The Week in Hope-Inspiring Spontaneous Music Online, Op. 11

May 26, 2020, 10:17 AM · Eleven weeks into this feature, and it’s crystal clear that concert artists and orchestral musicians have stayed active during quarantine. What may not have been as evident is that composers, teachers, students, and amateurs have also been playing their part to keep music alive.

Collage Op. 11

This week we feature an outstanding university professor (demonstrating that those who can, do and teach). We have a group of outstanding student artists, ages 14 - 20 (showing there clearly is viola power in numbers). We offer the Juilliard Orchestra (led by arguably the most famous violinist in the world). We have a Baroque violinist who trades her trills for a down home romp (fireworks and all). We showcase a wannabe violinist/trumpeter (who has an interesting take on Mendelssohn’s string octet). And we have two highly-acclaimed violinists, one offering a Philip Glass classic and the other a brand-new piece by Scott Wheeler that is bound to become an encore favorite.

Composer Scott Wheeler dashed off his latest gem, "Isolation Rag," while in quarantine. In what I’ve got to believe is every composer’s fantasy, violinist Gil Shaham surprised the composer by playing the world premiere at the 24-hour Livestream Festival "Music Never Sleeps DMF" on May 16. In the YouTube comments, member Gene Huang notes hearing a bit of Mendelssohn! (I heard it too, Gene! Thought I was hallucinating at first). And a free luggage tag goes to the listener who is the first to recognize the other musical quote. P.S. According to the composer, “Gil reacted that the quotes gave the piece the feeling that the soloist was at home thinking of and missing his orchestra.” (What a lovely, and heartbreaking, thought.)

Itzhak Perlman and the Juilliard Orchestra offer a sincere and heartfelt gift — "Nimrod" from Edward Elgar’s "Enigma Variations." I personally loved one of the comments under the video which reads: "I’m one of the bassoonists in the video (in the striped shirt). This was an unbelievably cool experience! Hope everyone who watches this video enjoys!" (Oh, we will!)

Violinist Rachell Ellen Wong and cellist Coleman Itzkoff offer a rousing performance of Mark O’Connor’s "F.C.’s Jig." (Known primarily as a Baroque expert, Rachell proves there are no musical boundaries she isn’t willing to cross.)

My absolute favorite violinist, Robert McDuffie, dazzles in Movement 1 of Philip Glass’ Violin Concerto (1987). (I’m pretending Mr. McDuffie put the suit on just for me! Somehow I don’t think Mr. Glass would care one way or another.) By the way, if you want more of the Glass concerto, don’t miss Laurie’s write up of violinist David Nebel’s latest album, which includes concertos by Glass and Igor Stravinsky. She also provides a link to David playing Glass’ hauntingly beautiful Movement III.

Violinist and University of Tennessee Professor Miroslav Hristov responded to a Facebook initiative by WeiwuYin (a major concert hall in Taiwan) to compose, play, or create a variation on a movement from J.S. Bach’s Musical Offering. Miro created a "Caprice Variation" on the Largo from the trio sonata, based on the movement’s harmonic progression and in the style of Locatelli’s Labyrinth or Paganini’s Caprice No. 1. (What an inspiration you must be to your students, Miro!)

Trumpeter/violinist-hopeful Peter Lawrence gives a unique one-man version of Felix Mendelssohn’s Octet for Strings in E flat major, opus 20, first movement. (Pete clearly knew how to get himself featured on! Just pretend to play the violin and you’re in.)

And for our grand finale, teacher and conductor Ronald Houston and his group ViolaPower perform the powerful "Intermezzo" from Pietro Mascagni’s Cavalleria Rusticana. Ronald’s students, ages 14 to 20, produced a series of videos in tribute to their health care heroes. (Ronald, you are my hero. You may just be single-handledly populating the viola world for the very near future!)

With concerts and symphony performances almost universally on hiatus, we've put "The Week in Reviews" on hold and instead bring you this roundup of online "lockdown" performances. If you’d like to share links of performances you’ve enjoyed, please do so in the comments or e-mail me for possible inclusion in a later opus.


May 26, 2020 at 06:11 PM · Wow, I remember hearing Coleman Itzkoff play years ago at Bowdoin when he was much younger. So talented. So awesome to hear him again!

May 26, 2020 at 06:30 PM · The Isolation Rag made me really happy! Great piece, great performance of it.

May 26, 2020 at 07:08 PM · Thank you so much for your articles. Give me a much welcomed distraction from endless Zoom meetings.

May 26, 2020 at 07:25 PM · It has been a great privilege to have had Miro Hristov in Knoxville for so many years. A fabulous musician, a great colleague, and a dear friend.

May 26, 2020 at 07:40 PM · Amazing! Beautiful work done by everyone.

May 26, 2020 at 07:45 PM · Thank you so much for featuring viola power!! It’s such an honor to be part of this innovative group and to be recognized by, especially since we, as violists, are more often than not under appreciated. I’m so happy to see all of Mr Houston’s hard work and dedication to our ensemble be recognized!!

May 26, 2020 at 07:58 PM · Amazing and talented musicians! ViolaPower and Ronald Houston you continue to bring a smile to my face! Thank you

May 26, 2020 at 08:30 PM · Since Diana asked us to spot more quotes in the piece played by Gil Shaham, I think I heard at least two: apart from the quote from the first movement of Mendelssohn, there is one from the third movement at around 2:07, then around 3:22 there is a quote of the third movement of Bruch.

May 26, 2020 at 09:54 PM · It’s the Brahms concerto, third movement.

D. Aks

May 26, 2020 at 10:51 PM · I love the variety you choose to feature each week! Thanks for another excellent collection of musical performances. You are inspiring and witty, as always. ~Christina

May 27, 2020 at 12:01 AM · I hear two quotes from Mendelssohn in the Wheeler Isolation Rag, the first from the 1st movement of the Violin Concerto at 1:13 and the second at 2:06 from the 3rd movement. Also, at 3:18 I hear Brahms Violin Concerto 3rd movement! I'm looking forward to that luggage tag! BTW, Brahms is my favorite composer! But I loved the Wheeler. I think I had as much fun watching how much fun Wong and Itzkoff had playing the O’Connor as they did! Miro - it was so wonderful to see you and hear you play so beautifully again! Thank you Peter Laurence for your wonderful sense of humor! The Mascagni was just beautiful and so touching. And to the bassoonist in the striped shirt, I more than enjoyed the Elgar, I loved it. And the fact that it was recorded in so many places around the globe is beyond amazing and exciting. Thanks again Diana. Listening to and watching all this music is so uplifting.

May 27, 2020 at 12:07 AM · So many wonderful selections again! I felt very moved by the Juilliard kids and how much the music clearly meant to all of them, and the realization that sometime in the future they will listen again to this recording and remember the experience as a meaningful moment both in history and in their conservatory training. Also, gotta say that Peter Lawrence's take on the Octet was fabulous! The character of the piece really changes with his presentation, but at the risk of sounding blasphemous, I'd recommend that become part of The Canon. And here goes nothing--third quote in the Wheeler: Mov. 3 of the Brahms.

May 27, 2020 at 12:14 AM · To Joe: Ding, ding, ding! We have a winner! Yes, there are two Mendelssohn snippets and one Brahms. Luggage tag, coming your way! Thank you for playing! And, agreed, the piece is just wonderful! Your comments on the other selections are wonderful and greatly appreciated! I agree with you on all counts!

May 27, 2020 at 01:40 AM · All wonderful performances. I see so many on FB too. But I have had to quit watching. My heart is breaking for the jobs that will be lost, the careers thwarted and ended and hopes and dreams extinguished. I cannot invest emotional energy in this tragedy that everyone appears to be so fatalistic about. I have hardly seen a single musician call out the cure that is worse than the disease.

May 27, 2020 at 03:34 AM · Of all the pieces featured in this article I am MOST intrigued by the “Isolation Rag.” First off, my ear is immediately drawn to a ‘ragged melody,’ stemming from my early childhood spent on my father’s knee as he jostled me through pieces like “12th Street Rag” and the famous ‘Maple Leaf.’ Those moments spoke to my soul, and I became a lover of Ragtime music. They are technically challenging, fun to play and predictable to the ear (usually), that is to say formulaic in nature.

I find this piece most interesting because it does not entirely follow the ‘recipe’ for a rag - 4 bar intro, AA, BB, A', CC (Trio; modulation to the sub-dominate), and finally ending with a DD section (returning to the tonic key.) This piece, “Isolation Rag,” takes its listeners on a few unexpected twists along the way, sometimes returning momentarily to the beginning motif, sometimes introducing new material instead of repeating the expected section.

Our lives in the last 70+ days have also done that. Sometimes we think we are making progress, and we find that we are right back where we started, and sometimes we feel like a section is about to repeat - instead, we find ourselves in a new place with new information, altogether. I love that the title of this piece - probably chosen because of the time in which it was written - alludes to how our lives have been shaped in the last three-ish months.

Bravo, Mr. Wheeler. Thank you for accurately being able to articulate our lives in an art form seldom used any longer. It made my heart lift.


May 27, 2020 at 04:54 AM · Wow this is truly amazing. What these musicians have done with some of their extra time is inspiring. Appreciate you guys for putting these together

May 27, 2020 at 11:24 AM · To 151: Itzkoff is quite a remarkable cellist!

To 87: The "Isolation Rag" made me happy as well!

To 246: Happy to provide a Zoom diversion.

To 17: There is no question that Miro is a gift to all of us who are privileged enough to have him as a friend.

To 108: I agree!

To 139: It was an honor to feature ViolaPower! And I meant it when I said Ron is my new hero!

Jean: You are correct on the two Mendelssohn quotes! I admit to having missed the other quote entirely, but according to the composer, it is not Bruch. Thanks so much for listening, however!!

To D. Aks: Brahms! You are correct! I actually declared Joe Gladstone the winner last night. Since he is a member, his comment was posted immediately without review. I see this morning that your comment was actually logged earlier. So after consulting with our 15 judges, my lawyer, and a higher power (Laurie), we have decided to officially declare two winners! A luggage tag is coming your way!

To Christina: As always, so glad you enjoyed the selections!

To 207: I'm with your recommendation on the Mendelssohn! Thanks for a lovely comment. And you are right about Brahms!

To Corwin: My heart breaks, too. Thank you for taking the time to comment. It is appreciated.

To DB Miller: What an incredibly astute and heartfelt comment. I am genuinely moved by the time and thought you put into your analysis. Mr. Wheeler really does take us on a musical journey that is akin to the emotional one we've been on over the last 70+ days. And then Mr. Shaham plays it with his unique brand of brilliance, while keeping the absolute simplicity of the style front and center.

May 27, 2020 at 02:56 PM · Thank you so much for featuring Viola power on your page.

It is an honor to be added in such a talent filled article.

Thanks to Mr. Houston, we have a wonderful opportunity to show our appreciation to healthcare workers and first responder, and we are all happy to see that Mr. Houston's contribution is recognized!

May 27, 2020 at 06:04 PM · To 172: Thank YOU for taking the time to read and listen!

To 103: Thanks go to ViolaPower and Mr. Houston for the way you have shown your appreciation to health care workers and first responders. I loved one of the comments on the YouTube of your "Nimrod" performance that read, "Today was a bad day. Thanks, this is beautiful and very comforting." Way to go!

May 27, 2020 at 08:48 PM · Thanks to all for your kind comments on my Isolation Rag! I'm especially flattered by the close analysis from DB Miller. You're quite correct that I don't follow the format you describe for a classic rag. I'm not a scholar but I've certainly played through plenty of them and I'm pretty sure there are some fairly classic rags that deviate in various ways. In any case, I wasn't at all rigorous, and some of the key relationships probably came about from my desire to put the quotes in their original keys, or at least at their original pitch levels.

Scott Wheeler

May 27, 2020 at 09:15 PM · Thank you so much to you guys and Mr. Houston for featuring our Viola Power group! We loved the opportunity to share our music with anyone and our appreciation to the health care workers. It is an honor to be recognized by!

May 27, 2020 at 09:17 PM · To Scott Wheeler: How wonderful to hear from you! I think it's pretty clear that people love your "Isolation Rag." We'll look forward to knowing when the sheet music becomes available.

May 27, 2020 at 09:19 PM · I thought it was a brilliant piece. Time changes everything, and after all, without venturing outside of the box, Mendelssohn and Brahms would never have been who they are!

May 27, 2020 at 10:08 PM · I'm not sure why at my advanced age that I still continue to be surprised at how much music can evoke emotions. I can't think of anything else be it art, beautiful scenery, written word, that can so instantly make you so happy or so sad. Today is the second anniversary of my mother's death. Her memorial concert featured Elgar's "Nimrod". Hearing the Julliard version today brought my instantly to tears. It was so moving and so beautifully played. I know that my mother would have loved seeing these young people sharing their talent with us. Thank you!!

May 27, 2020 at 11:10 PM · Thanks, Diana. I definitely want to get the sheet music out there, but I'm waiting until Gil has a chance to play the piece in live concert. The piece Gil was supposed to play on his tour of Italy this month, with pianist Akira Eguchi, is called The Singing Turk. It's my second violin sonata and is published by Peermusic Classical. I have some audio of that which I can share privately for those who would like to be in touch.

May 28, 2020 at 01:37 AM · Beautiful. Thank you all for sharing your talent and joy.

May 28, 2020 at 02:01 AM · To 233: It has been a wonderful opportunity for all of us to get to know ViolaPower!

To 85 DB Miller: Very good point about Mendelssohn and Brahms!

To 152: You and I share this bittersweet anniversary, and you are right that our mother would have loved this performance of "Nimrod."

To 231: Well put! Sharing talent and joy seems to be on the agenda of many musicians these days.

To Scott Wheeler: I hope Mr. Shaham has the opportunity to play it in a live concert very soon. And what a generous offer on the audio of The Singing Turk. I've personally had a chance to listen and I found it stunning. It is my fervent hope that the concerts in Italy will all be rescheduled.

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