Stravinsky – The Rite of Spring

If you haven’t listened to much 20th century music, which to be honest most of us haven’t, then your ears just might not know what to do when you first listen to The Rite of Spring by Igor Stravinsky.  The music is an accompaniment to a ballet, a ballet which tells the a fictitious story of sacrifice to the Russian gods of the seasons.  And the music is equal in energy in every way to the story being told alongside it.

I remember the Rite of Spring as a unique challenge when I first encountered it in an orchestra.  Changing from 5/8 to 9/8 to 3/8 and many other time signatures in rapid succession made for the most difficult counting and rhythmical experience I’d had to that point in my musical career.  But playing the Rite was also a uniquely enjoyable experience.  It’s such beautiful music.

Just listen to the immense strength of the basses and cellos at 8:55.  And whatever you do, listen to the pulsing rhythm starting at 31:00 and escalating thereafter.  There’s so much beauty and power throughout this strange and in many ways unparalleled example of musical genius.

Paganini Caprice No. 5

Every generation has its select few incomparable violinists, but of all the great violinists that have ever lived – Ernst, Joachim, Kreisler, Heifetz, Menuhin, Oistrakh, Perlman –  perhaps none is spoken of in such terms of great legend as Niccolo Paganini.  Indeed, people have wondered in jest whether the violinist sold his soul to the devil to acquire his fiendish ability on the violin.  Paganini left us, along with 2 violin concertos and other collected works for violin, a series of 24 Caprices, or virtuosic pieces for solo, unaccompanied violin.  Amongst aspiring violinists, these are a challenge to be met and with dedication and great effort, possibly mastered.

Of the 24, Caprice No. 5 is one of the more approachable, though this still leaves it quite difficult. Of the dozens of recordings I have listened to of Paganini’s Caprice No. 5, I am perhaps the most impressed with Augustin Hadelich’s.  Many violinists achieve impeccable intonation on this caprice, but I’m not sure I’ve ever heard as wonderful tone over the whole range of the instrument, or as exquisite control of each and every phrase.  So, enjoy.  Maybe some day you’ll meet the challenge of Caprice No. 5 for yourself!

Vivaldi Four Seasons Auditions

Every spring, we look forward to our Spring Festival group performance, which always highlights our students’ work both as individuals and in their group classes throughout the school year.  This year, one of the supplemental pieces we will be preparing for the Spring Festival on April 21 is “Spring” (Concerto No. 1 in E Major, Op. 8, RV 269, “La primavera”) from Vivaldi’s Four Seasons.

Like all concertos, the four concertos that make up Vivaldi’s Four Seasons were composed for a solo instrument – in this case violin – and orchestra.  The arrangement we are using allows for us to play this piece with a group of 1st violins, a group of 2nd violins, a group of violas, and a cello.  However, certain parts still require a soloist.  Would you be interested in auditioning for a solo?

Well, if you’re a Book 4+ student, we invite you to audition for the two solos in the 2nd violin part.  And if you’re a Book 5+ student, you’re invited to audition for the four solos in the 1st violin part (you may also audition for the two solos from the 2nd violin part).  The audition winners will only be assigned one of the solos for the performance, so six different students will have the opportunity to play solos.  However, in order to be considered your audition submission must contain both solo excerpts if you are auditioning for 2nd violin, and all four solo excerpts if you are auditioning for 1st violin.  Audition winners must also be able to regularly attend Ensemble rehearsals from 8:00-8:50 on Tuesday evenings throughout the semester.

In order to help you prepare, we are providing marked parts, as well as time stamps for a recording for you to listen to.

Violin 1, pg. 1, Violin 1, pg. 2, Violin 1, pg. 3.

Violin 2, pg. 1, Violin 2, pg. 2.

Violin 1 solo #1 / Violin 2 solo #1 (m. 13-27) @ 0:29
Violin 1 solo #2 (m. 47-55) @ 1:42
Violin 1 solo #3 / Violin 2 solo #2 (m. 59-65) @ 2:08
Violin 1 solo #4 (m. 71-75) @ 2:33

Performances will be judged on the following criteria:

  • Intonation
  • Tone
  • Adherence to the marked bowings and fingerings
  • Technique (posture, bow hold, shifting, vibrato as appropriate, etc.)
  • Musicality (dynamics, phrasing, musical sensitivity)

Please submit your video recording of your audition to no later than 9:00 p.m on Saturday, February 24.  This gives you one month to prepare!  Please ask your teacher if you have any questions.  Happy practicing!

Humoresque by A. Dvorak – Itzhak Perlman & Yo-Yo Ma

Humoresque is often students’ favorite piece to play in Suzuki Book 3, and with good reason – few composers who ever lived could pen a melody as simple yet captivating as Dvorak’s.  And while the recording of Humoresque that we get on the Suzuki CDs is perfectly fine in it’s own right, it’s good to step outside the world of Suzuki from time to time and listen to a truly professional, impeccably musical performance.

This is what is provided by Itzhak Perlman (violin) and Yo-Yo Ma (cello), perhaps the two musicians most famous for their tone and expressive musicality on their respective instruments in the past 50 years.  Listening to this recording reminds me of what I often say to students when they ask when they’ll be “done with this piece,” and my response with a smile is, “never.”  You can always practice it until it sounds as wonderful as this!

Holiday Break

Hello Everyone!

Today is the last day of lessons for 2017 at West County Strings.  We will be on break from Thursday, December 21 – Wednesday, January 3.  Lessons will resume Thursday, January 4, and group classes on Tuesday, January 9.

2017 has been a whirlwind of a year for Kirby and I – between building a new studio space and having Adelaide we’ve barely had a moment to pause!  However, I can also say that this fall in particular has been the absolute best and most enjoyable semester of teaching that I’ve ever had.  Thank you all for being a part of it, and giving us the opportunity to work with you!

We hope that you enjoy the holidays, that you get to enjoy lots of time with friends and family, and that you have safe travels wherever you go.  Don’t forget to use the time off from school to practice, practice, practice (maybe throw some holiday music in there!), and we’ll look forward to seeing you again in 2018!

P.S. – Here are the pictures we were able to grab from the Fall Solo Recitals on December 10.  What a beautiful afternoon of music that was!

Thanksgiving Update

Hello Everyone!

This upcoming week (November 20-25) is Thanksgiving Break at West County Strings.  As such, there will be NO lessons or group class – we hope you enjoy the week off and all have a chance to spend time with friends and family (but don’t forget to still find some time to practice!).

Private lessons will resume again the week of November 27, however there will be NO group classes for the remainder of the semester.  Groups will resume again in the spring semester on Tuesday, January 9.  Thank you so much to all of you who made Tuesday night groups a regular part of your schedule this fall semester.  They were truly a special experience, and we look forward to seeing you all again on Tuesdays in the spring.  To cap off the fall’s classes, we’ve (finally) uploaded our pictures from the Halloween Group Performance & Party (see below).

After break, the next big event coming up are our Fall Solo Recitals on the afternoon of Sunday, December 10.  We’ll have three recitals that afternoon – 2:30, 3:45, and 5:00 p.m.  As in recent years, this upcoming Fall Recital will be held at the KREW House of Chesterfield Presbyterian Church.  Piano rehearsals will be held at our house (1199 Fieldhurst Dr.) on Tuesday, December 5 from 4-10 p.m.  If you are in Book 4 or above, you need to sign up for a piano rehearsal (find the sign-up sheet here)!  Please consult your teacher if you have any questions about signing up.

Happy Thanksgiving!