Gift-giving is one of the great joys of the holiday season, and each year we compile a list of some of the year's best new recordings, books, gear and other offerings from violinists for you to consider in your holiday gift-giving, gift-asking — and loading of the smartphone, computer or other device. We hope this allows you to consider a music-related gift.
We also would suggest considering supporting your local live music scene by purchasing tickets to local music events or simply making a year-end donation to a musical non-profit of your choice. I've tried to be inclusive, but I'm sure I have missed some ideas, so please feel free add your suggestions in the comments section. And yes, in this case, you are allowed to toot your own horn and recommend your own CD or book or product! You may also wish to refer to our gift-giving guides from previous years; I've listed links to those at the end of this blog. Also, please consider purchasing a gift from one of our Violinist.com sponsors, which you can find in our Directory of Shops and Services or on the right-hand side of this page.
Many of the recordings below are linked to Amazon.com. Note that if you follow these links and make a purchase from Amazon, a portion of that will go to support Violinist.com. (If you would like to give a donation to support Violinist.com, click here.) I've also listed the artists' names in italics, and sometimes those are linked to stories we have written this year about them and their work. And whenever you buy any of these selections, from any source, you'll be helping to support the musicians and other artists who created them.
The Brahms Violin Concerto is always a treat, but especially in the hands of Augustin Hadelich, who also plays it with his own cadenza. He also performs Ligeti's Violin Concerto, with a new cadenza written by Thomas Adès. Here is our 2018 interview with Augustin about the Ligeti.
The way Antón García Abril put together the Six Partitas he wrote for solo violin makes his inspiration clear: he wrote six single-movement pieces and named them "Heart; Immensity; Love; Art; Reflexive; You" -- "H-I-L-A-R-Y." This is Hilary Hahn's world premiere recording of the partitas, commissioned by Hahn for solo violin. These works continue the longstanding tradition of composers such as J.S. Bach and Eugene Ysaÿe writing six polyphonic works for the violin. Read our interview with Hilary about these works here.. "Before these pieces existed,” said Hahn, “I knew they needed to be written. Antón García Abril deeply understands the violin, and he epitomizes a musical tradition that has never before been expressed in the solo violin repertoire. His voice is romantic and impulsive, abrasive, beautiful."
Two great artists unite: At the request of violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter, award-winning film composer John Williams created arrangements for solo violin and orchestra of some of his best and most popular movie themes. The album includes 12 arrangements, with music from the Star Wars series such as "Luke and Leia," "Yoda's Theme," "Across the Stars" and "Rey's Theme"; as well as "Hedwig's Theme" from Harry Potter; and music from Schindler's List, Memoirs of a Geisha, Dracula, Cinderella Liberty and more. The arrangement and performance of "Hedwig's Theme" from Harry Potter, is especially impressive.
Who knew that the great cinematic artist Charlie Chaplin was also quite a composer (as well as a violinist)? In celebration of Charlie Chaplin’s 130th Birthday, violinist Philippe Quint released this album with 13 new arrangements of songs from Chaplin's films including City Lights, The Great Dictator, The Kid, Limelight & Modern Times. Joshua Bell makes a guest appearance on two tracks. In a process that took more than three years, Quint, in collaboration with arrangers Charles Coleman and Leon Gurvitch, went through dozens of songs and soundtracks written by Chaplin to select the songs best suited for violin and piano. Here is our interview with Philippe about the creation of this album.
Nominated for a 2020 Grammy, this album features violinist Tessa Lark performing a concerto written for her by Michael Torke, inspired by American bluegrass and Irish reels. It's one of three albums Lark released in quick succession this fall; the others are Fantasy, featuring Fantasies and Rhapsodies for violin, including her own "Appalachian Fantasy"; as well as Invention, a duo collaboration with bassist Michael Thurber, with both Bach Two-Part Inventions as well as their own compositions. See our latest interview with Tessa Lark here.
"I fell in love with the Dvorák and Khachaturian (violin concertos) and have been fortunate to have performed them each regularly since I was a teenager," writes Chicago-based violinist Rachel Barton Pine. Two gorgeous concertos that everyone should know - even though they are played less frequently -- and a wonderful recording of them both.
Violist Matthew Lipman dedicates this album of viola fantasies to the memory of his mother. Recipient of a 2015 Avery Fisher Career Grant, Lipman commissioned Clarice Assad to write "Metamorfose," a commentary on grief and acceptance which receives its premiere recording on this album. He also includes Dmitri Shostakovich’s long-lost "Impromptu for Viola and Piano," Op. 33, recently unearthed in the Moscow State Archives. Other pieces include Robert Schumann’s "Fairy Tale Pictures," York Bowen’s "Phantasy," Garth Knox’s "Fuga libre" and Franz Waxman’s popular violin showpiece, "Carmen Fantasie." Joining Lipman is pianist Henry Kramer.
If you love jazz, you will love this album of gypsy jazz by the Rhythm Future Quartet, featuring violinist Jason Anick, who teaches jazz violin at Boston’s Berklee College of Music. You can also procure transcriptions of their music here.
"I listen to Bach, much more than I play Bach. I listen to Bach all of the time," said violinist Renaud Capuçon. "It gives me a mix of energy, wisdom, strength." This collaboration with pianist David Fray grew from a mutual love for and understanding of the music of Bach. Here is our recent interview with Renaud about Bach and more.
Here is another Grammy-nominated album, featuring the Hermitage Piano Trio. "When listening to (Rachmaninoff's) music — especially his orchestral works — I am always in awe of how skillfully Rachmaninoff utilizes string instruments in conveying the soul, passion and drama in his compositions," said said violinist Misha Keylin. "The two piano trios on this album were written by Rachmaninoff during his earlier years, but the maturity in his melodies and the themes are unmistakably traditional and on a grand scale. The phrases grow from almost barely audible church psalms and funeral processions to explosive climaxes that almost sound as if judgment day is upon us.
Irish fiddler Martin Hayes and New York string quartet Brooklyn Rider celebrate a decade-long musical friendship with this album that celebrates traditional Irish music. They came up with unique versions of 12 tunes, from well-known traditional Irish tunes to "Maghera Mountain,” which was written by Hayes as a teenager and recorded for the first time here.
For its recording debut, the Chicago-based Black Oak Ensemble has put together an album of music by six Jewish composers whose work was suppressed by the Nazis, with works by Dutch composer Dick Kattenburg; Czech composers Hans Krása and Gideon Klein; and Hungarian composers Sándor Kuti, Paul Hermann, and Géza Frid. "It is poignant music but also incredibly human," said the trio's violinist Desirée Ruhstrat. "That these pieces were written in a concentration camp is incredible."
"Nicky said she wanted a piece that would allow her to inhabit an expansive range of human emotions," Marsalis told Decca, in describing the violin concerto he wrote for Nicola Benedetti. "Though I have long loved the violin, she schooled me in its august history, in its tremendous expressive capabilities, and in a compendium of old and new techniques. From a very young age, Nicky’s dream was to move people with the magic of virtuosity and the warmth of her sound. The concerto begins with her telling us the story of her dream, the playing of it IS the realization of that dream, and it ends with her going down the road to play for the next gathering." Click here to read our interview with Nicola Benedetti about the creation of this concerto
I first heard Swedish violinist Daniel Lozakovich in 2014, he was just 12 years old, and I was immediately taken with his musical maturity and beautiful vibrato. Now age 18, he just gets better and better -- he is touring as a soloist and has made several recordings. This one explores works by Tchaikovsky, including the Violin Concerto, Méditation from Souvenir d'un lieu cher; and arrangements of two vocal works, Lensky’s Aria from Eugene Onegin and Romance, Op.6 No. 6, "None But the Lonely Heart."
China's oldest symphony, the Shanghai Symphony Orchestra marks its 140th anniversary with a series of three albums featuring works by major Chinese composers. "Gateways," the first of these, features two works by Qigang Chen: "Wu Xing" (The Five Elements) from 1999, and "La joie de la souffrance" (The Joy of Suffering) from 2017 - as well as Rachmaninov’s Symphonic Dances and Kreisler’s Tambourin chinois. Violinist Maxim Vengerov is the dedicatee and first performer of "La joie de la souffrance." Click here to read our interview with composer Qigang Chen about this work.
British violinist Tasmin Little presents an album of works by women composers which includes Clara Schumann's Drei Romanzen, Op. 22; Dame Ethel Smyth's Sonata Op. 7; and three works by Amy Beach: Sonata Op. 34, Romance, Op. 23, and Invocation, Op. 55. "When you hear these works, you wonder why they have been neglected for such a long time," Little said.
When one of the most respected violinists in the world releases a recording of two major violin concertos, it's time to listen. German violinist Christian Tetzlaff, who teaches at the Kronberg Academy, performs the Beethoven and Sibelius Violin Concertos with Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin, Robin Ticciati conducting. Definitely worth a listen.
This recording captures the live performance in Los Angeles on February 8, 2018 of Esa-Pekka Salonen’s cello concerto featuring Yo-Yo Ma and the Los Angeles Philharmonic, conducted by Salonen. In Salonen's words, it begins with "a simple thought emerging out of a complex landscape. Almost like consciousness developing from clouds of dust." The second movement follows with "slow cello arches...looped to create harmony from single lines." This is followed by the third movement of music that is "often dance-like; sometimes gesticulating wildly, perhaps from the sheer joy of no longer having to do with clouds and processes. Finally the kinetic energy burns itself out gently, the rapid movement slows down, and the cello line climbs slowly up to a stratospherically high B-flat, two centimeters to the left from the highest note of the piano."
BOOKS and MISCELLANEOUS
At last, it is the sheet music for Hilary Hahn's encores! For background: in 2013, Hahn brought to life 27 new encores for violin, each by a different living composer. This collection includes Hahn's own markings as well as style and performance notes. Read more in our interview with Hilary about this new edition.
Here is a journal designed not only to help you track your practice hours, but also to improve your practice psychology and goal-setting. "I would love to make musical practice more joyful and more powerful," said author Susanna Klein, a professor of violin at Virginia Commonwealth University -- and also blog contributor on Violinist.com -- who created this journal. "Many musicians become obsessed with how much they practice instead of what they actually get done or how they feel about their work. This can lead to injury, inefficiency, and what I call the 'practice blues.'" It's also an old-fashioned, analog 80-page journal, with high-quality paper and binding, meant for using with pencil or pen. It does not require you to get on your computer or phone.
British pedagogue Simon Fischer, known for his books such as Basics, Practice, Warming Up and more, has released a book of transcriptions for violin and piano of well-known pieces from the classical repertoire, such as Tchaikovsky's Waltz from ‘Sleeping Beauty." There are eight arrangement in all, including pieces by Dowland, Purcell, Rossini, Felix and Fanny Mendelssohn, Tchaikovsky, Chopin and Johann Strauss II. There are virtuosic as well as easier arrangements, complete with fingerings and instructions, as well as some alternatives offered for easing technically challenging moments.
Several respected colleagues have recommended these mutes, not only because they come in every color of the rainbow (fun!) but also because they work quite well. My teaching colleague Cheryl Scheidemantle likes the "Viol Violin Mute" and the "Dual Tone Violin Mute" and our own Krista Moyer said that "I have tried almost all of them and really like the sound they produce." For a detailed description of the mutes, see the Wiessmeyer & Son website.
Music Stand Lights
Aria Stand Light
A good number of my friends who play in the LA Opera have these because they work so well when you are stuck in a pit in the dark. But they are also great for church gigs and anything where you need good stand lighting. Aria has a deal going until December 7, save 15% by using the promo code BrightenYourFuture on their web site, linked above.
Lotus Stand Light
A number of V.commers also recommended the Lotus stand light, as it does not obstruct line of sight and is very portable.
Many musicians love blackwing pencils because they are dark, require little pressure to write with and have a replaceable eraser. The above link is from Shar, and you can also find a pencil holder for your stand. Another nice option is the magnetic holder, which allows you to simply stick your music to the pole of most kinds of orchestra stands.
It's light, it's elegant, it stays on the fiddle, and it works really well. I started using one in July and have not gone back. But it's an expensive shoulder rest. Here is our review of the KorfkerRest for violin.
Created by Cyrus Forough, this simple little contraption is designed to help a student's muscle memory by providing the correct positioning for the bow pinky. You can get just one for your student, or if you are a teacher you might like a package of 10, 50 or 100. They come in lots of colors.
Honestly, you can get any Bluetooth speaker you'd like, so that you can conveniently listen to music from your phone, everywhere. But this is the one that I have, and I completely love it. First, it's a very good speaker. But also: it's insanely sturdy, water-proof, dust-resistant and it doubles as a flashlight as well as a power bank with which you can charge your phone in a pinch. It fits in my purse, in my car, you can take it camping, etc. Might seem like a weird combination of things, but it works!
You might also consider giving a gift from our previous guides:
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