James and the Giant Peach

Last week, one of my students pointed out that there is a violin playing grasshopper in James and the Giant Peach, the 1996 film based on the book by Roald Dahl. Here is a scene from the movie. If you’re familiar with this scene and you’ve always wondered what the grasshopper is playing, it’s the Gavotte en Rondeau from Bach’s Partita No. 3. Here is a great performance by violinist Ilya Kaler:

“A Violin’s Life” by Frank Almond

Violinist Frank Almond has come out with an exciting new recording which I highly recommend. A Violin’s Life: Music for the ‘Lipinski’ Stradivari was released on April 19, debuting on Billboard’s Top Ten Classical list. Almond is the concertmaster of the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra and a faculty member at Northwestern University. He is accompanied by pianist William Wolfram. Here is the interesting story of how the “Lipinski” Stradivari, one of the world’s finest violins, came …

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Remembering Janos Starker

            Cellist Janos Starker died yesterday in Bloomington, Indiana at the age of 88. You can read about his extraordinary career as a performer and teacher here and here. You may also be interested in this documentary. Here is his recording of the opening movement of Bach’s Suite for Solo Cello, No. 1 in G Major: This 1956 recording of the Dvorak Cello Concerto with the Philharmonia Orchestra …

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Baseball and the Symphony

A symphony is a dynamic, unfolding process. Within its formal structure small musical motives develop and evolve, constantly searching for an ultimate goal. On the largest level, the drama of a symphony might remind you of a baseball game. Through a series of exciting and unpredictable musical “plays,” it moves away from home and returns. To get a sense of this drama, listen to the first movement of Mozart’s Symphony No. 40 (Molto …

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Music of Spring

Let’s celebrate the arrival of spring with a performance of Beethoven’s Violin Sonata No. 5 in F Major, Opus 24. Sometime after this music was published in 1801 it became know as the “Spring” sonata. Can you hear anything “springy” in the music? As you listen, pay attention to the sense of dialogue between the violin and piano. What kind of a conversation are they having? Listen to the musical cat and mouse …

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Witches’ Dance

Suzuki violin students learn the theme from Witches’ Dance in Book 2. Here is the original piece by Niccolo Paganini (1782-1840). Through his virtuosity, Paganini transformed violin playing. Audiences at the time were shocked by the new sounds and dazzling effects which he employed. He toured Europe garnering celebrity comparable to a modern day rock star. Listen to this spectacular performance by Eugene Fodor. This clip is taken from his 1990’s recording, Witches’ Brew which …

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Shinichi Suzuki on Video

Here are two short videos that show Shinichi Suzuki working with students. They offer a glimpse of the good humor and almost childlike joy for which Suzuki was known. In the first clip Suzuki demonstrates the students’ ability to stop and start at any point in the last movement of the Bach A minor Concerto (Suzuki Violin Book 7). The game he uses reinforces the idea that you really know a piece well if …

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