you're a master," and then you're a master! That tells you a little bit about the training, and there's a beauty in both ways."
Many buyers, after looking at eBay, expect extraordinarily low prices for violins. But there is a reason why a handmade instrument has a higher price tag than a cheapie fiddle on the Internet.
"The good violins are good, whether they are Chinese or German or Italian or American, it doesn't matter," Ross said. "There's great German stuff and there's bad German stuff, it goes both ways with any country."
A dealer who knows the difference can be very helpful. Ross cites the example of a customer who had purchased a bargain cello online for his son, for $300. "Our entry-level cello is $1,350," Ross said. First the customer came in because his son couldn't keep the cello in tune. So they put in some better pegs, better-fitted. Two weeks later he came back: the bridge had broken. Carving a bridge is pretty expensive, so that was a few hundred bucks there. The third thing that happened was the tailpiece broke. Finally the customer walked in and said, "Look, just let me buy something from you guys!" He bought it a new cello, and with a warranty.
"The problem is, you can't buy something sight unseen," Ross said. "It's not reasonable. It's not a good idea, it's not advisable. You need a dealer who will stand behind the instrument, and that should be in writing."
* * *
Here is a list of the violin makers (so far) whose violins will be in The Art of Sound violinmaking contest. For a list of all the 90-some violinmakers whose instruments will appear in the three-week show, go to this page.
Pablo Alfaro, Decatur, Georgia
Daniel Arlig, Minneapolis, Minnesota.
Peter Bingen, Portland, Oregon
David Chrapkiewicz, Washington Grove, MD
Douglas Cox, W. Brattleboro, Vermont
Dirk Henry, Omaha, Nebraska
Martin Heroux, Sainte-Émélie-de-l'Énergie, Qc.
Patrick Higgins, Bellevue, Kentucky
Christopher Jacoby, Salt Lake City, Utah
Emily Kellerman, Minneapolis, MN
Raymond Melanson, Boston, MA
Gabor Molnar, Houston, Texas
Theodore Skreko, Indianapolis, IN
Wladek Stopka, Hickory Hills, IL
Chris Ulbricht, Indianapolis, IN
Sara White, Tucson, AZ
Mark Womack, Omaha, Neb.
Kelin Zhang, Plano, TX
If the rest of the world is going to go "mad" over a basketball tournament, I think we can go crazy with a violin concerto tournament!
And this is exactly what we are going to do over the next weeks. We're even going to give a cool prize to the person who most correctly guesses the outcome!
So here's how it works: Based on your suggestions, I've seeded 16 popular violin concertos into a single-elimination tournament. (I did this with the help of Robert, my statistical genius husband and also techie for V.com) This was not easy -- V.com readers suggested 92 concertos for this, and I had to narrow it down to 16! So if this list doesn't have all your favorites, please be a good sport. Also, keep in mind that this is all just a big excuse to talk about violin concertos -- to share stories, clips, favorite recordings, favorite editions, playing tips, etc.
We'll put one tournament contest up for a vote each weekday between March 12 and March 30. Each vote will be open for 24 hours, and the winning concerto in each vote will advance to the next round, until we crown a winner on Friday, March 30.
For your convenience, Robert's created a PDF print-out of the tournament bracket so you can see the match-ups.
Now let's have some additional fun with this - how about that tournament contest?
We'll give away a brand new Violinist.com music bag -- hot off the presses! -- to the reader who does the best job of predicting the tournament winners. Here's how it will work: Email me your prediction for the eight winners in round one, the four winners in round two, the two semifinalists and the tournament champion, using the tournament bracket.
We'll award one point for each correct prediction in round one, two points for each correct pick in round two, four points for round three, and six points for predicting the champion. The reader with the most points wins the bag. In case of a tie, we'll go to a random draw. Entries are due by 11pm, Pacific Time, Sunday, March 11.
"With this violin, you will change the world."
Jesus Florido took that statement to heart when he received his first violin at age 8, when he joined El Sistema as one of the first generations of students in Venezuela's now-35-year-old system of music education. Jose Antonio Abreu, founder of El Sistema, never did anything small. For those first students, he didn't just give the kids the violins, he called on then-President Luis Herrera Campins to present the children with their new instruments.
Now living in the United States, Jesus has taught Latin fiddling at Mark O'Connor camps, and he teaches and performs in many styles. Jesus also is one of the earlier members of Violinist.com, having joined in 2004. So I was happy to hear that he would be teaching some group lessons at a "Seminario," held at Pasadena's Longfellow Elementary School -- so I could meet him in person and see him teach!
The "Seminario" was held in early February for three El Sistema-inspired programs in Southern California: Santa Barbara ICAN Music Program, San Diego Youth Symphony Community Opus Project, and Pasadena VYMA Music Project, which sponsored the event. Teachers came together from all over the area to hear a speech by author and educator Eric Booth and to participate in conversations with the Abreu Fellows and Tricia Tunstall, author of Changing Lives: Gustavo Dudamel, El Sistema and the Transformative Power of Music. Also, more than 100 students ages 7-10 came from as far as 120 miles to take classes and then play a version of Beethoven's "Ode to Joy" together at the end of the day.
I attended Jesus's group class about the bow hand, with about 40 kids.
Ah, the bow hand! It's supposed to feel natural and work with ease, yet teachers tend to fall into over-analysis and confuse their students. Puzzled, students wind up clutching their bows in some weird, compromised hand shape that pleases neither student nor teacher.
Jesus knows how to cut through the confusion. He described how the hand balances the bow in a way that was direct, simple and obvious. Check it out:
I wasn't able to get his description of each finger all on the video, so I've listed those descriptions below. Basically, each finger has a "job." You need to hold the bow in a way that allows each finger to do its job, never in a way that works against those jobs.
In a nutshell: The thumb is the anchor and point of balance. The ring finger is the main counterbalance, and the middle finger re-enforces the ring finger. The main job of these three fingers together is to hold the bow. The pinky is the main balancing finger, especially when playing in the lower half. The index finger is the driver of the bow -- it steers it straight. The index finger is also the pressure controller -- but never hooked on the stick. The index and pinkie are in charge of balance and direction, not of holding.
If you can put together a bow hand that allows each finger to do its job, it will work well for you!
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