Category Archives: Uncategorized

From My Life

A few days ago I gave a presentation to the Daria Book Club in Salt Lake City of my mystery, Death and the Maiden. As you can easily guess, the inspiration for my book was Franz Schubert’s incomparable string quartet of the same name. I was very pleased to be assisted in my presentation by the talented young Rosco String Quartet, who enthralled the audience with a compelling performance of the central slow movement.

Screen Shot 2018-03-10 at 9.29.56 PM

Schubert

However, my book was also inspired by a quartet which might not be as popular as “Death and the Maiden,” but is one of the most beautiful and deeply poignant composition ever written. That is the String Quartet in E Minor, “From My Life,” by the 19th century Czech composer, Bedrich Smetana.

Screen Shot 2018-03-10 at 9.30.39 PM

Smetana

What makes it such a gem? To begin with, it has all the components of great music: It is the product of superior craftsmanship and chock full of the gorgeous melodies, rhythms, and harmonies of eastern European traditional music. The third movement is truly one of the most gorgeous pieces of music ever written.

Beyond that, it is unique in all music because of its autobiographical nature. From one movement to the next, Smetana lays out the foundational chronology of his life: his early struggles, his devotion to Czech national music, his love for his wife, and the joy from the international recognition of all his efforts. What tears at the heart, though, is that at the very climax of this triumph the music is incised by a searing high E played by the first violin, which represents the pitch Smetana heard in his head, the result of the syphilis that was destroying his mind. Smetana knew that he was gradually going deaf, blind, and finally insane when he wrote this quartet, and it is all foreshadowed in the music from that point until the end of the composition.

Just think about that for a while. Who among us would have the courage, the skill, and the honesty to create such a devastatingly beautiful epitaph for our own lives?

I hope you’ll enjoy listening to these Abramyan String Quartet’s live performances of both Schubert’s “Death and the Maiden” and Smetana’s “From My Life.” They were life changing experiences for us to play them and I hope you’ll feel the same as listeners.

Click HERE to connect to the complete list of my books, audio books, ebooks, and my recent memoir, Symphonies & Scorpions.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

A Black Eye for the Guarneri String Quartet

Beginning February 22 and through the spring, I’m giving a series of seven lectures for the prestigious Daria Book Club on subjects ranging from the Mormon forgery murders to Native American artifacts.

The first book I’m presenting is Indivisible by Four, a wonderfully insightful view of what it’s like to be a member of a great string quartet, written by Arnold Steinhardt, the first violin of the famed Guarneri String Quartet.

Screen Shot 2018-02-14 at 10.49.27 AM

Guarneri String Quartet

To assist me with my presentation will be a young up-and-coming professional quartet here in Salt Lake City, the Rosco String Quartet.

Screen Shot 2018-02-14 at 10.58.06 AM

Rosco String Quartet

 

 

Steinhardt’s writing, like his violin playing, is warmhearted and thoughtful, and connects with the same directness to readers as his playing did with the Guarneri’s audiences. The book is equally a collection of touching anecdotes as it is a valuable primer for young musicians who aspire to a career in music.

Screen Shot 2018-02-14 at 10.50.51 AM

Arnold Steinhardt

 

There’s one particular story that I’m glad Steinhardt didn’t include in the book. When I was a student at the Yale Norfolk (CT) Chamber Music Festival in 1974, Arnold was my chamber music coach for the Beethoven String Quartet Op. 59 #2. During the course of our coaching sessions, he found out that I played tennis. Both he and violist, Michael Tree, were keen tennis players as well, and they happened to be looking for a fourth in order to play doubles. So they invited me to join them.

Screen Shot 2018-02-14 at 10.52.15 AM

Michael Tree

I couldn’t believe my good luck! Here I was, a 21-year-old, scraggly violin student, rubbing shoulders with the big boys of the concert world. Calling them by their first names! We set up a time to play, got to the court, and started warming up. Arnold Steinhardt, the first violinist of the Guarneri String Quartet, was my partner. Michael’s partner, if I recall correctly, was his wife, Jani, but my memory could be wrong. I also seem to recall that Arnold had been having some arm issues, so, being ambidextrous, he was playing tennis with his other arm. (I don’t remember whether he’s a lefty or a righty, but in any event it was impressive.)

Here was my dilemma. What if I was a lot better than they were? Should I do my best? Would that impress or irritate them? What if they were a lot better than me? Would I end up wasting their time? The implications for how this might affect the rest of my professional life were profound.

We started playing and after a short while, like a good string quartet, we got into a groove. Rallies got longer, pace increased. Everyone seemed to be on about the same level. Camaraderie was setting in. All good signs.

Someone hit the ball to me. I saw Michael approach the net. New dilemma. Should I pass him with a cross-court shot, which I could easily have done? Should I lob over his head, another easy option? I decided to be generous. I hit the ball right to him so he could comfortably volley at the net and win the advantage, if not the point.

Smart, right? Wrong. Michael was expecting anything but a direct shot. The ball glanced off the frame of his racquet and hit him squarely in the eye, knocking him to the ground. Game. Set. Disaster.

My life passed before my eyes. I would end up flipping burgers. And what about the Guarneri? Had I nipped their legendary career in the bud? We helped Michael to his feet. I apologized profusely, which he kindly accepted. But, oh man, what a shiner!

As it turned out, life went on. Michael recovered. The rest of the festival went without mishap. I eventually became a professional musician and the Guarneri String Quartet continued its illustrious career for decades.

But we never played tennis together again.

To get an insider’s view of life as an orchestra musician, you can now enjoy Symphonies & Scorpions as an eBook or in paperback.

An Audition Catastrophe

The following true story is an excerpt from my book, Symphonies & Scorpions:

In 1981 I took an audition for associate concertmaster of the Pittsburgh Symphony, which was supposed to have been a slam-dunk but ended up an unmitigated disaster. At that time Pittsburgh’s music director was Andre Previn, a fine musician with a keen wit and great respect for musicians. Prior to the September audition, Previn guest conducted at Tanglewood, where he appeared regularly. With the associate concertmaster position in mind, Joseph Silverstein, then the BSO’s concertmaster and my former violin teacher at Yale, helped set up a private audition for me with Previn at Tanglewood. After I played for Previn and Marshall Turkin, Pittsburgh’s CEO who was also at Tanglewood for some meetings, they essentially handed me the job. And more.

Pittsburgh’s longtime concertmaster, Fritz Siegal, would soon be retiring, they told me. And though Previn didn’t have the total authority to hire an associate concertmaster, he told me in no uncertain terms that he had the contractual authority to hire the concertmaster. Turkin nodded in agreement. The intimation was clear.

Siegal was going to perform the Bloch violin concerto on Pittsburgh’s season-opening concert. On the same program was Scheherazade by Rimsky-Korsakov, which has one of the most virtuoso concertmaster solos in the repertoire. Previn invited me to come down to Pittsburgh to be guest concertmaster for the week, and since Siegal would be performing only the concerto, I would be the Scheherazade soloist. He also wanted me to “play for a few of the guys” to formalize what would be my appointment as associate concertmaster. I asked Previn what music I should prepare for “the guys.” Anything you want, he told me.

I decided on the Scherzo Tarentelle by Henri Wieniawski, a well-known 19th century virtuoso show piece; the Phantasy for Violin and Piano by the famous 12-tone composer, Arnold Schoenberg; and a couple movements from a solo sonata by Bach. I thought that mix would demonstrate my versatility, and as the first two of those pieces are never on audition repertoire lists, would distinguish my playing from the standard fare.

 I arrived in Pittsburgh and had a wonderful time being wined and dined by Previn and assistant conductor, Michael Lancaster. The next morning I arrived at Heinz Hall, adrenaline pumping, primed to embark my next step to stardom, fame and fortune.

I was approached by one of the musicians. He handed me a list. What’s this? I asked. It’s what we want you to play from the repertoire list, he replied. I was confused. On the list were a dozen orchestra excerpts, including several concertmaster solos, and two concertos. You’re here for the audition, right? he asked. I nodded. You can go into that room, he said, pointing.

I became aware of a dozen other violinists warming up for the audition. Something had gone terribly awry. At that point I should have either called timeout and had a discussion with Previn, or packed my bags but, at twenty-nine years old, I was still a bit of a greenhorn. And shell-shocked.

I frantically practiced the excerpts—cramming a month of dedicated practice into an hour—before going onstage to play before a formal audition committee.

Not surprisingly, I totally bombed. Afterwards, Previn called me into his office, offered his condolences and told me if I’d rather not play the opening week he would certainly understand. I suppose I could have made a stink, but diffidence got the better of me, and besides, I didn’t see that bitching would have done any good. I decided to stay and play because I didn’t want the PSO musicians thinking I was as bad as my audition had clearly led them to believe. The Scheherazade went all right, though all week I felt daggers in my back from musicians who thought I had tried to circumvent the audition process. Previn later told Silverstein that I had done a great job leading the orchestra. Kind words, perhaps, but merely a Band-Aid for a wound that left a permanent scar.

A lot of real life stories in the world of the orchestra musician have happy endings. You’ll find many of them in Symphonies & Scorpions.

S&S COVER

A (Violin) Case of Irony

For many years, primarily since 9-11, there have been innumerable incidents of TSA agents and airline officials around the world who have been capriciously pigheaded and seemingly malicious in regard to allowing musicians to carry their instruments on to planes. In the name of security, they have insisted that priceless violins, violas, and cellos be stowed as checked baggage, with the result that many of them have been irretrievably damaged. There have been cases of instruments being confiscated by customs agents even though the musicians provided extensive documentation of their ownership.

This just happened only yesterday on Alitalia:

Screen Shot 2018-01-06 at 2.22.45 PM

Whenever I fly with my violin, I carry copies of the following documentation: Proof of my ownership, the violin’s insurance appraisal, and the federal regulations that require carriers to permit musicians to take their instruments into the cabin as carry-on luggage. With such documentation in hand I know I have at least a fighting chance in case of a skirmish. So far I’ve been lucky. Only a few times has a gate agent told me I might have to gate check the violin in the jet bridge as I enter the plane, especially when it’s a commuter airline. On those occasions, I graciously accept the pink card they hand me, nod politely, and proceed to ignore their instructions.

Yesterday, when I boarded a Delta flight from Salt Lake City to Boston with my violin case, I was prepared for combat, as usual. What actually happened was quite unexpected. First, the gate agent wished me a pleasant journey. So far so good. I entered the plane and made my way to Seat 29B of the full flight. When I began to put my violin case in the overhead compartment, a wily flight attendant approached me. Here goes, I thought.

“Is that a violin case?” she asked, smiling.

“Yes.” I smiled back.

“It must be very valuable,” she said. “You probably don’t want people putting their bags on top of it.”

“No. I guess not.”

“Let me find a safe place for in the back of the plane.”

“Sure,” I said.

I happily gave the attendant my case.

“It’s very light,” she said.

“Yes.” I smiled again.

She took the case to the back of the plane and delicately placed it—upside down until I told her—in the final overhead compartment.

“There,” she said. “All by itself. I promise no one will touch it and I’ll bring it back to you when we land.”

THE LESSON: There are people in the airline industry who are courteous, thoughtful, and understanding. May all of her colleagues learn that simple lesson.

THE IRONY: You might be wondering why I was so trusting. My violin has been at a shop in New York City. This week I’m going to pick it up. My case was empty.

FOR MORE TRUE AND AMAZING STORIES ABOUT LIFE AS A MUSICIAN, READ MY NEW BOOK, SYMPHONIES & SCORPIONS, an eBook on Amazon for only $4.99!

S&S COVER

 

Internet Pirates

I’d like to get your opinion. Today I received a notification that an internet site is offering a free PDF download of my new book, Symphonies & Scorpions.

The managers of this site probably think they’re doing the world a great service by giving free access to someone else’s intellectual property, regardless that it infringes on copyright protection. What they’re really doing, as far as I’m concerned, is stealing. I spent the better part of three years writing Symphonies & Scorpions and I don’t feel guilty charging $4.99 for a book which i.Berkshires calls “a musical odyssey of discovery.”

Perhaps if I sell enough copies, someday I will have earned minimum wage for the hours I put into writing it. It’s no Treasure Island. And with there already being such a glut of free information on the internet and–lest we forget–libraries, what is the point of stealing someone’s hard work? Could it be that in order to obtain the free download one has to set up an account, providing sensitive personal and financial information? I really don’t know, and the frustrating part is that after consulting with other authors and agents about this ongoing piracy it seems there’s little that can be done about it in this digital age.

Screen Shot 2017-12-27 at 10.11.25 PM

Long John Silver, a pirate.

 

Well, what I am doing about it is writing about it here and hoping to enlist your support. Yes, we all like something for nothing. But we also want a world that is rich in literature. Consider this. Though my primary reason for writing is not financial, there are thousands of authors trying to make a living. They are absolutely dependent upon their books selling, legitimately, in order for them to support themselves and their family. Book sales are the main criterion that publishers use to determine whether to offer an author a new contract, because they too are human beings trying to make a living. Free downloads at illegal sites pulls the rug right out from under the authors’ and the publishers’ feet.

There are some who believe that in an enlightened society all information should be free, so if you disagree with me let’s have the debate. But in the meantime, please realize that by buying a book you might be helping create the next Robert Louis Stevenson. If you accept a free download, you might be helping him walk the plank.

S&S COVER

 

Vivaldi by Candlelight 2017: A Kaleidoscope of the Baroque

This Saturday, December 9, I’m conducting the 35th annual Vivaldi by Candlelight concert, for which I’ve had the honor of being the music director since 2004. The event is a fund-raiser for the Utah Council for Citizen Diplomacy, whose motto is “promoting respect and understanding between the people of Utah and other nations one handshake at a time.”

Here is the program, and below that are the program notes for the concert. If you can come to the concert that would be great. Click here for details. If not, take the time to listen to this amazing music. I’ve provided YouTube links for you in the program. You won’t be disappointed! And best wishes for a happy holiday season!

Screen Shot 2017-12-04 at 12.18.19 PM

Antonio Vivaldi

Sinfonia from the Oratorio, “La Susanna”……………………. Alessandro Stradella (1639-1682)

Brandenburg Concerto No.6 in B-flat, BWV ………………..……………………JS Bach (1685-1750)

 

Robert Baldwin and Joel Rosenberg, violas

Concerto for 2 Violins and Cello in D Minor, RV565………..……Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741)

 

Leslie Henrie and Dallin Hansen, violins; Noriko Kishi, cello

Concerto No. 9 in F for Violin from “La Stravaganza,”RV284………………..……………….Vivaldi

 

Hasse Borup, violin

Concerto Grosso in G Minor, Op.3 No.6……………………..……….Pietro Castrucci (1679-1752)

Battalia a 9……………………………………………………………….…….…Heinrich Biber (1644-1704)

Sinfonia No. 1 in D, Op. 1………………………….….Giuseppe Antonio Brescianello (1690-1758)

 

Brescianello. Castrucci. Stradella. No, those are not exotic gelato flavors. They’re the names of Italian Baroque composers who have been all but lost to time, but who achieved equal renown as their contemporary, Antonio Vivaldi, during their lifetimes. It’s long past due they get their just desserts (and I don’t mean gelato). In reality, it was only a quirk of fate that Vivaldi himself is not still among that almost forgotten group as he had been for almost two hundred years. It was almost by accident that literally a library full of his manuscripts was unearthed in 1926 at a boarding school run by Silesian monks in Italy’s Piedmont.

Screen Shot 2017-12-04 at 12.22.19 PM

Giuseppe Antonio Brescianello

Screen Shot 2017-12-04 at 12.19.18 PM

Pietro Castrucci

Screen Shot 2017-12-04 at 12.21.33 PM

Alessandro Stradella

The rest is history. Since then, the vast array of his works—his concertos, sinfonias, sonatas, operas, and motets—have become standard fare for Baroque performances. But what of the others? Like Vivaldi, these Brescianello, Castrucci, and Stradella were both composers and violin virtuosos, and it shows in their dazzling music, demonstrating why the Baroque was a golden age of string ensemble playing. Vivaldi’s fugue in the D Minor Concerto for two violins and cello is alone a mind-bending kaleidoscopic tour de force of contrapuntal composition.But Italy wasn’t the only country to claim greatness in the Baroque era. Heinrich Biber was a violinist and composer renowned throughout Europe—perhaps the first great violin virtuoso—and though his satirical Battalia may not surmount the pinnacle of esthetic sublimity, it certainly paints a starkly graphic and often humorous musical picture of a band of dissolute soldiers. And what can be said about JS Bach that hasn’t already been said? Everything he wrote was gold, and the Brandenburg Concerto No. 6 (played here for the first time on the Vivaldi by Candlelight series) is an exploration of a combination of instruments seen in no other composition I’m aware of. Originally for two violas, two viola da gambas, cello, and violone, tonight we’re going to perform it with a more contemporary instrumentation: three violas, two cellos, and string bass. But I think you’ll get the gist, and will agree that tonight’s program is indeed a kaleidoscope of the Baroque.

Screen Shot 2017-12-04 at 12.23.30 PM

Heinrich Biber

Screen Shot 2017-12-04 at 12.18.41 PM

JS Bach

Society and Sexual Harassment

My primary goals in the Daniel Jacobus series have been to write entertaining stories, provide a glimpse into the multi-faceted world of classical music, and give lay readers a good beginners’ listening list of some of the world’s greatest music. I’ve generally shied away from wading into political or broad social issues. When I started writing Spring Break I knew it was going to take place in a music conservatory and that a murder would be committed over some bone of contention, of which there are enough to make complete skeletons. I hadn’t determined who the victim or murderer would be, or the motive.

But as I worked through my rough draft, those question marks became exclamation points as, one after another, institutions of higher education became the subject of front-page headlines in highly publicized cases of sexual violence on their campuses. It didn’t matter whether it was a major Ivy League university or a church-administered one. Sexual harassment remains a doggedly tenacious epidemic in our general culture, and no less so on college campuses where, literally, one is presumed to know better. With the setting of Spring Break already established, I felt compelled to address this issue head on.

When drunken frat boys and campus sports heroes rape female students, we wring our hands but chalk it up to bad upbringing or aberrant behavior or extra testosterone or the reason-numbing effects of binge drinking. We decry it but can, to some degree, understand it. But when such crimes are committed by revered university profes­sors, how do we explain that away? Misunderstandings? If a professor can’t discern the difference between right and wrong, who can? Is it that difficult?

We are now engaged in a raging national debate regarding sexual misconduct that goes far beyond the college campus. High profile men in the entertainment industry, in the media, in government, have been outed for sexual misconduct ranging from an unwanted kiss to pathological pedophilia. Even this is but the tip of the iceberg. Below the surface, sexual misconduct in the workplace—in offices, in hotels, in factories, in athletics, in the armed forces—has yet to be fully exposed. And it goes even beyond the workplace. Women do not feel safe from harassment or being groped simply walking down the street, sitting in a bus, or going to a park.

When students and former students have come to me with stories of being victimized by members of my profession, the most important thing I can do is help them regain their ability—which has been so violently compromised—to trust someone, anyone. I try to provide that trust and support. In a society that has no difficulty talking about violence but is unable to openly discuss sex, especially sexual predation, it is no wonder that women are only now coming forward and with such difficulty and with such courage.

We cringe in disgust when Catholic priests are exposed for abusing children. We are outraged when male-dominated cultures of so-called Third World countries relegate women to second-class status. We recoil in horror when marauding mercenaries in Africa rape women as their reward and as a tool to terrorize the populace into submission. Why is it, then, in our supposedly advanced democracy, we’ve continued to tolerate sexual violence throughout our society, and more specifically in Spring Break, on college campuses? To claim we haven’t tolerated it is simply denying reality. The abuse persists, adminis­trations continue to place the prestige of their universities ahead of the well-being of their own students, and the justice system continues to bend over backwards to protect the rights of the accused to the point of victimizing the victims. Why is it we do not demand change? Is it because we’re in a state of denial that “the greatest country in the world” may be no better than the lowest of the low? I don’t really have answers to those questions. I wish I did, but what I at least can do in Spring Break is provide food for thought and hope that sharing the message will help advance a constructive dialogue for change.

TO READ SPRING BREAK