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Laurie Niles's 2011 guide to holiday gifts

December 5, 2011 at 1:19 AM

With 2011 coming to a close and the holiday season upon us, I'd like to offer you our 2011 holiday giving guide, with some of the year's best recordings, DVDs and books from violinists. If you have a recommendation for this list please feel free to describe it in the comment section, and give us a link. (And it's okay if it's your own recording or item!)

Why should you consider giving - or asking for - a music-related gift? For one, it will help keep you inspired about your violin-related endeavors, to hear a beautiful recording, to receive tickets to an inspiring concert, to have new sheet music, to receive useful equipment, etc. Your friends and relatives might look to you as being the "expert" on classical music, and the gift of something like a recommended recording from you just might help another person start on the path toward appreciating classical music.

Also, you are supporting musicians and keeping music stores afloat when you buy recordings and other music-related items. 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


Antheil: Sonatas for Violin and Piano, with John Novacek and Mark FewerAntheil: Sonatas for Violin and Piano, with John Novacek and Mark Fewer
Here are some extraordinary works you've probably never heard, violin-piano sonatas written by the early 20th-century concert pianist and composer George Antheil, performed with great spark by violinist Mark Fewer and pianist John Novacek. The works -- jazzy, modern, colorful and yet tonal -- were written for the violinist Olga Rudge, tailored, as Antheil said, for her "Irish adrenal personality."

It Came Upon The Midnight Clear, with the Manor House String QuartetIt Came Upon The Midnight Clear, with the Manor House String Quartet
You may remember that the U.K.-based Manor House String Quartet came out with a Christmas CD last year called I Saw Three Ships; this is Part II -- the next best thing to having a live string quartet at your holiday party!

Bruch: Violin Concerto - Romanze, with Vadim GluzmanBruch: Violin Concerto - Romanze, with Vadim Gluzman
Violinist Vadim Gluzman has paired the famous Violin Concerto No. 1, premiered when the composer was 30, with Bruch's String Quintet in A minor, written when the composer was 80 and published after his death. He also includes the Romance in F major, played with the Bergen Philharmonic, Andrew Litton conducting, as is the concerto. The quintet, written for two violins, two violas and cello, has that romantic and melodious quality that people love in Bruch's violin concerto -- and Gluzman, along with violinist Sandis Steinbergs, violists Maxim Rysanov and Ilze Klava and cellist Reinis Birznieks, gives it an impeccable reading. Gluzman performs on the 1690 ex-Auer Stradivarius, on loan from the Stradivari Society. Incidentally, the CD comes with thorough liner notes about Bruch, his life and works, written by Horst A. Scholz.

Mystery Sonatas, with Julia WedmanMystery Sonatas, with Julia Wedman
Are you ready to dive deeper into Baroque music? Here is something to inform your Bach, the "Mystery Sonatas," by Heinrich Biber, an early Baroque composer. The sonatas, written to explore the mysteries of the rosary, are played by Canadian violinist Julia Wedman, a member of the Baroque period orchestra Tafelmusik, among many other groups. She plays a Hendrick Jacobs violin made in Amsterdam in 1694. The music sparkles, and the liner notes are both visually appealing and extremely informative, with comprehensive historic description as well as Julia's musical impressions of each of the 16 sonatas. What fun, for a lover of Baroque music!

Eugène Ysaÿe: Six Sonatas for Violin Solo, Op, 27, with Judith IngolfssonEugène Ysaÿe: Six Sonatas for Violin Solo, Op, 27, with Judith Ingolfsson
The six solo sonatas by Eugene Ysaye offer violinists some of the most challenging and harmonically interesting music for violin without accompaniment. Whether you intend to play them anytime soon or not, these are an important part of any violin-lover's listening library. This year brings an excellent recording made by Judith Ingolfsson, a Professor of Violin at the University of Performing Arts in Stuttgart Germany, who plays a 1750 Lorenzo Guadagnini violin.

Echoes of Time, by Lisa BatiashviliEchoes of Time, by Lisa Batiashvili
Few violin concertos are more haunting than Dmitri Shostakovich's Violin Concerto No. 1, a piece written during Soviet times that reflects the darkness of those days. Violinist Lisa Batiashvili, born in the country of Georgia when it was still under Soviet rule, performs the piece, along with works of other Russian and Soviet composers, including "V & V" by Georgian composer Giya Kancheli, "Spiegel im Spiegel" by Arvo Part and "Vocalise" by Sergei Rachmaninov. On the lighter side is a fun arrangement of Shostakovich's "Lyrical Waltz" by Lisa's father, Tamas Batiashvili.

Calmer, Easier, Happier Music Practice, parenting expert Noel Janis-NortonCalmer, Easier, Happier Music Practice, parenting expert Noel Janis-Norton
Are you finding that overseeing your child's music practice is ruining your relationship and making you both want to chuck the fiddle out the window? Don't do it! Parenting expert Noel Janis-Norton has some advice specifically for helping you and your child get the most from music lessons and practicing -- and for strengthening your relationship at the same time.

Capricho Latino, with Rachel Barton PineCapricho Latino, with Rachel Barton Pine
What a lot of treasures Rachel Barton Pine has uncovered in this album of solo violin works, "Capricho Latino." Rachel and I spoke last year about her lifelong quest to discover works -- both new and old -- for unaccompanied violin, and specifically about many of the works on this album, a number of which were written for Rachel. One of my favorite pieces on this album is her rendition of Francisco Tárrega's "Recuerdos de la Alhambra," arranged by Ruggiero Ricci. (As a matter of fact I even downloaded the music!) Though a Latin thread runs through it all, the album covers a broad range of styles, from the very contemporary-sounding "Rapsodia Panameña" by Roque Cordero, written this century, to Rachel's own arrangement of the well-known traditional "Asturias (Leyenda)" by Isaac Albéniz (1860-1909); as well as Ysaye's Sonata No. 6 and "Ferdinand the Bull," narrated by Hector Elizondo. Certainly, if you need a little inspiration, and perhaps another piece for your recital, listen to this album!

Ives: Four Sonatas, with Hilary HahnIves: Four Sonatas, with Hilary Hahn
Charles Ives wrote four violin sonatas, and Hilary Hahn and pianist Valentina Lisitsa make a strong argument that we ought to be playing, programming and studying these pieces more often. For me the sonatas fall pleasingly in between being Romantic and being hard-core 20th c. It makes sense, given the time they were written and Charles Ives' life (1874-1954). Ives was the son of a band leader with some mad ideas about harmony, he was a church organist from the age 14, and he made his living as an insurance agent -- he was less part of the musical in-crowd during the early 20th c. His music goes its own way, occasionally turning into a church hymn, or going on a rhythmically asymmetrical romp. A cross-eyed, bitonal march might slide into an almost cheesy, Rachmaninov-like harmony. Yet it all tends to favor the violin's most melodious qualities. It's full of interesting discoveries, and I find it grows on me. Here is our interview we did with Hilary Hahn about these sonatas. Also, if you are a big fan of Hilary Hahn, you can get a 2012 Hilary Hahn Calendar!

Seeing Is Believing, Nico MuhlySeeing Is Believing, Nico Muhly
When violinist Thomas Gould bought himself a sixing electric violin, he asked his friend, young composer Nico Muhly, if he'd like to write a concerto for it. Inspired by this "crazy idea," Muhly did just that, resulting in this recording it with the Aurora Orchestra, Nicholas Collon conducting. "It's really the old world and the new world, interacting in a very exciting way," English composer John Rutter said of Muhly's musical voice, in a video about the recording.

Hindson: Violin Concerto; Corigliano: Suite from the Red Violin [Hybrid SACD], with Lara St. John
This CD did not come out this year, but after hearing its U.S. west coast premiere, I'd recommend it. I found Hindson's concerto both familiar and challenging; in a musical language that I understand, yet full of new thoughts and ideas. Certainly it sounds modern, but sometimes it's modern like a movie score, and other times it's modern like an edgy new symphony. The recording also includes the popular Red Violin suite by Corigliano and an arrangement of pianist Franz Liszt's "Totentanz" that Lara wrote with Martin Kennedy -- an idea hatched during a late-night "nerd-fest," in Lara's words. Liszt wrote showpieces for the violin, and they certainly produced a showpiece for the violin (and a lot of fun) in this arrangement.

The Royal Wedding, The Official AlbumThe Royal Wedding, The Official Album
One of the year's crowning events was also a wonderful celebration of classical music, beautifully performed. If I had to give a gift to my Grandma, this might be the ticket!

Live: Strauss Barber & Mahler, featuring Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg and the New Century Chamber OrchestraLive: Strauss Barber & Mahler, featuring Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg and the New Century Chamber Orchestra
The New Century Chamber Orchestra is Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg's new band, and she definitely adds zip to the mix. This recording includes live performances of three intense and profound pieces for string orchestra: Samuel Barber's "Adagio for Strings," Richard Strauss's "Metamorphosen," and Gustav Mahler's "Adagietto" from Symphony No. 5.

Tchaikovsky & Bruch: Violin Concertos, with Nicola BenedettiTchaikovsky & Bruch: Violin Concertos, with Nicola Benedetti
The Tchaikovsky and the Bruch Concerto have been recorded before -- this we know. But both concertos continue to be recorded, because they continue to resonate for both audiences and young artists alike. Thus, the young Scottish violinist Nicola Benedetti gives us a lovely recording of them both. She also spoke eloquently about the concertos and about her evolving life as an artist in an interview we did earlier this year.

Beau Soir, with Janine JansenBeau Soir, with Janine Jansen
Everyone welcomed Janine Jansen back to the stage this year, after her short break to treat chronic exhaustion from a demanding performing career. This is her recording of French and French-inspired music, called Beau Soir ("Beautiful evening"), a project she had in the works before her period of rest. Named for the Debussy piece by the same name, the album includes all music for violin and piano, in collaboration with pianist Itamar Golan and with new pieces written by Swiss composer Richard Dubugnon. Here is a video preview of the album.

Echoes of Paris, by Augustin HadelichEchoes of Paris, by Augustin Hadelich
Violinist Augustin Hadelich collaborates with pianist Robert Kulek in this recording, which contains Francis Poulenc's Sonata for Violin and Piano, Op. 119; Igor Stravinsky's lesser-played "Pulcinella" suite called "Suite After Themes, Fragments And Pieces By Giambattista Pergolesi"; Claude Debussy's Sonata for Violin and Piano in G minor and Sergei Prokofiev's Sonata No. 2 For Violin And Piano In D Major, Op. 94b (originally for flute). For Hadelich, this are all works that recall Paris, "you can hear how they influence each other. You can hear a little bit of Debussy in Stravinsky and Poulenc," Hadelich said in an interview earlier this year. "They were all in Paris at some point, going to each other's concerts. They would all show up to premieres of other composers' newest works? They didn't necessarily they all like each other; they were very critical of each other sometimes. Nevertheless, you can hear a general influence."

Schubert's Echo, with the American String QuartetSchubert's Echo, with the American String Quartet
If you like "Death and the Maiden," you may want to check out the epic Quartet in G, D. 887, written late in the career of Franz Schubert. It's just as intense, and then more. The liner notes point to a progression in the three words featured in this album, with both modern works showing "echoes" of Schubert. "With our juxtaposition of repertory?we invite your to hear these works anew, in the context of each other." The Berg Quartet, Op. 3, was written a little earlier in the career of that composer; it's atonal but somehow doesn't feel unfettered harmonically. The Webern is a thoroughly modern, atonal work -- a fun ride and engaging listen, but not something you'll put on in the background at your dinner party! This is a great recording for those seeking to open their ears and find the links between modern and Romantic music.

Two Souls, with Mikhail SimonyanTwo Souls, with Mikhail Simonyan
Violinist Mikhail Simonyan has two sides to his personality -- the Russian/Armenian of his birth (he is from Novosibirsk) and the American, where he has lived for more than a decade. His new recording is meant to show both, with violin concertos by Armenian composer Aram Khachaturian and American composer Samuel Barber, along with conductor Kristjan J=E4rvi and the London Symphony Orchestra. For the recording, he commissioned a new cadenza for the Khachaturian, written by Russian-born Armenian composer Artur Avanesov, meant to capture more the folkloric elements of the music.

An Appalachian Christmas, with Mark O'Connor and friendsAn Appalachian Christmas, with Mark O'Connor and friends
We've all heard of Copland's "Appalachian Spring"; well, violinist Mark O'Connor's "An Appalachian Christmas" is an entirely different concept! I expected a lot of bluegrass arrangements of Christmas tunes-gone-fiddle from this fiddler extraordinaire, but Mark has actually teamed up with many different musicians and offers a multi-genre mix of both holiday and non-holiday tunes, including both instrumental and vocal numbers. A few duets with Renee Fleming lean toward a classical sound (including spare, violin-vocal arrangement of "Amazing Grace" that is one of the most effective moments in the album ). The album also includes a rather electric-sounding "Sleigh Ride"; a duet with James Taylor called "Ol' Blue"; a peaceful "Slumber My Darling" with Alison Krauss, Edgar Meyer and Yo-Yo Ma; and a slow-moving duet with mandolinist Chris Thile called "One Winter's Night." My favorite moments are when Mark fiddles out, such as in the introduction to Winter Wonderland with vocalist Jane Monheit. The album concludes with Mark's signature composition, "Appalachia Waltz."

Violin Sonatas by Bartok, Grieg and R. Strauss, with Vilde FrangViolin Sonatas by Bartok, Grieg and R. Strauss, with Vilde Frang
Violinist Vilde Frang shows range and flair in this recording of sonatas by Bartok, Grieg and R. Strauss; here is a little snippet of her playing on this disc. Born in 1986 in Norway, Vilde has studied at the Barratt Due Music Institute in Oslo; with Kolja Blacher at Musikhochschule Hamburg; and Ana Chumachenco at the Kronberg Academy. She plays a Jean-Baptiste Vuillaume violin lent by the Anne-Sophie Mutter Freundeskreis Stiftung.

Brahms, Shostakovich and Schoenfield works; Monument Piano TrioBrahms, Shostakovich and Schoenfield works; Monument Piano Trio
How is it that three people can sound like an entire orchestra? Certainly this musically sensitive trio exploits the broad range of the combination violin-cello-piano, with works ranging from Romantic to Modern. Longtime member Igor Yuzefovich brings us this recording of piano trios with his group, the Monument Piano Trio, which also includes cellist Dariusz Skoraczewski and pianist Michael Sheppard. Yuzefovich was recently appointed concertmaster of the Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra.

Bartok Violin Concerto No. 2 and Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto; with Valeriy SokolovBartok Violin Concerto No. 2 and Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto; with Valeriy Sokolov
Age age 16, Ukrainian violinist Valeriy Sokolov was the subject of a 2006 documentary called "Natural Born Fiddler," by French director Bruno Monsaingeon. Now at age 24 he has released a new recording of the Bartok and Tchaikovsky Concertos, previewed in this video.


Jascha Heifetz: God's Fiddler (DVD) by Peter RosenJascha Heifetz: God's Fiddler, by Peter Rosen
The 20th century violinist Jascha Heifetz remains an ideal for violinists, who revere his playing in an almost religious way. But what was he like as a man? This is what Peter Rosen aimed to explore with his 87-minute documentary, which draws on 300 hours of film and 2,000 photos. I attended the premiere of the film and found it both fascinating and moving -- especially when violinist Ida Haendel says emphatically, "His playing was so passionate; I'm just astounded that people don't realize it. They thought that he was cold -- and it was fire! Absolute fire!"


Warming Up by Simon FischerWarming Up by Simon Fischer (book/sheet music)
Simon Fischer, author of the well-known pedagogy books Basics and Practice, has a new book out this holiday season: "Warming Up," with separate books especially for violin and viola. Simon has devised a 36-minute routine to follow to get the spring and flexibility into your fingers and keep them there, without injuring yourself. Some exercises are for the right hand and others for the left; some involve playing and others do not. Neither a scale book nor an etude book, this book contains exercises designed to help increase rapidity in fingers, widen their reach, improve left-finger accuracy, increase right-hand flexibility, straighten the bow, get a better sense of bowing soundpoints, improve coordination between the two hands, improve vibrato and improve double-stop intonation. Yes, all in one book! Unlike Fischer's other books, which encourage leafing around and picking your exercise, this one leads the player through a comprehensive warmup -- one could simply read through the 23-page book, front-to-back, every day, and count on strengthening the hands and improving their abilities.

Foundation Studies for the Violin, Volume 1, by Franz Wohlfarht (Book w/DVD), edited by Rachel Barton PineFoundation Studies for the Violin, Volume 1, by Franz Wohlfarht (Book w/DVD), edited by Rachel Barton Pine
When Rachel Barton Pine was approached to record the Wohlfahrt Etudes, as she told us last fall, she couldn't just record them -- surely she needed to completely re-edit them! In truth, it was about time, and Rachel was the perfect person to do it. The Wohlfahrt etudes were last edited about a century ago, and Rachel has brought them into the 21st century with new fingerings and bowings, and for the first time, some suggested dynamics so that students can do musical justice to these clever little studies. The book comes with a DVD of her playing the etudes.

You Are Your Instrument, by Julie Lyonn LiebermanYou Are Your Instrument, by Julie Lyonn Lieberman
So many people came forward with their stories about injury after I wrote about Julie Lyonn Lieberman's lecture on preventing injury, which she gave at the 2011 Starling-DeLay Symposium on Violin Studies at Juilliard. Here is an entire book that she wrote on the subject of preparing mentally and physically for healthy performance.

Listen to Me! by Clare Ward (Book and CD)Listen to Me! by Clare Ward (Book and CD)
This is a collection of beginning pieces (on about the "Pre-Twinkle" level) with piano parts designed to make the music sound like true repertoire that a beginner can be proud to perform at a recital. It's a great choice for young beginners, but appropriate for any beginner.

Stories from a Theme Park InsiderStories from a Theme Park Insider, (E-Book) by Robert Niles
You may be aware that all the technical work on is handled by Robert Niles, who also happens to be my husband. You may not know, however, that Robert once was a Pirate of the Caribbean -- at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida. He actually worked there at a number of attractions for years, and from that experience he caught the theme park bug. At the same time as we started, he also started a website called "Stories from a Theme Park Insider" is his first book, and it's a compilation of his best stories from when he was working at Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom. He really captures the funny, the unexpected, and the poignant nature of one of the world's more unusual jobs. The price is right, at $2.99!

Looking for even more ideas? Take a look back at our 2010 Gift Guide!

From Tom Holzman
Posted on December 5, 2011 at 6:56 PM
Laurie - thanks for posting your recommendations. In light of your inclusion of the Antheil pieces, I thought the folks would be interested in knowing that Antheil had some other interesting aspects to him. Every time you use you GPS and WiFi, thank him and screen siren Hedy Lamarr.
Here's the story
From Emily Hogstad
Posted on December 5, 2011 at 8:51 PM
I'd never heard of Olga Rudge before. Apparently she and Ezra Pound met at the Paris salon of fascinating lesbian violinist/poet Natalie Clifford Barney, who I just found out about day before yesterday... And yesterday I read about Hedy Lamarr's invention. Cue the Twilight Zone theme!
From Tom Holzman
Posted on December 5, 2011 at 9:48 PM
Emily - I had a relative, Wanda Landowska, who was a member of Barney's Paris salon.
From Roland Garrison
Posted on December 6, 2011 at 5:41 AM
Tuned wind chimes?
From Paul Deck
Posted on December 6, 2011 at 3:42 PM
I don't have any objection to my neighbor having wind chimes as long as they are indoors, preferably in the basement. Those that hang outside and sway gently in the wind are suitable for target practice.

I resisted the urge, at the time, to follow up on Robert's Cyber Monday blog entry suggesting that we shop at the places that support Certainly if something must be ordered by mail, those businesses should be afforded priority. But if you have a local violin shop, remember that you can buy nearly all of your things there too, and they can order what they don't have in stock. In our community we are lucky to have a good shop, owned by an experienced (and almost pathologically honest) luthier and instrument-maker. Yes I know some items (notably strings) are cheaper from Shar or Southwest. But there is something to the phrase "Buy Local, Eat Local, Be Local." Do we want to have these kinds of businesses in our communities or not?

From Laurie Niles
Posted on December 6, 2011 at 4:57 PM
Speaking of wind chimes, after this recent catastrophic wind event in Pasadena, I was walking down a street littered with giant trees that had been felled, which in some cases had come down on buildings. Then I encountered one house in which part of the porch roof had fallen, but intact, lining the rest of the porch, were some 25 sets of wind chimes, still hanging! What a concert that must have been, the night before!

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