Salastina at St. Matthews: Clash of the Coaches

SalatinaStMatthews

April was a busy month.  I made several round trips to L.A. and back to attend family events that had been planned long ago. The highlight of my travels, though, was a visit to see a part of my musical family; two of my coaches playing together at St. Matthews in Pacific Palisades.  I studied with Yi Huan Zhao for several years, almost until the end of middle school, and I studied with Maia Jasper for more than two years in high school.  As teachers, they each had their unique styles.

Yi Huan did his best to slow me down as I raced through pieces without a thought to what the composer had sought to convey. He did this by infusing each piece with a wonderful story so that the action became real for me.  Yi Huan taught me how to read music.  I confess, I had been getting away with faking it for quite a while due to my great audio memory.  He taught me terminology and the positions, and when  I worked on student repertoire, and he made sure that I knew exactly why I was working on each piece.  I wanted to choose my own pieces,  and he explained that each piece taught a different thing.  Oh. It all seems so clear when you aren’t a little kid. My favorite thing about Yi Huan was that I got to play in a lot of recitals. And he had a baby.  That was exciting.

By the time Maia got me, I had a decent command of the fundamentals, but I was disorganized in my approach to practicing, and I was lazy about working on exercises. It was a difficult time for me because I was spending a lot of time at Colburn on the weekends playing in chamber groups and in orchestra, and my daily commute to my high school was more than an hour each way, so I was losing time on the road. I hardly had anytime to practice with all my AP classes and tests and visiting and applying to universities.  But during the little time that I had, Maia fit in two lessons a week to help me with my college audition pieces.  She wrote letters to the universities for me, which was really nice, and I know it was a  lot of extra work for her.

Yi Huan is the Concert Master of the Chamber Orchestra at St. Matthews in Pacific Palisades. The church has a thirty year tradition of supporting the arts. Maia and her musical partner Kevin Kumar have founded the Salastina Music Society much more recently. Their society focuses on education — no piece is left unexplained.  Their selections are often shorter than full concert length, which increases appeal to the younger, attention-challenged listener.  The Chamber Orchestra, on the other hand, is more traditional, and most of their subscribing audience has been listening to classical music a lot longer than I’ve been alive.  But there was no clash of cultures.  My graying parents attended the concert with me, and they were really happy to hear the more modern pieces that Salastina brings to the table. St. Matthews’ music director’s outreach to Salastina  was inspired — do not go gentle into that good night audience,  we have a wild ride on the Autobahn ahead!

Benedikt Brydern is a Los Angeles area composer with an amazing bio.  He has an extremely large body of work for someone so young, and one of its highlights is Autobahn, a crossover piece for two violins.  It’s a truly amazing work of art portraying the urban bustle and resulting angst that is so prevalent in our lives.  Much of Brydern’s portfolio comprises film scores, which often come bundled with their burden of constraints. But Autobahn screams I’m writing this for me!  Kevin and Maia played the piece to perfection.  It’s the second time that I’ve heard them play it. The first time (at the much larger Zipper Hall) it felt quite phrenetic.  They’ve let the piece ripen nicely — it was much less angular this time without losing any of it’s agitation.

All told, it was a wonderful night.  And yes. There were cookies.

StMatthewsCookies

 
Views: 1878

Hey Buddy, Got a Spare Violin?

It is estimated that Antonio Stradivari’s workshop produced about 1100 instruments during his lifetime, including more than 500 violins known to continue to exist today. There are lists of these instruments and a multitude of websites that recount interesting stories of “Strads” that have been lost or stolen, and sometimes recovered under the most interesting of circumstances. The aura and mystique of such world class violins has driven their prices high into the stratosphere.

Even the more mundane violins can be incredibly expensive. The good news is that most people will never need to spend more than about two thousand dollars on their instruments. Yes, that’s a lot of money. But compared with years of lessons at fifty to seventy-five dollars a week or more, summer camps, orchestra fees, performance wear, strings and music, and transportation, it’s nothing. But the violinist who chooses to become a professional career musician needs a much more expensive instrument, one that can cost as much as a car, or even a new home.

There is an additional expense to the professional violinist that few consider, something called opportunity cost. Opportunity cost is the cost of choosing not to do something. Consider that a professional violinist spends as much or more time learning their craft as does an engineer. Upon graduation from the university, the engineer will be quickly absorbed into a waiting job market that promises a six figure annual salary within a few short years, while the violinist may unsuccessfully audition for months, finally landing an unpaid seat in a community orchestra. The opportunity cost of choosing a career in music over a career in engineering might realistically be seventy-five thousand dollars a year. This means that the career violinist will more than likely never generate enough income to purchase his or her professional quality violin outright, and this creates the niche that instrument lending foundations have stepped in to fill.

Instrument lending is not a new idea.  Many fine conservatories and universities have built collections that provide instruments that can be borrowed by students, usually for the cost of insuring and maintaining the instrument.  But what happens after graduation? The student often must immediately return the instrument to the university and find something else to play. There are a number of foundations that accept donated or loaned instruments from the weathy. In return the donor receives tax benefits and other consideration, such as quarterly private concerts in his or her home. I’ve listed some of the foundations here, and I will write more about them later.

The Doublestop Foundation

Rachel Elizabeth Barton Pine Foundation

The Maestro Foundation

The Virtu Foundation

The Amati Foundation

The Stradivarious Society

It’s incredibly exciting to me to learn about all of the wonderful old instruments that are available to world class musicians, and I am always curious about the matching of the virtuoso to an instrument. Violin selection has been such a personal experience for me, and I am just stepping out of the budget range — imagine what it would be like to be able to select, care for, and play a violin that was centuries old!

Views: 1653

The Four “C”s of a Violin Diet

When I was four, my parents took me to a concert at The Mirman School, a L.A. area school for highly gifted students. All of the children play an instrument, and the concert included a reception with free cookies. We’d been talking about my starting music lessons, and now it was time to see real instruments up close and in action. It was a great show, although I can’t remember anything they played. But the chocolate-chip cookies were really good. So while I was still on a sugar high, my parents asked me to choose an instrument to play. Well, the obvious choice was the violin. Violinists sit in front. Do I need to write that louder? VIOLINISTS SIT IN THE FRONT. Of course there weren’t a lot of violinists there, so they all sat in the front. And they were closest to the cookies, which were laid out on a table in the same room. And the cookies were really good. If you know me, you know I pretty much work free for cookies and candy. The four ‘C’s of a violin diet: Cake, Candy, Coke, Cookies.

I never ended up at The Mirman School, which is probably good, because I see that their music program has been pretty much gutted, except for vocals. At least it seems to be — the web site has been gutted as well. I did, however, end up as a 5-year-old violinist due to my brief encounter with their program.

That’s my tragic story, and I am sticking with it.

Views: 1163

The Price is Right

 

orch

For the first time in my short UCSB career, I played to a packed house at the Lotte Lehmann Concert Hall. That’s right, 400+ seats, all FULL! The music department powers-that-be decided to offer free admission to all UCSB students to our music department student performances and recitals this year. It’s really made a huge difference. Last year, the hall was no more than two-thirds full for our first chamber orchestra concert.

Our first concert of the year is usually the best attended due to freshman parents looking for any desperate excuse to see their children. Then the parents get lazy, and subsequent shows fill only half the hall. It was really exciting for us to hear so much applause, so I hope people keep coming. The classics aren’t really such an easy sell to kids raised on rap — which includes most of my friends. If you tell them they have to pay ten dollars, then they stay home and write that nasty paper they’ve been dreading. But once they come and hear a piece they like, they keep coming back.

The show started with Maurice Ravel’s Chansons Madé­casses, a study of the poetry of Evariste-Désiré de Parny commissioned by Eliz­a­beth Sprague Coolidge. It’s pretty startling in places, even for those who don’t speak French. A very passionate piece. Molly Clementz, one of our graduate students in voice definitely did it justice. She reminded the audience that the voice is truly an instrument in its own right, not just a pretty thing that floats a story on top of the “real” instruments. Karen Yeh played cello with patient grace, dancing in step with pianist Felix Eisenhauer and Adriane Hill on the flute. The flute seems to be a challenging part; it accents the passion of the other parts, tying everything together for the audience.

Next, my studio mates Camden Boyle and Thérèse Brown joined pianist Maansi Desai in the first movement of Moritz Moszkowski’s Suite in G Minor for Two Violins and Piano, Op. 71. Their appealing interpretation gently allowed the audience to relax and let the music flow. It’s the sort of chamber piece that can fail if there is any kind of competition between the artists for the audience ear. It’s got a very delicate balance between parts, and it reminds me to be thankful that I’m in a violin studio with no gigantic egos. It’s the nicest thing about our department, in fact, that we all want each other to succeed.

We were then treated to Quatuor for Flute, by Pierre-Max Dubois. The quartet was actually a quintet including Rachel Ricard, Azeem Ward, Sylvie Tran, Catherine Marshall, and Adriane Hill. It was a really tight piece with cleverly woven harmonies. The audience clapped after the first movement, but had that completely trained out of them, and remained silent after the second and third. I don’t know how that happened, or why, I guess it was magic.

Finally we heard the UCSB graduate Young Artist Piano Quartet play the first movement from Gabriel Fauré’s Piano Quartet in C Minor, Op. 15. My friends all reported liking it. The YAPQ is taking the place of the YASQ this year as the school’s graduate scholarship ensemble. Hopefully they will represent us well, winning international prizes and bringing glory and acclaim to the department. (No pressure, guys). I will link to their website when they have one up. The group includes Youjin Jung on violin, Jordan Warmath on viola, Larissa Fedoryka on cello, and pianist Leslie Cain.

12-1-14-ucsbChamberOrch

After a brief intermission for restaging (meaning no cookies were served), the Chamber Orchestra took the stage. I was later told that there were people who were unable to find seats for the first part of the show that were seated for the second half. This leads me to believe that some people must have left at intermission. So how crazy is that?

We played Mozart’s Symphony No. 40 in G Minor and finished with Night on Bald Mountain by Modest Mussorgsky. Both pieces are showy and traditional; they make the audience feel like they are at a party. Some of us in the orchestra had long drives returning from the holiday that morning or the night before, and others are just hitting the post-midterm-catch-up with-everything-before-finals phase of the quarter. So it was nice to see that everyone was able to pull up their energy levels for the show. In my experience the first show of the season is usually not the best of the year. But given how good the first show was, I’d say we are definitely setting the bar even higher this year than last, which makes me very happy.

Views: 1359

wildUp. wild. Up.

My Mom Went to wildUp, and all I got was a picture of brownies.

Just before you find yourself at the little crescent of Butterfly Beach in Montecito, you’ll see the lovely historic Music Academy of the West. The Academy sits on the former estate of John Percival Jefferson, and has an interesting history. At the heart of the estate is Hahn Hall, exquisitely remodeled in 2008 at a cost of 15.5 million dollars. Every seat is a perfect seat.

So one has to wonder what the hell a bunch of guys in jeans were doing in Hahn Hall making music and orange juice at the same time. When I write “guys”, I am using the gender-free Southern California definition, meaning some of the guys were gals. In fact, more gals than you can shake a stick at, as my dad would say. And my dad was there, so he should know. In fact, my mom was there too, and that’s why she’s actually writing this for me. Because I missed one of the best concerts of the year.

The nicest part of the entire adventure was that if you bought your tickets on line last week (before everyone who had been at Colburn’s Zipper Hall for the last wildUp adventure started talking), you didn’t have to wait in line at will call. If you just heard about wildUp this week, sadly you waited in a long-ass line for tickets. Hahn Hall was pretty full, and I don’t think they turned anybody away, and everyone who bought a ticket in advance showed up, so there were none of those unfortunate empty seats staring at the conductor. (er, JuiceMeister as he likes to be called now). Hahn Hall seats 350, and almost every seat was full. Let me tell you how it got that way.

The arriving audience was treated to wine and orange juice as we performed our usual pre-entry milling around. The grounds are lovely, even the restroom is lovely; but wandering guests were drawn back to the patio in front of the Hall as a lonely guitars called into the night. JuiceMeister Christopher Rountree would later comment that he was surprised that everyone stopped to listen. He’d expected the audience to treat it like background music. And we would have, had there been an open guitar case seeded with a handful of change and a fine green fiver. But we were at a concert, so we did what we dutiful audience members do. We watched, we listened.

Oboe

Eventually, some of us were poked into entering the hall and found musicians interspersed with the audience. So it was a dichotomous experience. Those who remained outside heard a differing introductory piece. The people around me were confused. Some of them were in hush mode, and others were like, “Hey! There’s a horn guy in my seat! Look Mildred, a horn guy!” Of course, there probably were no Mildreds because Mildred is an old people’s name, and the usual 100% antique audience typically found at classical music concerts had been about one-third body-snatched and replaced with twenty and thirty-somethings, including members of the Los Angeles music community, and the UCSB family. I sat next to a lovely woman who had come from Ventura with her daughter. My impression was that they had come to be in the beautiful Hahn Hall for the same reason I had: To pretend for just a few hours that they actually live there. (I might add here that I didn’t attend with my mother, and am terribly ashamed.)

At this point the concert really began, and due to the lack of program notes and a very poor memory, I have no idea what was played, or who played it. And that’s fine, when you realize I know absolutely nothing about music. (Remember that’s my mom)

But here is what I noticed:  WildUp is expert at exploiting dynamic tension.  And they trust the audience to bring interpretative skill and personal life story to their pieces. The concert was called Pulp, and as the concert drew to a close, Christopher Rountree explained Pulp in terms of a high fiber diet with a little Pulp Fiction thrown in. What you get out of the concert is a direct result of what you put in. And it’s ethereal because our base life story changes. You can’t listen to Pulp for the second time and bring first time experience to the table. It’s already been digested.

That’s the audience point of view, at any rate. At times, I thought I knew where the music was headed because I have experience-based expectations. Sometimes I was very surprised, yet often I was dead-on when I predicted to myself where the music would go.  But Wild-Up wants to break even that. To shake us, wake us, hurt us. That’s the Pulp Fiction part — the part where we are reminded again and again that we really need to pour ourselves a pretty orange pair of earplugs from the liter carafe that is being passed around because something very bad is going to happen to our ears before we leave. And we watch, and we wait for blood. Cinéma vérité and splattered OJ. This is the thing we call wildUp.

What wildUp learns from their experience is that an audience may not behave in exactly the way they expect. We’ve been trained. I was horrified when people laughed. I waited for the conductor to put his arms down before I dared clap. I wouldn’t accept that there was an intermission until the words were spoken. Those responses have and will evolve as I hear more and more avant-garde music of this caliber.

In closing, I absolutely have to mention a couple of issues:

  • I love harps, and I couldn’t hear the harp much of the time. The audience demanded more harps. At the end of the show, the entire audience stood up, stomped their feet and clapped their hands for a long, long time, obviously protesting that there was just the one harp. The JuiceMeister was force to bow again and again acceding to our wishes. In the future, there will be two harps,  his bows avow.

 

  • I think that the program would have benefited from a few more violinists. I say that because I (and by that, my mom means me) am a violinist, and I will work for brownies.

 

  • Finally, I really wish I had program notes because I heard the most amazing cello composition, and I have nothing to Google™.

Knock-Knock.
Who’s there?
Orange.
Orange who?
Orange you glad I didn’t say apple?

I guess you had to be there. I was not.

WildUp

Views: 1597

The Amazing Sarah Chang

Sarah and Sara

Sarah and Sara

 


Sarah Chang and I have a lot in common. We both play the violin, we have the same name, we both started playing the violin when were really little, and we once stood together in the same place at the same time long enough to have a picture taken. We even share a love of our stuffed animals and sushi. But that’s where the similarity ends. Sarah is a superstar, and I am a student. Or as the New York Times would put it:

“Her gifts are at a level so removed from the rest of us that all we can do is feel the appropriate awe and then wonder on the mysteries of nature. The ancients would certainly have had Ms. Chang emerging fully formed from some Botticellian scallop shell.”

The next time I see Sarah, I am going to ask her how much of her talent was a “gift” exactly, and how much was just plain old hard work. When I was a little girl, I played the violin, but I also spent hours creating Sculpey™ animals and playing store in my back-yard play structure (I sold my mom’s herbs and flowers to her). I went to pre-school, and took classes in magic, ballet, karate, and forensic science. I only practiced on my 1/10 violin for about fifteen minutes a day, but I told my mom I’d practiced for an hour. When Sarah was a kid, she was practicing for four hours a everyday, and playing the violin well enough to attract the attentions of Dorothy DeLay. I wonder if she was really practicing for eight hours, and telling her mom it was only four.

On Sarah’s website, she posts an article with an adorable picture of herself at the age of twelve or so. According to the article, four years earlier at EIGHT years old, she was asked by Zubin Mehta to fill in for a cancellation at the New York Philharmonic. She played Paganini. At eighteen, I can almost play Paganini well enough that people don’t trample each other running for the exits.

While I really enjoy hearing Sarah play, I appreciate her kindness and generosity even more. Earlier this year, I was able to attend a benefit for Danielle Belen’s Center Stage Strings summer program where Sarah performed as the guest artist. She seemed genuinely happy to be playing with all the young musicians and spent a lot of time taking pictures after the concert with anybody who asked. And did I mention the cute pink gown she wore?

Benefits are really important, because there are many kids like me out there with college tuition and retired parents. We can either work or practice, and we need to practice or we’ll never work. Kind of a Catch-22! When new musicians perform there are a lot of expenses, and usually zero pay. We need transportation, concert wear, and a place to stay. We need long hours of private lessons, and have to find money for summer camps and festivals. We often pay for concert tickets so we will know what is happening in our chosen field, although fortunately, many performers generously offer their extra tickets to music students. Applying to several conservatories or universities is expensive, too. We have to travel to our auditions. The elephant in the room that most people don’t ever see is the cost of a violin, which can equal a year of university tuition or more. For the best of students, there are schools and other organizations that lend fine violins from their private collections. For the rest of us, it’s catch as catch can.

I’m hoping to see more of Sarah Chang, but she seems to be playing fewer concerts these days than she has in the past, and I know it’s not for want of opportunity. Life on the road must be incredibly demanding, and burn-out is a very real thing. I secretly hope she is taking a well-earned break, resting and taking care of herself, but a quick check of twitter tells me that she’s busier than ever, and has the cutest dog on Earth.

Views: 1411

The Carbonara Quartet

Carbonara Quartet

About The Carbonara Quartet

(This content is taken from my  Carbonara Quartet website)

The Carbonara Quartet was formed in early 2011 by (me) Sara Bashore, a violin student playing with the Ed & Mari Edelman Chamber Music Institute, part of the Colburn School of Performing Arts. In the beginning our name was a joke; we four were hungry and Spagetti alla Carbonara was on the Colburn Cafe menu. When we met with our coach for rehearsal, he immediately vetoed the name. He told us that chamber names should be a tribute to an artist or even a romantic location, but never food.

I really liked the name, though, and decided to check Wikipedia. I found that there actually was a famous modern composer named Gerard Carbonara. After locating and listening to some of his compositions, I was sold. He was an amazing artist who gave us two generations of award-winning, galloping good music. Although he passed away in 1959, I’m honored to take his name, and am committed to keeping the quartet alive.

Views: 1225

Bring on the Halloween Music!

Danse_macabre_by_Michael_Wolgemut  The Dance of Death

Hartmann Schedel was a cartographer who fell in love with the printing press and was one of the first authors to integrate text and illustration.  With his Nuremberg Chronicle (Liber Chronicarum), he introduces Michael Wolgemut’s 1493 Danse Macabre (Dance of Death).  The woodcut is just a tad off-beat by even contemporary standards.   But, as it would turn out, a healthy dose of irony and reflection was appreciated in the Renaissance and re-awoke nicely in the Romantic period. Listen to the Danse Macabre!

Views: 1113

Amadéus Leopold, Stylin’

Amadeus_Leopold

So I was daydreaming and cruising the web and I found this 2006 set of forum postings asking readers to compare Joshua Bell, Itzhak Perlman and Jascha Heifetz.  While I’m Joshua Bell’s number one fan, I can see why some random forum poster might say he’s “cheesy”.  And I know that Perlman might be more “schmaltzy” than some. Even “too fast” Heifetz can be “overpowering” according to those conversing.  So I have to wonder what these armchair critics think of Amadéus Leopold.

Views: 1080

Tapestry

Full of Noise

Music is like a woven tapestry.  It has rich silk jewel tones, rough tufts of earthen fibers.  A decent chamber composition is gentle enough to separate as you listen, a little crochet hook in your mind lets a special passage flow through your deepest emotions and evoke long unvisited memories.

At least I thought that I understood music this way — and then I listened to some pieces by the British composer, Thomas Adès. Adès is a forty-something artist who has shared his love story with the expression of sound in his book, Thomas Adès: Full of Noises: Conversations with Tom Service by Thomas Ades, Tom Service.

I’ve put the book on my wish list so that I can eventually write a serious review of it. Will I be convinced that there is purpose and meaning behind works that alternately sound like Mozart gargling with sand and a kitten singing in the dryer on a gorgeous autumn day? As it turns out, there is a stately, surefooted beauty to that sort of thing.

Adès’ violin concerto, Concentric Paths, seems like it would be particularly amazing to play. I’ve listened to some recordings of it, and they were surprisingly very differently interpreted. I think there is always going to be room for a fresh take on it. I’m not quite so sure I could sell my chamber orchestra friends on it, but stranger things have happened.

Views: 1014