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


Demonstration of 30 Modern Violins Made in Cremona

Wed, 18 Oct 2017 20:28:59 GMT

By Laurie Niles: Cremona, Italy, which gave the world the great violin maker Antonio Stradivari (1644-1737), has re-emerged in the 21st century as a bustling hub of violin-making. Last week I had the opportunity to hear 30 new Cremonese violins at Metzler Violin Shop in Glendale, California. Below is a series of five videos from that event, showing violinist Martin Beaver demonstrating each of those instruments, with links to each maker. You are welcome to skip down to those videos, but for those who are curious about the small city in northern Italy that has meant so much to violinists and string players, here is the little history: Cremona was the birthplace of some of the world's finest violins, carrying names such as Amati, Bergonzi, Guarneri, Ruggeri and Stradivari. But after its glory days of violin-making in the 16th, 17th and early 18th centuries, Cremona's violin-making industry fell into relative obscurity for a long period, going well into the 20th century. What's notable is the way Cremona is working on a comeback this century -- in a big way. In 2013, the €10 million Museo del Violino opened, giving the city a focal point for its celebrated history with the violin, with high-tech exhibits; displays of important historical instruments by Stradivari, Guarneri and Amati; contemporary instruments; and a recital hall where these instruments are played in special recitals. Cremona currently has two schools for training violin makers: the Academia Cremonensis and the Cremona International Violin Making School. And makers are flocking there -- at this point, there are more than 140 violin-making workshops and hundreds of makers. So what do the new violins from Cremona sound like? Last week Beaver demonstrated 30 violins made in Cremona, many carrying the seal of the Cremonese guild, the Consorzio Liutai, which certifies qualifying instruments with the hallmark Cremona Liuteria. That certification ensures certain standards: that instruments are handmade by a trained luthier, made with certain materials, using certain techniques, etc. Violinist Martin Beaver, holding a 2002 by Cremonese violin maker Vittorio Villa. The oldest violin in the exhibit was made in 1998 and the newest in 2017, with prices ranging from $11,500 to $29,000. For me, something noticeably consistent about these violins was the beauty in the craftsmanship. A few examples include Silvio Levaggi's 2011 violin with its striking orange varnish and bird's eye maple; Vittorio Villa's beautifully antiqued Guarneri model made in 2002. A 2017 violin by Giorgio Grisales (current president of the Consorzio Liutai) had a gold-embossed label and bridge. One violin that I thought had an exceptional tone for its price point was made in 2005 by Odin Bykle. Martin Beaver gave an objective demonstration in which he played each instrument for several minutes and made a good-faith effort to get to the tone in each one. I hope you enjoy discovering the sound of these violins and that it widens the scope of possibilities for those looking for a new instrument at a reasonable price. Thanks to Mike Kelley and Metzler violins for providing the raw video. PART 1: Pietro Andreini, 2017 Massimo Ardoli, 2017 Consorzio Liutai, 2015 Michele Ferrari, 2017 Benedicte Friedman, 2016 Giorgio Grisales, 2017 Ricardo Grisales, 2017 width="560" height="315" src="" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen> PART 2: Matteo Heyligers, 2016 Massimo Negroni, 2017 Edgar Russ, 2017 Angelo Sperzaga, 2017 Adriano Spadoni, 2017 Andrea Varazzani, 2017 width="560" height="315" src="" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen> PART 3: Pietro Rhee, 2009 Andrea Schudtz, 2001 Marco Nolli, 2006 Pascal Hornung, 2002 Yam Uri Raz, 2015 Odin Bykle, 2005 width="560" height="315" src="" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen> PART 4 Alessio Ferrari, 1998 Pascal Hornung, 2007 Valentinus Natolinus, 2004 Silvio Levaggi, 2011 Raphaël Le Cointe, 2003 Vittorio Villa, 2002 width="560" he[...]

The Week in Reviews, Op. 202: Jennifer Frautschi; Sarah Chang; Ray Chen

Wed, 18 Oct 2017 04:02:30 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. Jennifer Frautschi performed Mozart’s Violin Concerto No. 3 in the final performance of the Santa Barbara Chamber Orchestra.
  • Noozhawk: On the Santa Barbara Chamber Orchestra disbanding after 40 years: "A bright light in Santa Barbara’s artistic firmament went dark last Monday..." On the performance itself: "Every detail of Frautschi’s straightforward but detailed interpretation filled the room with pure, clean, sometimes adventurous, always smart sound."
Jennifer Frautschi. Photo by Lisa-Marie Mazzucco.
Sarah Chang performed Bruch's Violin Concerto No. 1 with the National Philharmonic.
  • The Washington Post: "Sarah Chang played the heck out of the Bruch Violin Concerto No 1; Chang tends to play the heck out of everything."
Ray Chen performed Bruch's Violin Concerto No. 1 with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra.
  • Pittsburgh Post-Gazette: "Violinist Ray Chen delivered his solos with a taught tone, brimming with energy and quivering with passion."
Kristof Barati performed Bruch's Violin Concerto No. 1 with the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra.
  • The Herald: "...there was a highly refreshing rigour about the technical mastery that Barati brought to such very familiar music."
  • The Scotsman: "The glorious sound from Baráti’s Stradivarius was viscerally penetrating....Then there was the sheer command and presence of the man. Baráti has the build and physicality of a sportsman, which translated into a performance of immaculate discipline and razor sharp rhythmic precision."
James Ehnes performed the Beethoven with the Royal Scottish National Orchestra.
  • Edinburgh Guide: "There can be no doubt that Canadian James Ehnes on his violin was the star of the night. The audience was delighted."
Please support music in your community by attending a concert or recital whenever you can!

Violin and Yoga in Jail

Wed, 18 Oct 2017 02:40:12 GMT

By Alexander Strachan: “You’re lucky to play the violin.” I paused from playing “Edelweiss “ and laid my violin in my lap. I sat in a chair by the bedside of the veteran at Walter Reed Medical Center. Nurses peered into the room to see my violin. I watched as the veteran struggled to sit himself upright, as he slowly stretched his hands out in front of him and shared how envious he was that I could play the violin. He must have noticed the puzzled looked on my face because he went on to share how he had watched my fingers dance on the fingerboard as I had played some of his favorite music. He continued and said that his cancer had begun to diminish his ability to move his fingers without pain. Before I left, he thanked me for sitting down and spending time sharing music and triggering old memories… I thought about that moment as I stood next to the yoga instructor in front of the security checkpoint in the jail. I felt anxious as the alarm buzzed and gate slowly opened, as the chains grated against the gears. I silently told myself bringing this combination of yoga and violin music for the inmates would create a positive impact. The instructor and I had worked together providing music and yoga for gym members and one evening discussed the idea of starting a program in jail for female inmates. The yoga instructor and I navigated through various checkpoints, and we waited by our designated room while a Bible study continued. As time ticked closer to our reservation, the Bible study leader indicated that he had the room booked for another hour. My heart sank, and I began to wonder if we would be able to hold the session at all due to the jail’s strict rules. Our yoga mats were in the corner of the room on a cart, and the floor looked clean enough to eat dinner from, but we couldn’t use the room. We made our way back to the control center and explained our dilemma to the officer on duty and were then offered to utilize an empty unit. We grabbed the cart carrying the yoga mats and walked towards our new destination. While we waited for the officer to usher the female inmates into the hallway by the empty unit I couldn’t help but smile. This was finally happening. After months of planning, I would have the opportunity to use music to help people in a unique way. The class size was maxed at 12 ladies, and everyone seemed eager to begin. After the officer unlocked the unit I began to wonder how we could use this space to hold the session. The air smelled stale, and I noticed dust particles floating by the ceiling lights. The empty unit had a big open area with high ceilings and cells on one side and stairs leading to a second level of cells. Tables were scattered in the center of the room, and I saw bugs crawling on the floor. However, within minutes, the ladies began pushing tables towards the empty cells and sweeping the floor. The empty unit reminded me of the Correctional Facility used in the 3rd season of The Walking Dead, but fortunately in our case, we didn’t encounter zombies. As the yoga instructor began the session I took a deep breath and sought to transform the unit’s aura with music. I thought of warm colors as my vibrato carried the overtones throughout the unit. I watched as the women laughed while trying new poses and testing their balance. I changed the music in response to floor exercises and standing poses. When the women were asked to quickly exhale and create an odd facial expression, I accented notes at the end of their breath while adding a harmonic to supplement the motions. I noticed people soften and show vulnerability through laughter and curse words in response to poses that required more balance and coordination. They encouraged one another to keep trying and be respectful of the instructor. As we approached the meditation portion of the session, I felt calm. The space which initially had seemed unsavory for yoga because of the bugs crawling by the ladies’ yoga mats had transformed into a warm safe space. The[...]

Why The Alexander Technique Worked

Sun, 15 Oct 2017 16:56:38 GMT

By Paul Stein: I was eight years old, sitting in a large schoolroom (everything’s bigger in Texas) in Dallas in 1959. Mrs. Cook told us how to hold the bow and we looked at the four quarter- notes on the page, with a bowing on each note. She gave us about 30 seconds to soak that in, and with her southern-accented lilting voice saying “One, Two, Three, Four,” we moved our bows for the first time. The next day was devoted to the left hand. We watched Mrs. Cook’s perfect violin hold, and we imitated. Within seconds, violin necks were squeezed, joints collapsed, and fingers were welded together. We read music for the first time. Most of us would agree it’s a necessary ingredient of performing, but it sure uses a lot of brain cells that could be used for learning to hold the bow and the violin correctly. What limited intellect I had was divided and distracted. The math wasn’t in my favor. For every ten distortions my body was beginning to assume, one or two pure musical thoughts had found a berth. Some of us gave up with those odds. Others lurched forward, motivated by how good harmony made us feel, other intangible musical experiences, and a chance to play in the school concerts wearing black pants, a white shirt, and a continental tie. (Look it up on eBay. Could it have been invented for violinists?) On that fateful week at my elementary school, the stage was set for a lifetime of music. Without knowing it, a big bang explosion of many bad habits and a few good ones was born. We inherit various degrees of muscle memory, and our experience with it leaves no doubt that it remembers everything, the good, the bad, and the ugly. Dante Would Have Loved Beginning Strings Class The Alexander Technique was invented to deal with nature’s inevitabilities. When I held the bow for the first time, it was no surprise that certain fingers would squeeze against each other and the thumb would press upwards very hard and bend the wrong way. Mrs. Billie Cook did a great job of providing visual images, like holding the bow as if it were a dirty diaper, letting the bow dangle from the hand as if it were held from a clothespin, and pretending you had a very weak handshake. She was an excellent teacher, but she was no match for nature’s cruel trick of making my hand collapse into itself. During that week in the Dallas classroom 58 years ago, everything bad that could happen did happen. A physical therapist might have staged an intervention if he had been there. But even in Dante’s Inferno, there is something beautiful and noble that stands in contrast to the pain. Mrs. Cook’s vibrato still rings in my ears. Playing quarters and eighth notes didn’t tie me into knots. There was a relationship between what I heard and how I blended in. My inner ear provided the pretty sound that was, in reality, a bunch of beginners scratching on their instruments. And even though an occasional bow would come close to piercing my temple, there was something comforting about being so close to each other while playing music. The Opposite of Collapsing The premise of Alexander Technique is that, by starting with a good relationship between the head, neck and torso, all other movements will have a good foundation on which to build. Just hearing my Alexander teacher, Pam Hartman of Sherman Oaks, California, talk about lengthening the spine and having my head and neck “float” without sinking, I began the process of connecting the dots to every movement I made with my left hand and bow arm. Each tense, truncated movement I had made millions of times for 30 years was now on notice. Suddenly in one afternoon, I heard a few words which changed my paradigm. “There was a crooked man who walked a crooked mile.” A popular mantra of Alexandrians, it reminded me to pay attention to as many motions as I could, and to avoid constriction or collapse. Making the effort was all that was needed, not perfection. Fortunately, Pam didn’t ask me to bring my violin to the next sess[...]

My Wedding Was a Disaster (but Ida Kavafian was great!)

Sat, 14 Oct 2017 02:32:12 GMT

By Diana Skinner: I’ve been married almost 35 years, but it occurred to me only recently that my wedding was a bit of a disaster. Simply put, if things could go wrong, they did. So why does that particular day remain one of the brightest of my life? Because the music was absolute perfection. And that is what I remember when I think back on that day. All the glitches have miraculously faded into the background — the horrendous weather, the people who couldn’t be there, the nerves and anxiety — and I’m left with the music. And that is the part I cherish most. I realize how fortunate I was that Ida Kavafian and Joyce Hammann, both exceptional violinists, performed at my wedding. Ida Kavafian and my father-in-law at the reception Ida and my husband became friends at Interlochen as students in 1968. They went on to collaborate on Vivaldi’s Four Seasons in 1977 at CAMI Hall, Ida’s first professional performance of the work (or so I’m told). Ida, an internationally-acclaimed violinist, currently teaches at both Juilliard and the Curtis Institute of Music, and performs extensively. Joyce worked with my husband in the early ‘80s and is currently Concertmaster of the longest running show on Broadway, Phantom of the Opera. And our pianist was none other than Joan Dorneman, the leading coach of the Metropolitan Opera. It was particularly meaningful that these incredible musicians shared their talents with us on our special day. But, before I get to the music, let me set the stage with an unfortunate series of events. Our first disappointment occurred the day before the wedding. My husband’s beloved friend Raul Julia was to read Shakespeare during the ceremony, in counterpoint with Anthony Zerbe, who would read e.e. cummings. (I picked the former readings, my husband the latter.) Well, best-laid plans and all that. Raul’s wife went into labor the night before the ceremony, which meant he would not be in attendance. Anthony agreed to read all the works (and did so brilliantly), but we lost the entire point-counterpoint effect. Next, my flowers arrived the morning of the wedding. I was working at New York City Opera at the time and a brilliant costume designer there transformed my great-grandmother’s wedding dress into something quite remarkable. He also designed the flowers I would carry and promised I would love them. Well… let's just say I probably would have loved them had I been getting married at Westminster Abbey. They were HUGE! It was a massive bouquet that cascaded to the floor. Frankly, I had a genuine concern about tripping over them. Thanks to my mother’s ingenuity, I took the tiny bouquet that was embedded in the enormous arrangement and, instead of throwing it later, used it as my bridal bouquet. My wedding was held at the historic National Arts Club in Gramercy Park — a spectacular venue in New York City filled with carved wood, ornate stained glass, and, unfortunately, NO AIR CONDITIONING! Yes, back in 1983, air conditioning was spotty at best and certainly not available in historic sites. For all the care my husband took to research the venue, he overlooked the element he cared most about: AC. And it turned out to be the hottest, most humid day of the year. At the start of the ceremony, my husband asked the maid of honor (my sister) if it would be okay to take out his handkerchief and wipe his brow. In her inimitable deadpan, she replied that it beat watching his sweat puddle on the floor. Ah, good times. There was also nowhere to park the limo my father and I were in, and nowhere within the venue for me to hide before the ceremony, so we were forced to circle Gramercy Park about a million times. That proved to be a happy accident, giving me some of the most precious moments I have ever spent with my dad. We finally made it inside unseen and were ready for the march down the aisle. And then came the music! My husband selected the prelude and processional and, wisely, gravitated to [...] weekend vote: What is your hand size or shape?

Fri, 13 Oct 2017 17:40:44 GMT

By Laurie Niles: A few days ago I saw a lecture by a violist -- a very petite woman -- who said very decisively that she preferred to play a viola that was 17 inches or larger. That's a big viola! Someone in the audience observed that this seemed unwieldy, even for a large person, but the violist responded that her hands are actually pretty large. The size and shape of our hands does make a difference in how we experience the various difficulties in playing the violin, and yet people of all sizes and shapes make it work.
If Itzhak Perlman can play the violin with such precision with his large, thick fingers, so can the rest of us! But that doesn't mean there aren't challenges. I've known a number of players that have a pinkie that is substantially shorter than the other fingers, and they cope by using alternative fingerings and, on occasion, substituting some notes. Having long fingers would seem like a great advantage, but it can also require a technique that is different from the way most teachers set things up: for example, a higher-looking thumb in the left hand. Being double-jointed has its own set of challenges - it just might not be possible to shape the hand in the way that most teachers and textbooks advise. Do you have any issues with your hands? How have you or your teachers coped with them? And when it comes to teachers, what are strategies for students who have these issues? src="" frameborder="0" height="310" scrolling="auto" width="450"> You might also like:

For the Record, Op. 32: Tomás Cotik; Dover Quartet; Altius Quartet; Quatuor Arod

Thu, 12 Oct 2017 18:03:12 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! Astor Piazzolla: Legacy Tomás Cotik, violin Tao Lin, piano "Part of my interpretation and understanding of (the music of Piazzolla) comes from my own perception of the noisy, dirty, crazy and yet wonderful megapolis of Buenos Aires," said violinist Tomás Cotik, who grew up in Buenos Aires and has lived in Germany, Canada and the U.S. "Raw, edgy, intense, violent, sexy...not cheesy, nor kitsch, ultra-romantic or pseudo-crossover. Piazzolas' music, informed by a multicultural upbringing, resonates with my journey." The album commemorates the 25th anniversary of Astor Piazzolla’s death with some of the composer’s most memorable works, such as "Cuatro Estaciones Porteñas," "Milonga del ángel," "Adiós nonino," and "Balada para un loco." Cotik and Lin previously collaborated on the Piazzolla album Tango Nuevo. BELOW: Tomas Cotik performs Piazzolla's "Revirado," with pianist Tao Lin: width="560" height="315" src="" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen> Voices of Defiance Dover Quartet Joel Link, violin Bryan Lee, violin Milena Pajaro-van de Stadt, viola Camden Shaw, cello The Dover Quartet’s second album celebrates three "Voices of Defiance," with Viktor Ullmann’s String Quartet No. 3 (1943), Shostakovich’s String Quartet No. 2 (1944), and Simon Laks’s String Quartet No. 3 (1945). Austrian composer Viktor Ullmann (1898–1944) was deported by the Nazis to Theresienstadt in 1942, and remained active in the camp’s music program until he was murdered at Auschwitz two years later. It was in Theresienstadt that he composed his Third String Quartet, a life-affirming work whose vigorous ending belies the circumstances of its creation. Like Ullman, Polish-Jewish composer and violinist Simon Laks (1901–83) was deported to Auschwitz, but as head of the prisoners’ orchestra, he became one of its few inmates to survive the Holocaust. Composed after the war in Paris, his Third String Quartet combines Polish motifs with a neoclassical predilection for balance, directness, and clarity. Dmitri Shostakovich (1906–75) is one of the towering figures of 20th-century composition, and the Second String Quartet is one of his longest works. Yet its tone is characteristically elusive, reflecting the game of cat-and-mouse that he was forced to play with Stalin’s Soviet Party throughout his career. Sometimes designated an “enemy of the people,” and at others a model citizen, Shostakovich bore continual witness to the horrors of political repression and the devastation of war. "Recording this album was an emotional process," said cellist Camden Shaw. "Even disregarding historical context, the music itself is so powerful that it can bring tears to one’s eyes. But in the case of these particular works, knowing the darkness from which they emerged gives each note extra weight: they become at once even more tragic and more beautiful, the fragility and evanescence of the composers’ lives standing in sharp contrast with the immortal nature of their music.” BELOW: The Dover Quartet discusses Shostakovich's second string quartet from their upcoming album "Voices of Defiance." width="560" height="315" src="" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen> Shostakovich: String Quartets Nos. 7, 8 & 9 Altius Quartet Andrew Giordano, violin Joshua Ulrich, violin Andrew Krimm, viola Zachary Reaves, cello The Colorado-based Altius Quartet releases its second album: three Shostakovich quartets from the 1960s, one in memory of his first wife, one composed after being forced to join the communist party, and one for his third wife. BELOW: [...] Provides Its First Instrument Grants to LA High School Students

Thu, 12 Oct 2017 00:31:26 GMT

By Laurie Niles: For a violinist, there is nothing more frustrating than being held back by the sound of an inadequate instrument. As a young student, I played on a laughably inadequate violin, and I blamed myself when I couldn't find the right tone, could not make it speak in certain registers, or could not project. I realized the value of a better-sounding violin only later in life, when I finally found and bought one for myself. That violin continues to teach me and help me grow as a musician. Because of this experience, as a teacher I'm even less patient when I discover a hard-working student laboring with an instrument that will never allow him or her to progress beyond a certain point. In fact, I feel a keen need to do something about it. That is why I am happy to announce that on Monday, awarded violins to two students at the Los Angeles County High School for the Arts (LACHSA) The students are Ruka Nagashima, a senior, and Cayla Mendoza, a freshman.
R-L: LACHSA string orchestra director Fung Ho; LACHSA freshman Cayla Mendoza; editor Laurie Niles; and LACHSA senior Ruka Nagashima.
LACHSA is a competitive, audition-based, public arts school that draws students from all over the Los Angeles metropolitan area. The music department's need for some better-quality instruments came to my attention through my son, Brian Niles, who is a senior at LACHSA in the Cinematic Arts department. The Instrument Grants were based on merit and need, through an application process involving both an essay and audition, in consultation with LACHSA's string orchestra director Fung Ho. Nagashima, a senior, received a new, 2015 Hiroshi Kono violin as a permanent grant. Another Hiroshi Kono violin was awarded to LACHSA's instrumental music program, to loan on a yearly basis to a promising student in need of a better-sounding instrument. This year, the violin was awarded to Mendoza, a freshman. I hope these violins allow these students a chance to start hearing the difference at an early age, to enjoy the new possibilities and to grow as musicians. You might also like:

The Week in Reviews, Op. 201: Tessa Lark; Gil Shaham; Arabella Steinbacher

Tue, 10 Oct 2017 15:55:44 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. Tessa Lark performed works by Korngold, Ravel, Franck and Lark herself in recital with pianist Ellen Hwangbo.Albany Times Union: "Lark is an accomplished and expressive artist worthy all the fuss." Tessa Lark. Gil Shaham performed the Tchaikovsky with the Boston Symphony Orchestra.Boston Globe: "His approach to the popular concerto had hints of old-time fiddling in the breadth and zest of his tone. His intonation was out of synch with the orchestra at points, and some moments of crucial build in the solo line became plateaus, but one couldn’t have asked for a more rip-roaring cadenza or thrilling finale."The Boston Musical Intelligencer: "Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto certainly stands as a dusty old crowd pleaser, but Shaham managed to transform it into a thrilling and joyful revival." Arabella Steinbacher performed the Brahms with the National Symphony Orchestra.The Washington Post: "Steinbacher...(brought) firm assurance to her reading, though I would have welcomed more clarity in some of the rapid passages."Washington Classical Review: "The technical side of her playing was formidable, making for an exciting finale, paced just fast enough to be playful and folksy." Anne Akiko Meyers played Ravel and Saint Saens with the the Vancouver Symphony.Northwest Reverb: "She conveyed the emotional depths of “Tzigane” and the charming elegance and fire of the “Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso." Nicola Benedetti performed the Elgar with the Royal Scottish National Orchestra.The Herald: "There may be virtuoso content aplenty in the solo part, but it was the intensity of the dialogue between her final movement cadenza and the combination of strummed and bowed notes across the sections that was unforgettably breath-catching." Dennis Kim performed the Glass with the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra.The Buffalo News: "Kim was particularly affecting at the start of the slow movement, articulating his scant, austere lines with understated emotion." Augustin Hadelich performed the Mendelssohn with the San Francisco Symphony.Berkeley Daily Planet: "Throughout this concerto, Hadelich had me moving in and out of the work, questioning what I was hearing from him."The San Francisco Chronicle: "I’ve heard Hadelich play with much more robustness and rhythmic freedom than he showed on this occasion, in which even the slow movement sounded a bit thin and reedy." Jonathan Carney performed Bruch's Scottish Fantasy with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra.The Baltimore Sun: "Concertmaster Jonathan Carney took on those challenges in his usual intrepid form. If he lost clarity of articulation in some of the trickiest passages, he maintained vivid expressiveness throughout." Please support music in your community by attending a concert or recital whenever you can![...]

Violinist Dylana Jenson Returns to the Concert Stage with Prokofiev Violin Concerto No. 2

Mon, 09 Oct 2017 19:16:09 GMT

By Laurie Niles: Is Dylana Jenson really Superman? Most days, the wildly talented violinist is disguised as a typical middle-aged mom of four grown children. But when the concert hall calls, Jenson slips into a phone booth and emerges with a new concerto in her fingers, dressed and ready to solo with the orchestra! Dylana Jenson Okay, maybe it doesn't happen in a phone booth. But let's just say that Dylana Jenson has never been the "typical" concert artist, and as an adult her creative output has come in bursts, with long periods in between. "Sometimes I forget: do I even know how to play the violin?" Jenson said, speaking to me over the phone from Grand Rapids, Mich. where she lives with her husband, conductor David Lockington. "I had a friend once, we were friends for two years, and she never even knew I was a violinist!" Of course, the world has known about her artistry from the time she began concertizing at age eight. By age 13 she was playing with major orchestras. At 17, she won a silver medal in the International Tchaikovsky competition in Moscow. She studied with Manuel Compinsky, Nathan Milstein and Josef Gingold. At the age of 19, she made a definitive recording of the Sibelius Concerto with Eugene Ormandy and the Philadelphia Orchestra. She married conductor David Lockington when she was 21, and the mad pace slowed down; even coming to a halt for a long while, after she lost the use of the 1743 Guarnerius del Gesu she'd been borrowing. In 2009, armed anew with a violin by the well-respected modern luthier Samuel Zygmuntowicz, she emerged to give us a fantastic recording of the Shostakovich Violin Concerto - a piece she said she learned in about three weeks, owing to a habit of procrastination. On Saturday, Jenson will play Prokofiev Concerto No. 2 with the Pasadena Symphony, with Lockington conducting. (Come see it, I'll be there too: click here for more information.) What is it like, to perform with your husband conducting? "Thirty-five years ago, when we first played together, I would just look up and start laughing, 'What is this? This is so bizarre!' I just thought it was hilarious," she said. Violinist Dylana Jenson and Conductor David Lockington, 35 years ago. Back then, Lockington was just starting out as a 25-year-old conductor, while Jenson had already performed hundreds of concerts. "I knew what made for a great conductor, working with a soloist," Jenson said, "so I really started to impart my knowledge and help him -- He is an amazing accompanist, I've obviously watched him over the years. So I don't even give it a thought. With some conductors, you have to watch out, you have to be aware of what they're doing -- with him, I just do my thing." Last January, Jenson took a two-week retreat to her sister's house in California to learn the Prokofiev. Like the Shostakovich, Prokofiev's second violin concerto is a piece she hadn't previously performed. "The Prokofiev is a very interesting piece to learn. On first approach, it didn't seem to me like it was going to be the same kind of massive work as the Shostakovich, in terms of length and technical difficulty," Jenson said. "But in the end, it's an incredibly exposed piece, which is quite delicate in its singing. It doesn't have a strong, bombastic kind of technicality to it, and I have found it to be profoundly challenging - and wonderful!" But learning the Prokofiev was not the only obstacle that Jenson faced. In June, her mother fell ill from something doctors had trouble diagnosing. When they finally named the disease -- full-blown, metastasized bone cancer -- she had only a week to live. "The day before she died, I told her that I would play her the Prokofiev," she said. Caring for her mother, she had not touched her violin. "But I called my pianist friend, and we rolled my mother's [...]