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News and commentary about learning, playing and teaching the violin.


Review: World Premiere of 24 Preludes for Viola and Piano by Lera Auerbach, with Camerata Pacifica

Thu, 19 Apr 2018 19:09:49 GMT

By Laurie Niles: The viola does not always get center stage, but on Wednesday night it was given the chance to shine in all its colors in a concert by Camerata Pacifica, featuring the world premiere performance by violist Richard O'Neill of 24 Preludes for Viola and Piano, written by Russian-American composer Lea Auerbach, who also played piano. The concert -- almost like two concerts in one -- also featured a second half with violinist Paul Huang, cellist Ani Aznavoorian and pianist Warren Jones performing Schubert's epic Piano Trio in B-flat Major, D. 898, Op. 99. The concert took place at Rothenberg Hall, at the Huntington Library in San Marino, Calif. and will be performed at Colburn School's Zipper Hall in Los Angeles tonight, Santa Barbara on Friday and Ventura County on Sunday; click here for details.. Commissioned by 12 parties through Camerata Pacifica, the 24 Preludes were composed by an artist of multiple gifts. In addition to her considerable musical accomplishments and abilities, Auerbach also has published three books of poetry in Russian as well as a book in English; and she is a painter and sculptor. Before the performance Auerbach explained that she composed the 24 Preludes while on a car trip around Europe, her trunk full of art works that she was delivering to various places. Each Prelude was sketched in a different location, thus each one is named after that location ("The Alps," "Paris," "Prague," etc.). She named the entire set "Wanderer." My first impression was - to be honest, a little worried. The first Prelude "The Alps" began with a sort of dissonant crunch-and-groan, followed by a few plunks, reminding me of that brand of 20th-century experimental music that makes people run for the doors. Thankfully this did not turn out to be the dominant language of these preludes, and not even of this first one in particular, which settled into something more fluid and relatable. Instead, this cycle can be commended for having quite a scope: angular to smooth; atonal to melodic; grating to lush and beautiful. Composer/pianist Lera Auerbach and violist Richard Yongjae O'Neill, in the world premiere of 24 Preludes for Viola and Piano. Photo courtesy the artist. Looking at the program, I immediately noticed that Auerbach designed the Preludes around a circle of fifths, starting in C major, followed by its relative minor key, then following the sequence all around to the 24th prelude in D minor. "Traveling through 24 tonalities is a lot like traveling through 24 countries," she said in the pre-lecture. To be sure, that tonal center made itself evident for only a few fleeting moments in each Prelude, and often not with the traditional harmonic language that makes one feel tonally centered. That said, the Preludes certainly journeyed through the colors of the viola as well as a wide range of moods and motions. O'Neill gave an absolutely committed and thoughtful performance throughout this long series of pieces (lasting some 50 minutes) that demanded pinpoint control as well as a variety of techniques, including long passages of sul ponticello, tremolos, trills, col legno, double and triple stops, very high playing, etc. The duo created moments of quiet stillness, interludes of busy noise, at times doing a kind of musical dance and at other times a dialogue, a chase or even what struck me as a bit of pillow talk. Highlights included Prelude No. 10, "Tempo di Valse, umoroso" (Venice) a spooky waltz, with an over-wide vibrato effect that sounded like chills and seemed to place the music in a haunted house. Several movements provided a beautiful sense of contrast simply by their placement next to each other: Prelude No. 15 "Dialogo" (Hannover) highlighted a juicy viola sound, ending in a long glissando slide, the piano accompanying like a music box, into a slow and mesmerizing ending; then the next Prelude No. 16 "Allegro ossessivo" (Salzburg) immediately gave way to busy motion for both instruments. Prelude No. 18 was indeed brooding and slow, with viola in full voice and the piano like a plodding dru[...]

The Art of Collaboration

Thu, 19 Apr 2018 01:38:11 GMT

By Diana Skinner: We’ve all heard the expression, "Lead, follow, or get out of the way." I got to thinking. Does that apply to music? And, if so, are those my only options? I pondered these questions in anticipation of an extremely important rehearsal I was preparing to have with a brilliant pianist, Chih-Long Hu. We were setting tempi for a piece by Benjamin Britten that we’ll perform together next month. I’ve done the work numerous times, but it was new to him. Further, we’ve not worked together before. It was "my rehearsal" and the burden was on me to take the lead. Or so I thought. I’m not great at setting tempi. (Well, actually, I’m great at "setting" them but when I start to play, all bets are off. The tempo I take generally has nothing to do with the tempo I’ve just set.) Anyway, I was determined to do my best. After all, this is a piece I know inside and out. I have an opinion about every bar of music. And sitting at the keyboard was a man who recently played the Goldberg Variations by memory. What could possibly go wrong? Well, nothing, actually. And that’s because right before I launched into my tempo-setting tutorial, I had a strange thought. Perhaps Chih-Long had an idea about the piece. Perhaps he’d found something I’d missed in all my years of approaching it the same way. And, perhaps his interpretation was equally valid. [...]

American Violinist Kevin Zhu, 17, wins the 55th Paganini International Violin Competition 2018

Wed, 18 Apr 2018 19:30:10 GMT

By Laurie Niles: Congratulations to Kevin Zhu, 17 of the United States, who has won the 55th Paganini International Violin Competition, which concluded Saturday in Genoa. Zhu will receive a €20,000 cash and the opportunity to perform a recital on the 1743 "Cannon’" Guarneri del Gesù, once played by Paganini.
Kevin Zhu. Photo courtesy the Paganini International Violin Competition.
Here are all the finalists in the 2018 Paganini Competition:
  • First prize: Kevin Zhu, 17 of the United States
  • Second prize: Fedor Rudin, 25 of France
  • Third prize: Stephen Kim, 22 of the United States
  • Fourth prize: Yiliang Jiang, 21 of China
  • Fifth prize: Oleksandr Pushkarenko, 28 of Ukraine
  • Sixth prize: Luke Hsu, 27 of the United States
Kevin Zhu also received the special prize for the best performance of a Paganini caprice during the competition. Fedor Rudin received the 2018 audience prize, and Rennosuke Fukuda received the special prize for the best performance of the contemporary work in the semi-final round. Zhu grew up in California and studied at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music preparatory division with Li Lin and at The Juilliard School with Itzhak Perlman and others. At age 11 he won First Prize in the Junior Division of the 2012 Menuhin Competition, the youngest person at the time to do so. The Paganini International Violin Competition was founded in 1954, and previous winners have included György Pauk, Salvatore Accardo, Gidon Kremer, Leonidas Kavakos and Ilya Gringolts. This year’s jury includes Sergei Krylov (chairman), Dimitri Berlinsky, Bin Huang, Heiner Madl, Svetlana Makarova, Anna Tifu, and Daniel Smith. BELOW: Kevin Zhu plays Paganini Concerto No. 1 in D Major at Harpa International Music Academy in 2016. width="560" height="315" src="" frameborder="0" allow="autoplay; encrypted-media" allowfullscreen> You might also like:

2018 Menuhin Competition Names Four Senior Division Finalists

Wed, 18 Apr 2018 18:37:09 GMT

By Laurie Niles: Jurors have named four Senior Division finalists Tuesday in the 2018 Menuhin Competition, which began April 12 in Geneva, Switzerland and will conclude April 22. The Senior Division Finalists are:
  • Tianyou Ma, 17 of China
  • Diana Adamyan, 18 of Armenia
  • Nathan Mierdl, 20 of France/Germany
  • Hyunjae Lim, 20 of South Korea
2018 Mehuhin Competition Senior Finalists. Image courtesy the Menuhin Competition.
The biennial Menuhin Competition, which was started in 1983 by violinist Yehudi Menuhin, is open to violinists younger than age 22 and has two age divisions: Junior (under age 16) and Senior (ages 16-21). Senior Finals will take place on Saturday, after which the laureates will be named. Junior Division Finals will take place on Friday. Here is a list of prizes that will be awarded. This year's competition drew more than 300 applicants worldwide, with 44 violinists representing 17 nationalities chosen to participate in the live competition. This year's jury includes Pamela Frank (chair), Joji Hattori (vice chair), Itamar Golan, Ilya Gringolts, Henning Kraggerud, Lu Siqing, Maxim Vengerov, Soyoung Yoon and Josef Spacek. BELOW: Here is the live stream from the Senior Division semi-finals: allowfullscreen="true" style="transition-duration:0;transition-property:no;margin:0 auto;position:relative;display:block;background-color:#000000;" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" width="720" height="406" src=" & lang=fr_FR & embed=1 & mute=0"> Find other performances on the Menuhin Competition's Youtube Channel. You might also like:

The Well-Aging Fiddler: Progress Report - What’s Next?

Wed, 18 Apr 2018 14:49:45 GMT

By Michael Kennedy: May first will be the anniversary of the afternoon I decided to learn how to play a violin. On May 15 I’ll hit the one-year anniversary for taking violin lessons. Then on May 20 I’ll showoff what I’ve learned, playing around 20 short pieces in a pub here in Portland, Oregon. I’ll do my recital at the Muddy Rudder Public House. I’m inviting family, friends, and whoever else happens to be in the pub at 2 p.m. that Sunday afternoon to sit back, listen to the music and to eat and drink before, during, and after my performance. Frankly, if I came to a first year recital by a guy who is almost 69 years old, I might want a drink as well. The 20 minutes will either go well, or it won’t, but in any case, it will happen. They have great pizza and a full bar. So that will be that. The question for May 21 will be – what’s next?
I know I’m going to do another year of lessons, and perhaps a year or two after that. Why not? Indeed, I’d love to do ten years of lessons, but let’s be realistic - I’m under a bit of a time crunch. I’m almost 69 years old. Life expectancy for males in the USA is 77 – 78 years old on average. My dad and grandfather lived until they were 84. I fully intend to get to 90, but let’s face some facts. While I’m in great health, I eat well, and get daily exercise the odds are not in my favor. That’s show biz. So, if I’m going to do anything with a violin beyond playing it in a bedroom, I’ve got to set some realistic goals, and here they are. Let’s take stock. I enjoy playing fiddle tunes, Celtic and Irish music, and classical pieces. Playing fiddle tunes will be easy to accomplish. Old Time and Bluegrass jams are plentiful here in the Pacific Northwest. Indeed, we have a couple of great weekly jams here in Portland at the O’Neill Pub on Sunday afternoons, and at the White Eagle Saloon on Thursday’s. Also, from spring into the autumn there are festivals all over the place with a couple of great ones in the winter months. Irish jams seem a bit more difficult to find which strikes me as odd since there are so many Irish themed pubs around here. In any case, I’m not ready to step into a jam at this point. Give me a year and then I’ll be ready. When it comes to classical music, I’d love to get my feet wet with some sort of community group. The most visible one is Classical Revolution PDX. The Classical Revolution jams are all over the country, and I think they are a great idea. They take classical music out of the recital halls and play in places like restaurants and pubs. In other words they take it to the people, and have open jams for pro, amateur, teachers, and students. That might eventually fit the bill. At the moment my teacher, Mirabai Peart, is touring Europe playing with Alela Diane. I’m working on my songs every day, and sending her YouTube videos so she can comment on where I am with all of this. So we’ll see what happens. All I can say is that a year ago I never thought I’d be doing what I am, but I’m having a great time. By the way, you’re invited to the recital. width="560" height="315" src="" frameborder="0" allow="autoplay; encrypted-media" allowfullscreen>

2018 Menuhin Competition Names Six Junior Division Finalists

Tue, 17 Apr 2018 20:32:04 GMT

By Laurie Niles: Jurors named six Junior Division finalists Tuesday in the 2018 Menuhin Competition, which began April 12 in Geneva, Switzerland and will conclude April 22. The Junior Division Finalists are:
  • Clara Shen, 12 of Germany
  • Chloe Chua, 11 of Singapore
  • Hina Khuong-Huu, 13 of USA/Japan/France
  • Christian Li, 10 of Australia
  • Ruibing Liu, 13 of China
  • Guido Sant’Anna, 12 of Brazil
2018 Mehuhin Competition Junior Finalists. Image courtesy the Menuhin Competition.
Junior Division Finals will take place on Friday, after which the Junior laureates will be named. Here is a list of prizes that will be awarded. The biennial Menuhin Competition, which was started in 1983 by violinist Yehudi Menuhin, is open to violinists younger than age 22 and has two age divisions: Junior (under age 16) and Senior (ages 16-21). The Senior Semi-Finals will take place on Wednesday, with Senior Finals on Saturday. This year's competition drew more than 300 applicants worldwide, with 44 violinists representing 17 nationalities chosen to participate in the live competition. This year's jury includes Pamela Frank (chair), Joji Hattori (vice chair), Itamar Golan, Ilya Gringolts, Henning Kraggerud, Lu Siqing, Maxim Vengerov, Soyoung Yoon and Josef Spacek. BELOW: Here is the livestream from the Junior Division Semi-Finals: allowfullscreen="true" style="transition-duration:0;transition-property:no;margin:0 auto;position:relative;display:block;background-color:#000000;" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" width="720" height="406" src=" & lang=fr_FR & embed=1 & mute=0"> You might also like:

Old and New Violins, a New Perspective on an Old Dilemma, Part 2

Tue, 17 Apr 2018 18:08:57 GMT

By Barton Samuel Rotberg: The discussion of old violins verses new violins, for enthusiasts, will continue to be intriguing, thought provoking, argument invoking, and passionate. Most experienced violinists are confident in their concepts of how a new or old violin sounds. Can any violinist state that a violin of a particular era will surely bear some specific characteristics? Did he/she play several examples from the same era, representing different makers, countries, different schools/styles, and a variety of woods, and still find a truly memorable similarity between them in order to say old violins sound old? If so, have they played enough good violins by more contemporary makers and been able to confirm an utter absence of that memorable “old violin characteristic” in every single one? How do modern violins sound? Can one describe what a new violin sounds like so that we can confirm that no old violins sound as such? Throughout history, there have been countless schools, luthiers, and teachers, and a large range of different types of sound being attempted and achieved as the needs and preferences of violinists changed and evolved. One very easy way to lose a rigid idea of “old violin sound” is to play on a ton of them. Is It Really About Age? A common complement for a fine new violin is “It has that ‘old violin’ sound”. To be fair, a violinist may certainly find a quality in a new instrument to be reminiscent of an old violin previously experienced. However, if the new violin has that quality as well, why not instead confirm that we can no longer attribute that quality to the violin’s age? To flip the argument, what do old violin enthusiasts find lacking in new instruments? I have heard them described as less mature, less responsive, raw, brash, tinny, or harsh. Yet, I have never seen a violinist pick up an antique violin, find these characteristics, and comment that it sounds new. However, that comment would make no less sense than saying that a new violin sounds old. I have seen many old violins, by famous makers no less, sound plenty harsh, tinny, and immature. I’ve also seen new violins sound warm, smooth, and lacking brightness to a fault. When we describe a violin as sounding old, do we assume that being old is the reason for that sound? Do we believe that the aged wood is responsible for a particular characteristic, and that the violin in question must have sounded completely different when it was made? Perhaps when we say “old violin sound” we are not at all implying that the violin’s age is a factor, but rather that the workmanship and wood of a violin’s era typically yielded the quality we are hearing and most probably had such tonal qualities at birth. Science might be able to explain the changes in wood’s properties and the evolution in a violin’s dimensions, arching, or anything else to do with the aging process. As for what we hear now in comparison to what was heard hundreds of years ago, we don’t know! Varieties of Preference Old violins are were made by Italian, German, French, Czech, Hungarian, American, and makers from many other countries. Many of us have relatively narrow experience with them given the broad range of styles, experimentation and regions different woods. Violins made within a narrow time span of the Seventeenth Century alone cover a wide spectrum of violin sound. In the early 1600s Jacob Stainer inspired a model, characterized by high arching and a narrow figure which typically yielded a warm, mellow, deep, and sweet tone. In contrast, the wider and less arched range of models developed by Antonio Stradivarius, which aided in a brighter tone and more projection in a large space, became more important with time, but not to the exclusion of the Stainer model. The popularity of the Stainer model’s warmer, more intimate tone remained influential in Vienna, Austria, and parts of Italy. Violin[...]

The Week in Reviews, Op. 226: Tasmin Little; James Ehnes; Shlomo Mintz

Mon, 16 Apr 2018 21:52:45 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. Tasmin Little performed the Elgar with the Ulster Orchestra.Belfast Telegraph: "She performed superbly Elgar's lengthy Violin Concerto, a musical tour de force which requires enormous technical skill and stamina, not only from the soloist but also the from conductor and the orchestra, who combined almost flawlessly to give an inspiring account of this masterpiece." Tasmin Little. Photo by Benjamin Ealovega. James Ehnes performed three of Bach's Sonatas and Partitas in Melbourne.Arts Hub: "...his performance was exceptionally fine with all three works performed to very near perfection. There was excellent intonation and technique, subtle shaping and phrasing, and a heartfelt sensitivity and rhetorical clarity within each and every bar. If that was not enough, the warm sound of Ehnes’s ‘Marsick’ Stradivarius of 1715 within the wooden walls of Elisabeth Murdoch Hall was richly satisfying. There was a wonderful bloom to the sound, the artist choosing to have all of the acoustic baffles removed so that the hall was fully resonant." Shlomo Mintz performed the Tchaikovsky with the Dunedin Symphony Orchestra.Otago Daily Times: "Every aspect of his playing appeared so effortlessly controlled, with each recurring thematic entry lovingly revisited, and riveting candenzi with subject matter fragments always discernible." Mateusz Wolski performed the Brahms with the Spokane Symphony.The Spokesman-Review: "Wolski embraced Brahms’ challenge as an opportunity to convey the most intense feeling possible by plunging into the music’s passions, rather than floating above them." Simone Lamsma performed the Mendelssohn with the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra.Daily Echo: "Lamsma mesmerised us with her impassioned approach to the piece, dovetailing into the orchestra effortlessly." Midori performed Bernstein's Serenade with the Tongyeong Festival Orchestra.South China Morning Post: "Leonard Bernstein’s Serenade proved the ideal vehicle for Japanese violinist Midori to demonstrate her technical prowess and wonderful purity of sound..." Linda Melsted performed the Brescianello Violin Concerto with the Seattle Baroque Orchestra.The SunBreak: "The writing was imaginative and dramatic, the slow movement solo highly ornamented and directed to be soft over steady, quiet playing from the other musicians." Please support music in your community by attending a concert or recital whenever you can! And to read more about James Ehnes and Midori, pick up a copy of our just-released Interviews, Volume 2, now available from Amazon.[...]

Promoting a Concert: Here's My Card

Mon, 16 Apr 2018 21:38:40 GMT

By Karen Allendoerfer: Growing up and as a student, I didn't view violin soloists as regular people. They were a breed apart, and they played music that was so far out of my reach that I couldn't even imagine it. Otherworldly images on album covers and in galleries tended to reinforce this notion. I find these images beautiful, but more intimidating than not. Back in Massachusetts when I was in the Philharmonic Society of Arlington, we had a cellist whose day job was graphic designer. He made the posters for our concerts. They were lovely: colorful, artistic, ornate and a little quirky, like the orchestra itself. It was always a treat to see what the poster would look like a month before the concert rolled around. And we were fortunate: he donated his services for free. PSA poster by Arch MacInnis One aspect of graphic design that these posters never had, though, was photographs of people's faces. We were a volunteer organization and we sometimes had competition-winner soloists whose pictures we used for online and print publicity, but the posters were different. I had a short concertmaster solo one year, in the Tchiakovsky "Mozartiana" suite, and while I told all my friends and family and they brought me flowers at the end, I wasn't on the poster (much to my relief!) With my kids, after "Mozartiana" Then last year, after moving to California and becoming an almost-full-time violist, I had the privilege of being in a different orchestra, the South Bay Philharmonic, accompanying the concertmaster, Gene Huang, on the Mendelssohn violin concerto, and the principal cellist, Harris Karsch, performing the Popper Hungarian Rhapsody. I also play with them in a quintet, and seeing my own chamber music partners perform major solo works was an inspiration to me. This time, unlike with concerto competition winners who might fly in only for the dress rehearsal and concert, I was able to hear the pieces at the beginning, before they were polished. While the final product was amazing to watch and listen to, I also saw how much time and work were needed to get there. They prepared these performances while holding down full-time Silicon Valley tech jobs, as well as the regular ebb and flow of weekly orchestra rehearsals and weekend chamber music get-togethers. As befits its origins at Hewlett-Packard, the SBP, now an independent orchestra, calls itself an "Open Source Symphony." A lot of the publicity is online, but they also print out business cards for members of the group to distribute. When I first saw these, I kind of wondered what to do with them, and in particular it struck me that they had photos of faces on them, not just of composers but of people I knew. "How does it feel to see your face on a card?" I asked. I don't remember the response, exactly, but it was something like "it was a little weird at first, but I'm getting used to it." Or maybe I'm projecting, because that describes just how I feel. The original design of the card had my face next to Dvorák's portrait, but I felt a little uncomfortable with that. Instead I suggested this picture of Yosemite Valley, to represent the "New World" of the symphony. The blue of the sky is nice and color-coordinated with my dress and the orchestra's logo. My daughter, who is now a freshman in college, took the picture of me with my viola in the backyard while she was home for spring break. I've been giving them out to friends, other musicians I know, members of my writers' group, people at church, even coworkers. It still feels a little odd to see my face there on a card. Proud? Happy? Sure, but that's not all. Nervous? Anxious about "putting myself out there?" Yeah, that too. It's not a bad feeling, but I struggle to find the right words. It is not a feeling I've ever had before and not something I expected when I picked up the violin again, and then[...]

Identity, Injury, and Rewriting a Musician's story with Janet Orenstein: Creative Strings Podcast Ep. 29

Mon, 16 Apr 2018 19:10:28 GMT

By christian howes: Imagine, as a musician, if you lost the ability to use your hands. How would you recover? How would you find fulfillment, and what would replace the void in your self image? If you’re like most musicians, your craft is a big part of your identity, and even self worth. A debilitating injury would clearly be devastating for most of us. But what might you learn about yourself in the aftermath, and is it possible to somehow come out better for it? Many of us have suffered some kind of injury. We’ve worried, even maybe had nightmares about, or certainly had close calls with serious injuries. Juilliard-trained concert violinist Janet Orenstein was suddenly faced with an injury in 1996 that would forever limit her ability to use her hands to play the violin. Her story is simultaneously fascinating, heartbreaking, thought-provoking, and uplifting.
Janet Orenstein.
On this episode of the Creative Strings Podcast she shares what she learned from the 20-year process of coming back from focal dystonia including:
  • How she found comfort in motherhood, yoga, and teaching
  • How and why the onset occurred during a concert tour abroad
  • Why she hid her injury from almost everyone for 20 years
  • How it changed her view of teaching, practicing, music, her own values and identity
I met Janet when I gave improvisation workshops at University of North Carolina School of the Arts. String players are invited to attend a wonderful summer program there this July 8-15 to study with Janet’s mentor, the incredible classical player and pedagogue Ida Bieler, and/or during the following week to study creative string playing with me. Learn more here. src=" & color=%2300aabb & auto_play=false & hide_related=false & show_comments=false & show_user=false & show_reposts=false & show_teaser=true" width="100%" height="166" frameborder="no" scrolling="no"> Thanks so much to our sponsors Yamaha and Electric Violin Shop for supporting the Creative Strings Podcast. Their support makes it possible to invest in the production of each episode and bring you great stories like Janet’s. As you know, it's time to plan for summer! Learn more about the upcoming Creative Strings Workshops in DallasTorontoColumbus, and Asheville. You might also like: