February 2008

Hilary Hahn Plays Schoenberg and Sibelius Concertos

February 20, 2008 18:17

Hilary Hahn plays Concertos by Schoenberg and Sibelius in a CD to be released in March, 2008. (I read about the release date for Hilary Hahn’s DVD, it came out about 6 months later. In the interim, I searched the Internet for any news about it but found none. Then people I knew started buying it, and I did, too.)

Schoenberg’s Violin Concerto is recognized as one of the most complex and technically challenging pieces for both violinist and orchestra. When Heifetz looked at the score, he declared it “unplayable.” Indeed, it is rarely performed or recorded. Ms. Hahn has become the Schoenberg concerto’s advocate, playing it in her concerts world wide and recently recording it. She knows that many listeners will hear Schoenberg’s music for the first time on her new CD. She describes the concerto as ”…not the spiky, inaccessible concerto it was once rumored to be. At heart it's exciting, highly imaginative, very romantic, emotionally poignant music, perfectly served by Schoenberg's novel approach to musical technique… I like the way he changes from one mood to the next…One moment will be very serene and removed and abstract. And the next moment there'll be a twisted, demented waltz, and then you hear a little bit of cabaret, a melody you could whistle.... and then you'll get to something that's equally wonderful but entirely unlike anything you've heard before.” Ms. Hahn believes that the Schoenberg and Sibelius concertos are well paired. She says “I wanted to pair the Schoenberg with something that would reflect its dark lyrical side, as well as its playfulness, from an unexpected angle. The Sibelius concerto seemed to me the perfect foil.”

To hear sound samples or learn more about the recording, go to http://www2.deutschegrammophon.com/special/?ID=hahn-sibelius-schoenberg.

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International Search for paulinefiddle

February 17, 2008 17:20

I often use paulinefiddle as a screen name. In fact, if I want to look at my website, it’s a lot easier to type paulinefiddle then http://www.mysite.verizon.net/paulinefiddle into Google’s search box. I tried paulinefiddle the other day and was sent to a page on YouTube called http://pl.youtube.com/user/paulinefiddle. I can’t read the page because I don’t even know what language it’s written. There is only a small statement somewhere which says that it comes from Eastern Europe. I sent an email in English to the person who appears to be the site owner, but I got no response. The pictures are YouTube sites I have visited recently. Near the bottom of the left column, I saw an icon of someone named Kelseyz using a camera. I clicked and was directed to http://pl.youtube.com/watch?v=13V4B3uAupA, where I saw in English (yay!) Musical slideshow of one of my trips to Vancouver. The photography and the string music were both beautiful. I contacted Kelsey Z, of v.com, to see whether she could explain this all to me, but she didn’t know any more that I did. Since v.com is an international community, I hope that a v.commie can read this and translate it into English or give me some explanation for this mystery. I would like to get in touch with my namesake in Eastern Europe.


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The Flu and YouTube

February 12, 2008 23:02

I’ve got the flu. I guess I couldn’t beat the odds any more. Almost all of my students and some of their parents have had it.

I spent the first day in bed, doing nothing except calling some of my students to cancel their lessons.

On the second day, my brain began to function again, and I was bored. I decided to sit up and read. I made a comfortable space for myself, using large pillows on the sofa and a little table right next to the couch to put a cup of coffee on. It was very relaxing. I fell asleep and didn’t wake up for hours.

The next thing I tried was YouTube. I’ve browsed this site before and thought that I’d never have the time to look for and listen to everything I like. Here is a synopsis of the best, most interesting things I found.

I like bluegrass music. Ricky Skaggs excels in playing any instrument with strings, and he sings well, too. He was a child prodigy, playing with many famous groups and various styles at an early age. I found a video (http://youtube.com/watch?v=uCYCCuJLIaA) of Ricky, age seven, playing with Flatt and Scruggs, two of the finest bluegrass musicians ever.

Earl Scruggs is almost a god to banjo players. One of told me, “If you get a book or CD of Scruggs’s music, and you take three of the songs and learn to play them just like Earl Scruggs did, you will have learned everything about playing the banjo.” I decided to look for a video of Flatt and Scruggs playing one of the songs that some of my students are learning. I found one with these two musicians playing “Cindy” (http://youtube.com/watch?v=ZMicxlB_7fg) for some friends at an outdoor party. Towards the end of the video, you can see someone having fun clogging (a traditional Appalachian dance) to the music.

One of my favorite bluegrass tunes, which seems to be loved by anyone who hears it, is Jerusalem Ridge. I have a couple of CDs with it, and my favorite one has Kenny Baker on fiddle. I’ve tried to find other CDs with him, but his name is generally not on the title because he plays backup. I got excited when I found a video of Jerusalem Ridge (http://pl.youtube.com/watch?v=bpzoLAwZ-gs) with him on fiddle. I watched his bowings and when possible, his left hand and fingers. I even took notes.

Then I was overcome with a passion for the 60s. I listened to some great songs by great singers and then found something with spiritual overtones. A number of top rock musicians in the 60s had traveled to India to learn to play the sitar from Ravi Shankar. One of the most serious of these musician-students was George Harrison (http://pl.youtube.com/watch?v=bpzoLAwZ-gs,) of the Beatles. Ravi Shankar’s students brought to Europe and North America not only sitar music, but also transcendental meditation (TM), an altered state of consciousness actively embraced in the 60s. (I have just read that Maharishi Yogi, founder of TM, passed in his home on Feb. 6, 2008, at the age of 91.)

After wandering around on YouTube for a while, I hit paydirt for a classical musician – a documentary called “Du Pre and Elgar Cello Concerto” (http://youtube.com/watch?v=PToFY-Upaw0), which was posted in eight segments. This cello concerto was her signature piece. No one had ever played it so musically, and with so much breadth and depth of emotional states. She was beautiful and she was muscular. She looked athletic when she played. When she played, she “became” the music. At a high point in her career, she met and married Daniel Barenboim. Unlike many couples, they didn’t let their touring schedules keep them apart. They planned their schedules so that they would both be in the same city at the same time whenever they could. The film focused on this time, when she was at a high point in her life. The film mentioned briefly that she later developed multiple sclerosis, which first robbed her muscle strength, and then took her life. I believe that it is better to remember her as the radiant young woman who was almost always smiling.

My flu is almost completely gone, and so is my ability to watch YouTube anytime I want to. I’m so glad that we have the technology to bring such wondrous things into our homes.

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RIP Maharishi Yogi

February 7, 2008 20:07

Last night, Feb. 6, Maharishi Yogi died in his home at more or less 91 years of age. He was an important teacher and bearer, via the Beatles, of transcendental meditation (TM) to people in Europe and North America and a symbol of the 60s. However, his teachings have become part of our culture and its effects will outlive him.

The Maharishi taught the Beatles TM, and they, in turn, brought it to Europe and North America. Initially, TM was perceived by many as just another odd way of attaining an altered state of consciousness, similar to taking mind altering drugs.

Gradually, people came to realize the seriousness of TM and its wide applicability to our minds and our approaches to life. Most, if not all, major religions of the East and West have meditative traditions. Even Judaism and Christianity do, although they are generally overlooked today. Meditation takes its practitioners away from the hassles of daily life, even away from their personal selves, to a place deep within where the Holy dwells. In this place are calmness, strength, clarity, peace, the inner source of life, and love. (Of course, the definition varies.) For people of faith, this is God within. I have been a practitioner of yoga, with a strong spirituality and mental states which are probably the same as TM, for over 15 years, and my experience has helped me tremendously. It is deeply relaxing, both physically and mentally, and it helps me get centered in a positive place.

I join many others in paying tribute to the Maharishi.

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Joshua Bell Draws $$$

February 6, 2008 01:37

Joshua Bell and pianist Jeremy Denk are coming to town to perform on March 3. I’m glad I bought a ticket long ago, when the show was first announced and prices were lowest. I got an email from the Kennedy Center yesterday saying that they have added seats on the stage and there are just a few seats left – at $95 each.

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Sibelius Strikes Again

February 1, 2008 01:36

Now that I have my own set of DVDs of the fabulous Young People’s Concerts (see my blogs dated Sept. 16, 2007 and Nov. 30, 2007) ) I’m enjoying watching and listening to many of the one hour shows. The other day I watched the one on Sibelius, and I reacted as if I had been hit by lightning. How could I have listened to classical music, including works by Sibelius, so many times over the years, and how could I have played some of Sibelius’s music in orchestras, and never realized that Sibelius wrote beautiful music? Of course, I was especially interested in his violin concerto. I looked through my CD collection and found no (gasp!) CDs of it, although I have a great DVD of Oistrakh playing it. In my opinion, nobody plays it better than Oistrakh. Still, I wanted a CD of someone playing this piece, so I looked for sound samples on the Internet.

My choice was clear and easy. There was one violinist who played it differently from all the others: Joshua Bell. The difference started with the very first note, a long, slow crescendo. Most of the other violinists played it overly sweet and syrupy for my taste. They used big, broad vibratos. I listened to Bell, and at first, I thought he wasn’t using vibrato at all Actually he was, but it was a very tight, small vibrato. That first note set the mood for the whole piece, with a few exceptions, of course. I would call his playing “taut.” He was reaching for a goal, a difficult one, that required close attention and intense dedication. I had a mental vision of a narrow metal cable stretched tight, the kind you might hang onto if you were striving to summit Mt. Everest. The tightness gave way a few times, primarily in the second movement, to patches of beautiful melody. The tension did not make the music difficult to listen to; it held me hanging on until the very end.

I read opinions by some critics who said that Sibelius’s music was cold and austere, because he came from Finland, a cold place. Ha! I would never describe Sibelius’s music that way. Perhaps they meant what I mean by the word “taut.” Sibelius didn’t use any more notes than he had to, but he conveyed emotions in a very powerful way. Joshua Bell did, too, in this recording.

PS. Check out my web site.

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