Thoughts on performing Mendelssohn

March 16, 2017 at 01:18 AM · Recently, I performed Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto with my community orchestra, South Bay Philharmonic, in Silicon Valley. The event fulfilled a multi-year dream of mine to perform an entire major concerto for a live audience (a goal I had since returning as an adult restarter in 2011 after being away for 20+ years).

Being that it was the first time performing an entire major work, and although I had prepared well, I started the evening thinking "What if it's a disaster -- what if nerves get the better of me, or I have a catastrophic memory lapse?" and "Can I handle the pressure? C'mon, this isn't Carnegie Hall!" To my surprise, I felt calm during the performance and even experienced moments of joy, which was a first for me since I'm usually too nervous performing solo to have any fun. I ended the evening thinking, "Yes, I really can do it, and next time I will perform even better!"

Although I did not play my absolute best I am satisfied with the outcome overall. Some of the techniques for dealing with performance anxiety, I learned right here on, so I thought I'd share the performance with you all. Hope you enjoy!

Replies (28)

March 16, 2017 at 02:19 AM · Congratulations and thanks for posting a video!

I would love to know what you did to prepare.

March 16, 2017 at 02:34 AM · Well done, Gene. You are an inspiration to a restarter like me!

March 16, 2017 at 02:43 AM · By the way, Gene, I liked your Saint-Saens 3 video from your childhood!

(You are doing a much better job of restarting than I've been!)

March 16, 2017 at 03:32 AM · Gene, wonderful performance! I really enjoyed it! I'm also an adult re-starter away from violin for 20+ years, and I'm currently working on the same piece. I would love to hear more about how you prepared for this successful performance.

For me, I've been working and reworking on the first movement on and off for quite a few months, but still not quite polished enough for a real performance. However, I'm going to play it this coming Monday at our local community conservatory as a trial. I understand "early tests" are good for progress and that's exactly what I'm doing. I have been recording snips (2-3 min/clip) of it lately and hear a whole lot of problems that I don't hear when playing. Hopefully this doesn't freak me out too much. Anyway, love to hear more about your stories.

March 16, 2017 at 03:34 AM · Gene, I listened to your Chaconne on YouTube and it was excellent!

March 16, 2017 at 06:51 AM · Lydia – You found my video of Saint-Saens 3! Thanks, always enjoy reading your insightful posts on

David – Glad to be an inspiration for other restarters!

Yixi – Practice performances are probably the best way to prepare for a final performance. Recording yourself is definitely useful (see below).

Jason – Thanks! I was obsessed with Bach's Chaconne for my first two years after returning to violin.

I actually performed just the 1st movement of the Mendelssohn concerto with South Bay Phil a year ago. I was extremely nervous on stage last year, but the experience definitely helped me feel more comfortable this year.

I started preparing for this performance shortly after last year's performance, using member Bruce Berg's edition for fingerings and bowings, which he has made available online. I neatly hand-wrote all the markings from Bruce's edition into my sheet music (I'll explain why shortly).

As I was learning the 2nd and 3rd movements, I made sure that any changes I made were clearly marked. I also made sure to write into my music any helpful reminders, such as "stay in 3rd position for this run" or "play softly here". I had the entire concerto memorized ~6 months prior to the performance.

I listened to a professional recording multiple times daily over the past year. As I listened (usually while in my car or right before going to bed), I imagined myself playing it. Once I had it memorized, I also imagined myself doing the fingerings and bowings, and pictured the written reminders as I listened. This helped to solidify my memorization, and during the actual performance, allowed me to focus on what should happen next (instead of how nervous I was).

My regimen for the final ~2 months leading up to the performance was to practice the concerto an hour each day focusing on the passages that I had (and still have) difficulty with. I always started my practice sessions with those passages (starting slow and working my way up to speed), and then ended the sessions with the same passages. In between, I played the entire concerto through slowly, then again at speed. This was all from memory.

Rehearsing with the orchestra was also very helpful. I pretended each rehearsal run was the actual performance, with my fellow musicians being the audience. I made audio recordings of the final two rehearsals, but if I had a chance to go back, I would have made recordings of all the rehearsals. Listening to the recordings really helped me isolate problems and make adjustments.

Once on stage, I just reminded myself to breathe and to mainly look at the point of contact (where the bow meets the string) unless glancing at the conductor. As I mentioned earlier, I was surprised by how calm I felt, but I think it boils down to the feeling of being prepared.

One thing about technique, member Nathan Cole had a recent blog and video tutorial titled "MVP" (for minimal viable pressure), referring to the left-hand finger pressure. I found the blog timely and a great help to me in the 3rd movement.

March 16, 2017 at 02:35 PM · Congratulations Gene, and thank you for the inside information on how you got to that point of being so well prepared! I remember you from a thread some years ago where some people posted their version of Rode etude no.1 and I remember yours was really smooth and clear. Indeed from you performance it seems that you much prefer technical runs and 16th notes to the slower singing work (if I am allowed to give that impression). Anyway I think it is a tremendous achievement for an amateur to perform the full Mendelssohn concerto. It's a mountain I do not dare to climb.

March 16, 2017 at 02:36 PM ·

March 16, 2017 at 03:00 PM · I admire the courage of doing this from memory! (I'm curious if you learned this concerto in childhood, as well, or if this is an adult acquisition.)

Did you work with any coaches / teachers during your prep?

March 16, 2017 at 04:30 PM · Jean -- Thank you for the compliment! You might be right about my preference for technical pieces. However, you must have me confused with someone else, as I've never posted a Rode etude...

Lydia -- I learned parts of the Mendelssohn during childhood (mostly on my own, as none of my teachers ever assigned it to me), but never the entire concerto or even an entire movement. I haven't had a violin teacher since high school, so all the recent prep was again on my own, with help from writings and other online resources like YouTube.

March 16, 2017 at 05:31 PM · How do you feel about the autodidact approach at this point? I still feel like I really need the guidance of a teacher at this point in my playing. I'm curious if you felt that not having a teacher forced you to work harder -- in a good way -- and you prefer it that way, or if other life stuff just made it hard to get outside help.

March 16, 2017 at 07:39 PM · Gene, lovely performance! I'm super-impressed that you did this on your own (despite your awesome high school-era chops) and like Lydia, I'm curious about how it works.

In the past, I've used lessons as a forcing mechanism for careful practice, as a feedback loop, and as a way to learn new tricks/better fingerings/bowings/etc. I don't trust my instincts on all this stuff. It sounds like Nathan's video and Bruce's edition helped with the latter part and the goal of performing with an orchestra helped with the former goal. Did you wish to have a teacher? Did you ever play fro other people and get feedback outside the orchestra rehearsals? Are you at a point now where you feel you could benefit from a teacher?

Seriously, inspiring. Such a tricky start for a concerto and I thought you nailed it. And those triplet double-stops were fierce.

March 17, 2017 at 02:31 AM · Lydia / Katie -- I thought about getting a teacher on a few occasions, but I sort of like the independence of learning what I want and how I want. Also, on those few occasions, something would always come up preventing me from seeing it through. I may still find a teacher in the future, so I'm not ruling out the idea completely.

Katie -- Yes, definitely learned some new techniques by reading stuff online, and a looming performance is a sure-fire way to motivate myself to practice. I did not get much feedback outside of orchestra rehearsals. I used audio/video recordings of practice runs to get most of my feedback. And, thank you for your compliment!

March 17, 2017 at 02:47 AM · Gene, you've done extremely well without teacher. I know a few rare cases that violinists can teach themselves at a very young age and play like a pro. You may only need occasional lessons or do some masterclasses from someone really good to get to the next artistic level. You must have had very good training during your childhood because you seem to be very solid in technique and posture.

I taught myself for many years when I was young back in China which resulted a lot of stubborn bad habits. Having a teacher is invaluable for me. Especially a teacher is known as a clinician, she can identify and fix the problems which I'm not even aware of. The only thing is that my teacher is very busy as a performer so sometimes I could go on for months without lesson because of her schedule. The difference in my progress with and without teacher is significant.

March 17, 2017 at 03:02 AM · I agree. I need the teacher for accountability, too. Otherwise it's too easy to just let a day go by without practicing, or not be sufficiently meticulous. I just don't have that kind of discipline without the pressure of regular lessons and a performance schedule of obligations.

March 17, 2017 at 03:21 AM · Great playing, big accomplishment! And how wonderful to have a video at the end of it to commemorate what you did. Thanks for sharing. Really glad the "MVP" video came at a good time for you. Certainly useful for this concerto!

March 17, 2017 at 04:27 AM · Gene, you may find that with a teacher you can get better faster than you can on your own. That's worth a lot in saved time alone.

March 17, 2017 at 04:48 AM · I also find that having a teacher is very helpful. I don't play in any ensemble, so the accountability factor (as mentioned by Lydia) is important. More importantly, my teacher is able to identify a couple of issues that have prevented me from moving to the next level in my high school years. It may have taken me years to ID them on my own.

I am about three hours away from a major Metropolitan area where my teacher is based. I see her twice a month and I am very comfortable with that.

March 17, 2017 at 05:55 AM · Gene, you don't want to fly back down here every week to see our childhood violin teacher? ;)

March 17, 2017 at 08:27 AM · I'm highly self-critical of everything from my technique to my posture, but I have no doubt that a good teacher would help me improve faster. I guess finding one hasn't been a priority since I'm not planning on becoming a professional violinist and I'm having too much fun on my own!

Yixi -- I had 8 different teachers growing up, since my dad's profession (petroleum engineer) moved us around a lot. So, I'd like to think that I learned something different from each of them.

Nathan -- Thanks for stopping by. Your blog/video really was timely and helpful!

Gene W's comment reminded me that I actually did have one source of feedback outside of my orchestra rehearsals. I played for our mutual childhood teacher when I visited him over the holidays. It was the first time I had played for him in ~30 years!

March 17, 2017 at 02:04 PM · I'm intrigued by the connections between posters. :-)

I'm terribly curious what that reunion was like!

March 17, 2017 at 03:11 PM · I was probably more nervous playing for my former teacher than I was performing with South Bay Phil! Our relationship has evolved into a good friendship over the years rather than teacher/pupil, so he didn't provide a lot of feedback other than to note that I tended to play everything loud (so to use more dynamics).

Speaking of connections, not only did I share a childhood teacher with Gene W, I also shared a teacher with Laurie Niles!

March 17, 2017 at 10:11 PM · Ok performance for being away for so long. Keep practicing! It will only get better!

March 19, 2017 at 05:52 PM · Very impressive! This is on my bucket list of things I want to accomplish on the violin. Great job!


March 19, 2017 at 06:18 PM · Thank you for sharing this with us! You are living proof that adults who return to playing after a long absence can achieve great things. What a wonderful achievement. I look forward to hearing what's next. Henriette de Vrijer, Pro-Am Strings.

March 20, 2017 at 04:15 AM · What? You don't have a teacher??? Gene, you're doing so well. Get a few lessons -- your playing will skyrocket.

March 20, 2017 at 06:46 PM · Paul's right, if you're so good without a teacher, you could be pretty amazing with one, even if you only take lessons for a few months and work on what they identify as your biggest issues.

March 20, 2017 at 06:46 PM · duplicate.

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