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The Week in Reviews, Op. 50: Nadja Salerno Sonnenberg, Augustin Hadelich, James Ehnes in Concert

By Robert Niles
Published: September 30, 2014 at 10:36

In an effort to promote the coverage of live music, each week Violinist.com brings you links to reviews of notable violin performances from around the world.

Augustin Hadelich substituted for Hilary Hahn and performed the Beethoven with the Dallas Symphony

  • TheaterJones: "He was profound without being pompous in the first movement, lyrical without sentimentality in the second, and playful without trivialization in the final rondo."
  • D Magazine: "Hadelich was substituting last night for an injured Hilary Hahn, and I did find myself mentally comparing his stoicism to her easy charisma, but he managed some extraordinarily beautiful moments in the piece’s last two movements. At his best, he drew a fantastic range of sounds from his instrument."
  • Dallas Morning News: "Hadelich took a moment to settle into the Beethoven, but thereafter he delivered as exquisite, as generously expressive a performance as you’ll hear anywhere. His 1723 “Ex-Kiesewetter” Stradivarius has an extraordinarily sweet but slender tone; Hadelich treats that as an asset, cultivating breathtaking pianissimos and finely polished passagework."

Nadja Salerno SonnenbergNadja Salerno-Sonnenberg performed Shostakovich's First Violin Concerto with the Oregon Symphony

  • The Oregonian: "...her playing was fierce and mercurial; one second she might seem as though howling at the moon, the second grabbing you by the lapels and whispering urgently in your ear. At the same time, her technical abilities have only deepened — the feeling of near-mayhem she expressed came from exquisite control."

James Ehnes performed the Korngold with the Baltimore Symphony

  • The Baltimore Sun: "The concerto's refined lyricism could not ask for a more eloquent advocate than James Ehnes. The violinist's seamless technique, sweetness of tone and poetic instincts had the music soaring and sighing to compelling effect."

Joshua Bell performed the Glazunov with the Pacific Symphony

  • Orange County Register: "Bell gave it a fine reading (the piece, he said, is relatively new to him), cogent and disciplined in his phrasing, secure and scintillating in his pyrotechnics."

Rachel Barton Pine started playing the Mendelssohn with the Valdosta Symphony Orchestra. Then the power went out...

  • The Valdosta Daily Times: "'The audience was delighted when Rachel Barton Pine stepped out of the darkness with her violin, backlit by a few overhead emergency lights,' said Haley Hyatt of Valdosta, who was in the audience. 'She spoke to the crowd, and launched into an impromptu second concert which included a piece by Paganini and other selections. The audience cheered with delight.'"

Pinchas Zukerman performed and conducted Mozart's Violin Concerto No. 5 with the National Arts Centre Orchestra

  • Ottawa Citizen: "Zukerman seemed as comfortable and at ease as if he were in his own living room, and he set a mood that was all elegance and calm, unruffled refinement."
  • ConcertoNet: "Zukerman conducted and was violin soloist in a performance both interesting and imaginative but which didn’t quite work."

Tianwa Yang performed the Brahms with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra

  • MusicOMH: "Upon entering the fray Tianwa Yang quickly established her presence through precision of attack, gainfully meeting the challenge of unifying the grand melodic gestures with the intricacies of passagework, often played with a graceful mezzo-piano tone that made one want to revel afresh in the concerto’s many details."

Lindsay Deutsch performed the Khachaturian with the Cape Symphony

  • The Barnstable Patriot: "Violinist Lindsay Deutsch played with such verve, passion and athletic skill that the audience broke into applause after the first movement."

Please support live music in your community by attending a concert or recital whenever you can!

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Laurie's Violin School: Don't Tolerate Impossible Pegs!

By Laurie Niles
Published: September 29, 2014 at 11:23

Do you have impossible pegs? Does your student have impossible pegs?

Don't let that situation stand. It's important to have very high standards when you tune your violin, every single time you play. There's really no "almost" when it comes to tuning your violin. There is "in tune" and "out-of-tune." If you play on an out-of-tune violin, nothing else will be in tune. It's as simple as that!


When pegs stick or slip, then tuning the violin becomes a constant struggle. I know, from personal experience; as a high school and college student, I had terrible, ill-fitting pegs. I fought the battle every time, but not everyone is willing to do so. I finally had my peg-box rebusched, a labor-intensive operation for the luthier and an expensive solution all-around. (It turned out that I had four completely different pegs, all somehow jammed in there over the century-long life of my little German fiddle.) With four new pegs lodged in holes that fit them, it solved my problems with that fiddle.

But there are other solutions you can try for impossible pegs, and not all of them are expensive (though some are!)

First, see if you've installed your strings correctly. Traditional pegs stay in place simply by being wedged into the holes made for them. If they aren't wedged in enough, they can slip. When you tune, you can push the peg in as you turn it, to make sure the peg is staying wedged in. (It doesn't work to push in the peg after you've turned it, you have to push it in as you are turning it.) Also, when you install your strings, wind them up against the peg box, and this also has the effect of wedging the peg inward. Of course, if you push too hard or wedge the peg in too tight, then the pegs get difficult to turn. In that case, unwind the string and re-roll it, making it a little less tight against the peg box. (See the pink-threaded "D" string, right)

Secondly: see if your pegs are lubricated well enough. If they are sticking and clicking, they may need lubricant. Peg compound (or "peg dope," as many refer to it) is widely available and not too expensive. It looks like a tube of brown lipstick, and one tube lasts forever (as far as I know). To use it, take the string off and take the peg out. Draw a little "lipstick" onto the two places where the peg rubs up against the holes in the peg box. Put the peg back in and turn a few time to spread it around, then put the string back on.

For a more homespun solution: instead of "peg dope," use dry soap for lubricant and baby powder for friction. Don't get fancy with the soap; use something simple and fairly unscented like Ivory. Again, remove the string and take the peg out. Rub the dry (I repeat DRY!) soap onto the areas where the peg rubs against the holes. Then put the peg back in and turn it a few times to spread it around. Then take the peg back out and apply a thin coat of baby powder over the areas you've "soaped," re-insert the peg, and re-install the string. I like this solution a lot and find it to sometimes work better than the peg dope. My luthier in Denver used to do this, and very often I'd see that little dusting of baby powder when I got my fiddle back from him! (By the way, when you have a string off, this is a good time to clean the fingerboard. You can clean the fingerboard with alcohol, but don't get alcohol on any other part of the fiddle. I use pre-packaged alcohol mini-swabs, the kind you would find in a first-aid kit, because they are less likely to drip than something like a cotton ball. I rub the fingerboard clean then immediately wipe the alcohol dry with a tissue)

Pegs still impossible?

Put fine-tuners on all your strings. This solution requires getting over age-old directive that if you have a full-sized violin, you should have only one fine-tuner on the "E" string, and all other strings should be solely peg-tuned. This is fine, if you have well-fitted pegs and can tune your string to the finest fraction of a cent with the peg. But what if that is very difficult? This can be a bad situation for an adult beginner or a young student who has just graduated to a full-sized violin and is still getting the hang of tuning. They can get it close with the peg, but when it's just a little tiny, tiny bit sharp, and that peg doesn't want to settle in between, then the student gets very tempted to just leave it. The whole struggle takes up valuable practice time and has the student heaving in frustration before even playing a note. It can be very frustrating to the student in situations that require fast tuning: at orchestra, before an audition, etc. So invest $15 in a set of four fine tuners. You can easily install them yourself, Shar tells you how, even. I'm sure other stores have such helpful videos as well. I just helped a student install her own fine-tuners and I'm looking forward to the added control she will now have over her violin. This doesn't preclude peg-tuning at all; it just gives you the extra ability to get the pitch within a finer gradation.

And finally: planetary pegs! Made by Wittner, Knilling, they can expensive to install, but they transform the pegs into something a bit more like a guitar peg, and way easier to use. I welcome feedback on these. A few of my students have them, and though they have made it far easier for them to tune, the main problem seems to be that they are geared, and sometimes it's hard to stop the pegs between gears and thus get the precision. I don't know if this is a problem with the brand or with the installation, because it's not always the case. Some planetary pegs are completely smooth and do not seem to have this problem at all. And it's not just students that benefit from these; Elizabeth Pitcairn installed Wittner planetary pegs in her "Red" Strad!

So I hope that these ideas help you find a solution to difficult pegs, and please share any ideas or suggestions you have on the matter. Whatever your thoughts about any of these ideas, don't tolerate impossible pegs! Do what you can to ease this situation for yourself or for your students.

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Violinist.com Interview with Jinjoo Cho, 2014 Indianapolis Gold Medal Laureate

By Laurie Niles
Published: September 27, 2014 at 15:00

There certainly was a lot of buzz about five of the six finalists in the International Violin Competition of Indianapolis being Korean, but frankly, first-place laureate Jinjoo Cho considers herself a Clevelander.

"It's where I'm from, really," Jinjoo said, speaking to me before the IVCI's closing ceremonies last Sunday at the Scottish Rite Cathedral in downtown Indianapolis. She was born in Seoul, South Korea, "and I'm proud to be Korean. But I kind of identify myself as a Clevelander."

Jinjoo Cho
Photo by Violinist.com

Jinjoo, who is 26, came to Cleveland 12 years ago for her violin studies, and she doesn't really feel the need to leave.

"Musicians tend to love big cities, -- I guess there's work and they like to be busy," Jinjoo said. "But for me, I can't focus if there's activity around me. I need a quiet life. I don't need variety of food all the time, I don't need variety of friends all the time. I have a very close group of friends, like about four, that I hang out with all the time. I guess it has a lot to do with growing up in the suburbs in the Midwest.

"(Living in Cleveland) lets me look inward, which is so important to me, personally, and musically," Jinjoo said. "I happen to love the attitude that the Midwesterners generally have towards music and the style of music that they go for. It's very humble and generous, rather than trying to be glamorous and showy. It's less about self-promotion; it's more about being selfless for the sake of music. I think it's actually the right attitude to approach music. So I'm a bit of a Midwest snob, I suppose. We haven't got a lot of those, so I'll take the torch!"

At the Indianapolis competition, Jinjoo placed first of six laureates, and she also won special prizes for Best Performance of a Romantic or Post-Romantic Concerto; Best Performance of a Bach Work; and one of three Best performances of the Paganini Caprices. (The other laureates were Tessa Lark, Ji Young Lim, Dami Kim, Yoo Jin Jang and Ji Yoon Lee; here is a list of all prize winners.)

Jinjoo's big win at Indy was not her first, she also won first prize at the 2006 Montreal International Musical Competition, 2010 Buenos Aires International Violin Competition, Schoenfeld International String Competition and the 2005 Stulberg International String Competition. She earned her Bachelor and Masters of Music degrees from Cleveland Institute of Music, and attended the Curtis Institute. Her teachers have included Paul Kantor, Joseph Silverstein, Pamela Frank and Jaime Laredo.

Jinjoo said that when she started playing the violin at the age of five in Korea, there was nothing particularly profound about the decision. It was just one of her activities, along with swimming and speed-skating. At the time, lot of little girls were taking violin lessons in Korea, she said, and the reason was simple: Sarah Chang.

"There was a local Suzuki program in Korea, and my mom asked me if I wanted to go, because all the kids in the neighborhood were going there," Jinjoo said. "There was a huge boom after Sarah Chang and Hanna Chang -- I'm kind of the Sarah Chang kid. After she became famous, she came back to Korea to perform, and everybody started playing violin, in the same way they're picking up figure skating right now because of Yuna Kim There was a huge boom, and everybody was doing Suzuki. It was something that (parents) had fantasies about: these glamorous musicians who travel all over the world. They showed documentaries about Sarah Chang -- 'Aspen! Oh, Aspen's so beautiful.' Dami, Yoo Jin and I are sort of at the end of that boom. And I would say that Ji Yoon and Ji Young are a little bit farther away from that."

Jinjoo still returns to Korea frequently. Is violin more of a thing there, than it is here?

"Not necessarily. I feel like we have a good audience here and there," Jinjoo said. "I do think people study violin more intensely, from a younger age (in Korea). I think that here, in the United States, talent is such a big fantasy. 'She wants to play the violin, but if she doesn't have talent, then she can't do it. So she has to prove herself before I invest in her.' But the attitude in Korea is more like, 'I'm going to make my child talented, ' or, 'Of course she's talented, that's a given.' It's not an easy instrument for a child even to just hold. So if you're doing it, you're already talented, why are you questioning that? I think Korean parents have enormous faith in their children, especially in their early development, and they invest their everything from a very early age."

So do parents push their children harder in Korea?

"I can't speak for everyone because I wasn't in everyone's household," Jinjoo said. "But in my family, my mom tried hard to make me practice. It was more about work ethic and owning up to what you're given to do, rather than the violin itself. It was about trying your best and doing the best you can, whatever you do. It's hard to balance, and some people fail and some people succeed. Who knows the right way to bring up a child, there's no answer. But I know for a fact that, once I decided that this was going to be my life. my family did everything they could to help me. Even in the moments when I said, 'I want this, but I don't want to practice' -- we all do that. And a lot of parents say, 'If you don't want to do it then you don't have to do it.' But the question is, are they rejecting the goal, or the momentary work? It's kind of like doing homework: nobody wants to do homework, but everybody wants to do well in school. I don't know any single child who doesn't want to do well -- they might be hiding it, but they all want to do well at something."

Jinjoo's longest-term teacher was Paul Kantor, whom she met at Aspen in 2000 and studied with until 2012. "I had a lesson with him, and it was love at first lesson!" she said. "It was just very instant. I knew, within five minutes, that I was going to be his student. I'm a bonafide PK child." Of course, that means different things to different people, because Kantor is highly adaptable to different learners, she said. "You hear a story about Mr. Kantor in a lesson from a different person, it doesn't sound anything like the Mr. Kantor I know. He is able to pull out many different sides of the human being in himself to get the best in us, and to (help us) approach music in a very sincere way. It's all about sincerity with him, and just playing from your heart."

Jinjoo also has studied for two years with Jaime Laredo at the Cleveland Institute. "He knows when to stop saying things,' she said, "he catches it right away when I'm getting too much in my head. 'Stop, and just play,' he says. And that's been so helpful for me."

For the Indianapolis competition, she, like all the other competitors, had to prepare a long list of repertoire. For her it was: the Grave and Fuga from Sonata No. 2 by Bach; Sonata K. 304 by Mozart; Caprices 4 and 11 by Paganini; Berceuse in D by Fauré; Sonata No. 1 in D major, Op. 12 by Beethoven; Fantasy for Solo Violin by Ellen Taaffe Zwilich; Sonata No. 1 in F minor by Prokofiev; Carmen Fantasy by Waxman; Violin Concerto No. 5 by Mozart; and Violin Concerto by Korngold.

What was her favorite?

"Probably Prokofiev F minor -- that's such a unique piece of music," Jinjoo said. "No other violin sonata is like it. It's different even from other Prokofiev pieces -- very dark, twisted, but at the same time, there is a certain kind of tortured beauty in it, and I think it speaks to the essence of what it means to be human."

How does one prepare all that repertoire and get in the right frame of mind for such a major competition? She said she doesn't have a system specific to preparing for competitions, but it's more of an overall approach

"Once you've hit mid-20s, you kind of figure out how to practice for you," she said. "It's not really a system that's adjusted to the competition, but it's a system that you apply to yourself, in preparing for anything. I know what my weaknesses are, and my strengths. So you kind of balance them, and that's a big part of the process. I actually didn't have that much time to prepare this time because I spent the summer doing a chamber music festival. Most of it, except for the Korngold, it's the rep I've played many times before."

She'd only performed the Korngold once before the competition, and with music. But she liked the idea of playing something that was a little bit different.

"It's like movie music, and I love movie music, especially the old Hollywood movie music," she said.

In the future, she'd like to keep performing as much as possible, and also to continue exploring her new passion for chamber music. "I'm more in love with it now than ever," she said of chamber music. "I wasn't one of those born-to-be-chamber-musicians, but recently, with exposure and experience, I've been getting to the core value of it."

* * *

If you wish to hear Jinjoo Cho's performances at the IVCI, here is a link to the archived performances of Jinjoo, and of all the contestants.

Jinjoo playing
Photo by Denis Kelly

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A Parents' Guide to Conservatory Auditions

By Karen Rile
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Published: September 26, 2014 at 14:55

pumpkin white background
It's that time of year again, people! College application season.

Last year, just as I started writing a weekly parenting column for Violinist.com, one of my own kids began her grad school conservatory applications. It was, as they say, déjà vu all over again. Except this time she I got to sit back and watch from the sidelines, which gave me time to contemplate the process, and to write.

For those just beginning the journey, here is an index of the 24 columns. The topics are by no means exhaustive (although they may be exhausting—audition year is a long, hard road.)

I'll add more chapters this year to the develop the series further, but for now, here's a good start. I'm interested in knowing your questions, as well as any topics you'd like to read about. You can contact me directly through this site by clicking on the mail link beside this article. Or leave a comment at the bottom of this post.

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The Violinist.com Interviews, Vol. 1

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