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


Former Students Celebrate Dorothy DeLay's Centennial

Mon, 27 Mar 2017 05:50:22 GMT

By Laurie Niles: Dorothy DeLay (March 31, 1917 – March 24, 2002), or "Ms. DeLay" as her former students call her even today, made an indelible stamp on the violin world. Beginning at Juilliard as the assistant to Ivan Galamian, DeLay went on to establish her own reputation and teach there for more than 50 years. The list of her former students is vast and impressive, including many of the world's top violinists and pedagogues: Itzhak Perlman, Midori, Sarah Chang, Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg, Shlomo Mintz, Gil Shaham, Cho-Liang ("Jimmy") Lin, David Kim, Kurt Sassmannshaus, David Kim, Chee Yun, Kurt Nikkanen, Philippe Quint, Anne Akiko Meyers, Brian Lewis, Nigel Kennedy, Alyssa Park, Simon Fischer, Frank Almond -- this doesn't even begin to include everyone. On Sunday a number of those students, led by New York-based violinist Philippe Quint, will gather for a Dorothy Delay Centennial Celebration at 7 p.m. at Le Poisson Rouge. (Click here to purchase tickets.) Quint, along with violinists Chee-Yun, Kurt Nikkanen, Paul Huang, Randall Goosby and John Novacek, will perform some of DeLay's favorite works, including pieces by Sarasate, Mauer and Moszkowski. They also will present video tributes from superstar former students Itzhak Perlman, Midori Goto, Jimmy Lin and David Kim and have a panel discussion with former students as well as DeLay’s children, Jeffrey Newhouse and Alison Dinsmore. "I want the world to remember Ms. DeLay, a visionary who affected hundreds of musical lives," said Quint, who was among the last generation of violinists to study with her, from 1991 to 1999. Dorothy DeLay in 1998, with Philippe Quint. "When I started studying with her, I was still a Russian kid who had just come from Soviet Union," Quint said. "I did not speak English, was extremely stubborn, and did not quite understand what she was trying to convey." When Quint arrived in the States, he felt his priority was simple: to immediately conquer the world's top virtuosic violin concertos: Paganini, Sarasate and Wieniawski. But DeLay had other plans. "Suddenly she said, 'Sugar Plum, you're going to have to do some exercises. Sugar Plum, you're going to have to do some scales. Honey, here, I'm going to give you Yost exercises.'" "I thought to myself, 'She's embarrassing and humiliating me!'" Quint laughed. "What is going on? I'm so ready to play the complete Paganini concertos, why do I have to do open strings and scales?'" "It took me a while to adjust, to understand that this was actually the teaching method," Quint said. "Even winners of the Queen Elisabeth and Tchaikovsky Competitions, or super-accomplished soloists -- would come to her and play a big concerto, and she would immediately say, 'Why don't you play a scale?' or 'Why don't you do open strings?'" DeLay, famous for her kind and grandmotherly approach, was nevertheless fastidious in her attention to detail and sharp in her assessments, if you knew how to listen. She might say, "Sugar plum, what is your concept of F#?" It meant: you're playing out of tune. "She had sheets of paper, where she would mark down what a person needed to study or improve," Quint said. And nobody escaped it; Quint remembers when the winner of a major competition came to study with her "and walked out of the first lesson with all kinds of markings about intonation, articulation and interpretation. This was her way, but in the kindest, most generous, simple way, without humiliation or insult." "She was sort of a human X-ray; she knew who needed what," Quint said. "A student might come in and play Paganini. If it wasn't good, she wouldn't say anything. She just would mark all the spots, circle everything, write down everything in her journal. Then this same person would play Bach, and Ms. DeLay would immediately perk up and say, 'Sugar Plum, you have to move into the direction of Bach.'" "She immediately recognized that this person had a particular affinity and natural ability for Bach," Quint said. "And the same was true for people who played contemporary music, or Mozart or Beethoven, she would im[...]

Happy 90th Birthday, Donald Scotts!

Sat, 25 Mar 2017 20:07:13 GMT

By Patrick Savage: On March 18 my Australian teacher for 12 years, violinist Donald Scotts, celebrated his 90th birthday, so the previous day I made this video recording of three of his favourite Kreisler pieces in tribute to him, with Katya Apekisheva on piano: width="560" height="315" src="" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen> In addition to his extraordinary gifts as a teacher, Don Scotts came to prominence as a musician of prodigious natural talent - a player of effortless charm with a warm, golden sound, and a performer of artfully understated elegance and nobility. For several years Don lead the Melbourne String Quartet and was Associate Concertmaster of the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra. But I've known him best as a teacher and mentor - a true gentleman, a man of limitless warmth and humour, an inspiring love for his art and genuine care for his students. I know there will be many other former colleagues and students who'll want to wish him a very happy birthday! The three pieces recorded are Tempo di Minuetto, Serenade Espangole (Chaminade/Kreisler) and Caprice Viennois. The violin is by Shan Jiang (2011, New York). For those who would like to learn more about Scotts, his recording of quartets and violin sonata by Moeran is also available on iTunes: Moeran: String Quartet No. 1, Fantasy Quartet & Violin Sonata In E Minor by John Talbot, Melbourne Quartet & Sarah Francis. weekend vote: Is your chin rest on the side or center?

Fri, 24 Mar 2017 22:54:38 GMT

By Laurie Niles: With so much talk over the years about shoulder rests, something that seems to get less attention is chin rests. It shouldn't be so! Often, it's the chin rest that can make a big difference in our comfort, arguably even more so than the shoulder rests. When we raise the chin rest, it does not raise the level of the violin on the shoulder. Also, the chin rest is a factor in how far forward or backward the violin sits on the shoulder, horizontally, and that affects our entire position. The chin rest needs to be correct for your jaw shape, neck height, so that you don't have to strain your neck, contort your body, etc. and that you can achieve a healthy posture.
I can remember in my early days, going to a violin store and trying many different shoulder rests, in an attempt to find one that fit correctly. It's something that is certainly as important as getting the right shoulder rest. In some cases, particularly in the world of period-performance, violinists and violists use no chin rest at all! I've had a number of chin rests over the years, but the one that currently is working for me has the chin cup on the side, but is bracketed in the middle. What kind of chin rest do you use, and are you happy with it? Did you simply stick with the one that the violin came with, or did you go on a chin rest search? Why do you feel that your current one is (or isn't) working for you? What kind is it? And can anyone offer expert advice about fitting for chin rests? src="" frameborder="0" height="310" scrolling="auto" width="450"> You might also like:

Scenes from Chicago: Buildings, Art and Strads

Thu, 23 Mar 2017 06:27:51 GMT

By Laurie Niles: I've been in Chicago over the past few days to check out the violin scene and enjoy this great city where I once went to school. I've had wonderful time, culminating Wednesday in a great recital that Kristóf Baráti gave for the Stradivari Society. Arriving Tuesday, my first priority was to visit my alma mater, Northwestern University's Bienen School of Music, where a magnificent new music facility was built several years ago, called the Ryan Center for the Musical Arts. I'd seen it only in the alumni magazine, and when saw it Tuesday, it was every bit as grand as described. Here is a side-by-side of the old building, on the left (it was derelict 30 years ago; now it stands empty because no one wants to inhabit it!) and the gleaming new edifice by Lake Michigan, on the right. Views from this new building are jaw-droppingly beautiful, I can only imagine practicing or having a class in a room with this view: Later on Tuesday, I visited the home of violinist Desirée Ruhstrat, who is now teaching at Northwestern. She and I share some things in common, such as living in Denver as a child and taking lessons from Harold Wippler. I had the great pleasure to hear her pre-college students each play their current pieces, which included movements from Brahms, Sibelius, Walton, Bruch concertos and more. Wow! Truly enjoyable music-making, and certainly they are in good hands! Wednesday I went to lunch with Desirée and her husband, cellist David Cunliffe, both part of the Lincoln Trio, and here we are in the lobby of the Chicago Arts Club: With high temperatures in the 20s and 30s Wednesday, it was rather cold, especially for a Californian. But the sun was glorious, and though I should have taken a nap, I decided to take the windy walk to the Art Institute of Chicago instead. Here's how it looked, crossing the river. Note wind in the flags! I paid the price of admission at the Art Institute, just to visit an old friend: "Song of the Lark" by Jules Adolphe Breton. If you have not read the 1915 book by Willa Cather that was inspired by the painting, (and the book that inspired Emily Hogstad's excellent blog) it's one of my favorites and it certainly relates to music and the artist's life. (It is also called Song of the Lark.) It's just nice to be at the Art Institute, even if for just a short time. The evening was a wonderful treat: I attended a recital by violinist Kristóf Baráti, with pianist Marta Aznavoorian. Baráti plays the 1703 "Lady Harmsworth" Stradivari, on loan to him by the Stradivari Society, which puts on a recital series featuring their instrument loan recipients. He is holding that instrument here: Here are Kristof and Marta, receiving a standing ovation at the conclusion of their recital. The highlight for me was their truly exciting performance the Ravel Sonata. They also played Schubert's Sonata in A Major D. 574; Sarasate's "Zigeunerweisen"; and Paganini's "Moto Perpetuo." I also had the privilege of meeting someone who has made many things possible in the Chicago music world, Mary Galvin. Galvin was a co-founder of the Stradivari Society (along with Geoffrey Fushi). And remember that new music facility at Northwestern that I mentioned above? It includes a gorgeous recital hall that seats 400 and looks out over Lake Michigan to downtown Chicago. It's called the "Mary B. Galvin Recital Hall." Stay tuned, you'll hear more about all of these things![...]

Review: Rachel Barton Pine plays Mozart 5 - and Ernst 'Last Rose of Summer'

Tue, 21 Mar 2017 15:12:05 GMT

By Laurie Niles: We came for the Mozart, but we left singing "The Last Rose of Summer." On Saturday I went to a performance by Rachel Barton Pine with the Pasadena Symphony. One of my students, a senior in high school named Simone, invited me to go, so we went together. It was a neat opportunity, as Pine was playing Mozart, and Simone had studied both Mozart Nos. 4 and 5 with me. For No. 4, we had ventured into new territory for both of us, learning Pine's cadenza for the first movement, which can be found in The Rachel Barton Pine Collection (which also includes cadenzas for concertos by Beethoven, Brahms, and Paganini.) Pine played Mozart's Concerto No. 5, in her second appearance in the Los Angeles area in the course of a month, the last being a Baroque concert with the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra in early February. I was happy to see she was getting some good attention for her appearances, notably interview with the LA Times. Rachel Barton Pine. Photo by Lisa-Marie Mazzucco. Whereas last month Pine was wielding a Baroque bow, playing a viola d'amore for much of the time and conducting from the soloist's spot; this evening she was working with English conductor Nicholas McGegan, principal guest conductor for the PSO, who started the evening by assuring us that tonight we were in for "an incredibly jolly evening." Sparkling in a blue-grey dress dappled with red and white flowers, Pine took the Mozart at a brisk tempo and signaled early that she'd be making this her own, appending a little ornamentation onto the opening adagio. When the orchestra played its tuttis, she played along, a practice I generally like and which worked for most of the concerto, though in the last movement I longed a little for the back-and-forth that an exchange would have provided. Pine's cadenzas were interesting and unique, full of double-voicing, key changes and unexpected turns. McGegan's kinetic conducting was fun to watch. Without using a baton, he conveyed both the beat and the message in a series of quirky moves: jazz hands, elbow swings, etc. His enthusiasm didn't always play out in the orchestra, which in the first half seemed a little low on energy -- it was its second performance of this concert in one day. In a bow to St. Patrick's Day, for an encore Pine played Heinrich Wilhelm Ernst's "Last Rose of Summer" -- an audacious choice by any standard. She explained that Ernst was "Paganini's successor," and that he had written this wickedly virtuosic piece for his colleague, Antonio Bazzini. And, by the way, she was playing the very violin -- a 1742 del Gesù -- that Bazzini played in the 1800s. Many argue that this is the hardest piece in the violin repertoire, and it's not hard to see why. Never has a melody been through so many travails: left-hand pizzicato, ricochet, double-stops, harmonics, double-stopped harmonics, trills, bariolage, bariolage accompanied by pizzicato, up-bow staccato, pizzicato chords...It would seem that one needs eight fingers to play this piece! But the best thing about Pine's performance was not the technical wizardry itself -- spellbinding though it was. It was that a beautiful and simple melody always shined through that flurry of notes and technique. That is true mastery. I've rarely witnessed this piece live, and it certainly felt like a big event; I was glad my student saw it as well. Pine received a well-deserved standing ovation. The orchestra's energy seemed to come back in the second half of the program, with a lively (and fast!) performance of Mendelssohn's Symphony No. 3 in A minor, "Scottish." To me, this is Mendelssohn at his best: majestic, well-crafted music that begins in a fuss but ends in a kind of victory march. Who couldn't go home smiling after all that? You might also Interview with Rachel Barton Pine: the Complete Mozart ConcertosMozart Cadenzas: Try Something New! interview with Rachel Barton Pine: Baroque Music, and Writing Cadenza[...]

The Week in Reviews, Op. 173: James Ehnes, Angelo Xiang Yu, Alexander Kerr

Mon, 20 Mar 2017 23:54:56 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. James Ehnes premiered the Kernis with the Seattle Symphony.The SunBreak: "...this has to count as one of the most challenging solo roles out there, and Ehnes was completely in charge of it."The Seattle Times: "Lengthy, complex and assertive, the new concerto demands almost superhuman agility and stamina of Ehnes, the soloist for whom it was written, and he rose to the challenge." Angelo Xiang Yu. Photo by Kate Lemmon. Angelo Xiang Yu performed the Prokofiev's Violin Concerto No. 1 with the Tucson Symphony Orchestra.Arizona Daily Star: "His playing throughout was precise, yet it felt in many ways unscripted, as if Yu could at any moment add just enough of his personality to create something wholly original." Alexander Kerr performed Prokofiev's Violin Concerto No. 1 with the Dallas Symphony Orchestra.Texas Classical Review: "Dallas Symphony concertmaster Alexander Kerr wove a magic spell Thursday night from the moment his bow first touched the strings as soloist for Prokofiev’s Violin Concerto No. 1 with the Dallas Symphony Orchestra."Theater Jones: "If it was a strain to hear Kerr, it was worth the work."The Dallas Morning News: "This was really fabulous playing, marred only by a tendency to rush phrases, mainly in the first movement." Eric Gratz performed Bartók's Violin Concerto No. 1 with the San Antonio Symphony.San Antonio Express-News: "Gratz convinced the 1,000 or so audience members of the Bartók concerto’s value as the piece expressed the composer’s idealizations of two sides of Geyer’s personality, introspective in the first movement, turning cheerful and witty in the second." Nicola Benedetti performed Bruch's Violin Concerto No. 1 and the Brahms with the Royal Scottish National Orchestra.Palm Beach Daily News: "Soloist Nicola Benedetti brought her finest violin playing, from her superior handling of the soaring runs and the numerous challenging double stops to the gorgeous tone created in every note."Palm Beach Daily News: "Benedetti’s muscular tone and solid technique were impressive, and the musical rapport between her and Oundjian was obvious throughout the performance."South Florida Classical Review: "It’s not a promising sign when a music stand is set up for the solo violinist in one of the most famous concertos in the repertoire. And when Benedetti came on stage, she gave a shaky, monotonous, underprojected account, sounding more like an advanced student than an international concert soloist."The Scotsman: "In Glasgow, her Brahms was equally vital, expansively phrased and teasingly interactive with Oundjian’s alert players." Gil Shaham performed the Barber with the San Francisco Symphony.San Francisco Chronicle: "Shaham swept into the first movement in a rush of opulent string tone, bringing with him a wealth of instrumental color and fine-grained yet forceful phrasing."" Sayaka Shoji performed Prokofiev's Violin Concerto No. 2 with the St. Petersburg Philharmonic.The Orange County Register: "Playing a 1729 Stradivarius, she displayed a tone that was luxurious in the lower registers, especially at the beginning, and sweet as she ascended to the upper reaches in the second movement." Nurit Bar-Josef performed Mozart's Violin Concerto No. 3 with the National Symphony Orchestra.The Washington Post: "Bar-Josef has a singing tone, too, and she hit all the notes accurately, although not quite lingering and singing with them as she might have, while the orchestra, a little ploddingly, backed her up." Simone Porter performed the Mendelssohn with the Minnesota Orchestra.St. Paul Pioneer Press: "The 20-year-old rising star delivered a performance full of emotional expressiveness, gliding smoothly through the fastest passages or squeezing every drop of melancholy from the slow mo[...]

Nathan Meltzer wins Windsor Festival International String Competition in U.K.

Mon, 20 Mar 2017 03:25:04 GMT

By Laurie Niles: Congratulations to the winners of the Windsor Festival International String Competition! They are:
  • First Place and Audience Prize: Nathan Meltzer, 16, of the U.S.
  • Second Place: Jonian Ilias Kadesha, 24, of Greece
  • Third Place: Luke Hsu, 26, of the U.S.
The competition, which started in 2008 in honor of Sir Yehudi Menuhin, took place last week at Windsor Castle in the United Kingdom. The winners were chosen from eight semifinalists, who were chosen from 170 applicants from 44 countries.
First place winnner Nathan Meltzer is center, with Jonian Ilias Kadesha, left, and Luke Hsu, right.
"Everything about it was inspirational," Meltzer said of the competition, in an e-mail to "The semi-finals were held in a Christopher Wren building in a room full of ancient paintings of kings and queens; the finals were in Windsor Castle itself." (image) "While the jury was making its decision, waiters served wine and the Earl of Wessex shook all of our hands," Meltzer said. "It was awesome to think the buildings were centuries older than the music -- and maybe someone had had a head cut off in the next room! I don't think that happened, but a lot of royals were buried in the chapel next door. When you're playing amidst seven centuries of history, it feels less certain the world will end if you miss a note. I loved Windsor." Jury members were Pierre Amoyal, Edward Vanderspar and Raphael Walfisch. Meltzer studies with Itzhak Perlman and Li Lin at Juilliard Pre-College, where he is a Starling scholar. He began his music education in a second-grade orchestra class in Vienna, joined the "Violin Virtuosi" at Indiana University in 2011, and entered the Perlman Music Program in 2013. Nathan will receive £5,000, performance opportunities in the UK, a bow from Bishop Instruments and Bows and a solo recording opportunity. Upcoming performances for Nathan include a June 11 performance with the Adelphi Orchestra in New York, at which he will play Waxman's Carmen Fantasy and Chausson's "Poeme" in a benefit for Adelphi Orchestra’s Young Artist Program. * * * BELOW: Nathan Meltzer plays the Sibelius Violin Concerto with the Adelphi Orchestra in October 2016. width="560" height="315" src="" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen> weekend vote: How many CDs are currently in your possession? and when is the last time you listened one?

Fri, 17 Mar 2017 18:48:07 GMT

By Laurie Niles: Last night I spent way too much time with a pile of CDs, trying to figure out what to keep, what to give away, how to store it all, and in a few moments of frustration, whether or not I could find a way to digitize the whole entire thing.
The problem is, the time that it take to digitize the whole thing! And also, those lovely booklets. I definitely have mixed feeling about CDs. They take up so much room! And yet, I find myself unable to cull them. I actually do use them, I have an old CD player in my studio, and I often play things for students when they are working on a piece. It's nice to be able to pull out a recording of, say, Rostropovich playing a Bach suite, hand the booklet to the student, and say, "so this is where that piece in your book originally come from..." I could do the same on the computer, but there's something about having a physical "library" that makes me feel like I'm surrounded with wonderful music, performers, information in the form of liner notes...Yes, I can find it on Google, but it's not "my library." What are your thoughts on CDs. How many do you have? Do you have any at all? And are they gathering dust, or do you actually take them out and play them? Do you get new ones ever? Tell us your thoughts! src="" frameborder="0" height="310" scrolling="auto" width="450"> and.... src="" frameborder="0" height="310" scrolling="auto" width="450">

For the Record, Op. 18: Takács Quartet: Complete Beethoven Quartets

Thu, 16 Mar 2017 20:39:26 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!
The Takács Quartet. Photo by Keith Saunders.
Takács Quartet: Complete Beethoven Quartets Takács Quartet
It's been a season of celebrating Beethoven for the Takács Quartet, a group that was originally formed in 1975. This set includes the complete Beethoven String Quartets, recorded between 2002 and 2004, with seven CDs, a Blu-ray Audio disc, and a bonus DVD. During the 2016-2017 season, the Takács Quartet (now with violinists Edwin Dusinberre, Károly Schranz, violist Geraldine Walther and cellist Károly Schranz) has been performing complete, six-concert Beethoven cycles at London's Wigmore Hall, Princeton University, the University of Michigan and the University of California, Berkeley. All members of the quartet are currently Christoffersen Faculty Fellows at the University of Colorado in Boulder. Takács first violinist Edward Dusinberre also has published a book, Beethoven for a Later Age: The Journey of a String Quartet, about the life of a string quartet, which explores the circumstances surrounding the composition of Beethoven’s quartets with a combination of history and memoir.
BELOW: From 2009, the Takacs Quartet performs an excerpt from Beethoven String Quartet No. 14, from a live concert at the Auditorium du Louvre. 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.

CEO Deborah Borda to Leave LA Phil and Return to NY Phil

Wed, 15 Mar 2017 16:16:31 GMT

By Laurie Niles: Deborah Borda will step down from her position as President and CEO of the Los Angeles Philharmonic to become the next President and CEO of the New York Philharmonic starting in fall 2017, both orchestras announced today.
Deborah Borda.
Borda succeeds NY Phil President Matthew VanBesien, who led the organization since 2012. Borda has served as president and CEO of the LA Phil since 2000, having previously served in the same capacity at the NY Phil during the 1990s. Bill Thomas, currently the NY Phil's Senior Vice President and Chief Operating Officer, will become Executive Director, effective May 1, 2017. "This is a homecoming for me as a native New Yorker, but, more than that, it is a key transitional moment filled with opportunity to make a difference for one of the great musical organizations of the world — the New York Philharmonic. The major factors that have led me here are my immediate sense of partnership with Jaap van Zweden and our shared belief in forging new ways forward," Borda said in a press release. "The passionate commitment of the Board to the future, the remarkable quality of the Orchestra, and the ability to promote the superb and trusted administrator Bill Thomas to the position of Executive Director were all critical to my decision. New York City and Lincoln Center stand at the crossroads of the artistic world and the opportunities for collaboration and partnerships within our vibrant community are thrilling. While embracing this challenging new work, I sincerely wish to express my deepest thanks and admiration for Gustavo Dudamel and the Los Angeles Philharmonic 'family,' who have been courageous and loving partners over 17 years." The Los Angeles Philharmonic will begin its search for a new President immediately, with Board Chairman Jay Rasulo leading the search committee. "We want to thank Deborah Borda for 17 years of extraordinary service and for leading the Los Angeles Philharmonic to incredible success in so many areas," Rasulo said in a press release. "The prominence and exciting reputation which the LA Phil currently enjoys around the world is due in large part to her visionary and powerful leadership, along with the dedicated work of the two music directors with whom she worked, the orchestra, and the LA Philharmonic Association staff. We all wish her well in her future endeavors." You might also like: