Category Archives: Reviews

Learning a New Piece: From Unfamiliar to Polished

Learning new repertoire is always exciting and can be a mark of your improvement. It is an everlasting cycle of starting a fresh work, perfecting it to the best of your ability, and then starting anew with a different work. There are many different strategies and approaches one can take when beginning a new piece and I am by no means an expert. However, I will share some of my best advice from what I have learned.

Learning a piece starts before you even begin getting the notes and rhythms into your muscle memory. You truly begin learning the music when you sit down and study the score and learn not just what your part sounds like, but also how the orchestra part fits with the solo line. While you study the score, it is important to decide musically what you want your interpretation to be. Many students (myslef included sometimes) make the mistake of first diving into the technical passages to nail those in place. My belief is that you can’t truly perfect the hard parts if you don’t know musically what they mean or why the composer wrote them. Always strive to find musical solutions to technical problems.

Once you have studied the score, maybe listened to a few recordings (not too many), and thought about your interpretation, then it is time to choose carefully your fingerings and bowings. Bowings in my opinion are the most imporant thing to do before starting on the notes. As a student, most of my bowings come from my amazing teachers. As I continue to grow as a player, I put in more of my own bowings to fit what I want to sound like. Fingerings are also very important, as having a bad fingering can make a challenging passage much harder. When choosing fingerings, it is important to think of what makes sense both musically and technically. You should aim for a fingering that makes the passage flow seamelssly, but also gives the color you want and perhaps helps to set you up for the passage or phrase ahead.

With bowings and fingerings in place, it is important to try not to play the piece through, however enticing that may be. Find the hard spots and use practice tools to solidify it. I love to practice rhythms, seperate bows for a slurred passage, doubling the notes, and slow practice with metronome. These are just a few of my favorite practice strategies. To save yourself the time and trouble of correcting later in the learning process, it is important to start a piece making sure you solidfy intonation and do not jumble notes even in fast passages. Start a slow tempo if you need and only speed it up when you are sure you can handle it. Learning a new piece well can be a challenging and time consuming process, but in order to have a fulfilling and enjoyable performance, you must prepare in the right ways.

The Performing Mentality

A performance is short, and we as musicans have very little time to make an impact on the audience. Performing is more than just those brief moments on the stage, but rather includes the whole experience of preparing mentally and physically right before stepping out to play. Reflecting back on some of my better performances, I realized that there is a certain performance mentality that I was able to achieve.

At the beginning of a performing evening, the adrenaline builds up until the actual performance. I like to think of this as excitment for what is to come rather than thinking of it as nerves. I thinks this helps to bring a better mentality to the actual performance. In the minutes just before the concert, it is important of course to be physically warmed up, but possibly even more important to transition mentally from the stresses of everyday life into the performing mentality. In this mentality, it is important to realize that it is the composers message you are trying to preserve, not your own personal struggles from that day. Be prepared, no matter how tired you are, to put all of your emotional and physical energy into creating best intention into every note. I always like to refelct on why I am donig this performance before i head out on stage. I like to remind myself how passionate I am for my craft, and how I perform for my own enjoyment, as well as that of the audience. No matter how much you have practiced, you can never be fully prepared. Go to a performance knowing that you have prepared as much as possible, and be ready to invest your energy into making this a very music performance. Trust that the technical work you have done will come through because you spent the time to solidify it.

It may seem silly, but the most important part of the performing mentality is to realize that you are actually about to perform. Especially if you perform often, a comcert can start to seem everyday and trivial. A performance is a short escape from everything else in your life where time seems to stand still. Take a deep breath, walk onto the stage, and do your best. Do your best to preserve the intention of the music, you best to be technically accurate, do you best to enjoy the short time you have on stage!


Leonidas Kavakos Concert Review

this week, I had the pleasure to see Greek violin virtuoso, Kavakos, play Sibelius violin concerto with the the Philadelphia Orchestra. I went to the concert twice, once sitting in the front row, the other sitting on tier 3. Kavakos has a long history with this concerto, having won the Sibelius competition before the age of 21.

At the beginning of the concerto, the subtle orchestra accompaniment and the tender solo remind me of the wind blowing, which Kavakos brought to life with no grit in his sound. This movement has many technical challenges which Kavakos tackled with apparent ease. It was clear he had made good musical choices as well, although I believe those choices would have been enhanced if he had shown the phrases with his movement. Instead, he maintained a rigid and stiff form for the whole movement.

The second movement of the Sibelius concerto is meant to invoke emotion and to convey images. Although Kavakos’ performance was technically flawless, he did not convey the strong emotions I wished for. The orchestral accompaniment was trying to draw this out of kavakos by playing more musically themselves, but his performance was lackluster and slightly dull.

The third movement is a technical nightmare, which Kavakos dealt with beautifully. He made it sound easy, while loosening himself up to enjoy the performance and show his medical ideas more. This was by far his most successful movement, combining technical accuracy with beauty and flash.

Overall his performance was good, but only the third movement stuck out to me as being fantastic.

A Guide to Running your Own Chamber Music Rehersal

When I play in a chamber music group, you can be put with many different personality types. I have been with players who are very shy and quite and won’t give their opinion or ideas, then there are those who take complete control and make the decisions for the group. In both of these situations you should take some control of your group, making sure rehersals are going the way you want also. Here are some pf my tips.

When the others in your group are shy and won’t make decisision about what to rehearse, you must be th one who keeps the rehearsal going. I know that you don’t want to seem like the tyrant type of leader, but continue to check in with them and ask if they have any new ideas or sopts they would like to work out. If you don’t take the leadership role in this situation, your rehersals will be spent doing nothing. As long as you continue to make sure your group mates are content with your choices as leader, this approach works very well.

If a member of your group is trying to take the lead, that can be ok. Sometimes you should let someone else step into the leadership role if they want. The problem comes in when they begin to ignore your ideas, or make derogatory remarks. In this situation, it is imperative that you tell the leader that you value his/her ideas but that you have some suggestions to that you think would improve the group. If the musician is taking over as leader, they obviously want a good performance also, so you can use that knowledge to bond together and try to become a more unified group.

If you haven’t worked witht the groupd for very long, these are just tendencies that come up that can be worked out over time. I hope these tips helped you to deal with difficult personaliy types in your own chamebr music rehearsals.

My Summer Music Experience at Curtis Institute of Music

Curtis Institute of Music

I spent three weeks this summer at Curtis for a summer festival for instrumentalists. The program included orchestra, chamber music, choir, and theory. The faculty included Curtis teachers, and Curtis alumni, as well as some other professional musicians from the area. Their were about 100 program participants.

The day began with choir at 8:45 am. I have never sang in a choir before and am not the most willling singer. But because everyone in the program is required to participate, I grudgingly sang in the soprano section of the choir. Everyone took a theory class, which covered all of the compositional era’s very broadly. During the day, we had about three hours of private practice which I used to learn orchestra and chamber music, and also to practice solo repertoire for lessons. Chamber music was a two hour block in which I played the second violin part in a Dvorak piano quintet. Three times a week coaches came to help the group make decsions and to give advice. Setionals were also part of the daily routine. One of the faculty would lead a specific instrument and help them to learn their orchestra music before the rehersal that evening. We had two hours of orchestra rehersal every night with our conductor, who changed every week.

I thought this program was well organized and needed very few changes to the schedule throught the weeks. The teachers were also very helpful and I feel they imparted their knowledge very well, although I would have liked more than three private lessons. The orchestra was so much fun to be apart of because the music was a joy, and the conductors were so great to work with. Each conductor had a different style in which they ran their rehersals, but each yielded great results. The chamber music was amazing because most of the time the group rehersed alone, which taught me how to run a rehearsal and critique the group without a teacher. Another wonderful aspect of the program is that you can ask any questions of the school or the program, which as a curious young musician, was very helpful. I live in a world where classical music is a thing of the past. That is difficult because classsical music is something so intrical to my way of life. Being apart of the Curtis Summerfest let me be around other young musicians with the same way of life. This program gave a great insight into conservatory life and was overall such a positive experience for me as a musician.

This is my favorite violinist, Janine Jansen

This is my favorite violinist, Janine Jansen

When you search iTunes to buy classical music, it can be overwhelming with all of the artists and orchestras. After listening to many string players, I have found a few of my favorite players.

In terms of violinists,there are so many artists to listen to, some good and some who are not worth your time and money. There is no solid “best” violinist, but the most technically refined is Hilary Hahn. Although she may be lacking in musicality and personality,her tone, technique, and virtuosity are commendable. On the other side of the spectrum, Anne- Sophie Mutter is very musical and has good virtuosity as well. Her trademark quality is her slide between shifts, which is good for romantic music, but I could do without it in her Mozart concertos. My all time favorite violinist, who I believe has Hahn’s technique and Anne Sophie’s musicality (minus the sliding) is Janine Jansen. She has perfect technique and intonation and her musicality is so amazing that she doesn’t even have to worry about technique during a performance, so she can just focus on the interpretation. My second all time favorite violinist is , Lisa Batiashvilli, who I think has similar qualities in her playing to Janine Jansen.

For violists, I know a little less.

The composer Paul Hindemith was also a virtuoso violist, but there are not many recordings of him. A great violist today is Kim Kashkashian, who has many recordings today that I really have enjoyed although I am not a violist and don’t know as many great violists. As far as cellists go, Yo Yo Ma is of course fantastic. His recordings have both technique, class, and musicality. Aliza Weilerstein is a younger cellist who I have heard a few times and enjoy her music greatly. From the older times, Pablo Casals is just wonderful as well. And finally, Jaqueline du Pre, who died very young but still had a fantastic career. Her recording of Elgars cello concerto with The Philadelphia Orchestra which Du Pre recorded at the early age of 20 is fantastic! All of these string musicians are worth listening to and spending money on and although everyone has different standards of what they want in a musician, these are some of my favorite players.

*Disclaimer~ I am a violinist and know a lot about famous and great violinists, but all opinions are my own and I accept that every musician has their own opinions.

The Master of Music: Itzhak Perlman

Last Saturday, I had the great fortune to hear the master of music, Itzhak Perlman. He played and conducted with the Philadelphia orchestra, playing at the kimmel center. He played Beethoven first and second romance, and conducted Dvoraks see ends for strings, Beethoven’s second symphony, as well as Brahms Academic Festival overture. He played marvelously, with flawless tone, although his age made it harder to keep up with technique. It was quit amazing to see him hobble out on his crutches. It would take a great deal of courage to be able to still be able to play, despite his disabilities. Mr. Perlman also conducted, which was also fantastic to see his skills, not only as a violinist, but as a conductor as well. I have a great deal of respect and admiration for Mr. Perlman for continuing to play, despite his physical disabilities.


Welcome to A Handel On the Orchestra!

My name is Ally, and I am a 15 year old violinist. I have been playing violin for about 6 years now. I am not a prodigy, nor am I by any means particularly talented, but I have a lot of passion for music, not to mention discipline and will power. This year, I decided to be homeschooled to make room for more practice time. Daily, I practice about 4-5 hours, which is a lot, but not crazy. I love violin and hope that it will be my career. On my blog, A Handel on the Orchestra, I will be reviewing concerts I have been to, talking about the different orchestra sections, repertoire , and commenting on the life of a dedicated musician, even though I am not a musical prodigy.