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


San Francisco Symphony Executive Director Brent Assink to Step Down

Tue, 27 Sep 2016 22:06:51 GMT

By Laurie Niles: Longtime San Francisco Symphony Executive Director Brent Assink will step down at the end of March 2017, the San Francisco Symphony announced Tuesday.
Brent Assink. Photo courtesy San Francisco Symphony.
Assink, 61, who has held the post since 1999, is the fourth Executive Director of the San Francisco Symphony since the position was created in 1939. Others were Howard Skinner (1939-1964), Joseph Scafidi (1965-1978) and Peter Pastreich (1978-1999). Assink also served as the Symphony’s General Manager from 1990 to 1994. "These have been years of enormous change — in society, in technology, in the way Americans think about orchestral music and its place in their lives," Assink said in the release. "I will always cherish my time here and marvel that I have been able to lead an organization unafraid of change and eager to embrace challenges that opened new ways of experiencing music." Assink is credited with helping expand the symphony's educational and cultural outreach; helping launch the symphony's own own recording label, SFS Media; and bringing it into the digital age with new initiatives involving multiple medial platforms. "Brent Assink has been a close colleague, friend, and trusted partner for almost 20 years. His tireless advocacy has expanded the orchestra’s impact on music in the Bay Area and beyond," said Music Director Michael Tilson Thomas, who has been with the San Francisco Symphony since 1995. "Our music depends on energy, insight and generosity of spirit. These same qualities define Brent. Today, musicians from all over the world know what’s happening here because of projects accomplished under his leadership - projects like American Mavericks, Keeping Score, and our Mahler recording cycle. I am deeply grateful to Brent for his vision and friendship, and for his commitment to make so much possible. The San Francisco Symphony will always bear his imprint."

Elmar Oliveira International Violin Competition extends deadline to Oct. 28

Tue, 27 Sep 2016 21:22:20 GMT

By Laurie Niles: The first-ever Elmar Oliveira International Violin Competition has extended its application deadline to Oct. 28. Click here for more information about applying. All applicants must be at least 16 at the time of the original submission date, Sept. 30, 2016) and no older than 32 by the conclusion of the competition on Feb. 5, 2017. Finalists will be notified by email by December 1, 2016. The Oliveira competition will take place Jan. 22 through Feb. 5, 2017 at in Boca Raton, Fl. The competition will take place once every three years thereafter. The competition was established by violinist Elmar Oliveira, in collaboration with the >Lynn Conservatory of Music in Boca Raton, Florida, where Oliveira teaches, with the mission of providing talented young violinists with networking, management, public relations, and concert opportunities. Prizes include a $30,000 first prize; $15,000 second prize; and $10,000 third prize. Jury members for the 2017 Oliveira competition include Andrés Cárdenes, Charles Castelman, Gudny Gudmundsdottir, Daniel Heifetz, Ilya Kaler, Vera Tsu Wei-ling, and Elmar Weingarten.

How to write a blog on

Tue, 27 Sep 2016 20:11:05 GMT

By Laurie Niles: Anyone who is a member of is welcome to write a blog on, and we'd like to encourage you to do so. But how do you do it, logistically? What are editors looking for in a blog? Here are some guidelines to help you set up a successful blog on How to get started: register and/or update your profile page First, you must be a member of to write a blog on, so please register as a member. You will be sent a password; be sure to log in within 48 hours of registering, or your account will be deleted. (Why is this? To guard against fake registrations and robots.) Once logged in, find your profile page by clicking on "HI (your name)" in the upper lefthand corner. To upload a picture, click on the big square picture icon. When you upload your picture, be sure that it is a square picture, at least 270 x 270 pixels. If you are already a member of, log in and go to your profile page, to make sure that the information is current and that your picture has been updated. Click directly on the picture to upload a new one (don't forget, it needs to be square!), and click on "EDIT" to change anything with the wording. Posting a blog Write your blog in a plain text editor such as Textedit or Notepad, something with minimal automatic formatting. Do not write your blog on the blog entry page, in case your connection times out or drops before you finish and you lose the whole thing! If you want your blog to be considered for the front-page and promoted blogs, it will need a photo or graphic that is 560 pixels wide by 315 pixels tall. To embed an image, please use the HTML code for images. For example: & #lt;img src="" & #gt; Please do not embed images more than 560 pixels wide. You can upload and store your photos on any of a variety of photo-hosting services, such as Imgur. In a pinch, email Laurie for help with photos. To post a blog, first make sure you are logged in. Then find "POST BLOG" in the upper lefthand corner of any page and click that link. Copy your completed blog and paste it in the window labeled "Your entry." Write a headline, click on "Post entry," and your blog is posted. Your blog will appear at the bottom of the "NEWS AND ADVICE" page and will have its own link that you can use to share your blog. Within 24 hours, editor Laurie Niles considers each blog that is submitted for the front page; if it is approved, it will appear there and may be promoted on's Facebook, Twitter and other social media sites. Style blogs are in English. Blogs should follow basic standards of good writing. Spell names and words correctly, punctuate correctly, use the rules of grammar, etc. Please keep formatting to a minimum. Approved formatting includes: bold, italics, numbered lists or bullet points. Good writing gets ideas across without a lot of extra formatting, so please resist the temptation to use all capital letters, different-sized headlines, colored lettering, and other extraneous formatting. When you write in all capital letters, this is the Internet equivalent of screaming at another person. Please don't scream! What to write about That's up to you, and please do be creative! Here are a few ideas to get you going:A technique blog, describing how to achieve a technique on the violinA pedagogy blog, describing how to teach somethingA music-related story or adventureA blog about the instrument or equipmentAn interview with a musician of interest (make sure you have clear permission from the person being interviewed)A review of a concert, book, or master classA personal blog about a music-related revelation or philosophy If you interview someone, you must make it clear to that person that you are interviewing them for a story and that you have their permission. Only use pictures and names of children if you have their permission and their parents[...]

The Week in Reviews, Op. 150: Hilary Hahn, Lisa Batiashvili, Simone Lamsma

Mon, 26 Sep 2016 18:29:34 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. Hilary Hahn performed the Beethoven Violin Concerto with the Cincinnati Symphony.Cincinnati Inquirer (warning: review is behind an ad wall): "Violinist Hilary Hahn so moved her audience at the Taft Theatre Saturday night with the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra that she performed two encores instead of one....Hahn’s bright, clear as a bell sound – she plays a violin by Jean Baptiste Vuillame once played by Paganini – filled the hall with well-defined and distinct beauty, plus fine dynamic control. Her legato bowing was seamless and, aided by Langrée’s sympathetic conducting, she could descend into the softest passages and still be heard." (Note: Hahn's Vuillaume violin is a replica of Paganini's 1864 "Cannone" Guarneri del Gesù) Hilary Hahn. Photo by Michael Patrick O'Leary. Lisa Batiashvili performed the Tchaikovsky with the New York Philharmonic.New York Classical Review: "The violinist’s tone was clear and vibrant, especially in folk-dance tunes down on the G string, and she took extra time in all the right places, but her accomplished playing didn’t convey much of the tender sentiment and intimacy of this fundamentally lyrical piece." Simone Lamsma performed the Brahms with the Dallas Symphony.Theater Jones: "Lamsma seems to have well-defined ideas about phrasing and rubato, creating a pleasing sense of musical unity. Her technique is rock-solid, as well—she handled the considerable difficulties of the Brahms concerto with ease. She does not have a huge sound, however, and her vibrato was a bit frantic."The Dallas Morning News: "A tone more granular than usual these days struck my ears right away, and some arpeggio figurations were dispatched as mere notes, not notes than went anywhere or meant anything. I never did get used to a rapid-fire vibrato applied too automatically; when vibrato is right, you don't notice it. She soon displayed a lovely way with high-flown lines and delicate pianissimos, though, and she dispatched the finale with dazzling clarity." Nicola Benedetti performed two Szymanowski violin concertos with the London Philharmonic.The Arts Desk: "She applies a rich but varied vibrato to much of the music, sometimes wide and fast, but just as often narrow and slow. The result is a tone and expression as varied as that of the orchestra beneath. She also has the sheer aural presence required to command those expansive orchestral textures, and Jurowksi, while always sympathetic, never felt the need to constrain the ensemble for her." Ryu Goto performed the Tchaikovsky with the Philippine Philharmonic Orchestra.Philippine Daily Inquirer: "In Tchaikovsky’s “Violin Concerto,” the PPO forged a debonair collaboration with the featured Japanese violinist, Ryu Goto, whose dashing youthful looks ensured a magnetic presence on stage. Goto played the concerto with an impressive dispatch even though the concerto was considered unplayable a long time ago." Andrej Kurti performed the Tchaikovsky with the Waco Symphony Orchestra.Waco Tribune-Herald: "His fluid play sometimes lacked clarity, with notes sliding and slurring into each other, but his rapid fingering and bowing mastered the work’s more challenging passages. The highest notes of his violin’s register — a violin crafted by Hewitt luthier Tim Johnson, incidentally — seemed to float effortlessly into the hall." Please support music in your community by attending a concert or recital whenever you can! [...] weekend vote: What inspired you start playing the violin, viola or other instrument?

Fri, 23 Sep 2016 02:00:06 GMT

By Laurie Niles: What inspired you to learn to play the violin, viola or other instrument? It's one of the first questions I ask people whom I'm interviewing, because the answer can tell so much. For some people, it's their parents, especially if they have musical parents. They see their parents playing and they want to do the same. Or, it can be a parent who never really had the chance to play, who encouraged and supported their child's lessons. Maybe they enrolled their child before the child was even old enough to think about it, and it turned out to be a lifelong pursuit.
For others, a famous musician might be the inspiration, someone they saw in concert or heard in recordings, who became a kind of role model. And don't discount those appearances that superstar musicians such as Itzhak Perlman, Yo Yo Ma, Hilary Hahn and Joshua Bell have made on Sesame Street or other children's programs -- I've had people tell me that seeing a short segment on a child's show flipped the switch on for them, inspiring them to find this instrument and learn to play it! Sometimes it's a recording itself -- the music -- regardless of who is playing it, that is the inspiration. And it might simply be a recording of a classical piece, or fiddle music, or musicals, that gets the ball rolling. Some get their introduction to an instrument from a school program; this was the case with me. The music teacher at my elementary school came around to various classes, recruiting for the orchestra. She brought along a fourth-grader named Sara, who played for us, and I immediately knew that I wanted to play that instrument! A teacher can be very inspiring! What is your story? Please cast your vote and then let us know in the comments! src="" frameborder="0" height="310" scrolling="auto" width="450"> You might also like:

For the Record, Op. 1: New Recordings by Jennifer Koh, Philippe Quint, Chiara String Quartet and more

Thu, 22 Sep 2016 04:43:22 GMT

By Laurie Niles: This week we're launching a new feature on called "For the Record," a 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! Tchaikovsky: Complete Works for Violin and Orchestra Jennifer Koh Odense Symphony Orchestra; Alexander Vedernikov, conductor In 1994, Jennifer Koh won the top prize in the International Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow. Though she has performed works of Tchaikovsky countless times live, this her first-ever recording of Tchaikovsky works. Besides the famous ("unplayable") Violin Concerto, it also includes Sérénade Mélancolique, Valse-Scherzo, and Souvenir d'un lieu cher (Glazuonov's orchestration). Jennifer Koh plays "Meditation" from Tchaikovsky's "Souvenir d'un lieu cher": width="560" height="315" src="" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen> Khachaturian & Glazunov: Violin Concertos Philippe Quint Bochumer Symphoniker; Steven Sloane, conductor Philippe Quint continues his exploration of Russian repertoire with this new recording of Alexander Glazunov's Violin Concerto, written originally for Leopold Auer; and Aram Khachaturian's Violin Concerto, written for Soviet violinist David Oistrakh. Philippe Quint plays the last movement from the Khachaturian: width="560" height="315" src="" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen> Bartók by Heart Chiara String Quartet First they recorded Brahms by Heart, now Bartók's complete string quartets. Wow! It's a 2-CD set. Said cellist Gregory Beaver: "Many of the devilishly difficult passages in (Bartók's) music became natural when performed without printed music. Through the memorization process, we are able to return Bartok's music to the realm of the unrecorded folk music he so lovingly captured." The middle movement of Bartok's String Quartet #4, performed by heart by the Chiara String Quartet: width="560" height="315" src="" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen> Shostakovich: Cello Concertos 1 & 2 Alisa Weilerstein, cello Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra; Pablo Heras-Casado, conductor MacArthur “genius grant” winner Alisa Weilerstein plays both cello concertos - markedly contrasting works - by Dmitri Shostakovich. When she was 22, Weilerstein met and played for cellist Mstislav Rostropovich, for whom Shostakovich wrote both of his cello concertos. Later this season she'll play all six of J.S. Bach’s suites for unaccompanied cello; she'll also premiere works by American composer Joseph Hallman with the New York Phil. Paganini: 24 Caprices, Op. 1 Edson Scheid, Baroque violin Paganini Caprices are played nearly always with a modern set-up, though they were written around 1805 and published in 1820. In this recording, Brazilian violinst Edson Scheid, explores period performance, performing with a classical bow on on a 1739 Testore violin with gut strings and no chinrest, no shoulder rest, and a Baroque bridge and tailpiece. Scheid is a two-time winner of the Historical Performance Concerto Competition at The Juilliard School. Reimagined: Schumann and Beethoven for Cello Quintet Ying Quartet and Zuill Bailey The "Kreutzer" for five! The Ying Quartet plus cellist Zuill Bailey perform Beethoven's "Kreutzer" Sonata (originally for violin and piano) in an 1832 arrangement for cello quintet; as well as their own new arrangement of Schumann's Cello Concerto. Schumann Piano Quintet Benvenue Fortepiano Trio Monica Huggett, Tanya Tompkins, Eric Zivian, Carla Moore, Jodi Levitz Robert Schumann wrote his piano quintets as a gift to his young wife, the formidable pianist Clara Wieck Schumann. In this recording, period performance expert Monica Huggett and friends explore Schumann's chamber music, usin[...]

Where Words Fail, Music Speaks

Wed, 21 Sep 2016 18:44:04 GMT

By Yevgeny Kutik: After I released my last album, Music from the Suitcase, nearly three years ago, I immediately started thinking about a direction for my next project. This process was not simple and took many months. While Suitcase explored a collection of Russian miniatures my family brought out of the Soviet Union in the family luggage when I was five, I knew I wanted to pursue a completely different artistic direction. I "tried on" various concepts, including albums of specific regions, periods, and composer compilations, but nothing seemed to stick in my mind. One random day, I remembered a t-shirt I had seen as a kid in camp. On it, was printed the famous quote by Hans Christian Andersen, "Where words fail, music speaks." Even at the time, I recall being surprised that a literary author, whose bread and butter came from crafting words together, would be willing to go on record with such a statement. Being the first time I had seen or read that quote, I recall feeling a sense of vindication for my choosing to be a musician! width="560" height="315" src="" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen> I suppose this little jolt of memory and inspiration forced me to go back to the basics, as it were, and examine why it is that 15 years later I still dedicate my life to music on a daily basis. For me, there have been so many times where words have failed my innermost thoughts and emotions—I know they are somewhere inside me, but I am simply unable to express these emotions through words properly. The best way I can verbalize this feeling would be to say it’s almost as though someone knocks the words out of you. Music on the other hand, is able to express these thoughts perfectly when all else fails. Music has a seemingly magical ability to tap into this mysterious place where our deepest thoughts lie. After running across a letter Felix Mendelssohn wrote to his friend about his "Songs Without Words," I knew immediately that I had a concept for my next record. In his letter, Mendelssohn says about his songs: "The thoughts expressed to me by the music I love are not too indefinite to be put into words, but on the contrary, too definite." It occurred me that Mendelssohn, much like myself, and Hans Christian Andersen before, was struggling with the times in life when words are far inadequate for the thoughts we must express.
My new album, Words Fail, is an attempt to give voice to this mysterious feeling we all share. To expand upon Mendelssohn’s original attempts to do this in his "Songs Without Words," I compiled a set of pieces by a variety of composers to examine the concept of ‘wordless song’ in depth. It was also very important for me to tie this idea into the living, breathing, immediacy of everyday life. And to do this, I commissioned two of my favorite living composers—Michael Gandolfi and Timo Andres—to have their perspectives and sound-worlds upon which we might reflect. I am thrilled to be able to present these two commissions on this album for the first time. You might also like:

Anne Akiko Meyers brings Einojuhani Rautavaara's 'Fantasia' to life

Tue, 20 Sep 2016 20:09:24 GMT

By Laurie Niles: Back in the 1990s Anne Akiko Meyers discovered a recording that stopped her in her tracks: Cantus Arcticus, by the Finnish composer Einojuhani Rautavaara. "I was always flipping through CDs and sheet music at stores, trying to discover new works that were under the radar," Meyers told me last week over the phone. "That's how I came across the 'Concerto for Birds and Orchestra.' I was blown away by the sheer beauty of the music, and the way Rautavaara incorporated nature into a symphony. He actually went into a preserve and recorded birds chirping and singing, and that became an organic part of music. I listened to the recording many, many times on repeat." The more she explored Rautavaara's works, the more she loved the music. "I'm a lifelong fan," she said. "I've always been very enamored with these mystical, mythical composers like Arvo Pärt and Rautavaara." In fact, last year she worked with Arvo Pärt to record his Passacaglia -- it made her think once again about Rautavaara. Might he like to compose a piece for her? "It was always a dream of mine," she said. "I wondered, what is he up to, these days? I sent an e-mail to (his publisher) Boosey and Hawkes. You can risk getting a 'No' from a composer; it's always worth asking. I've commissioned many composers recently, and found that timing is crucial." The list of composers that Meyers has worked with and commissioned works from is long, and includes Mason Bates, Jakub Ciupinski, John Corigliano, Jennifer Higdon, Samuel Jones, Wynton Marsalis Somei Satoh, and Joseph Schwantner. "I've become more tenacious about it," she said. Her tenacity paid off: "Immediately I got the response: 'He would love to write something for you. How long of a piece would you like?'" Rautavaara had already written a violin concerto, "so I thought, what would pique his curiosity and be stylistically up his alley? That's when I came up with the idea of a 15-minute fantasy," Meyers said. "He sent me the music at the end of the summer, handwritten on manuscript paper. I was just smitten. Immediately I could sense overtones of Cantus Arcticus, and also his Symphony No. 7, the Angel of Light." That was in 2015. If she'd waited any longer, their collaboration may never have happened; Rautavaara died in July 2016, at the age of 87. The work Meyers commissioned, called "Fantasia," was among the last pieces he wrote. She recorded it in May with the Philharmonia Orchestra and Kristjan Järvi. Due to his recent death, she has made it available as a single on Amazon. It will be the title track on her upcoming album Fantasia: The Fantasy Album, to be released in spring 2017. Though Rautavaara did not live to hear the work in concert, he heard Meyers play it in person. After sending her the work, "he invited me to come to Helsinki," Meyers said. "I was so excited to go. I flew out in December 2015 and played the piece for him. Anne Akiko Meyers and Einojuhani Rautavaara The second I finished, he turned to me, smiled so brightly and said, 'Wow, did I write some beautiful, beautiful music!' (She laughs) I thought that was the sweetest thing ever! Because it really is so deeply spiritual, poetic and beautiful." "We played it again, and I expected him to say, 'Oh, this note, I'm not so sure...' I was also nervous about the bowings that I had changed, because his bowings were very specifically marked," she said. "The bowings really change the direction and meaning of the phrases." Rautavaara liked it, though. "He said immediately, 'I love what you did, I don't have much confidence in myself with markings, especially bowings. I think you really brought out the phrasing to make it sing as much as possible, so let's use all your bowings.' That was that! No dynamic changes, no note changes, nothing," Meyers said. He knew what he wanted. Though his health may have been in decline, Rautavaara [...]

The Week in Reviews, Op. 149: Elmar Oliveira, Joshua Bell, Rachel Barton Pine

Mon, 19 Sep 2016 20:46:59 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. Elmar Oliveira premiered a new violin concerto by Richard Sortomme, with Savannah Philharmonic.Do Savannah: "The concerto’s themes echoed influence from Arnold Schoenberg to Felix Mendelssohn to John Cage, a cacophony of strange beauty...Oliveira brilliantly manufactured a host of sounds and tones ranging the length of the violin’s reach. Lonely, broken solos of strumming oscillated with excursions into a high range of staccato notes were as refreshing as they were nearly painful at times." Elmar Oliveira. Joshua Bell performed Bruch's Violin Concerto No. 1 with the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra and the Tchaikovsky with the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and Lubbock Symphony Orchestra.The Buffalo News: "Bell has his own unique approach. It is a kind of understated directness. He doesn’t overthink the music. He calls it as he sees it, is the impression I get."Atlanta Journal Constitution: "Bell can grip a melodic line in the most solid and ineluctable way, but, particularly when the orchestra is silent and the sound carried by the violin alone, he can hold the musical thread loosely, nearly letting it slip away in quiet, deliciously slow, high notes that send the mind in mazelike loops."Lubbock Avalanche-Journal: "Bell’s performance of Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto in D Major was of such phenomenal and individual quality that the orchestra could have reserved the hall for hours of curtain calls..."Medicine Opera: "Bell plays the violin like Usain Bolt runs the 200 meter sprint. His whole body is involved and the result is spectacular." Rachel Barton Pine performed Prokofiev's Violin Concerto No. 2 with the West Virginia Symphony.Charleston Gazette-Mail: "Barton Pine’s playing was dynamic, never forced, but richly colored and incisive." James Ehnes performed the Beethoven with the Regina Symphony Orchestra and the Manitoba Chamber Orchestra.Regina Leader-Post: "Ehnes was mesmerizing — it was impossible to take your eyes off him. He demanded your undivided attention and his expertise made sure he got exactly that."Winnipeg Free Press: "Every concert that features the award-winning artist feels like a homecoming, with his rapt listeners welcoming him to the stage with loud cheers and foot stomps as though a red-hot rock star." Anton Miller performed the Barber with the Lincoln [Neb.] Symphony Orchestra.Lincoln Journal Star: "Miller’s approach was one of seasoned concentration in a display of his solid technique and reasoned emotional approach to Barber’s American masterpiece." Please support music in your community by attending a concert or recital whenever you can! You might also like:Interview with Elmar OliveiraRachel Barton Pine's 'Testament' to the Music of BachInterview with James Ehnes: Four Seasons and No Apologies[...] Weekend Vote: Do you ever use digital sheet music and readers? And is this the last stand for the printed score?

Fri, 16 Sep 2016 18:45:18 GMT

By Laurie Niles: This week had people wondering, is this the last stand for the printed score? At the same time, over here on we had Philippe Quint advocating for the urtext print score, turning to the Barenreiter or Henle editions, with their beautiful creamy pages that smell like ink, to study what's true and come up with your own solutions. So which is it, are we hurtling toward a completely electronic future, sans printed music or printed word? Or are we returning to our roots?
In a New York Times article last summer about the phenomenon of "going digital," musicians sung the praises of the iPad-as-music-reader, noting that they can fit what once was piles of music into one sleek pad. Some of the most common digital music reader apps are forScore and Tonara. Musicians also said they can find a lot of early editions and manuscripts that have been digitized. For example, Barenreiter and Henle have made many of their urtext scores available digitally and have their own readers: Here is the Bärenreiter Study Score Reader App and the Henle Library Score Reader app. In other words, it's possible to go to the source, using digital technology. New technology allows the musician to mark up the score on the screen, as well. Of course, I can certainly envision a scenario with both, just as I see a place for magazines and books as well as articles on the Internet. To me it makes sense to study the score from paper, but then to use some kind of electronic version of that in performance. The question remains, are a lot of musicians adapting the new technology? In a poll several years ago, only 35 percent of our readers had tried the new technology. I'm wondering if that has changed over the past few years. So please answer the poll, and then share your experiences and thoughts about using digital music readers. src="" frameborder="0" height="270" scrolling="auto" width="450"> You might also like: