Violinist, mentor, teacher, leader -- Juilliard Dean Emeritus Stephen Clapp possessed tremendous gifts and spent his life sharing them generously.
Clapp died on Sunday at his home in Cos Cob, Conn., after a long illness. He was 74.
Photo © Peter Schaff. Courtesy The Juilliard School
This week the Juilliard community and countless colleagues and former students scattered across the globe are remembering Clapp, who was a Juilliard alumnus and faculty member, as well as Dean of the Juilliard School from 1994 to 2007 (and before that, Associate Dean, from 1991 to 1994). Before joining the faculty at Juilliard, he was Professor of Violin and string department chairman at Oberlin Conservatory. He also was a regular performer and faculty member at the Aspen Music Festival; and concertmaster of the Aspen Festival Chamber Symphony, Nashville Symphony and Austin Symphony.
Clapp started teaching when he was 14 and continued to teach for the rest of his life, working with students in his studio at Juilliard up until the week before he died. Here is a slice of his teaching, from a 2007 masterclass he gave at the Starling-DeLay Symposium at Juilliard. The Symposium is an event that Clapp helped bring to life.
Violinists Robyn Bollinger and Stefani Collins stand with Stephen Clapp after a 2007 master class at Juilliard's Paul Recital Hall.
"Stephen Clapp was not only a great Dean at Juilliard, he was one of the founders and an avid supporter of the Starling-Delay Symposium on Violin Studies," Symposium Artistic Director Brian Lewis said. "From the earliest days of our discussions all the way to his passing, Stephen believed in the potential of all students, wherever they were on their personal paths. He was a valuable member of the Brian Lewis Young Artist Program in Kansas, and I cherish the time spent with such a great man. Dean Clapp was a man I greatly respected not just for his fine teaching and leadership, but also for the humanity with which he lived his life and which he shared generously with all around him. I shall forever be indebted to Stephen for his sagely advice and heartfelt compassion. He will be deeply missed, but his legacy will live on with each note played by his former students."
One of those students was Gert Kumi, now a professor of violin at Anderson University, in Anderson, Ind. "Clapp was a very kind, compassionate and gracious person, and that reflected in his teaching too," said Kumi, who studied with Clapp from 2000 to 2003. "He valued hard work on the part of his students, and he was a very hard worker himself; he always found time to practice even for a few minutes before he taught, setting a great example for me and other students. I don't know how he managed to get everything done, considering he was dean at the time I was a student, but he always sounded great!"
Clapp was born Nov. 27, 1939 in Tallman, N.Y. Raised in New Jersey, he studied piano before taking up the violin.
Isaac Stern and Stephen Clapp
While still a student of Andor Toth at Oberlin Conservatory, he won the Josef Gingold Prize of the Cleveland Society for Strings. He also studied at the Mozarteum Akademie in Salzburg, Austria, then went on to study with Ivan Galamian and Dorothy DeLay at The Juilliard School, earning his Master of Science in Music in 1965, the same year his Beaux Arts String Quartet won the first Walter W. Naumburg Chamber Music Award.
"He was, to me, Dorothy DeLay reincarnate," said violinist William Shaub, who studied with Clapp for seven years. "He was such a natural pedagogue; he would, over time, become exactly whatever you needed as a student. He just knew your potential and knew exactly how to get you there. Some say his teaching style was passive, or not as actively demanding as others. But as a violinist, he knew that successes feel the best when the work originates from our own minds and our own hearts. He taught this way purposely, without giving this idea life by saying it out loud. He just didn't need to."
What do you do, when the words of a song speak to you from beyond the grave, when they come to haunt you in the most comforting way?
Russian-born American violinist Philippe Quint decided to make a project of it, called Opera Breve. It's a recording of some of opera's most beautiful melodies, but sung on the violin, sometimes with virtuoso embellishment, with accompaniment from pianist Lily Maisky.
Photo Credit: Benjamin Brolet
Laurie: What is the first opera that you can remember attending, and what were your impressions of it?
Philippe: The very first opera I attended -- I remember vividly. It was Eugene Onegin, and it was at the Kremlin Theater in Moscow. It was a glorious production, and I was absolutely blown away by the set, by the decorations, by the singers, and especially by the music of Tchaikovsky. Of course, one of the most devastating scenes is when Onegin shoots the poor Lensky, the kid that's so in love with Olga. I was still hoping that maybe he was just wounded, maybe in the last act, he was going to come back, and somehow be resurrected! (He laughs) But I realize now, then it wouldn't be a Russian opera, it would not be a Russian libretto! Somebody has to die at the end, like in a lot of plays by Chekhov; for example, The Seagull, which has a similarly devastating ending.
But that was my first trip to the opera, so one of the first works that was selected for "Opera Breve" was the Lensky aria that was arranged by Leopold Auer. There were several core works that started this CD.
Laurie: Among them was a transcription that you did for your friend, Hannah Noether, according to your program notes. Tell me about that, how did you meet her?
Philippe: When I first came to the United States in 1991, I came here mostly thanks to her. One of my relatives gave her a cassette tape of my playing. She heard my tape, which she forwarded to Dorothy DeLay for further listening. Then, of course, Dorothy DeLay heard the tape and said that she would be happy to accept me in her studio, upon an audition. If I ever were to get to New York City, she would be happy to listen to me.
That happened around 1989-90, and then in 1991, I was able to come to the States and audition for her studio. She accepted me. I met Mrs. Noether around the same time, and then she became my guardian angel, so to say, and a mentor. She was one of the first people to give me the green light and make me believe that I could do this, that I was on the right path. She was always there for me with advice, with guidance, and I was always so grateful to her.
After many years of performing at her series, the Larchmont Music Chamber Circle, we'd become great friends. One day she called me up and she asked me if I was familiar with the opera, Hansel and Gretel by Engelbert Humperdinck. And of course, I knew about the existence of the opera, but I hadn't had a chance to see it live or even to hear it on record. It's not one of the mainstream operas, still to this day, even though it's probably Humperdinck's claim-to-fame and in a way, his one-hit wonder.
So she said, "Would you mind listening to this opera, and in particular, I want you to pay attention to the aria called the Evening Prayer. It's a very special aria to me, and I would love for you to make a transcription for violin and piano and perform it for me at one of the house concerts."
I said, "Absolutely, I'd be delighted!" I quickly found the opera, and I was actually very pleasantly surprised at how beautiful the opera was; I felt a little embarrassed that I was not familiar with that glorious work. So I listened to the Evening Prayer ("Abendsegen") which was just, I felt, a beautiful aria to transcribe. It's in German. A couple of weeks later I recorded it and sent her the CD -- it was just a very basic recording in a friend's apartment, just so she had the music.
Unfortunately, before I could perform it for her, she passed away. The first time I played the transcription was at her funeral, so it was very sad. Afterwards, somehow I came across the text of this aria, and I became very curious about the meaning. I noticed the very touching words:
When at night I go to sleep
Fourteen angels watch do keep
Two my head are guarding
Two my feet are guiding
Two are on my right hand
Two are on my left hand
Two who warmly cover
Two who o’er me hover
Two to whom ’tis given
To guide my steps to heaven.
That's when I realized, this had not been just a simple commission. It was a little bit like a mini-requiem for her, something that was so meaningful. That was a very touching moment, when I realized that.
And I still hear her words in my head, and I probably will for many, many years. One of her favorite things to say was, "Philippe, you always have to figure out a way to jump over hurdles." It's great advice: how we pass the obstacles in our lives, it's always a challenge.
Laurie: It's interesting to play something on the violin, that was written for voice. I wondered, do you think about the words? Especially now that you had that experience of realizing the significance afterwards?
Philippe: In order to prepare for this CD, I listened to a lot of renditions of these arias by different singers, and I also went into all the librettos of all those operas to research and really understand what the words meant, and how the music was composed. Certainly, knowing the text and the meaning gives all the arias much more substance.
I really feel that those beautiful arias fall on a stringed instrument extremely well. So I wasn't really trying to emulate voice, although voice, of course, was my inspiration. I hope I'm not being blasphemous with saying this, but I feel that the stringed instrument has an advantage over voice in many cases! There are more effects that we can do, there are more colors that we can do, we have a much bigger dynamic range, we have also much bigger general range (pitch). And we can also do double-stops -- it takes at least two singers to do that, unless you're Bobby McFerrin!
The essence of the word "aria," which comes from the Latin word, "aer," is "atmosphere." So "aria" is an atmosphere. What was important, was to create that sort of atmosphere. For me, the entire program has become a musical personal journey, full of correlations in my life. I probably could have called this album "Atmosphere," but I think maybe it would have been picked up by the Weather Channel! (He laughs) So I decided to call it "Opera Breve" because it's opera in brief. I really wanted to see how much I could organically expand (these arias) with what the violin can do. How can it benefit the music, how can it possibly enhance an aria? So that was the mission.
Laurie: Tell me about your partnership with Lily Maisky.
Philippe: Lily Maisky is of course the daughter of the great cellist Mischa Maisky. Lily and I met in Brussels about five years ago, and we always contemplated the idea of doing an album together. Lily was somebody who really contributed with programming; some of the choices actually came through her. One wonderful discovery was Morgen, by Richard Strauss. It is not from an opera, but it's such a beautiful song that we just couldn't resist. It was also an arrangement by her father, Mischa Maisky; he plays this as an encore at many of his performances.
She was also the one to suggest the Cantabile by Saint-Saens, from Samson and Delilah, which is another glorious opera. And then, several more works that we jointly agreed to do, had some meaning in each of our lives.
Laurie: What was the most virtuosic piece in this collection?
Philippe: I would definitely say that the most virtuosic piece was from the "Figaro" from the Barber of Seville (called Paraphrase on Largo al factotum.) It is fiendishly difficult. It was arranged by Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco for Heifetz to play, and of course Heifetz played it beautifully. So in terms of virtuosity, this was by far the most difficult work but also so much fun to do. It's so comical and humorous and sarcastic in every possible way. That's what I was trying to bring out for this particular piece.
Laurie: Gershwin's "Porgy and Bess" is one of my favorite operas. What made you decide to include these arrangements by Heifetz?
Philippe: Gershwin for me is very special, it's extremely special! Growing up in the Soviet Union, I did not have that much exposure to American music -- but Gershwin was maybe the only American composer that I knew about in Russia. And I didn't even know that he had written "Porgy and Bess," as an opera. All I had was a smuggled tape of Jascha Heifetz that somebody brought to our family, and there was a rendition of It Ain't Necessarily So on it. I must have been 10 years old, and I was absolutely convinced that this was just a great violin and piano work! I listened to it over and over and over. Imagine my surprise, when I came to the United States and found out first of all, there are many more transcriptions, and second, this comes from a great opera! Of course, I listened to the entire opera and those absolutely glorious voices of Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong. So this was actually a dream for me, to put Gershwin on record, because it's had so much meaning for me.
My first arrival in the United States was what they like to call, "culture shock." It was quite a difference, going from Moscow to New York. And getting adjusted, getting acquainted with a new life, going to Juilliard -- all those memories, reflections, and associations went into each piece on the album.
BELOW: a live rehearsal recording of Philippe Quint and Lily Maisky playing Cantabile from Saint-Saens' opera, "Samson et Dalila." Philippe plays the 1708 "Ruby" Strad, on loan through The Stradivari Society.
According to news reports, Frank Almond was tased by two robbers as he emerged from a gig at Wisconsin Lutheran College in Milwaukee Monday. When he dropped the 1715 Lipinski Stradivarius he was carrying in a case, the robbers, a man and a woman, stole it and fled in a maroon minivan. The case was discarded elsewhere in town.
There are many, many pictures of this violin on this page. Also, here is one:
The violin, valued at more than $3.5 million, was on loan to Almond, who is concertmaster of the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra. Milwaukee police say anyone with information about the whereabouts of the Stradivarius violin should call +1-414-935-7360 or the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra at +1-414-226-7838.
This is the same Strad that was the subject of his project, funded by a Kickstarter campaign and released in 2013, called A Violin's Life.. (I interviewed him about it, and he described the violin and its history extensively.)
Any violin maker who could verify the worth of this violin would also very easily be able to identify that it is stolen. This is a very high-profile instrument, and such instruments are meticulously documented. Sometimes in cases like these, robbers, realizing the difficulty in fencing such a high-profile, easily identified instrument, simply return it safely to a neutral place. We can only hope for this kind of outcome.
In less than a month, Austin, Texas will become a hub of violin activity, with the start of the 16th Menuhin Competition, which runs 10 days, Feb. 21 through March 2, at the Butler School of Music at the University of Texas.
It's the first time that the biennial competition has been held in the United States, and that might explain why it drew a record number of applications, receiving 275 applications from 27 countries. (Seriously, it was a world record, verified by the World Federation of International Music Competitions in Geneva!) From those, 42 competitors were chosen by a pre-selection jury. Seventeen of the competitors (40 percent) are American.
The competitors are coming from 10 countries (United States, Russia, South Korea, Japan, Australia, Norway, Poland, Austria, Sweden and the United Kingdom), including seven U.S. states (Pennsylvania, California, New York, Texas, Ohio, Massachussetts and Washington).
Candidates will compete in two divisions, the senior (ages 16-21) and junior (under 16) sections for a number of prizes, top among them being the Senior First Prize, $10,000 US and a one-year loan of a fine old Italian violin by Christophe Landon Rare Violins; and the Junior First Prize, $7,000 US and a one-year loan of a fine old Italian violin by Florian Leonhard Fine Violins.
While the competition takes the spotlight, there is also a full schedule of concerts, lectures, master classes and other events to go along with it. A few highlights include an opening concert featuring violinists Ilya Gringolts, 2012 Junior First-Prize winner Kevin Zhu and others; master classes featuring Brian Lewis, Pamela Frank, Joji Hattori, Lu Siqing, Arabella Steinbacher, David Kim, Olivier Charlier and Ilya Gringolts; a lecture on violin careers by Joji Hattori; a lecture on the art of violin-making; chamber concerts featuring jury members (in one of them, Brian Lewis will play Michael McLean's "Elements"); and even a Texas-style "Fiddle Celebration" featuring Ruby Jane and Mary Hattersley's Blazing Bows.
Another highlight: the Cleveland Orchestra, with conductor Giancarlo Guerrero, will travel 1,378 miles south to appear at the Closing Gala Concert, which will also feature violinist Arabella Steinbacher playing Ravel's "Tzigane," as well as the Junior and Senior first prize winners of the 2014 competition. It's the first time the Cleveland Orchestra has appeared in Austin since 1976.
Jury members Brian Lewis, Pamela Frank, Ilya Gingolts and David Kim
There are a few other uniquely American twists to this competition; the First Round requires competitors to play specially commissioned works by American composers: “The Cowboy and the Rattlesnake,” by Dan Welcher for the junior section, and “Black-Eyed Suzy” by Donald Grantham for the senior division. Also, there will be a 3-minute freestyle improvisation of an American folksong for the junior section.
The Menuhin Competition is held in a different city every two years and recent hosts have included the Royal Academy of Music in London, Royal Welsh College of Music in Cardiff, Norwegian Academy of Music in Oslo and most recently the Central Conservatory of Music in Beijing in 2012. The 2016 Menuhin Competition will be held in London.
Previous winners include some impressive names, such as Julia Fischer, Ilya Gringolts, Tasmin Little, Nikolaj Znaider, Ray Chen and Chad Hoopes.
The international jury panel for 2014 includes soloists, educators and previous Menuhin Competition winners: Pamela Frank (Chair), Joji Hattori (Vice Chair), Olivier Charlier, Ilya Gringolts, David Kim, Brian Lewis, Lü Siqing, Anton Nel and Arabella Steinbacher.
I spoke to Midori Goto in late 2013 in person at her studio at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles. This is Part 2 of our two-part interview. Here is a link for Part 1: Midori's recent recordings and global outreach programs.
* * *
Photo by Timothy Greenfield-Sanders
"I do like the city," Midori said. "We sometimes have this image of six-lane freeways, and the traffic, and the smog, but it's really nice. The mountains -- there is actually so much nature. Sometimes the view is gorgeous, the sun is gorgeous."
But she isn't here for the sun.
"I like the job; that's the most important for me. I think my impression of the city is very much influenced by the job that I have and the community that I have here," Midori said. "I try to share duties and work with my colleagues, to all work together to bring the very best that we can to our students. We have a nice sense of community here."
"Of course, I'm very much looking forward to the concert tomorrow…"
Midori has a way of deflecting attention from herself, especially when she is talking about her students and about USC's Thornton school. Indeed, during our conversation in early December at her studio, she spoke with me for some time about an upcoming USC concert. The night after our interview I attended it, a Beethoven Celebration, the culmination of many weeks' work by guest faculty Paul Katz as well as various USC string professors, who had coached USC student quartets as well as area high school student quartets.
Midori told me that she had been monitoring the progress of the various student quartets. "I know the students quite well, not only my students," she said. "I know the way they play, through juries and different events. It's important to have that idea of where everyone's at and how they're doing."
The larger-than-life superstar seems to have almost a stealth presence at these events, dressed in muted colors and sitting in the corner, greeting people cordially but firmly directing the spotlight to the USC event at hand. After the concert, Midori hung back in the hall while people exchanged congratulations. She quietly greeted students and colleagues, stopping to chat with her fellow colleague, Alice Schoenfeld.
"Midori's presence at USC is huge in many ways," said Margaret Batjer, concertmaster of the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra and Adjunct Assistant Professor at USC. "I have often described her as 'a force of nature' because I have never known a musician that is capable of retaining so much detail, assuming such large administrative responsibilities and yet still being able to walk on the stage and perform at such an extraordinary level. She is an extremely supportive colleague and never expects more of us than she expects of herself. She is an incredibly dedicated teacher and mentor to not only her students, but the entire department."
Midori has taught at the University of Southern California's Thornton School of Music for eight years now. As the Jascha Heifetz Chair in Violin, she teaches in the same studio where Heifetz once taught during his tenure at USC, from 1959 to 1983.
At present, Midori is the only full-time violin faculty at USC in a department of about 20 string faculty that also includes names such as New York Philharmonic concertmaster Glenn Dicterow (who will join USC full-time next season), Los Angeles Philharmonic concertmaster Martin Chalifour, longtime violin professor Alice Schoenfeld and many more. Midori teaches 10 students -- more than she is required to teach. She took on the duties of Chair of the Strings Department six years ago, and in 2012 was named Distinguished Professor of Music.
This has not stopped her from continuing her busy and full life as a performing concert artist, as well as her extensive community engagement programs all over the globe. In fact, she said she enjoys the high degree of planning that her juggling act requires.
"The general pattern is I leave on Wednesday, on a red-eye somewhere," she said. "Then I perform through the weekend, usually back Sunday or very early Monday morning, and I teach Monday-Tuesday-Wednesday, or Sunday-Monday-Tuesday. It's usually three to four days a week that I teach."
She arrives at campus around 6 a.m. each morning that she is in town "and I try to get a block of practicing in the mornings. I practice in the mornings, I practice in the evenings." During times like the end of the semester, she doesn't schedule subscription concerts because "I never miss exams, I never miss juries, I never miss auditions."
"I'm very happy being here," Midori said of her USC post. "Teaching is something that is so important; I can't imagine not doing it."
Earlier in her career, Midori had taught on occasions such as master classes, but her teaching career took off in earnest in 2001, when she suddenly was called to the Manhattan School of Music to fill in for former American String Quartet first violinist Mitch Stern, a faculty member who had fallen ill.
"I was very fortunate that I didn't go in as an occasional master class kind of teacher, but I went in as a replacement for somebody who was taking medical leave," Midori said. "Being a substitute, you can't just do a fancy-sounding masterclasses. I started by being a regular teacher. What was even more: I had to follow the groundwork that had already been set by the teacher. If a student had been working on the Galamian scale and not the Flesch one, I wasn't going to change it right then to the Flesch scale. If they were working on this key, I couldn't suddenly change it. It was mid-semester, not the beginning of the semester. So everything was already in progress."
"I came in in late February, and one week after I started -- spring break!" She laughed. "Right? Then you've got what, five weeks to go before your final juries? But it didn't give me any time to contemplate what to do or not to do -- just to do it. I had no choice but to be hands-on, to really get down to work and to set the partnerships with the students very quickly."
During this time, Stern died from complications after surgery for a brain aneurysm. He was only 45. "So we were going through the period where they were really missing their teacher, somebody I had known and respected."
Does Midori have any mentors in teaching?
"My mother," she said without hesitation. "She was an incredible teacher."
Of course, Midori's mother, Setsu Goto, was her first teacher, when she began playing as a toddler in Osaka, Japan. For one, her mother taught her that teaching must be individualized, she said. Also, she taught her about having patience. "She knows the details, she knows when to take the time. She sees the progression as a necessary process -- she accepts that it takes time," Midori said. "That's very important."
In our frenetic modern age, people often look for an immediate assessment; "they want to see progress made in a very short span of time. Especially in a university or any kind of a school setting, you want to see this in terms of the semesters. And a semester is only three months, or 15 weeks. Officially, it's 15 hours of lessons. What can you do in 15 hours?"
In fact, "if there is such a major change in certain things in 15 weeks, it might actually be something to be concerned (about)!" she said.
"It's easier to make it look right than to make it feel right," Midori said. But a true teacher strives for the fundamental changes, for making it feel right and work correctly. "That takes time. It's a difference in philosophy, too."
But wait a minute here, Midori was playing Paganini Caprices at age 6 and she made her New York Philharmonic solo debut at the age of 11. Doesn't that seem like rapid progress?
"Yes, but it was a very patient approach," Midori said. "My mother is very interesting; she's so patient. She doesn't look for an immediate change. She has experience and training. Someone who is not as trained might not be able to see the progress, but she sees it as a course. Yes, this is the path that you have to go through. Sometimes you start to progress and then you stall. But that's sometimes part of the process -- that's what she expects. Because after that might come something even greater. But without that sort of halting, there may not be that surge later. So she accepts that; she doesn't get impatient about it."
Midori said sometimes she'll teach a student a certain piece, "knowing that I want to learn it now with him or her so that we can bring it back in two years." That may seem strange to an outsider, but "I use it as an agent for something else. I use it as an agent to free the person up, or to encourage curiosity -- not really preparing to have an ultimate performance of that piece right away. And that's okay. It's a different approach. I think it's the way I was taught."
She also likes to allow for individuality.
"A couple of students could be working on the same repertoire, starting around the same time, and with the same teacher -- and they could sound so different!" Midori said. "I think that it's good. There are certain things that I might say: don't do that, because it's accident-prone, or you're going to end up hurting yourself. There are certain things that, there's no question, they're just bad."
For example, failing to warm up on a regular basis -- warm up is a very important part of practice, she said. "No athlete would start immediately playing in the field, without warming up. Or without sufficient training. Of course, especially when one is young, sometimes one feels that one can get away with it, once. But that once then becomes a habit. It quickly becomes twice and three times, and then it becomes every day. Soon you realize that you can't really do whatever you used to do, and you don't know how to get back."
"So it doesn't matter how well-developed your technique is -- or how well-developed the student thinks it is! There is no replacement for a good, solid warmup," she said. "A good practice can only be completed when your body is prepared to take on that practice."
Still, students must be allowed to make mistakes and to experiment during the course of their study, she said. I observed that this can be true in teaching and also in parenting.
"I think that's the way I was raised," Midori said. "Of course, one would want to prevent anything that you think is going to hold back your child. But my mother had always said that she was fearful of a child who was so protected, who was never exposed to any bacteria; then suddenly, you go outside, and there are all kinds of germs and you have absolutely no experience, and then you get bombarded! It's better if, little-by-little, you get inoculated. Then you learn to make the right choices when faced with these circumstances."
Midori said that her non-musical academic experience also has affected her teaching philosophy, particularly her time at New York University, where she earned her bachelor's degree in Psychology and Gender Studies in 2000 and her Master's degree in Psychology in 2005. For those degrees, she was required to do things like writing theses, and presenting a two-hour oral colloquium.
"Their philosophy was: We expect you to do this; we expect you to do well, because we're providing these possibilities and these opportunities for you to learn how to do it right," she said. "So it's not like you go and prepare on your own, but you take these courses and then you will be prepared. So that's something I take to heart: if you expect (students) to do certain things, then you have to give them the opportunity to learn how to do it."
That's where being organized comes in handy. As Midori prepares for her own concerts and appearances, her students prepare for their performances as well.
"I used to take my summers off, but now I'm actually performing all year," Midori said. "There's something about performing, that excitement that one feels. But again, it's also the process; I enjoy being organized in how I prepare things and how I schedule everything, including the lessons. Especially if I'm learning a new piece, or a doing new project -- I have a vision of how I'm going to prepare myself. It involves planning the repertoire two years, three years in advance -- not just deciding what to play, but how to prepare for it. You have to balance out the season in a way so that you have time to prepare."
"I do a lot of run-through, practice performances, and that always happens here, in Los Angeles, because my assistant pianist is here, and she plays for all my students, too," Midori said. "We have a couple of partnership places where we can go and play. They understand that they are participating in the process of preparation for a performance, and they've really embraced this."
In other words, several lucky nursing homes host Midori practice-recitals for their residents on a fairly regular basis. Do the students play for the practice performances, too?
"Oh, we all go!" Midori said. "It's a wonderful opportunity, but it has to happen in the two or three days that I'm in town."
Also, it has to happen in the right time cycle, to be useful in preparing for a later performance. For Midori, she may be preparing for a recording or learning pieces for concert performances next season. For her students, they may be preparing to play in competitions, auditions, juries, recitals or other performances.
When I spoke with Midori, it was early December, and her studio was in the midst of a class project they do every year: "We go out 'Caroling,'" she said. "Yesterday we were at the hospital, and today we're going to a treatment center -- all these different settings. But yes, some of them are partners during the year, we go and do our run-throughs. I think it's a very meaningful time for the students. It's always a mixture of students who are brand-new to the studio, plus the ones who know that they have to do this every year."
"For 'Caroling' we (play) things like 'Estrellita' and Kreisler pieces, Heifetz arrangements," Midori said. "These are a very important part of our repertoire, and sometimes it's difficult to find the right context to perform them in the university setting," she said. For example, requirements for student recitals don't really include these kinds of short pieces.
"In the hospital yesterday, it was four of us, plus the pianist. The students went into the patient rooms and they did a movement of Bach, they also played at a nurses station, or in the lobby area," she said. "As a class, I make it an assignment: They have to learn something new for the short pieces. The Bach -- obviously, it's not new, but they have to prepare for it. So this is all takes a lot of organization."
What other kinds of "class projects" has Midori devised?
"Bach Week is another class project," she said. For Midori's 30th anniversary of her debut in 2013, she had her own Bach project: recording and performing the Bach solo Sonatas and Partitas. (The recording will likely come out something in the next 18 months, her publicist said.)
"For (my) Bach Project, for instance, I sometimes utilized the Bach Week we had as a class," Midori said. "I'd been preparing, specifically with this Bach Project in mind, for the last four or five years. One year I played only the Sonatas, and I played them, No. 1, No. 2 and No. 3. Some years I played just four of them. One year I played five in one sitting, no break."
"I learned so much from being able to play Bach as a piece," she said. Students, who are often fearful of playing Bach, can also learn from playing it in more of a performance setting, "not as an audition, where you play one or two movements at most, and only parts of it."
During Bach week, they have to play the complete Sonata or Partita, with repeats. "They can't just play the Chaconne, for instance, they have to play the entire D minor, if that's going to be their Bach," she said. They have to play that whole piece a minimum of three times that week -- more if they'd like. "Older ones, sometimes they like to do two, or three. But if they are doing two works, one Partita and one Sonata, for the three performances, they have to always play this couple. It's building stamina, too. That's how I build my stamina."
"They hear me perform, and they hear me practicing," she laughs, "they hear me struggle!"
Do you hear a struggle here? No. I hear only beauty. Here's Midori's 2007 recording of the Grave from Bach's Sonata No. 2 for solo violin.
I spoke to Midori Goto in late 2013 over e-mail and at her studio at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles. This interview is Part 1 of a two-part interview. Here is a link for Part 2: Midori's life as Distinguished Professor of Music and Chair of the Strings Department at the University of Southern California.
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There is Midori the performing artist, Midori the recording artist, Midori the former child prodigy, Midori the public educator, Midori the private teacher, Midori the administrator, Midori the advocate, Midori the peace ambassador.
And then there is the lovely woman I had tea with in early December, in her studio at the University of Southern California. She is so reserved, who would know she sits atop a mountain of accomplishment, honorary titles and awards?
Photo by Timothy Greenfield-Sanders
Well, I knew, and I confess, I was a little starstruck. When I was studying violin in college, Midori -- just a few years younger than me -- had already mastered the violin to an astonishing degree, taken the world by storm and established herself in the public imagination -- not to mention the imaginations of the rest of us aspiring fiddlers. I loved her playing then; I love it now. During college, I played a cassette I had of her Dvorak Romance over and over, until the ribbon broke.
Born in Osaka, Japan, in 1971, Midori began studying with her mother, Setsu Goto, when she was a toddler. Her mother was a patient teacher, and Midori learned fast. The two moved to New York so that Midori could study with Dorothy DeLay at Juilliard, and she made her debut with Zubin Mehta and the New York Philharmonic at age 11. From many sources, one can discern that it was no easy life, growing up in the public eye. Where most of us can switch violin teachers without much incident, even the New York Times grilled her about the reasons why she quit taking lessons from DeLay at age 15. Her parents divorced, her mother remarried one of DeLay's assistants. Midori struggled with stress, depression and anorexia, for which she was hospitalized for a time. In 2004, she published an autobiography, Einfach Midori ("Simply Midori"), available only in German. Though I do not read German, I understand that it outlines some of these struggles.
Now, more than 30 years after that New York debut, Midori exudes control, calm and content and she skillfully juggles a very full schedule. She is more than generous with her time, when it comes to educational and outreach initiatives. Her programs -- Midori and Friends, Orchestra Residency Program, Partners in Performance and more -- have reached far and wide. When I wrote about her in 2008, people came out of the woodwork to sing her praises:
"I owe a lot of the success of my studio to Midori," wrote V.com member Craig Coleman, who is based in Tsukuba City, Ibaraki, Japan. "She came here 10 years ago and gave a wonderful lecture and performance for my students which I'll never forget." And: "Midori was in the Chicago area working with the Elgin Youth Symphony Orchestra this past weekend," wrote Drew Lecher. "Her generosity of spirit was amazing, as I heard from those of my students in that orchestra. She was and is truly inspirational. I have immediately seen wonderful and dramatic changes in my students that were involved and/or went to observe."
In 2007 she was named a United Nations Messenger of Peace. And along with a full performing schedule, which this year includes her first performances in Iceland, India and Africa, it would seem she has increased her recording activities as well. In 2013 she released two recordings, both which have been nominated for awards: a recording of Paul Hindemith's Violin Concerto with Christoph Eschenbach and the NDR Symphony, which is up for a Grammy; and a recital recording with pianist Ozgur Aydin, featuring sonatas by Bloch, Janacek and Shostakovich, which has been nominated for an International Classical Music Award for Chamber Music. She plays the 1734 Guarnerius del Gesu "ex-Huberman" and uses three bows, two by Dominique Peccatte, and one by Paul Siefried.
Before we met in person, we began with an e-mail conversation, starting with the topic of her Grammy-nominated Hindemith Concerto recording:
Laurie: I'd never really heard this piece! It's beautiful; it sounds larger-than-life in places, and very intimate in others. When did you begin learning the Hindemith Violin Concerto; how long have you lived with it?
Midori: I learned one of the sonatas for violin and piano, now so many years ago, and that was my first introduction to playing Hindemith’s works myself. I was immediately taken by the language of his music -- it is achingly romantic at times, with the rhythmic jauntiness and intriguing harmonic modulations that, combined with my interest in his personal history, I took an interest in learning his other works, including the violin concerto. This was already a while ago and so I cannot remember exactly for how long I have known his works, or the violin concerto, especially because I was already aware of his non-violin works even before I played my first violin work of his. Even the concerto itself, I had known it by ear from an Oistrakh recording. I remember the exact cover of the CD--it was a Chant du Monde label, with the Szymanowski 1, Bartok 1, and Hindemith. I must have had this recording already in the mid-80s!
I have been performing the concerto in the last few years, both more privately as well as publicly.
Laurie: This work is not played frequently, what made you want to record it?
Midori: 2013 was a Hindemith year (the 50th anniversary of the composer's death), and as part of the special celebrations, the NDR Hamburg, with Christoph Eschenbach, invited me to be a part of their special project or recording the complete orchestral works. I was only happy to oblige!
Laurie: Reading the liner notes, this concerto had a difficult birth, right at the outbreak of World War II. Do you feel that the music reflects those times, and if so, in what way? In your opinion, in what way does it feel relevant today?
Midori: A piece of music is relevant to an individual because of personal and subjective reaction to it, which may be greatly influenced by the environment. The spirit of the concerto, or any musical work, can go beyond what words can explain. I feel that sometimes in our efforts to contextualize the "meaning" behind a piece of music in a comfortable, tangible way, that we minimize its capacity to become personalized for each individual listener. One cannot be taught how to feel, and feelings are not a question of right or wrong. We simply do feel, and we can maximize our perceptibility and our receptiveness in order to empathize and to react.
Laurie: I understand your program, Midori and Friends, is celebrating its 20th year. What inspired you start this effort in the first place? Has the mission changed at all over the years? Can you describe any rewarding moments, when you could see that this was helping kids?
Midori: Yes, Midori and Friends has been in existence since the early 1990s, having recently celebrated its 20th anniversary year. I am passionate about bringing people together in the context of music. Whether through Midori and Friends, Music Sharing, or other educational initiatives, I am incredibly honored to be able to work with young people with music. However, I must add that there wasn't any single event that sparked my interest in music education projects. Rather, I would say that it was a number of different elements of my own childhood that showed me how a life could be lived from an early age. Commitment to community, dedication to education, and respect for discipline all play a part, I believe, in all aspects of my professional life, including my work through the foundations. And to address your final question: it would be impossible to pick any single moment to highlight as the most rewarding, because the opportunity to be able to interact with children in schools, hospitals, and other institutions, planning for the educational contexts in such interactions -- are what makes the programs meaningful and special to me.
Laurie: Are you still doing the Orchestra Residencies Program, and who will you visit next? What do you hope to do for each youth orchestra when you visit?
Midori: Yes, I have been very pleased to be able to continue the Orchestra Residencies Program (ORP), and this season I will travel to Kalamazoo, Michigan and Santa Rosa, Calif. for residencies. The international version (iORP) will take me to Bahia, Brazil and Cape Town, South Africa. The program aims to provide unique musical opportunities to youth orchestras, helping to increase the profile of these orchestras through a partnership and a culminating performance with an adult orchestra in the area. My hope for each of these residencies is to have the chance to connect with as many students as possible. Over the years, we have incorporated everything from masterclasses and workshops to specialty performances, demonstrations, Q&A sessions, and other social gatherings with members of the youth orchestras.
Laurie: Why do you feel youth orchestras are important for communities?
Midori: To me, these orchestras are critically important to communities because they not only offer students of music an incredibly valuable real-world opportunity to perform and share their music, but they also serve as gathering places for other members of the community as well, including parents, friends, and family who might otherwise never get to experience orchestral music.
The children in each of these communities deserve the highest quality education. I simply support the efforts of their music teachers and orchestra directors by opening discussions and employing new methods to engage the students, families and community members. These activities, in turn, charge me with inspiration, which I bring to my next destination.
Laurie: I was also reading about your Partners in Performance, an outreach program for smaller communities which was funded in the beginning from your Avery Fisher grant. What was the need that you saw, and how did it come to your attention? What has been the most rewarding thing for you about this program?
Midori: In the course of my own performing, I have been incredibly fortunate to visit many wonderful venues in cities across the United States and elsewhere in the world. A majority of the best-supported of these venues exist in larger communities and urban centers. One of the reasons I developed an interest in the recitals that Partners in Performance puts on -- chamber music performances in smaller communities without significant financial resources -- is because I realized that people all over the country have a deep interest in experiencing music of the finest quality. Unfortunately, however, many of these people are unable to access top level performances because of the limited resources in their community. Partners in Performance offers recitals by wonderful chamber musicians and, through the generosity of the Avery Fisher grant and other supporters, these recitals are available to presenters at a greatly reduced rate. For me, one of the most rewarding aspects of Partners in Performance is that the presenters keep all of the ticket proceeds from each recital. It is wonderful to hear news of a presenter that used a PiP recital to build new and sustained interest in classical music performances in its community.
Tomorrow: Part II, our in-person conversation about Midori's teaching philosophy and her life in Los Angeles at the University of Southern California.
I enjoyed this short documentary about one of Midori's Partners in Performance concerts, in Randolph, Vermont in 2003:
At long last, the Minnesota Orchestra lockout has ended, and musicians will go back to work on Feb. 1.
On Tuesday, musicians, represented by Twin Cities Musicians’ Union (American Federation of Musicians Local 30-73), and the Minnesota Orchestra Board of Directors ratified a three-year collective bargaining agreement that will cut musician salaries 15 percent from 2012 levels in the first year, according to the Minnesota Orchestra. This puts minimum base salaries at $96,824 for year one. Salaries will increase 2 percent to $99,008 for year two, then increase 3 percent to $102,284 in year three. This keeps Minnesota Orchestra in the top ten U.S. orchestras for salaries.
"Keeping salaries in the top ten was a critical issue, as it allows the orchestra to attract and retain the finest musicians in the country, building on the tradition of excellence that has been cultivated by the community over many generations. The agreement achieves this priority," said a statement from the Musicians of the Minnesota Orchestra, posted yesterday.
Musicians had been locked out for 15 months after rejecting October 2012 proposal by management for 35 percent salary cuts. As the lockout dragged on, vacancies in the orchestra went unfilled and many of the orchestra's best musicians left for jobs elsewhere, leaving nearly 30 empty positions in the orchestra. The orchestra's conductor, Osmo Vänskä, resigned on Oct. 1 after having to cancel two Minnesota Orchestra concerts at Carnegie Hall.
Though Minnesota Orchestra Association Chief Executive Officer Michael Hensen has been widely criticized for his strategy in locking out the musicians and also for the massive bonuses he awarded himself in the run-up to the work stoppage, he will remain on as CEO, according to an article in MinnPost.com. Chairman of the Board Jon Campbell will step down.
The vote to ratify the contract was not unanimous, according to another MinnPost article. The same article speculates that perhaps the Minnesota Orchestra Association was feeling some pressure, facing the possible termination of its lease with the city of Minneapolis.
I think we all wish the Minnesota Orchestra well in the task of rebuilding its orchestra -- a considerable endeavor. The orchestra will need to convince musicians who endured more than a year of great financial hardship to come back to the orchestra that brought it upon them, or recruit new musicians into an orchestra with a reputation for disregarding its musicians. It will have to find a conductor. It will have to regain the trust of symphony donors. It will have to regain the trust of supporters and concertgoers who saw so many concerts canceled. It will have to rebuild its national and international reputation. It will have to shore up its board of directors.
Judging from the current state of the organization, the lockout-as-businessategy was disastrous. But at least it's over.
One person who can be thanked for her tireless advocacy on behalf of the Minnesota Orchestra is Emily Hogstad, whose blog, Song of the Lark, helped build the groundswell of support for the symphony's musicians and for its continuation as a top-quality musical organization. At least one musician involved in the negotiations told me privately that her blog was "so accurate, it's scary."
What was her assessment, at the end of the day?
"We saved the Minnesota Orchestra and we saved it together," Emily wrote. "Because of our work, the Minnesota Orchestra will not die. However, the new business model did. We killed it, and we killed it together."
Let's hope. And let's shoot high, let's hope this orchestra redeems itself by building a new business model: a strong organization that is a beacon of leadership, artistic excellence, fiscal responsibility and community strength.
Violinist Augustin Hadelich seems to show even deeper artistry and more enjoyment in performing, every time I hear him play live.
Hadelich played the Beethoven Violin Concerto in three concerts last weekend with the Los Angeles Philharmonic at Walt Disney Concert Hall -- I attended the Saturday evening concert. He and conductor Edo de Waart were called in as last-minute substitutes for violinist Christian Tetzlaff and conductor Christoph Eschenbach, who canceled due to illness.
Tetzlaff was to have performed the Schoenberg Violin concerto. (Tetzlaff also canceled his performance of the Mendelssohn with Naples (Florida) Philharmonic, for which violinist Chad Hoopes substituted.) I'd still like to see Christian Tetzlaff play; wishing him good health!
Indeed, the Schoenberg Violin Concerto would have taken us on a completely different journey -- one less-traveled and more troubled than the sunny Beethoven.
As it was, Hadelich's Beethoven was riveting and beautiful. The opening was so perfectly in tune, it made me want to cry. What is so soul-penetrating about pure intonation? I don't know. Later, my husband Robert observed, "You know how people always quote (the late Juilliard violin professor) Dorothy DeLay as saying, 'Honey, what is your concept of F#?' Well, it's THAT, for every single note, THAT!"
But intonation wasn't the only thing that was so perfectly right about the performance; it was also the fact that Hadelich embodied the music, whether he happened to be playing at the time or waiting during an orchestral interlude. His presence and immersion in the music kept it in the here and now -- the essence of live performance, that we don't dial back into the recording in our heads during a piece as familiar as the Beethoven concerto. General fidgeting in the audience stopped, even for the guy down the row from me who was quietly clunking his feet all through the opening "Egmont Overture." The spellbound audience is as much a part of such a performance as the performers.
Hadelich played the Kreisler cadenza with beautiful timing, flawlessly executed. After the first movement came applause -- for a very long time. He smiled, nodded graciously, and moved on, with the high filigree of the second movement, a high-wire walk that nonetheless sounded completely carefree. Then came the joyous last movement, so in tune, in time and well-articulated. No words for the beauty and brilliance of the cadenza, which he played with complete mastery.
Afterwards came a fairly unanimous standing ovation and four curtain calls, after which Hadelich tossed off the totally easy Paganini Caprice No. 9 as an encore. Easy for him! Somehow he is able to find that balance between strong articulation and expressivity, with all those octaves, ricochets, and leaping high and low. His playing shows a tenderness, right in the midst some of the most wickedly difficult music ever written for violin. The audience rose to its feet immediately.
Without the Schoenberg Concerto, the rest of the program seemed almost like a classical pops concert, with the second half featuring Dvorak's New World Symphony. Now this is a familiar piece, even more so than the Beethoven. My husband started tapping his toes during the last movement, which he remembered from his childhood viola days, during which he'd played this movement in youth orchestra. In fact, I had images from junior high dancing in my mind as well. I suspect every musician in the LA Phil had played this symphony by the age of 16. Old hat, eh?
But this is still a greatly satisfying piece, especially that last movement, where Dvorak puts everyone in the entire orchestra to work on some unnecessarily complicated inner voice. Yet all that busy-ness and tremolo is what gives it so much energy. The end is a heck of an apotheosis, the gorgeous dissonance of two themes epically colliding, then a march to the end.
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If you'd like to read more about Augustin and the Beethoven Concerto, here is an interview we did several years back, in which he spoke about the Beethoven; and a review of a 2012 concert with the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra, in which he also played the Beethoven. And here is our original interview with Augustin.
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Here is Augustin playing Paganini 24 -- not the same Paganini caprice as in the concert, but enjoy!
Older violinists share memories of their first "violin" -- for example, one described her teacher who would wrap Cracker Jacks boxes in wrapping paper to use as box violins, then when the students graduated to the real thing, they got to unwrap them and eat the popcorn!
As a teacher, I don't always use a "box" violin for every beginner, particularly if the beginner is over the age of, say, eight. But it can be a very useful tool in teaching young students, who tend to learn violin skills in small steps. If they've become very comfortable with having a box violin on their shoulders, the whole process goes much more smoothly, when they finally get the "real" thing. With no preparation, they tend to start by grabbing the fiddle with their left hand and immediately sawing away, with no regard for position, and thus the cascade of bad habits begins.
When I was a kid and the Suzuki Method was young in America, it was not uncommon to make the cardboard violin from a cigar box -- something which is no longer easily found in most homes!
For a while, I've been having kids make the violins from an egg carton and ruler, then pasting on a violin cut-out that I drew, which they can first color with crayons. The egg carton fiddles look quite pretty, here's a few years back, when I had a class of 53 kids make these:
But, I'm finding that the egg cartons are just too thick, especially for students that will be using a violin that is smaller than a quarter-size. I suddenly have several new, very young students, so I thought it was time to change it up a little and solve the thickness problem. I asked Facebook friends over at the Suzuki Teaching Ideas Exchange, and they came up with the following ideas for boxes: a macaroni and cheese box, Kleenex box, Fruit Rollups box and butter box. One colleague from Germany even gave me information about exactly how thick a cardboard violin should be, to match its corresponding-sized fractional violin, check out this PDF, page 12.
Here is what I used in the end:
I wrapped a macaroni and cheese box in paper from a brown bag. Then we attached a ruler, using packing tape, then glued the cut-out onto this "box." This little craft project worked nicely for a first lesson; before we glued anything, my new student colored her violin (pink) as we listened to violin music and I answered her parents' questions. Then we assembled her "violin."
Now we are ready to go!
Hear more from the world's top violinists in The Violinist.com Interviews: Volume 1, which includes our exclusive conversations with Joshua Bell, Sarah Chang, and David Garrett, and others, as well as a foreword by Hilary Hahn.
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Laurie Niles is from Pasadena, California. Biography
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