May 2012

Katie Lansdale teaches and performs Bach Sonatas and Partitas

May 31, 2012 11:32

A big part of being a teacher -- particularly a student's first teacher -- is understanding how to lay the groundwork for the advanced techniques that student will need, years in the future.

To this end, a number of sessions at the Suzuki Association of the Americas Conference were aimed at dissecting advanced literature and pulling out the techniques and approaches that a student can start building from the beginning. (Here's a fun example: Did you know, the first "Twinkle Variation" was designed to teach the bowing that appears at the beginning of the "Bach Double"?)

Katie Lansdale

Giving a keynote lecture called, "Advanced Student's Explorations of Interpreting Bach," was Katie Lansdale, who has recorded all the Bach Sonatas and Partitas, performed all of them live as a cycle more than 12 times, and also won the Schlosspreis for Performance at the Salzburg Mozarteum for her performance of Bach. Katie was once a Suzuki student of Ronda Cole's, and now she is on faculty at the Hartt School of Music in Hartford, Connecticut, as well as a member of the Lions Gate Trio and founder of a school outreach program called Music for 1,000 Children.

We began by talking about the music of Bach in general, then moving to specifics. "How smart was Dr. Suzuki to thread Bach through all the books?" Katie said. "You see a braid that keeps twisting back and back to Bach."

When it comes to the Solo Sonatas and Partitas of Bach, that repertoire can be very intimidating to students, because "teachers have taught students to fear these pieces and put them at the top of a mountain. Instead, make these pieces a gift to your students. It's their world of inquiry and personal choice. I think this is a highly malleable repertoire."

What techniques must teachers cultivate early in their students, so they can successfully play the Bach Solo Sonatas and Partitas? (You might want to have your S and P book handy for this…)

Generally, a student will need flexible fingers in the bow hand. In fact, "nowhere do we need it more than in Bach." For example, a number of movements, especially Finales, have motoric rhythm, or 16ths that go on and on. "The only way to play that fast is with tiny muscles."

Another important concept to understand is "release," in other words, the music must have "swing" or as the Germans say, "schwung."

"It don't mean a 'thung' if it ain't got that 'schwung.'" Katie said with a smile.

Slow movements run the danger of losing their hierarchy of beats, and with that, the "schwung."

The word baroque literally means 'pearl,' as every pearl is different. It also refers an ornamented style, in art, architecture or music. Many of the slow first movements in solo Bach are highly ornamented, and this can get in the way of finding that "swing."

The preludes in the Sonatas (titled "Adagio," or "Grave") "lay out the carpet for the fugue" in the second movement. Though these are slow movements, what does the student encounter, on first sight?

"They encounter a lot of ink, a lot of notes," Katie said. No kidding, check it out:

Bach G minor adagio
Bach G minor Adagio

It's not easy to count that, but that's among the first steps. "We have to get the math straight before we find our way to freedom," Katie said.

For example, the bassline is quite elegant -- if you can find it! -- in the first-movement "Grave" in Sonata No. 2 in A minor. It starts on an "A" and descends by step, until it reaches the subdominant D, then elegantly modulates to the dominant by raising to a D sharp, then ascending to E.

Basically, it sounds really cool when you clear away all those notes. She wrote it out for us, reducing all that ink to seven simple quarter notes.

"It makes for a beautiful musical underpinning; it simply goes stepwise," she said. All those notes are decoration, ornamentation. "We want that sense of being free within the beat. If we can find the spine or the skeleton of the music, it's usually a big relief to the students. They can finally see the forest for the trees."

It's important to feel that simplicity, even with the addition of a lot of complex notes, woven in with hard-to-count rhythms. She also deconstructed the first movement "Adagio" of the Sonata No.3 in C major, which blooms harmonically, by measure; and the Sonata No. 1 in G minor, which has a simple melody at its core.

Here are a two reminders Katie gave us, about playing chords:

1. Playing on two strings takes no more bow weight than playing on one.

2. Playing a chord takes no more muscle than playing a single note, it's just at a different angle.

That sounds simple, but many students will press and crunch and wonder what's wrong, rather than simply lifting the arm to the proper angle.

Another genius aspect of Bach's Sonatas and Partitas is in the way he manages to make one violin play several voices at once. Considering the limitations of the instrument, one has to work to pull this off.

For example, in all the fugue movements, one has to bring out two, three, and even four voices at once. For the music to make sense, one must pick which voice to emphasize, then understand the technique for doing so. One technique Katie demonstrated was what she calls "tip backs." That's when you hold the bottom-string note longer than the top string note, in a chord.

"By holding the bottom string longer, our ear is directed to the lower voice," she said. "It may feel like standing on your head for the first time." Also, if a lower note is a bass note, it should go on the beat, not before, and then have a light release, so to emphasize the bass note and not make it sound like a grace note.

Another difficulty in the fugues is simply memorizing them. Katie shared some strategies: First, it can help to look at the map; that is, study the music away from the instrument. "Send the student home to find the themes," she said. She said she once had a student delineate the themes and episodes with different-colored pencils, returning to her lesson with her music looking like a rainbow work of art. But it makes sense to have different colors, or different visual representations, for each voice. "Your approach is different if you think of four different voices, rather than the same voice appearing in four different places," she said. For example, she often tells students to think of the opening of a fugue like it's a family argument.

It also helps to create an aural appetite for the piece -- "The more you fall in love with a piece, the faster you learn it." You can be creative and use imagination in describing the episodes of the music. Students can practice without the bow; sing in their head; memorize the fingering; and practice from the end of the piece, learning the last chord and backing up from there.

In auditioning potential students, she listens for the shape of the phrases and the message in the music.

"I would rather hear Bach with shape and effect and an emotional message, rather than perfectly clean but lacking in shape," Katie said.

You can also introduce students to the other places where these fugues occur: the G minor fugue was also an organ piece (BWV 539); the A minor fugue, a keyboard piece; the E major Preludio, the prelude to Cantata, BWV 29 for organ, strings, timpani and trumpet.

Use what ever bowing works to bring out the right voicing in a fugue. Those other versions of the pieces, with other instruments, can be a guide. For example, Bach's C major fugue, from the Sonata No. 3, was actually based on a Lutheran hymn, with the words, "Come holy ghost, come here." Knowing that it was sung, and knowing the content of the words, can be helpful. By the way, the C major is also the longest fugue Bach wrote for any instrument!

She also suggested arpeggiating soft chords instead of playing them organ-like; "This is something that holding Baroque bow inspires you do to."

One person in the audience (me), asked Katie how she felt about period performance and the early music movement, in regards to Baroque music.

"I'm totally fascinated by the early music movement," Katie said. She also said that she has a Baroque bow, though she doesn't consider herself a practitioner of period performance. She said she feels "gratitude that there are people immersing themselves in this study," and that we should soak up their discoveries like sponges. "You can play with heart and conviction in any style -- they pieces work in so many ways."

After her lecture on Bach, Katie performed, and regrettably I missed her performance! (William Starr was giving a lecture, how was I to choose?) My colleagues raved about her performance, and fortunately, I will remind you, you can still hear it by getting her recording of the Bach Six Sonatas and Partitas for Solo Violin.

Clearly Katie has exceptional stamina; after her lecture, and after her performance, she also gave a masterclass on Bach! Here's a rundown of that:

First we heard the "Loure" from Bach's E major Partita, played by Maryanne, 17, of Ohio.

"You are supposed to feel the gesture in your body," Katie said. "Don't lock any part of your body." If you bend your knees for strong notes (which she was doing a bit), the bow has to chase the violin. Instead, think of the violin as being on one plane, and "try to enjoy how tall the violin is."

The Loure is the most serene movement of the E major Partita, and Katie suggested adopting what she called the "Adagio body." Since "adagio" literally means "at ease," we can imagine what this means.

"It's also a little dangerous to change strings by changing the level of the violin," Katie observed. Instead of bringing the violin string to the bow, bring the bow to the violin string.

"Loure," being a light dance, doesn't need the thick carpet of sound that a Romantic piece would need. For example, the Tchaikovsky concerto calls for endless vocal sound in its introduction. In the violin pieces of Mozart, bow changes are articulations, not connectors. The "Loure" is less sustained and can have more of a swing, like Mozart. The upbeat can be kind of a lift. In those cases when trying to bring out the lower voice, "if we think about the left hand, vibrating the bottom melody, it helps us bring it out. If you bring out the imitation more clearly, it's really a duet, it's no longer solo Bach."

Next, Sofya, 15, of Colorado, played the Gavotte and Rondeau from the E major Partita.

"I could hear your lively thinking all the way through," Katie said. (I love how Suzuki teachers compliment -- always specific and true, never empty praise.) "You really convinced me this is a bouncy piece in two."

But Katie took issue with the tempo. Here, she drew examples from "Gavottes" in the Suzuki books (and there are many!), playing each one at the tempo Sofya had played the Bach Gavotte. Indeed, it seemed a bit slow.

"Sometimes the ideas can get in the way of the long line," Katie said. "Telescope your ears back, so you hear the whole phrase."

She advocated a faster, simpler approach. Then they checked the hard part at the fast tempo -- "We have to make sure that it swings at this tempo," Katie said. Even though it's a faster tempo, "the feeling of this piece is never in a hurry." It worked.

She also talked about the dissonances being "juicy blueberries -- we want to enjoy how they're tart." At another point (m 74-77) she advised, "enjoy the laughter in it, and maybe it can be two voices."

She also advised having direction, as if you are "wandering through the forest, but always see the end of the path."

Being aware of Bach's original bowings (and one can find the manuscript in the back of the Galamian edition) can also give one ideas. "Trying Bach's bowings is always informative," Katie said. "It may not necessarily be what you do in the end, but they can inform what you do."

Students Maryanne, Sofya and Katie Lansdale, after the Bach master class

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'Time for Three' performs for the Suzuki Association of the Americas Conference

May 28, 2012 21:39

Time for Three is one of my favorite things happening on planet Earth these days, and Sunday night I finally saw this trio perform live for an audience of about 1,000 at the Suzuki Association of the Americas Conference in Minneapolis.

Their performance -- which I'd sum up with the words "smokin' hot!"-- was a source of both inspiration and affirmation for the appreciative group of teachers assembled from all over the world.

The trio represents all that Suzuki teachers wish for their students: that they grow up to show a generosity of spirit and joy in music-making, and that they emerge fully at ease with both their playing and their own musical message.

Both violinists in the group started as Suzuki students. The trio consists of bassist Ranaan Meyer and violinists Zachary de Pue and Nick Kendall. Nick is the grandson of John Kendall, a major pioneer of the Suzuki movement, who died last year. Nick's childhood Suzuki teacher, Ronda Cole, sat in the audience.

Nick Kendall
Nick Kendall, with Laurie

"Nick comes from this Suzuki world," Ranaan told the audience. "He has brought that into our group and we love that."

People ask what kind of music they play, but it's pretty hard to pin it down. "We don't know what we call ourselves, but we hope it's fun and meaningful," Nick told the audience.

The three started jamming together while studying at the Curtis Institute ("great football program there," Nick said), and they create their arrangements by improvising on music they like: the Bach double, pop songs, fiddle and jazz standards -- you name it.

The show began with tunes called "Of Time and Three Rivers" and "Thunder Struck" (no doubt they played this in sympathy with the raging thunderstorms outside!) and Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah."

Their style takes advantage of their virtuosity and easy command of their instruments, full of effects like pizzicato, strumming, chopping, bariolage, glissandi, super-smooth legato, and the general ability to play outrageously fast and impeccably together.

I was pleased they played one of my favorites, their arrangement of Hide and Seek, a harmonically interesting slow song by the British pop singer Imogen Heap. The original tune sounds almost unbearably electronic -- an intentional effect. I like the original, but I love their version: the way they shape it, relieve the electronic edge and just make something different and beautiful.

About 1,000 smiles erupted on 1,000 faces when they launched into their jazzy version of the Bach Double. As if Nick and Zach's 150 mph tempo and off-kilter rhythmic jags weren't enough, bassist Ranaan stole the show, standing between them, registering every bounce of this musical tennis ball on his face, plucking out a jammin,' jivin' walking bass and swiveling his hips.

They said that one time they were caught practicing that version of the Bach Double by Curtis professor Seymour Lipkin, who asked, "What was that?" When they told him it was the Bach Double, he said, "Too fast!"

Speaking of Bach, the group also shared one of its more recent (and unrecorded, as far as I know) arrangements: their take on the Chaconne from the Bach D minor Partita, which they call, "Chaconne in Winter."

As they tuned, Nick took a little longer with an uncooperative D sting. He may have been struck with a moment of self-consciousness, tuning his fiddle in front of 1,000 string teachers. "Still not right," he quipped. "Teacher!" He thrust his violin and bow toward the audience, as students do for tuning. We were still laughing when he crossed his right arm over the left, as if to hand violin and bow into the correct hands of the teacher.

Then up walked Ronda Cole, and the audience roared. Nick's Suzuki teacher!

Back to Bach, the group dedicated their performance of their version of the Chaconne to the memory of both Shinichi Suzuki and John Kendall. The idea for a Chaconne jam came one day when Zach was warming up on the Chaconne, and then Ranaan started groovin' to the Bach on his bass. They flipped on a recorder and spent the next 45 minutes or so improvising on the Chaconne, then they used that material, and added some bits from Bon Iver’s "Calgary," to create their arrangement.

Played in its original form, for solo violin, the Chaconne begins with a triple-stop D minor chord, followed by a lot of triple and quadruple stops, which can sound pretty aggressive and fraught. I enjoyed the gentle beginning that this trio was able to create, without having to break a chord over three or four strings. It allowed the piece to unfold: Zach wound the motor with running notes and bariolage, and as it grew faster the music felt risky and dangerous - kind of a rush! The piece famously switches from a minor to major key, in a passage that players tend to describe in almost religious terms. Here, that change to the major started with bass pizzicato, then the piece builds volume again. In fact, I thought I heard Vivaldi's "Winter" in there, though I can't be sure. Overall, their performance was incredibly athletic for its power, speed and control. The end of the Chaconne returned to that tranquil beginning. I found it rather enlightening to look at the Chaconne this way.

After intermission, our heros showed a video they made called 'Stronger,' which has been circulating on the Internet for several months. The topic of the video is bullying, and then ultimately, empowerment. In the video, bullies use a young man's violin like a baseball bat, smashing it to pieces. But the geeky violin kid emerges victorious -- and respected -- after a successful performance in the school talent show.

"All three of us have experienced these kinds of things. It's amazing to me that carrying around this double bass is not a cool thing," Ranaan said, laughing. "I look at it and think: cool!" He also mentioned that he calls his bass Xena -- "She's not only gorgeous, but she's so strong!"

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Suzuki Association of the Americas Conference 2012: Cathryn Lee, Teri Einfeldt and Michael McLean

May 26, 2012 10:28

When violin teacher and pedagogue Cathryn Lee graduated as a Suzuki teacher some 30 years ago in Matsumoto, Japan, Shinichi Suzuki had her recite a teacher pledge, which said in part:

"We will continue to study teaching in the future, with much reflection, and through this continuing study we will be better able to concentrate energies toward better teaching."

That's exactly what some 900 Suzuki teachers from around the world are doing this weekend at the Suzuki Association of the Americas Conference 2012 in Minneapolis: continuing to explore teaching, music and community. Cathryn Lee talked about the teacher pledge at the first class I attended at 8:30 Friday, "Exploring Right-Hand Technique." We practiced a good number of bow exercises meant to strengthen bow strokes like martele, legato, staccato and more. They included circling the bow in the air, thumb pulses and even a few ways of holding the bow by the hair and then playing. Try it, it's pretty awkward!

bow exercises
Stephanie Ezerman of North Carolina demonstrates holding the bow by its hair.

Next came a joint session called "Bach in the Books" with SAA President Teri Einfeldt of Connecticut and Colburn School faculty member Michael McLean of Los Angeles, which they described as "pedagogue meets composer," Teri being the pedagogue and Michael being the composer.

Teri Einfeldt and Michael McLean

It's important, even in the youngest beginner, that a teacher have a vision of that student as an accomplished player in the future. If we plan to teach our students the solo Sonatas and Partitas by J.S. Bach (and we do), certain techniques have to be well in place, starting very early in the Suzuki books. As Bach expert Katie Lansdale said later in the day, "How smart was Dr. Suzuki, to thread Bach through all the books? You see a braid that keeps twisting back and back to Bach."

Those little Suzuki students eventually turn into sophisticated musicians, and Bach is an important part of their post-Suzuki books study: "This year I have 14 high school students who were once playing "Twinkle"; they are all playing (solo) Bach now," Einfeldt said.

Teri mentioned a few techniques that students should be acquiring throughout the Suzuki books for their study of solo Bach later. For the left hand: learning to leave fingers down and to measure finger intervals (if they are a half, whole or larger step away from each other); lifting a finger to change its location; removing unnecessary fingers to avoid a grace note effect (say, one needs to go from a 3 to an open string, the 1 and 2 can be in the way); expanding and contracting the hand (she described a "finger pileup" for chromatic intervals in the hand); bridging the fifth (one finger over two strings, in tune); leaving fingers down for bariolage, ringing tones; double stops, chords and more.

For the left hand, the student should come away from the Suzuki books with a strong idea of how to do various kinds of string crossings; playing comfortably at the frog and with control. Also a student must be able to vary bow speed. For example, "introduce them to the concept of phrase ending with any two-syllable word," with emphasis on the first vowel. For example, say "ICE cream." Fast bow on "ice," short soft bow on "cream." Also, lessons in phrasing and articulation that are learned in early Bach pieces will apply later.

Michael McLean spoke about the hidden treasures in Bach, and how it's good for teachers to know about those details, even if every student may not be ready to receive the information until later. Michael's tremendous enthusiasm for the art of composing came through as he spoke about various aspects of the Bach pieces that appear in the Suzuki books: "Bach had a real pride of craftsmanship in his composing," Michael said. In Minuet 2, Michael emphasized that the bass part is extremely important, the way it runs in rhythmic counterpoint to the melody part. "A lot of students don't know the bass part in this piece," he said, "the melody rides on top of the bass." (By the way, the books Fun for Two Violins allow teachers and students to play these pieces together, with the kind of counterpoint and interaction Michael spoke about.)

Michael also pointed out that in Bach's Minuet No. 3, the G minor part that appears in Suzuki Book 3 is basically the same as the G major part that students learn in Book 1: "It's like he cheated!" Michael said. "He was good at re-using material." He had superimposed both parts, so that we could study their tremendous similarity.

He also noted that the Bach Gavotte in G minor from Suzuki Book 3 "is an amazing technical masterpiece," full of motives that are layered and inverted, in both the violin "melody" part and in the piano/orchestra/duet part. Personally, I agree; playing this piece as a duet with my students (using the books I mentioned above) is one of my great joys because we see the genius in the way Bach's musical motives are crafted. "It's like a tree by a pond -- the inversions are its reflection."

Bach's genius was in his ability to calculate such things intuitively. His way of creating motives and putting them together "was so ingrained in him that it just poured out of him," Michael said. "He was like a kid in the sandbox, playing with his toys, and he was really good at it."

Michael also pointed to the fact that there are rhythmic hierarchies in this movement; though it is written in a 4/4 meter, sometimes it changes to a sort of meta-meter in three, and one should become aware and go with that.

"Sometimes the worst thing in music is the bar line," Michael said. "It's not telling you to stomp your fee every four beats!" Instead, it's just Bach's way of getting the ideas onto the page, and it may be part of a more layered and complex scheme.

I love the fact that the Suzuki Method draws together so many talented teachers with different expertise, and also different ways of looking at the same music. While Teri showed us specific pedagogical points, Michael's wonderfully geeky (I mean that in a good way) deep knowledge of the composition of these pieces make them open for even more exploration. So good to be here, so good to be part of the Suzuki movement.

And so far, I've shared only the morning of the first day! I have more to share with you, on Katie Lansdale teaching and playing Bach, your brain on music and much more. Stay tuned!

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Suzuki Association of the Americas Conference 2012: So many people!

May 24, 2012 17:14

When I climbed into my airport Super Shuttle and William Starr and his family and then California teacher Idell Low climbed in right after me, I realized: This is going to be one very surreal weekend at the biennial Suzuki Association of the Americas Conference!

There are some high-power folks here!

It's the first time I've attended this biennial event, and I'm here in Minneapolis, Minn., with nearly 900 of my Suzuki teacher colleagues for a weekend of workshops, concerts, schmoozing and reuniting. There are more than 150 sessions in all, and at the moment I'm hiding in my hotel, trying to make a plan from the 80-page conference schedule! A few of the featured people besides Bill Starr: Teri Einfeldt, Brian Lewis, Time for Three, Barbara Barber, Carey Beth Hockett, Edmund Sprunger, Bob Philips, Russ Fallstad, Allen Lieb, Susan Kempter -- I'm not even getting the tip of the iceberg, here. So many wonderful people!

It's hitting me, how much it will mean to me to see both the Suzuki star teachers and performers who are here to share their wisdom and talents, and to simply see so many of the friends I've made from my 20-year journey so far as a teacher. I'll see classmates from my very first pedagogy class I took at the University of Denver, colleagues from the two Suzuki groups where I've served as a teacher, friends I've made at Suzuki Institutes and other violin events, and even a good number of V.commie friends!

I also plan to write about it, and share some of the fun with you, so look for my posts this weekend and next week.

Minneapolis! The view from my room

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Unique Landscape: Hilary Hahn and Hauschka's 'Silfra'

May 23, 2012 14:46

Hilary Hahn's new album, Silfra, is like nothing you've ever heard from Hilary Hahn.

She has teamed up with prepared-piano master and innovator Volker Bertelmann ("Hauschka"), to create an album of improvised, minimalist-sounding music inspired by the unique landscape of the Silfra rift in Iceland. The official release of the album is tomorrow.

Photo © Mareike Foecking

The interview below includes some footage from Iceland and also illustrates the wackiness of prepared piano (ping-pong balls!) and these two artists' working process:

They also enlisted Brooklyn-based animator Hayley Morris to create a video for a piece from the album called "Bounce Bounce":

Hilary also has been taking questions from people about the album on her Facebook page and will keep answering through Friday, if you want to submit a question to her. Here are some of the questions and answers:

Question from Lester: How do the different timbres of the prepared piano affect how you improvise, how do you react to the sounds, and vice-versa?



Question from Adam: Have you ever considered putting a fork in your violin?


Here is a website they set up about 'Silfra'. What a feast of creativity!

3 replies interview with Tai Murray: Eugène Ysaÿe's Six Sonatas for Solo violin

May 22, 2012 14:37

Tai Murray calls Eugène Ysaÿe's Six Sonatas for Solo violin "an opus of love and expression" -- written from the composer's love for Bach, for his friends, and for the violin itself.

Certainly her own new recording of these works -- released this spring by Harmonia Mundi -- reflects the same deep dedication. She plays them with the ease of someone who has lived with these pieces for a long time, and indeed she has, since her student days in Indiana.

Tai Murray, 30, has an impressive list of achievements: She received an Avery Fisher Career Grant in 2004 and was BBC New Generation Artist from 2008 through 2010. A recent recipient of the Sphinx Medal of Excellence, she was first-place Laureate of the inaugural Sphinx Competition in 1998. She has performed with artists including Marin Alsop, Richard Goode, Alan Gilbert, Kristian Järvi, Jaime Laredo, Dmitry Sitkovetsky, Benjamin Shwartz, and Mitsuko Uchida; and with orchestras all over the world, including the Houston, Dallas, Atlanta, Chicago, St. Louis, Cincinnati, and Baltimore Symphony Orchestras; BBC Symphony Orchestra, BBC Philharmonic London; BBC Scottish Symphony and more. She is a graduate of both Indiana University and the Juilliard School.

Tai, who lives in Berlin, spoke to me from New York about her family's role in starting her career, about Indiana University's connection with Eugène Ysaÿe; and about her involvement in the East Coast Chamber Orchestra.

"As far back as I can remember, the violin was a huge interest," Tai said. As a small child in Chicago, she would watch violinists on the television for long periods of time. When her family realized that the violin was not just a passing interest, they set her up with lessons, around the time of her fifth birthday.

"I started with Suzuki, and so I had the Cracker Jack box first," she said. Her Suzuki teacher, Brenda Wurman, died from a heart attack just three months after she started, and so she went to an all-traditional method. "But I had, by that time, gotten a very large dose of what Suzuki was all about."

Tai was one of six children, growing up with a single mom, and her family's support was crucial in her development as a musician.

Tai Murray
Photo © Marco Borggreve

"They encouraged my idealism, while making it very clear that it's going to take hard work," Tai said. They told her that being a musician isn't just a magical wish, "it really does take the dedication; it really does take the responsibility."

At the same time, they were willing to take a chance on Tai, to devote what limited resources they had to her musical studies, whatever the outcome. "There was no pressure -- my mother, my grandmother, they told me repeatedly, if this is not what you want to do, that's fine. We will move on, and there will be no guilt, there will be no 'you made us go through all this.'"

"The fact that they were willing to just throw the worries to the wind, in some ways, made it more inspiring for me," Tai said.

One example of her family's support came in the way that they handled one of her first big performances: when she played a Mozart concerto with the Chicago Symphony, at age nine.

"In retrospect, I know that was a huge deal, but at the time, there was no pressure," Tai said. They simply told her that she was going to get dressed up and play. "I was out there on my box, playing, and then when I finished, and I went back to the dressing room and played Legos with my brother. It was all on an even keel -- there was never any (fear) about it. So I never developed any neuroses about playing."

What's more, her mother didn't push for her to be a child prodigy. "Throughout my young life I was playing concerts, but it was never a full-blown career," Tai said. "My mother was adamant, 'You're not going to be a child star. That's not the goal, here.' That allowed me to develop a base. The focus was on the learning, and on finding out about music -- not about the moment of performance. I appreciated that."

Tai moved Bloomington, Indiana, when she was eight, during the early 1990s, and "Indiana University was, especially at that time, such a hotbed of musical knowledge. So many people were there -- (piano professor) Leonard Hokanson; Josef Gingold….It was a concentrated formula."

Tai originally studied with Mimi Zweig; then when Zweig went on sabbatical, Tai started with Yuval Yaron, who was to become her main teacher at Indiana.

"It was incredible to study with him, and to study with him as a young child," Tai said. Yaron has a reputation for being tough, but Tai found him to be the right match. "It was incredible to hear him play every week, because he was a demonstrator. He also was a responsible teacher -- he took it very seriously that he had someone young, someone that he knew he was making a really big impact on, in a way that wasn't the same as with some of his older students. We got very close."

"I studied with him for a long time, about six years," Tai said. "When Mr. Gingold passed away, in January of 1995, (Yaron) was with him when he died. He came to our house afterwards. (Gingold) was his surrogate father, and Mr. Yaron was heartbroken. I remember him saying to me, in that moment, 'Keep practicing, keep working.' In his devastation, he was also using that moment to inspire me. I felt that was a really big tell about what kind of person he was. I felt touched that he would consider me any part of it. "

Tai said that another wonderful thing about Indiana University was having that direct link to Eugène Ysaÿe, through Josef Gingold, who studied with Ysaÿe in Belgium. Gingold taught at Indiana for 30 years, teaching such prodigies as Joshua Bell and Jaime Laredo. Gingold's influence was profound, as many of Gingold's proteges taught at Indiana as well, and the musical family line not only went straight back to Ysaÿe, as Gingold's teacher, but it also went straight back to Henryk Wieniawski and Henri Vieuxtemps, who were Ysaÿe's teachers. Playing anything by those composer/violinists/teachers called up a certain mystique, history, and stories.

One of Gingold's stories was about the premiere of Ysaÿe's Sonata No. 3, the "Ballade." Though Ysaÿe had dedicated the work to George Enesco (1881-1955), the young Gingold gave its premiere -- in front of both Ysaÿe and Enesco. Gingold was backstage, warming up for the concert, and "he was so nervous, he had a brain freeze -- he couldn't remember how it started!" Tai said. "So he walked out to Ysaÿe and said, 'Maestro, I'm really sorry, I really did practice, but I can't remember how it starts!' And Ysaÿe said, 'Well it goes like…oh, I can't remember either!'

Of course, Gingold remembered the piece, gave its world premiere, and the rest is history. "But he loved telling that story, I think I heard it three or four times!" Tai said.

Another one of Tai's teachers, Indiana University violin professor Franco Gulli, also had a personal relationship with Ysaÿe and told some great stories. "He'd talk to me about how Ysaÿe and Kreisler were having this argument about how the the ending of the second movement of his sonata (No. 4) should go, Tai said. (Ysaÿe dedicated the fourth of the Six Sonatas to Kreisler.) "In the score it's written a D, pizzicato. Ysaÿe said, I should probably resolve it, even though this Passacaglia has been going through it the whole time, but Kreisler said, well, no, because it goes into the last movement…basically, they were arguing about something Ysaÿe had written. Little things like that inform how I approach the music. There's so much history, it's amazing."

For those who has never seen the music for the Six Sonatas by Ysaÿe, it includes some unique notation. An appendix at the front of the book explains nearly 30 made-up symbols that Ysaÿe uses to communicate various techniques in these works.

"It's so exact," Tai said of the Six Sonatas. "Just looking at the score, it seems like there's so much there. Where do you start? He was so specific about the markings and the fingerings….All of that can get so technical, but that's not what it's about. It's really just about the intent. It becomes a lot more simple if you think: there's a line here, or he's trying to say something here."

"The Sonatas are an homage to Bach. He loved Bach," Tai said. As Bach wrote six Sonatas and Partitas for solo violin, Ysaÿe wrote six Sonatas for solo violin. He even quotes Bach in a few, such as "Obsession" movement in the second Sonata.

"They're also written for his friends, people he looked up to," Tai said. Ysaÿe dedicated each Sonata to a specific violinist: Joseph Szigeti, Jacques Thibaud, Georges Enesco, Fritz Kreisler, Mathieu Crickboom and Manuel Quiroga. "They were incredible musicians in their own rights -- they all had personalities," Tai said. Knowing something about those musical personalities helps one know how to approach the Sonata.

"Then on top of all this, by the time he was writing these, he couldn't really play any more," Tai said. Ysaÿe had a host of medical problems, including severe diabetes. "Somehow he was able create all this incredible violin writing, and he couldn't necessarily do it. To me, it really shows someone who was not made bitter by his situation, but who was actually grateful that he was able to experience any of it at all. Going by all the stories that I've heard, he was a really gregarious person, really nice, always making jokes, a jolly individual. And of course, not all the moments in the sonatas are jolly. I would say it probably runs the gamut of emotions."

"The two underlying feelings that I get from these Sonatas are joy and love: Love for his instrument, love for Bach, and love for his friends," Tai said. "So it is an opus of love and expression."

Tai recorded the Sonatas on a Giovanni Tononi violin, which has been on loan to her for the last two years.

"I love it; it's an incredible violin," Tai said. "I tend to give my instruments nicknames -- the owner calls this violin 'Tony,' but I call it 'Spitfire' because it has this crackle underneath the sound, which I love."

"Spitfire" also describes its personality: "It can spit at me! Like it's saying, 'I didn't like how you approached me so I'm going to make an awful sound.' It does do that!" (she laughs)

"It's actually a very small model; it's Amati-size. And it's so old -- circa 1690! It's been through so many different set-ups, I'm sure, from the Baroque to now. Looking at it, it's hard to imagine that so much sound could come out of it. But more importantly than that, it has so many colors. It's a very expressive instrument. For me, it's physically easy to hold.

Her other violin was made by the living maker Mario Miralles of Altadena, Calif. "I've nicknamed that violin 'Honey,' because it'a a very sweet-sounding instrument. It's a very smooth instrument, and I love it. I've had since 2007, and it's a great instrument."

Tai also plays in the East Coast Chamber Orchestra (ECCO), a conductor-less ensemble based in New York, which just celebrated its 10th anniversary.

Check them out, "Allegro con spiritu" if I've ever seen it:

"Everyone kind of met separately, at festivals, or at school, or just wherever, as young musicians," Tai said. "It was the brainchild of Nick Kendall. He just thought, 'Let's meet three times a year, make music and then disband so we miss each other a whole lot.' It's so much fun. Every individual is so accomplished, so talented -- everyone is a musician's musician. So the idea that we are able to pool our resources at these specific moments in time, it's a very inspiring for me."

They also stand to perform.

"No one actually said, 'We're going to stand,' we just did!" Tai said. "It probably makes it easier for us -- because we do not have a conductor. I've noticed that, for example, someone might jiggle in the viola section, and we'll realize, 'Oh, we're getting a little slow.' There's that sort of communication, and standing makes it easier.

Here is Tai Murray, performing Ysaÿe's Sonata No. 5 ("L'Aurore" and "Danse Rustique," dedicated to Mathieu Crickboom) at Settlement Music School's Distinguished Alumni Recital in November 2010:

Here also is an interview associated with her new recording in which she talks about the Tononi violin she plays, and then she performs Sonata No. 4 (dedicated to Fritz Kreisler):

1 reply

What Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau (1925-2012) Meant to Music and Musicians

May 18, 2012 10:34

"If you want to know how to make a phrase, listen to the great singers!" a teacher once admonished me.

By the "great singers," I'm pretty sure he did not mean any singers that I'd ever heard in my then-20-year-old life: the pop singers on the radio, the choir at church. He probably didn't even mean the singers from the musicals I loved, though perhaps a few came close.

I know what he meant by now, though. He meant this guy:

Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau

The famous German baritone, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau died Friday in Bavaria at age 86.

I will list some obituaries below, if you would like to read about his fascinating life. But on the topic of his music, many violinists admired Fischer-Dieskau's great voice and artistry, including Joshua Bell. I would advise us all do this:

For a moment today, clear your head of all the modern singing that bombards us in every grocery store, on every radio station, in every corner of our lives. Strange sounds have infiltrated our concept of the human voice: thin and amplified, out-of-tune and auto-tuned. Stop and behold Fischer-Dieskau's voice from the past: its ease, its depth, its range and rich quality. Its beauty is fully human; it certainly needs no electronic regimentation. You may well find yourself on Youtube all day; and we do thank the Internet for that!

To start you off: here is Fischer-Dieskau singing one of my favorite lieder: a song by Brahms about nostalgia. Its theme of a return to childhood and longing to rest seem an appropriate memoriam for a man whose long life was full of great difficulty, who created much beauty in the world.

Then, you can go at it all day with hours upon hours of Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau on Youtube!

* * *

Here is the New York Times obituary:

The Guardian's Ian Bostridge puts Fischer-Dieskau's life in historical context:

7 replies

'I just get so nervous'

May 17, 2012 10:12

The Big Recital is coming up this weekend for my students, and so this week's lessons are all about preparing for performance: putting the polish on pieces, solidifying memory spots, playing with accompaniment, cleaning up anything that's tangled or out-of-tune, etc.

"I just get so nervous, though," said one of my adolescent-aged students, frowning.

Oh dear, what to do about that? It's a lot easier to advise someone to add a little vibrato, or play that "D" a little higher, or repeat the passage 20 more times with a metronome. Nervous about being nervous -- "The only thing we have to fear is fear itself!" Deep stuff!

I remembered something the British violin pedagogue Simon Fischer told me: instead of thinking about everything that could go wrong, create for yourself a strong vision of how you want it to go right. Of course, you can't just tell a young student this; as my journalism professors always said, "Show, don't tell!" I decided to go straight to the point:

"What is the part of this piece that worries you the most?" I asked.

"Hitting the harmonic at the end," she answered.

Okay: first prove you can do it. No amount of "visualizing" and positive thought will help, if you haven't first surmounted the physical challenge. Of course, I'd seen her do it many times, but she still needed to prove it to herself. So we went straight to the passage and played that shift 10 times in a row, correctly.

"Now I want you to play the whole phrase, and when you get to the harmonic, think, 'This is the harmonic that I always play right!'"

She did. And then again, "This time, think, 'This is that cool harmonic that I love to play.'"

And again, "'This is the easy part that I play so well.'"

We went through about seven different scenarios.

"So don't let your mind wander," I told her. "Find every passage that is stressing you out, make sure you can play it, then come up with a positive way to think about how well you will play it. And really exaggerate!"

She came to another place where a finger went out of place, "I always play that wrong!" she said reflexively.

I laughed. "How about, 'I always play that right?' Fix it, and fix your head!"

You can actually practice moments of relaxation and confidence into your performance, but it really does take practice and repetition. I've experienced it myself, as well. For example, I was practicing a certain passage in the first movement of the Tchaik. It was just so hard! "This is why Auer said it was impossible, it IS!" I thought. Then I noticed that while practicing it, that even in my practice room, with no judgmental teacher, no audience, no Grizzly bear chasing me, I still froze in fear, every time I came to the passage. I had this revelation, "I don't have to feel this way." So I practiced thinking to myself, "This is the place where I relax my muscles, like a wet noodle." I thought of warm beaches. I exaggerated playing it in the most lazy and relaxed way to play, while still hitting notes. Who cared if I missed a few during this process? Then I just tried to keep that feeling of being relaxed, and as we know, the fingers work much more quickly and accurately when relaxed. The passage went a lot better, without the fear. I still get to that passage and feel relaxed!

You may think that you are fine in the practice room, but then it's just on stage when it goes really, really wrong. Or, you are fine in the practice room, but it's just at your lesson that it goes really, really wrong. But have you focused on your internal dialogue? Are you truly fixing the problem? And when you have fixed the problem, are you buying into your own ability to play it correctly and to produce something beautiful and musical? Focus a little more on this, and see if it helps!

7 replies

Broken Bridge

May 10, 2012 10:21

My fellow Suzuki teachers and I were tuning violins as dozens of students and parents buzzed around before the big spring recital, when a piercing, wooden "CRACK" startled everyone in the room.

Parents froze in alarm; teachers raised eyebrows knowingly. Only one thing makes that kind of noise: a bridge. A bridge collapse sounds like the end of the world, but usually a teacher can make it right. Unless, of course, the bridge looks like this:

Broken bridge

And indeed, it looked just like that. A helpful student ran to me and handed me the two pieces. Looking on, another parent suggested, "Maybe we could kind of stack them, and the strings would hold it all in place?"

"I'm afraid this bridge is done being a bridge," I said, shaking my head.

Meanwhile, the student with the injured violin was huddled in a pew with his parents. He was one of our youngest, about seven years old, dressed in his crisp white shirt and black pants for the concert. He was crying inconsolably over his quarter-sized violin while his parents tried to make it all okay. In his pre-concert exuberance, he'd fallen on his fiddle, and there was no going back.

The buzz had returned, and the show would go on. It was to start in about five minutes.

I sat next to the unhappy boy.

"I have to tell you something that happened to me when I was about your age," I said.

He looked up.

"Right before a concert, I tripped over my bow. It snapped completely in half," I said. "I couldn't use it in the concert."

"Did you get it fixed?" he asked.

"It was ruined, for good," I said. "So I kind of understand how you are feeling."

He nodded.

"Maybe we can find you a violin to borrow for part of the concert," I said.

A member of the family sitting behind us tapped me on the shoulder.

"Does he need to borrow a violin?" she asked. "Our boy isn't playing in all the pieces; he could use his violin."

"Really?" I said, looking at the boy in the other family, who was five years old and about the same size. This was to be his first concert. "Would that be okay with you?"

He looked at his mom and nodded.

"Well, that would be a very nice thing for you to do, to lend him your violin," I said. "You'd be kind of a hero."

So the two boys shared one violin for the concert. There was actually quite a bit of switching, as one was a "Pre-Twinkler" and another in "Early Book 1," and we'd mixed up the songs. The Pre-Twinklers went first, then the fiddle was exchanged, and at the very end, they changed back for "Twinkle."

Maybe a bridge built between two little boys is worth the price of a broken one!

5 replies

Interview with Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg: 'On Our Way'

May 8, 2012 10:00

"I believe so much in the moment … anything can happen, anything should happen!" Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg said about the magic of live music.

It's just one of the many Nadja-isms (*great Nadja quotes) on the new DVD, On Our Way, which celebrates her four-year partnership with the San Francisco-based New Century Chamber Orchestra, where she has served as director since 2008. (The name is perhaps a take on Nadja's 1989 autobiography, On My Way).

The group performs with no conductor: Nadja leads from the concertmaster chair, or as soloist. Otherwise the group looks to each other, relying on a heightened musical sensitivity and spirit of teamwork. One can sense the group's high energy, with Nadja as lightning rod, in the full performances shown on the DVD: Hugo Wolf's "Italian Serenade"; Astor Piazzolla's "Four Seasons of Buenos Aires"; Pyotr Tchaikovsky's "Serenade for Strings" and more. It also includes interviews with Nadja and other members of the orchestra.

Nadja spoke to me by phone last week from Portland, where she had just performed the Piazzolla with the Oregon Symphony. She was on her way to San Francisco, to rehearse with New Century for four performances this weekend of a world-premiere piece by Ellen Zwilich. We spoke about Nadja's efforts to expand the string orchestra repertoire, about how 19 people work as a team, and about the joy of live performance:

Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg
Photo by Christian Steiner

Laurie: I've been enjoying 'On Our Way,' and I see that New Century has concerts (this weekend).

Nadja: This is the final set of New Century's 20th anniversary season, and that's why I wanted to release the DVD, as something special for this year.

Laurie: There were a few things you said on the DVD, that I just loved. Here's one: "We play repertoire we have no business playing." What did you mean by that?

Nadja: Basically, the string orchestra repertoire is very small. In the standard string orchestra repertoire, there are maybe 12 or 15 really good pieces. Not much. After that, you have to dive into the quartet repertoire or the chamber music repertoire. What I meant by that statement is that we've made arrangements of pieces that a string orchestra really shouldn't be playing.

For example, (Hugo) Wolf's 'Italian Serenade,' on that DVD, that is not a piece for 19 people. (The Wolf) was written for a quartet, and it's hard enough for a quartet. With such a difficult piece, it's more than challenging to get 19 people to play and make it sound like a quartet. We also went on tour this year with Mendelssohn Octet (written for eight people). These kinds of pieces are written, in a way, as solo pieces. To have an orchestra play a solo piece is challenging.

Also, some of the arrangements I have commissioned were for pieces meant for a large orchestra. For example, on our second season we played 'Pictures at an Exhibition.' When you hear the title 'Pictures at an Exhibition,' you immediately think: enormous orchestra! Yet, this particular arrangement by Clarice Assad was just so brilliant. It was for string orchestra, percussion and piano; and you actually heard instruments that you didn't see on stage. It was just one of those strokes of genius.

So we play repertoire that is not written for 19 people. I don't want the orchestra to be relegated to certain repertoire or go into a niche. We can play anything and everything, and so that's I want us to do.

Laurie: I understand that you and the New Century will perform a world premiere piece this weekend in San Francisco. Tell me all about it.

Nadja: That is part of our featured composer program for this season, which is something I started when I came on, four years ago. Because our season is short, with four or five concert sets in a season, I thought that instead of having a composer-in-residence, having a featured composer would be more apt. We would play at least one existing work by that composer to introduce that composer to the audience; then of course, we would commission that composer to write something specifically for us. We've always premiered that piece at the end of the season; it's exciting to end the season with a world premiere, and also, it gives the composer some more time to write and prepare it.

We give them the option of writing anything they want, even if they want other instruments -- winds and anything like that. They mostly have elected to write violin concertos for me. I begged last year's composer, Mark O'Connor, not to write me a violin concerto. So he wrote something specifically for the orchestra.

These pieces are just fantastic, and this one in particular. It's more than just a violin concerto, it's a performance piece.

Laurie: Fun!

Nadja: (Ellen Zwilich) always wanted to write for me, and I'm a certain kind of player. So she really went to town with that! She wrote a piece, 'Commedia dell Arte' -- it's based on the Renaissance art form of Italian theater. It all these theatrical characters: like Harlequin, or "Arlecchino"; and Colombina and Il Capitano. It's a theatre piece, and so these characters each have instruments associated with them. Columbina, she's always with a tambourine; the Capitan always has his drum; and Harlequin has this flapstick thing. So I have to pick players to play these instruments. I'm very appreciative to Ellen for writing not only a violin concerto, but writing something specifically for me and for the orchestra; it's fantastic piece for us. She's heard us play, and she knew what we can do. So she really went to town with this one. It's going to be an amazing premiere. We'll have a challenge on our hands, but we're good with that.

Laurie: Did the orchestra used to do this featured composer kind of thing before you came? Why do you feel it's important?

Nadja: No, I brought that on, for two reasons. One, I wanted to mix up the featured composer element: to feature the young, up-and-coming composers as well as extremely established composers. For example, Clarice Assad was our first featured composer. She's this young phenom. We've also had two Pulitzer prize-winning composers. I also wanted different styles: for example, Mark O'Connor is not strictly a classical composer. We've also had Bill Bolcom, and it's just terrific to have the palette of that.

Also, like we discussed before, the string orchestra repertoire is small. By commissioning these compositions, we add to that repertoire, which is helpful to all string orchestras. Believe me, if you are a member of a string orchestra, you're always looking for new rep. Now we create a new piece every year for that (kind of) ensemble.

Laurie: You talk a lot in 'On Our Way' about the members of the New Century Chamber Orchestra making decisions together and the trust that you've built. It seems like sometimes that can be a precarious kind of tightrope walk. How do you continue to build on that openness and trust, yet avoid it going in the direction of ...

Nadja: …anarchy! (she laughs) Well, there's a time and a place for everything. There'll be moments in rehearsals where everybody, and I mean everybody, is talking. That's when I have to take on the role as boss for a moment and say, 'Okay, everybody shut up. We're going to do it my way.' Or, 'We'll do this, let's try that, and mix in with this and this and that.'

It's very personal. I remember very clearly, when I first took this job, I didn't know what to expect. I asked every music director, nearly every conductor that I've ever worked with, to give me their best advice. It was a lot of people, and very varied kinds of people. The one piece of advice that was absolutely uniform -- that every one of them told me -- was: 'Don't get friendly with the orchestra, don't get friendly with your players. It's trouble.'

It's the one piece of advice I ignored.

In any situation, even as a soloist, it's important for me to get along with the people I'm working with and to have a positive experience. It's more than just, 'Let's put this piece together and perform it.' Also, there are only 19 of us, so it's intimate, in that sense. New Century has always been a democratic group in their decision-making process, and I did not want to interfere with that. So little by little, we all -- yes -- became friends, and we're all very much a family.

With that, comes a feeling of power, and of relaxing. There's an intimate feeling when we go into rehearsals. Everybody speaks, everyone has opinions. That's how we put the pieces together: there will be a problem, then somebody will make a suggestion that solves that problem. Then the solution causes another problem for somebody else, but then we fix that. It goes on like that. But at the end of the day, we put all the music together, the extraordinary variety of music. And when it's time for the concert, everybody brings everything up a notch. It's yet to fail. Every single time we has a concert, it's like we go into H-D. It's extremely gratifying, and the democracy works.

Laurie: How do you keep one person from dominating, and how do you keep people from getting offended?

Nadja: It's like anything, you get to know the person, you get to know how they speak. For example, they're used to me. I will just start cursing about something and speak very fast because that's me, that's who I am. I'm from New York and that's my way of speaking. Somebody else will be very quiet, and everybody has to kind of really shut up to hear what so-and-so has to say because that's how they speak. We know each other. In the process of rehearsals it can get quite tense and insulting, but we know that, and we fix that. There's always somebody there to bring it down -- mostly it's me; that's my job. We never go to sleep angry. We get very heated, but we all have the same goal in mind, so that makes it work.

Laurie: It sounds like it's probably useful to be frank.

Nadja: It is, but it depends on the mood that day. Let's say I'm rehearsing something, and a particular section sounds very bad. Depending on how the mood of that rehearsal's going, I could say, 'You guys, this is really ca-ca. No good.' But if there's a little tension going on to begin with, then that's not how I would speak to them. It's all very dependent on what's happening in the rehearsal at that moment. But no matter what route anybody takes, we always come through beautifully at the end. There is the respect there, always.

Laurie: When you are leading from the concertmaster chair, or even as the soloist, what are some of the most effective ways that you can communicate, and what are some of the things you've found that don't work?

Nadja: In these four years, I've found that I'm kind of a natural leader. It's funny, just a few weeks ago I (led from the concertmaster chair) with an orchestra other than mine, for the first time. I had been offered to do this for a few years, and I never did it because I felt like I was cheating on my orchestra. But finally I did it; I was curious to see, is this even possible, with another group? It was a phenomenal experience, very powerful. This was an orchestra that's not used to not having a conductor.

Laurie: They must have had to make some adjustments, if they were used to having a conductor.

Nadja: They were fantastic musicians. But if you're used to sitting back and looking at the guy up there beating time for you, it's huge, when all of a sudden you have to go into a completely different mode of total concentration and responsibility for your part. It almost erases 20 years of sitting in the back of the section. It's demanded that you play better and that you bring your full game to the table. That was very satisfying, to see that happen, and also just to tell them, 'I cannot cue every single entrance, do you understand? I cannot. I'm playing the first violin part. You're going to count!' (she laughs).

Laurie: I loved this quote, that 'Anything can happen in the moment, and anything should happen in the moment.'

Nadja: That's how I've always felt about music, an overall credo. Live music is not a recording. Every single time a musician begins to play music, it can be magical. It doesn't have to be: 'We rehearsed it this way, this is how we're going to play it.' You have that foundation of, 'This is what we decided, and this is how it works,' But once you have that foundation and you feel a solidity with that, then comes the inspiration of a live performance. That's where I come in as a good leader: I believe in it, and I'm capable of doing it.

Many musicians cannot do it or choose not to, and it doesn't make any sense to me. It's an art form, and it's ever-changing. There's no reason to play a passage the same way every time you play it. The passage itself, the piece itself, has so much possibility and so much life. I love exploring that. In a concert situation, I may feel that I want to go further than what we rehearsed. My orchestra is so attuned to me -- they just know, oh boy, here she goes. They can see it in my eyes: let's go. That's what I meant (in the DVD) when I said that they'll just follow me off a cliff. It's terrific fun that way!

3 replies

Eastman Violin Professor Zvi Zeitlin (1922-2012)

May 3, 2012 12:40

Longtime Eastman School of Music violin professor Zvi Zeitlin died yesterday at the age of 90. He taught at Eastman for 45 years, and his students have gone on to careers as concertmasters, professors, competition winners, orchestra players and recitalists all over the world.

Zvi Zeitlin

Zeitlin joined the Eastman faculty in 1967 and was founding member of the Eastman Trio.

"Mr. Zeitlin was very clear in his teaching, giving the bare bones of the technique to the students, making it much easier for them to execute their notes and musical ideas," said violinist Brian Hong, who vividly described his lessons with Zeitlin from the summer 2009 in this blog. He said he was a demanding teacher who "was also very persistent about not using the terms, 'up' and 'down' bow, but rather using the French terms, 'push' and 'pull', respectively, to help with my mental image of tone."

Zeitlin was known for his passionate intensity; students have said that he could get pretty worked up at a lesson.

"Mr. Zeitlin is a knowledgeable, tactful, and effective teacher," Hong said. "Even though he can be a bit sharp and gruff, he is a very caring person and only becomes more intense because he cares about each and every student he works with and wants them to reach their full potential. He was such an incredible, generous human being; what struck me at first when I met him was the fact that he would practice for 3-4 hours every morning, no matter what. Simply amazing."

Indeed, Zeitlin continued to teach, and to play the violin, until the end of his life; here he is, at age 88, performing the Mozart "Rondo" K. 373 with pianist Barry Snyder. member George Philips said that "I have the utmost respect for his students. He makes them do so much more than just play their parts. For example, he'll make them read Brahms' letters if doing Brahms, write out the piano parts, study the culture of the time, etc. It's a process that seems to be slowly dying nowadays."

He also engaged in that old-fashioned (but wonderful) practice of playing a bit of the orchestra part along with a student, as you can see, in this video of a masterclass with Zeitlin.

A native of Belarus, Zeitlin grew up in Israel and attended Hebrew University. He came to Juilliard at age 11 as the institution's youngest-ever scholarship student. He studied violin Sascha Jacobsen, Louis Persinger, and Ivan Galamian.

Zeitlin was known for championing Arnold Schoenberg's Violin Concerto, which Zeitlin premiered in 1964 in Buenos Aires. He recorded the work in 1971 with Rafael Kubelik and the Bavarian State Orchestra for Deutsche Grammophon, and that recording was reissued in 2004. He was also the dedicatee of Gunther Schuller’s first Violin Concerto, which was commissioned by Eastman as part of Zeitlin’s appointment as Kilbourn Professor in 1976.

14 replies

Queen Elisabeth Competition 2012: Round 1 Performances

May 1, 2012 12:51

This is from the first round of the Queen Elisabeth Competition, which began today in Belgium:

Here is the link for the podcast of all performances from the first round:

8 replies

Joshua Bell on Dancing with the Stars

May 1, 2012 08:50

This morning I read our friend Norman Lebrecht's blog, Joshua Bell played last night on Dancing with the Stars. Why?

Dear Norman, why must there be a why?

I'm just not going to turn my nose up at it. For those of you who missed it (we'll see how long this stays up!):

How fun is that? It looks like a lark to me, and a pretty painless way for a person to make his next Strad payment. I think I even spy a few of my LA friends, being employed to play live music in the orchestra. A full-voice "Hooooraay!" for that!

I even kind of dig the people dancing around in period costumes. Why do we spend a cazillion hours in the practice room learning to play the fiddle, if we can't have a little fun now and then?

16 replies

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