Monday, June 25, 2012

Assault on Brevard 2012-- Brevard Music Center Week 0

By Matt Lammers of Fein Violins

It feels like it's been just a couple days, but Brevard "week 0" has come to an end. I jumped on a plane in Minneapolis, flew to Charlotte, took a shuttle (...Honda mini van) to the quaint Asheville Airport a couple hours away, and boarded a school bus to complete the sojurn to Brevard, NC, just seven days ago. Here I was greeted by a phenomenal collegiate student body and faculty (high school students and pianists didn't arrive until yesterday).

Scenic Brevard, NC

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Birdsongs of the MidWest - Meet Andrew Bird

Written by: Amy Tobin of Fine Violins

What do you call someone who is classically trained as a violinist, an innovator in using electronics with the violin, a multi-instrumentalist, and can whistle nearly anything? Well, besides 'incredibly talented,' you call him -

Andrew Bird - photo by John Anderson
A native of Chicago, IL, Andrew actually began playing the violin, at the age of 3, with the Suzuki method. Years later, he went on to Northwestern University and graduated with a bachelor's degree in violin performance. Yes, our Mr. Bird is an actual, real live performance major! The same year he graduated (which was 1996),

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Assault on Brevard 2012 -- Introduction to the Brevard Music Institute and Festival from the Eyes of One of its Performers

By Matt Lammers of Fein Violins

In February, I was comfortably seated in my chemistry lecture when I felt my phone buzz. I glanced at it quickly, trying not to miss the finer points of organic intermolecular interaction and polarity, but the text caught my attention. My teacher and quartet coach from home, Ray Shows, a generally enthusiastic though not alarmist individual, left me a message saying, "cakl mw imnediatuly". I did some code-breaking and realized that he wanted me to give him a call as soon as possible. Hoping that something hadn't happened to him or his wife, Nancy, I ducked out of class after being informed that we were learning about colloids for the novelty of it, even though they wouldn't show up on any test. I dialed him up and was relieved to hear an anxiously excited Ray instead of a morose Ray. He ordered me to write down a phone number and call it as soon as I emerged from the Stevenson Center basement, which is irritatingly void of reliable cell service. He told me I'd be discussing a valuable summer opportunity with someone he ran into earlier that day, and that I would be a fool to ignore it.  

The extent of the day's chemistry education: milk is an organic colloid

 I called the number, not knowing what to expect, and it rang through to voicemail. Having taken my fair share of orchestral auditions, I'd listened a lot to a recording by William Preucil, revered concertmaster of the Cleveland Orchestra and former member of the Cleveland Quartet, which outlines the objectives of commonly requested orchestral excerpts (Don Juan, Brahms' 2nd, etc.). When that same voice came spilling out of my phone, I was dumbstruck and so speechless that I hung up without leaving a message! After I collected myself, deciding how to concisely and intelligently introduce myself via voicemail, I tried again. After one or two rings, I was talking to the man himself:

     "This is Bill Preucil, I'm sorry I missed you the first time, may I ask who's calling?"
     "This is Matt Lammers, Ray Shows suggested I give you a call" (in my head: "whoa, whoa, whoa, wasn't planning on this, what business does he have answering his phone? How is someone too busy to answer and then free five minutes later?")
      "Ah yes, I spoke with Ray about you this morning, thanks for getting in touch. Has he told you about the situation?"
      "No, I'm sorry--"
      "No worries, no worries. I'm on faculty at the Brevard Institute, and the spots in my studio are usually spoken for by this time. This year, though, I have one opening left, and after my chat with Ray I'd like to give you the opportunity to claim it."
      "Oh, that would be fantastic! I'll certainly take you up on it." (in my head: "surely not, what's Ray up to? Who did he find that sounds just like Preucil?")
      "Don't you want to check your summer schedule?"
      "No, to be honest I'd cancel anything that conflicts regardless."
      "Alright, then I'll call admissions and have them put you on my list. Glad to have you round out the studio."
      "Great, thank you. I'll email you and be in touch as we get closer to the summer."
      "Sounds like a plan. By the way, I think applications and tapes are officially due tomorrow."
      "Okay, no problem. I'll talk to you later."

It was a problem. They were due tomorrow. Thank you to Dorothy in admissions for the extra week. 

Bill Preucil in Severance Hall

Concertmaster Bill Preucil at the helm of the Cleveland Orchestra

After throwing together recordings of the first movement of the Mozart A Major Concerto, the first page of Mendelssohn's Midsummer Night's Dream, the infamous page of Brahms' 2nd symphony, and the Allegro of Beethoven's 6th symphony, I was accepted to the college program.

Now, after working at Fein for the last month and a half, I will be flying out to the Brevard Music Center  for six weeks of musical immersion. Armed only with my violin, some resilience, and a computer to continue blogging about it (I'll be posting updates every week or so) I will be taking on all that the Institute's College Program has to throw at me; the Brevard Orchestra will perform full programs on a weekly basis, I've opted into a violin-clarinet-piano trio, private study with one of America's leading concertmasters, which is by no means something to be taken lightly, and scholarship obligations will consume the energy I have left after performances, rehearsals, practice, and parts-learning. I will be rubbing shoulders and learning from some of the best chamber, solo, and orchestral musicians and students in the field, which will stretch my technique and musicianship like bow hair on a pea-soup humid day. 

The Brevard Music Center Orchestra

from the Brevard music website
My teacher at Vanderbilt, Chris Teal, and I decided that I would let the Mozart simmer until Brevard to use it in a concerto competition. Mozart will also be an interesting topic with Mr. Preucil, given the blend of orchestral and soloist playing required to play it effectively. It would be a shame not to pick the man's brain for some words of orchestral playing wisdom, so I've also prepared excerpts from Strauss' quintessential Don Juan, Beethoven's 6th and 9th, a couple of Mozart symphonies, and the Mendelssohn and Brahms once again as well. As far as additional solo repertoire goes, I will be bringing Bruch's Scottish Fantasy to audition for orchestral section placement, and the Brahms G Major Sonata, at Mr. Preucil's request. On top of this, the Brevard Orchestra's concert calendar is significant (see Brevard Orchestra repertoire). I've also opted into chamber music and will be studying Bartok's Contrasts for violin, clarinet, and piano with a fellow Vanderbilt student and pianist to be determined.

Bartok Contrasts for Violin, Clarinet, and Piano

So, it is with excitement that I bid Minnesota adieu for six weeks. Keep an eye out for my updates from the BMC where I'll share and discuss the trials, tribulations, terrors, vices, victories, and virtues of one of the great national music festivals. 

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Saturday, June 16, 2012

Making it in the music world - The Sonus Quartet

Written by: Amy Tobin of Fein Violins

I recently purchased a copy of Norah Jones' new album, "Little Broken Hearts." While I was looking at the cover (yes, I still buy actual, physical copies of CDs....I like to know who is playing what on each track), I noticed that there was a list of musicians who are billed as 'co-stars' of sorts. One name caught my eye.......the Sonus Quartet.

The Sonus Quartet

The Sonus Quartet is comprised of Caroline Campbell (violin I), Kathleen Sloane (violin II), Neel Hammond (viola), and Vanessa Freebairn-Smith (cello). Each one of these musicians is phenomenal in their own right -

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Reflections On Race, Inequality And Classical Music

By Stefan Aune of Fein Violins

"Vienna Philharmonic is an orchestra of white men playing music by white men for white people"
- Werner Resel, former Vienna Philarmonic Chairman

We recently featured a blog on the Vienna Philharmonic, an orchestra known for it's consistently sexist and racist hiring practices. Various representatives of the orchestra have contended, in response to allegations of discrimination, that the orchestra performs an essentially European art-form - classical music - and thus should be composed of individuals (men) of white-European ethnicity. To contend that this is the case in 2012 is clearly absurd, but has that ever been true? A quick look at the history of classical music will show, in fact, that white-European men have never been the exclusive creators or performers of classical music, and the fact that they constitute a majority has everything to do with cultural inequalities and nothing to do with inborn characteristics.

In 1996, Vienna Philharmonic flutist Dieter Flury argued that:

From the beginning we have spoken of the special Viennese qualities, of the way music is made here. The way we make music here is not only a technical ability, but also something that has a lot to do with the soul. The soul does not let itself be separated from the cultural roots that we have here in central Europe. And it also doesn't allow itself to be separated from gender. So if one thinks that the world should function by quota regulations, then it is naturally irritating that we are a group of white skinned male musicians, that perform exclusively the music of white skinned male composers. It is a racist and sexist irritation. I believe one must put it that way. If one establishes superficial egalitarianism, one will lose something very significant. Therefore, I am convinced that it is worthwhile to accept this racist and sexist irritation, because something produced by a superficial understanding of human rights would not have the same standards.

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Dieter Flury

image from Croatia Flute Academy Facebook

In essence, Mr. Flury contends that "a superficial understanding of human rights," his snide dismissal of criticisms that the Vienna Philharmonic excludes players based on the color of their skin, rather than the quality of their playing, is secondary to the supposedly unique, inborn qualities of white-European performers. His repeated references to the "soul" of the music and performer, something that "does not let itself be separated from the cultural roots" of Central Europe, emphasizes that for Mr. Flury classical music is an outgrowth of an essentially European "soul" that cannot be accessed, understood, or realized by individuals from different cultural and ethnic contexts.

I won't go so far as to argue that Mr. Flury and other members of the Vienna Philarmonic that have expressed similar opinions are white supremacists. The Vienna Philharmonic has been evolving since 1996 when Mr. Flury released the above statement, and superstar Venezuelan conductor Gustavo Dudamel recently spent some time leading the orchestra. Nevertheless, the orchestra remains an extremely homogeneous entity, and anyone willing to argue that classical music is essentially "white-European" finds themselves in questionable company. It has long been an argument of white supremacists, nazis, neo-nazis, and racial separatists that "classical music," the music of "white people," is inherently more sophisticated, complicated, and valuable than the musical traditions of Africa, Asia, South America, or the Middle East, thus proving the innate superiority of the "white race."

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Gustavo Dudamel

Obviously I reject that contention outright, and I also reject the contention that classical music can be more perfectly realized by an orchestra made up of exclusively white-European male performers. Classical music is an ethnically diverse landscape, period. The racial politics of classical music is not perfect - nothing is - but performers, soloists, conductors, administration, staff, and audiences come from every conceivable background. Off the top of your head, think of the world's most famous soloists and conductors: for most people not even a majority of the top names will be ethnically white-European. Arguments for the aesthetic and musical superiority of an all-male, white-European orchestra are outside the boundaries of reality. They also do not hold any historical weight, as the history of western orchestral music is full of gender and ethnic diversity. White-European men aren't the sole progenitors of the classical music canon, nor have they consistently remained the exclusive top performers.

Violin Soloist Regina Carter
Zubin Mehta 1.jpg
World renowned conductor Zubin Mehta

Sunday, June 10, 2012

The Vienna Philharmonic-- Artistry and Discrimination

By Matt Lammers of Fein Violins

The Vienna Philharmonic, or Wiener Philharmoniker, has been an ambassador of musical greatness since its first concert of March 28, 1842. In recent years, however, the orchestra has been no stranger to controversy on an international scale. Their former policy that outrightly prohibited women from membership brought ongoing attention to the ensemble's race and gender demographics.While the media delights in its idiosyncrasies, the Vienna Philharmonic is an interesting case study in orchestral politics and ethics.

The Vienna Philharmonic playing Radetzky March, their signature piece, at the annual New Years Concert this past January

Monday, June 4, 2012

French Influence On Italian Violin-Making

By Matt Lammers and Andy Fein, Luthier at Fein Violins

Many years ago I (Andy) was visiting the old Jacques Francais violin shop in New York and examining an Annibale Fagnola violin with the famous restorer and violin expert Rene' Morel. He held the violin up, looked directly at the scroll and exclaimed, "Isn't it remarkable how much the Italian makers learned from the French?"
A violin by Annibale Fagnola, Turin, circa 1925