Concertos For Next Year

April 3, 2019, 10:03 PM · Hi! I am just starting to think about possible repertoire for next year. I am currently playing Introduction and Tarantella by Sarasate. I want to take on a concerto from June - December. I will be most likely playing this piece for festival and summer camp auditions. I want to perfect at least one movement from a concerto that is longer and won't get super bored with. Let me know your thoughts? Thanks!

PS: I played Bruch 1 Mov 1 briefly and Mozart 4

Replies (24)

April 4, 2019, 12:59 AM · If you haven't already, why don't you ask your teacher for suggestions? If your teacher is the type that'll let you choose your own repertoire to some extent, you may wish to do a bit of research and pick a concerto you like.
April 4, 2019, 3:35 AM · If you've done Bruch and Mozart,I'd guess that Lalo, Mendelssohn, and Saint Saens 3 are possibly in that range.
Edited: April 4, 2019, 4:13 PM · What does Bruch 1 1st mvt “briefly” mean? Did you change teachers? Was it too hard for you? Did you just not like it? Given your repertoire, I suspect that Mendelssohn and Saint-Saens are way beyond you right now.

Your teacher knows your playing best and should be the person making recommendations. I would have to hear you play or at least have more information to know whether I should be recommending Kabalevsky, Lalo, or something else.

April 4, 2019, 4:58 PM · On the contrary, I would highly suggest pursuing a very difficult concerto. You'll have to keep yourself busy with it for a long time, after all. Better to work on something that will restrict your progress to maybe a small section or a few measures per week, to really hone your skills.
Edited: April 4, 2019, 8:08 PM · Since you say you worked on Bruch only briefly, I have the same thoughts as Mary Ellen about why -- too hard? Some other reason?

I would say if you have not done Kabalevsky you should do it. If it turns out to be a little on the easy side for you, my guess is you'll learn from it anyway, and then you'll have it in your repertoire.

After that (or if you have already done Kabalevsky) you should revisit Bruch. I would say Bruch is kind of prerequisite to any of the other big romantic concertos like Lalo or Mendelssohn or Saint-Saens. Those are hard pieces. There isn't really a short-cut there unless you cherry-pick the easiest movements from each -- and then you're not really learning to play the violin.

What Cotton is suggesting is a reliable pathway to bad habits in your violin playing, not to mention repetitive-motion injury and psychological trauma. Work with your teacher to establish challenging but reasonable goals. There are enough concertos that you can make small advances in difficulty, especially if you include the student-oriented concertos of Viotti, Spohr, etc., of which some are actually nice pieces. Also ask your teacher what studies and non-concerto repertoire you can be doing to build your technique and musicality. If your teacher cannot help you establish a general plan for the next year or so, then you might consider looking for a better teacher.

Edited: April 4, 2019, 8:17 PM · I seriously doubt you'll injure yourself working on a stretch piece—physically or mentally... Unless you already had habits which would eventually cause them in the first place.

I compose my own etudes purposely way out of my skill level and slowly build on them (build, not chip away at) over the course of weeks or months until they are a breeze for me. It works.
You know who else does that? Roman Kim. And he has the best chops of any violinist ever, past or present.

If you want to take the low-stress, easygoing path, that's fine. I won't look down on you. I'm just saying that that stress is very inspiring for me, and part of what makes practising fun.

April 5, 2019, 2:25 AM · I think it's not a great idea to play something way above your skill level because you will be mentally frustrated by your mistakes and will build some bad habits. The exception is if you take it super duper easy and try to accomplish it over several months or more. I don't recommend this approach to the averae student because there is way too much room for error. Maybe another reason the OP only looked at Bruch briefly was a matter of time and wishing to focus on other things. Not everyone follows the typical concerto sequence and will skip certain concertos, though they will sort of make it up with other repertoire. This is coming from someone who skipped essential concerto sequence repertoire without problems. I really trust my teacher, as she keeps my technique and musical skills up to standards.
April 5, 2019, 2:59 AM · Cotton, what works for the average person is going to be vastly different than what works for Roman Kim, and probably different than what works for you.

Keep that in mind when you're making suggestions. You must consider the realistic abilities of the person (and by "abilities," I'm also considering what they're psychologically willing to do, not just what they're physically capapable of).

April 5, 2019, 7:21 AM · I think some students can be inspired by repertoire that is a stretch -- that is a significant step up from where they are right now, but which they can learn if they put in meticulous effort and practice time.

This is different from repertoire in which the student truly struggles, making only a tiny amount of progress.

I tend to believe that students who are starting the major concerto repertoire -- Bruch and beyond -- ought to have their fundamental technique nailed down, such that what is being taught technically at that point is mostly how to deal with more virtuosic difficulties.

April 5, 2019, 8:50 AM · One concerto that I would single out here is Viotti a-minor. It is way more interesting than any of the other Viottis I have heard. The subdued opening is already very attractive. The way it is transformed for the entry of the soloist is nothing short of breathtaking*. I will admit that there are sections later on in the first movement where the virtuosity (such as it is) begins to run empty a bit. Still, this is inspired music, including the short adagio and the intense finale.

BTW Viotti and Spohr concertos are not "student focussed". They were written for the composers to perform themselves. The student focus was added by violin teachers later on.

*Viotti used the same trick in several other concerti but in none of those does it work like in the a-minor.

April 5, 2019, 9:38 AM · Lydia wrote, "I tend to believe that students who are starting the major concerto repertoire -- Bruch and beyond -- ought to have their fundamental technique nailed down."

That will only happen if the student has been fed a steady diet of studies and "student concertos" throughout the first several years of their tutelage. What one more typically sees in the modern "technique is learned through the repertoire" teaching philosophy is that solo Bach is where they learn to play double stops, Bruch is where they learn bariolage and chromatic scales, and Mendelssohn is where they learn octaves. Okay it might not be that bad, but I don't think I'm entirely off-base either.

Albrecht wrote, "BTW Viotti and Spohr concertos are not 'student focused.' They were written for the composers to perform themselves. The student focus was added by violin teachers later on." However that history may have unfolded, you do not see Viotti or Spohr concertos performed very often except by students.

Stretch goals are fine, but not crazy goals. Trying to learn Mendelssohn if you can only proceed at a rate of "a few measures per week" would be crazy. And most students are going to need very close guidance from their teachers on breaking down stretch-goal pieces and dealing with the difficult elements.

April 5, 2019, 10:04 AM · As it's been stated, without knowing more there's not much that can be recommended. I can say that I've been a victim of "learning through the repertoire" and have taken a major step back with a huge sigh of relief to work on less intensive repertoire. (The story is too long to get into here, and really not that interesting.) My progress, such as it is, has improved more dramatically in this two months' time of "stepping back" than it had in a couple months of intensive "efficient" work on a movement of a major concerto (and with literally no pain, psychological nor physical!). It's great to know that I can work my way through a major concerto movement (not measure by measure!), but it's better to feel good about my playing and to know that my technical approach is solid.

But, I am not a young student looking to do auditions with lots of time to spend practicing and so on...

April 5, 2019, 10:56 AM · If you haven't played all the way through Bruch, maybe that's a great starting point, especially since you need to be able to get it up to audition polish in that time. It's part of the professional rep. Speaking of auditions, it will be worth your while to pick up some Solo Bach, since any audition worth your time will almost certainly require it as well.

Not everyone has to do the standard concerto sequence, but Lalo and Saint Saens are canonically next after Bruch and both have plenty of challenges and are worth playing to learn different aspects of the technique. Since you've done Mozart 4, you can also look into Mozart 5, if you're not afraid of shitting your pants playing the Allegro opening. There should always be a balance between learning new technique and putting things together from things you already know in a concerto you play. That's how you build up your skills and practice the ones you already have.

"On the contrary, I would highly suggest pursuing a very difficult concerto. You'll have to keep yourself busy with it for a long time, after all.
I seriously doubt you'll injure yourself working on a stretch piece—physically or mentally... Unless you already had habits which would eventually cause them in the first place.
If you want to take the low-stress, easygoing path, that's fine."

Um...this is horrible advice. Dude, don't do this. There is a huge difference between working on something challenging and snorkeling because you're held back by technique and experience.

I think this is at the point where millenials say "weird flex, but ok". I personally have never known any violinist worth their salt say that Mendelssohn or Bruch is the easy path. As the guys from Two Set have noted, there is shredding, and there's playing music.

For all the more experienced players on this board, I ask the question: Is Mendelssohn learned too early by many students? I feel like I've heard more than a couple non-conservatory players attempt it back in the old days and it's never any good. I think Mendelssohn is WAY harder than perhaps its place in the standard concerto sequence suggests, and I've been dodging it every since.

Edited: April 5, 2019, 11:41 AM · If I had to guess, I would say that at LEAST 50% of the "serious" violin students in the US are being pushed too fast through the repertoire by their teachers (or in some cases their parents).

The odd thing is that you can actually make technical progress by always working on something that's way too hard for you. In that one sense, Cotton is right. The two measures of Lalo that you're working on essentially become the etude de la semaine. I would only argue that the same degree of progress can be made by choosing pieces that one can actually have a chance of performing without dire embarrassment.

My childhood teacher was a classic hot-house teacher. He gave me Accolay after I worked on Vivaldi for a couple of months (it was still a total wreck -- I could not play it). Then after I reached abject mediocrity on the Accolay he gave me Bach E Major. And from there, Mozart 3. The last thing I worked on was Lalo. Every one of these pieces was a total butcher job. I could never perform any of them. I had never done solo Bach. I couldn't play a scale in thirds at any tempo.

25 years later, still basking in the warm glow of my own abject ignorance, I felt I had retained about 50% of my skill, so I auditioned for my new teacher with Mozart. I'll never forget what he said. "Okay, you have good ... skill." (With a pause like that.) And then there was a longer pause, and he said, "Do you have any Suzuki books?" The next week I found myself in Book 4. Yes: Back to Vivaldi.

This experience -- integrated over ten years of my childhood -- is why I am sensitive to the suggestion of working on stuff that is way beyond your present skill set.

Lalo may be in my past -- but it's not in my future! I'll be lucky to get through the first movement of Bruch in my lifetime. Fortunately I don't really like the Lalo. I do love the Mendelssohn but I will never have the chops for that. I also really love Mozart and I'm working on No. 4 right now. Of course that's what I said two years ago.

Edited: April 5, 2019, 12:47 PM · I have mentioned in the past that I felt like I went through a bunch of purgatory years in which I almost quit playing the violin. I spent five years at the intermediate stage -- a period that started with Haydn G major and ended with Rode No. 7, where I did a steady diet of "student' concertos (the violinist-composers, deBeriot, Viotti etc.) plus short works and a lot of exercises and etudes. But I came out the other end by being able to play Mendelssohn (still felt like a significant leap in what I was playing in actual repertoire, even though I had seen all the technique previously), and then a fairly rapid learning of other concertos.

So, not much fun. But it's given me a solid base of technique that withstood 20 years of not playing about 75% intact. (The remaining 25% is a b*tch though.) And in general, I learned the "professional" repertoire properly, and I can learn new repertoire relatively quickly because I am mostly dealing with small bits of new technique that mostly have to do with how to overcome repertoire-specific difficulties. (Some of those are still general skills. For instance, doing Prokofiev No. 2 vastly improved my triadic extensions since there's a second movement section with a zillion of them in a row.)

April 5, 2019, 3:14 PM · I love reading your responses Paul and Lydia. Such differing experiences of teachers and their styles - effective and not!

I STILL feel like I am catching up on all the technique I never learned over 20 years ago, and am afraid that the music that inspired me to return to the violin will never be a possibility for me to learn because of that. It is hard to not be frustrated with all that time I spent practicing as kid to essentially hack away at the music with little to no technique. I was always confident playing as a youngster, but I am now convinced that it was borne out of ignorance of how to play correctly.

Hope the OP gets what they need from their teachers and practice.

Edited: April 5, 2019, 3:20 PM · Pamela, it seems our violin experiences are cut from the same cloth. The thing is, all we can really do is (a) try harder to improve, or (b) enjoy the skills we have, such as they are, or (c) take up "pickle-ball" instead.
April 5, 2019, 3:55 PM · Haha. Guess my options are to go with a and b, for I'll never be able to enjoy my skills such as they are nor am I a fan of pickle-ball (or knitting).

It's really a shame. I work really hard but these issues (technique/fundamentals) are major obstacles to overcome so late in the game. I have seriously considered quitting since I realized that I will most likely never be able to play the music I was called to play - but I have to try anyway and enjoy the ride while I'm on it. Ah well... at least we are trying and not wishing we had tried. That would have been a worse fate.

April 6, 2019, 12:55 PM · Mr. Deck and Ms. M.,

Both of you can improve at your age, barring health issues. Be it Lalo SE or Wieniawski 1st, it can be done, even if it does not seem a likely proposition (for now).

I mean well, and apologize if the above comes accross negatively. Expect many to disagree, and that's fine.

April 6, 2019, 1:16 PM · Not negative at all Adalberto. This has been a very good journey so far, even the parts with the potholes and other not so fun bits.
April 7, 2019, 12:15 AM · Luckily for us all, there's a huge amount of the "professional" violin repertoire that is at the upper-intermediate level, as well as at the Bruch-ish sort of level. You can easily play a whole recital, especially with the modern emphasis on sonatas, without Bruch-level technique.

I'm finding it pretty satisfying at the moment to work on and perform pieces that are readily within my technical command, since they don't eat a whole lot of practice time, enabling me to learn a moderate amount of repertoire on my pretty scanty practice time. I'm still doing more difficult stuff for pedagogical reasons, but because it's not on a performance deadline, I probably don't practice it as much as I should.

I think what's making a difference for me is not better virtuosity, but being helped through the process of being more musically thoughtful, and conscious of what I need to have in my head (which will manifest in technical control of the instrument) in order to render it on the violin.

I was told in a coaching session recently that i don't really have in my head what sound I want to come out of the instrument -- that, rather, I know the right technical things to do and so I do them, but as a result I am surprised as anyone else over what sound actually comes out of the instrument. I've been thinking about that a lot in the last two weeks.

Edited: April 7, 2019, 11:19 AM · Adalberto, Lalo SE might be a possibility if I could practice a couple of hours per day. First movement anyway. I would probably improve faster if I didn't have such a time-consuming job, and two school-aged children, and if I didn't play another instrument too (piano). Of course all of that is my own fault.
April 18, 2019, 10:22 PM · I'm preparing a detailed analytical comparison of Mozart 5 and Viotti 22. Stay tuned.
April 19, 2019, 9:26 AM · Lydia - my main teacher has assigned me pieces in this category for developing musicality while also focusing on improving overall technique. It's been a really great opportunity to refine technique and give myself the space to be creative with the music/my instrument. And, because of this, I am MUCH less frustrated: technique-wise, how I sound - I am not as disgusted with my sound as before, am having more fun and feel ever slightly more confident playing (which means I am more relaxed!), and my teacher seems to be much less exasperated/tortured in lessons with me. This of course means I'm out of the "I am going to quit" woods for now...

Paul - I learned the first movement of the Lalo last summer, and it did take 2hrs+ per day to get it under my belt enough that I could start working it up to performance tempo (was still under tempo when it got re-shelved).

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