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


The day Princess Leia's Theme came to life

Mon, 20 Feb 2017 06:24:41 GMT

By Laurie Niles: Can you imagine being the musician that played Princess Leia's Theme, right after it was written? French horn player David Cripps did just that, and he told us about it Saturday in a talk before a concert by the Kaleidescope Chamber Orchestra in San Marino, Calif. (I went to the concert to hear William Hagen play The Lark Ascending on his newly-acquired del Gesù - more about that tomorrow!) I'm happy to say, I caught it all on video! Cripps started by telling us what John Williams told him, toward the end of a long day of recording for the original Star Wars movie in 1977: "David, I've written a little horn solo for you, I hope you enjoy it!" By now, millions of people all over the world have heard that recording and have come to love the music. After telling us the story, Cripps then played the solo, in honor of the late Carrie Fisher. Enjoy! width="560" height="315" src="" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen> You might also like:

Watch the Oscar-nominated documentary, Joe's Violin

Fri, 17 Feb 2017 20:47:10 GMT

By Laurie Niles: With the Academy Awards just a little more than a week away, here is one nominee that will likely interest string players and teachers: Joe's Violin, which is up for Best Documentary, Short Subject. The film, directed by Kahane Cooperman, traces the story of 91-year-old Holocaust survivor Joe Feingold, who donates his violin through the Mr. Holland’s Opus Foundation to a school in a low-income Bronx neighborhood. Feingold had bought the violin after he was finally released from a Siberian work camp, as a way of reconnecting with the past he had lost. Realizing he can no longer play, he decides to donate the violin after hearing on the radio about an instrument donation program. Brianna Perez, 12, receives the instrument with great appreciation, and prepares something special to play for him. Very moving, keep the tissues close! width="560" height="315" src="" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen> weekend vote: Does your violin, viola or cello label tell you the real maker?

Fri, 17 Feb 2017 06:33:21 GMT

By Laurie Niles: The label that you see when you look into the left f-hole of a violin (or other stringed instrument) can tell you a number of things -- sometimes it even tells you who made the fiddle!
Of course, it's supposed to tell you who made the violin, but labels don't always tell the truth. Take, for example, my "Stradivarius" violin -- a turn-of-the-20th-century Germany factory fiddle that, rather obviously, was not made by the great Italian master. Of course, when I was nine, I entertained dreams that it was the real deal; after all, the label in that violin did not mention it was a copy. Other labels are a little more forthright; they might list a great maker like Stradivarius, but then upon closer inspection, they include telling words like "copy of" and/or "made in Czechoslovakia." It is nice, of course, when the label simply lists the real maker. For a while I owned a modern American violin, and I enjoyed knowing that the maker had actually signed the label that lay inside. When it comes to older violins, it is not unusual for a violin to simply carry a "fake label" that some violin shop put inside of it, long ago, to pass it off as something it was not. Sometimes the violin dealer can tell, just based on the features of the violin, who really made it, even if the label is wrong. Certainly, this complicates its value, but it is not a complete deal-breaker for a nice violin. For many student instruments, the label tells the model of the violin, or the company that made it. How about your instrument? What does the label tell you -- or not tell you? Does it list a maker, a model or a company? Does it reflect who actually made the fiddle, or does it only give a few clues? Please choose from the options below to tell us about the label in your main instrument, and tell us any interesting details in the comments. src="" frameborder="0" height="310" scrolling="auto" width="450"> You might also like:
  • Stradivarius in the Attic
  • Does the word 'Stradivarius' appear on the label in (one of) your violin(s)?
  • Top Modern Violin Makers Honored in the 2016 Violin Society of America Competition

  • For the Record, Op. 15: Attacca Quartet Plays Michael Ippolito

    Wed, 15 Feb 2017 18:31:34 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! Songlines Attacca Quartet Michael Ippolito, composer Completely grounded in the 21st century, this recording features the music of Michael Ippolito, composed between 2009 and 2015. "I find the quartet to be an endlessly faschinating medium," Ippolito said. "It has such a rich repertoire and legacy...and yet, the quartet isn't limited by that tradition. It is a chameleon ensemble that lends itself to being reimagined." Formed at Juilliard in 2003, the Attacca Quartet has won numerous awards and is currently the Quartet in Residence at Texas State University School of Music. Here is the Attacca Quartet at a NPR Music Tiny Desk Concert, performing music by John Adams, Haydn and Michael Ippolito: width="560" height="315" src="" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen> 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.

    Adele and George Michael: The Messy Art of Getting It Right

    Wed, 15 Feb 2017 01:22:10 GMT

    By Laurie Niles: Watching the Grammys on Sunday, I noticed that something was not quite right. I was just beginning to talk to the television, to ask it questions: "Um, hello, what key are we in exactly?" when something unexpected happened. The artist stopped singing, dropped an expletive or two, then said, "I'm sorry for swearing, and I'm sorry for starting it again. Can we please start it again?" If you saw the Grammys on Sunday you might have noticed this moment, when the pop mega-star Adele (who scooped up quite a few awards during the evening) started singing her George Michael tribute in the wrong key, then stopped the show so she could start the song again. Despite my initial dismissiveness, I found something deeply moving in this instance of larger-than-life human frailty. First there was the real person at the center of it, nervous, grieving and wanting to do her best for someone she admired. And there was the live audience, cheering in sympathy and support, seeming to say, "We've all been there." And the person no longer with us, George Michael, the British pop 80's icon who died in December at age 53. We all want to do our best, but it might not be so easy when the whole world is watching. In fact, that just might sum up the life of George Michael, a musician for whom I had real admiration. Strip away the outdated 80s synth and style, and here was a man with a rich and versatile vocal instrument, using all the will he had to express himself through it. He was an imperfect human like the rest of us, except all his foibles were tabloid headlines. I spoke to someone last week who had worked with George Michael when he was quite young: Anne Dudley, who also wrote the music for Joshua Bell's latest project, The Man with the Violin. Preparing to speak to her about Bell, I couldn't help noticing that Dudley, a master arranger and multi-talented musician who has worked with many pop musicians, had performed as a session musician for one of Michael's greatest hits, "Careless Whisper." "I played keyboards on 'Careless Whisper' and I arranged the brass lines, the horns, for a couple of the early Wham tracks, for Young Guns and Bad Boys," she said. I had to ask: how about that saxophone solo for Careless Whisper? "No I didn't write that," she said. "That came from George, note-for-note. He was a completely untrained musician when I met him; he was 18 or 19. He'd never studied music at all, but I've never met anybody like that, with such a great ear, and such a great idea of what he wanted." "I was there on the evening when the saxophone player came in, and George was being a bit naughty, actually," she said. "He booked three different players because he didn't know who he wanted. I think one had already tried it and gone, and the next one arrived, and the third one arrived rather early, to find the second one still playing. I think the third one got the hump and left! But the guy who did it did a fantastic job. George was so clear in his directions, he knew exactly what he wanted. And if you analyze that song, it's the same four chords, over and over. Anybody can play it. And yet it's a song that's full of emotion, it lifts up beautifully for the chorus and it's just so wonderful the way the melody floats over the chords." "He knew what he didn't know, and he was desperately eager to learn," she said. "He learned really, really quickly, too. Within a year or two he could play guitar, keyboards, and produce himself. He was extraordinarily talented, but also so polite and respectful. I was so sad when he passed away so young." As classical musicians, we tend to revere technical perfection. So did Adele; it's why she stopped. So did George Michael; it's why he hired three saxophonists instead of one. But we shouldn't forget that art is also messy, and artists are imperfect. Sometimes we have to stop and swear and make people angry and mess it all up, because that's the fragile mess we stand on when[...]

    Purity practice: find the phrase by losing your vibrato

    Tue, 14 Feb 2017 21:39:42 GMT

    By Nathan Cole: Vibrato is a good thing. I like it before shifts, after shifts, during tremolo, on pizzicati, over open strings, and even (gasp!) in baroque music! But vibrato, if left unchecked, tends to take over your brain.
    You won't realize it at first. But once your left hand gains enough mental real estate, your right hand wonders why it should care anymore. It draws the bow in predictable fashion, your dynamic range goes down the tubes, and you become a boring violinist. So what's the solution? Shift the focus back to the bow! It's the right hand, after all, that determines nearly everything about your sound. In order to do that, you just may have to lose your vibrato temporarily. You'll work it back in, but only after putting the right hand back in charge of the phrase again. I show you how I handle Purity Practice in the video below. And we'll take a detailed look at the first phrase of the Barber violin concerto along the way: width="560" height="315" src="" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen> Have you tried "purity practice"? How did it work for you?

    Fall in Love with Your Sound!

    Tue, 14 Feb 2017 19:17:07 GMT

    By Amy Beth Horman:
    How do you feel about your sound? Not your pitch or your projection or your vibrato. Your SOUND. If we all agree that the violin is the closest instrument to the human voice, then it doesn’t seem a far leap to suggest that your sound should be your very highest priority. So often, we are distracted by pitch, bow technique, left hand pyrotechnics, and everything that makes the violin sound virtuosic. There are so many tremendous things that the violin can do, it is easy to be seduced away from what the ear and the heart truly want: beautiful sound. Neglected, it can detract from your performances, interpretations, and the compositions themselves. Without a fully developed tone, your connection with the audience is hindered. Like a bad radio signal, the message you are trying to deliver is marred, distorted. The tone you produce as a violinist is like your signature. If you hone your craft enough, it can be recognizable anywhere on any piece. It can tell a story, project an emotion, take our breath away, and even develop a following! Love them or leave them, the most revered players in the world have a sound which is iconic and totally their own. Beginning methods of violin place great importance on the sound and beauty of tone. This is clearly the highest priority and rightly so. So much of basic technique centers around the ability to create beautiful, clear sound. But then, virtuosic technique starts to take off and fancier literature catches our ears. If a student isn’t careful, their journey to their signature sound gets off track. Getting a young student to practice a lyrical piece and focus on drawing a beautiful spiraled tone is a hard sell when they have Sarasate showpieces to explore! But here’s the thing. There comes a point in a young violinist’s life where I believe it is imperative that they take the time to explore their voice on the violin. They need to take the time away from the virtuosic literature and fall completely head over heels in love with their own sound. It is what makes them unique and is the conduit for everything they are trying to communicate. All of the bells and whistles of violin aside, think of how you feel when you shut out the busy parts of the life and quiet the voices in your head. Gorgeous sound isn’t about being impressive or flashy or loud. It is about being understood, centered, and clear. After all, we were human before we were violinists. Is there anything more satisfying than playing a perfectly written lyrical piece and having the audience quietly hanging on your every bow stroke? We need that connection in our lives and so does the audience. I remember playing single phrases for hours in a room in my tiny house growing up. I would bend sound this way and that way, adjusting pressure, speed, and sounding point in small increments. We were way past playing in tune or clean in my studies – I wanted to express something more personal, subtle. It was at this point in my training that I grew the most. I looked forward to my practice. It became my personal haven with no end point. I was in love. So on Valentines Day, it seems fitting to share this blog with my fellow violinists and students. Take some time today to explore your unique voice. It’s our musical superpower as violinists and everything else can wait. Go ahead – fall in love!

    The Week in Reviews, Op. 168: Joshua Bell, Leonidas Kavakos + Yuja Wang, Nikolaj Znaider and more.

    Tue, 14 Feb 2017 05:35:46 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. Joshua Bell performed Lalo's Symphonie Espagnole with the National Symphony Orchestra.DC Metro Theater Arts: "It’s hard to believe that Bell is 49 years-old and has a career which spans over 30 years, as he appears considerably younger, but it is evident from his dual performance as a conductor and violinist Saturday night that he is penetratingly passionate about what he does, and he adds a vibrant vitality that radiates in the usual institutional classical landscape." Joshua Bell. Leonidas Kavakos performed works by Bartok, Debussy, Janacek and Schubert in recital with pianist Yuja Wang.The Washington Post: "Minor quibbles aside, this concert was an evening of the highest-level musicmaking and was one of the grand events of the season."The San Diego Union-Tribune: "Kavakos and Wang dispensed with those difficulties and took us on a profound musical journey, from the anguished argument of the first movement to the melancholy introspection of the second, and culminating in the hair-raising fury of the last movement’s wild dance. I’ve never heard a performance so compelling and so illuminating, and the audience members who stayed were also clearly moved, judging from the whoops and standing ovation that burst out when Bartók’s musical roller coaster slammed to a halt." Nikolaj Znaider performed the Nielsen with the Cleveland Orchestra.The Plain Dealer: "His game wasn't just jaw-dropping virtuosity. It was the studious avoidance of predictability, a refusal to utter any phrase the same way twice or lead the ear in any expected direction. The result was total immersion, an episode both relentlessly gripping and utterly beguiling." Fabio Biondi performed concertos by Vivaldi and Corelli with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.Chicago Tribune: "Biondi can be a committed iconoclast when it comes to this repertory, and while distinctly personal touches were evident Thursday, he was ever mindful of the fact that this is collaborative music. Thus he could impart his ideas to the string players without taking them too far out of their comfort zone. The result felt like a series of lively musical conversations across the centuries."Chicago Classical Review: "Biondi’s performance of the solo part was ceaselessly imaginative throughout all three concertos, at times strikingly interventionist in matters of articulation and tempo. But in certain passages, especially in RV 222, his tone turned pinched and his pitch bent flatwards. If this was intentional tonal shading, there was no indication of it from the orchestra, which did not do likewise. This incompatibility in their approaches was often apparent." Hilary Hahn performed Bruch's Violin Concerto No. 1 with the Seattle Symphony.The Seattle Times: "Hahn let the music sing, shaping the lines with power and passion, but never overdoing the vibrato or introducing any interpretive distortions. It was a masterly performance of this often-played concerto, direct and unfussy and expert." Vadim Gluzman and Philippe Quint performed works by Sarasate, Tchaikovsky and Vivaldi.The Columbus Dispatch: "Throughout the evening, utilizing violins instead of swords, Gluzman and Quint attempted to outplay each other. Alas, this reviewer must call it a draw: Gluzman and Quint were both sensitive and skillful. The only decisive winner was the audience, which was treated to an evening of sensational string music." Rachel Barton Pine performed a Baroque recital with the Los Angeles Chamber "There was plenty more technique to behold: insanely fast and high spiccato passages; bird calls; notes too fast to quantify; double stops, fingerboard scurries, comically rapid arpeggios...all ending in an insanely[...]

    How Violinists Can Use Yoga for Health and Performance

    Mon, 13 Feb 2017 16:26:37 GMT

    By Elena Urioste: Hello from Melissa White and Elena Urioste! We are absolutely delighted to introduce you to our new program, Intermission Sessions & Retreat. We had a ton of fun making this video for you, and we really hope you enjoy it. width="560" height="315" src="" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen> A bit of background about us: we first met in 2003 via a combination of ENCORE School for Strings, the Curtis Institute, and the Sphinx Organization. Through our attendance at and performances in affiliation with all three, we’ve grown to be wonderful friends and collaborators. And, fun fact: we both began playing the violin as a result of watching the very same episode of Sesame Street in 1988! Unbeknownst to each other, the two of us stumbled upon our respective yoga practices in two different cities over the summer of 2009. Over the past seven years, the benefits that we have both experienced as a result of yoga have been innumerable, from improved muscular control in our violin playing to an increase in self-discipline to a greater sense of peace with the world around us. We’re both active teachers within our respective musical careers, and we’ve often found ourselves advising students to employ principles learned in yoga as much as those from our own musical studies. The truth is, the two fields are inextricably linked, and out of this realization the idea for Intermission was born.  
    So, what is Intermission, exactly? At its core, it’s a philosophy, or a celebration of the symbiosis between music and yoga. In more practical terms, Intermission is comprised of Sessions (a summer program for students) and a series of Retreats (getaways for professional musicians), and the mission of both is to infuse music-making with a sense of mindfulness, self-care, and positivity. Because all of the scholarly analysis and emotional output in the world won’t do diddly-squat if it’s trapped inside a rigid, strained, or burnt-out body! In this video, we demonstrate a few of our favorite yoga poses that help to combat some of the most common aches and pains that plague violinists: tense shoulders, sore elbows and forearms, and a tired lower back, to name a few. The postures that we’ll walk you through are:
    • Cat/Cow —> Figure 8s (to loosen shoulders) —> Threading the Needle
    • Standing Bow-Pulling pose
    • Half-Locust pose
    • Spinal Twist
    If any of these look confusing on paper, don’t worry — we explain everything in the video! Additionally, we’ll share just a few of the many benefits that yoga has afforded us, from improved concentration to more cooperative digestive systems (seriously). We really hope you enjoy our introductory video, and if you’d like more information about Intermission — how to apply for our inaugural Retreat, testimonials about yoga from other musicians, how to support us, etc. — you can find us at: Thank you for welcoming us into your home or workspace to take an Intermission with you, and namaste! - Melissa and Elena You might also like:

    Do violinists find Rachmaninov’s Piano Concerto No. 2 lowbrow?

    Mon, 13 Feb 2017 14:43:13 GMT

    By Terez Mertes: In my younger, ballet-dancing years, I listened to a lot of piano-based classical music. When I took up the violin in my adult years, I shifted to listening to almost exclusively violin-based classical music, the concertos, quartets, sonatas, preludes. These days, however, I seem to have settled right in the middle, enjoying piano and violin repertoire, especially the concertos, equally. Revisiting Rachmaninov’s Piano Concerto No. 2, Op 18, felt like returning to an old friendship. To my relief, it still sounded fresh and relevant to my ears, which doesn’t always happen to highly accessible music you discover in your late teens. (Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade – ugh, never again, please.) It’s understandable that there’s little talk about Rachmaninov’s music on a violin discussion forum; aside from “Vocalise” and a few transcriptions of a Prelude here and there, there's no violin repertoire. He’s very much a pianist’s composer, no surprise as his composing time was all but taken over by his broad popularity as a concert pianist. On the piano discussion forums, the debate seems endless, much like debates here about “shoulder rests or not?”: are Rachmaninov’s piano concertos excessively sentimental, too mainstream, even… lowbrow? And now I’m curious to know how fellow violinist.commers feel about Rachmaninov’s music, in particular, his Piano Concerto No. 2. Lowbrow or highbrow? Allow me to drop you into an essay I recently published at The Classical Girl. Thoughts vary about Rachmaninov’s Late Romantic music, produced during an era that had begun testing its boundaries (think Mahler) or breaking them entirely (think Schoenberg and his atonality, his twelve-tone technique). Rachmaninov wanted nothing to do with that. He saw himself as “the last of the Romantics” who reflected the philosophy of Old Russia “with its overtones of suffering and unrest, its pastoral but tragic beauty, its ancient and enduring glory.” But did the tremendous popularity of Rachmaninov’s Piano Concerto No. 2, its accessibility and prevalence in 20th century pop culture make it… lowbrow? What were the circumstances behind his composition? What sort of artist was he, at all? I realized I didn’t know much about him. So I did a little digging. Rachmaninov (1873 – 1943), I learned, had been born into a noble family in Russia which owned numerous estates. While both parents enjoyed the piano, they didn’t see that as a potential career for the six-year-old Sergei who was already showing extraordinary aptitude for the instrument. (Ironically, they deemed such a career too lowbrow.) But the family had other problems. Dad enjoyed the high life, improvidently so, and the family fortune was slowly whittled away to one last estate, Oneg, in northwestern Russia, where Sergei spent his earliest years. Soon that, too, had to be sold to cover debts, and in 1882 the family moved into an apartment in St. Petersburg. Sergei was admitted to the St. Petersburg Conservatory, but it was a poor fit and he was not an easy, compliant student. Nor a good one, as family troubles continued. In 1883 his sister died of diphtheria. In 1884, his parents separated. The next year, on the advice of a musician cousin, his mother shipped Sergei off to the Moscow Conservatory, to a regimented household where he continued his studies. There, he lived a strict life with Nikolai Zverev, his teacher, and two other students, which, in the end, served him well. It had perks, too; during this time he met and interacted with musicians, artists, and notably, Tchaikovsky, who became a mentor of sorts and helped get him into an advanced counterpoint class. Buoyed by his success in the ensuing years, and his interest in compositions, Sergei told Zverev he wished to pursue composition, and could he please [...]