Last March, I lost my beloved grandmother…. as I was incredibly pregnant with my second daughter, there was no way I could get on a plane to go to her funeral in Japan. It really hurt me deeply knowing that I could not see her face, kiss her cheek and hold her hand one last time. I was waiting to give birth to my beautiful, healthy 7 pound butterball named Hanako-chan (flower girl).
As I practice Vivaldi these days, I think of this and how Vivaldi died the very year that Guarneri del Gesu made one of his finest violins ever, the Vieuxtemps GDG, that I currently play on. It seems when a soul passes, a new one emerges and takes flight. Practicing the Vivaldi, I cannot believe the amount of joy, happiness and poetry that’s in the music. And likewise, I cannot believe the beauty of the Guarneri. What must have gone through that genius’ mind when he was creating it and what was in the genius soul of Vivaldi, the day he was put to rest…..
Recently, before a recital in Washington DC, I was able to try Fritz Kreisler’s Guarneri del Gesu. He played on this violin for 26 years and supposedly, he had to turn in this violin to the Library of Congress to settle a tax debt… It was incredible to see this beautiful violin and play a little of my favorite ‘Liebesleid’ on it. It had a very warm and deep sound and I definitely could feel Fritz’s soul emanating from it. It gave me goosebumps…
Now that I am playing on the ‘Vieuxtemps’ Guarneri Del Gesu, I have been experimenting with all kinds of different strings. (Yes, it’s a total dork post) I used to religiously play on Dominants, then switched to Titanium Visions and then fell in love with PI strings, or Peter Infeld strings. I found that the strings were too brassy and bright for the super-powerful VGDG and tried Passione strings-which are gut. Loved the warmth of gut but after a stage rehearsal, I found they didn’t have enough tension and constantly went out of tune-I panicked and promptly went back to PI. Lately, I have enjoyed the new Gold Evah Pirazzi strings.
It’s true! It’s all about the accessories! accessories! accessories!
They have the warmth of gut but are synthetic, have good tension and stay in tune. Today will be the first time I test them out on stage…now for those fifty shades of A.
PS For my die-hard fans, stay tuned for my guide to new sneaker shoelaces. Should be a good one….hahahahaha
Rehearsing the Mason Bates Concerto with the Nashville Symphony
Late in the summer last year, I had the opportunity to try a violin that had been stored under a very discriminating bed for 50 years. My mind was racing and I was so excited at the chance-it’s like being told you can jump into that Cezanne or Rothko and experiment with the colors in the painting…..
I heard the stories of how it was the most expensive violin in the world and thought it might be a big gimmick but after trying it alone in my music room, my heart and ears exploding with sound and color, I knew this violin was something truly extraordinary. It’s range, color, depth, breadth and power, made my fingers shake with excitement. Who knew that I could play Tchaikovsky, Prokofiev, Barber, Sibelius, Bach like this? I couldn’t believe that what I had fantasized in a violin actually existed.
The G string sounds like a cello, the E string rings like cathedral bells and the mid range hooks it all together. How could one man make a violin like this? It’s like having super hot water and super icy cold water coming out of one spigot. The sun and the moon out at the same time. Salt and sugar in one bite. (Dark chocolate w/sea salt and caramel comes close..:)) I thought it just was not possible….
When I was practicing the other day, I was thinking how every note matters in every composition I have ever played or studied. No matter how short, long, loud, soft, dotted etc. each note is a totally necessary soldier-working together to create an enchanted story or thought. Here is one of my absolute favorite pieces as an example:
This month, I am intensely working on Mason Bates’ new violin concerto. The world premiere is set to happen this December with the Pittsburgh Symphony and Leonard Slatkin will conduct. I got sections of the first movement in July and there have been major revisions till now with more revisions coming this last month-the final stretch…. It has been an incredible process, playing it for Mason via Skype and talking openly about the character of the piece, technical issues etc. I can’t wait to hear the orchestra play this together! It’s like finally getting all the pieces of a puzzle together and seeing the ‘Mona Lisa’ for the very first time….
It seemed like a very natural thing to do-to share what I love using everyday of my life. I own several Gold Arcus violin bows and have always been super impressed with the speed with which one can play spiccato and the incredible lightness, which is super fun to control in one’s hand. After holding a global competition where 1,000 entrants played 2 minutes of music, I chose an amazing Armenian violinist, who lives in Belgium. You can also watch the ‘official’ announcement here!
In second place, I gave $1000 to a brilliant Greek violinist, studying in Germany.
and in third, came a beautiful performance by Adelya Nartajieva:
It made me think how difficult it is to play the violin and how we are all hopefully learning something everyday to hone our craft. It also made me appreciate how the right tools (violin, bow, strings, rosin etc.) help bring one’s voice front and center.
Thank you all for humbling me with your inspiring performances!
Recently, the Violin Channel asked me to try and answer this question from James Dong of Sydney, Australia.
‘Help! How can I get better amplitude on my 4th finger vibrato?’
4th finger vibrato is a tough one. It’s the ‘no man’s land of vibrato!’
I would first practice building up strength in the finger by practicing scales and Schradieck exercises . I love the first 2 pages of Schradieck. I used to practice this on each string and at all different speeds. By the time you get to the G string, you feel like you need a Gatorade and some cheering fans to get you to the finish line! It’s a great workout for the pinky.
Please go slowly though and don’t overuse it as it can easily get strained. The mechanics of the hand are such that the 4th finger is a helpful soldier but the 3rd finger is the Lieutenant Commander. Be nice to it but know there are other fingers that can take over if need be.
After thorough muscle building of this more delicate finger, practice vibrating with the other fingers before working with the 4th. Vibrate in 8th’s, triplets, and 16th’s-slowly and gaining speed. This way, you will feel all the variances and build up the strength needed to have confidence to throw your weight into your pinky and ‘voila’! Having a stronger finger to help with vibrato.
Today, one of the greatest musicians passed away, Mr.Marvin Hamlisch. We were supposed to work together in about one month’s time in Pasadena, for the Pasadena Orchestra/Pops gala concert. The piano scores to ‘Autumn in New York’ and ‘Tenderly/Autumn Leaves’ were sent last week for him to look over. It’s incredible how much changes in the blink of an eye.
Thank you Marvin Hamlisch for your tremendous gifts-your dedication, love and passion for music. We will all miss you dearly….
I am so excited to give one of my gold Arcus violin bows away. I have owned many different violin bows throughout my life, and now play using Tourte and Gold Arcus carbon fiber bows. It is extremely light and spiccato can come out super-clean at lightening speed. I used to think that using a heavy stick produced a bigger sound but now I believe it really is quite the opposite. Physically it takes a different skill to handle well but proper technique helps avoid chronic overuse and tendonitis.
It’s similar to playing tennis. Wood rackets were sturdy back in the day, but the newer titanium, carbon fiber rackets used today, create a top spin and speed that wood simply can not. You don’t have to worry about breaking the Arcus either-I think they say the bow is pretty indestructible!