Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Autumn Leaves for Two Violins

Here's a slide show with computer-generated audio of the fourth and final installment of the seasonal duets I have spent the year writing for Marjorie Kransberg-Talvi and Ilkka Talvi. Eventually the computer-generated audio will be replaced with violin-generated audio!

You can get the music here.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Now That's What I Call String Theory

This interview with Michio Kaku on today's installment of Fresh Air totally blew my mind.
Well, very simply, that all the sub-atomic particles - neutrons, protons, quarks - are nothing but musical notes on a tiny rubber band, that when you twang the rubber band, it changes from one frequency to another. So it changes from an electron to a neutrino. And you twang it enough, it can turn into all the subatomic particles we see in the world.

So all the subatomic particles that make up our body are nothing but different notes on many, many, many tiny little violin strings, little rubber bands, and that physics is nothing but the laws of harmony of these vibrating strings. Chemistry is nothing but the melodies you can play on these vibrating strings. The universe is a symphony of strings, and the mind of God that Einstein wrote eloquently about the last 30 years of his life, is cosmic music resonating through 11-dimensional hyperspace. That is the mind of God.

Monday, November 28, 2011

28 Minutes of Awesome and Thrilling Bliss from Saint-Saens and Richter

I just found this complete live recording from April 3, 1955 of the Saint-Saens Egyptian Concerto. Back in my radio station days we had a copy of the LP, and I played it whenever I could. After I left the station the powers that were sold all the station's LPs (without my knowledge), and I never thought I would hear this performance again. Now I can share it here. Sviatoslav Richter is playing with the Leningrad Philharmonic Orchestra, and the conductor is Kiril Kondrashin.

Temperate Temperament

The Thanksgiving trip that Michael and I took to Los Angeles was the first trip to a sunny place that we took together (and we've been together for almost 28 years). In addition to being a palm-tree-filled botanical wonder (albeit mostly artificial), Los Angeles is a vegan's delight. Every restaurant we visited (chosen, of course, by our daughter) had vegan options, and most of the restaurants that we visited had many. Some were primarily vegan. This is not something I experience often.

One restaurant in an area called "Larchmont," where the Spanish Colonial architecture of "Miracle Mile" (where we were staying with our daughter and her boyfriend) gives way to "New England Village," offered free coffee drinks to vegans who filled out a post-meal questionnaire. I also wrote down everything I could see about the Green Enchiladas I had eaten in my little red book, and I'm making them for dinner tonight. I learned from this video that the free coffee I had was roasted on site:

This vegan paradise, covered by a clear sky and beautiful weather, is set in a city teeming with the kind of ethnic diversity we lack in the only-slightly-expanded monoculture of East Central Illinois. And where we have miles upon miles of empty ('cause the growing season is over) corn and bean fields, Los Angeles has miles upon miles, upon miles of businesses--some trendy, some steadfast, and some downright dowdy. We have two-lane and four-lane roads, and Los Angeles has six lanes of traffic on its freeways. Our daughter navigates them like a native. I don't know if I could.

Returning to the cold and grey rain of Illinois was depressing, but returning has also been a lesson in temperament for me. I returned to my year-long project of writing seasonal violin duets, and feel new-found gusto for the violin duets I'm writing about Fall. I call the set "Autumn Leaves," and I seem to have a more distinct sense of what is and what is not Autumn after returning to it from the endless summer of Los Angeles.

[I noticed that the Sweet Gum is one of the few deciduous trees growing in Los Angeles. Now I understand the confusion I noticed with one of the Sweet Gums in our neighborhood I noticed last week. Once they lose their leaves, they are ready to grow new ones. Perhaps they don't really need the long winter to be dormant. The confused tree now has brown leaf tips, and now it looks like any other Gum preparing for its long winter's nap.]

I keep telling myself that if I were to move to LA, I wouldn't get much done in the way of creative work and in the way of practicing, I could never make enough money to support what would surely become a vegan restaurant habit, I would have a really difficult time finding playing work, and even a more difficult time trying to find a place for myself in the creative musical community.

I have a new wool coat, an insulated hat, and some really warm boots in the closet. I feel adequately prepared for the cold weather that is beginning to make its home in the Midwest. I am very grateful that I have the ability to entertain myself with gastronomical and musical projects, and I know that the sun will come out one of these days. Even if it is shining on ice. Perhaps I really do have a temperate temperament.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Eames Words on Wednesday

The day that Michael and I chose to visit museums in LA happened to be the day that most of them are closed. We did, however, after a rather long walk, make it to the Architecture and Design Museum for their Eames Words exhibit. What a treat it is to arrive at a museum and be able to sit in a variety of Eames chairs, each one offering a particular variation on the theme of functional sitting and comfort, and take in statements about design that apply just as well to composing music as they do to making chairs.

Fiddlers on the Walk

Michael and I were in Los Angeles for Thanksgiving, and returned to the grey, wet, cold midwest last night. Imagine my surprise when I found these three violinists and a violist on the Hollywood Walk of Fame!

And here's Harpo Marx's harp, in his own hand:

Monday, November 21, 2011

The Viola in his Life: Article in the Palo Alto Weekly

Rebecca Wallace wrote an excellent article about Bernie Zaslav's book in this week's Palo Alto Weekly. You can view the article with pictures here. Just click on "section 1" of the November 18th edition where it says "Virtual Edition," and make your way to page 19.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

More Seasonal Confusion

Perhaps it isn't that odd to see one of these pop its head out in mid November . . .

but this was a real surprise!

Saturday, November 19, 2011

"The Hand Somehow Has a Mind of its Own"

Sol Schwartz has been drawing pictures of musicians at Tanglewood for decades. A friend gave me a copy of his Drawing Music a few years ago because there is a portrait of my father on the page with the text "BSO Members: Each a soloist in their own right, makes this one of the world's great orchestras" (the pages aren't numbered).

Anyway, here's the artist talking about his work:

For people close to the Berkshires, an exhibit of his work at the Norman Rockwell Museum has been extended, and will be open until November 28.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

From the Mouths of Babes

One of my younger students is working on the Beethoven Minuet in G, so I showed him this video. His first comment was that he thought Perlman was like a "man violin version" of me (which I take as a huge complement), and he also mentioned that he really thought Perlman might need the next size violin.

I also showed him this one:

He was seriously bugged about how well the girl played. Her identity, as far as I know, remains a mystery.

In Praise of the Sixth (and Other Double-stop Intervals)

The Coleridge-Taylor Violin Sonata that John David and I are playing tomorrow night is loaded with sixths. Violinist-composers tend to load up their music with sixths because the sixth is such a harmonically rich interval. It is simply loaded with overtones, some that can be heard, and some that can't really be heard distinctly. They can be felt though, by the person playing and the people who are listening. It is rare that a microphone can pick up the full array of overtones and difference tones. These are the things that give texture to the music and contribute to the personal quality of an individual player's sound.

I like to think of those overtones as sheep that I am herding. Getting them to line up and come with me is a task that is gentle, yet firm.

The overtones in the interval of the third are a bit more rambunctious, and sometimes playing successive thirds is more like herding cattle than herding sheep.

Sometimes, in some keys and in some registers playing thirds is like trying to herd wild horses.

Practicing scales in double stop sixths and double stop thirds has its benefits beyond simply knowing where the notes are and being able to sustain pitches on two strings at the same time. I believe that it enriches the sound. Every key is also a different "herd." The traditional violin keys (G major, D major, A major, and E major) are actually far less stable (or with more wild horses) than keys that have more sharps and keys that have multiple flats because the sympathetic resonance of the open string and its interaction with the other pitches is an added factor. Throw in an open string, and you need a lasso!

The surprise treat for me in this adventure in sixths is the key of G-flat major. It is unusually rich and warm. Your fiddle will thank you for being brave enough to enter into that forest of flats. Actually, I think that "forest" is more a term I would associate with sharps. Perhaps it's a forest when you think of the key as F-sharp major, and it's something else when you think of it as G-flat major. A swamp perhaps?

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Thursday, November 10, 2011

A Sheet Music "Life Hack"

If you are like me and keep your 15.4" laptop computer at home most of the time, but have a neoprene travel sleeve for the rare times you do take your computer out of the house, here's a way to put the sleeve to good use:

It is the perfect size for music, and it keeps your music safe from "injury" when you carry it in your shoulder bag or back pack. It also weighs next to nothing, is waterproof, has a great zipper, holds a healthy pile of music, and NEVER wears out.

The text in the lower right hand corner reads "Second Skin folder," the brand name appears to be Tucano, and I believe my color is "Aluminum alloy." Case Logic makes a 16" neoprene folder that sells for 11 bucks, and a 17" folder that sells for 13. Those would probably work beautifully for carrying French music.

Performance Practice

I really like the way the Zemlinsky Quartet plays this piece, but it disturbs me to see that every time the violist has a solo, he faces out to the audience. I don't know for sure if turning your head to the audience (and the requisite few inches that the viola's scroll faces them) increases the amount of sound you produce on the viola, but I sure find it a distraction to have choreography tell me where I should focus my attention.

But I suppose that this is 21st century performance practice, and we'll just have to live with it. Just like the stomping that some quartets do (and this quartet does only occasionally).

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Monday, November 07, 2011

Steven Staryk's Violin Secrets Revealed!

Who wouldn't like to play the violin as well as Steven Staryk? The secret to great violin playing is, of course, practice. And lots of it. What you practice does make a difference, and Staryk has decided to share his particular and practical version of "what" on line.

Steven Staryk's 1975 collection of daily exercises, his "Daily Dozen," is now available as a free download from Cedar Coast Music. There's one for violists too--a straight transcription one fifth lower that is written in the alto clef.

Saturday, November 05, 2011

I'm becoming a "pipa person"

I'm playing a concert that includes Tan Dun's Pipa Concerto, and until today's rehearsal, I really had no idea how totally cool an instrument the pipa is. None of the YouTube recordings of the Dun pick up all the pipa's nuances, but this Kronos video of the 1995 "Ghost Opera" (that shares some of the same material as the concerto) comes pretty close.

Here's the pipa in a more traditional setting:

Friday, November 04, 2011

Gender Equality and T-Shirt Size

I went online to order a T-shirt to support a cause I believe in strongly, and I couldn't help but noticing that there are sizes for "Women" and sizes for "Adults." Does that imply that the "Adults" are male? What does that imply about women? Hmmm . . .

I hope they fix this.

High Tech Notching: Notes from a Former Luddite

The act of practicing difficult passages hasn't really changed through the ages (at least through my ages), but the tools to do it have. Faced with the huge task of preparing a program of difficult music (in my case a program for violin and piano), I'm using every tool I can get my hands on.

This is one way I use Finale to my best advantage. I'm sure it will work with other notation software programs.

I enter the piano part of a difficult section into Finale, and set a very slow tempo. Then I copy the passage twenty times (or as many times as I want to repeat it), leaving a measure of rest and then of just the pulse (played on some high or low note that has nothing to do with the passage) between each repetition. Then I go in and set incrementally faster tempos for each repetition. After the masterpiece is completed, I export it as an audio file, load it into my ipod, and let the passage "practice me." It beats pure metronome notching because you don't have stop to move the metronome, and you get the harmony and counterpoint notched into your brain along with the passage in question.

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

String Bag "Life Hack"

I have been using string bags for my groceries for a couple of years now, and I always keep them in my shoulder bag. Sometimes they get tangled up in other stuff, which is why I invented this "life hack." I thought I'd share it here.

Two string bags:

Two string bags tangled in my shoulder bag:

I take an odd sock (who doesn't have one of these?) . . .

I put my hand in the sock . . .

and grab the handles of the string bags . . .

slipping the sock, pillowcase style, over the string bags.

La voila!

Then I put the stuffed sock it in my bag where it acts as a very light and non-bulky cushion for whatever else I have in there. No more tangles!

[Notice that I put the most attractive book in my library in the bag?]

Berlioz's orchestration of Schubert's Erlkönig!

Perhaps it is just a tad late for Halloween, but it's never too late for Schubert or for Anne Sofie von Otter! Berlioz's orchestration is mighty surreal.

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Musical Success Story

This interview with Francisco J. Núñez from the NPR podcast The Story, tells a great story about the kind of musical success that really matters. Núñez was given a 2011 MacArthur Genius Grant for his work with the Young People's Chorus of New York City, a program that he created in order to get children from various neighborhoods in New York City to get together and make music. Listen below, then listen to the podcast!