Posts Tagged ‘violin’

A Constant Career Companion

Thursday, September 5th, 2013


There has been one concerto that has been there since the beginning – through the good and bad, the great and the ugly. In fact, we have had a relationship for fifteen years at this point. This piece tolerates eccentricities, different venues, extreme climates, particular conductors. Since its premiere in 1845, this stalwart has been a mainstay of the repertoire, and Arthur Grumiaux’s recording was my preferred to blast on my archaic CD player while I followed along with the score. What piece am I referring to?

In 1838, Felix Mendelssohn wrote to his violin virtuoso friend, Ferdinand David: “I should like to write for you a violin concerto this winter. The beginning of one in e minor runs constantly through my thoughts, leaving me no peace.” The beginning has certainly left me busy the last fifteen years. I auditioned for the concertmaster chair of my former youth orchestra with it – a seat I would have for four years (and had quite the learning experience in the process). I auditioned at 15 to study at the Cleveland Institute of Music and the ENCORE School – with the Mendelssohn. Around 17 or 18, I realized just how difficult Op. 64 is, and put it away until 2008. At that point, I had not intended to return to the Mendelssohn, but no less than 3 conductors had asked for it that season – non-negotiable – so I was out of luck. Following stints in California, Texas and Ohio, I decided – not a bad piece, nor a bad idea. Audiences seemed to enjoy it, and (naively) we never needed more than one rehearsal. I told my manager that the 09-10 season should feature the Mendelssohn, and we quickly arranged 15-20 different orchestras with it; the last Mendelssohn of the season was with my dear friend Robert Franz. At the first rehearsal of the season, my brain had a panic attack and started sending messages to my left hand fingers…messages like, “You don’t know how to play in e minor!” “This piece is much more nuanced than you thought!” “How dare you play the Beethoven concerto but abuse ole Felix like this?!” It was at that rehearsal when I began to comprehend the depth, sophistication and architecture of this legendary opus. Fast forward to 2013 – I’m at a more centered, mature place in my life (adulthood, perhaps), appearances with over 120 orchestras under my belt, and yet, when I begin on the second position ‘B’, my pulse raises and I experience tremors. I’m beginning to think that one never “conquers” the Mendelssohn, yet it can certainly reveal and expose flaws, inspiration, and extremes of the same artist at different points in their development. Earlier today, I experienced the same excitement that I felt twenty years ago when hearing the bariolage transition out of the cadenza. This season, I return to the Mendelssohn with a number of different orchestras and conductors, and I can’t wait! Delving into sonatas by Elgar and Ysaye in the same key certainly solidifies violinistic concepts, but it is now Schubert and Chopin that seem to be beckoning musically, whereas before, Mendelssohn seemed to immediately preface the Romantic blockbuster concerti of the 1880’s.

I may feel different in another decade, but for now – come to the concerts and decide for yourselves!

Dancing…with courage!

Wednesday, May 15th, 2013
Noting a recital flier on the Caribbean island of St. Maarten

Noting a recital flier on the Caribbean island of St. Maarten

Walking onstage to play Brahms concerto in front of a full auditorium? Replacing a soloist on a recital series on one day’s notice? Having a string break in concert? All sound nightmarish–and indeed, the above are the subject of my nightmares. Having endured each, I thought I had been through it all. Enter this month’s dance competition…and a concert horror doesn’t register on the Richter scale.

Earlier in May, I danced in a charity competition called “Dancing With The Celebrities of Pittsburgh”, a regional spinoff of the ABC hit show “Dancing With The Stars”. Each week this spring, I performed a different concerto, recital program, or chamber music – and each paled next to preparing a 3 minute “Paso Doble” routine: a traditional Spanish Toreador (bullfighter) double step. When I met my partner, Sandra, things weren’t looking good. My busy tour schedule, possessing two left feet, and the difficulty of the routine paralyzed me with fear during each of the rehearsals. I don’t have stage fright when it comes to the Franck sonata or Tchaikovsky concerto, but a myriad of fears consumed me: will I look goofy? Will I let Sandra down? Could a dancing injury sideline my concerts? Fast forward to May. Several grueling rehearsals, a spray tan, and one paisley vest later, it was time for the competition. Faced with opening the competition (a position I dreaded), I commenced the routine with a bit of Hubay’s “Carmen Fantasie”, and then settled into the Zorro-type rhythms. After the exciting choreography, and overwhelmed with gratitude for the beautiful Sandra, I realized I had run towards something that had once terrified me…and didn’t fall flat on my face. Who knows – maybe the routine could one day be on the ABC network…but besides that pipe dream, I have a feeling of accomplishment – a feeling that is remarkably different from preparing a concerto.

On a different note, the 12/13 concert season is winding down, and I’m looking forward to this summer’s plans. Concerts this spring in Mississippi, New York City, DC, Pittsburgh, Cleveland, St. Maarten, San Jose, Los Angeles, and others give way to summer festival in PA (The Renova Festival), the Fairbanks Music Festival, the Lakes Area Chamber Music Festival, trips to Chicago and northern Ontario, and perhaps a couple of surprises. On an eclectic note, the new-age CD that I recorded with Sean Dockery (Oprah Winfrey Network music producer) will be available on and iTunes by June 1st. Exciting!

Stay cool, attend local symphony concerts this summer, and don’t forget to practice!

Getting bronzed just before taking the stage.

Getting bronzed just before taking the stage.

Greetings, and the “Seasons”

Tuesday, February 26th, 2013
rehearsing for Pittsburgh's "DWTS"

rehearsing for Pittsburgh's "DWTS"

This week, I am playing the “Four Seasons” by Vivaldi – featuring one of the very first grown-up pieces I learned on the violin – “Summer”. It was the summer of 1997, and I told my teacher at the Interlochen Arts Camp that “Summer” was, in fact, the next piece I would learn (I had a habit of doing that…a habit future teachers would quell). Forget the sonnets and dramatic dips and turns – I wanted to play the blistering Presto at top volume. 16 years later, I’m playing the set this Saturday (Vivaldi’s 335th birthday weekend) with the Gulf Coast Symphony and Maestro John Strickler. Hopefully, my interpretation of the Red Priest’s crowning achievement has changed in my advanced age.

The Vivaldi performance in Gulfport, MS is just one of three US coasts I’ll be visiting in as many weeks. In about 8 days time, I will be collaborating with the darling mezzo-soprano Lara Nie in works of Strauss and Canteloube in Manhattan (the Polera Recital Series on the Lower East Side). The following week, I am performing in San Jose, CA with works of Suk (Fantasie) and Dvorak (Romance) – my maiden outing with both Czech pieces. Because I am a glutton for undesirable locales, I will be performing in St. Maarten (Caribbean) after the California trip. I’m bringing sonatas of Beethoven, Saint-Saens, and Franck to the island paradise – and getting an early start on my tan. In April, I have shows in Pennsylvania and DC (including an unaccompanied recital of Bach, Paganini, Ysaye and Kreisler for the Arts Club Series), and later in the spring, I am competing on Pittsburgh’s “Dancing With The Stars” 2013. Whatever coordination I have with the violin isn’t present in my dance rehearsals – and the routine (a sensual Paso Doble) kind of resembles a hop-skotch tournament. Thank goodness my charming partner, Sandra, is patient. Look for updates (and silly pictures).

Next season is beginning to shape up, and we’ll post the calendar soon. Right now, it looks like I’ll be performing in America’s neighbors to the North and South; Mozart and Beethoven with chamber orchestras; a string of Tchaikovsky concerto appearances; and the Barber concerto for the first time. There may be an overseas trip or two, and local performances of the piano trio literature. Specifics will be announced when we’re able! I’ve also started penning thoughts, ideas, and memories for a future book. Don’t be expecting an expose of the classical music world, but–we’ll see how and where that project ends up.

I’ve enjoyed keeping up with colleagues, audience members, and fans on social media – what a world we live in! I wonder if Heifetz, Oistrakh, and the other Olympians of yesteryear ever fathomed careers being scrutinized on the World Wide Web. Never a dull moment, I suppose. Looking forward to seeing everyone at the future concerts–and the next time you hear one of the “Seasons” in an elevator, a restaurant, or on a Muzak record, remember – it’s actually legitimate, gorgeous music.

Life, or something like it…

Monday, September 10th, 2012

Tis the start of a new season – no, not an equinox, but a concert season. So much has happened already this calendar year that my mind is swirling trying to keep it organized. As I write this listening to Julia Fischer’s “Bach Concerti” album, I’m thankful for much that has happened. I had a myriad of touring – Mexico, Canada, eastern Europe, London, Alaska, Australia, and crisscrossing the United States. I played several new concerti (including the Brahms double and Schumann), worked with fantastic colleagues, and did some memorable interviews. One regret – I didn’t join my grandparents at the family home in Ontario this summer. You see, my grandfather died very suddenly on August 21st, following an exciting summer that included my grandparents touring Europe and vacationing at our favorite locale – Lake Penage.

Robert Sords – husband, father, and grandfather – was many things. Patriarch, strict, devoted, generous, sometimes ornery…those come to mind. What else comes to mind is a man who loved attending my concerts and seeing various successes. Bob, as I called him, taught me how to drive a boat, park a car, and be pretty persuasive in business. As the oldest of his eight grandchildren, I loved seeing the various relationships we all had with him – all pretty special, but none held a candle to the 62 years of marriage to my grandmother. They did everything together – the orchestra chorus, gardening, golf, meals out, vacations, and attending various athletic events, concerts, and graduations. I have some pretty spectacular memories of spending summers in Canada with them – bunking up in their room, sauna conversations, fishing, and puttering around the lake. Needless to say, of all of my performances this year, the most difficult one, no question, was playing two Ave Maria’s at his funeral (Caccini and Schubert). A special man – one minute stern, the next, chuckling. I miss him very much.

It’s amazing how as life progresses – priorities change, little things don’t matter as much, and the big picture comes into focus. Career-wise, that is certainly the case this season and with moving forward. I am grateful for being booked up for the next 24 months, for the wonderful colleagues I am privileged to collaborate with, and focusing on repertoire and venues that are important to me. It’s a newfound focus – certainly different from five years ago. Perhaps I will direct interviewers to this particular blog, and then most of their (pertinent and appropriate) questions would be answered.

Yes, this blog was more somber and vulnerable than is my norm – and perhaps reveals some of the craziness that has ensued this year. I am a firm believer in life experiences guiding art and the creative process. If that is to be believed – then the curveballs thrown this year only serve to illuminate the future with more clarity.

Musings from a Modern Troubadour

Monday, January 2nd, 2012

Here we are – 2012. The Mayan calendar has created quite a bit of apprehension regarding this year, but I’m excited for what it will bring. I look forward to connecting and meeting with new orchestras, audiences, and fans – and of course, becoming more familiar with different food and cultures (a resolution of mine).

2011 was an invigorating year, musically and otherwise. Some highlights: I began the year in Jacksonville on the EMMA Recital Series with the lovely Anita Pontremoli; spent a week in Austin performing with two orchestras; returned to the Caribbean to perform on the stunning island of Anguilla; made my Toronto concerto debut with Mozart’s “Turkish” concerto; performed the Schumann sonata cycle in recital; made my D.C. recital debut; ¬†was interviewed on “The Derek and Romaine Show” (twice), OUT Pittsburgh, Nevada Public Radio, and numerous other outlets; made further debuts in Atlanta, Virginia, Minnesota, and Mexico; made return appearances to Florida, Carson City, Minneapolis, and Cleveland; and was inspired by several Broadway shows and memorable concerts (including Patti LuPone, Julia Fischer, “Book of Mormon”, and the venerable Cleveland Orchestra). Whew. Certainly, a very memorable year. For further details, you will have to wait for the memoirs!

Currently, I’m on a bit of a hiatus until performing the Brahms double concerto in MN at the end of this month, followed by a Toronto recital and performances of the Brahms concerto in Oakland, Cleveland, and Poland. I will be doing some yoga, continuing my sushi addiction, and getting through the stack of a dozen books on my nightstand. Any suggestions to add to my reading list? Celebrity biographies seem to be the genre du jour. Perhaps I should throw the Sonatas and Partitas into that mix…

I look forward to meeting new fans in the coming weeks, learning new music, and, especially, returning to the Bay Area. I will spend a week in mid-March performing the Brahms Violin Concerto with the Oakland East Bay Symphony and Maestro Morgan, as well as my first performances of the Schumann violin concerto (in its original version) with the Saratoga Symphony. Coincidental putting those two friends on the same weekend? I think not. :)

Happy New Year, and my very best to a healthy, safe and prosperous 2012.

Change is coming…yet, revisiting the new…

Thursday, May 19th, 2011

It has been a very long time since I last blogged – this little thing called violin and career have gotten in the way. As the season winds down to a close, I wanted to check in and write about future plans and the most recent concert year.

And what a year it has been! Since the New Year, I have been in Jacksonville, New York City, Toronto, Austin, Anguilla, central Ohio, Carson City, St. Augustine, Atlanta, western Virginia, Kansas City, and everywhere in between. Next month, I’m in Arkansas and Texas, and will play chamber music in Minnesota at the end of the summer. Many frequent flier miles later, I will be able to sleep in, read celebrity autobiographies, and PLAN NEW REPERTOIRE. Yes, you heard me. During the 2012/13 season, I am committing myself to new repertoire by Prokofiev, Barber, Schumann, Suk, Shostakovich, Korngold, and others. After several seasons of the “standards”, “classics”, “warhorses”, and other such adjectives thrown about by venues, I am expanding my repertoire and growth on this instrument. Anyone disappointed? Probably not. :)

Next season, I will be making several international debuts, as well as revisiting orchestras with whom I’ve already played. Next year will mark the 100th orchestra I have performed with…and I feel very blessed that I have maintained relationships with nearly all of them. The 2011/12 schedule will be posted sometime this summer…but I can reveal that the Brahms violin concerto and Schumann sonata cycle are dominating the season.

This summer, I will be taking much needed vacations – one to Canada and another to New England. Some bonding with nature and R&R shall do the body (and violin) good! Perhaps I be back out on the tennis courts and swimming pool – but not if we have another 12 days of consecutive rain here in Cleveland. You’d think I live in Seattle. Anyway, I digress…

Hope all of you have having a terrific spring, and I look forward to seeing you at concerts next season! Stay tuned for concert dates, repertoire, and more frequently updated blogs! Til then…

Off-stage Preparation – Unsung Heroes.

Monday, October 25th, 2010

The energy throughout the hall is tangible – we reach the exciting coda, and orchestra, conductor and soloist executed the accelerando with flair. Smiles flash, bow hairs break, and the rousing conclusion ignites an ovation. Heartbeats elevated, everyone leaves the hall happy. Yes, another thrilling concert concluded…and conductor and soloist thank friendly audience members for attending. Who else is responsible for ensuring these concerts are performed without a hitch? Well, let’s see…

In my dressing room this past weekend, I couldn’t help but be reminded of the fact that there truly are dozens behind the scenes who passionately and loyally tire to make sure that all the behind-the-scenes are in place…and are deserving of a standing ovation. One individual I see often during a concert weekend is the stage manager – in charge of operations backstage and calling the lights/places/timing for concerts, they also oversee the dressing room situation for the artists. At a certain hall I have often played is Patty. Quite simply, she makes the backstage experience much more charming. Surprises such as a candy, energy drinks (knowing my favorites!), and a welcoming smile greet me upon entering the backstage area. A good stage manager is unfailingly kind, yet also assertive in ensuring punctuality. Each stage manager will generally have 2-5 people working the backstage area with them with jobs of their own – likely unnoticed by those in the audience. Once a capacity crowd appears (in a perfect world), the House Manager will delegate different tasks to ushers, patron services, and ticket-takers to ensure the audience has a pleasant listening experience.

Artistic management. Anywhere between 12 and 36 months prior to said concert, the artist’s manager and orchestra administration will start to nail down dates, travel, and other pertinent details. Once the concerto and date are decided, the publicity department will hammer out materials (bio, photos, press feeds, etc) to prompt ticket sales, handled by the crew in the box office. The publicity materials involve the photographer(s), make-up artists, stylists, any assistants, editors, and opinions from friends and family on which photos should or shouldn’t be used.

Said artist’s manager – talk about a full-time job. For a season with 40-60 concerts, this involves calendar planning, travel, contractual agreements, fee management, overseeing publicity, website, social media, and ensuring the artist is represented and treated well. No easy task, for sure! Appearing on tour with the Artist to meet with the staff of the orchestra, overseeing the preparation backstage, and generally de-stressing the process is part and parcel of the job description. In my case, this often entails bringing bananas, a lint-roller, and sugar-free Red Bull. I can also recall last minute emergencies – concert dates moved, airline voucher errors, and other such minor tragedies. Additionally, the management will usually have their own “inner circle” of lawyers, photographers, and assistants to help with managing a touring schedule.

Prior to a successful performance, the violin teachers, rehearsal pianists, significant others, family members, and friends who lend an ear and helping hand easily nudge the number of those involved in the preparation of a single concert well into the dozens. I am eternally grateful for everyone dedicated to the non-visible elements of this career. Of course, the congenial orchestra members and Maestro are essential as well, but at your next concert, do thank a stagehand or usher for their assistance. :)