February 27 2017
The last few weeks have been a whirlwind. I played debuts with Munich Philharmonic (Lalo Symphonie Espagnole) and with the Concertgebouw Orchestra (Bernstein Serenade), wonderful experiences I will never forget. The conductor for the Bernstein Serenade was Alan Gilbert, who brought out all the humor, dances and jazzy bits in delightful ways. I started playing the Bernstein quite recently and am having a lot of fun with it. The fourth movement (“Agathon”) is one of the most beautiful movements of any 20th century concerto and among my favorite slow movements.
I also played some memorable performances of the second Bartók concerto, first with Miguel Harth-Bedoya in Helsinki and then with Juanjo Mena in Dresden. This week, I am looking foward to playing the Shostakovich first concerto in San Diego, my first performances with the San Diego Symphony since our 2013 tour to China.
As grim as the second Bartók concerto can be, it is also filled with moments of hope, gentle memories and even humor (in the 2nd movement), reflecting the full spectrum of conflicting emotions that Bartók must have experienced during the difficult time (1938) when it was written. The Shostakovich concerto, on the other hand, loses all hope already by the end of the first movement! Sometimes there is a feeling of helplessness, of being driven by events one cannot control (for example the immovable and stern passacaglia bass line in the third movement, which repeats over and over.) The cadenza leading from the third to the fourth movement is like a personal reflection of everything that has happened, and it slowly builds into a frantic and unstoppable force leading into the fourth movement. It is said that the fourth movement was originally supposed to start with the solo violin playing, but that David Oistrakh requested for the orchestra to start the final movement alone so he could catch his breath. I’m glad he asked for that change! Although the Bartók might be even more challenging technically, the Shostakovich is one of the most physically taxing works in the repertoire.
Several new CDs have been released since my last news update! There is a new duo CD with Joyce with works for violin and piano by Previn, Schumann, Kurtág and Franck. We also made a music video of the full Franck sonata.
Live recordings are snapshots of a specific performance, and in a way less reflective of one’s overarching concept of the work. While studio sessions were definitely ideal for recording Bartók, Sibelius and Adès, live recordings worked well for the Tchaikovsky and the Lalo, both of which benefit enormously from a more spontaneous approach. Sometimes, split-second decisions are made in the heat of passion, foolhardy risks are taken and no two performances are exactly alike. Comparing live recordings of my past performances, I have become aware how much my tempi in the Tchaikovsky have changed over the years, particularly in the first movement. I have played it in so many ways- faster, slower, more passionately, more lyrically, with more focus on the ballet elements, or on the classical, rococo elements. This constant change is actually rather uncharacteristic for me- with other works, I generally (sometimes after years of searching) reach personal and fairly definite decisions about how I want play the piece.
I am rather glad that I did not have to “decide” during recording sessions which approach is the best one to the Tchaikovsky, as it might be impossible for me to choose. Instead, this recording is simply a snapshot of the way I played it last year, and I am sure that future performances will continue to evolve. How liberating!
August 6 2016
I’m in the middle of a busy and exciting summer season. There have already been many fun visits to festivals (Chautauqua, Vail and Aspen, a week playing at the Seattle Chamber Music Society, and now Bowdoin in Maine).The highlight for me was last week’s Sibelius performance at Tanglewood with Andris Nelsons and the Boston Symphony! The Sibelius violin concerto has long been one of my favorite concertos; there is no other work quite like it in the violin repertoire. Half concerto and half tone-poem, the Sibelius is filled with startlingly original and memorable ideas. The energy and effortless musicality of Andris was enormously inspiring - it was as though the music flowed from the score through him to the orchestra and to the audience. It was exhilarating to perform this incredible work for over 4000 people!
Next week I will travel to the Sun Valley Music Festival in Idaho for the first time (Dvorak concerto), and then go to London for my first performance at the BBC Proms! At the Proms, I will perform “Four Iberian Miniatures” by Francisco Coll, with the Britten Sinfonia and Thomas Adès conducting. It’s no secret that I’m a big fan of Adès and his music and music-making (and that I play his concerto as often as I can) and this will be my first time playing with him as a conductor.
Right after, I will travel to Amsterdam for a performance of the Beethoven concerto with the Rotterdam Philharmonic in the beautiful Concertgebouw hall. I know the hall from my performances as artist-in-residence with the Netherlands Philharmonic in 2015. It has a famous staircase behind the orchestra from which the soloist and conductor descend - probably one of the most difficult paths to a stage I’ve seen. I’d never been so self-conscious when going down stairs! When you play there, you cannot help but think of all the amazing artists who have filled the hall with their sound in the past.
After Amsterdam, I have a few weeks off which I shall use to prepare for the start of an ambitious project for next season: the recording of the complete caprices of Paganini for Warner Classics. I’ve often played caprices as encores in the last years (especially nos. 5, 24, 9, 17 and 19, and occasionally no. 1). The Paganini Caprices were a major part of my musical upbringing in Italy. Paganini’s works are often regarded to be Etudes or chores used to improve technique, which is understandable, considering how much hardship they cause violinists! However, they are also beautiful, witty and original compositions. In Paganini’s works, the technical fireworks always serve the music, not the other way around. As he explores different extended techniques and virtuosic acrobatics, each caprice also shows off his compositional skills, which are on a higher level than many other 19th-century violinist composers. Many of the caprices are charming, funny, entertaining and thrilling, some are dramatic and passionate, and yet others serene and lyrical. Each caprice has its own quirky personality; some are my friends, but others are ferocious beasts to be tamed! A few of them are not so terribly difficult, while others provide technical challenges so absurdly extreme as to border on the impossible. I’ll be recording groups of caprices over the course of the season, in order to give each of them the attention they deserve.
February 28 2016
I won my first Grammy! It was in the category of “Best Classical Instrumental Solo” for my recording of the Dutilleux violin concerto (“l’arbre des songes”) with the Seattle Symphony and Ludovic Morlot. (link)
This incredibly exciting news reached me on February 15, when I was mid-journey on my way to England where I have spent the past two weeks performing first with the Bournemouth Symphony (where I am Artist-in-Residence this season), then with the London Philharmonic, and now with the BBC Philharmonic in Manchester. It has been wonderful to read all your words of congratulations and support in the many emails, texts and Facebook messages I received. I cannot imagine better collaborators than Ludovic Morlot and the Seattle Symphony, and with the help of the engineer, Dmitriy Lipay, the recording turned out so beautifully. I am also personally thrilled because I love Dutilleux and our winning this award might lead to more people discovering his beautiful and somewhat neglected concerto.
On Wednesday, I performed the Tchaikovsky concerto with the London Philharmonic and Vasily Petrenko, and the recording of this performance will eventually be released on the same disc as Lalo’s Symphonie Espagnole (which I played with the LPO last year), sometime in early 2017. It may seem like an unusual pairing, but it was actually upon hearing the Lalo that Tchaikovsky decided to write his own concerto!
I have played the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto since I was 12 years old. Over the years, through playing it again and again, I have found it occasionally necessary to take a step back and approach the piece as if I had never played nor heard it before. Out of the entire violin repertoire, this is the concerto where the violinistic "tradition" (all the old recordings and conventions passed down through the generations of violinists) is least helpful to me, as the concerto had historically been performed with cuts, many parts altered, and so many of Tchaikovsky's instructions (about tempo, dynamics, articulation) ignored. I find these changes extraneous, because the concerto, as it was originally written by Tchaikovsky, is so brilliantly conceived and thoughtful!
Tchaikovsky's favorite composer was Mozart, and his violin concerto (just like the “Rococo Variations”), shows Mozart’s influence in many places. The main theme of the first movement is classical and elegant, in contrast with the lushly romantic and passionate second theme. It has often been speculated that Tchaikovsky had a romantic affair with Josef Kotek, for whom he wrote this concerto (although Kotek did not premiere the piece), and the music seems to reflect this sunny period in his life – to me, this piece was written by a man who is happily and passionately in love. Therefore, to me, this concerto is a joyful work, and though there are some bittersweet, aching moments (for example in the slow movement, Canzonetta), it never takes a dark or tragic turn. An exhilarating concerto both to think about and to play!
I will always remember the day in early 2007 when I performed the Tchaikovsky with the Fort Worth Symphony and Miguel Harth-Bedoya in front of large groups of high school students in South Lake, TX. (We repeated the performance three times in one day, for three groups of students!) These were not regular concertgoers and I found it wonderful how uninhibited they were, without much awareness nor concern about how to behave "appropriately" at a classical concert. At the end of the exposition of the first movement, where the first long violin solo ends and the orchestra plays the first theme, the students started clapping! When this music was written, it was customary for audiences to cheer whenever they liked something they were hearing (or to boo if they didn’t). And doesn’t it feel so artificial when people don't clap after the first movement of the Tchaikovsky? I found theunrestrained enthusiasm of the students very refreshing. To this day I still think back fondly to those performances whenever I play the Tchaikovsky.
July 30 2015
Aspen, July 30 2015 -- I can’t believe how long it has been since my last news update! Over the past few years, it has become harder and harder to find the time to write these notes. 2015 has been a whirlwind! It would be impossible to pick a favorite moment - I played debuts with the London Philharmonic, NHK Symphony (Tokyo), Danish National Orchestra and Minnesota Orchestra, return engagements with the New York Philharmonic, Philadelphia Orchestra, and the orchestras in Baltimore, Houston, Karlsruhe, Saint Louis, Stuttgart, Toronto… every week has been incredibly exciting, and I was never bored for a moment. Violinists are lucky that there is so much great repertoire written for our instrument!
My newest CD, of the Mendelssohn concerto and the second Bartók concerto is finally out! I recorded it in June 2014 with my friend Miguel Harth-Bedoya and the Norwegian Radio Orchestra (There is a promo film for the recording here). It is now added in the "about/discography" section, and I added some selections from it to the sound player of the website.
There are also some new videos from my time in Vail, Colorado last week: my performance of the Sibelius concerto with the Philadelphia Orchestra (link); first movement of Janacek sonata with Joyce Yang (link).
January 4 2015
The year has gotten off to a fast start. I have just returned from my first visit to Hawaii and am performing this week with the Pacific Symphony. After this I'm playing my debut with the Danish National Orchestra, with my friend Miguel Harth-Bedoya; then comes the second performance of my residency with the Netherlands Philharmonic Orchestra, and a return to the SWR Stuttgart Radio Orchestra. My father is from Stuttgart and going there always feels a bit like going home.
Work is progressing on my next recording, Mendelssohn and Bartók violin concertos, to be released later in the spring. The other recording in the pipeline is the violin concerto by Henri Dutilleux (L’arbre des songes - The Tree of Dreams), which I recorded in November with the Seattle Symphony and Ludovic Morlot (with a release planned for late 2015). I've always liked Dutilleux’s music. He lived through the era of dogmatic avantgardism in new music, between the 1950s and 1990s, but along with Messiaen, Dutilleux stood out by writing music that, although complex, was always expressive, beautiful and colorful. I can hear many echoes of Ravel in Dutilleux's orchestration and every moment is imaginative and interesting. Where Messiaens music is often massive in scale and celebratory, Dutilleux’s is more intimate and searching. His concerto is quite rhapsodic, with many fanciful and virtuosic lines that branch out in all directions (those are the branches of the “tree of dreams”). In the most beautiful part of the piece, the violin plays a duet with the oboe d’amore, their lines weaving in and out of each other, as if in an embrace.
I wish you all a happy and musical year 2015!
November 7 2015
Great news! I have been selected as the winner of the new Warner Music Prize! It is a prize which was awarded for the first time this year. The nominees were selected amongst soloists performing at Carnegie Hall in the 14/15 season and I am so happy and honored to be chosen.
This season has already been very exciting! I returned from Hong Kong this week after playing my debut with the Hong Kong Philharmonic and am about to travel to Chicago for my debut with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra! Mozart concerto no. 5, an old favorite, is the repertoire for both debut performances. It is sometimes called “the Turkish” in English-speaking parts of the world. The last movement, a gallant and civilized minuet, is interrupted by a wild, savage and exotic-sounding section.All “exotic” and Eastern-sounding music was referred to as “Turkish” by Mozart and his countrymen, though it had little to do with traditional Turkish music. A century later, if Brahms had written this he and his contemporaries might have called it a Hungarian interlude (just as inaccurately)! This rogue section sounds more like Gypsy music, and parts of it remind me of Czardas. The celli are instructed to play “al rovescio”, beating the string with the wooden part of the bow to imitate whips! The piece was written less than a hundred years after the siege of Vienna of 1683, when the Turkish army almost took the city, and were beaten back with the help of Polish troops - this “Turkish" section is supposed to delight the audience by first scaring them, and then provide relief as the music returns to the sweet and ‘familiar’ minuet, a compositional device which is incredibly effective.
This fall has been filled with some wonderful musical experiences. I recently played the Beethoven concerto in Milwaukee with Edo de Waart, which was a particularly beautiful collaboration. Earlier in October, I greatly enjoyed playing the Mendelssohn concerto with the orchestra of the Komische Oper Berlin and Sir Neville Marriner. Another musical highlight was my debut with the Pittsburgh Symphony in September, when I played the Brahms concerto with Manfred Honeck.
Looking ahead, I will be playing more unusual repertoire: first, Adès concerto with the Tonkünstlerorchester in Vienna, then the Shostakovich violin sonata in an arrangement for violin, strings and percussion (link) in Detroit, and finally, in a very exciting project with Orpheus Chamber Orchestra at Carnegie Hall (with additional concerts on the west coast), the Stravinsky Divertimento and Tchaikovsky Valse-Scherzo. Stravinsky’s “Divertimento" is one of Stravinsky’s most brilliant works. The music is from his ballet “the Fairy’s Kiss”, which is based on themes from Tchaikovsky. The way Tchaikovsky’s themes have been “Stravinski-fied" resembles how one might imagine Tchaikovsky would sound if performed by an inebriated orchestra in which half the players lose their places, or start playing in the wrong key! While Stravinsky occasionally pokes fun at Tchaikovsky's compositional practices, he never does it without respect. This music is a loving homage to the beauty, passion, lightness and elegance of Tchaikovsky’s ballet scores. He made a violin and piano version (which is my favorite Stravinsky violin piece actually), and also an orchestral suite, and we asked Dmitry Sitkovetsky to make a new arrangement for violin and small chamber orchestra. We chose an instrumentation similar to Tchaikovsky’s Valse-Scherzo, which appears on the second half of the program. In recitals, I have often performed the Divertimento and the Valse-Scherzo together and I hope that the new arrangement and this pairing will more clearly reveal the Tchaikovsky within the Stravinsky.
August 19 2014
It has been a really busy and exciting summer! It got off to an unexpected start in early July, when I filled in on less than two days’ notice at the Blossom Festival to play the Sibelius concerto with the Cleveland Orchestra and Hans Graf. Since I spent so much time preparing for my Sibelius recording last year, and afterwards on the long process of listening to the recording session takes and the mixes, it is a piece that I can now play on very short notice. It was a joy to play with the Cleveland Orchestra again and amazing to experience the orchestral tutti passages in the first movement (probably my favorite parts) while standing on stage, enveloped by their glorious sound.
After my first performance of the Dutilleux concerto in Chautauqua, I went to Aspen for 10 days to reprise the “Tango Song and Dance” program (originally premiered at the Kennedy Center in April) with Joyce Yang and Pablo Villegas, as well as for another performance of the Sibelius. Playing the fourth Mozart concerto at Tanglewood on August 3rd was another highlight of the summer. It was originally supposed to have been conducted by Rafael Frühbeck de Burgos, who sadly passed away in June. He had been a generous and inspiring mentor to me for the past few years and I had been really looking forward to several performances together in the future. Fortunately Juanjo Mena (himself once a protégé of Maestro Frühbeck) was available to step in.
Next I went to play at the Britt Festival in Oregon, and then to Mexico City. The wonderful thing about summer festivals is that even though it’s in some ways more difficult to play outdoors rather than in a regular concert hall, the large crowds, their good mood and the relaxed setting inevitably transfers back to the performers. In Mexico City I performed Bartók’s Second Concerto with the Orquesta Sinfónica Minería and Carlos Miguel Prieto. Already five years ago, when we first played together, Carlos and I were talking of collaborating on this concerto, a favorite for both of us. This piece, too, was very fresh in my head since I recently recorded it in June. When performing the Bartók in the past, I have often felt that there is not enough rehearsal time: with the difficulty of the orchestral parts, the complexity of the ensemble, and so many tempo changes, it needs substantially more preparation time than other 20th-century works like the Shostakovich or Prokofiev concertos. And if Bartók is not played really well—with great expression, beautiful color, and in tune—it sounds very cacophonic! I think the reason why many concertgoers think they don’t like Bartók is because they have heard his works played badly. Once you know Bartók’s style well, you know his vocabulary of gestures and colors and harmonies, and what they mean emotionally; and with this mental reference you will know whether it is a good piece, regardless of how it is being played, just the way you would when hearing Beethoven or Brahms. But people who are less familiar with Bartók will not ‘get it’ unless they are led and drawn in by the performers, who must bring out all those details. I was really happy that we had a lot of time to get to the bottom of it in rehearsal, with the result that the performance was musically extremely satisfying.
May 27 2014
I’ve just returned from Scotland, where I played Thomas Adès’ concerto and Haydn's C Major concerto with Peter Oundjian and the Royal Scottish National Orchestra in Aberdeen, Edinburgh and Glasgow. I had a great time and the pairing of the two pieces worked very well; their combined duration is about 35 minutes, and early music is a major influence for Adès. I think the pairing enhanced the effect of both pieces by revealing Ades’ use of baroque gestures and phrasing, especially in the slow movement, which is a sort of passacaglia. (It was completely different from the pairing of Adès and Sibelius on my CD, which in contrast enhanced the dramatic, heroic, and monumental side of both works.) To close the program I played a slow Bach movement (the unbelievably beautiful Andante movement from the third solo sonata) that brought us back to the key and style of the Haydn.
I am now preparing for my next CD recording in June, with the Norwegian Radio Orchestra and Miguel Harth-Bedoya. I will record two of my all-time favorite pieces: the Mendelssohn concerto and Bartók's second concerto! In this case, I am drawn to the combination just for how totally different the two works are. I also know that Bartók's style is not familiar to many people; hopefully, I can convert new listeners to Bartók who may get the CD because of the Mendelssohn. Once you are hooked on Bartók, you will never tire of his music. The great challenge of his second violin concerto is its form: the first movement is straightforward sonata form, the second movement is a theme with variations, and the finale is a variation of the first. It's astonishing how he manages to make the material of the first movement totally new in the last. But since this is not obvious to the new listener, it's the job of the performer to play the piece in a way that hangs together, with a sustained dramatic arc that doesn't get sidetracked. There is a lot of pain and sadness in this work, which was written during 1937-38 as fascism was spreading. One can sense the premonition and fear of what was to come, but there are also precious moments of beauty(not least the opening of the concerto with its beautiful harp chords). Like much of his writing it is unmistakably Hungarian, coming out of the rich Hungarian folk music tradition.
At the end of April, I premiered a new solo violin work by David Lang, called mystery sonatas. It is a large work in seven movements, inspired by the Rosary Sonatas of the Baroque virtuoso Heinrich Biber. This is the first time I’ve had a piece written for me and it was exciting to work with David—who was very patient and accommodating!--as I was learning it. David's music is "minimalist" in the sense that he works with techniques of repetitive variation over extended periods of time. But what drew me to his music is its emotional depth. David's music often looks inward, and despite the apparent peacefulness, there is a lot of turmoil under the surface. This becomes more and more apparent the longer one listens. The first and the last movements are very slow and almost meditative. One of the inner ones is a crazy fast fiddling pattern that gradually finds a groove, but then becomes stuck on two notes with no way out. One sounds a bit like a Baroque invention, and yet another one is composed of two long, painful and increasingly poignant descending sequences. David left most of the articulations and detailed dynamics up to me, and in some of the more meditative movements, even the pacing - he just described what he wanted to be expressed, likening the music to thoughts that are forming as I play. For the premiere at Carnegie Hall's Zankel Hall, I read the music off an iPad (doing the page-turns with pedals), with the hall entirely dark at the beginning - the only light being the backlighting of the iPad on my face. It was a powerful effect - and I must say that, once I got the hang of the foot pedals for page turning, in many ways I preferred it to using a traditional stand! (You can read the New York TImes review of the premiere here)
April 19 2014
My new recording of the violin concertos by Thomas Adès and Jean Sibelius was released a few weeks ago, and has already gotten some great reviews in the New York Times, Gramophone Magazine, BBC Music Magazine and on NPR! (I added it to the site under about>discography)
A few weeks ago I went to play in Sao Paulo and Belo Horizonte. It's refreshing to go to a country like Brazil where classical music is so much on the up-swing, with world-class orchestras that get even better every time I visit, playing for enthusiastic and inquisitive audiences of all ages.
In Sao Paulo I played Mozart concerto no. 4 with Marin Alsop - the rest of the program consisted of works by Prokofiev (including almost never done Scythian Suite) and by the Brazilian composer César Guerra-Peixe. In Belo Horizonte I played Bartók's second concerto with Fabio Mechetti, and the rest of the program were works by Beethoven, Villa-Lobos and Enescu. Perhaps because there is not a pre-conceived notion (built over many decades) of what programs are supposed to be -- the traditional pattern is of course overture-concerto-symphony, and everything except for the overture is very old music -- the programming there is varied and imaginative: new and old music, obscure and well-known all mixed together, and audiences come with an open mind.
Right afterward I flew to Europe to play my first recital in the Kleine Zaal at the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam with Charles Owen. What a beautiful hall in a beautiful city! We both enjoyed every second of it.
Last week I played Mendelssohn with Juanjo Mena and the Cincinnati Symphony - leading up to the performances, I did a "residency" with the CSO, going to various schools and performing outreach events. I enjoyed getting to know Cincinnati better this time (being there almost two weeks rather than just flying in for the first rehearsal). I even played one performance at a bar (Northside Tavern) with my friend Pablo Villegas. Tango is meant to be played in this setting! It was the first time that I played Piazzolla's "Histoire du Tango" in a bar rather than in a hall, and the atmosphere was electric.
Next Monday (April 21) I have a project at the Kennedy Center that also features Pablo, as well as Joyce Yang. It's called "Tango, Song and Dance" - named after a work for violin and piano by André Previn. The three movements of the Previn work form the separated pillars of a recital program, with various duos and solo works in-between. It is a "multimedia recital": we're working with a director, Edward Berkeley, and developed a narrative with him, a kind of story told subliminally through the way the different pieces follow each other. In Ed's words, "The first step is to study the emotional connections between and among the instrumental lines in each work. Where do the instruments argue? Where do they agree? Where do they flirt? Where seduce? Where do they celebrate, where despair?" It all starts with Previn's Tango. Ed elaborates: "The violin and piano in Previn's Tango seem to be having an emotional problem connecting with each other. There is a struggle. This is the core of the evening, the starting point that cries for resolution." It is then that Pablo appears playing Rodrigo’s Invocation and Dance for solo guitar, drawing me into his own mysterious world. I join him in five Falla songs, after which the piano explodes jealously in Ginastera’s Danzas Argentinas. Ed feels that "private thoughts are explored in the solo works until a synthesis is found among the violin, piano and guitar". After Piazzolla's Histoire du Tango and Ysaÿe's sonata no. 6, we finally all play together in Villa-Lobos's gorgeous Bachianas brasileiras No. 5.
To reinforce the non-verbal narrative, Ed asked lighting designer Kate Ashton to create lighting that would further communicate the story. Ed asked that "spaces become smaller and larger to connect and separate the musicians, and that color and image change to imply the passage of time and further explore the emotional voice of each instrument." The lighting is atmospheric, reinforcing the character and emotional message of each work. We want the audience to reflect upon where the pieces take them, and to make their own connections. Hopefully this program will be as much fun for them as it is for us!
January 26 2014
It has been a long time since my last update! The fall of 2013 was packed with wonderful experiences, so packed that I could not even find the time to write about them. Unforgettable highlights were the Brahms double with Alban Gerhardt, Christoph von Dohnányi and the Boston Symphony; and a Lalo with Rafael Frühbeck de Burgos and the Philadelphia Orchestra. I went on an extremely fun China tour with the San Diego Symphony, made new friends in Porto, Bournemouth and Portland, OR and reunited with old friends in Milwaukee, Vancouver and Madison.
2014 has already gotten off to a fast-paced start. Three weeks ago I was in Dallas packing my bag after a recital when the phone rang: the Los Angeles Philharmonic needed a violinist to fill a cancellation by Christian Tetzlaff! Edo de Waart was to be the conductor; rehearsals would start in three days.
When getting a call like this, I feel a rush of excitement quickly followed by many questions: will the travel be a problem? What about the repertoire - is there enough time for me to prepare? I quickly sent a list of works I could get ready in this short amount of time. We settled on the Beethoven Concerto. (Other possibilities that were discussed were Sibelius, Dvorak, Bartók no. 2 and Stravinsky). I had already played several times with the Los Angeles Philharmonic in the summer at the Hollywood Bowl, but never in on a subscription series, and I couldn't think of any piece I'd rather make my Disney Hall debut with!
Most orchestras and presenters plan their concert schedules years in advance. After the initial excitement of getting an invitation there’s a very long wait until the concert finally happens. I've always hated this waiting for things and in contrast, cancellations are refreshingly fast. The call comes; I accept; and a few days later it's already over and I wonder whether it was all just a dream!
I enjoyed the concerts immensely and got a great review! Disney Hall has the perfect acoustic for the Beethoven concerto - even though it's a large hall, the softest sounds float all the way to the back. Every time I play the slow movement of the Beethoven, I marvel at how perfect, how simple, intimate and human it is. Perhaps it gives us--just for a moment--an insight into some deep fundamental truth of our existence, a glimpse of what lies beyond. My feeling about Beethoven's greatest works is that the better you know and understand them, the harder it is to imagine a person being able to write something so extraordinary.
Anyway, after the last performance, I flew to Hong Kong for a chamber festival. There were wonderful musicians there, some of which I already know well (Joyce Yang, Cho-Liang Lin); others whom I played with for the first time (Vadim Repin, Gary Hoffman). While we did rehearse a lot, we must have spent half the time eating! And as usual at these kinds of festivals, there was much laughter and jokes to counter all the serious music-making.
The pre-order page for my new CD (of the Sibelius and Thomas Adès concertos with Hannu Lintu and the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic) is available for pre-ordering now on iTunes and Amazon!
August 16 2013
This summer has been an unusually busy one, but I am just about to start a 2-week break! Last week I played a performance of Stravinsky's violin concerto, the first time I've played it since 8 years ago, when I was still a student at Juilliard and performed it with the Juilliard Orchestra. It is interesting to return to a piece after putting it down for such a long time - as I started playing it again, I was at first mostly shaking my head at all the things I didn't know in 2005! I also rediscovered why I love this piece. It is so fresh, beautiful, and very funny - the first movement makes me think of a circus! The third movement (Aria II) is my favorite one - it has the violin playing a strange, exotic, chant-like melody over a baroque bass-line. Many parts of this piece sound like a concerto grosso, in the sense that the solo violin is often playing duos and trios: with the Bassoon, the concertmaster, the two flutes. The violin part is very hard and quite virtuosic in parts, although to the listener it does not sound quite as hard as it actually is (infuriatingly, Stravinsky wrote that "the technical demands are relatively tame", which ranks among the composer's more ridiculous statements).
In his neo-classical works, Stravinsky writes music that is almost baroque sounding, except that it is full of "mistakes": notes that are obnoxiously off-key, rythms that don't add up; there is a general state of chaos and mischief! At times sounds as though different sections of the orchestra instruments are lost and are desperately trying to find each other, only making matters worse. I think it's quite important to bring this comedic aspect of the music across.
In June, I recorded a new CD, to be released in the spring of 2014: Sibelius and Thomas Adès violin concertos, with Hannu Lintu conducting the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic. It'll be only the second recording to be released of the Adès, which has quickly become one of my favorite pieces. I think Hannu was just the perfect conductor to record these two works with: his approach to Sibelius was fresh and free of "baggage": it is a piece that can sometimes sound plodding and heavy, as though it was bearing the weight of the thousands of recordings that have been made of it before - instead he brought a wonderful spontaneity to it. It was Hannu who first introduced me to the Ades concerto when we first collaborated in 2009 - how fitting to recording it with him.
My performances in Vail (Lalo Symphonie Espagnole with the New York Philharmonic and Rafael Frühbeck de Burgos) and at the Hollywood Bowl (Tchaikovsky concerto with the LA Philharmonic and also with Frühbeck de Burgos) were big highlights for me this summer. What an experience to play the Tchaikovsky at the Hollywood Bowl, in front of over 9000 people! The big tutti in the first movement after the exposition (after I've just played about 10 minutes and the orchestra plays the theme triumphantly) is one of the most exhilarating experiences I've ever had on stage. Usually, I sing along with the orchestra there (since nobody can possibly hear me over the sound of the full orchestra tutti, not even the conductor!), but I had to restrain myself at the Bowl, since the amplification system there might have broadcasted my humming to the whole crowd. As I found out later, a man in the audience proposed to his girlfriend during my performance!
May 21 2013
I am about to head to Salt Lake City to perform the Dvorak concerto with the Utah Symphony, and will play the piece again in two weeks with the National Symphony Orchestra in Washington D.C. It's often said that Brahms' violin concerto served as the main inspiration for the Dvorak--yet recently, I was struck by how much the Dvorak is also influenced by Max Bruch's concerto. The Bruch was premiered about 10 years earlier, in 1866, and it quickly became one of the most popular works for violin. It sets a clear precedent for many techniques employed by Dvorak in his own violin concerto, especially in the first movement: for example, shortening of the first movement, cutting out the cadenza and recapitulation and instead transitioning directly into an expansive slow movement; not to mention the opening ad libitum lines for the violin. I love the slow movement, which makes me think of an idyllic Czech countryside, and features some incredibly beautiful writing for the horns. The last movement is a lot of fun: it's a kind of furiant dance, with a dumka in the middle. Although Dvorak wrote his concerto for Joseph Joachim, he never actually played the piece. This might have been the starting point for the shameful neglect that this work has experienced over the past century. With a few notable exceptions like Nathan Milstein, many major violinists in the early 20th century did not have the Dvorak in their repertoire. Luckily it has now found its place in the canon as one of the great romantic violin concertos.
Two weeks ago I played Thomas Adès' amazing violin concerto in Rio de Janeiro. This piece is less than 10 years old--it was premiered in 2005--and the more I play it, the more convinced I am that it is the most important addition to the violin repertoire since the Ligeti concerto in 1992. When I first heard it a few years ago, the Adès concerto left a deep impression on me and I quickly decided that I had to learn and perform it. It's about 20 minutes long and is cast in three contrasting movements. There is not one bar too many in this piece! The first movement, "Rings", is very fast and colorful, full of circular, irregular pulsating patterns. The deeply moving and passionate second movement, "Paths", is driven by passacaglia-like sequences that keep pushing against each other. "Rounds", the final movement, is lighter in spirit, with a dancelike and almost tribal-sounding main theme. It's very difficult, but like the Ligeti, I find that it is worth every minute I put into it.
Histoire du Tango released
My new CD is now out! It's called Histoire du Tango and you can find it on Amazon and iTunes.
It's an exploration of music for violin and guitar that starts off with Ástor Piazzolla's Histoire du Tango, a four-movement work that traces the development of the tango from the brothels of Buenos Aires around 1900, to the cafés of the 1930s and nightclubs of the 1960s, to the stylized art form played in concert halls today. Next are transcriptions of the Canciones Populares Españolas by Manuel de Falla and two works by Nicolò Paganini: the Sonata Concertata and the fiendishly difficult Moses Fantasy, a work played entirely on the G string (the violin's lowest string). (Legend has it that Paganini would often play this work at the end of concerts once his other three strings had broken!) Pablo de Sarasate's Zigeunerweisen (Gypsy Airs) finishes the program.
I recorded this album with the brilliant guitarist Pablo Sáinz Villegas, whom I first met in 2009. I immediately loved the sound of our two instruments together, and was struck by how rarely violin and guitar are heard together on stage and recording, even though the combination is found in so many popular music settings (like tango and gypsy bands).
Click here to view a short video clip on YouTube, where we talk about the album and play one of the movements of the Piazzolla.
I just finished a series of performances of the Brahms concerto - in Denver, Memphis, Buffalo and Tampere (Finland). It's amazing how different and new this piece feels every time as I play it with different people. Next up I'm playing Paganini's first violin concerto with Saint Louis Symphony and Yan Pascal Tortelier. Paganini's music is dismissed by many as mainly technical, but the first thing I think when I think of this piece is opera: it's written in the lyrical, highly expressive style of the bel canto tradition…with some virtuosic episodes thrown in. It’s music that should melt your heart before it dazzles you. One of my first teachers, the Italian violinist Uto Ughi (with whom I studied in Siena from age 8 to 11) understood this, and his approach to this concerto has always been a great inspiration to me. I love Paganini's sense of humor too, and it's essential to bring that out, despite how hard the piece is technically. A few years ago, I wrote a cadenza for it (link), in which I try to emphasize the fun side of the piece.
Mozart concertos in Toronto and Dallas
My new, redesigned website is finished! It was designed (like the previous one) by the brilliant Balázs Böröcz from Pilvax Studio!
I just returned from Toronto, where I played Mozart's fourth concerto, coupled with the virtuosic Rondo from the "Haffner"-Serenade, with Peter Oundjian conducting. Every collaboration with him is like chamber music, and I feel like he knows what I'm going to do before even I know it!
This week I'm playing Mozart's 5th concerto in my Dallas Symphony debut with Jaap van Zweden.
Is it possible to have a favorite Mozart violin concerto? Luckily, I don't have to pick a favorite, and get to play both two weeks in a row!
Overall, the 5th concerto is flashier and more extroverted, while the 4th concerto is more intimate and elegant. When it comes to the slow movements, I feel that the concertos 3, 4 and 5 are tied, and one is more beautiful than the other. The beauty of the Andante of the 4th concerto lies in its simplicity - the music is so pure, and communicates something that is impossible to put into words. Already as a child, I loved playing this movement.
The slow movement of the 5th is also very beautiful but it is more the kind of beauty one finds in Beethoven - the beauty of something carefully constructed, refined to perfection. In Beethovenian manner, Mozart had discarded his original slow movement (which is now known as the Adagio in E Major) and replaced it with this new Adagio. I love how the meter of the first theme seems to shift, keeping the listener guessing where the bar lines are, and there is a gently rocking feeling to much of this movement.
Mozart liked to insert folk tunes in the Rondo movements of his concertos. In the case of the 4th, one of the interludes is a rustic Gavotte with a musette (a bagpipe imitation), which remains very funny even today. The last movement of the fifth concerto contains a "Turkish" episode - for a moment, it sounds as if we're in the middle of the abduction from the seraglio! Of course, it's Turkish folk music as heard through the ears of an Austrian 18th century composer, and quite different from how somebody like Bartók would have written it down!
October 16 2012
So much has happened since my last post, that I'm not even sure where to start! The biggest highlights of the last few months: first of all, my Tanglewood debut in August, when I played Barber concerto with Bramwell Tovey, which was a night I will never forget; I also returned to play with orchestras in Fort Worth and Saarbrücken, and to the chamber music festivals in Seattle and La Jolla; just a week ago I played the Beethoven concerto with the Los Angeles Chamber orchestra and Jeffrey Kahane; and now this coming week, I'm playing Lalo's Symphonie Espagnole with the New York Philharmonic and Rafael Frühbeck de Burgos!
This will be my subscription debut with the NY Philharmonic, in Avery Fisher Hall, and I've been looking forward to it for a long time. The Lalo is a beautiful and exciting work, which until just a few decades ago was one of the most frequently played concertos in the violin repertoire, and for good reason. Nowadays you hardly ever hear it in concert, but wherever I play it, listeners are pretty surprised to rediscover what a great piece it is.
Writing Spanish music was very fashionable in France at the time the work was written. Bizet's opera Carmen premiered the same year, in 1875! Lalo's Symphonie Espagnole is very emotional and hot-blooded, full of Spanish themes and rythms, and each of the five movements is like a different vignette of the idealized version of Spain that captured the imagination of the French around that time. I find that I love it more the more I play it, which is always the sign of a great piece. The violin writing is flashy in all five movements, with a lot of very fast notes which is not surprising, since it was written for the Spanish virtuoso Pablo de Sarasate, who presumably enjoyed showing off his technique with it.
Rehearsals start tomorrow - I can't wait!
May 17 2012
I just finished a series of performances of the Brahms concerto, a work I will never grow tired of, with three wonderful conductors: Mei-Ann Chen, Miguel Harth-Bedoya, and Giancarlo Guerrero. What I love about it (and something that people criticized when it was premiered) is that the orchestra is not just a backdrop or accompaniment, but rather an equal partner. It is like playing chamber music on a very large scale. There is no other great concerto that has so many instances in which the violinist follows the orchestra, or accompanies and ornaments while the winds play the important thematic material. At the same time, the soloist gets to shine in the most dramatic and the most poetic moments, and is the one who drives the development of the material - I never feel like Brahms didn't give me enough to do, he really struck a perfect balance.
The famous opening of the slow movement is one of the most beautiful oboe solos ever written, and whenever I stand on the stage listening to it, waiting to enter, I wish that moment would last forever.
Since my last news entry, there was also my first performance of the Britten violin concerto, a piece which leaves the performer and audience gasping for breath at the end. Luckily the work is getting played more and more these days; I definitely can't wait to do it again. There was a very special Dvorak concerto with Peter Oundjian and the Seattle Symphony, and a second performance of the Ligeti concerto, this time with Rossen Milanov and the Symphony in C.
This summer I'm particularly looking forward to playing my Boston Symphony debut at Tanglewood with the Barber concerto! This is a piece that is rarely played in Europe, so I didn't really know it before coming to the United States. Over the last 6-7 years, I fell in love with it and played it more and more. Like in the Brahms concerto, the slow movement starts with an incredible oboe solo, Barber must have been looking to the Brahms for inspiration.
May 2 2012
Great news! I was incredibly honored to receive a Martin Segal award today. This is an award that is given every year by Lincoln Center to two recipients, which are chosen by two Lincoln Center Institutions. The New York Philharmonic and Alan Gilbert nominated me this year!
My concerts with them last year and in 2010 were huge highlights for me, and Alan has been a wonderful mentor. This October, I'm going to make my subscription debut with the New York Philharmonic in Avery Fisher hall (playing Lalo Symphonie Espagnole)!
February 8 2012
I just got back from Karlsruhe, Germany, where I played a very unusual concert. The orchestra (Badische Staatskapelle Karlsruhe) is celebrating its 350th anniversary (!) this season, and they recreated a concert program that Paganini played with that same orchestra in 1829! It consisted of the first concerto, the 'Moses-Variations', 'Le Streghe', and 'Carnevale di Venezia' - in between all these pieces, a singer sang arias from Mozart and Pacini operas.
It was really fun, and fascinating to do a concert program from that era - in a way it's refreshingly different from the formula overture-concerto-symphony that most concerts follow nowadays. As an encore, I played Paganini 24, which for all we know might very well have been his encore!
The first concerto is just gorgeous - in too many performances, the technical fireworks distract from the lyricism of his music, when they should really just be humorous diversions and dramatic flourishes, between the beautifully sung themes. I was reminded once again what an accomplished composer Paganini was, and what an amazing talent he had for writing bel canto melodies. Not all his works may be as great as these, but this week, he was definitely my favorite composer!
Tchaikovsky and Ligeti - January 16 2012
The last two weeks were a real whirlwind: first I played at the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam for the first time, with the Netherlands Philharmonic Orchestra and Mei-Ann Chen. It was such an amazing feeling to descend the long Concertgebouw staircase onto the stage! I've played the Tchaikovsky quite a lot over the past few years - I recently realized how much parts of it remind me of the Rococo variations. Mozart was Tchaikovsky's favorite composer, and looking at this piece it makes sense! The first theme of the violin concerto is quite classical (in contrast to the second theme, which is the most romantic and passionate thing imaginable) - it's so important that they sound different.
From Amsterdam I went to St. Paul, where I played the Ligeti concerto for the first time. It was a thrill to perform - the piece is among the hardest and most energy-consuming things one can play on the violin. Now I know how those people feel when they're defusing the bomb and have to decide whether to cut the red or the blue wire! (that's how I feel during the first movement!) The slow movement is so beautiful - it's like a glimpse of a distant time and culture and its music, completely strange sounding, and yet incredibly beautiful. It will take weeks until this music will stop going through my head! In what is quite unusual with orchestras in the US, we had 6 hours of rehearsal with the orchestra, and even a sectional with some principles beforehand. The St. Paul Chamber orchestra and the conductor Joana Carneiro were incredible. We got a good review too (link
Next, I will go to Madison to play Prokofiev 2 - that should chase the Ligeti out of my mind - and then to the West Coast to play recitals with the amazing Joyce Yang (website
). As hard as these first months of 2012 are in terms of how much repertoire I'm playing in a short time, I've never been happier on stage - what could be better than to play such incredible music in these places and with these musicians?
Happy New Year
Happy New Year! 2011 was a really exciting year for me, starting with a new CD being released, debuts with the Baltimore, Cincinnati and Atlanta symphonies, and return engagements with the Cleveland Orchestra and New York Philharmonic. In the fall fall I played my second recital at the Kennedy center, went on a tour of Brazil with the Sao Paulo Symphony and Yan Pascal Tortelier, and got to play with some really exciting young conductors for the first time: Kazuki Yamada in Strasbourg, José Luis Gomez in Grand Rapids, and Christian Vasquez in Monte-Carlo.
My fall was overshadowed however by the passing of Michal Schmidt, who had been my manager for the past 10 years. I joined her roster when I was just 17, still living on a remote farm in Tuscany. If I'd never met her, I probably would not have come to New York seven years ago to study, and I'd be a very different violinist and person. She was more than just a manager - she was a mentor and a friend, and since she died in October, I haven't played a concert without thinking of her, her passion for music and love for her artists.
In a few days, I'm going to Amsterdam to play Tchaikovsky, then to St. Paul to play Ligeti, and then on to Prokofiev 2, Paganini 1, Barber and Britten, with a few recitals in-between!
September 30 2011
The 2011/12 season has started! I'm excited about all the exciting places I'll go to this year, and also about all the interesting and varied repertoire - between now and May, I'll play 13 different concertos and 2 recital programs! I'm particularly looking forward to playing the Ligeti violin concerto in January with the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra. I believe it's one of the most important violin pieces of the 20th century (also one of the hardest!), and I'm really thrilled to get the opportunity to perform it.
In August, I played my first performance of the Adès violin concerto at the Chautauqua festival. It was a huge task to learn, but it was powerful and exhilarating to perform, and I'll definitely make the piece a permanent addition to my repertoire.
Last weekend, I played with the New York Philharmonic and Alan Gilbert at Caramoor. It was a repeat performance of the Mozart 5 we did in July in Vail, CO, and it was even more fun this time around. Although it was a wet, rainy day, and all of us (players, audience, myself) braved rain, flooded streets and weekend traffic to get there, it was a very special night. Alan is a sensitive and inspiring collaborator, who brings out the best in everybody he plays with - and as a violinist himself, he knows the concerto inside and out.
The week before that, I was in Fort Worth playing Lalo Symphonie Espagnole with my friend Miguel Harth-Bedoya and the Fort Worth Symphony. I felt that I was with old friends, and realized that I played with them 4 times in the last 5 years! The Lalo is a piece that is both fun to play and to hear, and is very rarely done nowadays. I'll play it again in December, in Monte-Carlo.
Coming up next are concerts in Indianapolis, Raleigh and Grand Rapids, and then a 3-week tour of Brazil with the Sao Paulo State orchestra!
July 25 2011
I just returned from a wonderful week of concerts in Aspen and Vail, Colorado.
In Aspen, I played Bach double concerto and Schnittke concerto grosso no. 1 (also a double violin concerto) with the wonderful violinist Julia Fischer, and the Aspen Chamber Symphony conducted by Vasily Petrenko. I loved playing with Julia, it was a really fun and inspiring collaboration. Interestingly, the Schnittke is unusual among double concertos, in that it has the soloists, after playing together nicely at first, eventually turn against each other in the cadenza. As Vasily pointed out, it sounds like two people having an angry fight, snapping and barking at each other. In the last movement the cembalo starts playing a tango, and the two violinists join in the dance, perhaps still harboring some lingering resentment. The Bach couldn't be more different - the dialogue between the two violins is always harmonious and loving, and it's impossible for the performance to work if the violinists don't get along!
The day after, I played Mozart concerto no. 5 with Alan Gilbert and the New York Philharmonic in Vail. It was just as amazing to play with them as last year. Half-way through the second movement, my E string broke! In a recital, I would just go backstage, change the string, and return. In this situation though, I couldn't leave the orchestra and 6000 people in the audience waiting, so Sheryl Staples, who was concertmaster for the concerto, handed me her Guarneri Del Gesù violin, and I was able to keep playing on it (it was a lovely violin as well). By the time we got to the last movement, somebody had put on a new E string on the Kiesewetter Strad, and I was able to finish the piece on it.
I will play the same piece again with Alan and the NY Phil on September 23 at Caramoor, New York - hopefully without any such adventures.
On Monday I'm going to beautiful La Jolla for some chamber music, and then on to Chautauqua where I will play the Thomas Adès concerto for the first time, as well as Haydn concerto in C.