Category Archives: Violin

Pekka in Perth

This one slipped under the radar.

Back in 2009, I blogged about an ACO concert I saw in Perth featuring the talented and fine violinist Pekka Kuusisto.

This year, I noticed that he’s back in Australia!  But I was disappointed that he seemed to performing only in Sydney for the Musica Viva Festival 2011 (http://www.musicaviva.com.au/whatson/musica-viva-festival).

But I did this – if you want to see Pekka play in Perth, then you can catch him playing jazz violin at the Perth Jazz Society on 2 May.   It should be a great gig!  More details here:  http://www.perthjazzsociety.com/programme/#1892  

If you’re in Albany, it looks like he’s playing there too.  Tickets available here:  http://www.bocsticketing.com.au/whats-on/414/pekka-kuusisto-and-iiro-rantala/

Henning plays the Sibelius with WASO

Wow!  My favourite violin concerto.  Henning, a young and talented violinist that I had the pleasure of seeing a masterclass of last week.  Good combination 🙂

Henning played it through effortlessly – letting his violin sing the passion that’s in the Sibelius, as well as hitting the technical work. 

I loved the attention he gave to the conductor and orchestra during the performance (and joining the string pizzicatos in the 3rd movement).  I was amazed at the way he hit the jumps to the high notes and fingered octaves in the first movement and arpeggios in the last movement with no problems.  But I was most surprised by the volume of sound Henning is able to produce from his violin.  I don’t think WASO played with a smaller orchestra for the concerto – it was the full thing.  But I heard Henning with no problems.  

How?  I’m guessing great bowing arm and wrist, full bow hair on the string, and playing next to the bridge but without scratchiness.  The only fault I can give was I wished there was a bit more space in between some of the phrases in the first movement – they nearly rushed into each other.  But the second movement was so soulful and well played it’s inspired me to get the notes back out and learn it.

The Perth audience applause was great, and Henning treated us to not one, but TWO encores!  The first encore was played by Henning leading the string section.  I believe this was “La Melancolie”, composed by Norwegian violinist Ole Bull (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ole_Bull), when Ole’s wife passed away.   Great to hear something not so passionate, and more subdued.   The second encore?  I don’t know – let me know if you know what it was – it was nearly sounding improvised at some bits.   I would have loved to have hear him play the Ysaye Ballade (like Vengerov and Vadim) but it was not to be.
Violin/piano score to La Melancolie here – https://urresearch.rochester.edu/institutionalPublicationPublicView.action?institutionalItemId=4056&versionNumber=1

Henning Kraggerud Masterclass

Our state orchestra, WASO, started an excellent program last year where they get visiting soloists to give a masterclass to local musicians.  

Last night, I quickly rushed from work, dropped Little Miss 10 home, then made my way to Hale School to see Henning Kraggerud give a violin masterclass.  He’s in town this weekend to play my favourite violin concerto, the Sibelius.

It seems that WASO, together with partners UWA, WAAPA and AUSTA, rounded up 4 lucky local violinists to play.

And what a great night it was!

We heard movements from the Prokofiev and Korngold violin concertos, a showy Smetena tune, and Ysaye’s extremely difficult Ballade.

And like Renaud Capucon’s masterclass, much of what Henning was trying to draw out from the players was moving from beyond notes to making music and story telling.   Is that the key ingredient that sets these elite apart from the rest?   There definitely was some “magic” that Henning was able to make when he made his violin sing.

It’s not just story telling and musical interpretation but amazing technical prowess too.  I was extremely excited when it was introduced that Shaun Lee-Chen was playing the Ysaye (and jealous! I wish I had the time and ability to learn and play this!)  Shaun played it really well – his technique is definitely very solid and intonation was really good.   I thought, what could he say to Shaun?

A lot apparently!  Henning knew the Ballade back to front, playing it with even more ease – unbelievable.  The interaction between them and going into details and “tricks” of the Ballade was purely brilliant, insightful and entertaining.  Reading his bio, no wonder he knows it so well – he has recorded all the Ysaye unaccompanied Violin Sonatas! 

And the volume and depth of sound that came from Henning and his violin – amazing.  I wonder if he really was playing on his Guarneri del Gesu last night.

WASO and sponsors (Apache Energy) – thanks for putting this on.  It definitely is a win-win – raising the profile and respect for WASO’s soloists as we get to see them work behind the scenes, but also improving and inspiring the music community in WA.

More info

WASO’s Masterclass program – http://www.waso.com.au/default.aspx?MenuID=292

Henning’s Biography – http://www.imgartists.com/?page=artist&id=207

WASO concert this weekend – http://www.waso.com.au/EventDetail.aspx?ProductID=2485

Wondering if I should enter the Freo Eisteddfod

Well, it’s come to that time of the year again – I’ve looked up the Fremantle Eisteddfod website and they have the 2011 schedule online!   The closing date is 18th March and the Eisteddfod will be held between the May 12-21.

For the past 2 years, I’ve dusted off my violin, and used the Freo Eisteddfod as a goal to work towards – to learn one of the great violin concertos.

In 2008 I learnt the Wieniawski 2nd, but didn’t compete.   In 2009 it was Sibelius.  In 2010 it was Tchaikovsky.  

Both experiences created MUCH stress in my life.  But it actually helped me keep up my violin.   You see, after the month of May in the past 2 years, I really haven’t picked up my violin at all (except for the YouTube Symphony thing).

So I’m wondering if I should do this again in 2011?   Learn another movement from a great concerto in 3 months? 

I really have left it quite late this time around.   I was hoping I could do the Brahms, Barber or Beethoven, but there’s really not enough time.   I guess I could learn the 3rd movement from the Sibelius or Tchaikovsky?    Or tackle something different like the Carmen Fantasy?    Or maybe play something with less notes to learn like a Mozart concerto.

Or shall I just leave my violin in its case this year…

Arranging Bruno Mars’ Just The Way You Are for Violin and Cello

An old friend of ours is getting married this week and asked if we could provide music.   She specifically requested for a few modern pop tunes.

I’m always a bit apprehensive about playing pop repertoire with classical instruments.  Is it going to sound really corny and crap?  Will it still convey the same emotion without singing or lyrics?

A bit of Googling and I found U2’s Beautiful Day [http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X5ZkVYXguhQ] as well as Bruno Mars’ Just The Way You Are [http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MpqJjasrD7I] arranged and recorded by the Vitamin String Quartet.  Seems like this US based quartet has done a heap of pop and rock covers, and they don’t sound too bad either!

Unfortunately, our instrumentation for the wedding is going to be keyboard/piano, violin and cello.   Still, I used a combination of the  recording by the original artists together with listening to the Vitamin String Quartet arrangement to come up with my own arrangement – for piano trio!

I hope it will be OK for the wedding!

But the whole exercise on this Sunday morning has made me appreciate how much effort goes into arranging music.  Just these 2 pieces took nearly 4 hours – and that’s just for a pretty rough draft version.   I’d estimate I’d need another 4 hours to polish it up.   And then do an actual run through to see whether it sounds OK and is playable!

Not in the YouTube Symphony

Oh well…

I’m not a “winner” of the YouTube Symphony Orchestra.   Wifey keeps on telling me to get over it.

But I’ve watched my video a few more times, and those of the “winners”.   And I’ve come to the conclusion – I’m just a boring player to watch.

And I need to change this.

I’m sure there are a multitude of opinions, but music is primarily a form of communication – a performing art.   Playing the notes, articulation, phrasing..  that’s all one side of the coin.  But on the other side, is the visual aspect.

On an audio CD, you don’t get this – and so I know I’ve been sometimes surprised to go and watch an artist in person and be disappointed.  Or sometimes the reverse – sometimes seeing the performance, the emotion and movement in an artist, leaves such an impression that just listening to their audio recording afterwards is quite a different experience.

I think I need to work on the visual, performing aspect of my playing.   So it “looks” like I’m playing what I’m feeling.  For an audience member, this will then reinforce their aural sense with the visual sense – therefore heightening their overall musical experience.  Surely?

Any thoughts?

I’m a finalist of the YouTube Symphony! Vote for me!

I can’t believe it!

After receiving the email about being a potential finalist, and some musings that it doesn’t necessarily mean that I could be an actual finalist, I got the email from YouTube saying that I really am a finalist in the YouTube Symphony 2011 competition!

Woohoo!!!

What does this mean?   It means I’ve progressed to the voting round.  It seems they’ve whittled down the field to 80.  If they are choosing 8 desks of 1st and 2nd violins, that’s 32 to get through.   Although the fine print says that the number of votes doesn’t totally govern who gets through, it sure would be nice to get at least a few votes!!

So, if you have a spare minute, just log onto the YouTube Symphony website (http://www.youtube.com/symphony), click on Vote then Orchestral Auditions, click on the Violin section (bottom left next to the conductor) and then scroll to find my video (Jason Chong), click on it then click Vote!

What do you get?   I can’t offer you much unfortunately, but maybe a shout out on my blog!

Potential finalist of the YouTube Symphony Orchestra!

For the last few days, I’ve been checking my iPhone constantly for new messages from YouTube.  Yep, it was the time range when entrants to the YTSO 2011 competition would find out if they got chosen to progress to the next round.

So I was extremely excited when my iPhone pinged me on Saturday morning with an email from YouTube.

I have been chosen as a potential finalist or potential alternate! 

I can’t believe it!!   Wifey thinks I’m mad, that I’m suffering some mid life crisis.  Must be like how I’m the oldest (nearly twice the age) of entrants in the Fremantle Eisteddfod.  I wonder if I’m the oldest entrant in YTSO 2011?   Surely not at 35!

For me, I’m secretly glad that being a non-professional musician means I don’t have a “reputation” that I need to uphold and prevent me from doing random things like this 🙂

But I’ve been playing back my recording for the last week and am actually embarrassed that my intonation is a little shaky, especially in the Mozart – the first piece in my video!   Luckily, intonation is not the only criteria used for judging and I hope musicality and interpretation are just important.

Anyways, I think I now have to wait until around the 10th December when official public voting starts, and then see what happens.   If I do get through, then it’s a week over in Sydney to hang out with other musos from around the world, and hopefully some top notch professional musos too!

*Fingers crossed*

Playing for the WA Ballet Gala

A few weeks ago, I lived the second life of a musician playing in a pit.   The “pit” refers to the area typically below the stage where the orchestra sits when playing for an opera or ballet.  

What happens first is that the orchestra gets together to “note bash”.   Learn the notes, rehearse playing together, identify and practise problem areas, especially those that require co-ordination between different sections.    It’s also a time to find out what the conductor wants and the style and tempos they want us to play.  

The next stage is the dress rehearsals with the dancers.   By now, the orchestra can play the music and the focus is on co-ordination with the dancers, staging, lighting, logistics of program order, etc.  With ballet, we have to be flexible as a lot of timing depends on the dancers, the steps they are doing and the choreography.  For example, some sections had to be played slower because it was physically impossible for the dancers to spin, twirl, etc that fast!

And then it’s the start of the actual shows.  This time round, and I think it’s pretty normal, the best audience responses were on the opening and closing nights.  In between shows, applause was good, but not as boisterous or spontaneous.   Luckily the season wasn’t too long this time, only 5 shows – but still, I love the excitement and buzz of the closing night performance.  It’s finally all over.

For me, it was a great chance to pick up my violin again and play with others in a professional environment.  I think the orchestra did really well.

The strangest part of the whole experience however was that we, as musicians, never actually saw the dancers doing the dances.  I find this most strange.  I believe that the way we (musicians) would have played would be very different if we knew what was happening on stage.   How different?  Not really in tempos as we rely on the conductor to set these, but just general interpretation, emotion, feeling and appreciation for what’s happening – the “bigger picture”.   My wifey went to one performance and gave me the lowdown on the dances – and I was surprised that the choreography for one of the pieces matched various parts, as well as the overall Sonata Form of the whole movement in general.   I’m not sure how this would work logistically though – would we get all the musos to watch the performance to pre-recorded audio?   What do other companies do?

I know that in the swing dance world, dance bands (from back in the Harlem days in the Renaissance and Savoy Ballrooms) actually worked off the dancers and the dancers off the musicians in a self perpetuating energy cycle.    This makes current classical ballet performances very lacking in comparison!   Maybe the number of musicians needing co-ordination is a factor here – we rely on our conductor to be the conduit.

Here’s a photo of my view of the theatre:


Notice the nets?   This made me smile – I’m guessing that they are there to catch the dancers in case they stray too far forward and accidentally fall into the pit!  Now that would be something to remember!    But maybe something not to laugh at – a quick Google shows several times when this has happened before…

2007 – Ballet dancer injured in Atlanta Ballet production of The Nutcracker – http://www.nytimes.com/2007/12/11/arts/dance/11arts-OSHAINVESTIG_BRF.html, http://www.accessatlanta.com/atlanta-holiday-guide/holiday-events/after-nutcracker-fall-dancer-240391.html
1998 – Ballet dancer died in Dutch National Ballet production of Romeo and Juliet – http://www.heraldscotland.com/sport/spl/aberdeen/ballet-dancer-died-trying-to-save-director-in-orchestra-pit-fall-1.234032
  
More info here of the WA Ballet Gala show here:  http://www.waballet.com.au/whats_on.php?id=57