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


For the Record: Mozart Complete Works; Isabelle Faust's Mozart Concertos

Thu, 08 Dec 2016 23:23:09 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! Mozart: Violin Concertos Isabelle Faust, violin Il Giardino Armonico; Giovanni Antonini conducting Isabelle Faust performs all five Mozart Violin Concertos on the 1704 "Sleeping Beauty" Strad, with period instrument ensemble Il Giardino Armonico. It's elegant playing, tidy ensemble, with clean execution -- a real delight. The disc also includes Rondos K.269 and 373; and Adagio K.261. Faust will be in New York in April 2017 to perform Mozart Violin Concertos at Alice Tully Hall with the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment. Mozart 225 Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart Mozart's entire life's work, in one box. To commemorate the 225th anniversary of Mozart's death, here is a boxed set of his complete works. It boggles the mind, but here are the stats on this set: more than 240 hours of music, 600 solo performers and ensembles including 60 orchestras and every significant Mozart interpreter of the past 30 years. "Five hours of new recordings have been commissioned for this Edition including premieres of previously-lost compositions and every performable fragment. Moreover, a further 25 CDs present key works in great alternative versions, while five more CDs present legendary and historic performances, making this edition a document of the greatest Mozart performances as well as of his complete works." It also includes two illustrated hardcover books, written by Mozart scholar Clifford Eisen. In the books is a new Kochel guide, presenting in short form the new Kochel catalogue developed over many years by the International Stiftung Mozarteum. There are also four frameable prints, including a Mozart letter and a score. I include this video because - wow: 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.

I used to love playing violin. I still do.

Wed, 07 Dec 2016 22:37:00 GMT

By Laurie Niles: Life can be difficult, when you love playing the violin. It can be downright discouraging, as a recent story by former Juilliard student Arianna Warsaw-Fan Rauch illustrates: I used to love playing violin. But mastering it broke my heart. I certainly have sympathy, even empathy, for Rauch's experiences: the "hours of tedious, obsessive nitpicking" that can shred the soul and kill musical enthusiasm. Training at the elite level is unforgiving and carries no guarantees. Keeping balanced in an environment of top-level expectations can be nearly impossible, particularly if you are matched with the wrong teacher. And it's not just at the top levels that this can set in; learning violin and playing it reasonably well require a unique level of precision at every phase, and this can be crazy-making. Just producing a reasonable-sounding noise on the instrument requires some serious coordination, not to mention issues of intonation, tone production, music-reading, memory, fluency, etc. It's one demanding instrument. And yet, I would argue that striving for mastery on the violin has actually strengthened my heart, not broken it. I see the same in my students. I'd even defend tedious and obsessive nitpicking -- as part of a healthy overall diet. There is a positive side to the deliberate, single-minded effort of perfecting a technique on the violin: achievement. More often than not, I've found that the "impossible" is actually possible on the violin. Striving for those goals has taught me that some things take more than a day's work to achieve; they can take a few days, or a week, or a month -- even years. But practice and persistence brings those goals ever closer, until one day you pass the mark and don't even realize you've reached a new level of mastery. Because with violin, there is always more, that is true. But I try to remind my students (and myself): "Do you remember when this was impossible? And you did it anyway?" I still remember one of my most frustrating moments with the violin -- I was in grade school, learning Seitz Concerto No. 2, III. Somehow the top of the last page was simply impossible. There was no way in the world that I would ever ever ever be able to play that. That seems almost comical, looking back. But I remember it, when a student playing "Go Tell Aunt Rhody" says with very real frustration, "This is impossible!" And I've remembered it for myself, when music like Schoenberg's "Verklarte Nacht" or something equally challenging has hit my desk. Yes, this seems impossible; yes, I will learn it. This faith in the process translates into other areas of life. Playing the violin has assured me that when things get difficult, it helps to make a plan and work it step-by-step. I used to love playing violin, and I still do, nearly 40 years later. Certainly I've overdosed at times; become too attached; gotten my ego too entangled in the endeavor. I've failed auditions, I've had to take a break here and there. I have not reached every goal, professionally, and I have not learned everything there is to learn about the violin. But at the end of the day, I still love playing the violin. It's taken me to some amazing musical places, and it has rewarded my devotion in ways that I never could have expected. You might also like:How to Embrace the Discomfort of Striving'Ohm' in the Midst of Music: Syncing the Arts of Meditation and PerformanceExcellence, Not Perfection[...]

Leila Josefowicz, Christian Tetzlaff and Gil Shaham nominated for 2017 Grammys

Tue, 06 Dec 2016 17:21:41 GMT

By Laurie Niles: Congratulations to violinists Leila Josefowicz, Christian Tetzlaff and Gil Shaham, who are among the classical musicians nominated for 2017 Grammys! Nominees were announced Tuesday morning by the Recording Academy. Here is a complete list of nominees for the 59th Annual Grammy Awards.
2017 Grammy nominees Gil Shaham, Leila Josefowicz and Christian Tetzlaff.
All three were nominated in the "Best classical instrumental solo" category, for the following recordings: Of the 84 categories, there are eight designated for Classical Music. To see specifically the classical nominees, click here. Nominees were chosen from more than 22,000 submissions, selected by The Recording Academy's voting membership, who represent various genres and creative disciplines, including recording artists, songwriters, producers, mixers, and engineers. The Recording Academy will present the 59th GRAMMY Awards on Sunday, Feb. 12, 2017, live from Staples Center in Los Angeles, broadcast on CBS. You might also like:

The Week in Reviews, Op. 160: Noah Bendix-Balgley; Augustin Hadelich; Vadim Gluzman

Mon, 05 Dec 2016 23:56:27 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. Noah Bendix-Balgley performed the Tchaikovsky with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra in its first concert after its two-month strike.
  • Pittsburgh Post-Gazette: "...on Friday night, the hall was filled with the energy of a new season, with grateful concertgoers and, at long last, with the sounds of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra."
Noah Bendix Balgley. Photo © Nikolaj Lund.
Augustin Hadelich performed in recital with pianist Joyce Yang.
  • Dallas Morning News: " could only marvel at both musicians' combination of apparently effortless brilliance, their feeling for rhetoric and drama, their suavity of expression."
Vadim Gluzman performed Prokofiev's Violin Concerto No. 1 with the Sarasota Orchestra.
  • Herald-Tribune: "..the world renowned violinist has won the hearts of Sarasota audiences in several previous appearances here. He was no less dazzling in the not-so-familiar Prokofiev Concerto No. 1 in D major, Op. 19
Jeffrey Multer performed the Beethoven with the Florida Orchestra.
  • Tampa Bay Times: "Multer showed the precision and expression that has distinguished his career..."
If you are looking for some of the best recorded performances from the past year, be sure to check out our 2016 Holiday Gift Guide. And, as always, please support music in your community by attending a concert or recital whenever you can!

Vibrato Recipe

Fri, 02 Dec 2016 16:45:34 GMT

By Paul Stein: I have a deep respect for flutists because they possess the secret to making a sound that is a complete mystery to the rest of the world. Ask them to explain it and it takes a couple of sentences, the last one invariably being “blow into it like you would to get a whistle out of a pop bottle.” Now here’s where it gets complicated. The generic answer, the one size fits all, is not sufficient. It would take too long to explain what people do to mess it up. And while mere words would be inadequate, they would still be useful. So go many other techniques in music. The short explanations don’t always work. (On the other side of the coin, in the cases where explanations are superfluous, the more talented the student, the less they need a wordy description. The visual and the aural examples help more. Sometimes the words just get in the way.) With many students, however, the longer explanation is what the teacher creates to fix the particular problem. In music, the devil is not in the details. That’s where the solutions lie. Don’t Do a Do-Over Vibrato is essentially a self-taught maneuver. If your vibrato is full of bumps and robotic gestures, how do you simplify it? How do you replace karate-like jabs with coasting back and forth, gentle and rhythmic? Vibrato is one of the least understood violin techniques, much like making a sound on a flute. We are drawn to a particular vibrato by virtue of our individual make-up. When you’re ready to make a change, work with what you have, rather than throw the baby out with the bath water. This has several advantages. It eliminates the possibility of transferring the shaking and bumping from an arm vibrato to a wrist vibrato. It also begins the process in which reflective observation will make the necessary changes. Finally, refining what you have, instead of changing everything, will re-direct energy that is needed to think about the bow arm’s role in vibrato. Change the Ingredients I once worked with a student whose vibrato was on the verge of success, but it only had one missing ingredient. Vibrato success depends on just the right recipe, and all it takes is a certain tweak here or there. The problem is knowing where to give a little, and where to take a little. In his case, the student started the vibrato early, with too much intensity. Fortunately, his mind was such that by merely thinking about waiting a moment and being slightly less intense, he made the precise adjustment. Was he lucky? Or did he have the kind of talent that can re-wire the brain on the first try? Almost everyone has the ability to change the brain’s perspective to make it more amenable to music. Sometimes it takes several tries. What Happens When the Vibrato Shakes the Violin Baby vibratos tend to have a cataclysmic effect on the violin. It reacts to the vibrato in similar ways as an earthquake, and causes several after-shocks. To fix the unwanted seizures, think about the details of your vibrato. If you’re confused as to whether it is of the arm or a wrist (hand) variety, decide once and for all. It’s the ambiguity which causes the problems of bumps and collisions. All it takes is one motion to make a great vibrato, and a sense of exactly when the motion begins. Don’t give mixed messages to the arm. Know the exact direction of the vibrato. It’s counter-intuitive. It’s an oblique angle to the violin, not parallel to the fingerboard. Don’t worry if you’re squeezing the neck to some extent. That’s never stopped a good vibrato, and a little shaking of the violin is totally expected. While relaxation and lack of tension is emphasized by many violin teachers, it’s still completely natural to squeeze the neck somewhat. I imagine rock climbers are taught to relax their ankles and their wrists, but if you’re hanging upside down at Yosemite’s Half Dome, indulge yourself and tense up a little. (Stiffening muscles and clenching are two of the most natural respon[...] weekend vote: Do you favor traditional or geared pegs?

Fri, 02 Dec 2016 15:35:54 GMT

By Laurie Niles: When it comes to geared pegs, a defining moment for me was when Elizabeth Pitcairn announced at a gathering of violin makers that she had installed Wittner Fine-Tune Pegs -- in her 1720 'Red Mendelssohn' Stradivarius!
To explain: traditional wooden pegs use friction to stay in place. Gear pegs contain small mechanical gears inside, making them very easy to turn and less likely to slip. Having grown up with mismatched, constantly-slipping pegs in my violin that required constant struggle, I came to view myself as kind of a peg warrior. That is right, after all that difficulty, the traditional pegs on my violin, or on just about anyone's, are a breeze for me. But why all the suffering? As Elizabeth said, "It takes the strength of a butterfly to turn these pegs!" I gave my blessing to several of my students to get the geared pegs, and they certainly have no trouble tuning their instruments. So here is the question: Do you favor traditional, wooden friction pegs for your instrument(s), or do you favor the pegs containing small mechanical gears inside, known informally as "gear pegs?" Please feel free to describe your peg experiences and recommendations in the comments below! (And by the way, thanks to Paul Deck for the Weekend Vote idea! If you have ideas, feel free to e-mail me!) src="" frameborder="0" height="310" scrolling="auto" width="450"> You might also like:

The 2016 Holiday Gift Guide

Thu, 01 Dec 2016 23:48:52 GMT

By Laurie Niles: Gift-giving is one of the great joys of the holiday season, and each year we compile a list of some of the year's best new offerings from violinists for you to consider in your holiday gift-giving, gift-asking — and post-holiday loading of the iPhone, computer or other device. We hope this allows you to consider a music-related gift. We also would suggest considering supporting your local live music scene by purchasing tickets to local music events or simply making a year-end donation to a musical non-profit of your choice. I've tried to be inclusive, but I'm sure I have missed some ideas, so please feel free add your suggestions in the comments section. And yes, in this case, you are allowed to toot your own horn and recommend your own CD or book or product! You may also wish to refer to our gift-giving guides from previous years; I've listed links to those at the end of this blog. Many of the recordings below are linked to Note that if you follow these links and make a purchase from Amazon, a portion of that will go to support (If you would like to give a donation to support, click here.) I've also listed the artists' names in italics, and sometimes those are linked to stories we have written this year about them and their work. And whenever you buy any of these selections, from any source, you'll be helping to support the musicians and other artists who created them. Happy holidays, and may your season be filled with good music! RECORDINGS Testament: Complete Sonatas & Partitas for Solo Violin by J. S. Bach Rachel Barton Pine Rachel Barton Pine's deep interest and experience with the music of the Baroque period informs her approach to the Sonatas and Partitas, which tends toward the period-performance norms of little vibrato and plenty of resonant open strings, capturing the musical language and dance gestures of these works. She plays with a Baroque bow on her modernized violin, the 1742 "ex-Bazzini, ex-Soldat" Guarneri del Gesù. Rachel Barton Pine at St. Pauls Church in Chicago. My Tribute to Yehudi Menuhin Daniel Hope As Daniel Hope shared in an interview earlier this year: "My first memories growing up are musical memories of being in Menuhin's house, or in his rehearsals, or backstage. My mother would take me to work at his house, or his various houses, and let me play, surrounded by music." Hope calls the album a "portrait in sound," with works including Joan Tavener's "Song of the Angel" (a favorite of Menuhin's composed in 1994 for the 50th anniversary of the United Nations); Maurice Ravel's "Kaddisch"; Steve Reich's "Duet" for two violins; a new piece by Bechara El-Khoury called "Unfinished Journey," commissioned by Hope and the Gstaad Menuhin Festival to commemorate the 10th anniversary of Menuhin's death, and more. Schumann, Bach, Brahms Itzhak Perlman "My dream, always, was to perform with Martha," said Itzhak Perlman of this recording, in which he and pianist Martha Argerich perform Bach Sonata for Violin and Piano No. 4 in C minor; Brahms Sontatensatz in C minor; and Schumann Fantasiestücke and Violin Sonata No. 1 in A minor. "It's like having a conversation," Argerich said, "You get inspired by what you hear at a particular moment. There is an interplay, a lot of things happen -- it has spontaneity!" Martha Argerich and Itzhak Perlman. Tchaikovsky & Sibelius Violin Concertos Lisa Batiashvili Lisa Batiashvili performs the violin concertos of Tchaikovsky and Sibelius in conductor Daniel Barenboim’s first recording of the Tchaikovsky violin concerto. The Menuhin Century Yehudi Menuhin An astonishing collection of Yehudi Menuhin's life's work. Curated by French documentarist, writer and violinist Bruno Monsaingeon, it includes 80 CDs, 11 DVDs and a huge coffee-table book in three languages, full of Menuhin memorabilia such as photos, tour schedules, posters,[...]

From Viola to Hip-Hop: the Story of Black Violin

Thu, 01 Dec 2016 03:46:23 GMT

By Laurie Niles: With so many classically-trained musicians auditioning for an ever-shrinking number of orchestra jobs, sometimes musicians need to find a new path toward employment and artistic fulfillment. Kevin Sylvester and Wilner Baptiste have done just that. Their band, Black Violin, is something quite out of the ordinary: a meeting and meshing of hip-hop, popular and classical styles. Florida-based Sylvester and Baptiste, who go by Kev Marcus and Wil B, are two musicians with degrees in classical music performance who have been performing together as Black Violin for more than 10 years. They've made two major recordings, Classically Trained (2012), and Stereotypes (2015). width="560" height="315" src="" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen> This year they are busier than ever, performing live concerts all over the United States, with educational workshops at nearly every stop, and a gig as the featured act at the 2017 NAMM Show Grand Rally for Music Education in January in Anaheim. They've also just co-scored the soundtrack for FOX’s new baseball drama "Pitch", along with composer Jon Erlich. "Violin became cool to me when I realized it was like a weapon I could wield in different ways," Sylvester said. "I could put on a cummerbund and play Walton Viola Concerto, or I could put a beat on and the people in my dorm room would start rapping to it. Eventually I found a way to make the violin into a voice for me." I spoke to Sylvester earlier this fall about how Black Violin evolved, his thoughts on music education and his recommendations for the best set-up for violinists who want to get into composing and performing with electrics and pedals. Sylvester's musical training began when his mother placed him in a Saturday music program back in the fifth grade, to keep him out of trouble in their tough neighborhood in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla. He started mid-year, so on his first day, there were no more "cool instruments" left. "That's what the fifth graders thought: no more cool instruments, all that's left is the violin. So I picked it up." He went to class every Saturday, and his mother's plan worked: the next year he went to Parkway Middle School of the Arts, where "every day, second period, I had classical music, I had orchestra." When he auditioned several years later for Dillard Center for the Arts High School, the orchestra teacher said that if he switched to viola, "I guarantee, you'll get a full scholarship to college." Sylvester was intrigued. "I was always a strong student, but it was intriguing to me that (the viola) could open a door," he said. "So I ended up going to that high school, and in high school I started becoming very good at the instrument." He had considerable training before college: "We had music theory classes in sixth grade, ear training classes in high school. There was theatre, dance, art -- every year we would do a musical, I'd play in the pit. There was even a rock band class, so I was in a rock band in high school -- just a lot of different ways to be exposed to the arts." "I met Wil in 10th grade, he's a violist as well," Kev said. They were both accidental violists -- Baptiste started on viola from the beginning, but he had originally wanted to play the saxophone. "He was a year behind me, and we met as stand partners in orchestra. We didn't come up with this whole idea in high school; but the vibe that was set in high school definitely moved into what eventually Black Violin eventually became. A lot of it also boiled down to "this teacher caring, and telling me, 'Look, you can do whatever you want,'" Sylvester said. His teacher pushed him to play in youth orchestras and to play chamber music. "My quartet played chamber gigs all around town -- four black kids, and we were all really good. It was a job for us; we actually made pretty good money, doin[...]

Is failure built into your routine? Succeed like a bodybuilder!

Wed, 30 Nov 2016 21:11:00 GMT

By Nathan Cole: This guy likes modern dumbbells, but his friends prefer 18th-century Italian. "Wouldn’t it be amazing if we were bodybuilders?" my wife asked me last month, after a tough practice day. "After all the pain, we could walk down the street and people would actually see how hard we worked!" I had to agree. How gratifying would that be? Imagine if we could wear our practicing like clothing. Think of the looks I'd get: "How about that guy -- I bet he really hits the arpeggios hard." Then again, maybe it works both ways. Perhaps bodybuilders hit the showers saying, "If only I were a violinist. Right now instead of being ripped, I’d be able to play Paganini!" Progressive training I’ve learned a lot about the violin while playing golf. But I’ve also learned plenty at the gym. And while I’m no "gym rat," I’ve been fascinated by weights ever since I was young. My dad even got me a used Soloflex from the local prison for my 16th birthday! What attracted me to weights back then was the idea that I could do a little work each day and actually see my progress, both in the mirror and in the journal I kept. That idea still attracts me to the gym today. But it also directs my daily violin practice. Here’s the lure of bodybuilding in a nutshell: progressive results through progressive training. "Progressive" simply means that there’s progress involved. You ask more of your muscles over time, and they respond by growing bigger over time. We’re accustomed to thinking of violin practice as a more creative process: worlds away from a bunch of he-men pumping iron over and over. But while music is certainly a creative art, what is the ultimate point of practice? Isn’t it to make progress, both technically and musically? And while you may swear that you do make progress in the practice room, how do you really know? If you’re like many violinists, you start the day with good intentions, but by day’s end you’re not sure just what (if anything) you’ve accomplished. Your mind has gone in too many directions, and you feel frustrated. Bodybuilders keep it simple. And it’s not because they’re muscle-bound jocks! It’s because simplicity works. Simplicity gets results. So let’s look at how bodybuilders practice...I mean work out...then apply it to ourselves. Turning expectation into reality It’s natural for bodybuilders to make steady progress, for several reasons:They use consistent routinesTheir improvement is easy to measureThey focus on internal rather than external comparisons Routine A bodybuilder wouldn’t dream of walking into the gym without a specific plan for the day. Instead he looks at last week’s workouts and builds the current week based on them. He makes sure that by the end of the week, every part of the body has gotten its due. And the planning doesn’t stop there! Each exercise’s workload is based on last week’s performance. If last week’s Exercise A was three sets of twelve repetitions at 50 pounds, then this week’s Exercise A might be three sets of twelve reps at 55 pounds. The extra five pounds is a small but manageable step. Therefore success is expected and built into the routine. Compare that to a typical practice session: some noodling, perhaps a few scales, maybe an etude, then repertoire. Lots of stopping, lots of cursing and personal recriminations. Each day resembles the last. You might say that the usual practice day is more like a Groundhog Day! Improvement In the gym, whenever you wonder whether all the work is worth it, all you have to do is open your notebook to see where you were one month or six months ago. There you’ll see the evidence that you are stronger now than you were before. The numbers stare you in the face! And they make perfect sense: 50 pounds for a time, then 55, then 60. You can assume that 65 and 70 won’t be far behind. In the[...]

The Week in Reviews, Op. 159: Itzhak Perlman, Isabelle Faust; Midori; Augustin Hadelich

Mon, 28 Nov 2016 19:02:08 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. Itzhak Perlman performed works by Beethoven, Franck and Stravinsky in recital with pianist Rohan De Silva and Isabelle Faust performed Beethoven's violin sonatas with pianist Alexander Melnikov.
  • Nashville Scene: "As usual, (Perlman) played everything with polish and panache." and "Faust’s playing seemed very German, and thus very intellectual. A serious, stylish artist, she made minimal use of vibrato to create a very pure, luminous sound."
Isabelle Faust.
Augustin Hadelich performed Mozart's Violin Concerto No. 5 with the Los Angeles Philharmonic.
  • "...his solo emerged as a joyous outpouring of sound..."
  • Los Angeles Times: "From his delicately calibrated entrance to the Hungarian-sounding Rondo finale...Hadelich's lean, burnished tone was supremely graceful and communicative."
Midori performed the Beethoven for the Rochester Symphony.
  • Post Bulletin: "In short, this was a tremendous concert, one where the audience rewarded Midori with numerous curtain calls at the end."
Nikolaj Znaider performed the Beethoven with the New York Philharmonic.
  • New York Classical Review: "Beethoven’s Violin Concerto received a wonderfully focused and communicative performance from violinist Nikolaj Znaider, conductor Iván Fischer and the Philharmonic players."
Gina DiBello performed Bach's Violin Concerto No. 2 with Music of the Baroque.
  • Chicago Classical Review: "DiBello delivered distinctive Bach playing that was a model of taste, pure tone and refined expression. In the opening Allegro her playing was vigorous, technically immaculate and individual, exploring a rare degree of dynamic nuance."
Please support music in your community by attending a concert or recital whenever you can!