We all have busy weeks, but violinist Philippe Quint describes this last week as "surreal."
First, his movie Downtown Express had its public release in New York; also, his new recording of Bruch and Mendelssohn Concertos and Beethoven Romances was released. Next week he goes to Mexico City to direct the festival he founded, the Mineria Chamber Music Festival, which is in its fourth season.
In the midst of all this, he took some time to chat with me over the phone about his thoughts on recording such popular works, on how his relationship with Mexico has deepened over the years, and about being an ambassador for music. (If you are interested on his thoughts about acting in a movie, here is an interview we did last year about that.)
Laurie: The Bruch and the Mendelssohn…it's been done before.
Philippe: (laughing) Yes, it's been done before!
Laurie: In some ways it's got to be easier to put out a recording of works that nobody's heard of before!
Philippe: Which I've been doing! (He laughs) It was an interesting leap for me, in that sense, because I've mostly recorded works by American composers: William Schuman, John Corigliano, Miklós Rózsa, Bernstein, Korngold. But my passion was always the concertos I grew up with, by Tchaikovsky, Mendelssohn, Bruch, Sibelius -- all the standard violin repertoire. I've always imagined that one day, I would love to record those works.
Laurie: They are such popular works and they've been recorded so many times. How did you handle that?
Philippe: I needed to put away all the recordings, all the performances that I've ever heard of these pieces and just go with my own experience and my own beliefs about these works. In preparation for the recording, I purposely did not listen to other violinists. Even if I overheard Mendelssohn or Bruch played somewhere, I tried to run away before I could hear it! I just could not take any more influence on these concertos.
While doing a little research on them, I realized that one of the big parallels between the three composers is the fact that they all wrote for voice. They were all such incredible songwriters, even operatic writers. For example, Bruch was known during his lifetime as a choral composer, so his violin concerto, I feel, is infused with purely operatic passages. That includes the very opening of the concerto, where you have such an incredible recitativo line, over baritone, which slowly moves to tenor, and then it goes further to soprano and then it goes to where the voice can't reach any more.
Laurie: How long have you been playing these?
Philippe: Mendelssohn I first studied when I was about 11 or 12 years old. Then Bruch came a little later, around 16 or 17. But Beethoven Romances were my very first pieces -- I must have been six or seven when I first played them. "Romance in G" was the very first piece I learned. I actually remember very well: when my teacher gave me this Romance, I thought to myself, "This is impossible! How will I ever play all these double stops? I don't know where they are!" I have not actually played them since that time. Now, coming back after so many years, I don't really have any memory of that first study. It's great, because I feel the Romances are the freshest compositions on this CD. Again, I did not listen to any other recordings to prepare. Instead, I wanted to dig into history. Where was Beethoven at that time, when he was composing the Romances? He did not compose Romances for any other instrument, only for the violin.
If you look at the dates of the composition of the Romances, they are around 1798 to 1802. This was a very important period in Beethoven's life. It was around the time of his Immortal Beloved letter. He was in love with a new countess (Josephine von Brunsvik, or perhaps her sister Therese), daughter of another countess. He was always one of the most passionate classicists of all times; I don't know any music that's more passionate. It's just incredible: the moods, the way Beethoven notates everything and harmonizes every thing. You see dynamics where it starts piano then a crescendo into -- pianissimo! Or he'll write a fortepiano -- that's one of his favorite notations. These are sudden, sudden mood changes, much like life. For me, the music of a composer always reflects life, rather than anything else. Notes -- those are just paper, they're only a way to preserve the idea. But the musical emotion comes from the actual life of the composer and his current inspirations. Beethoven was somebody who was known to have one muse after another!
Laurie: I was also interested in the fact that you recorded this in Mexico City, and in this hall, Sala Nezahualcóyotl. It seems like a pretty major hall, and yet I'd never heard of it! Is it?
Philippe: Yes, it was inspired by the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam. The building was designed by the Mexican architects Arcadio Artis and Orso Núñez, along with the American acoustic expert Christopher Jaffe, who followed the model of the Concertgebouw of Amsterdam and the Ushers Hall of Edinburgh. Purely aesthetically, the hall in Mexico just so beautiful. Acoustically, it gives you just the right amount of warmth and reverberation. I recorded the Korngold there, and we thought that this would be a great way to continue our collaboration: bringing the same orchestra (the Mineria Symphony Orchestra, along with my friend, conductor Carlos Miguel Prieto, into this new project. The project also is based on our relationship in the last three years with the orchestra. We've played Mendelssohn and Bruch concerto countless times with this orchestra. So it brings my childhood dream, as well as the last couple of years, together.
Laurie: How did you develop that relationship? Did it start out with knowing Carlos?
Philippe: Yes! However, it has even more of an interesting twist. We actually met many years ago, when I first went to the Aspen Festival. During the times when we were resting from all that great practice (he laughs), the European and South American students played soccer together in the big field right in front of the cafeteria. I was playing with these two Mexican guys who were very good and very friendly. One of them was named Carlos and another was named Juan Carlos. After Aspen, I didn't see them for many years, and we never kept in touch. Then the next time I saw one of them was on the stage in Mexico City, being one of my conductors!
Laurie: What brought you to that stage in Mexico?
Philippe: I was still a student at Juilliard, and I got a call from my manager that somebody had cancelled a performance of the William Schuman concerto. Of course, nobody knew the piece. So I went to the library, looked it up, and I realized, this is not Robert Schumann, this is William. A whole different world! But I quickly looked through the score. I was anxious to do something challenging at the time -- something daring and challenging. So I told all the managers that I would do it. I said, 'Tell them that I know the piece, please tell them that I know it very well!' (He laughs) Which they did, and miraculously they engaged me -- of course nobody knew this little student from the Juilliard School, who just so happened to be a huge fan of the William Schuman Concerto!
I must have worked nine, 10 hours every day to learn the piece and to memorize the piece. So when I came to the stage, that is when I saw Carlos. We had a great time, reminding each other of our days playing soccer. The performance also was memorable, because I finished the second concert with a different violin and a different bow than I started with!
Laurie: How does a performance start on one violin and one bow, and finish with a different violin and a different bow?
Philippe: (He laughs) Very simple: I broke my only, Russian, $100 bow in the dressing room, right before the concert. So Carlos asked that other brother, Juan Carlos, to help me find a bow. Juan Carlos ran quickly and found a couple of bows to choose from.
So I came out on the stage already with a bow that I'd never used before. Fortunately, I finished the concerto and came back for an encore, when my E string popped! So I borrowed the violin from the concertmaster. Therefore I ended the performance with a different violin and a different bow.
That put this incredible beginning on my Mexican journey, because the news spread around: there's this kid from Juilliard who learned learned William Schuman Concerto in one week (they exaggerated, I had about three or four.) And then, he came and he broke his bow, and he broke his string, and he finished his performance on a different instrument. The news spread around so quickly, and in the next couple of years I was engaged with just about every orchestra in the country. Ever since, I've been traveling to Mexico four or five times a year. That's how my festival started, which is of course now going to be the fourth season, and will be May 2- May 14. (Quint is founder and director of the Mineria Chamber Music Festival in Mexico City; here's their Twitter feed.)
Laurie: So you like Mexico.
Philippe: I love Mexico. It's an incredible country with incredible people. The audiences are extremely warm, and they love the artists. They treat artists as kings there, with incredible hospitality. Mexico is a cultural jewel: architecturally speaking, musically speaking, artistically speaking. They have seven orchestras, just in Mexico City, and even more groups starting and collaborating every year. Of course, every country is going through economic crisis, but in Mexico, I feel that the government is really supportive of the arts and understands the value and importance of having as many as possible cultural outlets that can draw people. The halls are always full. The lines are long, and it's very difficult to get tickets to concerts. Just having this atmosphere reminds me a little bit of my childhood in Russia, when I used to go to concerts, ballets and plays with my parents. You would feel this circle, with so many people lining up for classical concerts. When do you ever see that any more? Where did the times go, when Rachmaninov and Horowitz played in Carnegie Hall and people would wait two days, circling around the block of Carnegie Hall and 57th St. to try to get a ticket or even a glimpse of Rachmaninov and Horowitz? It's very sad that this excitement is only present now in selected countries and cities. Of course, we're all ambassadors for classical music.
Laurie: Well, we'll keep up the fight to keep classical music alive.
Philippe: It is a little bit of a fight. You're fighting for our place in a world of electronic and house music, which is kind of easy to understand and draws a lot of people. A lot of younger audiences prefer that to classical music. But in my book, it is only because a lot of times they were not exposed to classical music. In the last couple of years, I've been converting people one by one -- on the plane, in the grocery, in the pharmacy, the train, anywhere. If I strike up a conversation with somebody and I start talking about what I do, a lot of times they are not familiar with it. But they're absolutely fascinated. They very quickly become fans of classical music.
Laurie: They do, and especially if they know somebody involved.
Philippe: Right, exactly. It's one-by-one, and there's nothing more powerful. And of course, you're promoting something very special, something that's been around for years. This is not something where you need to convince somebody that 'this is great, you should try it.' It is known that it's great, it's incredible. They'll see it right away.
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Philippe Quint plays "Nigun" on the "Ex-Vieuxtemps" Guarneri Del Gesu:
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And here is more about this particular recording of Mendelssohn and Bruch Concertos, and Beethoven Romances:
Fine-instrument dealer Geoffrey Fushi, co-founder of Bein and Fushi, Inc. of Chicago and of the Stradivari Society, died on Friday. He was 68.
I had the chance to have lunch with Geoff and his daughter, Suzanne Fushi, in the summer of 2010. Sitting next to him on that day, I was struck by the fact that Geoff had met scores of the finest string players of the last century, and he'd seen so many of them through a crucial trial: as they chose a partner for life, their instrument. For a musician, this decision ranks as high as picking a spouse, maybe higher. What stories Geoff could tell -- how I wish I'd put a recorder on him!
Afterwards I walked down Michigan Avenue to the Fine Arts Building, where the creaky, old-fashioned elevator took us to the 10th floor, home to Bein and Fushi, Inc.. I walked through the various rooms, with so many pictures -- even a few paintings -- of the world's greatest violinists and string players on the walls. If walls could speak! Finally we came to Geoff's office, with an enormous fish tank against one wall and a view of Lake Michigan from the window. Since they had it in the office, Geoffrey and Suzanne offered me the chance to try out the 'Vieuxtemps' Guarneri del Gesù violin, a thrill I'll never forget.
But many people won't forget the role that Geoff Fushi played in pairing them with a fine fiddle. In 1976, Geoffrey Fushi founded Bein and Fushi with his partner, Robert Bein (who died in 2007). Fushi sold instruments to Gidon Kremer, Yo-Yo Ma, Itzhak Perlman, Lynne Harrell, Josh Bell, Gil Shaham, and Anne Sophie Mutter, among many others, said his daughter, Suzanne Fushi.
Geoff Fushi also founded the Stradivari Society with Mary Galvin in 1985, at the request of the now-late Juilliard violin professor Dorothy DeLay. The Stradivari Society pairs young artists with investors who can provide them fine instruments. Some the artists who have benefitted from this arrangement over the years include Vadim Gluzman, Philippe Quint, Vadim Repin, Midori, Caroline Goulding, and Maxim Vengerov.
"Sitting behind his desk in his office, in his beloved city of Chicago, with beautiful Lake Michigan as a picturesque backdrop, Geoff painted colorful pictures of colorful people (using many, many, many colorful words…)," wrote Suzanne in a Facebook memorial to her father. "He had a story for every occasion because he lived an interesting life. A full life. A life lived without fear."
"Geoff was not your average violin dealer," Suzanne said. "He was the kind of violin dealer that was invited to the 'Chinese White House' to sit down with the president, and he was the kind of dealer who attracted crowds and TV cameras all over China. He was the kind of violin dealer who could sell a Stradivari every month. Geoff was the kind of violin dealer who loved music and art and truly loved matching the right instrument with the right musician. He was the kind of violin dealer who wanted to have fun at work and hence was the life of every party. He was the kind of violin dealer who had an infinite passion for violins and an ambitious flare for the grandiose."
Joe Bein wrote, "(Geoff) is the only person whose daily routine of 'getting dressed and going to work' encompassed no fewer than seven different countries: Putting on his Chinese Imperial shirt, American turquoise jewelry, Gold Swiss Rolex, French cufflinks, American alligator boots, and then driving his English Rolls Royce to look at antique Italian violins…He and his wife Jeannie, are two of the people who helped me the most after my father died by ensuring that Bein and Fushi remained a family environment that I had grown to love."
"His love of the violin, tenacious work ethic with my father to build Bein & Fushi into one of the world’s preeminent firms, and his beloved Stradivari Society are part of his vast professional legacy," Joe Bein said. "He had an intense desire to see the world’s finest instruments placed in the hands of those who would appreciate them the most. It has become exceedingly rare to see a soloist play that has NOT purchased, or received through the Stradivari Society, a classic instrument from Geoff, at one time or another."
And words from the young violinist Chad Hoopes speak for others, "The music world will remember the many contributions you made in helping young people strive and reach for the top… Thank you for all you did for me."
John W. Geoffrey Fushi is survived by his wife, Jean; children Alec G. Fushi and Suzanne Fushi; grandchildren Alexandra, Jessica, Noah and John; sister Debra (Mark) Helsel and brother George Fushi; and nieces and nephews. A memorial service will be held at a later date.
And here is the music Geoff posted last on Facebook, Ruggiero Ricci playing Ernst' "Last Rose of Summer" & Tarrega/Ricci "Recuerdos de la Alhambra":
If you were to tell your life's story in one musical mashup, how would that sound?
Mine certainly would be an eclectic mix. It would probably begin with the Age of Aquarius, born as I was in 1968, peppered with some disco, the Seitz Concerto, Tchaikovsky's Fourth Symphony and Beethoven's Seventh, some Genesis, more 80's techno pop, a lot more orchestra music, the Wieniawski Concerto, Sting and the Dave Matthews Band, the first page of Strauss's "Don Juan," a parade of small children playing the Twinkle Variations. Then with the arrival of my own children, "Music Together," more orchestral music, the Tchaikovsky Concerto and all Bach solo violin, and a crazy hodgepodge of hip-hoppy-grungepop and Youtube clips as my kids become teenagers.
Life in a whirl of music. That's the way Philippe Quint's new movie, Downtown Express unfolds, and it's pretty compelling when a guy like Philippe is making the music, along with singer Nellie McKay. The movie opens Friday at the Quad Cinema in New York. I had a little sneak preview, and I hope you get to see it; it's the kind of thing musicians will appreciate. (This was our interview with him, back when he was working on it last year.)
The movie begins as a quartet of Russian immigrant family members plays Mozart's "Eine Klein Nachmusik" in the subway. This theme comes back, as the members drop out of their busking group, one by one.
Philippe's character, Sasha, is a Juilliard student who rehearses frequently with his steamy collaborative pianist. His overbearing but genial father keeps crashing the rehearsals, demanding fidelity to the Russian nature of Tchaikovsky.
Meanwhile, Sasha is attracted to a band -- or perhaps to its pretty blonde singer Ramona (Nellie McKay's character).
This attraction embraces many things, his draw to the city, its new music, its people, its spark. In the beginning, Sasha's virtuoso musical style clashes with the band's, but in time, he adjusts and they adjust. By the end of the film, classical and garage band merge, at least musically, for Sasha. Music unites the scenes, which pan back and forth between Sasha rehearsing the Joachim Cavatina Op. 85 No. 3 with his accompanist at Juilliard, and Sasha playing this same tune and harmony as accompaniment to Ramona's singing. This perhaps the best interlude in the film, both narratively and musically.
This message doesn't exactly reject old for the new; it doesn't strip away the geek to make room for the hipster, à la "Grease." The band certainly learns as much from Sasha as he does from them. Musically, the new emerges from the old, embracing them both. Not a bad idea.
Junior Division winners were named for the Menuhin Competition in Beijing (Click on their names to go to their performance videos):
First-prize winner Kevin Zhu of the United States plays the Etude-Caprice No. 4 by Wieniawski:
Zhu will perform on Sunday, April 15, at the Closing Gala Concert at the National Center for the Performing Arts in Beijing. Here is the link for the live webstream.
Viola Composition Competition Winners Announced
Are you curious about new works for viola? You might want to check into these composers, the winners named last month in the American Viola Society's Second Biennial Maurice Gardner Composition Competition. The grand prize winner was "Walimai" for viola and piano by Michael Djupstrom of Philadelphia:
Milena Pajaro-van de Stadt, viola; Michael Djupstrom, piano
Michael will receive a $1,000 cash prize and a world premiere performance of his composition at the 2012 International Viola Congress at the Eastman School of Music. The other finalists were "Hard-Knock Stomp" for solo viola by Dan Visconti; "Sole, curami sì l'alma" for solo viola by Massimo Lauricella of Genova, Italy; "Confusion" for viola and piano by Katerina Kramarchuk of Philadelphia; and "Rhapsody for Viola and Piano" by Nicholas Pavkovic of San Francisco.
The 2012 competition judges included : Christine Rutledge, competition chair, Matthew Dane, Adam Paul Cordle, Kathryn Plummer and Michael Kimber; and in the final round, Garth Knox, David Liptak and David Gompper
The 2012 International Viola Congress will take place May 30th - June 3rd at the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, N.Y. Click here for more information: http://www.esm.rochester.edu/ivc2012/
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Cremona Solidarity for Japan Earthquake Victims
A group of Cremonese makers raised 20 million yen (approximately $26,000) for the sale of a violin, bow and case, and donated all the proceeds to the Japanese Red Cross to help fund initiatives for children orphaned during the earthquake and tsunami a year ago.
A violin made by luthier Stefano Conia assisted by his son and makers Civa and Takahashi, a bow by Emilio Slaviero, and a case by Dimitri Musafia, were auctioned off together for the charity in Tokyo. The Association of Italian Violin Makers (ALI), Tokyo dealer Il Violino Magico, and the Japanese music magazine Sarasate helped in the sale. The initiative caught the attention of Kiwanis International, resulting in Conia and Musafia being awarded the Hixon Fellowship for their effort.
First they went viral, now they're going to Carnegie Hall.
That's right, "A Little Nightmare Music," with violinist Aleksey Igudesman and pianist Hyung-Ki Joo, hits Carnegie Hall next Tuesday, April 17. (Here is the Carnegie Hall site, for more info, and for their other dates -- including American stops in Alabama, New York, Virginia, North Carolina, Chicago, Montreal, California, Washington D.C. -- check their schedule here)
You may have seen -- or "liked" or "shared" -- some of their videos, like this one:
Who are these guys? Violinist Aleksey Igudesman was born St. Petersburg, Russia. Aside from his musical comedy performances with Joo, he performs with a trio called Triology, and is a prolific composer, writing and arranging film music with Hans Zimmer and also writing several series of violin duets, including Latin and More Violin Duets, Celtic Violin Duets, and Klezmer and More Violin Duets. He's also written several easy violin duet books for kids: Pigs Can Fly and
The Cat Scratch Book (which he calls, "10 violin duets, all about cats, to challenge, provoke and above all, enjoy." He adds: "These are not the most conventional children’s pieces. But I do not believe that children are conventional either.")
Pianist Hyung-Ki Joo, as he says in his biography, "is British, but looks Korean, or the other way around, or both." He jokes about having "small hands" and one of their skits is based on overcoming certain challenges presented by Rachmaninov. Joo also is a composer, and under the name Richard Joo, he also arranged Billy Joel's piano compositions for his 2001 classical album, Fantasies and Delusions.
Igudesman and Joo's paths crossed as 12-year-old students at the Menuhin School in England, and, as they told me several weeks ago over Skype:
Joo: From the first day we met, it was hate at first sight. This hate lasted for about a year, and it involved, basically, Aleksey beating me up. It was Igudesman beating Joo up, all the time.
Igudesman: In 'A Little Nightmare Music,' it's mostly the opposite way 'round. Maybe it's the pay-me-back for those times.
Joo: He was and is much stronger than I. It's a miracle that I can still have kids today. It's not a joke, there was a moment when one of us had a chair ready to smash over the other person's head, and the other had a music stand, ready to poke the other's eyes out. It was literally at that second, when a teacher walked in and said, "STOOOOP!"
Igudesman: Actually I think we even had people holding us back, physically, back then.
Joo: Have you seen Rambo?
Igudesman: It looks like Bambi, compared to what we had.
Laurie: So you've always had a certain chemistry.
Joo: Finally I decided: this can't go on. I would like to have my limbs to myself at some point. So I offered him some fish and chips, because I knew food is the way to his heart. And fortunately, he accepted.
Igudesman: Food was the way to my stomach.
Joo: That's true, actually. And then out. And so we broke fish and chips, so to speak, and from that moment on, we were inseparable.
Laurie: What made each of you start playing in the first place?
Igudesman: For me, all of my relatives were musicians. When I was a tiny little kid, I once mentioned that I might want to, one day….and before I could get the words out of my mouth, immediately they took out the whip. They started whipping me and screaming at me, "Practice! Practice!" Basically, it was the old-fashioned Russian way. For Hyung-Ki I think it was rather different…
Joo: Very different. I was apparently, from my earliest weeks, in love with music. My parents are not musicians, and they did not think or recognize that I might have some musical talent or inclination. They thought, 'Oh, he's just a baby that likes music.' As I got older and older, this attachment to music grew. I used to literally freeze at record stores; I was immovable, walking past the record store. On many shopping trips, they had to leave me at the record store, alone. The world was safe in those days, so you could do that. After about eight years of seeing me just totally glued to music, they thought okay, maybe I should start learning something. As far as I'm concerned, I couldn't have cared less what instrument I learned. I could have learned the clarinet, or the trumpet. But it just so happened to be the piano, because my mother played a little bit of piano when she was a kid, so she thought it would be so nice to have a piano at home. So that's how it started for me.
Igudesman: But talking about all this practice…we were forced to practice as kids, but we never realized how dangerous it could be. Practice can be lethal, we've realized by now; practice can be more dangerous than death.
Laurie: Really! In what way?
Igudesman: Well, in its danger-osity, I think.
Joo: You can't say danger-osity.
Igudesman: I just did. The thing is, all the time, everybody's so focused on practice that they forget that other things are really important in life, too, as a musician especially. This is how, really, what we're doing, came about. We always loved music, but we're also passionate about the theater, and about comedy, and we thought that there could be new ways of combining those different aspects.
Joo: We've actually been practicing quite a lot recently, because we've realized, it's the only way to get to Carnegie Hall.
Laurie: Yes, and you'll be there April 17?
Joo: Yes. So we are practicing, and hopefully we'll still be alive by the time we get to Carnegie Hall.
Igudesman: Everybody says we are 'highly trained' musicians, and we are. We practice on top of mountains. The air is thinner, so when we go down to the level of the Carnegie Hall, it's going to be much easier.
Laurie: Sort of like the U.S. Olympic Training Center, in the mountains near Colorado Springs.
Laurie: Were your first projects serious? Or were they …
Igudesman: We don't really make that differentiation, to be completely honest. Humor is a very serious thing, funnily enough. For us, it wasn't about just making jokes. We didn't differentiate between something that was more the humorous side or more on the serious side; everything had its full intensity. Because we never poked fun at the music; we made fun with the music.
Igudesman: We started doing different kinds of things from the age of 12 or 13 -- whenever it was we were at school. Ever since we were young, we very often found that going to a concert resembled more of a funeral than a celebration. We thought that was wrong, because the music itself is wonderful, it's fun, it's full of life. Classical music is so versatile in so many ways, but the whole concert atmosphere felt so stiff. It's not surprising that many people, young people especially, might be a little bit frightened of going to the concert hall.
We thought, that can't be quite right. What could we do to break that? We did some research, and we realized that this is not the original tradition, especially in the 19th century, where so much of that wonderful music comes from. Traditionally concerts were much more fun. The great pianist, Liszt, used to speak to the audience, he even used to go drink wine with members of the audience during the performance. During the first performance of the Beethoven Violin Concerto, actually between the movements, the violinist famously did some tricks, playing the violin upside-down. So this was a given, back then! But somehow in the 20th century, it became this ultra-serious thing, which we don't really believe fits the music. In a way, we are very retro.
Joo: In school we had wonderful teachers who were very encouraging and very inspiring, in our playing and in our composing -- we are both composers. Whenever we had a chance -- at a Christmas party, or a cabaret or something -- we just thought, let's try to put on a concert the way that we would like it to be.
Laurie: How did this particular show, 'A Little Nightmare Music,' evolve?
Joo: We started writing this particular show almost exactly eight years ago, but the show has evolved dramatically since then. At the beginning of 2007, a few of our Youtube clips went viral, and now we're at 28 million views. That's really what put us on the map -- we owe a lot of our success and recognition thanks to the Internet.
Laurie: I was also curious about your composing.
Igudesman: We're both very prolific composers but of course, I do write a lot of things especially for the violin. I have a lot of published music on Universal Edition -- violin duets in many different styles. Also, in 'A Little Nightmare Music,' I always like to play a solo violin piece, which I like to write myself. Hyung-Ki also likes to compose for our show. For most of the music, it's the two of us arranging it, or transforming it, or dis-forming it, in various ways. We are hoping, also, to release some of our music soon, as Igudesman and Joo.
Laurie: I noticed there were a lot of 'in' jokes for violinists and pianists. I think it's especially fun to watch, as a violinist.
Igudesman: We try to write on different levels, so that not just the geeks -- like we all are, especially the violinists -- understand. We try to write so that somebody who has no idea about music can still have fun, laugh at it, and be enchanted. But of course there are those hidden things, so if you are a violinist or any type of musician, you will discover many little things. In fact many people like to go see our show, "A Little Nightmare Music,' quite often because first of all, we always develop the program and play different things, but also, there are so many hidden things to discover. And of course, we're going to have some really special things for Carnegie Hall.
Laurie: I hope I get to see you when you're in Los Angeles, at the Hollywood Bowl.
Joo: That will be excerpts from our other show, called 'Big Nightmare Music'…
Laurie: Yes, the Hollywood Bowl is a little, intimate venue…
Joo: Because venue is bigger, and we'll be performing with the LA Phil, we had to turn a 'Little Nightmare' into a 'Big Nightmare.'
Laurie: You have a lot of tricks in these shows. Tell me about the bow that you suck up into a vacuum and such. Are you playing on a really nice violin when you're doing this show?
Igudesman: I'm playing on a beautiful Santo Seraphin 1717 violin, which is on loan to me by the Erste Bank, an Austrian bank. So yes, I am playing on it. But there's nothing bad that happens to the violin, throughout the show.
Joo: There's also nothing bad that happens to the piano. Everything that we do has been approved by Steinway technicians. There's no harm to any of the instruments! Now as for the animals we have backstage, that's another story…
Igudesman: When he says 'animals' he does apply that to me, of course.
Whatever we do, however crazy it is -- the dancing, the jumping around -- it's actually very controlled, very practiced. Accidents that tend to happen do not happen onstage, usually. Real accidents happen when one is not aware of what one is doing, and that is very often backstage. So many performers have banged their violins, or during rehearsals, just left them somewhere and they've crashed down when one was not aware. Onstage, at every point, we're so careful with our instruments. The more crazy things we do, the more careful we are, so we're really not worried about our great instruments.
Laurie: How about that bow?
Igudesman: Oh the bow is fine, too.
Joo: The vacuum cleaner's fine, too, by the way. We use only the best, and it's all good-quality vacuum cleaning.
Igudesman: I'm very happy to play on a modern bow by Benoit Rolland, he's a Boston-based bowmaker. Great violinists like Julia Fischer and Anne-Sophie Mutter play on his bows. He is, I believe, one of the greatest, if not the greatest, bowmaker alive today.
Laurie: Did you have to take Irish dance lessons?
Joo: We worked with a choreographer. We had the original idea, but as creative as we are, dancing is not our first forte, let's say. So we hired a choreographer to finesse our ideas. We're working on a new show called "And Now Mozart," which will be premiered later this year in the Mozart Hall in Vienna. We've got all kinds of ideas that incorporate other types of dance -- tap dance and tango and so on. We've been taking some tap-dancing lessons. The tap-dancing and tango might creep into our show, if we're good enough -- or if we're bad enough! Whichever's funnier.
Laurie: Do you have to adjust your playing a little bit, when you are dancing? I was getting out of breath just watching it, thinking about the bow, and gravity.
Joo: I'm not a violinist myself, but that might make me more qualified to talk about this. We started off this new year by setting a world record: 100 dancing violinists on stage at the same time, playing and dancing.
Joo: We had 100 violinists from all over the world, who came to Vienna. Of course, I don't play the violin. I Riverdance, but with a broom. But seeing that 100 people from all over the world, from different walks of life, could actually do it, proved to me that it's difficult, but not impossible.
And the reason why we set this record was not to create some ego prize-winning stature for us. The record was dedicated to UNICEF. We'd like children and young musicians, musicians of all ages to be more creative, and to go out and set their own world's records.
We also have a workshop called Eight to Eighty-Eight, which is a workshop for musicians of all ages and it's a workshop we love doing. We've done it in all kinds of places, we're going to do it later in the year at the Kennedy Center, at Yale, at Dartmouth and at many other institutions. We look at at aspects of music training that are never really talked about at Conservatories, things like improvisation, choreography, the psychology of performance, staging and presentation, different styles of music, humor -- basically any and all the above, and anything they bring as well. Students often bring their own wacky ideas, and we love that. We love having the chance to work with young musicians and get them to think outside of the box.
Laurie: So the only requirement is you have to be between the ages of Eight and 88?
Igudesman: Past the age of 88 you can get in, with bribes.
Joo: When we did our workshop at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music last year, we had a nine-year-old and an eighty-four-year-old violinist.
Igudesman: That's pretty much the spectrum.
Not long ago, in the middle of my yoga class, I had a small revelation while all of us were standing in the pose called "tree."
"Be a tree!" said our instructor, helpfully, as we each attempted to balance on one leg, bend the other, and hold our arms at a variety of branch-like angles.
If I'm a tree, I thought as I struggled with gravity, I'm no longer a sapling. I'm getting to be one of those less-bendable trees that's been standing around for some time. Yet, no matter what, trees of all ages typically sprout shiny green leaves in the spring. Some even sprout colorful and fragrant flowers that grow into fruit.
In other words, if I'm at all like a tree, I still have new life in me, I can still grow, still flower. I can still give.
I tend to think in these terms, when it comes to Easter. We may feel ourselves given new life, by religion, by music, by spring. But it's important to take that inspiration, go back into difficult circumstances, and do something to make a difference: resurrect worthy projects, resurrect good ideas, resurrect another person's hopes.
For me, the Bach Chaconne says this all in music. The Chaconne begins in a minor key, intense and laborious. Serious. The pace picks up, and it gets busier, more complex. And then, stillness: that shaft of sunlight, when it changes into the major key (below, it's the beginning of the second video). Resurrection. Hope. Inspiration. But it does not simply ascend to heaven from here. It goes back to earth, back to the minor key, and gets back to the work at hand, with more energy and purpose than ever.
At least there's one way to look at J. S. Bach's Chaconne, from the D minor Partita. Here we have Julia Fischer performing. Happy Easter, and happy spring to all:
Have you ever wanted to just quit the violin? Have you ever done it? And what made you come back?
For me, I've never really quit, though I've had periods where my focus has been elsewhere. After I got my degree in music, for example, I went on to get a master's degree in journalism. I still played and took lessons during that time, but it was not with the same intensity as I did as a music major!
And certainly, injuries, motherhood, attempting to pay bills with other work, etc. have meant for periods of less playing. There have been times when I've wanted to chuck the fiddle out the window (so to speak, never literally!) -- like after bad auditions, frustrating performances, or life's difficulties simply piling up too high. Somehow the music always calls me back.
Also, I can tell you that I've taught adults who took long breaks -- 20 and even 30 years! I've found that they are very successful in getting back to the instrument, as long as they put in the consistent practice and keep the faith.
What has your experience been?
Some happy news, violinist Maxim Vengerov returns to the stage tonight after a four-year hiatus. He plays a recital tonight in London at Wigmore Hall with pianist Itamar Golan. The recital will be recorded by BBC Radio 3 and broadcast in "Sunday Concert" at 2 p.m. April 29 in the U.K. Here are excepts (speaking and playing) from an interview he gave yesterday with BBC Radio 3:
Wish I could see the recital!
Congratulations to Michael Bechtel, whose bracket predictions for the Violin Concerto Tournament earned the most points, with 28 out of a possible 30 points! Michael, I'll be sending you a nifty new Violinist.com tote bag! (We'll find excuses for more t-shirt and tote bag giveaways soon, and eventually we'll make them available for sale.)
As it turned out, nobody's bracket was perfect. If you want all the details of how this crazy thing went down, plus the links to the votes and the recordings that I (and others) posted, go to our Tournament Page.
Thanks to all of you who participated in the spirit of fun in which this was meant. I've been doing the "Weekend Votes" for a number of years, and many members have asked me post a vote about favorite concertos. I concluded that it was fairly impossible to do in the format of a one-time vote, but I thought it was fun to get your nominations, create the bracket and consider the concertos a couple at a time. Especially with all the basketball madness and talk of "tournaments" and "brackets" in the air!
It goes without saying, we love them all, for different reasons! But keep exploring the ones you don't know, and this is always a place for your to share your discoveries. :)
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