Legions of violinists and musicians worldwide have studied with or have crossed paths with the legendary Hungarian-Israeli-Canadian violin pedagogue Lorand Fenyves (1918-2004).
I count myself fortunate to have been one of his many pupils throughout my studies at the University of Toronto as well as during summers at the Banff Centre for the Arts and the Orford Arts Centre in Canada.
Although Mr. Fenyves never published any books (he revealed to me that he didn’t have interest in writing or publishing), he did leave behind several recordings documenting his interpretive intelligence, as related to various works of Hungarian composer Béla Bartók, in addition to his concertmaster work with Orchestre de la Suisse romande under Ernest Ansermet (among them, Rimsky Korsavakov’s Scheherezade).
At his 80th birthday concert, Mr. Fenyves performed the Beethoven Violin Concerto at the Royal Conservatory of Music in Toronto and that night, was awarded Hungary's Cross of the Order of Merit. At intermission, wearing his medal of honour around his neck, Mr. Fenyves chuckled with amusement as I (still a cheeky violin student) walked up to congratulate him, calling him the "birthday boy."
Marking his 80th birthday, on February 20, 1998, the Globe and Mail dubbed Mr. Fenyves as "one of the greatest violin teachers in the world" . At his memorial concert held in Toronto in 2004, musicians flew in from around the world to honour him and his contribution to Classical music. In 2012, the documentary film, Orchestra of Exiles, featured Mr. Fenyves’ story detailing his participation in Bronislaw Huberman’s orchestra of Jewish musicians, which later became the Israel Philharmonic.
Despite the accolades, Mr. Fenyves, a man of utmost integrity, never allowed ego to pollute his art nor stand in the way of the growth of his many students worldwide. For this, Mr. Fenyves cultivated many loving disciples on multiple continents. To this day, his photo holds a special place on my piano looking out at me as I practice.
In honour of this great pedagogue and musician, I’m sharing three of the most important violin tips and lessons I learned from my years studying with Mr. Fenyves at the University of Toronto:
Violin Tip #1 - Practice for Quality
Practice with quality, so that you're not ingraining poor habits. One never wants to repeat mindlessly for the sole purpose of doing "repetitions".
Repetitions, when done with quality in the mind (and ear), can lead to greater consistency and accuracy under pressure, whereas repetition done without intentional listening or without a fully aware mind can be detrimental to one’s progress.
Though Mr. Fenyves never used the term "neuro-plasticity," this is what he preached: to never cement undesired results into one’s neural pathways.
Practice slowly enough to ensure that only quality in every note and phrase is being ingrained into your neural pathways.
Doing so prevents hours of future practice that would be needed to unlearn and correct any mistakes or bad habits ingrained during inattentive practice.
Violin Tip # 2 - Practice from the Full Score
As a violinist accustomed to playing and perfecting a single melodic line, it is easy to forget that the symphony, sonata, concerto, etc. that we are playing is an entire work with multiple lines and layers of harmonies, and not just one single solo line.
Studying, listening with, and playing from the score provide insights into the piece that contribute to a more informed and intelligent interpretation of the music. Seeing the score while studying your individual part provides insight into the other instruments, as well as the moving lines, textures, and harmonies.
Practice from the score to give you a shortcut to improving your phrasing, pulse, rhythm, and understanding of the harmonies and colors. Your musical interpretation will be much more intelligent and informed as a result.
3. Violin Tip # 3 - Sing Your Music
Shape your music exactly how you would hear it in your head and sing it out loud.
In one memorable lesson on the Sibelius Violin Concerto, Mr. Fenyves assigned me the homework of singing the opening phrase in my head until I had decided on my exact dynamics, phrasing, inflections, and timing - and mentally rehearsed it all in great detail. He encouraged me to be able to repeat exactly what I heard in my head with my instrument, down to the details in my left hand, vibrato, bow articulation, and dynamic swells. No small detail was overlooked and every nuance of my singing voice was to be faithfully recreated in the bow or left hand.
Sing your repertoire with as much emotion and expression as you hear inside your head. Then faithfully recreate every detail technically with your instrument with as much accuracy as you can.
These three tips are only some of the greatest lessons that I retain decades later after studying with Mr. Fenyves. I hope they are as insightful and inspiring to you as they are to my own playing and teaching.
Mr. Fenyves’ wisdom continues to live on in many generations of musicians whom he guided all over the world. I feel fortunate to be able to remember his words of advice and pass them onto future generations of musicians.
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For more information on my teaching based on Lorand Fenyves’ pedagogy, please visit my websites, to learn more about my Violin Bootcamp and my Violin Ninja courses.
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