The Return of Daniel Jacobus

With U.S. release of Playing with Fire on September 1, I am delighted to announce the official return of the Daniel Jacobus mystery series!

“When an anxious phone call from obscure violinmaker Amadeo Borlotti disturbs Daniel Jacobus’s Christmas Eve festivities, he and his dear friends Nathaniel and Yumi make light of it. A seemingly humble practitioner of his craft, Borlotti preferred the quiet life in the country away from the limelight. He even found love at an advanced age. But his larceny, which began as a typographical error in a bill for a violin repair, grew like a malignant tumor. In the end he became a helpless captive of his past indiscretions and was consumed by it, and it is up to Jacobus and his team to find out how, and why.

Playing With Fire, the fifth book of the Daniel Jacobus mystery series, delves into the multimillion-dollar sleight-of-hand of violin dealing: forged instruments, counterfeit documents, manipulated valuations, and insurance fraud. In the real world, countless unsuspecting and trusting musicians have been burned by devious dealers. In Playing With Fire, that figure of speech becomes more than a metaphor.”

“…wonderfully and imaginatively conceived, written and plotted, and is a joy to read. The action never flags; its fast pace and crisp dialog make this tale of murder, arson, power and lost/hidden loot a real page-turner.” Stephen Dankner, iberkshires.com

 

 

Book Launch!

Please join me for the launch event for my newest Daniel Jacobus murder mystery!

In Playing With Fire, a humble violin maker goes missing in the dead of a West Stockbridge winter and his shop is burned to the ground. How will cantankerous, blind violin teacher, Daniel Jacobus solve the baffling mystery?

Where: Shaker Mill Books, 3 Depot Street, West Stockbridge
When: This Sunday, July 31 at 7:00

Trade secrets will be revealed! Classical musicians, bring your own stories of shady instrument dealings to share with the unenlightened!
There will be music of Vivaldi (“Winter” from the Four Seasons to cool you off), food, and drink on the book store deck–weather permitting–overlooking the mighty Williams River. It doesn’t get better than that!
See you Sunday.

A tribute to Joey

Screen Shot 2016-07-24 at 11.02.12 AM  Tanglewood, the summer home of the Boston Symphony, is a very special place. Every weekend the orchestra performs three different programs with the world’s greatest conductors and guest artists. During the week there are chamber music concerts and recitals with the most accomplished artists and ensembles. This evening, however, was an event that was special among the special. It was a concert admirably organized by Tony Fogg, Artistic Administrator of the Boston Symphony in memory of, and as a tribute to, Joseph Silverstein, who died in November, 2015.

It would take too long to write out the complete list of Joe’s accomplishments, so I’ll just mention a few of the highlights. As concertmaster (and assistant conductor) of the Boston Symphony he is widely regarded as one of the greatest concertmasters of the 20th century. He played the violin with an unparalleled combination of virtuosity and musical integrity, and performed around the world even into his 80s. He had an encyclopedic knowledge of the classical music repertoire and was a highly respected conductor, including his long tenure as music director of the Utah Symphony. As a dedicated teacher at such renowned institutions as the Curtis Institute, Yale University, and the Longy School, Joey had the ability to communicate the complex mechanics of playing the violin in a concise, effective, and humane way which made him one of the nation’s most sought-after teachers.

Joey’s photographic memory was legendary. He could play any of hundreds of obscure etudes–let alone any concerto–without music at the drop of hat. There is a famous section near the beginning of the suite from Daphnis and Chloe by Ravel where the two violin sections are each divided into four parts playing three pages of speeding chromatic 32nd notes. It takes most mortals hours of practice just to be able to play one of those lines accurately. Joey could demonstrate each of the eight parts perfectly from memory and not break a sweat.

So it was fitting that yesterday’s concert in his honor included some of the world’s great musicians: Yo Yo Ma, Hilary Hahn, Peter Serkin, Richard Goode, Emanuel Ax, and Garrick Ohlsson headed the field. A few who couldn’t be there, including Itzhak Perlman, Pinchas Zukerman, and Andre Previn, sent touching video messages. I had the honor of participating as principal second violin in an ensemble of string players that opened the program with the first movement of the Serenade for Strings by Tchaikovsky. Comprising mostly Boston Symphony members, some of whom, like Sheila Fiekowsky, Jennie Shames, James Cooke, Ronan Lefkowitz, and Victor Romanul, had been his students; and also including musical luminaries Peter Zazofsky and bassist and Edgar Meyer who had graciously volunteered their time and efforts, the ensemble was ably led without a conductor by Ralph Matson, longtime concertmaster of the Utah Symphony and also a former student of Silverstein.

Without doubt, though, the highlight of the concert was Joey himself. The full house at Seiji Ozawa Hall watched—teary-eyed and in awe—to a video montage of his life while listening to the recording of his jaw-dropping performance of the Russian Dance from Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake. The evening ended with his on-screen performance of the Elgar Violin Concerto with Sir Colin Davis conducting the Boston Symphony in 1972. The standing ovation it received must have been a source of great pride for Joey’s family, including his dear wife Adrienne, who were in the audience.

There’s only one person who can claim the honor of having been Joey’s student and his colleague in the Boston Symphony and a Utah Symphony musician during his tenure as music director. That’s one reason why tonight’s tribute to Joseph Silverstein made Tanglewood even more special than usual for me.

You always know it’s Tanglewood when…

This morning I whacked my way through a few sets with three of my Tanglewood tennis pals. Tom Gauger, former BSO percussionist, is our gang’s organizer. Charlie Schleuter is the former BSO principal trumpet player, and Jay (who probably has a last name like the rest of us) is a music lover and retired businessman from Houston who comes to the Berkshires every summer to attend the concerts.

We’ve been playing Monday morning doubles for more years than I care to remember and my guess is we’ve slowed down considerably. Our overhead slams look more like drop shots these days. But we do manage to get some good aerobic exercise, even if most of it is from retrieving errant balls, and the camaraderie makes up for any lack of athletic expertise. Charlie has a new joke for us every week, most of them unprintable, so there’s always something to look forward to.

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A relaxed moment.

This morning was cool and dry with just enough cloud cover to make it possible to serve without being blinded by the sun. I mention the weather because over the weekend all three of the Boston Symphony’s concerts suffered from the fate the gods had ordained: being dumped on by intermittent deluges. After three weeks of almost no rainfall, last Friday morning started out suffocatingly hot and muggy. By the time the evening concert ended, it was chilly enough to make the fingers sluggish and wet enough to make a flounder smile. (Whether flounders can actually smile is anyone’s guess since their mouths go sideways.) By Saturday morning’s open rehearsal it was downright cold. Jennie Shames, my colleague in the violin section, reminded me of the punchline about the baby polar bear who wasn’t sure he really was a polar bear. ‘Why not?’ asked the mother. ‘Because I’m f—ing cold!’ said the baby.

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Tanglewood in the rain, ca. 1955 (from Yankee Magazine)

Rainouts seem to be the BSO’s summer calling card. If the folks in California were really serious about solving their drought problems they would call the Boston Symphony and book them to play an outdoor concert. Fortunately, the Tanglewood Shed stage is covered, as are seats for about 5,000 devotees. The brave folks on the lawn have to manage with umbrellas and, on rare occasions, snorkels.

Nevertheless, when all is said and done, we’re paid to play, and to play well. This past weekend was highlighted by performances of Prokofiev 5th Symphony, Saint-Saens Violin Concerto #3 with Josh Bell, Ravel’s Daphnis and Chloe, and Carl Orff’s ever-popular Carmina Burana,which anticipated video game music by well over half a century. Sunday afternoon was a Boston Pops concert for which I had not been hired to play. But all was not lost. I got to watch Portugal beat France 1-0 in extra time in the UEFA soccer final, while outside my window it rained cats and dogs. With Tanglewood as with France, there will always be a next time. Yet the last time I checked, the weather forecast predicted sunny skies for the next three days, then on Friday…you guessed it.

The Return of Daniel Jacobus!

OK. The holiday weekend is over. Time to get back to work.

I don’t normally use this blog to indulge in shameless self-promotion, but who am I to deny the convenient axiom that the exception proves the rule?

My new murder mystery, Playing With Fire, the fifth in the Daniel Jacobus series, has been released in the UK and will be on US bookshelves on September 1. Jacobus, that “you gotta love him” cantankerous, blind violin teacher, is up to his old tricks, solving baffling mysteries in the music world in spite of his better judgement to stay cooped up in his Berkshire hovel with his uselessly affectionate bulldog, Trotsky.

If you recall, the first four Jacobus mysteries were based upon pieces of music with stories that had to do with death. Starting with Playing With Fire I’ve chosen music with a different kind of story: the evocative music of Antonio Vivaldi’s Four Seasons and his own sonnets that accompany the four concertos. Playing With Fire, for example, takes place in the dead of winter–and I do mean dead. And each book of the new set will take place in a venue where people in the classical music field have traditionally been prone to want to kill each other, in this case a violin shop.

To celebrate the revival of the Jacobus series, I’ve planned several book signing events from the east coast all the way out to Utah. I’ll not only be talking about Playing With Fire, but will also have my trusty fiddle with me to play some of Vivaldi’s Winter, and show you how the music helped inspire the book.

I hope to see all of you at one of these events, and even though the official release is not until September 1, you can pre-order your copies from Severn House or from one of these fine book stores as soon as the spirit moves you.

Sunday, July 31@7:00pm: Launch Event at Shaker Mill Books, West Stockbridge, MA. (Appropriately enough, Daniel Jacobus’s adopted hometown, and the setting for much of Playing With Fire.) Wine and light snacks, and a lovely deck overlooking the charming Williams River, weather permitting.

Tuesday, August 23@6:30pm: Stellina Restaurant, Watertown, MA (Where, in the Boston area, the plot of Playing With Fire reaches its nail-biting climax). Enjoy author’s night with tasty hors d’oeuvers, and of course, it’s a fantastic place for a great Italian dinner.

Tuesday, September 20@7:00pm: King’s English Bookshop, Salt Lake City (where I happen to live much of the year). King’s English has always been incredibly supportive of local authors, and it will be a pleasure to be back after Jacobus’s extended sabbatical.

Tuesday, October 4@6 or 6:30: Southwest Library 2039 West 4000 South, Roy, Utah.
Reception sponsored by the Ogden Symphony Ballet Association in lobby/gallery. Music, light refreshments, display of OSBA activities to honor of the succession of directors from Sharon MacFarland to Emily Kunz will be followed by my presentation and book signing, supported by the Queen Bee Bookstore and sponsored by the Utah Humanities Council, in the blackbox theater.

I’d like to give a special shout out to my new publisher, Severn House Books, and its founder, Edwin Buckhalter, for enthusiastically supporting Jacobus’s return to the bookshelves; to my new editor, Faith Black Ross, with whom it has been a pleasure to collaborate; and, as always, to my intrepid and tireless agent, Josh Getzler of HSG Agency.

Here’s a review of Playing With Fire from Kirkus for your perusal.

Playing With Fire rev
Pre-order here or by contacting your local bookstore!

 

About Time

metronome

The best of time.

metronome

The worst of time.

As I wend my way eastward on my annual migration to Tanglewood for the summer–currently passing through Denver–thoughts return to music. I recently read a very perceptive article by Scott Cantrell in the Dallas Morning News. Mr. Cantrell bemoans what he perceives as the dogged adherence to the metronome by young American-trained conductors. He writes: They’re more apt to be metronomes, efficient but heedless of musical shape, harmonic rhythm, direction. Digital, in the bad sense. They seem unaware that music, like our heartbeats and respiration, needs a certain amount of freedom within a well-ordered overview.

I recommend you read his entire article because it contains many points that resonate with orchestral musicians. If I have any bone to pick at all with Mr. Cantrell’s observations, it’s only that my experience has been that the conceptual limitations of conductors are not necessarily restricted to those who are American-trained, nor those who are young.

The central issue is rhythm, and understanding how rhythm works in a musical context. Too often these days, a good sense of rhythm is equated with being able to keep a metronomic beat, when, the opposite is true. Good rhythm means having an understanding of the rhythmic ebb an flow of musical phrases within the broader scope of an entire movement, and an entire composition. The paradox is that even though the music must have a sense of a constant pulse, within that pulse there has to be constant give-and-take based upon the direction of the melodic phrase, the harmony, the more foreground rhythms, the density of the orchestration, etc. Those conductors who disregard those factors do so at the peril of making the music sound prefabricated and emotionless. They miss the essential purpose of music: to convey a subjective, not mathematical, message.

Don’t get me wrong. I often practice with a metronome and insist that my students do so as well. Why? It’s great discipline. You can tell immediately when you’re rushing those Mozartean 16th notes or dragging that lush Tchaikovsky melody into the ground. Once you’ve corrected your own internal rhythmic inaccuracies and you’re comfortable with the regular pulse of the music, though, is when the music starts. A mechanical pitching device might help you to hit a baseball in a batting cage, but it doesn’t teach you a damn thing about the game. Likewise, the metronome is a tool. It’s not music.

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Sandy Koufax, human pitcher.

Why is this such a difficult concept for so many conductors to embrace? Part of it is historical, and we have several luminaries to thank (or pillory) for that legacy. First is Beethoven who, with his affinity for novel gadgets, took special delight in a device patented in 1815 by Johann Nepomuk Maelzel called a metronome. More or less an upside-down pendulum with a counterweight to adjust its speed, it enabled musicians with poor rhythm–of which there were many–to hone their skills.

 

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Johann Nepomuk Maelzel, Patron Saint of Misguided Musicians

Beethoven was so taken with the metronome that he decided to retroactively indicate the tempos for much of his music, notwithstanding his pesky hearing problem. There are two basic questions raised by these indications: 1) are they the Gospel; and 2) does this mean that, even if they are, a tempo must remain unchanged throughout an entire movement? I would answer with an emphatic “No” to both questions. Part of my answer is that the device itself was not precise, and like with watches from my childhood, would slow down and had to be frequently rewound. Another part of the answer is that it is simply musically simplistic to assume that a march-like first theme and an andante cantabile second theme are somehow legally required to have the same metronome marking. And look at the beginning of the last movement of his Ninth Symphony. If any conductor were to dare play that according to Beethoven’s hyper-frantic metronome marking, the entire string bass section would have him drawn and quartered. Yet there have been conductors who have answered those two questions otherwise; who have equated improvements in technology from the hand-wound, to the electric, to the electronic metronome; to bolster their faith in blind allegiance to an inexorable beat. Which is one reason I stepped away from full-time orchestra playing.

Please note that though after Beethoven it became almost customary for a composer to indicate metronome markings to indicate tempos, before Beethoven no one used it. It would be anachronistically impossible to play Bach metronomically. Sadly, too many musicians have tried to prove that wrong. Flexibility in rhythm was the true standard. Even a conservative, old fuddy-duddy like Leopold Mozart wrote about how a pianist’s right hand should be rhythmically free, lining up with the left hand only on downbeats. Why don’t any historically informed musicians these days give that a try?

In the 20th century, two giants of music, the composer, Igor Stravinsky, and the conductor, Arturo Toscanini, brought the notion of motoric rhythm to the forefront of music-making so powerfully that their influence still affects us a century later. I think there are important things to remember that make them exceptions rather than the rule: First, both Stravinsky’s music and Toscanini’s conducting were in large part reactions to the excesses of late 19th century Romanticism, when tonality and rhythm and interpretations were stretched farther than Coney Island salt water taffy. Certainly, precision was the name of their game–partly. But another part was intensity. Another part was passion. And another part was “I am taking my own path, doing this my own way.” Playing metronomically is the antithesis of that conviction.

So young conductors who find the metronome their safe haven are missing the point if they think they’re emulating the great tradition laid down by these illustrious predecessors. Good rhythm means not being metronomic. It means understanding the underlying flow of the music, and then having the courage of ones musical convictions. As Beethoven said, To play without passion is inexcusable.