By Kate Little
Salt Lake City, Utah
Published: March 8, 2014 at 22:32
Ace fiddler Natalie MacMaster headlined with the Utah Symphony this season in an Entertainment Series concert. Natalie MacMaster was stellar, Utah Symphony was luscious, and the packed audience was well entertained. Ten years ago, before I could hear a symphony , I would have been entertained, too. Instead, for me, the concert was an uncomfortable mis-match of artistry, as if a mouse and an elephant had been asked to dance.
Don’t get me wrong. As an experienced contra-dancer, I love fiddle music and fiddle bands. Listening to Natalie MacMaster, I wanted to get up and dance (not appropriate at symphony hall), and I wanted the improvised give-and-take magic that happens between musicians and dancers. To give her credit, Ms. MacMaster was trying from her place on the stage. But the nature of the orchestral-beast and the sedentary-audience prevented spontaneous interaction.
And the orchestral backup band, while sounding pretty and conveying energy, presented but a shadow of its musical capability. The audience had no opportunity to experience what an orchestra can really do. On the other hand, a concert of this nature gets people who-would-not-otherwise experience orchestral sound, into an auditorium to hear. This is good.
However, I wish to make a double-recommendation. First, if you are interested experiencing fiddle music, get yourself to a contra-dance. Seriously. You need to move to this music. The only requirements are that you be able to walk and count to eight. Simultaneously. Contra-dancers are a congenial bunch, and they’ll catch a beginner and get him or her through the moves and down the line. Go. The music will be great. You’ll have a fun time.
Second, if you are interested in experiencing orchestral music, and even if you aren’t, attend your local symphony’s classical series. If you are new to this art form, it may feel overwhelming at first. It was for me. But hang in there. Go again, and again, and again. Simply due to the number of instruments in the ensemble, orchestral music can have a complexity well beyond other types.
Therein lies the beauty of an orchestra. In this day and age when everything should be convenient, quick, and easy, it can be gratifying to explore something that is difficult and takes time to comprehend. There is inherent reward in the effort as well as in the result.
Published: March 7, 2014 at 19:32
I enjoy playing the violin, but I hate performing in front of people. I play wonderfully when I am alone, but the second someone enters the room, I fall apart. I do not understand it. Today, I had to perform Beethoven's Spring Sonata, first movement in studio class. It was awful. I am in my senior year as a music major and I still get nervous performing. I just cannot seem to do it. I feel as though I am falling through a deep, dark hole. My violin sounds and feels different, smaller. When I am practicing or playing during my lesson, it projects so much better. It sounds so small in a performance hall or a rehearsal room to my ears. My vibrato sounds weak, the tone does not carry, I cannot hear the changes in dynamics (though I am doing them)and I hear nothing but bad notes. It sounds so strident, harsh, and shrill. This is not the case when I am practicing. I feel as though I have to work so hard to produce a good tone, much harder than during my lessons and practice sessions. I try to be confident and push forward through the performance, but I cannot seem to get a grip on myself (not to mention the dreadful 'bow vibrato' during the sections that are played in piano or pianissimo. For once in my life I would like to perform with confidence and comfort in front of an audience. I want to be able to express myself through the music. It's inside of me to do it, but I just cannot bring it out. Sometimes I feel like giving up because the same thing keeps happening every time I perform. I envy people who are able to give an audience a heartfelt, authentic performance. The look on people's faces after I perform breaks my heart. I have done nothing for them as a performer. Their faces look cold and distant and they applaud out of courtesy. It is embarrassing and I get so angry with myself because I know I can do better. I feel as though I am reaching the point of wanting to quit. I do not see the point anymore. Does anyone have any advice?Tweet
By Laurie Niles
Published: March 7, 2014 at 15:03
The 300-page collection includes more than two dozen exclusive interviews with top violinists that I've done for Violinist.com over the past six years, including pictures of the artists. Which interviews are included in this book? You can get a magnifying glass and look at the cover art, which includes all the names. Or, you can just look at this list:
Anne Akiko Meyers
Though this is a long list, I still was not able to include everyone that I wanted to include, which is why I've called this book "Volume 1."
As I assembled this collection, I was pleased to find that far from being 27 completely separate stories, there are a great many threads that connect one violinist's story to another's: common teachers, repertoire, experiences, approaches -- even instruments that start in one violinist's hands and end up in another's! At the same time, there is great diversity of thought as well; for example, the story of James Ehnes' arduous search for just the right instrument contrasts completely with Nadja Salerno Sonnenberg's humorous banter on the same topic. What kind of violin do you play, Nadja? "I play a used one," she said, "I found a good instrument and I just stuck with it. There are better instruments out there, certainly there are worse instruments, but I feel fine."
Some of the interviews are several years old, and one can see that the seeds of the future lie in the things that violinists said years ago. For example, Anne Akiko Meyers speaks in 2008 of having to borrow many instruments in her early career, and how returning them was "like having your left arm amputated." She now quite famously has been guaranteed lifetime use of the "Vieuxtemps" Guarneri del Gesù.
The book also contains a special interview with Ruggiero Ricci, which I did with him in 2007, just five years before his death.
Each interview has an introduction, written especially for the book, that makes some of these connections and brings the reader up-to-date with a developments that occurred with the artist after the interview.
So I invite you to buy our book! If you buy a paperback copy of the book through Amazon, you soon will be able to add a Kindle version for just $2.95, under Amazon's Kindle Matchbook program.
We're planning a book launch party in Pasadena, as well as some other promotions for the book. In the meantime, we appreciate all the support from our friends and readers in buying the book and rating it highly on Amazon.com. Your purchases and recommendations encourage Amazon to suggest the book to other customers, helping expose it to more potential readers. (And if you'd like to "like" the book on Facebook, the official page is at facebook.com/violininterviews.)
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This business of publishing a book brought me to another question, one that I'm making into this week's "Weekend Vote": Do you prefer to read paper books, or e-books?
I feel like this difference has less to do with age that it does with personal preference. For example, my teenage daughter, certainly a member of the "digital native" generation, prefers paper-and-print books to her Kindle. In fact, her tech-savvy grandfather has pushed two separate Kindles her way over the years, and she's completely rejected both. She just prefers the feel and the look of a "real" book and loves visiting used book stores, where she can scoop up of a pile of old paperbacks.
That said, her grandfather -- who is of a generation that grew up with print books -- fully believes that "there will be no print books" in the future and that the e-book is the best and only way to go.
I can see both points. I have a Kindle (the easy-on-your-eyes older model), and I love to read the New York Times on it, instead of reading the paper either on newsprint or on the Internet. I enjoy taking it on the plane because it is so compact and lightweight, yet can carry dozens of "books" in it.
At the same time, I don't feel I can flip through the Kindle in the way that I can flip through a paper book. Yesterday, I showed my book to a long-time student, one that has never taken a huge interest in the larger world of violinists. As she leafed through it, she said, "I think I just want to look at the pictures." But as she was examining each picture, she started asking, "Who is this? What is her story? What is his story?" Even as libraries go digital and the world goes digital, I still don't ever want to give up the experience of going to the book store or an old-fashioned library: the smell, the feel, the real-world feeling of a book. It feels like a connection to the past, too: Who held this book before I did, who wrote that note in the margin?
So which is your preference these days, when reading a book? Do you prefer it as a paper book, or in e-book form?
By Laurie Niles
Published: March 6, 2014 at 16:03
At one point during his technically astonishing performance of Waxman's "Carmen Fantasy" during the Junior Finals of the 2014 Menuhin Competition in Austin, the 14-year-old Japanese violinist Rennosuke Fukuda seemed to completely take over as leader of the orchestra. The tempo was his tempo, the music was his music, the spirit was his spirit.
Thus I wasn't surprised to learn, when interviewing him backstage after he was named the First-Prize winner, that beyond his violin studies, Rennosuke aspires to be a conductor.
Rennosuke does not speak English, so I interviewed him with the help of Tomoko Kashiwagi, who served as both his piano accompanist and his translator throughout the Menuhin Competition.
"A conductor has the job of bringing everybody together, and to do that makes everybody happy," he said. "I want that kind of job." He has tried his hand at it, conducting for his public high school in Japan on occasion. What pieces would he most like to conduct? Without hesitation, he said he'd like to conduct Beethoven's Ninth Symphony. Beyond that, perhaps Beethoven's Fifth -- these are simply great pieces, he said.
What was his favorite thing about the Menuhin Competition? "Playing the Carmen Fantasy by Waxman," he said -- the performance he had just given. It's a piece that he'd been preparing for two to three years, he said, and he loves it because of the way it feels: grand, tumultuous, full of tension.
Rennosuke started playing the violin at age three, and he won his first violin award at age four. Even before he was born, "my mom already had the idea that if I was a boy, I would play the violin," he said. He studies violin with Machie Oguri, and most recently he won first prize and the "Virtuos" prize at the September 2013 15th Kloster Schöntal International Violin Competition in Germany. He also performed at the 2013 UNESCO charity concert in Paris for victims of the Great East Japan Earthquake.
What does he like best about the violin? "I'm happy when everybody claps for me," he said. (It must have been a happy week -- he enjoyed many ovations, for his performances that occurred over the 10-day Menuhin Competition!)
Photo courtesy The Menuhin Competition
Those happiest moments are the result of a great deal of hard work. When I asked, "How long do you practice?" he needed no translation to understand that question; he's heard it before. Rennosuke said that he practices three or four hours on weekdays, and six to seven hours on the weekend, if he's feeling good. (Just four if he doesn't.)
Do you like to practice? "I hate it!" he said, laughing. But the performing is another matter: "I try to enjoy the performance; I try not to think too much about it (as a competition)," he said.
Some of his favorite violin pieces are the Bruch and the Tchaikovsky Concertos, he said. He looks up to a number of violinists, including Japanese violinists Mayuko Kamio and Daishin Kashimoto. He also likes to listen to the recordings of Perlman and Heifetz, and he likes recordings by Olivier Charlier, one of the judges for the competition.
He said that he made a lot of friends at the Menuhin Competition. "Everybody is so good, I was really surprised," he said. He thought a lot about how to make his own unique character come forward and to enjoy the performance, he said, so he had fun with it. He also learned a lot from the other competitors; he particularly admired the sound of fellow finalist Daniel Lozakovitj, who placed second. "His sound is just so pretty," he said. He thought that some of the competitors that didn't advance from the first round were also technically very sound. Seeing the other competitors play gave him a lot to think about, he said.
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In case you missed them, here are some videos of Rennosuke's performances at the Menuhin Competition.
Junior Final Round: Rennosuke Fukuda played Franz Waxman's "Carmen Fantasy" with the University of Texas Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Gerhardt Zimmerman.
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Junior Final Round: Rennosuke Fukuda played Beethoven Sonata No. 1 in D major with pianist Tomoko Kashiwagi, Op. 12; Handel-Halvorsen Passacaglia, with cellist Bion Tsang
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Junior First Round: Rennosuki Fukuda played the following, with pianist Tomoko Kashiwagi:
Violinist.com Editor Laurie Niles went to Austin, Texas to cover the Menuhin Competition 2014, watching some of the world's top young violinists. Read her ongoing coverage.
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