Author Archives: Brad

Bach A minor Violin Concerto – Julia Fischer

This week, we’re taking a look at something that some of you have played, that some of you are currently playing, and that some of you will have the opportunity to play at some point in your learning – the Bach A minor Violin Concerto.  All three movements of this concerto can be found in Suzuki Violin Book 7.

The more one gets to know Bach, the more appreciates what a genius he was.  And in this concerto one finds true mastery not only of the craft of musical composition but of the understanding of the violin as a unique instrument.  Bach was so incredibly skilled at using the nuances of a stringed instrument – string crossings, bow changes, finger patterns, etc. – to his advantage throughout his composing.

The result is a piece that is simultaneously well-suited to the violin and challenging to the violinist.  Students generally find this work to be challenging both in its scope and in its technical difficulty, but they also find it particularly satisfying as it is increasingly learned and mastered.

Here is the impeccable Julia Fischer giving her rendition of this time-honored piece.

Barber Violin Concerto – Gil Shaham

The Barber Violin Concerto remains to this day one of my favorite pieces I have ever learned – and perhaps the piece I spent the most time on and learned best.  Perhaps that plays a part into why I enjoy it so much.

In any case, Barber’s Concerto is at the same time very similar and very different from other concertos in the violin repertoire.  It’s similar in that it shares the same 3-movement structure, shares a similar medium-slow-fast pacing to the three movements, and traces of thematic material can be found throughout the three movements.

It’s very different, however, in it’s use of tonality – the way notes are used and treated relative to the key of the piece – because it was composed in 1939.

The vast majority of concertos in the violin repertoire were composed sometime between 1700-1850, and adhere to the “rules” of tonality that we are used to hearing in Western music.  By the 1900s, however, composers felt that the well had run dry on ideas within the standard tonal systems, and began experimenting with both melodies and harmonies that diverted from the rules Bach, Mozart, and even Beethoven to a degree would’ve understood about composition.

The result in the Barber Violin Concerto is something that sounds utterly unlike anything you may have listened to before, but something that is simultaneously uniquely captivating.  Gil Shaham brings his usual energy and vibrant tone to the performance, which matches the material perfectly.  Enjoy!

Thanksgiving Break ’18

Hello WCS Families!

As hard as it is to believe, the majority of the Fall ’18 Semester is already behind us and Thanksgiving Break is now here!  There will be no lessons the week of November 19 – 24, to allow students and their families time enjoy the holiday with family and friends.  We hope you all enjoy a restful and joyful Thanksgiving Day and break!

That said, we hope students still find opportunity to take out their instruments and practice over break.  I believe Dr. Suzuki was very serious when he said, “Only practice on the days you eat!”  (Maybe we should practice extra on Thanksgiving!)  Just like our bodies need daily attention to keep them healthy – eating well, exercising, brushing your teeth – so too do our talents and abilities need daily practice to keep them from diminishing!

When we return from break, we will have less than two weeks before our Fall Solo Recitals on December 9.  Recitals will be scheduled for 2, 3:15, and 4:30 p.m in the KREW House at Chesterfield Presbyterian Church, 15037 Clayton Rd.  If you have other activities the afternoon of December 9 and need to be placed on a particular recital, please let us know as soon as possible!  Piano rehearsals with Ms. Parkin will be held in the week leading up to the recital (sign ups will be posted soon).

That is all for now, so until the week of November 26, enjoy your break and a very happy Thanksgiving to each and every one of our students and their families!

Tzigane by Maurice Ravel

A style of composition that we don’t get much exposure to in the Suzuki repertoire is the “show” piece (short for showmanship) – a style of piece intended, amongst other things, to show off the string players virtuosity and mastery of the complexities of their instrument.

One of the reasons that we don’t encounter “show” pieces in the Suzuki repertoire is that the style did not come into prominence until the Romantic period in music history – championed by such composers as Henryk Wieniaswki and Pablo de Sarasate in the mid-to-late 1800s.  The Suzuki method, on the other hand, relies heavily on music from the earlier Baroque and Classical Periods.

The other reason is a little simpler – show pieces are fiendishly difficult!

Take a listen to Maxim Vengerov’s rendition of Ravel’s Tzigane.  Make sure you hang in there until 4:15 when the melody finally kicks in!

Barber Adagio for Strings

Today we take a break from solo string repertoire to bask in the glory of a composition known simply as the Adagio for Strings by Samuel Barber.  The orchestral version of this work, which we will be listening to here, is actually an arrangement of the second movement of Barber’s String Quartet No. 11, an adaptation which Barber made in 1936.

Barber certainly had a way with composing for string instruments, as evidenced by his violin concerto (which we will also sample in upcoming weeks).  His Adagio contains perhaps some of the most beautiful melodies and progressions ever written for string orchestra, and the work certainly has an emotional impact on the listener.  I hope you enjoy!

Halloween Recap & Parent Night Info

Hello Everyone!

Many thanks to everyone who joined us for our Halloween Group Performance & Party.  What a fun evening it was!  Students, you played beautifully.  Getting so many of you together playing as one is really something special.  Thank you for your hard work and preparation this semester thus far!

Don’t forget, next Tuesday, November 6 from 6:00-7:30 p.m. is our final “group” event of the semester – our Parent Night, which will be held at Local Chef Kitchen, 15247 Manchester Rd.  We look forward to seeing you all there to discuss what “progress”  looks like and concrete ways that we can measure it.

Here are some photos from the Halloween gathering.  Thanks again for making it such a memorable evening!


Sonata No. 3: Ballade by Eugene Ysaÿe

I remember when I first saw the music for Eugene Ysaÿe’s Six Sonatas for Solo Violin (see example below).  The first thought that went through my head was, “How in the world am I supposed to even begin to decipher this?!”  Fortunately, having grown up a Suzuki student, I knew to find a good recording and learn to sing the piece all the way through in my head before even trying to study the music.

Ysaye Sonata 3 Ballade

Ysaÿe was a violinist of the highest quality, having been fortunate enough to study with Henryk Weiniawski and Henri Vieuxtemps – both violinists extraordinaire themselves and also both composers of fantastic violin concertos and other superb works for the violin.  His goal in writing his Sonatas (of which there are 6) was to provide for the 1900s what Bach’s 6 Sonatas & Partitas had provided to the 1700s – that is, a work representative of the culmination of violin technique to that time.

Being relatively modern in their composition, Ysaÿse’s Sonatas are likely somewhat strange to your ears.  However, their is a particular beauty to them, particularly when played by the likes of Augustin Hadelich.  Listen all the way to the end!