Category Archives: Supplemental Listening

New Year ’20 Update

Happy New Year, West County Strings families!  Kirby and I are looking forward to seeing you all again, and to everything that we will be able to learn and accomplish together as this new decade unfolds!  Here’s a few highlights from the end of 2019 and things to add to your 2020 calendar:

Holiday Play-Along Party

Thank you once again to the Garcias for hosting our Holiday Play-Along Party again this year.  After solo recitals, and orchestra concerts, and auditions, and everything else that goes into wrapping up the semester, it was perfect for the very last thing that we did as a studio in 2019 to just be for fun.  And fun it was!  It was so gratifying to see students sight-reading together – and with facility and very nice technique, might I add! – and students and parents alike playing, chatting, and just generally having a good time.  Many thanks also to Jenina Kenessey and Dan Mieloch for bringing their cello and viola along and adding to our ensemble, and we look forward to this event again at the end of 2020!


Lessons & Group Classes Resume

Private lessons resume on Monday, January 6 and group classes on Tuesday, January 7.  If you’ve used your long car trips or plane flights as an opportunity to listen to your Suzuki CD for hours on end, and your days off of school to practice daily and for longer than usual, good for you!  If, more likely, travel and the lack of routine have been rough on your listening and practicing, then take this encouragement as your incentive to dust off your CD and your violin or viola and get the juices flowing again!

As for group classes, we look forward to seeing everyone who joined us in the fall, and more!  I can’t stress enough how valuable the review, repetition, ensemble environment, and varieties of teaching and learning methods that happen in group class are, and how much progress they lead to.  So, if you weren’t able to join us in the fall, jump in and join us now!  We’d love to have you there, and I know it will be well worth your time.


MFMC “Virtuoso Club” Events

Throughout the year, the Missouri Federation of Music Clubs, and specifically a St. Louis Chapter the “Virtuoso Club,” offers a wide variety of events that enrich students learning experience.  Many of them are coming up this spring, including:

  • District IV Competition:  Held on Wednesday, March 25 at Steinway Piano Gallery, the District Competition provides an opportunity for students Grade 10 and above to perform one required piece and one piece of their choice for the chance to win district honors and the opportunity to continue on to compete at the state level.  This is a great resume-builder, held in a warm and supportive environment, which makes it a great way to build experience for further auditions and competitions.
  • Music Camp Scholarship Competition: Held on Saturday, March 28 at DaySpring Arts, the Music Camp Scholarship Competition gives students Grades 7-9 and 10-12 to perform one required piece and one piece of their choice for the chance to win one of multiple $500 scholarships that can be applied to any summer music camp of their choice.  What a great way to help cover the costs of those wonderful strings camps and Suzuki Institutes that so many of you already participate in every year!
  • Festival: Held on Saturday and Sunday, April 25-26 at St. Charles Community College the Festival is the Virtuoso Club’s main event of the year – a weekend full of music in which students of any age can perform one required piece and one piece of their choice for a judge in order to receive feedback and earn points towards ribbons and trophies that can be accumulated over the years.  I know the idea of a “judge” can be scary, but by and large they are other teachers that Kirby and I know personally, and who are very warm and supportive in their feedback.  The intent is to be positive and educational.


There will be more to come, but that should get us off to a good start.  As a parting note, I meant to share the Concerto Grosso Op. 6, No. 8 “Fatto per la notte de Natale” (Made for the night of Christmas), with you all earlier in December.  But, as we’re still in the holiday season, I suppose it’s still appropriate.  Here’s a nice rendition, not with a full ensemble of Baroque instruments, but in what we could call a faithful attempt at Baroque style.  Enjoy!

Prokofiev – Romeo & Juliet: Montagues and Capulets

I can remember few more powerful moments in my life than being on stage performing Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet, particularly the first selection from the second Suite: Montagues and Capulets.

The music is intended to accompany a ballet, which in turn tells the story of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet.  Montagues and Capulets are two warring families, which this music conveys quite well.

From the driving power of the basses, to the dissonance in the strings, the staccato attacks of the percussion, and the volume of the brass, the tension is palpable.  Make sure you listen from 1:25 to the end!

Wieniawski Polonaise No. 1 – Jascha Heifetz

No study of violin repertoire would be complete without an understanding of the life and career of one Jashca Heitfetz who, in the early 1900s, set the standard for violin playing for decades to come.

Heifetz is known now for his technical mastery, attention to detail, and precision, which have led some to label his sound as being too “robotic” and lacking in “soul.”  While there may be merit to this argument, none can deny his place among the pantheon of all-time great violinists.  It’s a shame he didn’t live when we had better recording equipment to capture his incredible catalogue of performances!

Today’s selection performed by Heifetz is Henryk Wieniawski’s Polonaise No. 1 in D Major.  A polonaise is a slow dance in 3 time.  While nothing may seem slow about the violin part in this polonaise, you can hear that the underlying beat is a steady and relatively slow 1, 2, 3, 1, 2, 3… particularly in the piano.

Aspiring violin virtuosos, take a listen!

Paganini Caprice No. 24 – Hilary Hahn

Today we return to the violin repertoire, and this time to the unaccompanied, more etude-like side of the spectrum with Paganini’s Caprices.

To refresh, Paganini was known as the preeminent violin virtuoso of his day, and his exploits with the violin were so famous as to create a legend around him that lives on to this day – did he sell his soul to the devil in exchange for the fiendish abilities he possessed on the violin?

Whatever the case, Paganini was not only a performer without equal in his day, but also a composer of music as challenging as he was capable, as evidenced by his 24 Caprices, which remain to this day at the core of advanced violin study and performance.

Today, I have selected perhaps the most famous of Paganini’s Caprices – No. 24 and returned to a performer whom we have also seen before – Hillary Hahn – for her unmatched precision both with intonation and clarity of the bow.  Enjoy!

J. Schubert Viola Concerto in C Major

This week we are turning our attention to the violas, but violinists don’t tune out yet!

Our selection is the Viola Concerto in C Major by Joseph Schubert (not to be confused with the more well-known and prolific Franz Schubert).  J. Schubert was a representative of the Classical period in music history, as reflected by the characteristics of this concerto, which for violists is always a welcome note as so much of the standard viola repertoire is from the relatively modern era.

Schubert’s Concerto in C Major is a fabulous example of the qualities of Classical concertos – clear statements of a theme (or themes), development of those themes in related keys, clear restatement of the themes with slight variation, much reliance on arpeggiation to flesh out melodies, and perhaps above all crisp, clear, articulation demanded on the part of the string player.

At the end of the day, this concerto is a delightful sample of Classical repertoire, and makes for something invigorating to have on in the background as you go about your daily work – even if you are a violinist!  Violists, however, particularly enjoy!

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!

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!

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!