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Copyright: weekend vote: Have you ever quit your instrument for a period of time?

Fri, 16 Feb 2018 20:02:10 GMT

By Laurie Niles: Have you ever wanted to just quit? Have you ever done it? Did you come back? And then what made you come back?


For me, I've never really quit, though I've had periods where my focus has been elsewhere. After I got my degree in music, for example, I went on to get a master's degree in journalism. I still played and took lessons during that time, but it was not with the same intensity as I did as a music major!

And certainly, injuries, motherhood, attempting to pay bills with other work, etc. have meant for periods of less playing. There have been times when I've wanted to chuck the fiddle out the window (so to speak, never literally!) -- like after bad auditions, frustrating performances, or life's difficulties simply piling up too high. Somehow the music always calls me back.

Also, I can tell you that I've taught adults who took long breaks -- 20 and even 30 years! I've found that they are very successful in getting back to the instrument, as long as they put in the consistent practice and keep the faith.

What has your experience been?

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For the Record, Op. 45: Lisa Batiashvili's Visions of Prokofiev; Cellist Kian Soltani

Thu, 15 Feb 2018 19:41:05 GMT

By Laurie Niles: Welcome to "For the Record,"'s weekly roundup of new releases of recordings by violinists, violists, cellists and other classical musicians. We hope it helps you keep track of your favorite artists, as well as find some new ones to add to your listening!

Lisa Batiashvili. Photo by Sammy Hart, courtesy DG.

Visions of Prokofiev
Lisa Batiashvili, violin
Chamber Orchestra of Europe, Yannick Nézet-Séguin conducting

Following her 2016 album with the Staatskapelle Berlin and Daniel Barenboim, Tchaikovsky & Sibelius Violin Concertos, Lisa Batiashvili releases "Visions of Prokofiev," a new album with the Chamber Orchestra of Europe conducted by Yannick Nézet-Séguin. The album features Prokofiev’s two violin concertos as well as select movements from his famous ballets (Cinderella, Romeo and Juliet, The Love for Three Oranges), newly arranged for solo violin and orchestra by Lisa’s father, Tamás Batiashvili. BELOW: Batiashvili performs excerpts from the album and briefly talks about the music of Prokofiev.

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Kian Soltani, cello
Aaron Pilsan, piano

A protegé of Anne-Sophie Mutter and Daniel Barenboim, 25-year-old cellist Kian Soltani releases his debut DG album, "Home," performed with pianist Aaron Pilsan. Reflecting his Austrian and Persian roots, "Home" features Schubert’s Sonata in A minor (Arpeggione) and Schumann’s "Du bist wie eine Blume," as well as world premiere recordings of Iranian composer Reza Vali’s "Seven Persian Folk Songs," written for Soltani, and the young cellist’s own composition, "Persian Fire Dance." BELOW: Soltani performs and talks about Schumann's "Du Bist wie eine Blume."

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If you have a new recording you would like us to consider for inclusion in our Thursday "For the Record" feature, please e-mail Editor Laurie Niles. Be sure to include the name of your album, a link to it and a short description of what it includes.

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The Rocky Road to a Smooth Vibrato

Thu, 15 Feb 2018 13:10:12 GMT

By Paul Stein: When I was a young boy I started many techniques, such as vibrato, bow distribution and shifting. It took me too many years to learn them because of one huge and maddening obstacle. I applied various exercises mindlessly and tirelessly, without thinking about what was actually happening with those techniques. I would have preferred more talent and natural ability to get me through those formative years, rather than knocking my head against the wall racking up my “10,000 hours.” I don’t knock hard work, but this idea that anyone can be great at something if they spend the time ignores the fact that practicing mistakes wastes time. My time would have better spent if I had searched for hidden slivers of talent that I didn’t even know existed. I was clearly in a dead end. Even the tiniest of insights would have been appreciated. Great vibrato involves large motions yielding results over a tiny area. Mine was very narrow because my muscles and movements were strained in the wrist area. If I had instinctively known that the pitch is supposed to change, but never sound out of tune, and that the fingertip will move passively as a result of an extremely wide movement of the arm from the elbow, I would have had greater success much sooner. From a Dead End to a Cul de Sac to a RoundaboutWhen it dawned on me that my wrist was too tight and my vibrato rhythm was faster than a speeding bullet, I needed more than the usual exercises. My wrist and speed were preventing my arm from swinging at the elbow. This was a clear case of the tail wagging the dog. If an engineer designed a mental image of what happens during vibrato, it would show a pyramid: the swinging arm is as wide as the bottom of the pyramid, while the fingertip covers the tiny area at the top. I embraced this explanation because there is much that we can learn from engineers about the violin. However, I had a violinist’s brain that needed to dig myself out of the rut known as a bad habit, and evolve slowly to a natural and effective vibrato. I had to unkink the hose.I used a concentration technique know as “free association” to break through the knotty cramping of my vibrato. I spent five to ten minutes at a time letting my mind wander while I randomly picked out notes to vibrate on. I reminded myself that my vibrato, as faulty as it was, had some elements that were redeemable. This thought kept my vibrato from unraveling, and gave even an imperfect vibrato some dignity. It was fortunate that the pitch didn’t waiver and the vibrato was continuous from note to note. I had to remind myself that future results and successes depended on staying confident and being proud of what I had. I was intent on not letting my musical mind unravel either.I needed some talent and insight to see the big picture of how the vibrato fits in with the left arm. The problem was that my natural ability was not only limited, but hidden from view. I realize now, however, that there was a reservoir of it somewhere inside of me. But as long as it was dormant, it was of very little help. Its presence, however, served to remind me that these seemingly difficult techniques are actually very simple. I remember my inner voice speaking very clearly, simply stating that the solution would present itself. But mysteries don’t reveal themselves at once. Much investigating takes place to shed light, even at the slow rate of one detail at a time.For instance, it dawned on me that my vibrato was being activated too quickly. Music is all about how parts fit, such as the vibrato being slightly passive when compared to the intensity and dominance of the bow arm. Not only was the shaking too fast, but it also kept starting over and over again when it needed to be coasting.The three techniques of vibrato, bow distribution and shifting are very complex, especially when the ear isn’t engaged fully and the eye-ear-hand coordination is faulty. I like to imagine that Einstein had great difficulty with the violin. Was there something inherently d[...]

Interview with Violinist Rubén Rengel, Winner of 2018 Sphinx Competition

Wed, 14 Feb 2018 18:49:14 GMT

By Laurie Niles: This year's Sphinx Competition winner Rubén Rengel, 22, grew up in a home filled with music - Venezuelan music, that is. "I started kind of young, because my dad is a musician also; he plays Venezuelan traditional music, folk music and popular music," said Rengel, speaking with me over the phone from his practice room at Rice University's Shepherd School of Music in Houston, where he is in his second year of a Master's program, studying with Paul Kantor. Born in the summer on Margarita Island, Rengel grew up in Venezuela's capital city, Caracas. His father, Jesús "Chuíto" Rengel, plays mandolin, guitar, Venezuelan cuatro, bass -- plucked instruments, Rengel said. "I also grew up playing that kind of music, and I love it to death. My sister (Brenda Rengel) also plays violin, and my mom (Sara Cardona) sings a little bit for fun." The family would often play together at home, switching between melodic and accompaniment instruments. Rengel would play a few chords at the piano, or play cuatro or violin. Violinist Rubén Rengel."Venezuelan music is so varied by regions in the country; there are so many genres, so many ways of playing it," Rengel said. "Because my family is from the eastern part of Venezuela, I mostly played those genres, for example, the joropo. It's a very lively, 3/4 feel. It developed from the European waltz, except about three times faster! There's a lot of flourish and improvisation, with flashy stuff going on, and so much flavor to the music. Of course, there also is sensitive and more reflective music, like Venezuelan waltzes, which also come from the European waltz, but they are actually much slower. I guess we are people of taking things to extremes! And there is also a well-known genre in 5/8, so it's pretty not-stable, pretty fun, called the Venezuelan merengue." "So I learned how to improvise in a whole different language, a whole different genre," Rengel said. "I developed that along with classical music, which is I also absolutely love."Rengel started violin at age three in Venezuela's national system of music education, El Sistema. "I was there only for a short time, though," said Rengel. "I don't consider myself part of El Sistema. I was there until I was six, which was when I went to the Emil Friedman Conservatory and School, and I was there from first grade until I graduated. That's where I studied with Iván Pérez (Núñez), my teacher for 11 years, the one who taught me everything!"Rengel doesn't remember a lot about El Sistema, but he does remember that that's where he learned the basics, and "I do remember that I had wonderful teachers, even when I was young." he said, naming teachers Josbel Puche and Maria Carolina Bermúdez. After El Sistema he went on scholarship to Friedman, a private school in Caracas. "I think about Ivan as my second dad, pretty much," Rengel said. "Of course, he was an amazing violinist, an amazing soloist. And he was completely dedicated to teaching; he had so much energy, so much passion for teaching. He's such a special guy. I would come in for lessons for a half-hour every day, for years and years. That kind of dedication is amazing. I thank him for believing in me, and for trusting in me, to give me so much of his energy and his knowledge." While at the Friedman School, Rengel served as concertmaster of the Arcos Juveniles de Caracas, the Filarmonía Caracas, the Orquesta Haydn, and the Orquesta Típica.Right after Rengel graduated from Friedman, he came to the United States, while his family remained in Venezuela, where they still reside. He was 16 years old at the time, and he has been in the U.S. ever since, with only the rare trip home. It all happened very quickly. "I had the chance to play with the Venezuela Symphony Orchestra as a soloist," said Rengel, who performed the Tchaikovsky Concerto as his debut with the orchestra, after winning a competition at the Friedman School. That is when he met conductor Theodore Kuchar. "He asked me what I was doing a[...]

Enrico Terni (1879-1960): Humoreske for vln & pno (1949)

Wed, 14 Feb 2018 18:45:27 GMT

By Tobias Bröker: Enrico Terni, Italian composer and born in Alexandria (Egypt), is today only known for being the husband of the more famous Italian writer Fausta Cialente. But Enrico Terni was an important figure in the cultural life in Alexandria between 1920 and 1950. I recently found an autograph manuscript of a "Humoreske for violin and piano" by him which dates from 1949. You can find the score for free download on my website:

Here is a longer biography:

Enrico Terni was born 1879 in Alexandria (Egypt) to a wealthy Jewish family of Italian origin. He studied music in Florence and returned to Egypt after his studies to work as a composer and musicologist. Enrico Terni became an important part of the cultural life in Alexandria. He organised concerts and met many British and Italian artists who emigrated to Egypt at that time. So Enrico Terni became a close friend of British writer E.M. Forster, who wrote the short story "A Musician in Egypt" about him. Enrico Terni also met the famous Italian writer Fausta Cialente and they married in 1921. In 1935 Enrico Terni was one of the founding members of the "L'Atelier d'Alexandrie", a society to support musicians, painters, writers and other artists. He also wrote articles on music and reviews for several newspapers and journals in Egypt. Enrico Terni died on 1 May 1960.

Playing in Tune

Wed, 14 Feb 2018 09:38:28 GMT

By Henriette de Vrijer: Playing in tune is one of the most difficult challenges facing any violinist or violist.


The fingerboard has no frets and finding the right place for your finger can seem like a hopeless task sometimes. Fret not; you're not the only string player who feels like this. Playing in-tune is a learned skill but with practice, patience and some brilliant techniques you can play in tune too.

Obviously, your instrument needs to be in tune first of all. Putting tape on the fingerboard to mark the basic finger positions can be very helpful for beginners too but you need to go beyond that.

Developing good intonation involves two key (excuse the pun) areas: the physical feel of each note and training your listening skills.
Training your ability to hear when notes are in-tune requires you to slow down. You can't listen for precision accuracy if you only ever play your pieces at performance speed.

Pay special attention to:
" Developing a good hand shape-e.g. is your 4th finger always over-extended?
" Clear, ringing notes, especially when fingering versions of the open strings (5ths, 8ves)
" Harmonic overtones when playing double stops, particularly 3rds, 4ths, and 5ths
" Notes either side of the note in question

Training your ear in this way will help make you more alive to the subtleties of pitch. Learn how it feels when you play in tune; focus on how the finger feels (muscle memory), and the sensations experienced when you get that centred ringing sound.

This Pro-Am Strings' free online violin and viola class is a golden opportunity for all beginner/intermediate violin and viola students to liberate their ability to play in tune.

Henriette de Vrijer, your online violin/viola teacher will share some brilliant tools and techniques for playing in tune with the friendly online violin/viola community. Register now for this free class or book a consultation lesson where you can really refine these new skills.

This post was written by Stylus writer, a former professional violinist/ violist who has taken his gift for phrasing and tone into the world of words. You can learn more about his work at

The Week in Reviews, Op. 217: Anne Akiko Meyers; Sergei Dogadin; Itzhak Perlman; Joshua Bell

Mon, 12 Feb 2018 18:29:01 GMT

By Laurie Niles: In an effort to promote the coverage of live violin performance, each week presents links to reviews of notable concerts and recitals around the world.Anne Akiko Meyers premiered the Adam Schoenberg Concerto with the San Diego Symphony.San Diego Union-Tribune: "Commissioned by and written in honor of San Diego native Anne Akiko Meyers, this meditation on age and memory (its title is “Orchard in Fog”) stands a good chance of entering the standard repertory....Meyers’ playing is what it always has been: a national treasure. Her unshowy approach to her work has saved her from becoming a celebrity, and she has left a trail of unsurpassed achievement behind her in recordings, chamber music and orchestra solo appearances around the globe, as well as authorial collaborations and, best of all, active championing of living composers."Violinist Anne Akiko Meyers. Photo by David Zentz.Sergei Dogadin performed the Tchaikovsky in winning the 2nd Singapore International Violin Competition.The Straits Times: "...a most extroverted reading of the Tchaikovsky, no less from a full-blooded Russian....Grand in movement and gesture, his playing rose to meet that outward extravagance, and the 1st movement's cadenza sparked, crackled and caught fire, setting the passionate concerto alight. A master of nuance, he was also capable of much subtlety, as in the muted central Canzonetta. However, one suspects this was just the much-needed respite before being let off the leash into the most rip-roaring of finales. Here, natural instincts reigned for a suitably spectacular close, drawing loud cheers from the audience."Itzhak Perlman performed works by Schubert, Strauss, and Debussy in recital with pianist Rohan De Silva.San Antonio Express-News: "Violinist Itzhak Perlman on Thursday gave a recital in San Antonio that left no doubt why he is the statesman of his instrument."Joshua Bell performed works by Mozart, Strauss, Janácek, and Schubert in recital with pianist Jeremy Denk.New York Classical Review: "Bell played wonderfully all evening. His main virtue, an elegant style full of long, singing phrases, never becomes tiresome or out of fashion. He’s simply one of the best there is." "Joshua Bell has the ability to toss things off with great ease, yet never without a polished sheen to his tone. As a duo, he and Denk appear to absorb large amounts of repertoire like sponges and devour the music with their formidable chops, playing with ferocious sweep and abandon."Elina Vahala performed the Sibelius with the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra.Buffalo News: "....she played right from the beginning with urgency and excitement. She is not a grandstanding player, but she commands attention with her focused, lyrical approach."Please support music in your community by attending a concert or recital whenever you can![...]

Practice Challenge: 108 Days of Telemann

Sun, 11 Feb 2018 21:06:58 GMT

By Karen Allendoerfer: I'm in a lot of online violin and viola groups. It all began for me back in 2006. I started this blog when I began playing the violin again after a long break, and added the viola. This site was ambitious and expansive even then, but if you hung around for a while you would get to know most of the regulars.Since then the internet has exploded as a medium for meeting other musicians online. There has been a YouTube symphony orchestra. Violin lessons via Skype are commonplace, and Facebook groups abound, where players of all ages and skill levels share videos and support. I have found myself a member and sometime moderator of a number of these groups, and I have met great friends there. In fact, when I moved to the SF Bay Area a couple of years ago, I found out about all the groups I play with now IRL, online. I wouldn't have imagined any of this back the first time I was playing the violin, as a child and teen.In fact at this point I am in what would probably be described as an embarrassment of Facebook-group riches. I'm not sure I can even remember all their names. (I'm a moderator for one of them, so I remember that one, at least.) I see many of the same friends in multiple groups too: some are violin- or viola-centric, some are for adult starters and re-starters, one is focused on the Alexander Technique. Then I got added to the "100-Day Practice Challenge." A little overwhelmed, I hid the notifications and was thinking about just signing out of the group. And then I went to orchestra rehearsal.Playing in the SBP viola section.One of the orchestras I play with, the South Bay Philharmonic, is an all-volunteer group that I found out about when a friend from, Gene Huang, let me know about it on my blog when I announced I was moving. I looked it up then and found that they rehearsed around the corner from my new house. It took several months before I became a regular member, but once I did I was hooked. The SBP evolved out of the Hewlett-Packard Orchestra, and there are still some H-P employees playing with the group, but it is now independent. Scientists and tech nerds are heavily represented among the musicians, so I fit in well!An aspect of the SBP that especially appeals to me is the "open mic" portion of the concerts, shorter pieces played by small chamber groups, and full chamber music concerts. I've played in several of these, most recently a performance of the Schubert Cello Quintet. Gene Huang, who is the concertmaster of the SBP, has performed the entire Mendelssohn violin concerto with the orchestra, and our principal cellist, Harris Karsch, performed the Popper Hungarian Rhapsody with orchestra last spring. The concert we are currently preparing features tubist John Whitecar playing the first movement of the Gregson tuba concerto, and there were rumors of a bassoon concerto on the spring concert.Watching my friends perform solo repertoire with the SBP got me to thinking: could I do this too? I have never performed a concerto for anyone but a private teacher in the past. Several years ago I came close when I played the concertmaster solo of  Tchiakovksy's "Mozartiana" suite with the Arlington Philharmonic. I'm a violist in the SBP, and there are fewer of these types of solos for viola, and fewer concertos. (Our conductor likes to joke about this fact). There is one, though, that is decently well known: the Telemann viola concerto in G. Here is one of my favorite recordings: Yuri Bashmet playing it on a modern instrument with modern tuning. src="" width="560" height="315" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen">I have played it in various situations over the past several years as I was learning the viola. It's quite charming to listen to and not that technically difficult, either for soloist or orchestra. I played it through once with a[...]

Second-Ever Shanghai Violin Competition Draws 174 Applicants from 33 Countries

Sat, 10 Feb 2018 23:49:09 GMT

By Laurie Niles: Applications are in for the second-ever Shanghai Isaac Stern International Violin Competition, which drew applications from 174 violinists from 33 countries/regions for this year's competition, up from 142 applicants from 26 countries/regions for the inaugural competition in 2016.

In April, the competition will announce up to 36 applicants who will be invited to travel to Shanghai for the first round of the 2018 SISIVC. The competition will take place Aug. 10-Sept. 1 in Shanghai, offering considerable prizes, including top prize of $100,000.

Mayu Kishima of Japan accepts First Prize at the inaugural Shanghai competition in 2016.

This year the competition lowered its eligibility age from 18 to 16, with a top age of 32. Perhaps as a result, 65 percent of this year's applicants are under 25 years, and of those, nearly 68 percent are under the age of 20. Applicant countries/regions this year include: Australia, Azerbaijan, Bolivia, Canada, China, Czech, Ecuador, France, Georgia, Germany, Greece, Hong Kong (China), Ireland, Italy, Jamaica, Japan, Kazakhstan, Kenya, Latvia, Libya, Malaysia, Netherlands, Poland, Russia, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan (China), Ukraine, United Kingdom, United States, and Vietnam.

Among the music schools and institutions represented by this year's applicants are: The Juilliard School, Curtis Institute, New England Conservatory, Manhattan School of Music, Mannes School of Music, Cleveland Institute, Hochschule fur Musik "Hanns Eisler" Berlin, Moscow Tchaikovsky Institute, and others.

The jury for the SISIVC 2018 will be co-chaired by conductor David Stern, son of Isaac Stern, and Vera Tsu Weiling, who is professor of violin at both Shanghai and Beijing Conservatories. Other members of the jury will include Lina Yu; Siqing Lu; Maxim Vengerov; Augustin Dumay; Zakhar Bron; Dora Schwarzberg; Daniel Heifetz; Weigang Li; Philip Setzer; Glenn Dicterow and Sreten Krstic; Martin Campbell-White and Emmanuel Hondré. Contestants will be required to clarify if there is any immediate family or pupil relationship with any jury member upon arrival.

Winners in the 2016 competition included first-prize winner Mayu Kishima of Japan, with Sergei Dogadin of Russia coming in second and Serena Huang of the United States third.

You might also like: weekend vote: Did you have an instrumental music program in your elementary school?

Fri, 09 Feb 2018 17:46:44 GMT

By Laurie Niles: Earlier this week on, member Diana Skinner told the inspiring story of Dr. David John Yeh, a neurosurgeon who also has kept violin-playing as a major part of his life.

Yeh began his musical studies at a school string program at his local public school in Knoxville, Tennessee. In the comments, Skinner adds, "I'm quite certain the string program at the elementary level that Dr. Yeh participated in no longer exists."

This made me curious. I also started violin at my local public elementary school in Aurora, Colorado. Do they still have an instrumental music program at Eastridge Elementary School? I called, and here's what they told me: "Our music teacher does hand-chimes but I don't think that's an every-year thing."

I pressed a little further, "So if someone wanted to start playing the violin or something...?"

"Oh no, not here."

I found this extremely disheartening. It would seem that, at least in the U.S., a child may have had such a chance before the 1980s or so, but afterward that time, music programs became much more scarce, nation-wide.


Please let us know, did you have an instrumental music program in your elementary school that would have allowed you to start playing the violin or another legitimate instrument (not the recorder or hand chimes)? What are your thoughts on the matter? And also please share your ideas about what we can do to advocate for school instrumental music programs.

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