Recording of me playing Bach Chaconne -- Feedback Requested

June 13, 2012 at 04:08 PM · I stopped practicing regularly after high school, and started up again about a year ago. I'm 43, so I took a break of ~24 years. I started working on the Bach Chaconne last summer and have been spending most of my average 30 minutes/day working on it.

Recently, I ordered a Realist Acoustic/Electric Violin. I received it yesterday and recorded myself playing the Chaconne. Here is the video:

I would appreciate your constructive feedback!

UPDATED August 16, 2012

I posted a newer recording to YouTube a few days ago:

Replies (57)

June 13, 2012 at 05:51 PM · thanks for posting Gene, I think you play it really well. you clearly have talent and it is great that you picked up your talent again after all these years! much respect.

I think you play the piece really cleanly, to my taste a bit too cautiously, I would have appreciated some brisker style of bowing in the appropriate places, but that is my personal taste. also in the quiet slow parts of the piece you could use more bow (it's not because the music is quiet that you have to play it with very little bow).

again, respect!

June 13, 2012 at 06:16 PM · Gene Huang

I'm so glad that you decided to return to play the violin, you play admirably well

Very good !

P.s. the girl looks like a curious cat =D

June 13, 2012 at 06:18 PM · Wow, Gene, congratulations. Well done! Your story is much like mine -- I played and took lessons as a kid, gave it up at the age of 17, returned in my 40s. But you're way better than me! I can't play this piece, and I'm two years into my "return." I'm still wrangling with the other four movements and will be for some time. Your accomplishment is an inspiration to me.

So, I hope you won't mind some comments from an inferior player. I'll leave others to criticize your shifts and intonation, because you know that a few of them are not perfect, but they are much better than I could do!

First, your overall conception of the piece is very good, it gives a good impression of the character that Bach intended in my opinion.

There are a few places where you nailed the contrasting moods (e.g., 7:45) but also some places where I thought they could be more prominent (at 4:00 the runs can be more brilliant, but as Jean pointed out you need to be brave about that, listen to Milstein for a good example; and then contrasting more to the lyrical passage at 4:20; and then at 4:30 it could be even more mysterious). Look for those opportunities. You've got the skill to bring it off. Perhaps these are limitations of your acoustic-electric violin?

You're tall and fit (more envy here!), and generally your posture is great but I noticed your head and violin drooped a bit when things got tough, almost as though you were reading the music off the floor. That's a natural response but it can create even more strain that compounds the technical/musical problems you're solving.

One thing I did notice is that you tend to turn your torso toward the left with up-bows and toward the right with down-bows. I learned at one point that it's natural to sway a bit with the music, but this direction is counter-productive because your violin is running in the same direction as your bow, in affect forcing the bow to chase it, and because it tends to make the audience seasick if it's too much.

Also often your vibrato seems "nervous", kind of fast-and-shallow. Maybe that's what you prefer for this kind of music but I think there are places where changing to a wider, richer vibrato would bring tonal contrast. This is a feature of Anne-Sophie Mutter's playing that always strikes me -- the variation in her vibrato seems (to me) uncommonly good even among the top players.

Finally, is that your daughter? She is adorable. We are similarly blessed in this way!

June 13, 2012 at 07:39 PM · A few out of tune notes- but you can listen to your recording and find them.

'58 ish slows down way too much.

It's really beautiful, but every phrase is played in the exact same way, which can become monotonous. Mark off the phrases and think about the character of each one. For some reason, I always think of the Chaconne and Hansel and Gretel. The beginning is the abject poverty they live in, around m 34 is where the parents hatch their plan to leave the kids in the woods. Around 49 they realize they're lost, 58 is where they find the gingerbread house, etc. The story doesn't go through the whole Chaconne, just the first 100 or so bars. Stories always help me keep track of the different voices in the music. Does anyone else do that?

Anyway, David Oistrach sways back and forth like you, but not all the time. The sway is a legit technical move, but it shouldn't be used all the time. Paul is right, you can't do that through an entire performance.

On the parts where you are digging in and dipping the violin downward, instead of going down and digging in, go up and out. It seems contrary to common sense, but it comes off better to the listener.

That was really amazing!! You should be proud. Your tone was beautiful, intonation was great. I really enjoyed listening- thanks for sharing. I'm working on the Chaconne and have lots of catching up to do!! Seriously great work.

June 13, 2012 at 08:17 PM · @jean Great comment about the quiet slow parts still needing full bow. I'll work on that. Thanks!

@Andre Thanks! I'm also glad I returned to playing. ;)

@Paul Thanks so much for your detailed feedback. It's an interesting observation you made about how I turn my torso left on up-bows and right on down-bows. I'll have to watch for that and see how to fix it. I'll also work on creating more contrasting moods, my posture during tough passages, and a wider & richer vibrato. All very helpful suggestions. Thanks again! Yes, that was my daughter making a cameo LOL. :)

@Susannah I've never thought of the Chaconne with Hansel and Gretel. But I can see how thinking of a story line while playing can help to create different moods. I'll have to give that a try! Also, less swaying. This is not a surprise to me, as my wife has told me she gets sea-sick watching me play. :-P

June 14, 2012 at 01:59 PM · Good job! If I can end up playing as well as you play now...I'll be a very happy camper! :D

June 14, 2012 at 05:00 PM · @Susannah back in high school I was playing some Chopin on the piano that I thought had a storyline similar to King Lear. There were a few parts that were a bit contrived but I turned it into a project for my Shakespeare class (back in the day we had such specialized literature courses in high school) and my teacher was very impressed. Good thing he didn't get the chance to hear me wreck the Chopin I guess!

June 14, 2012 at 07:29 PM · It's good enough, too bad for you that I've has just come out of an Itzhak Perlman and Heifetz so yeahhhh.....

June 14, 2012 at 11:15 PM · Thank you, I really enjoyed it!

One question, do you play by heart or did you have the notes somewhere down?

As usual I will only criticise, ;) because I think you are looking for that.

About the tempo: I like it a bit faster rather than too teatralic on the slow side. Of course faster tempo doesn't make the chord passages easier, but it helps sometimes in terms of expression and phrasing. (of course that should also be possible in slow tempo) A slightly higher tempo and more accentuated rhythm and focus on the bassline can give the piece in my opinion a much stronger force and helps projecting all the melodramatic passages. In dance variations the faster tempo will also feel more natural.

About your posture: I ask if you play out of notes, because it seems you are leaning forward down a little. i think that doesn't help with chords and contact. I would prefer a higher chest as a good foundation for the violin and to release the bowarm from preventing the bow to slide forward. (does that makes sence?)

Some details I wrote down: at 4 min. some fingerings seemed somehow unsecure, I would change them to the secure side. better change string, it is ok with bach i guess. Or play your fingerings more clean... ;)

the run to the arpeggio at 5 min. you end up a little too high and dont correct, maybe check that f-note (first note from arpeggio) with a tuner sometimes.

In the first arpeggio passage you seem to move too much and too stiff in my opinion. Let the lower bowarm do the work and hold your violin in a position the bow stays naturally at the correct contact point... and I would recommend to hold the violin still! Very much of your right arm movement is transferred to the left arm around the shoulders.

I like how good one can hear the middle voices in the arpeggio passage and that you stay with the Bach-Stroke! Well done!

But the climax in 6.25 could be more emphasised imo. More bow to that place and then calm down until next variation. You hold the climax back somehow. Free your bow there! Risk more!

At 11:50 min. the arpeggio pattern should only change when the down voice moves, wich is only two times and not as many play 4 times. When the upper voice changes you can stay in the pattern changing on the beat. (I hope I got that right (havent got the score here now, I can clarify if its unclear)

One more detail, then some more generalities: 13:40 is slightly too much out of tune. I know this place is difficult, but with the right fingering and practice its not that difficult anymore.

About chords: In passages of chords, where you have up and downbow chords I would suggest you not to force every chord too much. It sounds too hard then, it will anyways sound loud and scratchy when you connect them. Try to play them like detache and keep an ear on the bow change. I would not hammer so many chords, because it destroys their inner melodic lines.

Generally I would suggest you to think about some places, where you can play more on the piano side.

btw. wich mic you use? It doesnt sound so great (distorted). Do you have a zoom?

All in all great respect! Its such a long piece and its spiced with difficult techniques wich you master very well. You also played very musical throughout and didn't fall in the technique trap. That is good, because a lack of confidence is poisen for solo bach!

I worked on the chaconne 2 months ago, but now decided for the siciliana of the g-minor because of the lenth and effort. I play Sibelius right now and just hadn't enough time for two such big works.

June 15, 2012 at 04:51 AM · Wow! Let me first just say how honored I am that all of you took the time to listen to my recording, and secondly to respond with such valuable insight and/or kind words. (The insight is really what I was after, but the praise is always nice to hear.)

@Frieda Yes, I must admit that my vibrato is one area that I have not specifically focused on. Thanks for bringing it to my attention. I'll also work on trying to use the middle/lower part of my bow with broader strokes, especially for the down-bow chords. I'm not quite sure I understand your explanation of shaping the phrasing, but I think the jist of it is that I should use more dynamic contrast.

@Simon I have it memorized. I realize now that my posture at times makes it look like I am reading notes off the floor. And I see that it could also cause the bow to slide forward (as well as cause muscle strain, as Paul pointed out). Regarding the tempo, I could probably take it a bit faster, and I agree it would help it feel more natural. I'll work on that. At the 4 min. mark, I usually hit those notes in tune, but not that time around. ;) Same thing at the 5 min. mark. Holding the violin still during the arpeggios -- now why didn't I think of that? Great suggestion. Also, to feel the bow more and risk more. At 11:50, I made a conscious decision to play the arpeggio pattern that way, but I've also played it the other way. Actually, I really like the idea of playing this section the same way as the earlier argeggio section (like the way Kyung-Wha Chung plays it). But, it's much harder to do... At 13:40, you are right -- I need to practice this part more to get it in tune. Chords -- Don't hammer them. I agree, I'll have to work on that. Btw, my recording setup is pretty simple -- The violin is a Realist Acoustic/Electric and is connected to a Fishman amplifier. Other than that, I'm just using my iPhone 4S to video record (and audio record over the air). Do you have any suggestions for how to improve my "recording studio"? :) Thanks so much for your write-up!

June 15, 2012 at 09:05 AM · So you play amplified? and record from it? I wonderes if you added reverb? Did you? Reverb is good for performing, it covers technique, but for practice I wouldn't do that.

I would play on an acoustic violin. But this sounds also quite nice for an electric/amplified violin. For recording sound I would advice you to buy a zoom h2 or h4. I use the H2 since 4 or 5 yours already and it is worth every cent! If you want to make a video with good sound, you have to use an different mic or record the sound with an other device (like the zoom). Then you have to get them together and you'll have an good sounding video. But I admit it takes some time to sync and make the mixdown of videos. I don't know how much time and money you want to invest here. But a Zoom is really something good especially at your stage. You can listen to yourself better then and also get an better idea how dynamics, colours and projection are from more far away.

June 15, 2012 at 11:31 AM · Well... the simplest way to improve your recording studio is to have your DAW hooked up to a sound interface and then to a condenser microphone with a shockmount. Do not use the cheap USB condenser microphones. Audio Technica has some great cardoid microphones, the AT2020 without USB is practically a steal and works well with the violin.

As for the piece and tips on improvement... never erase a base note from the piece. Meaning, if the chords are simplified to a triad, the bass note should be there. You got rid of some key bass notes a few times, maybe it's for interpretive reasons, but don't do it. The basso continuo is universal to all baroque music and it sounds like a hole is in your music without that foundation.

The last thing I have to say is an interpretation thing. Some violinists roll the chords down, but I would never do that because Bach himself was primarily an organist. Sure, he wrote for violin, but it's almost a universal concept to roll the chords up for piano and organ if the player has a small hand. Itzhak Perlman is one example of a player that does roll the chords up.

Good job on memorizing it. For some reason, ever since I started piano, I have been having the hardest time memorizing anything on violin. It's just not the same I guess.

June 15, 2012 at 03:37 PM · @Simon Yes, it is amplified with a touch of reverb. I had just received my first Acoustic/Electric Violin the day I made that recording, so it was my first experience playing with amplification/reverb. It's what I would imagine it to feel like playing in an old church. But, yes, I will not be using the amp for normal practice. Btw, I'm really impressed with the Realist Acoustic/Electric violin that I ordered for US$999. Un-amped, it's essentially an acoustic violin, and I'm almost embarrassed to say, better sounding than my fine 1890 French-made violin I've owned for decades. Thanks for the suggestion about the Zoom mic. I'll look into that.

@Ricky Thanks for your reply! I must admit that you're speaking in sort of a foreign language to me LOL. I'm about to head off to work, so I will look up some of your terms and respond to you a bit later...

June 15, 2012 at 07:10 PM · Gene Huang: Enjoyed your playing. By all means keep on playing. Listen and watch Milstein play the Bach Chaconne at age 83 on you tube (playing on a $10 million ? Strad). Charles

June 15, 2012 at 11:07 PM · Ricky: I also don't understand what you mean with rolling chord up... sorry I am not native english. Maybe you could explain, because it sounds interesting.

Gene: For an Semi Acoustic its indeed a nice sound. Does the violin work with an integrated pickup or an microphone? maybe you can tell me the model and i'll just look that up for myself ;)

Good job especially for being first time on that violin!

June 16, 2012 at 12:02 AM · @charles Thank you! I've listened to Milstein's recording several times, as well as recordings from many of the top violinists. This is one piece of music that I never get tired of listening to.

@Ricky I had to look up "DAW". :) It does sound like a good way to record. However, the Zoom mic that Simon mentioned might work better for my purposes since I like to record in my entry hallway, where I don't keep my PC or Mac. You wrote: "You got rid of some key bass notes a few times, maybe it's for interpretive reasons, but don't do it." Can you point out specific examples in my video where this happens? Thanks!

@Simon Rolling a chord up means starting with the lowest note of the chord at the beginning of the bow stroke and ending with the highest note at the end of the bow stroke. Rolling it down is the opposite. The Realist Violin model I have is the RV-4. It has a pickup built in. You can find more info if you Google "Realist RV4".

June 19, 2012 at 02:49 PM · Gene,

First of all, I admire your tone quality and your intonation is really quite good. There are a few spots, as people have noticed, but they don't jump out. Also, you have obviously figured out a good setup since you're not straining towards the end of the piece. This piece can be exhausting!

A general comment about phrasing. You definitely have a good sense of what you want to do phrasing-wise. And most of the time it comes across and sounds great. But there were a few times where I felt like you reached the peak of your phrase before you actually got there. What I mean is that you were increasing volume/direction/tempo/vibrato to a climax, but maxed out before getting there. Then you'd sustain until you got to the top. If you could hold back on some of the volume/direction/tempo/vibrato until you got all the way to the top it would have more impact. While this is a minor comment to an otherwise great performance, I think this little change would make a really big difference.

Please take my comment with a grain of salt. Congratulations on being able to tackle such a monumental work of art.


June 19, 2012 at 08:27 PM · Terry -- Thanks for your comments! Yes, I agree with you about some of the phrasing (and reaching the climax correctly), and I'm working on improving that aspect, among other things.

Regarding my setup and posture, I *was* starting to feel some strain in the back of my neck towards the end of the piece. However, raising my violin and keeping it level definitely helped. I also do use a shoulder rest, and I noticed that you don't use one. I tried sans SR once, and it was really uncomfortable for me. I don't think I could ever do it for a prolonged period of time.

I'll post another recording again later, as I think I've made some good progress already by focusing on the advice from this forum. I do want to buy a separate mic first, and I'm leaning towards a Zoom H2n. Btw, what camera did you use for your recent recording? The picture and sound quality are excellent.

June 19, 2012 at 09:25 PM · Gene,

You seem to get around the instrument more or less pretty well - I wouldn't bother changing anything unless you don't feel like you can fix it without doing something radical (like removing the SR).

The recording device is not mine, it's a cellist friend of mine who recorded it. Looking forward to seeing/hearing your next rendition! :)


August 14, 2012 at 03:46 AM · Okay, here is another video recording:

Still a work in progress, but I think it's an improvement over the last one. I tried to focus on the suggestions given by folks here, but I apologize if I wasn't able to incorporate all of them... Fire away! :)

August 14, 2012 at 08:34 AM · Very nice! I really enjoyed it. I think you are at a level where it is very hard to improve. Not that there is nothing to do, there are many small or middle intonation issues and sometimes you still hammer the chords, for example around the 11:30 minutes. It fits the place, but it makes your left hand unsecure. BUT... you can play this difficult piece without interruption and with expression, what comes now is the very fine-tuning, wich is the most difficult part. Getting to a good level is hard enough, but that last fine-tuning can take lots (!) of time. I don't want to discourage you, because there is no reason for that. I just want to say its so good, that any advice I would give now has to do with soething like "double your practice time" etc. since I don't know you personally and I am not your teacher, it is hard for me to say, if that is possible.

You can always get away with not so much practice, if you are smart, wich I think you are ;). But there comes a point where its all about dedication, sacrifice and really hard work, mentally and physically.

One question: How many takes did you make of this piece with camera? Is it easy for you to play it in that quality as a whole?

I really like it musically and technically what you do, the posture is also much better than in the first clip. Its just silly to say now "bar xx intonation" "bar xx tempo" etc. just listen yourself and mark it in the score. I would advice you to play a different bach now and come back to the chaconne later. Maybe you can play the whole 2. partita in connection? Or take a whole different one? They are all amazing! And you learn a lot about the chaconne while playing the others. Still the chaconne is one of the deepest and pure music for violin out there and always a piece that you will come back to!

May I ask you how much you practice in general, scales, etudes, other literature, chamber music, orchestra and how much time you spend on each? Its just easier to give advice then!

edit: my suggestion would be: practice the "easy" places. One can hear, that the difficulties are well prepared, but your intonation slips sometimes in places where its not necessary. This is a very common problem, because one concentrates more on the difficult passages!

August 14, 2012 at 11:26 AM · I have to say that I agree with just about everything Simon is saying here. Your playing is indeed impressive, especially for a returning player. It seems like you've plumbed the depths of the piece as necessary for the moment, and playing something else and coming back to the chaconne is a good idea. Another solo Bach piece, or maybe a flashy showpiece for some contrast. But overall Gene, you sound great. Keep it up!!

August 14, 2012 at 05:58 PM · Simon,

Thank you for your comments!

you wrote:

> How many takes did you make of this piece with camera? Is it easy for you to play it in that quality as a whole?

I can almost always run the entire piece this way (or better) in practice. With the camera going, it's a different story -- I will usually make one or two mistakes that the perfectionist in me cannot tolerate. Earlier, I made about a half dozen other run-through attempts (spread over 2 recording sessions) that I wasn't quite happy with. I usually attempt 3 run-throughs at a time before I'm spent mentally and physically. This latest run-through happened to be the first one of the day that I shot it, and I decided to just stop there and post it to YouTube.

you wrote:

> I would advice you to play a different bach now and come back to the chaconne later. Maybe you can play the whole 2. partita in connection? Or take a whole different one? They are all amazing!

I did learn a handful of the other Bach S&Ps in high school that I plan to go back and revisit, starting with the Gigue from Partita #2. And, yes, I do plan to learn the entire Partita #2 eventually. Perhaps I'm doing it in reverse order! :)

you wrote:

> May I ask you how much you practice in general, scales, etudes, other literature, chamber music, orchestra and how much time you spend on each?

I practiced my scales and etudes in high school, and I was active in youth orchestras for many years back then. Since I only have 20-30 minutes to practice these days, I'm a bit embarrassed to say that I haven't practiced scales/etudes, and I've mainly only been focusing on the Bach Chaconne. I do understand the importance of practicing scales/etudes. In fact, about 6 months ago, I bought myself new Schradieck and Kreutzer books, but sadly, they've been sitting unopened. Although I've often wondered how much scale-like / etude-like exercises I'm getting just practicing the Chaconne... Also, recently, I've been learning a couple pop tunes arranged by Adam DeGraff.

Thanks again for your comments. They are very much appreciated!

August 14, 2012 at 05:58 PM · Thanks, Terry!!

August 14, 2012 at 09:41 PM · Hi John,

A well respected professional violinist recently told me that most people these days prefer hearing the A tuned to 442Hz or even higher. For this recording I tuned my A higher than I usually do, which is probably why you are hearing some of those notes a semi-tone higher. I can assure you I know those should be C naturals, as opposed to C sharps! :)

But definitely thanks for the feedback. I now know to be careful how much to deviate from A440, as I'm probably pushing (or exceeding) the upper limit with this recording...

August 14, 2012 at 11:57 PM · knowing that you only spend time on the chaconne, your technique feels well rounded, variable and solid. But I also agree, that the Solo S&P are great etudes. Also I think the chaconne is something one must really focus on. Its such an important piece and everybody knows it from very good recordings. But still some small dose of Schradieck is a nice salt in the soup. But in 20-30 minutes there is other stuff to do if you want to play the chaconne I think I understand that.

I asked about how much takes you need, because i recently recorded the presto from the g-minor sonata and it is so hard to get a take, wich is really satisfying (didn't get one in my first session). But being able to play the chaconne like that or even better in the practice room (but that of course doesn't count much ;), is a big achievment!

August 15, 2012 at 02:45 PM · Gene, I think you've improved this piece significantly over your other recording. I really sense more confidence and security in your double stops, chords, and other difficult areas. Your playing posture and some of those details are much better too.

I agree with the recommendation to move on to something else. You know you will come back to this. Maybe some people here with experience teaching advanced players can recommend a concerto for you to work on, I think that would be useful. If you know the Gigue and the Chaconne, the rest of the Partita will not pose any significant problem to you. With your skill even at 30 minutes a day you'll have the rest of it sewn up in a few weeks. Of course it is lovely to play, so I can understand you'd want to. (I am working on it -- but not the Chaconne, it's quite too hard for me yet, even the Gigue is just a little beyond my skill). So if you want to increase your Bach chops, I think maybe one of the other of the S&P would offer you more challenge.

August 15, 2012 at 05:16 PM · Simon -- I tried a few practice takes with the camera of the Gigue over the weekend, and was not able to get a recording I liked. Perhaps the Gigue is not sufficiently internalized for me yet, but it'll definitely be a challenge. I can imagine that the Presto will be hard to capture as well. Something about having the camera rolling that changes the whole game!

John -- Yes, very interesting, this #8 note. Listening to my recording again, I can definitely see what you mean as it now sticks out for me as well. Thanks for bringing it to my attention. I agree that I can hit that note a bit (a lot?)flatter...

Paul -- Really appreciate your comments. I've been focusing on the Chaconne for about a year (wow, time flies), so I do intend to move onto something new now (my family will thank me for that as well LOL). The Chaconne is a piece I will return to again and again.

August 16, 2012 at 04:22 PM · John -- Yes, there does seem to be a rather large range in intonation preferences out there. I, myself, prefer to hear (and play) Bach Chaconne tuned to A415, but I think I'm in the minority. In the YouTube video of Vengerov playing in Auschwitz, he tuned his A much lower. Too bad the video ended only halfway through. Someone recently posted Vengerov's entire performance of Chaconne. Although the A is tuned much higher in that one, it's still very satisfying. I really like his interpretation.

August 16, 2012 at 04:45 PM · Ah, I get your point. Thanks for the clarification. Another area for me to think about -- interval spacing between my fingers to create a darker feel. Great stuff!

August 16, 2012 at 05:34 PM · John,

you wrote:

> ...Most times we might only find out which in a masterclass.

I think Terry also mentioned it in his recent thread -- this forum *is* like having your own masterclass!

August 17, 2012 at 08:35 AM · Gene: it is truly lovely played. I am not going to add any comments, because I like how you play with beautiful tone and your own voice, and only will say-- keep up the impressive job! Please post more one can listen and enjoy.

August 17, 2012 at 06:24 PM · Sverker -- Thanks for your kind words!

John -- :)

Frieda -- I am aware that my relative intonation could use improvement. I like your suggestion of playing adjacent notes as double-stops to hear them ringing. I'll have to try that. I completely agree with you regarding the phrasing as well. And yes, working on some other pieces before coming back should help... This is great feedback. Thanks!!

August 18, 2012 at 08:50 AM · frieda and gene, i would like to point out that i dont think your suggestion for improving intonation is complete. the amateur carelessness, i would rather call a question of strength and stamina. these 2 things u need to play through 15 minutes of handtorture like chaconbe, and u dont build up by polishing. one can see its the lack of physical strength and stamina that causes the intonation issues, not the lack of concentrated focus, due to increased error rate over time.

this is an issue every serious amateur encounters when playing pieces without rests inside a movement like chaconne or elgars violin sonata.

virtuosic music without pauses, is easier for those who do their 8 hours of work out daily...

August 18, 2012 at 04:22 PM · Sverker -- I agree with you regarding the issue of strength and stamina leading to intonation issues. An even bigger factor for me (particularly playing in the summer months) is perspiration contributing to sticky fingers. Room temp is a tricky balancing act. You don't want it overly cold so that your fingers aren't warm enough to be nimble, but you also don't want it overly hot so as to cause you to perspire. I am just amazed that the elite concert violinists can play so perfectly on stage and in front of a live audience, wearing a tux!

August 18, 2012 at 08:17 PM · hi Sverker,

so you believe that an amateur will never be able to deliver a near 100% acceptably-intoned chaconne (as an example of a long, elaborate piece)?

i find what you say are sort of implying that Gene has inherently good sense of intonation but that it falters due to flailing stamina at points, ie focusing physically and mentally? its an interesting and not oft mentioned possible factor..if we listen to a lot of the clip, it shows that Gene has generally good intonation (plus admirable fluency, attractive tone...etc)...but at some points, it falters. Gene, i hope you don't mind being mentioned in the third-person...

again, Sverker, can stamina be taught/inculcated into non-professional-level amateurs/students without this 8-hour worth of work a day?

August 18, 2012 at 11:05 PM · hi tammuz,

the strength & stamina I talk about is purely physical: the sport aspect of music playing, nothing else.

I do believe amateurs can deliver a "near-100%" acceptably-intoned chaconne. Sure, when I say 8 hours daily I exaggerate, but I am sure that a large part of being professional means having the "physique"built for music playing. what I think, is that an amateur has to realize that if he/she can't afford to practice several hours per day, he/she has to invest much longer time into such a masochistic piece as the Chaconne, if he intends to play it "perfectly". at this point, its no longer about musical talent, but about raw, physical hard-work (same as on gym). this is also why I, personally, will prefer to pick pieces in the future that includes a couple of bars pauses here and there.

what amateurs can take advantage of, would be to leave the "perfect" for the professional artists and future music robots, and compensate with all what is permitted for amateurs --the egocentric self-expression that ignores "what the public wants and pays for" or limitations to "reading the composers mind" (which anyway is a pseudoscience since most composers that are listenable are dead).

With Frieda I agree on that Gene can make it perfect. but he should not be scared if it will take much longer than expected-- you dont build an arnold scwartzenegger in one day.

Hmm, good question if one can teach non-pros strength & stamina, Tammuz. What about steroids? :)

August 19, 2012 at 01:11 AM · Sverker,

I was wondering what you meant about Arnold Schwartzaneggar when it comes to playing the violin. When Milstein performed the Chaconne at the age of 83, was he at the level of Schwartzaneggar? ;) I don't think that Milstein would have won any bodybuilding championships when he was 83.

Perfection is not achievable. As soon as your concept of perfection is reached, you've generated a new concept of perfection. Even professionals are not perfect. If Gene (or any professional) had the benefit of a recording studio and could splice cuts together, he could achieve a form of technical perfection.

I think that Gene would be better served to focus on the things that amateurs are so fortunate as to be able to focus on, the music. Professionals are forced to play under certain conditions, play certain things, travel, etc. etc. The wonderful thing about Gene's playing is he has no such constraints. He can play whatever and whenever he wants to.

Intonation and sound is always something that can and should be worked on. I think what needs more work is the direction of the phrasing, and exaggerating the dynamics more. I'd like to see a wider palette of sound. But that said, Gene is still playing fantastically.


August 19, 2012 at 04:23 AM · Gene,

First and foremost -- Bravo!! Splendid performance!

Fine artistry and musical conviction, and technically impressive. I know many professional players who would be very happy to perform it that well.

Of course there is always intonation work to be done. My feeling about your intonation -- I am not concerned with the occasional out of tune note or passage. However I think you could take a fresh look at exactly where you are placing the notes.

To my way of thinking intonation in Bach must be pure or chordal -- the notes of the chord must be in tune. To my ear, your major thirds could be a little lower, the minor thirds a little higher. Leading tones lower. This applies not only to the chords and double stops but also in the single note passages. For example, in the passage starting at m. 141 all the C#'s and F#'s could be a little lower. Similarly in bar 133 etc. although that passage is better. Also the sixth -- open G with first finger E could be a little smaller. Once you start listening this way, and searching for the exquisitely beautiful sound of each purely, chordally in tune double stop, you will find many passages spring to life and gaining expressivity on a new level.

Musically speaking -- you play with lots of musicality and conviction and good style. Bravo! I would like to hear more variety in dynamics, first of all from section to section, and secondly within the smaller units of one measure or even one beat. I would especially like more soft playing. Your dynamic range is more orless from Mp to FF. You could do some listening to become aware of the possibilities in this area. I would particularly recommend listening to some fine HIP (Historically Informed Performance) versions. Lucy Van Dael is outstanding in this respect. Also there is a wonderful Youtube performance by Viktoria Mullova. Listen to these players also to see how they play with a lot of rhythmic flexibility within the measure and within the beat. Also you could have more variation in tempo and in style from variation to variation. I loved the freedom and virtuoso feeling that you gave to m. 121 - 125. I would love some of that same approach in m 65-77for example.

So these are some suggestions. But overall -- Bravo!! And best wishes. Roy

August 19, 2012 at 06:47 AM · Hi Folks -- I'm really happy to see such a lively discussion happening here. And it sounds like you listened to most if not all of my recording. I really appreciate you taking the time, as I'm sure you are all busy people and it's not a short piece!

To summarize, the areas for me to focus on are intonation (within chords as well as in general), phrasing, dynamics (especially in the softer range), and perhaps some variation in tempo. These are all suggestions that I completely agree with. Working on scales and other pieces will help as well.

Roy -- I found your recording of Chaconne on YouTube and listened to it. Bravo to you too! Btw, I was born in Pittsburgh and lived there for 8 years. That's where first started learning the violin. Go Steelers!

August 19, 2012 at 07:24 AM · Terry,

Do you expect to outrun a 83 years old world champion marathon runner too? I wouldn't. I see the 85 years old ladies biking uphill when I jump off my bike :)

August 19, 2012 at 01:18 PM · With a little practice, I think I could possibly beat any 83 year old marathon runner or 85 year old biker. But I'm quite sure that I will never outplay Milstein when he was 83.

I think that Milstein was great at 83 because of his muscle memory, ears, musical knowledge and his musical mind, not because of his physical gifts or stamina at that point. I think he just knew how to play.

August 19, 2012 at 01:30 PM · terry, you maybe dont have to take all what i say literally.

August 19, 2012 at 01:32 PM · Well, Well!!! Hello fellow Pittsburgher! Great to connect with you here at this great meeting place.

Who did you study with here in Pgh? I suppose you played in PYSO etc. etc. I wonder if we met sometime.

August 19, 2012 at 01:33 PM · Probably true Sverker. I chuckled at your comment about the 85 year old biker. :)

August 19, 2012 at 01:42 PM · Well, Terry, you were a bit missing my point by getting too stuck on details used for a colorful explanation.

Otherwise I would advice you not to laugh at Swedish 85 years old ladies. You don't know what energy is within them :)

August 19, 2012 at 01:56 PM · Sverker,

hi tammuz,

the strength & stamina I talk about is purely physical: the sport aspect of music playing, nothing else.

I do believe amateurs can deliver a "near-100%" acceptably-intoned chaconne. Sure, when I say 8 hours daily I exaggerate, but I am sure that a large part of being professional means having the "physique"built for music playing. what I think, is that an amateur has to realize that if he/she can't afford to practice several hours per day, he/she has to invest much longer time into such a masochistic piece as the Chaconne, if he intends to play it "perfectly". at this point, its no longer about musical talent, but about raw, physical hard-work (same as on gym). this is also why I, personally, will prefer to pick pieces in the future that includes a couple of bars pauses here and there.


I guess I could still use a little clarification of what you mean by stamina and the physical aspect of playing the violin. To me, the violin is mostly mental. The physical aspect is something we are trying to get rid of, but is often creeping into our playing. Milstein at 83 had all but eliminated the physical aspect and achieved maximum efficiency. Or if you think I'm missing something, educate me!!

One should never mess with any 85 year old woman, be they Swedish or otherwise. They know too much!!


August 19, 2012 at 03:07 PM · Say what you want, but Gene's Chaconne is stunningly beautiful and touching, and he does expression at many places as I regret I have never have heard professionals daring to play it. Who cares about some mistakes and ** places here and there?

Now to the next point. Is there any amateur competition for violin? There are lots of them for pianists. Gene, you must-- you MUST-- perform Chaconne publicly.

August 19, 2012 at 03:30 PM · Roy -- I started when I was 5 years old with Paul Landefeld, who is well known in Suzuki circles. I didn't start playing in youth orchestras until I was 10, and by then my family had moved away. I think Paul now resides in the Dallas area.

Sverker -- I appreciate your vote of confidence in my public performing! I have to admit that the last time I played for an audience (Meditation from Thais, last November), I crashed horribly. My left hand felt stiff, and my bow arm was a jittery mess!

August 19, 2012 at 03:34 PM · gene, been there done that. happens. send me a message if you are interested in performance advice for amateurs from the dark side...

August 19, 2012 at 07:19 PM · Gene, I can't bear it! Playing the Chaconne as well as you do -- to crash playing the Meditation from Thais! That's absolutely UNACCEPTABLE! The reason I can say that is that I have been where you are. When I was 18 years old, studying the Tchaikovsky Concerto and playing it rather well, I could not even tune my violin in front of my fellow students without shaking like a leaf. It was a long uphill climb from there and I didn't get the help I so desperately needed from my teachers or colleagues. but I learned a few things along the way.

You can build up your strength for performing under pressure the same way you build up any other technique -- gradually, in many small steps, over time. You can find a safe zone to start -- where you know you can play your best. Something simple for a non-threatening audience. Your starting point can be playing twinkle twinkle for your girl friend. Having done that you extend the boundary. Maybe you play in front of two or three people. You play something a little more difficult -- maybe the Vivaldi A Minor Concerto. You take every opportunity to play for people. Little by little by little you build up your strength. The day will come when you can play the Vivaldi Concerto confidently for somebody who is a little threatening -- where you have something at stake. And the day will come when you can play the Chaconne for them too. Good luck! More people than you think have had to go down this road. And remember - you've done the hard part. You're a terrific player.

August 19, 2012 at 07:54 PM · Gene, that's impressive, the second time even more than the first.

August 20, 2012 at 04:54 AM · Sverker -- You have piqued my interest. I will message you...

Roy -- Even in high school, where I had more opportunities to perform, I never got comfortable with it. I am coming to understand that not only does performance take practice, but it takes building up gradually, starting with small steps. The art of performance is yet another challenging dimension of this wonderfully complex instrument!

Bart -- Thank you!

August 20, 2012 at 01:24 PM · Another wonderful Russian player that I found is Igor Politkovsky (he placed sixth in the Paganini Competition in 1963, eleventh in the Queen Elizabeth Competition in 1955). I'm only aware of one CD of his but there is some very nice playing on there. I found him because his is the only recording I can find of the Balakirev Exprompt ("Impromptu in E Major"), which I'm trying to learn and will hopefully perform in December.

Gene, there's still something I cannot get over. You took a break for 25 years and the first thing you decided to play after picking up your violin again was the Chaccone? That is just so amazing, you are a true inspiration.

August 20, 2012 at 05:37 PM · John -- you wrote:

> The first note (of bar 49 )finishes the lead up on D.

I think you meant to say bar 47? I'm trying to understand what you mean when you say the next higher D is a "quick, quiet deep breath you do when you cannot hold it any longer". Do you mean that there should be a pause between the low D and the high D, and the high D should be quicker/lighter/softer than the following notes that run down? I listened to Igor Bezrodny's recording. It was fantastic.

Paul -- It's true that I stopped practicing daily for 24 years. However, during that time I would take my violin out every few months and fiddle around for an hour or so. I had invested so much into learning the violin from ages 5 - 18, that I didn't want to let it go completely. Also, there was the occasional wedding (of a family member or friend) or other event that I would get asked to play for, and I would "cram" for the 2 weeks leading up to it. And when my son started taking lessons 6 years ago, I would help him along too. Last year was when I decided to make a sincere effort again to get better. Bach Chaconne has always been one of my favorites, which makes practicing so enjoyable. If you were inspired by me, then I am honored!

August 21, 2012 at 09:26 PM · Gene...very nice. I would love to hear you playing this piece on a Gagliano (like the one that's STILL on this site!). But serously, other than intonation, I am impressed. My daughter play three hours a day and is in a youth orchestra at 10 yrs old. I told her..."scales and arps"... Her intonation is exceptional for her age as is her expressiveness. I played five other instruments and tried to take up the violin when she started. Bummer! To come back after a break like you had and play like you do. BRAVO!

August 24, 2012 at 05:21 PM · Mark -- Thank you! I would LOVE to play Bach Chaconne on a Gagliano, or a Strad, or a Guarnerius some day...

John -- I agree. Bezrodny's start of the D major section is very dreamlike. It is so spiritual and reflective. I am working on getting to sound like that!

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