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Laurie Niles's 2009 guide to holiday gifts for violinists

December 6, 2009 at 5:24 AM

The time for holiday gift-giving is at hand, so I've assembled a list of some of this year's best offerings, including recordings that feature violinists – interspersed with a few goodies, old and new, that just sound good to me.

There are a number of benefits to investing in music and musical products this holiday season: first, you are feeding your passion. A new recording, sheet music or product for your instrument can give you inspiration, increase your ease in playing, make you want to practice more or help you appreciate the music you are making. Also, giving this kind of gift can help someone else do the same. Do you have a friend who is interested in the music you play, but just a little hesitant? Owning a fine recording might increase their level of interest.

Secondly, you are helping another musician to not go BROKE in this horrible economy! So even if you don't see anything that excites you on this list, I hope it helps you think about the idea of asking for a music-related gift or giving a music-related gift: attending a concert, buying a CD from a local musician, asking for a musical gadget, instrument, sheet music you've always wanted, donating to an arts organization, etc. (To that end, a portion of each purchase made after following any links below which go to will support

Here are some of my recommendations this year (prices were current when I posted this):

Philippe Quint Korngold Violin ConcertoPhilippe Quint Korngold Violin Concerto [$8.99 CD; $7.99 MP3]
Congratulations to violinist Philippe Quint, who last week was nominated for a Grammy for Best Instrumental Soloist Performance with Orchestra for this very album. What is not to like about the Korngold? It's about the most uplifting, accessible happy American music you can find, from a composer who made his name in film music. If you are feeling Grinchy, this is not the music for you.

Gil Shaham and Adele Anthony: Sarasate Virtuoso Violin WorksGil Shaham and Adele Anthony: Sarasate Virtuoso Violin Works [$14.99 CD, $8.99 MP3]
Recorded in Valladolid, Spain in 2008 at ¡Sarasateada!, a festival celebrating the centenary of the great violinist Pablo de Sarasate (1844-1908), Shaham and Anthony perform works we know and love such as "Zigeunerweisen," "Introduction and Tarantella," "Zapateado," "Habanera" and "Carmen Fantasy," and they also give us some lesser-known Sarasate gems like 'Song of the Nightingale.'

Anne Akiko Meyers: SmileAnne Akiko Meyers: Smile [$14.99 CD, $8.99 MP3]
Indeed, we could all use something to smile about these days, and Violinist Anne Akiko Meyers, who this fall started teaching at the University of Texas at Austin, assembled some of her favorite tunes on this album, including the Charlie Chaplin's "Smile," a version of "Somewhere Over the Rainbow," as well as a range of music, from Franz Schubert to Arvo Pärt, from Astor Piazzolla to several arrangements of Japanese songs.

Joshua Bell At Home With FriendsJoshua Bell At Home With Friends [$11.99 CD, $9.99 MP3]
I'll just list Joshua Bell's friends who helped him make this album earlier this year, and you can decide if you'd like to hang out with them: Sting; Chris Botti; Edgar Meyer; Chris Thile; Josh Groban; Carel Kraayenhof; the band Tiempo Libre; Kristin Chenowith; Sam Bush; Mike Marshall; Frankie Moreno; Nathan Gunn; Regina Spektor; Dave Grusin; Anoushka Shankar and Marvin Hamlisch. With friends like those... you could have a lot of fun in your living room!

Red Violin ChocolatesRed Violin Chocolates [$30]
All right, it's chocolate, but it's chocolate from a violinist. Violinist Liz Pitcairn tempts us with chocolates made in Ecuador and packaged in a Red Violin box – like her own 1720 "Red Mendelssohn" Strad. She told me at a rehearsal for the New West Symphony a few months ago that not only are these chocolates "really really good," but also that I could actually go on a kind of weight-loss plan with them. Apparently, they are so satisfying, I won't want to do anything but simply eat a chocolate or two each day for about a week. I'm willing to try this – for my figure, and for science, of course.

The Sassmannshaus MethodThe Sassmannshaus Method [$17.25 ea.]
Here is something that will interest teachers, especially of young beginners: pedagogue and Cincinnati College Conservatory of Music professor Kurt Sassmannshaus has brought out his method books this year. They are beautifully illustrated, and Kurt has incorporated familiar English-language children's songs like "Rain, Rain, Go Away," "Ring Around the Rosy" and "Old MacDonald" into this method that was first developed in Germany by his father, Egon Sassmannshaus. There are four volumes, and they also are available for viola and cello.

Emerson String Quartet: Intimate LettersEmerson String Quartet: Intimate Letters [$16.98 CD; $9.49 MP3]
This recording by the Emerson String Quartet of works by Leoš Janácek and Bohuslav Martinu also got a Grammy nomination this week for Best Chamber Music Performance. My favorite part of this CD? Martinu's "Three Madrigals" for violin and viola, featuring violinist Philip Setzer and violist Lawrence Dutton.

A German BouquetTrio Settecento, A German Bouquet [$17.98 CD, $8.99 MP3]
Here is the same trio that brought us the Handel Violin Sonatas, in such a reasonable style that combined period and modern performance practice. For this album, violinist Rachel Barton Pine wants us to know that there's more to German Baroque music than Bach; there's also Schop and Schmelzer, Muffat and Krieger, Bustehude and Erlebach. Not to mention Johann George Pisendel. Her trio, which also includes John Mark Rozendaal on viola da gamba and David Schrader on harpsichord, is a treat for the Baroque lover who still likes vibrato.

Earthen Grave: Dismal TimesEarthen Grave: Dismal Times [$10 CD]
For those of you who don't know it, sometimes Rachel Barton Pine throws aside her classical persona and plays in a doom/thrash metal band. Frankly, it sounds like a fun way to blow off some steam. Here is their first CD, which came out earlier this year.

Bach Sonatas and Partitas, with violinist Monica HuggettBach Sonatas and Partitas, with violinist Monica Huggett [CD from $13.90; $10.98 MP3]
After hearing Monica Huggett lecture and play at the Starling-DeLay Symposium on Violin Studies last spring, I was wildly curious about her recording of all the Bach Sonatas and Partitas. I still don't have it, but it's on my wish list. Huggett is the Artistic Director of Juilliard's Historical Performance program, which is in its first year. Huggett also was nominated for a Grammy, as conductor for Ensemble Sonnerie in Bach's Orchestral Suites for a Young Prince.

Mark AwayMark Away [$17.92]
Here's a very unique idea for a stocking stuffer: it's a salve for healing the dreaded "violin hickey," the nasty neck sore that fiddlers develop on the neck. It was developed by a violist and his dermatologist roommate while in they were in college. It's small enough to fit into your fiddle case!

Augustin Hadelich: Flying SoloAugustin Hadelich: Flying Solo [$16.98 CD; $8.99 MP3]
The winner of the 2006 International Violin Competition of Indianapolis gives us this album of violin virtuoso works, including the Ysaye "Ballade," the crazy wicked hard Sonata for Solo Violin by Bernd Zimmermann, a few Paganini caprices and the Bartok violin sonata. We will hear more about Hadelich in an interview with Laurie next week on

Caroline GouldingCaroline Goulding [$14.99 CD; $9.49 MP3]
Violinist Caroline Goulding seemed to have a lot of fun making this debut album of works by Kreisler, Corigliano (Red Violin Caprices), Schoenfield, Vieuxtemps, Gershwin and more, along with pianist Christopher O'Riley. The folks at the Grammys seemed to have liked it, too; it was nominated this week for Best Instrumental Soloist Performance without Orchestra!

Vadim Gluzman: Barber, Bernstein, BlochVadim Gluzman: Barber, Bernstein, Bloch [$8.99 MP3]
Here are three B's you really ought to know, and Vadim Gluzman plays them with flair and integrity on the ex-Auer Strad: the violin concerto by Samuel Barber; "Serenade" by Leonard Bernstein; and "Baal Shem" by Ernest Bloch.

Lara St. John with Polkastra: Apolkalypse NowLara St. John with Polkastra: Apolkalypse Now [$13.98 CD; $7.99 MP3]
Is the world ending? No, that's just Lara St. John and a few of her seriously talented musician buddies, riffing on the polka, finding polkas in everything from Beethoven to gypsy music. This album is full of fun and frivolity. And polkas.

Anastasia Khitruk: Saint-Lubin Works for ViolinAnastasia Khitruk: Saint-Lubin Works for Violin [$8.99 CD; $7.99 MP3]
Violinist Anastasia Khitruk did some digging, and she found inspiration in the forgotten works of the Italian composer and violinist Léon de Saint-Lubin. Sometimes forgotten works should stay forgotten, but not these. Take out your fiddle and try this one, and see if you'd like to hear more.

Mark O'Connor: Method BooksMark O'Connor: Method Books 1-2 [$29.95 ea.]
Violinist, composer and fiddler extraordinaire Mark O'Connor offers us a new method book for students, patterned after the Suzuki method but using all American music. And by American, he means North American and South American - Mexican, Canadian, and U.S., including African-American... you name it. It would work for any beginner, using any method, who would like to explore fiddle music. It's colorful, full of little histories and personal stories, and it includes a CD of Mark playing all the music. So pass along this link and have someone buy it for you!

Sarah Chang: Brahms and Bruch Violin ConcertosSarah Chang: Brahms and Bruch Violin Concertos [$13.99 CD, $9.49 MP3]
We also will be hearing from Sarah Chang in a few weeks, with an interview on This recording was just released this fall and features some of the best known-violin concertos.

Janine Jansen: Beethoven and Britten concertosJanine Jansen: Beethoven and Britten concertos [$14.99 CD; $9.49 MP3]
Have you heard the Benjamin Britten concerto for violin? Here is your chance.

James Ehnes: Paganini 24 CapricesJames Ehnes: Paganini 24 Caprices [$8.99 MP3]
Last year, James Ehnes offered us Homage a DVD/CD celebration of the fine violins of the Fulton collection. He has now re-recorded the 24 Caprices on the 1715 "Marsick" Strad, having first recorded them in 1995 when he was not yet 20.

From the Top at the PopsFrom the Top at the Pops [$17.98 CD; $9.49 MP3]
Over the 10 years it's been on the air, the National Public Radio show From the Top led by host/concert pianist Christopher O'Riley, has become more than a radio show; it is also a platform for introducing the young musicians of the future. This recording, featuring young musicians (including violinists Caroline Goulding and Chad Hoopes) playing with Cincinnati Pops, came out the same week as the death of Pops conductor Erich Kunzel, who had conducted in Cincinnati for 44 years.

Anne Sophie Mutter: MendelssohnAnne Sophie Mutter: Mendelssohn concerto, Piano Trio and Violin Sonata [$19.98 CD & DVD; $9.49 MP3s only]
You may have noticed; 2009 was a year of Felix Mendelssohn celebrations. That is because it was the bicentennial of his birth. Here is one way to celebrate the music of Mendelssohn, with violinist Anne Sophie Mutter, who recorded the Mendelssohn concerto anew for the occasion, with the Gewandhaus Orchestra and music director Kurt Masur.

Wittner Wooden MetronomeWittner Wooden Metronome [$93.50]
I understand, as a student or a musician-on-the-go, one needs a little pocket metronome that fits inside your violin case, so you can slog all over campus or all over the world. But for me, there's just no substitute for an old-fashioned, mechanical metronome that swings like a pendulum. Several years ago, I simply decided that I HAD to have one, and I asked for nothing but this for Christmas. Students find it mesmerizing; I simply like fact that it is so physical: I can see the beat, hear the beat, even kind of feel the beat. This large, old-fashioned wooden model appealed to me most, but for kids, you can get a mechanical metronome that's shaped like a cat or penguin. Just try to beat that!

Sonata for Unaccompanied Violin by Andrew VioletteSonata for Unaccompanied Violin by Andrew Violette [$19.98 CD; $17.98 MP3]
Canadian violinist Robert Uchida plays this brand-new music: haunting, well-spun, well-played on his Italian violin. This piece is dedicated to Uchida, who is concertmaster of Symphony Nova Scotia. Violin geeks will appreciate the second disc, in which the opening "Aria" movement is taken through a set of variations: an "Ysaye Variation," a "Kreisler Variation," "Bartok Variation"... and more, even a "Verdi Variation"!

Cornelius Dufallo: Dream StreetsCornelius Dufallo: Dream Streets [$9.99 iTunes]
This recording brings the listener on a kind of journey through the subconscious, riding on a sometimes electric, sometimes acoustic, violin, with the stated inspiration being the New York nightscape. Some of the tracks hit a groove, while others are static, windy, moody. It's clearly experimental music, with clever electronics galore, all from a Juilliard grad who is fully fluent in his instrument.

Anna Schaad: Dream Within a DreamAnna Schaad: Dream Within a Dream [$15 CD]
Anna Schaad, a violinist with a background in music therapy as well as Celtic and American fiddling, offers a New-Agey and electric mix. I can see doing yoga to this music, for sure, it's down-tempo and static – anaerobic, if you will. There are a number of allusions to nature, as well as a song about her Navy husband being deployed for seven months.

Matthew Pierce: Catch Me If You CanMatthew Pierce: Catch Me If You Can [$15 CD; $9.99 MP3]
Violinist Matthew Pierce, along with pianist Christine Doré, both on acoustic instruments, have created a set of well-made, minimalist tracks, the kind of music you'd want as the background music for your documentary, or even just for a good car ride. I mean it in a good way; sometimes you don't want to take an emotional journey through the murk; this has some light in it, with tracks with names like "African Smile," "Giggling," and "Lonely Cactus."

Tasmin Little: Partners in TimeTasmin Little: Partners in Time [$20.98 CD]
Violinist Tasmin Little has set out to illustrate the way the violin has worked with the piano over the course of music history, performing music by Kreisler, Bach, Mozart, Grieg, Tchaikovsky and Bartok and also creating thoughtful written and audio introductions. If you'd like to convert someone, get them hooked on classical music, here's a nice gift. Have a listen to the introductions, Tasmin's lovely English accent is enough to keep one listening a good long time!

Vadim Repin: Brahms Violin Concerto and Double ConcertoVadim Repin: Brahms Violin Concerto and Double Concerto [$16.98 CD; $9.49 MP3]
This is simply a beautiful, high-quality recording of a set of beautiful, high-quality works. Violinist Vadim Repin plays Double Concerto with cellist Truls Mørk, and the recording also features conductor Riccardo Chailly and the Gewandhaus Orchestra.

Inevitably, I will have left someone or something out. Please do not hesitate to add your own suggestions and/or links, and this can include your own CD!

From Mark Hamilton
Posted on December 6, 2009 at 6:08 AM

 While I was in Belgrade earlier this year, I impulse-purchased a CD I saw in the window of a music store: A Bokorbol by Felix Lajko. Folk-influenced violin, but a lot more than just folk. His website is:

From Pauline Lerner
Posted on December 6, 2009 at 6:49 AM

That's a great and diverse list.  I especially like Rachel Barton Pine's heavy metal / electric violin music.  I must remind you, however, of a comment you made on one of my recent blogs.  You said that Mozart chocolates would make a perfect gift for a violin teacher.  Is there some way of sending your current list of gift recommendations to my students anonymously?

Posted on December 6, 2009 at 11:11 AM

$60.00 a pound for chocolates? Are the centers made by the Medahen cartel?

From Laurie Niles
Posted on December 6, 2009 at 8:05 PM

Sam, once you try fine chocolate, it's hard to go back. I'd rather have one good $2 chocolate than three Snickers bars! (Thus the diet plan, I suppose!)


Sara Watkins -- Sara was the violinist in Nickel Creek, which has been on hiatus for several years, and this is her first solo album. She sings, she writes the music, she fiddles! I would probably classify it as folk music, with a pop/country bent.


From Julie Tebbs
Posted on December 7, 2009 at 4:12 AM

Here's another collection of cd's, most are self published by the musicians:



From Laurie Niles
Posted on December 7, 2009 at 4:25 AM

Another one I don't want to forget!

Amy Barlowe: 12 Etude-Caprices in the Styles of the Great Composers

I had a chance to look at this book of sheet music, and I liked it very much for teaching students about style and genre -- a subject that is neglected all too often. Amy, a longtime teacher and Juilliard grad, has written short pieces in the style of Vivaldi, Bach, Beethoven, Sarasate, Paganini, Bartok and more, and with each piece, she includes an explanation of how to technically accomplish the right style. The illustrations of composers, etc., are nice, too!

From Jason Hurwitz
Posted on December 7, 2009 at 5:39 AM

One of my favorite Christmas CDs of all time (and I'm not even Christian!) is Barrage's "Winter's Tale." This collection of traditional Christmas tunes is done as only Barrage can do them, and is sure to add to joy to any holiday party, car ride, or just general holiday music mix.

You can find "Winter's Tale" at

From Hristo Vassilev
Posted on December 7, 2009 at 7:20 AM

I propose to add The new CD with Bach sonats and Paganini variations and caprichios played by the greatest violonist of 50 -es of 20 century VASCO ABADJIEV. The price is 15 BGN( about 8 euro) in Bulgaria.

From Mitchell Pressman
Posted on December 7, 2009 at 1:07 PM

I strongly recommend the Emerson String Quartet CD, which I was lucky enough to win in your contest, Laurie.  Having heard several other recordings of the Janacek string quartets, IMO the Emerson recording blows the rest of them away.  Simply spectacular playing, especially "Intimate Letters" (the second Janacek string quartet).

From Laurie Niles
Posted on December 7, 2009 at 4:31 PM

Hristo, I found this link to a site about Vasco Abadjiev, but I could not find a way to buy the CD online. Is there a link for getting the CD?

From Giancarlo L
Posted on December 7, 2009 at 8:19 PM

Hi Ms. Niles,

It may have been on purpose, but I think the cover/price/link listed above James Ehnes' new recording of the caprices is actually the cover/price/link for the older version. (Both versions are stunning.) I don't know if this was on purpose, but either way I would like to contribute this as one of my recommended CDs of 2009 (the new version).

From Laurie Niles
Posted on December 7, 2009 at 8:32 PM

Thanks Giancarlo, we'll look at that!

Here's another idea for a nice gift for a violinist:

A subscription to Strad Magazine:

To get a 30 % discount on a gift subscription, go to and then enter the code, ST9XS, in order to get the discount. Based in the United Kingdom, this magazine has been around for more than a hundred years!

From David Wilson
Posted on December 8, 2009 at 6:45 PM

Good list with good variety. Though I would like to add mine to the list, here is where you can look at my CDs. I have sold over 150,000 units of my albums at gift stores across middle America. Most purchasers appreciate the casual, easy listening qualities of my approach to the violin. e.i. Recently a country club in Georgia ordered 240 of my "Romance of Paris" albums as "gifts" to participants in their "Viva Le Golf" tournament.

From Daniel Orenstein
Posted on December 12, 2009 at 4:38 PM

For all those intersted in the great violinists of the past, a special mention to the DOREMI label with its ongoing OISTRAKH collection (vol13 was published this year), Michael RABIN collection (vol 2 this year, vol 3 to come in January with never before released live perfs). Also published this year "the art of Silvia MARCOVICI" (2cds + 1 DVD).

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