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The Week in Reviews, Op. 40: Julia Fischer plays the Proms

By Robert Niles
Published: July 22, 2014 at 14:01

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.

Julia Fischer performed the Dvorák at the BBC Proms

  • The Telegraph: "In the following piece, Dvorák's violin concerto, the limelight was seized by a very different kind of musicianship, as imperiously virtuoso and blazingly energised as Zinman was relaxed. It came from violinist Julia Fischer, who has the kind of flawless technique and steely vibrato that seems impervious to human fallibility."
  • The Guardian: "Fischer, meanwhile, has very much made the Dvorák concerto her own of late, and played it here with great warmth of tone and lyrical fervor."
  • Evening Standard: "There were rustic pleasures in Dvorak’s Violin Concerto, where the wistful Bohemian mood was captured to perfection. Julia Fischer was the accomplished and eloquent soloist."
  • Listen to the concert! Part One and Part Two (Audio links available for four more weeks.)

Julia Fischer
Photo © Uwe Arens, courtesy the artist

Joshua Bell performed Lalo’s “Symphonie Espagnole” with the Boston Symphony Orchestra

  • Boston Globe: "Bell served up this sun-drenched work, a violin concerto in all but name, with playing of suave technique and unstinting flamboyance."
  • Berkshire Eagle: "And Bell’s suave, silken-toned performance of Lalo’s "Symphonie espagnole" delivered audience-thrilling virtuosity in the insinuating Spanish rhythms and tunes, yet never lost sight of the underlying musical thread."

Karen Gomyo peformed Saint-Saens Violin Concerto No. 3 with the Cleveland Orchestra

  • The Plain Dealer: "Overpowered at times by the orchestra under Tovey, the artist needed only to project and emote somewhat more boldly. In all other respects, Gomyo was a champion. A sweeter, more lyrical sound would have been hard to imagine, and to the music's technical demands, the violinist brought a level of dexterity almost beyond belief."

Midori performed the Tchaikovsky with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra

  • The Classical Review: "Without doing anything particularly idiosyncratic, Midori delivered a wholly satisfying performance, tackling this ineradicable warhorse with characteristic verve, fire, and tonal gleam."

Mayuko Kamio and Augustin Hadelich performed the Bach Double with the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra

  • The Buffalo News: "When Kamio and Hadelich became the focal points for the remaining pieces, it became apparent that these guys were well worth booking."

Tasmin Little performed the Moeran with the BBC Philharmonic

  • Birmingham Post: "Tasmin Little was the soloist in Moeran’s Violin Concerto, and her sound, as ever, was a thing of wonder: her poise, her shamelessly luscious vibrato and the iridescent sheen of her tone making you imagine how Heifetz might have played this beautiful, under-rated work."

Emma Meinrenken performed works by Schubert and Saint-Saëns with the Utah Symphony

  • Reichel Recommends: "The youngster is already a well rounded, one might say seasoned, musician. Her artistry and stage presence show a level of maturity well beyond her years."

* * *

In other news,

Seiji Okamoto has won the 9th International Johann Sebastian Bach Competition, in Leipzig, Germany

  • Japan Times:" A Japanese university student has won first place in the violin category at an international Bach competition, the first Japanese to do so in the contest’s 64-year history, organizers said."

Hilary Hahn is taking some time off

  • The Day: "In a statement Hahn's agency said, 'Following medical advice, Hilary Hahn very much regrets that she must withdraw from her professional engagements for the next six weeks due to an inflamed muscle. Hilary is looking forward to resuming her concert schedule in September.’” Wishing you a speedy and full recovery, Hilary!

Did you attend a concert in the past week? If so, please tell us about it in the comments. And if not, why not? Please support live music in your community by attending a concert or recital whenever you can!

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Helping Students and Parents Enjoy the Competitive Journey: The Application Process for Competitions

By Amy Beth Horman
Washington, Washington
Published: July 22, 2014 at 09:00

I am sitting on a beach vacation a lot this week and am finding myself physically and mentally preparing for the next competition calendar. Some time off allows lots of brainstorming and much needed reflection on how to make next year's competition season more rewarding for my whole studio. So I am starting a blog series both to focus my thoughts and hopefully give some new insights to other teachers who find themselves in my position.

I see multiple challenges inside of my studio's competitive calendar each year but the first challenge is perhaps the most important one of all: the application process.

Last year, I dealt with international, national, and regional submissions on 14 competitions. Just when I thought I had a full list, another parent would chime in with a new possibility that seemed too good to pass up. Getting the applications in and filled out correctly felt like a major accomplishment. Most competitions now have even added a polite but definite threat saying if we made a mistake in our applications, our submissions would be discarded. This is their right and even makes sense on an administrative level from their perspective but nothing springs fear in our hearts like this line in print. While the applications are similar they are also murderously different on some subtle level seemingly to confuse us....cue lots of sleepless nights and late night emails from parents! One had a word count maximum for bios, another needed specific format I didn't have on my computer. Then the referral letters. One from me and one from a reputable violinist… but which one? Signatures, bios, letters, repertoire lists, performance experience.... and that is just the written portion of the application process. Many parents are applying for things for the very first time and seeking assistance or advice, nervous they will misstep. Others have done this before and learned from it but even a veteran competitive parent can fall prey to multiple application processes.

The written apps would have been almost manageable. But then there is the media content. Who knew I needed a technical degree in computers and recording equipment to run a competitive violin studio? Where should we record and how many sessions would we need? What equipment do we use? Do we do it ourselves or hire an engineer? Some needed photos in different formats… press quality, different sizes, black and white versus color… names or without names. Then the obligatory attaching/uploading/entitling files, using new file sharing services, or registering on youtube. I found myself enjoying a glass of wine more often after long hours of teaching. So much to keep track of that my conservatory degree just didn’t cover!

In the end I consulted with friends, rallied in expert parents who worked as engineers, borrowed equipment, and for our international submissions got engineer referrals and an acoustic space, even managing a group rate. The administrative work involved was kind of staggering. But by the time everything was submitted, we had become a team in this process. We were fortunate after countless hours of recording, emails, and coordinating to reach the finals in all of our competitions except the international competition and the parents were thrilled. I figured things out as I went along. And I learned a lot about how I want to accomplish next year so that all of our lives are simpler.

Here are the tips I gathered for simplifying or streamlining the application process:

• communicate with parents to choose appropriate competitions and repertoire letting them know of your system so they are well prepped for how you like to organize and apply for things.

• use your (google) calendar and put it on your website for all parents. Pinpoint the 2 weeks before any deadline, the deadline, competition finals, and when results come. I color code it. Copy website, application info, competition organizer contact info, and how and when results will be posted for the “description box”.

• print checklists for each of the competitions to place on a stand as parents walk in and designate 5 minutes of every lesson to check on progress.

• identify the parents that can help with technical issues and let them know you may need their help.

• talk to parents about a visit to the luthier to troubleshoot any and all problems with violin and bow before recording.

• as soon as the final round info is posted, book a pianist and only use that person in rehearsals in the month prior.

• instruct parents to record at any performance opportunity just in case they catch something on their own.

• know your equipment and do test runs on how it works. Have parents bring at least one form of back up equipment just in case you have the perfect "take" but an issue with your method of recording.

• if you are there, take notes on top of a clean score in recording sessions that can be sent by scan to the student to apply to help in the next session.

• identify who has heard students in the past 6 months and could supply a great recommendation letter. Write them and ask them in advance if they would be willing so they see it coming.

• make good and polite contact ahead of time with each competition organizer for repertoire exceptions, eligibility concerns, and know their name, contact info, and background.

• as components of a strong application are completed, build a running and updated competition file for each student. Best video or audio takes, publicity photos, updated bios….keep at it. Soon they can apply for things quickly as all things are at “arms reach”.

In the end, if the application isn't done correctly or doesnt represent the students or the teaching effectively you have wasted a ton of time and energy. We are stopped dead in our tracks. So this is where my brainstorming starts this week. As a great new friend of mine said - "It's such a privilege to be in the arena!". But to be invited into the arena, the application process has to be successful! The more we organize this process and streamline it, the more energy can be placed into music making and coaching. And if that doesnt help our chances, I don't know what would!

Next in this blog series: Managing Expectations, Preparing for Final Rounds, Competition Etiquette, Carrying the Experience Forward

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Valeriy Solokov: The special skill of playing the violin

By Jacqueline Vanasse
Published: July 21, 2014 at 09:06

I heard the Ukrainian violinist Valery Solokov in concert only once. It was very long ago, but I remember everything about it. Most of all, I remember his magnificent sound – one of the most beautiful violin sounds I have ever heard since. I remember how stylish and handsome he looked on stage. I remember how accomplished he was with the orchestra; the smiles, the looks of complicity.

Valeriy started the violin in a small middle school in Ukraine. At the time he was also enrolled in ballet school. The two schools were next to each other. For several years the young boy was wondering if he would be playing the violin or dancing ballet. But when he was younger the violinist says that he was kind of chubby so in the end the choice was made by itself. In the Russian and Ukrainian cultures, parents make children study a lot of different subject on a high level in order to develop their abilities. Therefore the violinist studied English, rhythmic, arts, etc. He was good at playing the violin and his violin teacher pushed him, as did his mother. From then on he was almost only playing the violin. Valeriy says he never really had choice of playing or not. He was doing what he had to do. That was what he was doing all day long. Of course he wanted to have fun and be with normal kids instead but he felt the pressure of doing well.

At a relatively early age, the young man left his parents’ home in Ukraine to go study at the Menuhin Music School near London. Leaving his home gave him a kick but again it was also a lot of pressure. “Of course I did all kind of things when I had the freedom out of my parents’ sight but I always felt the pressure from back home,” he remembers. “So I always tried to do well. Plus there was the motivation of wanting to be different. There are many people in Ukraine and in this world and I ought to be different.”

After all Valeriy says he is very happy to be a violinist. “It’s so interesting all the time. I learn how to be a better person everyday in all aspects. Not only on a music training level but also on the personal level. I am not such a media person. I am not interested in showing-off. I am just trying to do my best, playing concerts everywhere, playing with great people. Giving happiness around.”

For him playing the violin is worth it. First of all it’s very difficult to learn but when you have learned it it’s such a special skill to have. “The best with it is that you don’t need to know people’s language to communicate and meet with people, to travel all around the planet and see different places.” By learning how to play the violin you learn a very handy means. By learning how to play the violin you make sure people will accept you wherever you go, people will accept you because of how you do things. “It’s incredible there is almost no other professions that offer you such a lucky way of doing thing, that offer you a passkey to people,” adds the young man. Of course you have to be good in what you are doing and you have to have something to say. With music if you want to do it well you have to be perfect. Daily practice is not doing all the tricks to stay at the top, reminds the violinist. You also have to attempt to be up-to-date with everything that is going on around. “I feel a little too small to answer the question whether it worth playing the violin or not but what I am sure of is that it’s very important to do something that you are very good at.”

The violinist especially loves playing the 20th century repertoire because it’s a language close to ours. It’s fresh, contemporary; it feels like it’s simply telling about us. That said, the young man is also interested in understanding and playing very well the classical repertoire; the great Schubert Sonatas and Beethoven and Mozart Sonatas. “Contemporary music, baroque music; you play what you like. If you like to play contemporary music please do. If you play this music just to be fashionable, to please a certain type of people and be famous, that‘s another reason. We can’t condemn it, it depends on what you are looking for.”

You have to be true to yourself, find you own ways and enjoy the process, believes Valeriy. “Competitions, for instance, are very important but not so much for the result. Competitions are very important because they make you play better.” The next season will be very busy for the violinist. For next, the violinist just hope to keep playing as well as he can. In fact with music you never know what is going to happen, so you better do the best you can, take the opportunity and enjoy the moment.

For other articles please visit my blog at: www.jacquelinevanasse.com

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6 Ways to Enjoy Detail-Oriented Practice

By Gerald Klickstein
Baltimore, Maryland
Published: July 21, 2014 at 07:55

“The details are not the details. They make the design.”
–Charles Eames, designer

For musicians and designers alike, our approach to detail largely determines whether our work soars or flops.

Simply put, meticulous work outfits us with the command we need to make inspiring music. I’ve noticed, though, that many music students aren't consistently detail-oriented in their practice - they might run through compositions, scales, or exercises without zeroing in on excerpts or attending to nuances.

What’s going on? Often, such students deem detailed practice boring or don't know how to work on details. By comparison, we veterans savor delving into the minutiae of phrases - we possess strategies to tailor every fine point and we enjoy doing so.

Fortunately, students can acquire the practice habits of professionals, but most need guidance. Here, then, are 6 suggestions to help students permeate their practice with precision and fascination.

Six Ways to Enjoy Detail-Oriented Practice

  1. Bring meaning to every gesture.
    We might be working on a scale or a masterpiece, regardless, we should shoot sparks of imagination through every sound we make.

  2. Isolate problem spots in context.
    When we tackle troublesome passages, we should sense the dramatic framework from which they’re extracted. If we practice a left-hand shift, let's say, we should still express the emotional energy of the larger phrase.

  3. Take pleasure in excellence.
    In The Musician’s Way, I highlight seven Habits of Excellence: ease, expressiveness, accuracy, rhythmic vitality, beautiful tone, focused attention, and positive attitude. To embody those qualities, it's essential that we choose manageable music and then take pleasure in attaining high standards.

  4. Listen deeply.
    As we play, we have to listen intently and compare what we hear to what we want (self-recording helps, too). We also have to be open to whatever transpires, treating errors with curiosity as opposed to disappointment.

  5. Seek variety.
    To keep our work fresh, we should continually search out ways to enliven our sound, toying with articulation and accent, tinting our tone, and so on.

  6. Shift perspectives.
    To help generate allure in our sound, it helps to vary our perspective in practice. For instance, as we refine a phrase, we might give more attention to easefulness for a minute and then explore possibilities for adding crispness to our rhythm. On top of that, we do well to ask fellow musicians to listen to us and share their thoughts because no matter how advanced we become, there are always new artistic insights for us to discover.

See Part I of The Musician’s Way for diverse strategies that infuse practice with artistry.

© 2014 Gerald Klickstein
A version of this article first appeared on The Musician's Way Blog.

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