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!
A couple of weeks ago, I adjudicated a competition at the Music Academy of the West, in Santa Barbara. Watching and listening to the contestants, I remembered what it was like to compete when I was 11 and 12 years old and won the opportunity to perform with the Los Angeles Philharmonic and the New York Philharmonic. I was moved by the passion these kids had to win the opportunity to play in front of an orchestra.
It made me think of the challenging process involved, making and sustaining a career. The struggle to find your voice/identity at a young age, when you are forever learning lots of repertoire and understanding the technical challenges of the instrument. The music is such a reflection of the student’s heart and soul-you can just feel it from bar one.
I am on vacation in beautiful Hawai’i now…looking at the incredible ocean, palm trees and flowers, I started thinking which music would go with this scenery. Everywhere you go, you hear Hawaiian music wafting through the air, feeding your stimuli like a lazily delicious day when you basically do nothing but maybe make some chocolate cookies. It got me thinking to how music is such a product of our environment-you just can’t hear Beethoven coming out of the waves here. It would be wrong. Sibelius? OMG. Maybe a little Mozart but even Handel is too linear for this seductively mellow sphere. Perhaps a little Debussy, Mendelssohn and Japanese music with taiko drums-yes! For sure!
Have beautiful tropical places produced seriously great composers? When you look at the waves lapping the warm coral reef stones that make this beach so spectacular, who would be want to be stuck in their bungalow, slaving over a score?
I have practiced practically everyday of my life since I was 4 years old. There is good practice-where I manage what I have to do and efficiently do it (in 45 min.-1.5 hrs.) and bad practice-where I would count the endless hours (3-5 hrs. growing up) and actually move the handles of the clock to show my mom, look! Amazing! Wow, look at the time! I am done! Since I had my second daughter, I was thinking about practicing and how I think of it everyday. No matter where I am in the world, or what I am doing in the day, there’s always a moment when I think, ‘I’ve got to practice’ or ‘When the hell will I get to practice’ or scarily remember some part of the previous night’s nightmare of having to go on stage without any rehearsal or warm-up and perform the last movement of the Sibelius Concerto.
Have I gotten worse as I’ve gotten older? How do I remember so much when practicing so little? Will I ever feel ‘practiced’ enough? Towards the end of the last pregnancy or dog days of pregnancy, I had zero energy to practice and would hit my belly with every bow stroke. I missed feeling like I was in shape and ready to play a 2 hour recital yet I also really needed a break. It’s amazing how refreshed one can feel when taking a break from it-one week is good, 2 weeks away I become lethargic. Any longer, and I can’t remember how string crossings work…..
Every time I pick up the bow, I feel a little different, a little older and maybe just a little wiser. It’s my soul connector in a way. It gives me time to reflect and throw myself into a challenge I have to figure out immediately. Putting so many pieces together like an endless puzzle or a super gnarly police investigation.
Egad….OK…..it’s time to go practice!
The author was about 5 or 6 years old when this picture was taken……
Yesterday I was tweeting with Alec Baldwin. (Amazingly, his tweets are his own!) I am totally amazed at his tireless advocacy for the arts. Recently, I performed at a gala for WNYC/WQXR where he graciously emceed:
I remember sitting near him a few years ago on a date with my future husband at Carnegie Hall, when Martha Argerich was performing the Prokofiev Concerto No.1 with the Philadelphia Orchestra. He came alone and was totally immersed in the music-impervious to being stared at by everyone around him.
This past week, he went to Washington D.C. to lobby for musicians, dancers and artists. It is so incredible to have a passionate artist such as himself to share this important message. Where does he find the time to do as much as he does? (Capital One commercials included…) My guess is, the man never sleeps….