December 2009

Ten New Year's Resolutions for the Violinist

December 31, 2009 15:26

Do you need help making your New Year's resolution list? Here is a list of 10 New Year's resolutions for the violinist in 2010:

1. Practice every day!

There are no short-cuts; this is the only real way to learn and maintain your violin skills. Not only that, but once you have formed the habit, it's easier to practice every day than to practice some days. Start with a goal of 21 straight days. If you fall off the wagon, start counting at "one," until you reach 21 days in a row. When you have reached 21 days, you will find that you have a strong habit going. Then, keep it going!

2. Learn a new piece.

For students, this is obvious; keep progressing. For those who have graduated to independent study (a lifelong state, as far as I'm concerned!), one has to direct this effort, make it happen. You only live once; What piece have you always wanted to play? Well, try it! Or at least figure out the path you need to go in order to play it.

3. Resurrect an old piece.

Whether you have been playing for 30 years and are re-working a piece you learned as a college student, or you are in Suzuki Book 4 and brushing off a piece from Suzuki Book 2, this can be incredibly rewarding. An old piece becomes a completely new endeavor when you add your experience, better technique (hopefully!) and new perspective.

4. Choose a technique to master this year, and put it into your daily practice.

This should be a technique that you already know, but something you feel you would like to do better. For example, a few years back, I decided that I was just "getting by" with the ricochet; probably it was a run through Mozart 3 that got me thinking about it. So I incorporated ricochet it into my three-octave scales: double, triple, quadruple ricochet; up-bow, down-bow, on one note, over several notes, etc., you get the picture. It's amazing, when you make something part of your daily practice, how quickly things get easier. Also, once you've mastered the initial exercises, you will want to go deeper, finding or inventing new exercises for that particular technique.

5. Take a friend to a concert that features violin music.

We are the best advocates for the music we love! Resolve to, at least once this year, reach out to someone who seems interested in your music, and get that person even more interested.

6. Resolve to practice your orchestra music.

If you are a student, practice it until you know it well. If you are a professional symphony player, you know what I mean. It doesn't take all that much effort to brush up the nasty passages, and it makes orchestra so much more enjoyable.

7. Exercise!

This is a regular item on most people's list of New Year's resolutions, whether they are musicians or not. Certainly, maintaining strength, flexibility and endurance will help your playing. Also, exercise will help your overall health, physically and mentally. So many problems can be solved by a simple regimen of physical exercise, so to quote Nike, Just Do It!

8. Listen.

Listening is a fundamental part of music-making, it's where it all begins! Yet sometimes when life fills up with making music, practicing, etc., we forget to be passive now and then and just listen. This year, resolve to seek out at least one fantastic performance or recording every month. You may want to attend a performance, buy a CD, watch something on Youtube. You could listen to violin music, symphony music, a performance by a fine vocalist, a wonderful clarinetist, a band that you find inspiring. Just don't forget to listen!

9. Volunteer.

This is rewarding, whether or not your volunteering is music-related. Here are some ideas, though, if you'd like to volunteer for music-related causes:  speak to or play for a classroom of children; work the phones an arts organization's funding drive, serve on the board for the local symphony or other arts organization, join the fight to keep music in the schools (or bring music to schools), etc.

10. Tell a friend or colleague about

If you have found to be helpful or inspiring, we hope you'll spread the word so that we can continue to grow our community!

Please feel free to add your own ideas for New Year's resolutions, or about these resolutions. Happy New Year!

10 replies

Fugues on Fiddles: Getting the angle right

December 29, 2009 19:34

I had a little revelation – an epiphany, a moment of realization – as I was playing the Bach A minor Sonata the other night – the “Fuga.”

Or I could call it a “Duh!” moment.

The fugue is such a monster movement, not only because of the numerous double stops that require a fair amount of  left-hand contortion and right-hand string crossings, but also because of the sheer length of it – five pages in most of my editions. After studying the sonata about five years ago, I made it my aim in 2009 to put in my reps –  to play the entire sonata several hundred times (okay, I wanted to do it daily and didn't quite get there!), so that I could reach a level where I'm playing it with fluency and feel I have a degree of mastery over the piece.

With 2009 nearing its end, I've come to the point where I'm comfortable playing the piece and feel like I can play it whenever I want to do so, without having to re-learn anything. I'm also getting some insights that come from a lot of repetition and long-term living with the piece. Which brings me to the fugue.

When the notes are basically in hand, one wants to bring out the various lines in a fugue. Thus, this was my aim: smoothing out the lines and bringing out the important one. Specifically, in mm 18-30, we have a two-line conversation going on, and I was trying to make this as fluid as possible. But what was going wrong? I was losing clarity. And then: “Duh!”

I was thinking in terms of two lines, but when it came to the bow, I needed to be thinking in terms of three angles. The bow is at a different angle when playing one note on the E string, when playing a double-stop on the EA, and when playing on the A string. That's three different angles. I was thinking: two strings, trading lines, sometimes the line is on the E, sometimes the line is on the A. I was trying to keep the line, say, on the E while, scooping up a few notes on the A, and vice-versa.

Certainly, I can focus on the dual musical lines there, but I'm going to have to do so while also keeping well aware of those three angles. I'll probably play the entire passage with just open strings, simply to clarify exactly what the bow is doing and should be doing.

And, an aside, I'm going to be interviewing Simon Fischer (author of Basics) in the next few days, and when I opened my Strad magazine, I noticed that his column for December is on this very problem of bow angles. Hah! Perhaps I'll warm up with the exercise he prescribes, as well!

8 replies

Frozen in Time

December 24, 2009 20:30

"Should we take a picture of it?" said my son Brian, age 9, early this morning, as we both knelt down to feel the frozen grass.

"Mmmm," I said. How exactly do I explain? Brian was looking at something he'd rarely seen in his life: frost. Having been born in Pasadena, California, and living his whole life here, he simply hasn't seen much of the icy stuff. It's just frosty grass, my boy, pretty commonplace where I grew up in Colorado.

And yet -- it was quite beautiful, the way the grass glistened in the sun, like some little frost fairy had scattered glitter on everyone's lawn. In fact, the moment was equally beautiful: stopped in our tracks on our early morning walk, my son and I, together, discovering.

Impossible to capture in a photograph, though. Impossible to pin it down and hold it forever. I realized: I wanted to capture it just like he did.

I suppose these moments are the ones we seek to create during the holidays, and ironically enough, it's the memories of such moments that cause us so much grief  sometimes during this time of year, so fraught with memories and meaning, timelessness and the keen awareness of time passing.

And yet, the moments come, every year, if you allow yourself to stop and notice them. You can't really create them, they just happen. When they do, capture them, keep them.

Happy holidays, everyone!

3 replies

Itzhak Perlman's concert to end polio

December 21, 2009 15:12

This seemed like a very worthy cause, and so I bring it to your attention:

Violinist Itzhak Perlman performed a "Concert to End Polio" on December 2 with the New York Philharmonic, and below is a video explaining why, with a bit of footage from the concert. Perlman is a polio survivor himself -- having contracted the disease at the age of four in Israel, before a vaccine was developed. One of the great virtuosos of our time, Perlman has had to overcome severe physical challenges because of limited mobility in his legs due to the disease.

The concert was given to boost an effort by Rotary International to raise $200 million to match a $355-million challenge grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The resulting $555 million will fund critical immunization activities in developing countries where the crippling disease still threatens children.

It's mind-boggling, to realize that children still contract this devastating disease, when it is so preventable.

If you wish to donate to the effort go to this page and click on the big red button.

4 replies interview with Sarah Chang

December 18, 2009 15:18

Violinist Sarah Chang has recorded everything, hasn't she?

Well, okay, she hasn't. But she is one of the few 28-year-olds on the planet who can record the Brahms and Bruch concertos for the first time, and do so with more than 20 years' experience playing them at concert halls around the world.

I spoke with Sarah when she was in Los Angeles to play Vivaldi's “Four Seasons" with the American Youth Symphony, and we talked about a wide range of subjects – from her perspective on life as a prodigy to how she picks out those gorgeous concert gowns.

Sarah Change
Photo courtesy Sarah Chang

Laurie: What was the first thing you ever played on the violin?

Sarah Chang: I started on the Suzuki method, so probably one of those songs; I didn't do it for very long, only about 4-5 months. My dad is a violinist, so after that I studied with him. I went to Juilliard when I was six, and Dorothy DeLay was my teacher from that point onwards. So the first thing was most likely Twinkle Twinkle, or one of those Suzuki songs.

Laurie: How was Dorothy DeLay with a six-year-old?

Sarah Chang: She was possibly the best teacher that I could have asked for. Very grandmother-like, very encouraging, very gentle. But she never told you to fix anything – this was something I found frustrating a little later on, but I realized it was just her way of working: She always got you thinking. Sometimes you'd go in for a lesson and she'd ask, 'What do you think you can do to make this better?' or, “What is it you're unhappy with?" instead of telling you, fix X-Y-Z. She'd go inside your head and get you to think.

Laurie: That sounds pretty sophisticated for a six-year-old...

Sarah Chang: In the very beginning, she was really hands-on. Then I started traveling and concertizing more -- and not really being there. I would play, and then I'd go away for a month on tour. Then I'd come back for one or two lessons and  go out again. So it was extremely irregular, and I think she  realized that I needed to start listening to myself. She once said to me, in the very early years, that I was probably going to spend a vast majority of my life working by myself in hotel rooms or backstage in dressing rooms, and I couldn't always rely on her being there. She told me, you know, you really have to learn to open up your ears and listen to yourself.

Laurie: It was wise of her to tell you that. I don't know that everyone knows what to expect from the soloist's life.

Sarah Chang: She had so much experience at that point, (having taught) so many people.

Laurie: It is a little bit of a unique life. Not many people have the experience of being a child prodigy. I wonder, looking back on it, what would you advise somebody who showed great talent early on, who was looking at that kind of situation? What would you advise their parents?

Sarah Chang: I'd tell them to wait. Juggling school, homework, assignments, exams, career and  constant recordings – was no fun. I'm not going to kid you, that was no fun. Not only that, when the ball starts rolling, and you get caught up in the moment and everything is so new and exciting and you want to put yourself out there and play as many concerts as you possibly can -- you forget that the early years are when you should be learning the most amount of repertoire.

I think my parents were really good about that. They controlled my schedule so that I did the important concerts: I did the New York Phil, the Berlin Phil, the Vienna Phil. I did all the debuts, I did all the big dates that I needed to do. But then they would stick me back in school. They put a really tight grip on the schedule. I had – still do have – a variety of managers. But it was very much my parents who would end up just saying 'No" to everything. They said that I needed to go to school, and I needed time to learn repertoire. I'm glad they did that – because now the schedule is insane.

Laurie: So the ability to say “No" is important.

Sarah Chang: And they did. It's really good, especially at the beginning, so you don't get too caught up in everything. If I try to learn new pieces now, with a full-time schedule, it really is a day here, and a day two weeks later. It's not the ideal way to learn new pieces, but unfortunately that's the only time to do it now. So I'm really glad I got the majority of the violin rep under my belt when I was a student.

Laurie: What about becoming famous at a young age, and coping with that? Or is it so much a part of your life that you don't think about it?

Sarah Chang: You really don't think about it after a while. I started so young that the focus was heavily on the whole child prodigy thing. Any sort of label they could have stuck on me, they did: “prodigy," “wunderkind," anything that has to do with kids. So to grow up with that and then to go through a transition stage where you're not exactly a kid any more but they don't really know quite where to categorize you...I've been the the business for over 20 years now, and I'm still reading articles about me that call me the ex-prodigy. That label just follows you around. There's not much you can do about that.

But I'm very grateful that I'm in the classical music world. I think people in the classical music world are extremely sophisticated, they know what they're listening to, they're musically educated, so they know what they want. They also know good music when they listen to it. I think it's one of the last remaining really honest forms of music-making. We don't lip sync, we don't have light shows, we don't have special effects, we don't have anything to distract or add fluff. We go out and we play, and we either play well or we don't play well. It's really clean, you either deliver or you don't. I like that sort of pureness to the industry.

I also like the fact that I started out at a time where everything – the classical music world, the recording industry – was in full swing. It's different now. But I started out when child prodigies were still accepted, and I was cranking out recordings like you wouldn't believe. It's a different sort of world now. You can't just slam out a record for the sake of slamming out a record. I'm still recording with EMI, and I'm very grateful that I'm working with the same company that I started out with, I know that's very unusual. Now every project that we do – there has to be a reason for it. You can't just go into a studio and make a record like you used to. First and foremost, there has to be a good musical reason for it, then there has to be a marketing reason for it, and there has to be an audience for it as well. Everything you put your name on now has a lot more thought behind it.

Laurie: Tell me a little bit about the thought behind your new Brahms and Bruch recording. You know, I didn't play the Bruch concerto until I was in college, so I was 18, or something like that. And I remember that the first thing my teacher said was, 'I played the Bruch when I was seven!' Which of course made me crumble. (Sarah laughs)

But I thought about it, and I wonder how a seven-year-old views the Bruch, versus how a 20-year-old views it, versus how an almost-30-year-old looks at it?

Sarah: No disrespect to your teacher, but I think the whole age thing – I learned that when I was six, I learned that when I was seven – means nothing.

Laurie: Really? What do you mean by that?

Sarah Chang: I learned the Bruch when I was five. It means I played the notes, and I had enough emotion in me then to play it well – at least well enough to get into Juilliard; it was my audition piece. Mozart three and the Bruch were my two audition pieces for Juilliard. And then I put it away, I didn't touch it. I didn't touch it for another 10 years, and then I started performing it in public when I was 17 or so. Same thing with the Brahms; I learned it when I was eight, at Juilliard with Miss DeLay – learned it meaning learned the notes, scratched the surface. It got to the point where I thought I knew the piece, but obviously that was nothing. I wouldn't have dared go on stage with it at that point. So again, I put it away for about 10 years. I was probably 18 or 19 before I even went on stage with the Brahms. From that point on, with every concert, that's when the learning actually begins. That's when you realize how very little you do actually know about the piece! (She laughs)

There are certain pieces that I'm really grateful that I waited (to play). Because if you learn something when you're so young and it gets embedded in your head...Memory's a really funny thing, especially when you learn something when you're so extremely young – you can't shake it off. You really can't shake it off! With some pieces, I learned the piece when I was five or six, and I learned it in a specific way. Then 10 years later I try to pick it up and it's still stuck in my head – you try so desperately to shake it off because there are certain habits that you really don't want to continue on with.

Laurie: What are some of the pieces you're really grateful that you did late?

Sarah Chang: Shostakovich. I waited until I was 20-something before I even attempted to learn that. That's a huge monster of a piece.

Laurie: It's huge emotionally.

Sarah Chang: Just draining.

Beethoven, as well. I'm glad I waited. I was probably in my late teens. Brahms, I learned when I was younger and put it away.

There are some pieces you have too much respect for – just because you can play the notes doesn't mean you necessarily should be on stage playing the piece.

And yet, I think there's also a lot to be said for being on stage and getting the piece under your skin and fingers -- living with it a bit. I started that process with the Brahms when I was about 18 or 19 and did countless concerts with it before I even attempted to bring it up with EMI, saying that I really want to record this.

Same thing with the Vivaldi. It's so popular; everybody knows the piece, every violinist in the world has either played or recorded the piece. There's really no reason for another record of the Four Seasons to come out, unless you really feel that you have a special version and you're convinced about it. The Vivaldi was on EMI's wish list for me for about a decade. I kept saying no – just because I knew that everybody had recorded it. I wanted to be in a place where I not only understood the piece but was comfortable enough to say, okay, even if there are 6,000 recordings of it out there, this is my version, and I feel really good about my version. It takes time before you can actually feel good about that.

Laurie: Where do you currently live, then?

Sarah Chang: Philadelphia. That's where I was born; my family's still there. My brother goes to Princeton, everybody's around the area.

Laurie: How many siblings do you have?

Sarah Chang: Just him. He's younger. He played the cello – he played really well, so talented. But he wants to do something else. He's seen me grow up and he's seen the insanity that is my life and he wants something a little bit more normal.

Laurie: You mentioned that your father's a violinist, does he still play?

Sarah Chang: Not so much, he lives in Korea, and he teaches a bit.

Laurie: So it's possible to live in Philadelphia and go to Juilliard.

Sarah Chang: Philly's close enough that I never really felt the need to live in New York. I was never there for any blocked out kind of time, I was always traveling.

Laurie: But you went to grade school?

Sarah Chang: I did that in Philly. And then I went to Juilliard, when I was in the pre-college division, only on Saturdays. Then later on I would go up more.

But it was a really great school. They were very supportive. They're ultimately nurturing performers, so at the end of the day, if you say, 'I've got nine weeks of back-to-back-to-back concerts, I'll be out for nine weeks, but I need all my assignments before I go,' they were understanding. But at the same time they needed the stuff done. I finished school only because I was able to fax stuff. E-mail was just starting up at that point.

Everybody there was so incredibly talented.

Laurie: What are some of the things you have to do to keep a high level of technique and to keep it in your fingers?

Sarah Chang: Basics, every day. There's no other secret, really. I wish there were! (She laughs) Scales, arpeggios, thirds, octaves – the regular stuff you would hate as a student, you need to do it every day. When you have a schedule like this... some days  when you can manage to squeeze in 4-5 hours, that's great. There are other days when you've just gotten off a 15-hour flight and you're so exhausted you can't even see straight, then I do my scales, all the basics. Even if it means I'll just touch the violin 30 minutes before collapsing in bed, I'll still do the basics. Even if you have three concertos and four sonatas that you need to look at, I'll start with the basics.

Laurie: You never get to a point where you can graduate from the scales.

Sarah Chang: I wish! I do the Galamian and the Flesch, I certainly use both.

Laurie: Etudes?

Sarah Chang: There are some I do to get the fingers warmed up in the morning. The normal stuff: the Kreutzer, the Sevcik, the Dont, the Gavinies, Ysaye – all that stuff. All the stuff you hated as a child. (She laughs)

Laurie: I actually love scales, I find it kind of therapeutical to start out with those Galamian acceleration scales. But I can't say that my students have taken to them! (Laughing)

Have you ever taken a sabbatical? Do you see life changing as you approach that big 3-0? Do you want to keep doing the whole solo thing?

Sarah Chang: I'll be 30 in two years, and I've already set aside that day. This year I've got a concert on the day, I don't mind, I really don't. But I just thought, for 30 I want a big party, and I want my friends there and I don't want to have a concert that day.

It's very comforting for me to have the schedule and the concerts. It's a big part of my life, that's where I actually feel the most comfortable.

Laurie: So what you still enjoy most is soloing.

Sarah Chang: It is. The majority of what I do is concertos, what I love the most. I adore chamber music, I love doing recitals. I don't get to do them as much as I get to do concertos. I would say about 95 percent of what I do are concertos. I love working with orchestras, I love working with conductors.

Laurie: Sometimes people find themselves going in other directions – composing, conducting or teaching.

Sarah Chang: I see a lot of my colleagues, a lot of the violinists out there, branching out and going into conducting. And a lot of them settle down and have families, start having kids -- you have to sort of scale back on concerts when you do that. But I still feel that there's a lot that I need to do musically, to make myself happy.

Laurie: Like what?

Sarah Chang: There are a lot of pieces I want to learn, a lot of rep. Conducting, I don't think is in the cards for me. I think you get to that when you feel that you've done everything in the instrument's repertoire and you want something new -- I'm not at that stage yet, I still feel that there's so much violin music out there that I want to learn, that I want to commission....

Laurie: Commission!

Sarah Chang: I've only worked with three living composers until now Donald Sur, Richard Danielpour and Christopher Theofanidis -- he wrote a concerto for me last year. I had so much fun with that! It was a huge responsibility, and not something that I do all the time. But it piqued my interest enough that I definitely know that I want to do more of that.

And there's so much that I want to do before I even think about branching out and going into conducting, composing ….

Also, just trying to squeeze in what little life that you can.

Laurie: And clothes shopping, you have to squeeze that in.

Sarah Chang: I love shopping!

Laurie: I do, too. It's important.

Sarah Chang: You know what? It really is.

Laurie:  It makes you feel so much better.

Sarah Chang: I love clothes, I love shoes. I'm a big shoe freak. It's my one weakness in life: shoes.

Laurie: What is the best kind of shoe?

Sarah Chang: (She laughs) Anything that makes you walk taller. Dior has great shoes. Louboutins are, on occasion, great -- some of them are quite painful – I mean these are Louboutins (she points to her high black boots) and I don't wear them on stage. But I love shoes.

Laurie: What makes a good concert dress? What factors does it have to have?

Sarah Chang: For me? Personally?

Laurie: Yes.

Sarah Chang: Everyone's going to give a slightly different answer, but I love color.

Laurie: What do you mean by that?

Sarah Chang: First of all, I love black. When I'm not on stage, you'll most likely see me in black because I never get to wear black on stage. But on stage, I've only worn black a handful of times.

I love color, color meaning something that's bright and happy and makes your coloring look good, and for everyone, that's a different color.

Cut, how it fits. How it fits is more important than anything else. As long as it's altered to your body and fits well, it doesn't matter if it's a $1,000 dress or a $10,000 dress or a $20,000 dress, I really believe how it fits and how it hangs on you is the most important thing.

I also think that beyond all of that, the most important thing for a musician is that is should be repertoire-appropriate.

Laurie: Oh really?

Sarah Chang: For me, that is a major factor. Some people, when I say that, they don't quite get it, they say what do you mean, it has to be repertoire-appropriate? But if you have a red, hot, sexy number for Carmen, I'm not going to be wearing that for a Beethoven concert. I'm not going to be wearing that for a Brahms concert. And vice-versa.

You know how, sometimes when you put on a really hot slinky red dress it just makes you feel different? It makes you walk differently and feel differently? If it's not the mindset I want to be in for Brahms...It's really weird, but I think that for a woman, it affects the way that you walk and you feel; even subconsciously, it will overflow into the way you're playing that evening.

Laurie: What is a Brahms dress?

Sarah Chang: I try to go more elegant and more classical when it comes to stuff like Brahms or Beethoven.

Laurie: Mozart.

Sarah Chang: Mozart, I think, fresh, young, simple.

Laurie: Shostakovich.

Sarah Chang: Whatever the heck you want! (Laughter) It's so complex, and obviously it's very modern, so sometimes I try to go modern. But really, across the board. You can do whatever you want with that one, I think.

Another important thing is, can I move in this dress? Can my arms move freely in this? I've had enough wardrobe mis-haps on stage that I know that the last think I want to worry about is: Is this going to fall off? Are the straps going to fall? The worst thing you can do for yourself, as a woman on stage, is play a 40-minute concerto and worry the entire time about your dress. There's nothing more unsettling. You do not want the dress does to become a distraction when you're on stage.

For example, when you have a beaded dress – I always ask the designers to not bead the last inch of the dress, because you always end up crunching on them on stage. Little things like that. Straps, if they fall, no way. You're focusing on that.

When I had my debut at the Sydney Opera House – I was wearing this new, sky-blue Dior dress which I absolutely loved . It was my first grown-up dress, my first dress where I didn't have to go to the teens section. My mother let me go to Dior and get an actual formal gown, and I was so in love with this dress. It had a row of about 20 buttons that you actually had to do yourself, and I thought, I'm never going to have the patience, so I asked the seamstress to make them into snap buttons, which at the time, seemed like a really good idea.

Laurie: I think I know where this is going...

Sarah Chang: So I did the whole test – stand, play – it was fine.

Then I went on stage, took my first bow, and the whole thing just ripped. It just came undone. (she laughs)

Laurie: What did you do!?

Sarah Chang: I wanted to cry. I literally wanted to cry. And the conductor just didn't see, he just started the orchestra. It was a short introduction, so I had the violin and bow in one hand, and the other hand was trying to get the snap buttons, as many as I could – and that's not really what you want to be thinking about before you have to play! For the entire concert, you're thinking, please stay on, please stay on...

I didn't wear that dress again.

Laurie: Oh that's sad, your first lovely dress!

Sarah Chang: But I think, at the end of the day, a concert is an event. With operas, you have costumes and lighting, and you're telling a story, in a character. At a concert, you can basically wear whatever you want. But at the same time, you are, in a way, loosely representing the composer, and I think you should keep that in mind.

I love, when I look out into the audience – in a gorgeous hall, so beautiful with the chandeliers and the lighting. You look out into the audience, and you know that the audience has also made an effort. The women look beautiful; the orchestra, they're in tails. I just think that it's appropriate for the soloist to make an effort as well.

I remember, there was an orchestra, several years ago, that was thinking of new ways to bring in young audiences. They asked if I would support this new idea of Friday afternoon casual concerts, where everybody would show up in jeans, including the performers. They asked if I could just wear jeans and a T-shirt or a top or whatever. I thought, this is a concert! I seriously doubt that wearing jeans is going to bring in more people.


7 replies

News Flash: If You Have News, Don't Use Flash

December 17, 2009 15:02

Today I was looking at the website of an arts organization, after seeing a press release that interested me. I wanted to link to the new information they had posted on their website and share it with my fellow V.commies.

Unfortunately, it took me 88 clicks through a Flash website to get to the information I wanted. (Yes, I counted the clicks.) If I linked to that information, you, too, would have to click 88 times to get to the information of interest. It's not possible to bookmark the page of interest in a Flash page. Every time you want to get to that information, it's going to take 88 clicks.

This reminded me of a golden rule for webpages: Make it easy for the reader. The key to having a website that serves both you and those who seek you out is to make it usable. It's possible to make it usable and beautiful, but please, first make it usable.

It seems to be the trend -- among everyone -- to make visually beautiful Flash websites. I can understand the appeal: They are visually beautiful. Unfortunately, they tend to frustrate and drive away readers, too.

Instead of being able to go straight to a desired page, readers have to go through several (sometimes frustrating) steps to find the page they are seeking. Very often they won't bother, unless, like me, they are very determined.

Maybe the whole thing is intentional; publicists figure it's best to drive people to a portal, where they'll see the entire site, sit through the lovely long introduction, look at the beautiful visuals...but really, I don't think that frustrating the reader is the way to go. If I want to see the the artists' bio, I want to see that. If it takes me a long introduction, plus five clicks to get to that bio, that means that every single time I want to reference that bio, I will have to sit through an introduction and click five times. As a journalist, if I want to do a contextual link to something specific within that website, I simply can't. For example, if I'm writing a story about you, and I'd like to refer my readers straight to your concert schedule, I literally can't if it is embedded in a wall of Flash. I can only refer them to the home page of your website, where readers will have to muddle through to figure out why I sent them there. If readers cannot easily intuit why I sent them to that page, I'm not going to link to it.

The same is true when posting a link on Facebook or Twitter; you can only post a link to the Flash home page, not to any specific page within that website. Let's say you write a wonderful blog and put it on your Flash website. If you post the link to Facebook or Twitter, readers will be sent to your homepage and then have to navigate their way to your blog. What is the likelihood that they'll bother? Slim. None.

I hope that if you are in the position of deciding how you'll make a website for yourself, for another artist or for an organization, that you will consider NOT creating a Flash website.

5 replies interview with Augustin Hadelich

December 9, 2009 20:05

In the three years since winning the 2006 International Violin Competition of Indianapolis, Augustin Hadelich's career has taken flight. Hadelich's new album, called Flying Solo, may be so named because it features all works for solo violin, by Bartok, Ysaye, Paganini and Bernd Zimmermann. But it might simply be because Augustin spends a lot of time on airplanes these days, flying to debuts from Cleveland to Carnegie Hall, Los Angeles to Tokyo, winning the 2009 Avery Fisher Career Grant and playing with orchestras the world over.

Augustin Hadelich. Image courtesy artist.
Image courtesy artist

The new recording is his third, the first being of three Haydn concertos for violin, for which he wrote his own cadenzas, and the second being Telemann Twelve Fantasies for Solo Violin, released in early 2009.

Born in Italy to German parents, Hadelich spent much of his early years taking lessons from various violinists who were on holiday in Tuscany, where he grew up on a farm. When he was 15, his life's activities came to a sudden halt when he suffered severe burns to his upper body in a fire at his family's farm in Italy – an accident that required two years of painful recovery.

I spoke to Augustin over the phone a few weeks ago, after meeting him at a recital he gave in Los Angeles. We talked about life on constant tour, about competitions and about the 1683 ex-Gingold Stradivari violin he was granted for use until he hands it over to the next Indianapolis competition winner next  September. We also talked about how the violin helped him during his recovery from the accident.

Laurie: How do you cope with your schedule as a soloist, when you are in Santa Barbara one day, Berlin the next week, then back to New York, across the country to Los Angeles, then on an overnight plane to Indianapolis for a recital the next day, and all of this is in the course of a month. Then of course you are playing different music at all these concerts. What kinds of strategies have you figured out to handle it all?

Augustin: There are certain little tricks that you learn. First of all, anything, if you do it very often,  becomes easier. A lot of what stresses you out about flying is how you yourself feel about it. So I don't get very stressed any more at airports; I'm more used to it than I was a few years ago. If you are flying during the day, it's important to be productive on the plane. If it's overnight, you need to sleep.

Laurie: So one thing you have to cope with is the travel. How about having the repertoire ready?

Augustin: I don't have a specific method, but a lot of these pieces I've played many times before. It doesn't take as much preparation, but it does take intense preparation to get a piece at the highest level again. For some pieces, I can do that in the couple of days before a concert. I just work very intensely on it.

In certain pieces, it's always the same places that are an issue. The same goes for rehearsals with orchestras; regardless of what orchestra, where in the world, there are certain places that always need rehearsing. After a while, you just know where those places are, and you can make the rehearsals more efficient because of that.

A few years ago, when I first started to play this much, I sometimes made the mistake of practicing too many pieces at once. I was practicing ahead -- I was practicing what I had to play in a few weeks. Of course one needs to do that, but only up to a point. When I practiced too many pieces, then I didn't immerse myself in the piece I was playing that weekend. One needs to focus on (the upcoming weekend's performance pieces) with enough intensity, to be completely comfortable and at home in that style again, and in that work.

There are always at least a few pieces I'm learning that are new. For those, I make a plan for a few months or a half a year before the performance, so that I am working on it on and off, really trying to get to know it and internalize it.

Laurie: How did you get started with the violin?

Augustin: I started playing when I was five years old. My two older brothers were already playing instruments; they were playing cello and piano. I heard them practicing, and I wanted to play something, too. My parents had this vague idea of forming a piano trio...

: Did it ever happen?

: No, no. (He laughs) It never happened. It can be difficult for siblings to play together, and I think maybe it's just as well that we never did that.

But even before that, I grew up hearing music. I still have a great love for the cello repertoire because of I heard it so much at such a young age.

Laurie: Do your brothers still play, did they become musicians?

: They're not musicians, but they still play as a hobby.

So, I didn't know what I'd signed up for, because I was five. My father was not a professional musician, but his mother was a violin teacher, and he started teaching me the basics. He was my teacher for the first three years, essentially. It was tricky to find good teachers in that area of Italy where grew up (Tuscany), so I did some traveling to Germany, and to other places in Europe.

: Was it readily apparent that you were really serious about it, or that your really liked it?

Augustin: I did always enjoy it, I didn't always enjoy practicing!

It was when I started to take lessons with other people that I became really inspired. Some of (my teachers) were musicians who were in Tuscany on holiday, like Christoph Poppen, who at the time had a string quartet that went to Tuscany to rehearse.

Also, when I was eight, my father took me to Vienna, where Uto Ughi was giving masterclasses. It was the first time that I saw someone who was really, really great at the violin up close, and it was a huge inspiration. I went back the following three years and took lessons with him. I was so impressed because he had such a beautiful, singing tone; his sense of lyricism was beautiful. I also was impressed by the fact all these people would play in a masterclass, and he would just pick up his violin and start playing out all of these concerti. He could play any piece, and he really liked to play in his own masterclass, he liked to demonstrate. It was fascinating to watch him, and it made a big impression on me back then, to see everything he was doing up close.

Laurie: I don't want to dwell on your accident, but I know that it happened while you were growing up, and I wonder if the violin helped you recover.

Augustin: I think it did. At that time, the violin had become a huge part of my life. I was playing more and more concerts, and spending a lot of time with it. When the accident interrupted everything, it was a huge crisis. I didn't know if I would be able to play again. But then as I recovered, eventually I started again. I tried playing, and I realized that it was possible.

It's very helpful, I think, if people can go back to their job, or to their work. It gave me a lot of hope when I realized that I could play again. Of course, it was a long road. I started playing again, but I had to get better physically and psychologically. Also, suddenly I was an adult; I was no longer a prodigy child. So there was less of an interest in my playing –  I was being compared to adult violinists, as opposed to just being compared to prodigies my age.

And I had lost a few years in my musical development, my technical and violinistic development.

: I would think that it would not be just losing a few years on the violin, but then also having to completely recover physically.

Augustin: Well, to some extent, when I started playing again, I was technically at the level I had been before. But of course it takes time to get the physical strength back again.

Then when I was much better, I had the opportunity to play some concerts again. Through one of those concerts, which was  in the United States, I ended up getting management in New York. They convinced me to get out in the world a little more. So I went to summer festivals and I started to realize everything that was out there there. Eventually I decided to go to Juilliard.

: How old were you when you went to Juilliard?

: I went to Juilliard when I was 20 years old; I went into a graduate program. I did have a diploma that I had received at an Italian conservatory. So for a few years I was doing all the requirements for that as I was recovering. Then I also spent one year in Berlin before I decided to go to New York.

In hindsight, it was a great decision (to go to New York) because the city provided a fresh start. And the school was a really inspiring environment – the people that I met, the students and faculty, it was really stimulating. I also had a very, very good teacher – Joel Smirnoff – who helped me develop my technique more. Because of the odd way I had been taught -- by so many different people but not so regularly – there were a few issues I had that he helped me to fix.

Laurie: Tell me about the Indianapolis competition – how did that change your life, and what are your thoughts on competitions, after it's all said and done?

Augustin: Well, I never had fun doing competitions. I'm happy that it's behind me. But they have their purpose, and in some ways they are a great thing because they provide these opportunities. Suddenly my career took off.

When it comes to that particular competition, the community in Indianapolis gets very involved and very excited about it. It feels like a big violin festival. They get to hear all this violin repertoire, all these violinists and great players. It might not be fun to compete in it, but one does have a very supportive and enthusiastic audience.

Laurie: Tell me about the Gingold Strad, has that changed your playing at all? Have you had any insights as a result of playing that instrument?

: It's a very unique violin, it took me a while to get to know it, to figure out how the sound production on it worked. It's very different from the instrument I had before.

Laurie: What did you have before?

: I played on a Guarneri filius Andreae – it was a beautiful instrument, but it had some issues with the size of the sound. It's not del Gesù, it was made by del Gesù's father. It had a great sound, the sound was fantastic, but it was a smaller tone. I really enjoyed my time on it, but sometimes there were those days when it was really tricky to produce the sound. Luckily it had a good day for that competition!

The (Gingold) Strad can also be moody sometimes, with temperatures and humidity changes, but most of all, the sound production works very differently. For some reason, one can't put too much pressure onto the string, it has to happen with bow speed. Over the course of about a year I slowly got to know how it reacted. You can't just do anything to it, it has to be played a certain way. Not all Strads are like that. But if you approach it in a specific way, then there is a lot of sound that can come out, and the sound is just really, really beautiful. It's been a great three years, playing it, especially from the time when I really started to know how to handle the violin, and how it works. It's fantastic.

So this competition has done a lot. It was definitely very stressful while it went on. Although, they do their best. There's something nice about the Indianapolis Competition -- they really try to make the process as easy as it can be, for something that's so competitive.

Laurie: How do they do that?

Augustin: It's the little things. When you are under that much pressure, the little details can make a big  difference. For example, at Indianapolis, you can go off stage in between pieces and take a drink of water. Some competitions won't allow that. Also, the host families for the competitors are very nice, and the whole competition is run extremely well and efficiently. These are things that sometimes can create additional stress, in addition to the stress of being in a competition. And that's the kind of stress that then can be too much – you finally do go insane! (He laughs) It makes sense; this way it's easier for everyone to play their best, which is what you want.

In some ways I felt that the first round was the hardest; you feel like nobody knows you, and starting the repertoire is so hard. In a way, it gets easier afterwards, but the level of tension keeps rising. It's very nerve-wracking, when you suddenly realize you might win, and what would happen if you did? It's really bad to think about that, but you can't stop yourself.

Laurie: You have to be very psychologically strong, don't you?

: Somehow it's possible to get through it, but it can take a lot out of you. I think it's very helpful that the hall is always full, with all these people, so it feels a little bit more like a performance.

Laurie: Do you like a performance better?

: Yes. Definitely. This may not be the same for all musicians, I think it depends on what you've done more. But for me, since I was small, I've played for relatively large groups of people, and it's the sort of setting where I'm reasonably comfortable. When it's small room, just a few people, and it's more like an audition setting – it's a lot more nerve-wracking for me. Most competitions are kind of a hybrid: you have a judge panel that you can see out there, and but then you have all the other people. So you try to pretend that you are playing for all the other people, that you are trying to give them a good performance, and if the judges like it, great. That's how you try to approach it. But of course, the thought keeps creeping in: What do the judges think? What is going to happen? I have to say, when it was all over, I was incredibly relieved. Part of the relief came from the fact that I didn't have to go through it again.

Laurie: I understand that you enjoy composing, is this true?

: I used to compose a lot, and there was a time when I even wanted to be a composer. But then playing the violin took the front seat. I realized that, to some extent, one needs to focus on one thing at a time. One has to play at such a high level (when performing). There was a time, 100 or 200 years ago, when people would compose and perform. But I think the demands that were put on the performer – the technical demands – were not as extreme. People didn't compare you to all those edited recordings like they do now. At the same time, to compose well, you have to put a lot of time and effort. Eventually I might start writing more again. I do write cadenzas.

A cadenza is very interesting and can be very difficult. You have to write somewhat in the composers style, yet I feel that sometimes when it's completely in the composer's style, the cadenza can fall flat. You can tell it's not the composer's; it doesn't have that genius stuff in it...

Laurie: Nor does it have your own stuff, if you are trying to be completely in the style of the composer.

Augustin: Cadenzas for Mozart concertos are really hard because of that. I feel that the route to take is to write something where the gestures and the motives fit the composer's style, yet it doesn't pretend to be the composer. Also, to write something where you can hear that there's a personality in it, that it doesn't limit itself to what was acceptable in those days.

It's just difficult thing to find this balance, especially in a Mozart concerto, where the whole movement is so perfect in its proportions. If you add this cadenza, it could put the whole thing off balance. It can't be too long, it can't be too's a difficult subject. I've tried many times – many of these cadenzas that I do play for these concertos are Version 7...(he laughs).

I wrote the cadenza for the first Paganini Concerto, and somehow I just had fun writing it. It's not that I don't respect Paganini as a composer, but somehow there was something a little less intimidating about writing that cadenza; it just happened. Maybe it's that I grew up in Italy and the Italian idiom comes naturally.

Laurie: What are some of the more important technical exercises you need to do on a regular basis to build and maintain a high level of technique?

Augustin: I don't know if I have anything very unusual...Part of it is – well, it's practicing always. I have to find a mixture between the quantity and quality of practicing. I'm very interested in very efficient practicing. I don't want to put more stress on my body and on my shoulders than necessary. When it's about the interpretation and musical decisions, a lot of work can be done away from the instrument. Oftentimes when I do that work, suddenly I realize I actually don't agree with what I'm doing when I'm playing.

Laurie: Do you listen to recordings of yourself playing, or do you look at the music and sort of run it in your head?

Augustin: One can imagine the music, one can sing the music. Even though I can't sing at all, when I start singing, the phrasing happens much more naturally. Suddenly everything happens the way it should, and then when I'm playing it, all these things that get in the way – because of the technique, or because of whether I start up-bow or down-bow -- you somehow overcome that. It can be helpful to  to realize, 'Oh, that this is actually how I would want it to sound.'

Analysis, in all cases, is really useful. We're not necessarily trained to do that in a conservatory. They teach us some harmonic analysis, but there's no class where they say, this is what you really should do with a violin concerto score, this is how you should approach it, these are the steps. Whereas conductors will often learn that, how to study a score, how to approach a score like that.

If you study the score in itself, you may suddenly realize something that you never would have realized if you just had been playing it. For example, maybe you have a sonata, and as you study it, you realize there is a pianissimo, and that is the only pianissimo that the composer employs in the entire piece. Maybe when you were playing it, you weren't doing that place that much softer than the others, and you certainly weren't thinking about the importance, or why this composer chose this dynamic in this place. When you play it on your violin, you are distracted by the technical challenges. So when you study the score, you notice things that you wouldn't, just playing your part. At the same time, of course, it is really important to also learn a piece in a physical way, to feel it physically. Both things have to happen and come together.

But there's no magic formula. It's just a lot of work. Work efficiently, and work on all the different aspects of it: not just the technical problem-solving but also on the analysis and emotional component of the piece.

Laurie: How do you keep yourself enthusiastic about it after all this work? Once all that's done, how do you go into a performance and really put your heart in it?

Augustin: With some pieces it can be tricky. But there are pieces you can play your whole life, and think about your whole life, and it doesn't get boring. Violinists have quite a bit of music like that. After all this work, at a certain point you have to stop obsessing and worrying. You have to just perform and enjoy the music, to try to get the character and interact with the audience. It can be a danger – sometimes I'm onstage and I'm still worrying about something, or I'm thinking about a fingering – that's completely the wrong place to do that!

Laurie: What do you think is the best piece, for still being interesting after you've played it a hundred times. Just in your opinion.

: I wouldn't say I have a single piece like that. I feel that way, for example, about the Beethoven Concerto. I can't even remember how long I've played it, or how many times. But I still do have fun, and I've never been bored onstage with that piece. Any time I walk off stage after playing the Beethoven Concerto, or the next day, I find myself thinking about everything that I need to do completely differently next time. It's an indication it will never get boring –  there is always room to improve.

3 replies's 2009 guide to holiday gifts for violinists

December 5, 2009 22:24

The time for holiday gift-giving is at hand, so I've assembled a list of some of this year's best offerings, including recordings that feature violinists – interspersed with a few goodies, old and new, that just sound good to me.

There are a number of benefits to investing in music and musical products this holiday season: first, you are feeding your passion. A new recording, sheet music or product for your instrument can give you inspiration, increase your ease in playing, make you want to practice more or help you appreciate the music you are making. Also, giving this kind of gift can help someone else do the same. Do you have a friend who is interested in the music you play, but just a little hesitant? Owning a fine recording might increase their level of interest.

Secondly, you are helping another musician to not go BROKE in this horrible economy! So even if you don't see anything that excites you on this list, I hope it helps you think about the idea of asking for a music-related gift or giving a music-related gift: attending a concert, buying a CD from a local musician, asking for a musical gadget, instrument, sheet music you've always wanted, donating to an arts organization, etc. (To that end, a portion of each purchase made after following any links below which go to will support

Here are some of my recommendations this year (prices were current when I posted this):

Philippe Quint Korngold Violin ConcertoPhilippe Quint Korngold Violin Concerto [$8.99 CD; $7.99 MP3]
Congratulations to violinist Philippe Quint, who last week was nominated for a Grammy for Best Instrumental Soloist Performance with Orchestra for this very album. What is not to like about the Korngold? It's about the most uplifting, accessible happy American music you can find, from a composer who made his name in film music. If you are feeling Grinchy, this is not the music for you.

Gil Shaham and Adele Anthony: Sarasate Virtuoso Violin WorksGil Shaham and Adele Anthony: Sarasate Virtuoso Violin Works [$14.99 CD, $8.99 MP3]
Recorded in Valladolid, Spain in 2008 at ¡Sarasateada!, a festival celebrating the centenary of the great violinist Pablo de Sarasate (1844-1908), Shaham and Anthony perform works we know and love such as "Zigeunerweisen," "Introduction and Tarantella," "Zapateado," "Habanera" and "Carmen Fantasy," and they also give us some lesser-known Sarasate gems like 'Song of the Nightingale.'

Anne Akiko Meyers: SmileAnne Akiko Meyers: Smile [$14.99 CD, $8.99 MP3]
Indeed, we could all use something to smile about these days, and Violinist Anne Akiko Meyers, who this fall started teaching at the University of Texas at Austin, assembled some of her favorite tunes on this album, including the Charlie Chaplin's "Smile," a version of "Somewhere Over the Rainbow," as well as a range of music, from Franz Schubert to Arvo Pärt, from Astor Piazzolla to several arrangements of Japanese songs.

Joshua Bell At Home With FriendsJoshua Bell At Home With Friends [$11.99 CD, $9.99 MP3]
I'll just list Joshua Bell's friends who helped him make this album earlier this year, and you can decide if you'd like to hang out with them: Sting; Chris Botti; Edgar Meyer; Chris Thile; Josh Groban; Carel Kraayenhof; the band Tiempo Libre; Kristin Chenowith; Sam Bush; Mike Marshall; Frankie Moreno; Nathan Gunn; Regina Spektor; Dave Grusin; Anoushka Shankar and Marvin Hamlisch. With friends like those... you could have a lot of fun in your living room!

Red Violin ChocolatesRed Violin Chocolates [$30]
All right, it's chocolate, but it's chocolate from a violinist. Violinist Liz Pitcairn tempts us with chocolates made in Ecuador and packaged in a Red Violin box – like her own 1720 "Red Mendelssohn" Strad. She told me at a rehearsal for the New West Symphony a few months ago that not only are these chocolates "really really good," but also that I could actually go on a kind of weight-loss plan with them. Apparently, they are so satisfying, I won't want to do anything but simply eat a chocolate or two each day for about a week. I'm willing to try this – for my figure, and for science, of course.

The Sassmannshaus MethodThe Sassmannshaus Method [$17.25 ea.]
Here is something that will interest teachers, especially of young beginners: pedagogue and Cincinnati College Conservatory of Music professor Kurt Sassmannshaus has brought out his method books this year. They are beautifully illustrated, and Kurt has incorporated familiar English-language children's songs like "Rain, Rain, Go Away," "Ring Around the Rosy" and "Old MacDonald" into this method that was first developed in Germany by his father, Egon Sassmannshaus. There are four volumes, and they also are available for viola and cello.

Emerson String Quartet: Intimate LettersEmerson String Quartet: Intimate Letters [$16.98 CD; $9.49 MP3]
This recording by the Emerson String Quartet of works by Leoš Janácek and Bohuslav Martinu also got a Grammy nomination this week for Best Chamber Music Performance. My favorite part of this CD? Martinu's "Three Madrigals" for violin and viola, featuring violinist Philip Setzer and violist Lawrence Dutton.

A German BouquetTrio Settecento, A German Bouquet [$17.98 CD, $8.99 MP3]
Here is the same trio that brought us the Handel Violin Sonatas, in such a reasonable style that combined period and modern performance practice. For this album, violinist Rachel Barton Pine wants us to know that there's more to German Baroque music than Bach; there's also Schop and Schmelzer, Muffat and Krieger, Bustehude and Erlebach. Not to mention Johann George Pisendel. Her trio, which also includes John Mark Rozendaal on viola da gamba and David Schrader on harpsichord, is a treat for the Baroque lover who still likes vibrato.

Earthen Grave: Dismal TimesEarthen Grave: Dismal Times [$10 CD]
For those of you who don't know it, sometimes Rachel Barton Pine throws aside her classical persona and plays in a doom/thrash metal band. Frankly, it sounds like a fun way to blow off some steam. Here is their first CD, which came out earlier this year.

Bach Sonatas and Partitas, with violinist Monica HuggettBach Sonatas and Partitas, with violinist Monica Huggett [CD from $13.90; $10.98 MP3]
After hearing Monica Huggett lecture and play at the Starling-DeLay Symposium on Violin Studies last spring, I was wildly curious about her recording of all the Bach Sonatas and Partitas. I still don't have it, but it's on my wish list. Huggett is the Artistic Director of Juilliard's Historical Performance program, which is in its first year. Huggett also was nominated for a Grammy, as conductor for Ensemble Sonnerie in Bach's Orchestral Suites for a Young Prince.

Mark AwayMark Away [$17.92]
Here's a very unique idea for a stocking stuffer: it's a salve for healing the dreaded "violin hickey," the nasty neck sore that fiddlers develop on the neck. It was developed by a violist and his dermatologist roommate while in they were in college. It's small enough to fit into your fiddle case!

Augustin Hadelich: Flying SoloAugustin Hadelich: Flying Solo [$16.98 CD; $8.99 MP3]
The winner of the 2006 International Violin Competition of Indianapolis gives us this album of violin virtuoso works, including the Ysaye "Ballade," the crazy wicked hard Sonata for Solo Violin by Bernd Zimmermann, a few Paganini caprices and the Bartok violin sonata. We will hear more about Hadelich in an interview with Laurie next week on

Caroline GouldingCaroline Goulding [$14.99 CD; $9.49 MP3]
Violinist Caroline Goulding seemed to have a lot of fun making this debut album of works by Kreisler, Corigliano (Red Violin Caprices), Schoenfield, Vieuxtemps, Gershwin and more, along with pianist Christopher O'Riley. The folks at the Grammys seemed to have liked it, too; it was nominated this week for Best Instrumental Soloist Performance without Orchestra!

Vadim Gluzman: Barber, Bernstein, BlochVadim Gluzman: Barber, Bernstein, Bloch [$8.99 MP3]
Here are three B's you really ought to know, and Vadim Gluzman plays them with flair and integrity on the ex-Auer Strad: the violin concerto by Samuel Barber; "Serenade" by Leonard Bernstein; and "Baal Shem" by Ernest Bloch.

Lara St. John with Polkastra: Apolkalypse NowLara St. John with Polkastra: Apolkalypse Now [$13.98 CD; $7.99 MP3]
Is the world ending? No, that's just Lara St. John and a few of her seriously talented musician buddies, riffing on the polka, finding polkas in everything from Beethoven to gypsy music. This album is full of fun and frivolity. And polkas.

Anastasia Khitruk: Saint-Lubin Works for ViolinAnastasia Khitruk: Saint-Lubin Works for Violin [$8.99 CD; $7.99 MP3]
Violinist Anastasia Khitruk did some digging, and she found inspiration in the forgotten works of the Italian composer and violinist Léon de Saint-Lubin. Sometimes forgotten works should stay forgotten, but not these. Take out your fiddle and try this one, and see if you'd like to hear more.

Mark O'Connor: Method BooksMark O'Connor: Method Books 1-2 [$29.95 ea.]
Violinist, composer and fiddler extraordinaire Mark O'Connor offers us a new method book for students, patterned after the Suzuki method but using all American music. And by American, he means North American and South American - Mexican, Canadian, and U.S., including African-American... you name it. It would work for any beginner, using any method, who would like to explore fiddle music. It's colorful, full of little histories and personal stories, and it includes a CD of Mark playing all the music. So pass along this link and have someone buy it for you!

Sarah Chang: Brahms and Bruch Violin ConcertosSarah Chang: Brahms and Bruch Violin Concertos [$13.99 CD, $9.49 MP3]
We also will be hearing from Sarah Chang in a few weeks, with an interview on This recording was just released this fall and features some of the best known-violin concertos.

Janine Jansen: Beethoven and Britten concertosJanine Jansen: Beethoven and Britten concertos [$14.99 CD; $9.49 MP3]
Have you heard the Benjamin Britten concerto for violin? Here is your chance.

James Ehnes: Paganini 24 CapricesJames Ehnes: Paganini 24 Caprices [$8.99 MP3]
Last year, James Ehnes offered us Homage a DVD/CD celebration of the fine violins of the Fulton collection. He has now re-recorded the 24 Caprices on the 1715 "Marsick" Strad, having first recorded them in 1995 when he was not yet 20.

From the Top at the PopsFrom the Top at the Pops [$17.98 CD; $9.49 MP3]
Over the 10 years it's been on the air, the National Public Radio show From the Top led by host/concert pianist Christopher O'Riley, has become more than a radio show; it is also a platform for introducing the young musicians of the future. This recording, featuring young musicians (including violinists Caroline Goulding and Chad Hoopes) playing with Cincinnati Pops, came out the same week as the death of Pops conductor Erich Kunzel, who had conducted in Cincinnati for 44 years.

Anne Sophie Mutter: MendelssohnAnne Sophie Mutter: Mendelssohn concerto, Piano Trio and Violin Sonata [$19.98 CD & DVD; $9.49 MP3s only]
You may have noticed; 2009 was a year of Felix Mendelssohn celebrations. That is because it was the bicentennial of his birth. Here is one way to celebrate the music of Mendelssohn, with violinist Anne Sophie Mutter, who recorded the Mendelssohn concerto anew for the occasion, with the Gewandhaus Orchestra and music director Kurt Masur.

Wittner Wooden MetronomeWittner Wooden Metronome [$93.50]
I understand, as a student or a musician-on-the-go, one needs a little pocket metronome that fits inside your violin case, so you can slog all over campus or all over the world. But for me, there's just no substitute for an old-fashioned, mechanical metronome that swings like a pendulum. Several years ago, I simply decided that I HAD to have one, and I asked for nothing but this for Christmas. Students find it mesmerizing; I simply like fact that it is so physical: I can see the beat, hear the beat, even kind of feel the beat. This large, old-fashioned wooden model appealed to me most, but for kids, you can get a mechanical metronome that's shaped like a cat or penguin. Just try to beat that!

Sonata for Unaccompanied Violin by Andrew VioletteSonata for Unaccompanied Violin by Andrew Violette [$19.98 CD; $17.98 MP3]
Canadian violinist Robert Uchida plays this brand-new music: haunting, well-spun, well-played on his Italian violin. This piece is dedicated to Uchida, who is concertmaster of Symphony Nova Scotia. Violin geeks will appreciate the second disc, in which the opening "Aria" movement is taken through a set of variations: an "Ysaye Variation," a "Kreisler Variation," "Bartok Variation"... and more, even a "Verdi Variation"!

Cornelius Dufallo: Dream StreetsCornelius Dufallo: Dream Streets [$9.99 iTunes]
This recording brings the listener on a kind of journey through the subconscious, riding on a sometimes electric, sometimes acoustic, violin, with the stated inspiration being the New York nightscape. Some of the tracks hit a groove, while others are static, windy, moody. It's clearly experimental music, with clever electronics galore, all from a Juilliard grad who is fully fluent in his instrument.

Anna Schaad: Dream Within a DreamAnna Schaad: Dream Within a Dream [$15 CD]
Anna Schaad, a violinist with a background in music therapy as well as Celtic and American fiddling, offers a New-Agey and electric mix. I can see doing yoga to this music, for sure, it's down-tempo and static – anaerobic, if you will. There are a number of allusions to nature, as well as a song about her Navy husband being deployed for seven months.

Matthew Pierce: Catch Me If You CanMatthew Pierce: Catch Me If You Can [$15 CD; $9.99 MP3]
Violinist Matthew Pierce, along with pianist Christine Doré, both on acoustic instruments, have created a set of well-made, minimalist tracks, the kind of music you'd want as the background music for your documentary, or even just for a good car ride. I mean it in a good way; sometimes you don't want to take an emotional journey through the murk; this has some light in it, with tracks with names like "African Smile," "Giggling," and "Lonely Cactus."

Tasmin Little: Partners in TimeTasmin Little: Partners in Time [$20.98 CD]
Violinist Tasmin Little has set out to illustrate the way the violin has worked with the piano over the course of music history, performing music by Kreisler, Bach, Mozart, Grieg, Tchaikovsky and Bartok and also creating thoughtful written and audio introductions. If you'd like to convert someone, get them hooked on classical music, here's a nice gift. Have a listen to the introductions, Tasmin's lovely English accent is enough to keep one listening a good long time!

Vadim Repin: Brahms Violin Concerto and Double ConcertoVadim Repin: Brahms Violin Concerto and Double Concerto [$16.98 CD; $9.49 MP3]
This is simply a beautiful, high-quality recording of a set of beautiful, high-quality works. Violinist Vadim Repin plays Double Concerto with cellist Truls Mørk, and the recording also features conductor Riccardo Chailly and the Gewandhaus Orchestra.

Inevitably, I will have left someone or something out. Please do not hesitate to add your own suggestions and/or links, and this can include your own CD!

14 replies

More entries: January 2010November 2009

Facebook YouTube Instagram Email is made possible by...

Shar Music
Shar Music

Pirastro Strings
Pirastro Strings

JR Judd Violins
JR Judd Violins

Los Angeles Philharmonic
Los Angeles Philharmonic

Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra
Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra

Dimitri Musafia, Master Maker of Violin and Viola Cases
Dimitri Musafia, Master Maker of Violin and Viola Cases

Anne Cole Violin Maker
Anne Cole Violin Maker

Metronaut Shopping Guide Shopping Guide

Metzler Violin Shop

Southwest Strings

Bobelock Cases

Johnson String Instrument/Carriage House Violins

Jargar Strings

Bay Fine Strings Violin Shop


Los Angeles Violin Shop


String Masters

Nazareth Gevorkian Violins

Laurie's Books

Discover the best of in these collections of editor Laurie Niles' exclusive interviews. Interviews Volume 1 Interviews Volume 1, with introduction by Hilary Hahn Interviews Volume 2 Interviews Volume 2, with introduction by Rachel Barton Pine