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The Week in Reviews, Op. 79: Leila Josefowicz, Christian Tetzlaff, Rainer Honeck

By Laurie Niles
April 21, 2015 12:59

In an effort to promote the coverage of live violin performance, Violinist.com each week presents links to reviews of notable concerts and recitals around the world.

Christian Tetzlaff performed the Beethoven with the Boston Symphony Orchestra.

  • The New York Times: "...the superb German violinist Christian Tetzlaff proved an ideal soloist. All the delicacy, lyricism and magisterial elegance of the music came through in Mr. Tetzlaff’s playing. Yet, being an artist immersed in contemporary music, he also revealed the experimental strangeness in this piece, especially with his impetuous dispatching of passagework. Mr. Nelsons and the orchestra were with him all the way."

John Adams
John Adams. Photo by Margaretta Mitchell

Leila Josefowicz performed Adams's "Scheherazade.2" with the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, conducted by John Adams.

  • Cincinnati Enquirer: "Adams' 'Scheherazade.2' is a Scheherazade for our time, and Josefowicz, Adams said, embodies the 'empowered woman.' ...Josefowicz was sensational in what is a marathon for the violinist. She entered with a rhapsodic line, playing with immense beauty, against a pulsating, atmospheric sound world in the orchestra. It wasn't long before her playing became agitated, as she dug into her strings and propelled her way through stunning technical fireworks, almost nonstop."

Rainer Honeck performed the Britten with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra.

  • Pittsburgh Post-Gazette: "The violinist, also making his local debut, had a matter-of-fact style of playing that did not belie the technical difficulty of the work. His flexible, coppery tone yielded to steely harmonics and dizzying runs; the final movement offered a surprising warmth or even optimism for a poignant piece that expressed the composer’s despair during the Spanish Civil War."
  • Pittsburgh Tribune-Review: "The soloist gave an impressive performance, beautifully sung in the first movement, sharply argued in the Scherzo middle movement, and emotionally intense in the finale, a passacaglia with nine variations. The orchestra also played brilliantly."

Alexander Velinzon performed Schnittke's Violin Concerto No. 4 with the Seattle Symphony.

  • The Seattle Times: "Both contemplative and assertive, Velinzon demonstrated a secure technique with a fluid bow and clean fingerwork."
  • The SunBreak: "Velinzon’s violin sang throughout: mellifluous, lyrical in many areas, soaring or contemplative in others, fast, wild or arpeggiated in still more, peaceful or powerful, but always with a firm, rich tone, never scratchy, which fit the music like a glove."

Alexi Kenney performed the Sibelius with the Santa Fe Symphony.

  • The Santa Fe New Mexican: "Violinist Alexi Kenney was an impressive soloist in Sibelius’ Violin Concerto, playing throughout with technical precision and meticulous intonation."

Gil Shaham performed the Britten with the London Symphony Orchestra.

  • The Guardian: "Shaham was technically impeccable, also drawing on an ample range of colour and articulation to encompass the music’s needs while being consistently vividly supported by Vänskä and the LSO players."

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

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Role Models and the Spiritual Self

By Karen Allendoerfer
April 20, 2015 12:44

Last weekend vote, there was a poll: “Who is your musical role model?” The choices were: a teacher, a superstar, a fellow student, a colleague, or I have no role model. I had a hard time choosing between my violin teacher and a friend/colleague who passed away a few years ago. But, I went ahead and picked “a teacher,” which both then and today was narrowly the most popular choice, picked by ~40% of the respondents.

It no longer surprises me, but it still puzzles me, that “a superstar” comes in a close second. I have never really understood how superstars are supposed to work as role models: people one doesn’t know, probably will never know, and, unless one is uniquely gifted (I’m not), cannot reasonably hope to emulate. As a spectator or consumer, one can taste and enjoy what they bring to the world on special occasions, but my day-to-day life, at least, flows on without many ripples from superstardom.

Music is “just” a hobby for me though. I didn’t go to music school, and I don’t usually make money at music. I had industrial-strength performance anxiety until at least my mid-20s, and while it has gradually waned since then--after much effort to combat it on my part—it has never fully gone away. To me, performing on the violin, especially solo, is rather like eating quinoa, or like vigorous exercise. I know it’s good for me, and I’m always glad to have done it. But that’s only if you ask me after it’s over.

So maybe I just don’t get the appeal of the superstar role model on the violin because violin isn’t my passion and my everything. By profession, I am a PhD scientist and science educator. I care deeply about STEM education and about a scientifically literate public, and I want to see all students succeed, including students from diverse genders and cultural and economic backgrounds. So, what was my reaction when I saw this article this morning?

“Virginia student earns admission to all eight Ivy League schools, and others”

After reading and mentally processing the article, I am filled with admiration for this young woman. It’s a short article, but in it she appears to be gifted, hard-working, and humble. A woman of color and the daughter of immigrants, she has made the most of her opportunities, and she demonstrates an uncommon level of maturity and generosity. She’s clearly a superstar, and deserves admission to any top college in the country or in the world.

But my first reaction was still, “yikes!"

The yikes don’t have to do with this brilliant young woman herself, but rather specifically with the idea of her as a role model. Her principal calls her a “STEM superwoman.” Her guidance counselor is quoted as saying that the senior is “dedicated to pushing herself in the classroom . . . 'she’s taking the hardest courses, the most challenging we offer' . . .” And, her decision to apply to all 8 Ivy League schools is “not typically what we advise.” Some commenters say that we “need more” of students like this. Others want to know “how she did it.” Either way the implication is that others should read this article and emulate its subject. This superstar can be their role model.

Yet, I already know entire high schools worth of kids, kids from all different backgrounds and cultures, some privileged and some less so, who want, and who try, to be like the student described in this article. Who overload themselves with too many AP classes and too little sleep in order to gain that precious Ivy League acceptance. I have a teenager in one of these high schools now. Thirty or so years ago, I was one of them too (but back then the acceptance rate at my alma mater, Princeton University, was around 17%, not the 6.99% it was in 2015). There isn't a shortage of teenagers trying as hard as they can, to be super. It’s just that most of them don’t succeed, at least not by this definition.

A few spaces in my Facebook feed down from the article about the Ivy League-bound student, I saw this one: Why kids who believe in something are happier and healthier. A little put off by the title at first, I read it anyway when a friend summarized the contents. The author, Lisa Miller, a clinical psychologist, sees a lot of unhappy teens. She claims that over the past decade, up to 65% of teens have been shown to struggle with intrusive depression symptoms at some point, and often with anxiety and substance abuse as well. And this is especially a problem for the kids who should, theoretically, have the easiest chance for happiness: those who are economically well-off and whose parents provide them with opportunities and choices.

Her theory to explain this paradox is that “an increasingly narcissistic culture and the constant reward for achievement, whether on the playing field, the music stage or the math test, creates what I call in my book the unbalanced “performance self” of the child; a child who feels his or her worth is founded on ability and accomplishment."

Her antidote to the unbalanced "performance self" is the development of the "spiritual self,” which she says is neglected in our culture. The spiritual self is not connected to any specific religion, or even to religion, per se. It is measured as a deep spiritual connection with a sense of a sacred world. It can be encouraged and fostered by steps such as meditation, prayer, or long walks in nature, and modeled by such traits as caring for others, empathy, and optimism.

“In contrast to the performance self, the spiritual self is sturdy and resilient, happy at a win, but not dependent on it to feel worthy as a human being."

Miller is writing generally here; this is her life’s work, and she has book coming out. But I couldn’t help but think specifically about music, the violin, and the role of the performance self vs. the spiritual self. Historically people came to music through the church, and music served a spiritual function, first and foremost. This is especially true for what we call “classical music” today, and for large parts of the violin, symphonic, and choral repertoire. Personally, its spiritual meaning is what drew me to this music, and is why I play the violin in the first place. Although I have been through several marked changes in religious and spiritual path along the way, the constant thread has been music. Music still makes me cry in embarrassing moments, mortifying my performance self.

It has actually taken me a long time to develop any kind of real performance self at all, and that which I do have is still fragile and easily injured. I regularly like to give the performance self a rest. Maybe it’s the introvert in me. I feel pretty content in this approach, at least for myself. But I still wonder, especially as I look at the suffering this imbalance between personal and performance selves seems to create in our culture, how music can help it heal.

From violinist.com blog

Also on my word press blog, at Role Models and the Spiritual Self

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Getting to Yes: Skype Lessons with Kelly Hall-Tompkins

By Samuel Thompson
April 20, 2015 09:34

Violinist Kelly Hall-Tompkins is a person who possesses a deep understanding of the power of music, and her work is a beautiful example of how one can use that to connect with the world. Currently riding a beautiful wave that is highlighted by the tremendous response to her “Imagination” DVD, a spectacular performance of the Barber Concerto at the Brevard Music Center and the expansion of the Music Kitchen series to include performances in Los Angeles, Ms. Hall-Tompkins remains committed both to music making at the highest levels possible while truly engaging with communities and taking classical music into larger public spaces.

Keenly aware of the power of the internet and social media platforms, Kelly first reflected on “Imagination” a DVD that was released in early 2014 from which the videos were made available online via YouTube. “The YouTube format allows music to be shared immediately, and it also allows us windows into the numerous creative things people are doing across the world. That format also allows access much more quickly in the field of music. The demographics of those who watched my video are definitely international, and I’m very grateful for that.”

Kelly has also embraced technology to reach the world as a teacher and coach via Skype. “I remember Pinchas Zuckerman teaching lessons via videoconferencing while I was a student at the Manhattan School of Music,” she said. Launched in 1996 the Manhattan School of Music's Distance Learning program was the first of its kind at a major conservatory. The school’s use of videoconference technology has since expanded exponentially, and organizations including the New World Symphony have adopted the technology to connect young musicians with internationally-recognized teachers and coaches.

“For several summers I performed and taught at a festival in South Dakota, and it was during that time that I proposed that the students continue lessons via Skype. These were students that I had seen in person and who wanted to continue the work that we were doing. One of those students has since graduated and enrolled in college. Through our work she became concertmaster of All-State Orchestra and soloist with orchestra in her hometown and was also accepted into both Tanglewood and the Brevard Music Center.”

“Personally, the benefit of Skype is that I can reach students anywhere in the world and connect from wherever I find myself through my travels - depending on my schedule,” Ms. Hall-Tompkins said. As our society increasingly able to connect via technological means, however, Kelly is a firm believer in the value and necessity of maintaining true personal relationships. “It is most ideal that students and teachers who interact via Skype for lessons have first had an in-person rapport, but more so that the students have achieved a significant level of advancement and personal maturity. Skype lessons do give the mature player access beyond his circumstances; however, with children, I feel that for their sense of creating the first neuropathways of music and interactions with both music and a teacher, all of those things are best done live and in person.”

Ms. Hall’s early life was filled with great musical examples and teachers, yet a summer at the Boston University Tanglewood Institute fired her curiosity. “I was very curious as to what my ‘big city’ friends had access too. There is undoubtedly great value in being rooted to a musical community - Gene Berger of Horizon Records in Greenville, South Carolina, is still going strong with his store and I’m so grateful to him for still carrying my CDs - but there is also something wonderful as a student about having access to someone outside of your own locale.”

This philosophy of global access is balanced with an understanding both of time and of being involved in one’s local community. “All of us need to be involved in our respective locales, and young people especially need to be in the pipeline of their local musical activities including recitals and performance in youth orchestras. The students that I have taught had teachers in their local communities, and I worked with them based on what their needs were at the time.”

“Combining this use of Skype with my on location teaching as a guest artist is a wonderful tool, but I do acknowledge that technology does help us, it is not a short cut. We have to remember that mastery takes time and focus.”

Fortunately, life presents opportunities, and this interview with Ms. Hall-Tompkins included the opportunity to experience a Skype lesson during which we worked on the coda of the first movement of Brahms' Fourth Symphony. During the course of ninety minutes, not only did Kelly listen, speak, and demonstrate with the clarity one usually finds in face-to-face interactions; that ninety minute session was probably the most productive lessons that I have had in quite some time. As she possesses over twenty years of experience playing in top-tier orchestras across the globe, the quality of Kelly’s observations was outstanding as the advice she shared could be applied to many things, thereby raising the level of one's playing overall.

“Let’s start that again," she said, "and this time pay attention to the chordal intonation of those first two bars,” she said. “In addition, it is important to make sure that the strokes are even and with good bow distribution during that passage (measures 392-393)– even more so with the presence of a crescendo – so I recommend that you practice open strings, putting more attention on the up bows to even out your stroke, while allowing the down bows to ‘play themselves’. ” As we continued, Kelly emphasized the rhythmic aspects of measures 407-417. “This excerpt is one in which all of the strokes and the nuances must be heard clearly.”

Upon discussing the option of staying on the A string during measures 400-402 or staying in third position, which would result in a huge leap in measure 403, Kelly said “It’s good that you tried a new fingering – it’s always important to question your assumptions.” As we experimented with fingerings I did find myself stumbling (as we do) and found myself saying "No" – to which Kelly responded with an encouraging smile, “Let’s get to yes.”

* * *

Kelly Hall-Tompkins Plays the first movement of the Barber Violin Concerto with Keith Lockhart at the Brevard Music Festival, July 2014.

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Laurie's Violin School: Nine Tips for Preparing for a Successful Recital Performance

By Laurie Niles
April 20, 2015 07:54

Recital success

Whether you are preparing for a long solo recital or to play as part of a studio recital, here are some tips to help you prepare for a successful performance:

1. Commit to your repertoire well in advance.

What will you play for the recital? The time to answer that question is at least a month or more in advance of the performance, and perhaps even a year in advance, for a larger program! Knowing what you are going to play allows you to fully commit to preparing it. If you are still choosing between pieces, then you will waste precious preparation time vacillating between one thing and another. Moreoever, the indecision can put you on an emotional roller coster, changing your mind every day and questioning your strengths and weaknesses in relation to the pieces in question. With commitment comes a sense of assurance, and it also allows you to make your plan of action, with conviction.

2. Prepare your piece(s).

This may seem obvious, but it bears saying: You must thoroughly learn your music. Listen to your piece(s), study the score, learn the notes, break down the difficult passages and in a word, face the music! Attend to the nitty-gritty details early in the process, so you aren't still learning notes in the two weeks before the performance.

3. Memorize a month in advance.

If you plan to play by memory, then get your piece(s) memorized a month in advance, so that you can have a good month to practice playing it by memory. Warning: once it is memorized, be sure to still use the music on occasion. I often recommend that students play the whole piece twice, once with music, once without. Why? Because occasionally, when playing something many times by memory, it begins to change without your noticing. Small (or even big) sections get left out, or additional little phrases creep in. Notes get changed, dynamics get forgotten...So even when something is memorized, find a consistent way to check that memory.

4. Check the easy stuff.

It only makes sense that we focus on the most difficult and intimidating challenges in the music we are playing -- those places generally do require more work. In doing that work, it's natural to take for granted the "easy" parts -- but this can haunt you in performance. I can still remember one of my college recitals, when I was so worried about playing the Wieniawski Concerto that I didn't really focus too heavily on the Mozart Rondo I was also playing. Much to my surprise, I had several memory slips in the "easier" Mozart!

5. Rehearse with your accompanist and know the score.

If you are playing a piece or pieces that require accompaniment, you need to schedule time to put that together. Even if you've listened to the piece and know the score, it's important to come to a series of understandings with your collaborator about tempos, pacing, balance, rhythm and more. Give yourself adequate rehearsal time for this.

6. Play for other people.

Isn't it enough to play for a teacher? It's not the same thing as playing for someone else. Play for a relative or friend, and if your friend reads music, give him or her the score and a pencil, to write down suggestions. It's amazing how quickly any weak spots will come to your attention, when playing for someone else. And consider playing for someone who really scares you -- someone very knowledgeable, or someone whose opinion you regard highly. As Perlman once said, "15 minutes on the stage is worth 2 hours in the practice room." It's not exactly the same as being on stage, but it does have the effect of clarifying your practice.

7. Get a good night's sleep.

Once you are through practicing for the day, then set it aside and take care of your health. Eat well, sleep well, exercise a reasonable amount, and avoid too much caffeine, sugar or alcohol in the days before the recital. You want to give yourself the best chance of being alert, relaxed and physically ready to perform.

8. Wear something comfortable.

For some (sorry guys) this isn't possible -- if you are required to wear a suit with a tie. But even so, you might consider bringing your violin when picking such things, just to be sure you can play comfortably. As for me, I try to pick a dress that looks very nice but actually feels like pajamas! Avoid any clothing that makes it hard to play.

9. Focus on the music.

In the few days before your recital, shift your focus from fixing the details to performing the music. On the day of the performance, it's all about the music. As Lara St. John quoted a friend telling her: "When all else fails, lower your standards!" The time for being a perfectionist is in the practice room; once you walk on stage, your job is to be in the moment and bring whatever you have to your audience. Let go and enjoy your time on stage!

I hope you find these tips to be helpful. Please share any tips you have for preparing for a successful recital!

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