Sibelius Violin Concerto Experience?

April 30, 2011 at 05:02 AM ·

Hello. I am going to play the Sibelius Violin Concerto in D minor for a concerto competition next year for the youth orchestra I'm in. Right now, it's next to impossible for me to play it, because I'm just starting in double stops, but I'll push myself. Anyway, does anyone have any comments about particular difficulties faced with this piece? I'm open to anything you have to say about it, whether it's about the double stops, arpeggios, or the sheer musicality associated with this piece. Any recommendations for technique will be of help too. (My violin teacher doesn't know I plan to play this piece. It's beyond the beyond right now, but I feel I can do it. After all, I'm going to surprise him by playing the 3rd Mozart Violin Concerto).

Replies (36)

April 30, 2011 at 05:25 AM ·

' because I'm just starting in double stops.'

Why Sibelius?  I don't mean to rain on your parade, but I have to question someone's motivations in learning a challenging piece of music without possibly knowing all of the techniques required to play the piece (you mentioned you just started double stops and are unsure about certain other techniques in the piece).  Of course, it is not fair for me to judge you, I have never heard you play so I can only go on what you have said.  

A person with a really solid technique I think should be able to basically sight read a challenging piece like Sibelius, and play it at a pretty high level already.

I believe that you shouldn't try to build your technique from the music you choose to play, but rather, come to the music with a solid technique ready to serve the music.  

Personally I'd rather hear someone play a Viotti Concerto at a high level than a Vieuxtemps Concerto with flaws.  There's no shame in doing a gradual progression in repertoire studies.  It's a better long term plan in my opinion.

April 30, 2011 at 06:19 AM ·

I heard it on the drive home after a concert tonight and can see why this piece inspires you to push yourself beyond your limits.  If it was a viola concerto, I'd be right there with you.

Having said that, how important is it for you to win this concerto or are you in it more for the experience and pushing limits under pressure?  If winning is important, I agree with Nate - pick something within your current skill-set.  Develop your technique and style. 

However, if you want to take a year living on the edge and feel ready to face what the judges have to say as constructive criticism, go for it.  I did the  same myself a few years ago.  I lost big time in the competition but won when it came to developing new skills and gaining confidence over the long-haul. 

If you still want to prep this piece for a competition, break it down measure by measure.  Memorize it and the piano reduction.  Be prepared to spend hours upon hours working one measure at a time, and don't forget to incorporate scales and etudes that are relevant to the piece.  After you get past the technical challenges, start adding the musical interpretation.  Take a break from it ever so often so you don't get burned out.

Beak a leg!

April 30, 2011 at 06:49 AM ·

There's no glory to be had going into a competition and playing an advanced work poorly, especially if you haven't even learned the technical skills required to execute it.

Play something within your ability level that you can actually communicate a musical message with. It will be much more rewarding and better experience for everyone involved, including you, your teacher, and your audience.

April 30, 2011 at 03:06 PM ·

Google Aaron Rosand talking about how to play this piece.

April 30, 2011 at 04:43 PM ·

Don't worry! I can do it, and I have 9 months to prepare. And, I'm not doing this just to win. I'm actually creating a goal so that I can push myself more in my practicing, especially since I'll be a sophomore in high school next year. I am only going to work on the first movement, by the way. My original choice was the 1st movement of Lalo Symphonie Espagnole, but I can easily accomplish that by the end of the summer. I wanted to do the 1st movement of Sibelius, and it's not a very big concerto competition. Not very many actually apply for it... Plus, I'm not exactly just starting double stops, I'm learning thirds, and they're not as difficult as I first played them. I am ready for the challenge. And, I think I'll be able to get in for a master class as well. I saw Rosand's video. He makes perfect sense. Does anyone have any comments about playing this piece, now that I've reassured you that I'm not attempting this piece to shame it in front of 1,000 people? It's just the first movement. The third is way to hard, and I have to record something around 15 minutes, and not 30. Please give some sort of feedback on what to look out for in this concerto. I'll break it down piece by piece, and right now I'll focus on the parts that aren't as difficult, like the runs and parts without double stops and weird string crossings. I would never practice something I know I can't do (like Paganini Caprice 24, although I could try). Thank you all for trying to protect me from disappointing myself, but this is something I must do. (no one's forcing me, though)

April 30, 2011 at 06:46 PM ·

 I'm sorry but you sound a little bit misguided. I love your drive and motivation. However, I don't think it's a good idea to "surprise" your teacher with this kind of stuff. Always discuss your plans with your teacher. And you said you had planned on doing the first movement of the Lalo, but now you won't because you can be done with it by the end of the summer. How do you know that? Did you play through it and master all its difficulties already? And by whose standards will you be judging your progress? Is your teacher going to decide when you're ready or are you going to surprise them?The Lalo is a great piece of music with great personality, if you can play it well and show your passion you will do great at your competition. You already said your objective is not to win the competition; However you should still try to play the piece at the highest level. There's a reason why teachers take their students through a lot of other concertos before tackling the Sibelius.

And please don't take this as negativity or jealousy. Playing the Sibelius concerto is a great goal to have, but maybe make it more long term and talk to your teacher about other pieces and technical studies that you need to approach before this monumental piece!

April 30, 2011 at 07:01 PM ·

If you can do it and play it in tune and make music with it, go for it.

April 30, 2011 at 09:24 PM ·

Um, the reason I wasn't playing the Mozart was because I'd be skipping a bunch of Suzuki books, but most of my training comes out of etudes and scales. I don't pay a WHOLE lot of attention to Suzuki. As far as Paganini, I didn't mean just caprice 24, I meant all the 24 Caprices. 24 is definitely doable at my level. Plus, every time I play in front of my teacher, I screw up everything, yet I manage to play in front of other smaller audiences (which is werid). However, I assure that Mozart isn't beyond my level, although It's important for me to pay more attention to the style of the piece. And of course, I would play Sibelius at the highest level possible. I wouldn't to just play through it and screw up on major details.

May 1, 2011 at 12:56 AM ·

 Well hold on a second. You say you're just starting with double-stops and that's the reason you're getting a little skepticism from people here. I can answer your question but it's beside the point. If you were ready to play it you could look at the music and spot right away what I'd end up telling you. I admire your tenacity but what etudes have you done? What repertoire have you already covered? If anything in the Suzuki method (that's right ALL of it) is hard for you then Sibelius is right out of the question. You need to have got to Gavinies or Dont  op. 35 etudes at least and you need to have a healthy bunch of standard concerti under your belt. I'm not trying to discourage you but what I'm telling you is that the Sibelius is a mature piece and it's not just technically hard. The difficulty is multiplied when you are trying to play it musically as well. 

I always see people trying to skip steps and play something far out of their range but they're missing the point and the point is: you have to develop maturity as a player by filling in steps along the way. The pieces that lead up to Sibelius all have something to offer that will give you the maturity to pull the most out of the Sibelius that you can. It's FAR more impressive to hear a beautiful and well-played Mendelssohn than it is to hear a Sibelius that sounds like a struggle. Just my opinion, after having played the Sibelius which is considered hard even by people who are fully ready to play it. You are young. Enjoy being young and playing an instrument with LOTS AND LOTS of great music. You don't have to leap into one of the hardest concerti to be an impressive player. Alternatively, if you want to play an instrument without so much music for it I heard violas only have a couple standard concerti. (haha)

May 1, 2011 at 02:57 AM ·

I am not having any difficulties with the Suzuki. I just like to analyze and interpret music rather than just speed through it mindlessly.

May 1, 2011 at 03:07 AM ·

And, I may or may not do this for the competition. It's moreso a "point of reference" , an asset to give me an idea of "how" I am practicing, if that makes sense. Okay, it's more like something for me to work towards, and I know everyone says that there are more pieces I should play before this, and if it makes anyone feel better, my teacher has me practice out of the Flesch Scale System. And I have Galamian too. If I don't master this, I'll pull out Lalo.

May 1, 2011 at 04:30 AM ·

I remember playing this concerto after I finished Tchaikovsky, so i must have been 16 or so. If you can play Tchaikovsky, you'd be fine (the difficulty was about the same technique wise... musicality is a different piece to tackle with).

The main problem with Sibelius is the way it was written. Most concertos are written in dominant chords, but Sibelius (who was a violinist, by the way) thought it'd be a GREAT FUN to write in diminisheds. The scales up and down before the arpeggios in the first movement require VERY precise intonation, since any off note can be easily identified (I mean, come on, you hear the same scale in the next two seconds). The wonky rhythm near the cadenza that you have to shift while slurring/playing double stops was kinda tough too.

The third movement requires short, snappy, and sometimes awkward bowings that made me pull out my old, battered Sevcik again. The third scales weren't too bad.

May 1, 2011 at 04:35 AM ·

 Here's the best advice I can give you, since you are determined and probably you are very talented. I don't want to discourage you, I want you to succeed. I'm a grad student and I'm still learning too. The one thing I wish I had done at your age was this: learn to love the process as much as the result. When I typed the things I typed earlier, I was speaking from personal experience. I tried to forge ahead when I was in high school, and after a while I realized there are no shortcuts. I don't have you figured out and I don't claim to, I just wanted to make sure that you understood that you will make the quickest progress simply by doing the very best you can on the pieces that are appropriate for your level and keep the difficulty high in your etudes, not your repertoire. If the repertoire is harder than the etudes then some adjustment needs to be made. Heifetz always felt that the etudes should be the hardest thing you practice in a day so that when you get to your repertoire you don't have to struggle and can play music. Bring the technique to the piece, not the piece to the technique.

May 2, 2011 at 03:34 PM ·

It always upsets me and makes me shake my head in disbelief when a student ignores, yea, even argues, with good advice from her elders. This is arrogance of the first order, and it will kill your progress if you stay with it. There ARE NO SHORTCUTS to mastery of anything!

May 3, 2011 at 12:32 AM ·

I think you can play at it but there is no way you will be able to play it.  Have fun with it in your spare time. Don't try to play it for anyone until you have mastered the repertoire and technique that was recommended for you on this thread.

August 24, 2011 at 03:35 PM ·

 I may be a younger student than you, but after playing vieuxtemps 5, sight-reading sibelius was rather easier than I expected (though still ridiculously challenging), but technique isn't the only thing that goes into music. I would say that if you wanted to play the sibelius, you should be able to sight-read the mendelssohn (and in tune). sibelius is MUCH harder than mendelssohn........if you've only started thirds, i assume that you've only been doing octaves for a short amount of time, and a good part of the 1st movement is work with octaves. i don't know about you, but there's a reason i started octaves, thirds, sixths, and tenths 5 years ago.

talk to your teacher, because if you aren't willing to listen to those who have more musical experience than you, you don't deserve to play music. the other responders in this thread know what they're talking about, after music has been a large part of their lives.


(and i know this is reply is really late)

August 24, 2011 at 10:34 PM ·

Ms. Tanaeya, Besides the technical difficulties (and there are many), the musical and emotional maturity this piece requires, consideration has to the venue. Will there be eventually an orchestral or piano accompaniment? Can the orchestra/piano honestly handle the part? I encourage you to learn the concerto. And by learning, I mean the violin part AND the orchestral score It, but in the end, are we performing notes or music. The best of luck to you.

August 25, 2011 at 02:02 AM ·

Sibelius is hard. Really hard. I'm a student at one of the "major" conservatories in NYC, in my senior year, I've played Tchaikovsky and Dvorak and Paganini and Bartok and etc. etc. etc., and even I'm currently bashing my head against a wall with Sibelius. Please do not underestimate this piece, it is a monster. The first half of the battle is just getting the bloody thing in tune (as someone mentioned above me, DIMINISHED HARMONY. EVERYWHERE.) And then once you've got that, you have to figure out what musical sense you're going to make of this weird, moody, atmospheric, strangely-structured marvelous oddity.

I don't presume to know what you play like, having never heard you. But...just starting double stops, Mozart 3 as a stretch? If that's the case please do not attempt Sibelius now. Bad idea for you, bad for the audience, bad for Sibelius. Life is not so short that you'll never have time for the piece when you're ready for it.


August 25, 2011 at 10:45 PM ·

Above all, recreating what Sibelius wanted in this concerto is my ultimate goal. Honestly, I'm not working as much much on thirds anymore and I'm getting the technique under control. I would never approach this concerto in an obsolete manner.

Thank you to all for your responses, but I'm still practicing it.

August 26, 2011 at 02:13 AM ·

Hi Tanaeya, I'm not sure why you insist on tackling a piece that is obviously way beyond your level - you seem to have a chip on your shoulder and need to prove something... Even though I don't know how fast you progress, I do remember some of the questions you asked just a couple months before you started this thread and your duet video...  I don't doubt that you are very talented and you learn quickly, but I really don't think it's possible for you to progress this fast, especially you are doing this without proper guidance (I bet you plan to surprise your teacher with Sibelius too).  I am certain that you don't know what you are doing, and you are doing more harm than good to your violin study right now. 

Here is an old repertoire list of a current Curtis student before she auditioned there. Notice how many technical studies and repertoire she had covered, and notice that Sibelius was not on the list (BTW, she did play it eventually.)  You don't need to play this piece to get into a top conservatory or win competitions, and attempting it won't get you anywhere if you cannot do it justice. There are many wonderful pieces out there that will build up your technique and musicality step-by-step (Do yourself a favor - consult with your teacher). Sibelius can wait - it will still be there when you are ready!

August 26, 2011 at 08:59 AM ·

Tanaeya: I can feel you in your situation because the Sibelius VC is the piece of music wich made me go back to the violin as I was 18 years old after 2 years break. I randomly listened to a recording of it and was captured by the beginning so much, that I started playing it by ear from the recording.

I also started violin lessons again with my old teacher back then and played some parts of the sibelius. But honestly... looking back it was a joke. Maybe I had the right feeling but the concerto demands a very good rhythmical control, wich I didn't have at that moment and what you forget if you always play for yourself.

After some lessons I stopped playing this piece. Not because my teacher told me but because I did not want to play it badly and I noticed no matter how much I practice I want be able to get even just the first movement.

Then I decided to pick it up when I feel ready for it.

Funny thing is, I am now 26 and I just dot my Diploma in music. And I never played the sibelius again because I have so much respect for this work. Also I heard it played very often in bad quality from other students, who are way better than me.

Right now I start it finally, because if you get too old things will not get easier. ;)

There is soo much technical stuff in it, that it needs a very thought out approach, wich I hope you have. Practicing two bars a day can be necessary sometimes to get it in good quality. I hope you have the right approach, because otherwise you will harm you, like the others say.

Make a plan in your head of every difficult passage and practice it seperately and with metroneme starting very slowly with good rhythm. Start playing musically AFTER you get all the technique mastered. This is very important and I hope you understand it and can apply it, because the sibelius draws you into it, if you really love it. But to catch it on the violin, you have to get a good overlook.

One more advice: Take the comments here serious, its just for your good. There is no problem waiting with this concerto some years its a great goal to have!

August 26, 2011 at 04:41 PM ·

 Tanaeya, as a student myself, I need to put in my opinion.  Your teacher knows the best for you.  Not you.  Sorry, it sounds harsh, but it's the truth.  They might consider this move to learn this concerto a stab in the back (believe me, it happens a lot).  You might permanently damage your relationship.

Also, from a playing standpoint, you aren't ready.  Just learning double stops recently shows that you are not at a high enough level to play this piece.  In the end, you will cause bad habits to incorporate into your playing due to excess tension and stress; plus it won't just sound good.

I'll link you to a rather controversial blog I wrote a while ago that pertains to this very situation.  I hope you take some time to read it.


August 27, 2011 at 12:59 AM ·

Um, I'm actually practicing Sibelius with my teacher. It's no longer a surprise because eventually I actually needed help... And also, I have advanced much further than in the video. And I also know the answers to my previous questions. As far my teacher's opinion, he doesn't have much against me practicing it. I have learned a specific method of practicing repertoire like this, and have only approached a little at a time. I'm not doing this to get into a Conservatory or school of music or for sheer fame. I actually have very many reasons to practice the concerto. I understand that it's difficult for you to all know what my level of progression or technic ability, but my teacher is helping me, so the Sibelius and I will be fine.

August 27, 2011 at 04:17 AM ·

But in general I should have rephrased my question. I was actually looking for individual experiences, thoughts, and ideas that "you" were formulating, how "you" approached the concerto as a whole. I wasn't meaning to ask for technical advice, but moreso if "you" had trouble with certain parts that you felt you lacked technique in.


Thank you!

August 27, 2011 at 09:36 AM ·

I approach it like this: I read a lot without the instrument to get a good picture of the difficulties without beeing involved in playing at the same time.

I pick up one technical place such as thirds-scale, "normal"scales, g-string passages, arpeggios etc. all from the concerto. I play them in a loop, sometimes forward and backwards. I don't care about it is on the last page or the first, I always try to find the spot wich is weakest and work on that until I have improved noticeable. Then I go to another place with a whole different technical difficulty.

I also use scales from the concerto to warmup sometimes. I try to avoid playing the beautiful melodies too much and if I do, I focus on bowing (no vibrato) and/or intonation, position change etc.

Looking at the dynamics is also a keypoint because they are different than one first think sometimes.

I think it is no problem for you to play this concerto on your own, considering you don't want to play it in a high pressure situation. It is beautiful expressive music, but you certainly need a lot of technical control.

Have fun!

August 27, 2011 at 10:46 PM ·

By the way, I regret putting the video up... The reason we did Pleyel is because it was a really easy piece of music. The music actually isn't my level of ability. Plus, I do realize that there is some poor intonation in it. I was nervous.

August 27, 2011 at 11:04 PM ·

Hi Tanaeya, please don't take my comment the wrong way! I was actually quite impressed by your playing in the video, especially knowing that you did not have a private teacher until pretty recently. Apparently you are very talented and passionate about the violin, which I admire very much, and I hope you will succeed in fulfilling your dream and reaching your full potential as a fine violinist!  That's why I felt compelled to post in this thread because I would hate to see you waste your precious time and energy trying to achieve the impossible and get nowhere, while you could have spent that time and energy more productively if you studied a piece that's within your reach. More importantly, I would hate to see you injure yourself without proper guidance...  Now knowing that you have your teacher on board, at least it would ease my mind a little... I wish you best of luck!

September 3, 2011 at 05:56 AM ·



A lot of us did give our experiences. And a lot of us have played longer than you have. The common consensus is that this concerto is a proverbial b**ch for any violinist. I actually read that Sibelius couldn't play this concerto (which made me want to kill him). 

The reason most of us are pointing out the technical difficulties is because that's basically the only thing any one of us have in common. A dozen violinists have dozen interpretations, and Sibelius - musically - was much easier for me to do than Tchaikovsky, possibly because our temperaments run along the same line. I have yet to hear anyone say, however, that Sibelius is easy. 

Intonation-wise, it is possibly the most difficult of the major concertos. Diminisheds are very anti-intuitive for us string players (or possibly any performer of the genre), and a wrong intonation just ruins the whole thing. I'd rather relearn Brahms any day than redo Sib. It was that painful. Chaconne was a walk in a park compared to it. As for Mendelssohn, it was something to sneeze at compared to just how ridiculously insane it was for Sibelius to write the CONCERTO IN DIMINISHEDS. 

I really hope you've done all your student concertos. They're called student concertos for a reason. Technique can be perfected by anyone - and I've seen 10 year olds play Paganini - but to actually tell a story, to deepen your sound, is a different ballgame, and Sibelius in a childish, flat sound just won't make Sibelius yours. This is another reason Sibelius, Tchaikovsky, Brahms and such are no student concertos. They need depth of sound. They need variety of vibratos. Just like a good brandy or good wine, they need sweetness, just the right amount of aroma, just the right amount of flavour. A good performance conveys myriad of things, from temperature (Igor Oistrakh's Sibelius is truly a masterpiece, and you actually feel the chill and the silence of snow-covered plain when you listen to it), colour (Igor's father's Tchaikovsky is a resplendent pink and gold), smell (Milstein's Bach smell of centuries-old stone churches), taste (Kreisler's performance of his own compositions taste like Viennese coffee). That is why there are titles like Poet of the Piano (Frederic Chopin), Painter of Sound (Debussy), e.t.c. 

If you think you can do it, then by all means, do it. Maybe you're the next Igor that we've been waiting for. I myself had to do all sorts of things (not just perfecting technique, but actually walking in the snow, for instance, listening to the silence, building images) before I embarked on a long and painful journey called Sibelius. Technique-wise you should be fine if your teacher deemed you so - I struggled, but it was manageable, and I was younger than you are now when I did it - but combining musical expression and virtuoso technique was excruciating. 

That being said, Sibelius is now my showpiece. But I clicked with it from the very beginning. 

September 6, 2011 at 04:09 AM ·

Thank you all for your opinions! Everyone seems to have some sort of interesting idea. Actually, I recorded myself, and even though the technical part isn't my issue, I don't think I am musically mature enough for it yet. However, I have already chosen another piece for the competition. Honestly this piece is a stretch as well, but I won't mention it to keep from causing another stir. However, I will say that the piece is as close to me as is Sibelius.

September 6, 2011 at 04:09 AM ·

And it's not Bruch!

September 6, 2011 at 08:04 AM ·

I just read through the whole thread - and to be honest I can see myself in your writing.  The problem is not primarily the technical difficulty of the piece - its falling in love with it.  I do it all the time - fall in love with a new piece and then I HAVE to play it.  The real break, however, is realizing that there are many ways to play - and that for performance (competition whaterver) is very different from that for personal exhillaration. 

Unless you are now an established virtuoso I think we all have three levels of piece: the 'easy' (for our level) ones that we have mastered and that we can play without even thinking of the technical demands - these are in the realm of musicallity.  The 'learning' pieces - within our grasp but where our minds slip into technique and expression has to take a break - and the 'dream pieces' - ones we can hack at and get a gist of the story but where anyone listening would, frankly, grimmace!

Your writing above sounds just like falling in love with a person that is not in love with you.  If I may be so bold, Sibelius is for you to savor in your practise room - it is still a 'dream piece'.  Beware - if you try to perform such pieces you will likely break the 'dream' and come to hate the piece.

September 21, 2011 at 05:04 PM ·

A New Topic doesn't get permission so I ask here:

I have a question about a rhythm in Sibelius violin concerto:

bar 101 the dotted rhythm after the ascending arpeggio just before the largamente is mostly played as a dotted quarter instead of a dotted eighth note. But there is no ritardando written and the tempo should be fairly equal.

So anybody could suggest why this mistake is done by most also well known violinists? is it "ok" to really change a rhythm rather than exaggerate?

At first i read it wrong too and my teacher also didn't notice it. But as I pointed out the right rhythm my teacher was very bewildered because i seemed to be right and it is really a difference.

September 21, 2011 at 07:37 PM ·

Your answer is found in the score:

In the measure before the Largamente and key change, all that's happening is tremelo in the cello/bass, held intervals in the clarinets and f. horn 3/4, and a crescendo roll in the timpani. There's no rhythmic movement in the orchestra at all, so it's indeed quite possible to take some liberties here with the written rhythm.

Whether it's proper or not...well, that is another discussion. :P

September 21, 2011 at 09:14 PM ·

taking libertys is one thing, changing the rhythm an other... but anyway, i'll play it my way, at least I will try to make it work. thx

January 2, 2012 at 05:07 AM · Wow, I am considerably late to responding to this post. However, I still feel the need to get this message out there, and I was reminded of it after reading this topic.

I'm not addressing this to anybody in particular, but always remember that just because you can play a piece (meet its technical requirements, phrase well, etc.), it doesn't mean you should.

I had to learn this the hard way, but now I am ten times more aware of its importance. I was actually learning Sibelius' concerto as well not too long ago in my sophomore year of high school. Sure, I could play it well, but a concerto of that magnitude (others including Tchaikovsky's, Brahms', Beethoven's, and so on) requires PHYSICAL STRENGTH as well. I was not physically strong enough to last the entire concerto, so I actually learned the last movement a while after I finished the first two.

Please don't make the same mistake I did. It doesn't have an immediate impact on your progress/development as a violinist, but if you keep the same approach to the entire repertoire, it can seriously hinder you development as a violinist, not to mention this physical damage it can do to your body and your health.

In your specific case, I would advise against jumping between pieces of such different technical difficulty. That can yield a great deal of physical damage as well.

January 2, 2012 at 02:52 PM · Thank you for that information. I realized that physical strength is very important. I've been taking a weight training class for quite a while now to play the Shostakovich Concerto, so it's not so much an issue now. And yes, I realize the importance of musicality, or else it would be near pointless to play it for other people.

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