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Jim and Max.

December 7, 2006 at 11:15 PM

This blog is inspired by Jim Hale, the 52 year old `nothing is gonna stop me, ` Milstein wannabe.
First though I have been wandering in and out of Paginini concerto recordings for a while now, motivated by that superb recent release by Hilary Hahn. Since these days I am making forays into post 1950 violinist (heaven forbid) I thought I might as well take the plunge and buy Mr. Vengerov`s recording. It`s always nice to find a cheap CD too….
I was just a tad less than enthusiastic about the Swedish Radio Orchestra in the Ms. Hahn recording but Mehta and the Israel Phil. Are beyond reproach as far as I am concerned. Precise, brilliant and macho playing at its very best. Wonderful! Oddly enough this almost seemed like a weakness after a while, especially concerning the last quality. You see Mr. Vengerov is also (fairly) precise, brilliant and macho and it actually started to give me sensory overload.
Mr. Vengerov`s playing fascinates me. If ever someone was given a most wonderful, abundant gift from the Gods it was him. He has a capability for finding depth of sound and beauty on the instrument that I don’t believe anyone else can do right now. He just kept finding more and more on notes that no other player would have the energy or chutzpah to explore and expand. It makes no difference what he is playing; it is all taken to the max (with almost pristine precision, as befits a true virtuouso). However, there have been on occasion polite suggestions that this huge talent left Mr. Bron`s care too soon and I can see where they are coming from. Actually, I don’t quite agree. I have this odd little idea in my head that he could have usefully gone to someone else for a short time like Szigeti (a few years too late) or Milstein. Reading his biography it seems he got/gets his most recent artistic sustenance and stimulus from conductors such as Baremboim and the cellist Rostropovich, neither of whom would be bringing a shooting start back to earth just a little for more contact with the violinstic ground. More concretely, there is for me, just a lack of repose in his playing which would elevate him all the higher if he could find it. Perhaps as part of this issue there is one quite sloppy feature of his Paginini which dragged it down for me. In the last movement s lyrical themes he cuts notes lengths very willfully to my ear.
Anyway, with Ms. Hahn and Mr. Venegrov, Paginini is finally represented on disc in the ultimate degrees of Yin and Yang.
As for Jim, he wrote in his blog that his teacher wisely kept him  on open strings for two months. That was interesting to me because I have two different approaches to starting player depending on whether they are adult or children. (Childish adults are a different ball game of course;)) With children I use the Adventure sin Violin land book which keep bow work back for quite a while left hand is well set up and basic finger pattern established though singing etc. With adults I not only use primarily open string but I insist they learn to use the whole bow very quickly. This is not standard in many of today’s approaches but is actually advocated in the book `Fundamentals of Soviet technique` as it helps to get the back and arm muscles working well together from the beginning. It takes a bit of patience and sometimes extra supervision but once its working its really exciting .. I have students of three to six months using whole bows, half bows any speed and they just sound great when they start on the Doflein pieces. I think the freedom in bowing also helps to keep the left hand more relaxed because those adults are not having any trouble with finger patterns or playing in tune. I suppose the difference is that children need music straight away. They aren’t going to tolerate bowing exercises like the first book of the Auer methodology week in week out without having some fun making music with tunes they know. Adults on the other hand, have a great tolerance for superficially boring stuff as long as the goal is clear, they can understand what they are doing and a clear improvement is visible from week to week. Sometimes I look at players in amateur orchestra here struggling to get anywhere near the heel of the bow and just think how much more they could have enjoyed the violin if someone pushed them to use the bow fearlessly from end to end from the beginning.
Go Jim!

From Maura Gerety
Posted on December 8, 2006 at 12:16 AM
Good blog as usual, Buri. I would like to point out, however, that Mr. Vengerov was barely 18 years old when he recorded that Paganini, so maybe a slight lack of artistic maturity is forgivable there. :) I personally like that recording a lot--it's him at his bold, swashbuckling schmaltziest. A bit like Paganini himself?! :)
From William Yap
Posted on December 8, 2006 at 12:13 AM
After reading your blog, I realised that my cello teacher is doing the same to me in terms of bowing. In the first 3 lessons (I just had my 4th lesson), he had me practised “invisible bowing” and “long tone bowing” designed for using the whole bow.

Invisible bowing:
left hand holding the tip of the bow, placing the bow on a string parallel to the fingerboard. Right hand in the “bow holding shape” at the frog, then shift slowly towards the tips, maintaining the knuckles of the right hand parallel to the bow (the wrist has no choice but to adjust), then back to the frog. The bow itself does not move at all.

long tone:
Playing whole bow as slow as possible while maintaining the tone at mf. To maintain the tone and volume throughout the bow stroke, the finger pressure has to adjust from 4th to 1st finger and so on. So far I’m able to play a down bow for about 10 seconds, and up bow for the same time. (I can apply this exercise to the violin as well)

There are a few other bowing exercises he taught me, including “ribbit" for the purpose of feeling the different weight of the arm on different strings and getting the “bite” on the stiring.

I’m glad he is putting so much effort on my right hand at the very beginning because this is where I have my problems with the violin.

From Stephen Brivati
Posted on December 8, 2006 at 1:30 AM
Maura, didn`t say I didn`t like it.;)
The point you make does raise questions that I suppose will remain largely unanswered until the end of time: when should an artist of this stature record something and how does one fit it into the general scheme of things? if it@s not definitve, when will the defintiv e be released? What chances do the great players get to say okay that was then this is now, lets do a big educate the public on this kind of thing?
Incidentally I don` completley agree with giving slack because they are eighteen. If you make a record you are to somee extent making a defintive statement about the music that has to take its critics as well as its worshippers. I am not cutting that much slack because I want a Paginini that I can enjoy that is worth the money I pay for it.
I think thi sone fits the bill. He could be three for all I care,
From P. Brabant
Posted on December 8, 2006 at 2:13 AM
I like your approach with adults! too bad you live so far from Canada.... Setting goals for adult is really important. Really you should teach some teachers, most of them are good, they are just not used to adult.
From Anne Horvath
Posted on December 8, 2006 at 4:36 PM
I also start beginners on whole bow open strings (insert ubiquitous smiley face here ). However, it has never occurred to me to start out children and adult students differently. experience has been the opposite of yours...I haven't had a child complain about the whole bow open strings, but many adults get itchy and want to get to "the good stuff" right away.
Maybe "childish" and "child-like" has something to do with it?
From Jim Hale
Posted on December 8, 2006 at 6:23 PM
Thanks for the response, Buri. I appreciate your encouragement and feel quite honored to hear my name mentioned in the same sentence with Vengerov. Now I'll have to go hear what he sounds like.

An interesting aside on your reference to "macho playing." Watching Bruno Monsaingeon's documentary, I noticed that the difference in the ways that women (Hahn, especially) and men (Menuhin, especially) talk about playing conforms to the difference between male and female psychology advanced by Harvard psychologist/philosopher Carol Gilligan. Gilligan notes that men tend to see responsibility to oneself as the foundation for responsibility to the community, while for women it's just the opposite: responsibility to oneself is built on one's being responsible to the community first.

In Monsaingeon's film, Hahn complains about certain male violinists who play as if the rest of the symphony were not even present. And indeed, later in the film, we hear Menuhin expressing admiration for one violinist's playing "without asking permission of the metronome."

Two different and equally valuable approaches to playing, I would think.

Anyway, thanks again!


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