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Violinist.com Interviews: Vol. 1

Our exclusive, one-on-one interviews with 27 of today's best-known violinists, including Hilary Hahn, Joshua Bell, Sarah Chang, David Garrett, Anne Akiko Meyers, Maxim Vengerov, and others.


July 2012

Lara St. John Plays Free Piazzolla Anniversary Concert Tuesday at Central Park

July 28, 2012 10:54

Here is a little epistle from Lara St. John, in inimitable Lara St. John style. She invites us all to hear her play at Central Park on Tuesday, Aug, 7 -- either in person, over radio or live-webstream -- for 25th Anniversary of the Central Park concert of Astor Piazzolla and his quintet at the Naumburg Bandshell, check it out:


Dear Friends Near, Far and Wide,

I am letting you know about this show because:

a) it is in New York City, and like a modern-day Rome, all roads seem to lead here

b) it's broadcast live on both WQXR 105.9 FM and at www.WQXR.org, lest your road may have led elsewhere

c) it's free

d) it's in the top five of Coolest Things I Have Ever Done

It's the 25th Anniversary of the Central Park concert of Astor Piazzolla and his quintet at the Naumburg Bandshell! (for exact location, please see artistically hand-drawn map, and address below)

Central Park

It will feature the pianist-of-legend Pablo Ziegler, who was part of Piazzolla's quintet from 1978-1989 and played on the famous Central Park concert/recording from September 6, 1987, as well as the albums Zero Hour, La Camorra and then some.

We'll also have the fabulous Hector Del Curto on bandoneón, Claudio Ragazzi on guitar, Andrew Roitstein, bass, and me on violin, making up the original quintet instrumentation. We'll be doing many tunes from the 1987 concert, and many more....

At a glance:

WHEN: Tuesday, August 7, 2012 at 7:30 PM

WHERE: Naumburg Bandshell, Concert Ground of Central Park, between the 72nd Street Transverse at Bethesda Fountain and the Mall/Poet’s Walk, New York, NY.

WHO: Pablo Ziegler, piano, Lara St John, violin, Hector Del Curto, bandoneón, Claudio Ragazzi, guitar, Andrew Roitstein, bass.

(This concert will be on WQXR.org both live, and streaming, about 24 hours later.....)

Hope to see you there! Lara

Lara St. John
Photo by Twain Newhart

Archive link


Review: Joshua Bell and Edgar Meyer at the Hollywood Bowl

July 21, 2012 16:01

Ah, the Hollywood Bowl, at dusk, on a perfect night last Thursday. It's the beautiful beginning of a classical concert with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, a concert featuring two of today's finest musicians, Joshua Bell and Edgar Meyer.

Carl Maria von Weber's "Der Freischutz" pulses peacefully -- until a helicopter interrupts with a frustratingly long and loud trek across the darkening sky over the Bowl.

My brow furrowed. The helicopter faded away, but still the sound seemed foggy; all the fast syncopations in "Der Freischutz" seemed to have hiccups and get lost in this giant venue. This giant venue! I started a list of complaints.

Then came the next piece, Edgar Meyer's new Double Concerto for Violin, Bass and Orchestra, which was commissioned by Joshua Bell for them to play together and was premiered earlier this month at Tanglewood. The minute Joshua's distinct violin sound pierced the air, I forgot all such thoughts of "what a muddy, echoey, too-big, over-miked, pain-in-neck venue this is!" The music focused, the audience of several thousand silenced, and all was right.


Hollywood Bowl


I enjoyed Edgar Meyer's piece, from its bouncy opening to its mercurial end.

The movements were labeled only by number; the first movement was full of syncopation, interesting interplay and something soaring over something buoyant. For me, the highlight was the cadenza, which began with the bass playing its lowest note (at least I think so) against the violin playing crazy, crazy high. Then the two crossed over each other, with the bass moving to its highest note and the violin to its lowest. Meyer and Bell sped up together in perfect sync, then played against each other with incredibly fast syncopation. "Syncopation with abandon," I wrote -- it's the kind where you don't wait to bounce off each other, but you just barrel ahead in perfect ping-pong timing. The cadenza ended with them holding onto very high notes together, then sinking gracefully back into the bouncy orchestra theme. That cadenza was a gem. The movement ended with a bass pizzicato pluck, cute!

The program notes said that the slower-paced second movement was composed during the days after the death of 20-year-old Curtis Institute bass student Louisa Womack, who was a student of Meyer. Indeed there were moments when the orchestra seemed to burst forth, and others were more like dialogues, some between the violin and bass, some between violin and orchestra, some between the orchestra and a woodwind instrument.

The third movement began slowly, sparsely, then the bass and violin cut in with a fast and jazzy outburst. This juxtaposition of different styles continued throughout the movement, with sometimes the jazz interrupting and sometimes the slow theme interrupting. The jazzy theme was a fast ride on a machine with perhaps three feet, one wheel and two wings. The rapid meter changes made for a rather thrilling and dangerous dance, so easy it is to misstep when you are dancing in, say, 11.

My positive reaction to the piece seemed reflected in other audience members; I overheard a woman saying to a friend, "I liked the piece…it wasn't overwhelmingly modern."

I smiled. We all know what she is saying; the piece was not an assault on the ears, as if anything "modern" is. But this piece is "modern"; it was written this year, and it's certainly set in the present. Perhaps this kind of piece can help us re-think our definitions and perceptions about "modern" and "new" music.

During the second half of the concert, Bell treated us to an old favorite: the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto. Just before he took the stage, the gentleman sitting next to me noticed my pen and note-taking, and asked if I were writing about the concert. When he learned I was a violinist, he asked, "Does Joshua Bell know this piece well?" I smiled. "Yes!"

The question rang in my head. Josh probably first played the Mendelssohn as a child; he first recorded the piece when he was 20, in 1988, with the Orchestra of Academy of St. Martin-in-the-Fields, Neville Marriner, conducting. Bell is now the Music Director of that orchestra. He recorded the piece again in 2002, this time with his own cadenza.

Here he was, playing it for the…how many-eth time? I'm sure he's lost count. He played Thursday night with so much vitality. Funny, how a piece like the Mendelssohn does not get old in the way we humans get old, or cars get old, or milk gets old. It ages in the way that a good friendship ages -- and Josh is good friends with the Mendelssohn. What came forth, besides good articulation and technique, was love and excitement. He played his own cadenza, and despite the fact that he has been playing this cadenza for 10 years, this was the first time I'd heard it live.

Though cadenzas evolved as as interludes during which the orchestra drops out and the soloist improvises, Mendelssohn actually wrote the cadenza right into his violin concerto. And it's a cool cadenza, a cadenza that taught a lot of us violinists how to do a four-string bouncing bariolage. How could anyone dare replace it?

Listening to Josh play his cadenza, I realized for the first time that Mendelssohn's cadenza doesn't have a whole lot of meat on its bones, despite its fun. By contrast, Josh has taken material from all over the first movement, even material from the orchestra part. I daresay it has more substance than the original; it's quite creative.

The Mendelssohn Violin concerto is one of those pieces that stands right at the juncture between Classical and Romantic music, and Josh's performance brought this out. He did not plaster sentimentality across the entire piece; it came out in little touches: a note brought out there, a bit of vibrato there. And yes, Joshua played with all the physicality for which he is known, I do think he even jumped a few times!

My violin teacher at Indiana University, trying to get me to give a little more, once asked me in a very intense tone, "If you have a lemon, do you squeeze the last bit of juice out of it, or do you THROW IT AWAY!"

Josh is lemonade, baby.

* * *

After the concert, I went backstage to say "Hello," and here is a little picture for you:

Meyer, Bell, Laurie
Edgar Meyer, Joshua Bell and Laurie


Below, Josh speaks about the Mendelssohn. The video leaves us dangling, right before his first-movement cadenza:


But if you really want to hear that cadenza, here is a link for you. It starts at 3:38.

Archive link


Visit to Paris

July 19, 2012 17:21

This week I have indeed been an American in France, taking in all kinds of new sights and sounds -- though many resonate so fully through the culture I know, a lot feels familiar.

Take this garden, do you feel you have seen it before?

Monet's Garden
Monet's garden, in Giverny

During college, a print of one of Claude Monet's many paintings of the bridge in his garden hung on my wall -- I know it like the back of my hand. And here it was, in real life. When I saw it last week, it had a fresh coat of green paint -- somehow that seemed strange. But the new significance, for me, lay in getting there. First, we took a train out to the countryside.

On the train in Paris

Then, we road bikes to Monet's old house in Giverny, France.

Biking in the French countryside

Hilariously, our leader, Justin, with the American company Fat Tire Bike Tours, hailed from my own hometown of Denver, Colorado. But he could not have been more perfect, for leading a group of Americans in this journey, which included buying items for a picnic in the little town of Vernon (a fresh baguette, Camembert cheese, fruit tarts, etc.), eating a little picnic by the Seine River, then biking about 5 k/3 miles to Giverny. Not only did we see Monet's famous Japanese garden with its bridges and waterlilies and willows, but we also saw some amazing Gothic churches along the way, visited Monet's grave, and of course, we walked through Monet's house, which has many Japanese prints and is painted in rather garish colors on the inside. Monet was quite the botanist, creating the gardens that he wanted paint, exactly the way he wanted to paint them. We looked at a lot of the exotic breeds he cultivated; here was a flower that struck my fancy, and no, I can't tell you its breed:

Monet flower

We then walked around the town of Giverny, which prides itself on both art and flowers. I found wonderful coffee at a little place called the Botanic Cafe, and as I drank espresso and had a few macaroons, I realized that we were sitting right next to a garden store or market, which had all kinds of plants for sale -- even a little hutch with bunnies (though I'm not sure why you'd want them anywhere near your garden!). I noticed that they had water lilies for sale -- of course!

Water lilies for sale

Because this was our first trip to France, we had to visit some of the famous sights. One day we (and a kazillion other tourists) went to the Palace of Versailles, the ornate, gold-gilded château that became a symbol of the excesses of the French aristocracy. Here is its famous "Hall of Mirrors," and you can see not only its excess of gold, elaborate murals, marble statues and sparkling chandeliers, but also a great excess of camera-toting TOURISTS! In honesty, I can't complain: I was one of them.

Hall of Mirrors
The Hall of Mirrors in the Palace of Versailles


And look what I found, just around the corner, over an archway:

Versailles detail

I think one could find an image of just about anything in this palace, but it was good to see my old friend the fiddle. We took a healthy (ie. long) walk through the Gardens of Versailles, full of statues and trees:

Gardens of Versailles
In the Gardens of Versailles

We arrived at the Petit Trianon, most famously known as Marie Antoinette's retreat from the palace. Robert took this picture at the "Temple of Love," a gazebo located on the grounds of the outside of Petit Trianon:

Temple of Love in Versailles
The Temple of Love in the gardens of the Petite Trianon at Versailles

What else did we see? Lots of tempting food in Paris's many pâtisseries:

French pastries

Painters in the street at Montmartre:

Street paintings

Notre Dame Cathedral:

Notre Dame

Where I went to mass:

Mass in Notre Dame

On Bastille Day (when admission was free!), we went to the Louvre, a museum that is rather intimidating for its vast art collection and enormous physical size:

The Louvre

I took this picture of a picture especially for you, my V.com friends, because what more could you want? A fiddle player, naked people, archery, exotic birds...

Louvre painting

I can't quite remember, but I believe the above picture was somewhere very close to the Mona Lisa. The Mona Lisa required that we fight our way past many aggressive tourists, so that we could take a look at the comparatively small painting. We used our eyeballs to view the Mona Lisa; how many times has it been reproduced? No need to take a picture, though that didn't stop everyone else -- we even had to strain to look around someone taking a picture with an iPad!

There were so many tiny details, beyond all the famous paintings, like this one, just a little gargoyle built into the wall:

Gargoyle

Of course it wouldn't be a "first trip to Paris" without visiting the Eiffel Tower. Here it was as we approached it:

Eiffel Tower

Standing under it:

Close-up of Eiffel Tower

And here, you can see the great view, as well as my reaction, after we'd walked up 674 steps to the second level, which was as high as I could bring myself to go:

9 replies


A Visit to the Yehudi Mehuhin School in England

July 14, 2012 09:48

One of the things I wanted to do while I was London was to see violin pedagogy expert Simon Fischer and visit the Yehudi Menuhin School, where he teaches (when he's not teaching at Guildhall School) along with Natasha Boyarsky, Lutsia Ibragimova and Akiko Ono. I'm happy to report that I spent a wonderful afternoon there last weekend, and I came just in time to see a couple of the school's Summer Festival Concerts, which each feature about a dozen students, who each play a short selection.

I've always been curious about the Menuhin school, founded in 1963 by the violinist Yehudi Menuhin, who was known not only for his early life as a prodigy, but also for his writings, diverse interests, and humanitarian efforts.

Menuhin portrait

The school is the physical manifestation of Menuhin's dream to create a place where young musicians could both nurture their talents and receive a full education that would allow them to be broad-minded. Menuhin himself enjoyed a diverse life, both in terms of the music he played and in terms of his outside interests. For example, he nurtured collaborations with non-classical musicians such as Ravi Shankar and Stephane Grappelli. He also embraced many other aspects of life. He took up the practice of yoga before it became very popular in the West; he wrote books, and he was involved in political efforts. In a similar vein, the school encourages students to study diverse subjects beyond their music focus, offering classes in Alexander Technique, non-musical arts like sculpture and painting, and of course, academic subjects. (And if they want, yoga!)

The Menuhin School is located in Stoke d’Abernon, a small village in Surrey, south west of London. (I took the train with my family, and on our way, my daughter, husband and I enjoyed afternoon tea at a great little out-of-the-way place in Esher called the Chocolate Teapot).

Naturally, being an American who'd never been to England, I expected Hogwarts for music students, but without the castle. In reality, the main thing it has in common is that it's an English boarding school (with steep tuition -- and financial aid) for kids with special talent. The grounds are beautiful, with old buildings and English countryside, and Yehudi Menuhin (1916-1999) is actually buried there, beneath the tree he planted in 1996 to mark his 80th birthday,

Menuhin exterior

The students include more than 60 children ages eight through 18, from countries that have recently included UK, Ireland, France, Romania, Lithuania, Switzerland, China, Korea, Japan, New Zealand, Canada, Dominican Republic, Malaysia, South Africa, Bulgaria, Azerbaijan, Ukraine, and the USA.

I went to a concert in the lovely 300-seat Menuhin Hall, which was opened in January 2006 by Mstislav Rostropovich (who was President of the school for a few years before his death; now David Barenboim holds that title) and the Duke of Gloucester; here it is:

New hall

I saw some wonderful performances, and I couldn't begin to describe them all, but here are a few highlights: First of all, I have to give an immediate shout-out to the collaborative pianists. The instrumentalists are all accompanied by fellow student pianists, and I was so impressed with these collaborations. For example, pianist Katie Morgan, at age 12, played with great sensitivity with her partner, violinist Vladzimir Chmel, only 10 years old himself. Later in the evening, at the second concert, Dorian Todorov nailed the accompaniment for the Saint-Saens "Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso," played with some nice up-bow staccato from violinist Haim Choi. Is anyone familiar with how difficult that piano part is, with the orchestral tutti? No doubt the orchestra reduction is ridiculous to play, but I seldom hear it played with all the notes in place, so it was a real treat. I really enjoyed violinist Yume Fujise's "Chaconne" by Bartok. This was a piece I didn't know, but she played it like a pro. Honestly, I'm not hitting nearly everything; there were other violinists, and cellists, bassists, solo pianists. Watch out world!

Between the two shows, while I waited to chat with Simon Fischer, I sat for a while in the old recital room. I also fell in love with the old recital room:

Old hall

The door to this room looks like the door to a broom closet -- a nondescript wooden door that says "Recital Hall" on a tiny hand-written piece of paper, no bigger than a business card. The room smells like the wood that lines its narrow balcony, a balcony with space enough for just one row of little red chairs. The ceiling is also made of wood, fanning out from a high-set, enormous window, which provides both natural light and a view of the bobbing branches of a big evergreen tree. Two grand pianos sit at the front. Windows at the back of the small hall overlook the enormous green meadow at the center of the campus.

Who played here, who taught here, in the silent room where I was sitting? I wondered. Considering the teachers, students and guests that have walked this school's grounds, there must have been some very special moments: besides Yehudi Menuhin himself, famous musicians who have visited the school over the years include Itzhak Perlman, Gidon Kremer, Dmitri Sitkovetsky, William Pleeth, Mstislav Rostropovich, Louis Kentner, Vlado Perlemuter, Zakhar Bron, Mauricio Fuks, Bernard Greenhouse, Murray Perahia, John Lill, Dora Schwarzberg, John Williams and Andras Schiff. Alumni of the school include violinists Tasmin Little, Nigel Kennedy, Nicola Benedetti, Alina Ibragimova; cellists Tasya Hodges, Colin Carr and Paul Watkins; pianists Melvyn Tan, Kathryn Stott and Paul Coker; and the Endellion, Grainger and Belcea Quartets. That's not to mention the kids playing here right now, and what they will go on to do!

I did indeed speak with Simon Fischer, who recently came out with a new book called Scales, and who showed me the mark-up copy of his newest book, called Tone, which is a companion to his recent DVD, called The Secrets of Tone Production on all Bowed String Instruments. The book, Tone, is due out this fall.

It is very obvious that Simon loves to teach, and he also enjoys just chatting with his students, who surrounded him all the time. Here he is with a few of them:

Group, with Simon
Simon Fischer with some of his students: left to right, Esther Park, Bacemanas Romdhani, Simon, Haim Choi and Laurie

Menuhin was a wonderful speaker, writer and thinker, and I'd urge you to listen not only to his old recordings, but also pay attention to some of his wisdom. I'll leave you with some Yehudi Menuhinisms on teaching:

"The teacher sets a process in motion, rather than imposing it."

"The teacher's role is to instruct the student in the art of self-correction, of analysing and thinking, taking decisions, then applying them to the task in hand."

"The teacher's ultimate aim is for the student to become independent - to become a master rather than a pupil ... the teacher must be both."

-- Yehudi Menuhin

Menuhin saying

5 replies


Greetings from London!

July 6, 2012 16:07

Greetings everyone, from London! I flew here from Los Angeles with my husband and daughter, so we could visit this wonderful city that, until now, I'd never seen! It's high time, clearly, and I will share a few pictures and experiences as we make our way through London and next week, Paris. Here are a few things I saw today and yesterday (through a fog of jet lag!):

This evening we happened upon this violinist and cellist, who were busking at Covent Garden, playing the Handel-Halvorsen Passacaglia. Pretty spiffy piece to be playing from memory, in the street, I think they must be conservatory students:

london buskers

Earlier in the day, a soprano sang "Ave Maria" for the lunch crowd in the Covent Garden Market:

London Covent

Here is the Church of St. Martin-in-the-Fields, after which the Academy of St Martin in the Fields was named. Speaking of which, what famous violinist just took leadership of that orchestra? I'll make this interesting: post the correct answer, I'll enter you to win a V.com tote bag!

St. Martin

Here I am, with my daughter, Natalie on the left and my good friend, pianist Gina Kruger of London, on the right. We are standing in front of Shakespeare's Globe, the modern reconstruction of the Globe Theatre on the River Thames.

Big Ben

And how can I not provide you a picture of the Big Ben clock tower? Not bad for a cell phone shot, from the window of the cab, eh?

Big Ben

20 replies


Summer Scramble

July 3, 2012 16:51

"Your student is here!" my husband yelled up the steps.

Ummm, my student? Now? Which one?!

It's summer, and to say that my teaching schedule is completely scrambled is an understatement. About a third of my students are out of town; another third have requested changes due to their different summer activities like swim lessons, soccer camp and summer classes; and another third are simply coming at their regular time, just like during the school year. Every year I think I can handle this ad-hoc situation, and every year I find my wall-calendar scribblings and memory come up short. Sure, I wrote that Jane is changing to a different time, but I didn't write anything for John. Does that mean he's coming at his regular time, or is he out of town? Or did his mom request a change this week? Maybe I'd better call...

And so I've called people to ask if they are coming, and found them halfway across the country. I've been sure that they were at camp, and then had them come to my door. And occasionally, we get it right!

One thing I've learned, though, is to take my own vacation, whatever the students are doing. Unfortunately it never lines up with anyone else's vacation, and sometimes it means a few months without lessons with me. But when I come back, usually I improve quite a bit, on both the record-keeping and the memory front!

We all need a break now and then!

7 replies


More entries: June 2012