From the December 2016 issue
Compiled by Stephanie Powell and Megan Westberg
“We discovered a composer among our flutists who had been writing music for a long time . . . He confessed an ardent longing to try out his favorite work . . . The piece turned out to be lyrical, poetic, and loveable, much like the composer himself. But the true reward of our efforts was to see him glow with radiant pleasure at hearing his own work for the first time, carefully prepared under his direction by a group of sympathetic friends . . . Later, he told me that he could not remember ever being so happy, and that the whole thing seemed to him like a sort of miracle.” —Longtime Strings contributor and violinist Edith Eisler on the rewards of leading the Turtles, an amateur chamber-music program, PREMIERE ISSUE 1986
“We have a moral and social responsibility to create instruments that stand the test of time and transcend hatred and greed. We speak a common language of beauty.” —Violin maker David Gusset, SPRING 1987
“With four people, things are not just four times better, they’re 16 or a hundred times better. It’s not even something the ear can necessarily identify, but strangely enough, though it sounds like a technical thing—because you’ve got this fantastic intensification—the power of [quartet bowing] will go straight beneath the skin and to the heart.” —Violinist Peter Oundjian, of the Tokyo String Quartet, on how quartet bowing affects the intensity of the music, WINTER 1988
You know, the highlight of my whole life has been the fact that I was fortunate enough to be a violinist. And with all its problems, struggles, and many marvelous points, if I had to live my life over again, I would still want to do exactly what I’m doing now. Or, let’s say I would like to have played better. I have that goal. I am striving—you know, I am 78 years of age—and I might reach it yet. —Violinist and pedagogue Joseph Gingold, SPRING 1989
I played the violin, you know—I had a beautiful Stainer-style violin, a very good one. It may even have been an original, who knows? My violin teacher liked it so much she asked if she could borrow it for a concert. That was the last I ever saw of it, or of her. —Composer Lou Harrison on his short career as a violinist, MARCH/APRIL 1990
Classical training is important in that it gives you a level of discipline . . . it deals with strict forms and styles, and it’s important to know all that. But being a classical player will not guarantee you fine musicianship. It is important for a jazz player to have an intimate knowledge of classical, but the reverse is probably more true—it is more important for a classical player to have some sort of jazz relationship.—Double-bassist Ron Carter, JANUARY/FEBRUARY 1991
When I heard Scotty Stoneman play hot fiddle, I knew I had to quit everything and play music. It was the first time I had ever seen such fire and intensity come out of the violin. He played with so much muscle. What’s amazing is that he played with only three fingers on his left hand. He had no technique to speak of. He just grabbed the bow like you would a tire iron. Plus, his fiddle had a huge crack on its side, so big you could fit a bow into it. But somehow he made an unforgettable sound that totally bowled me over. That’s where I got my musical intensity . . . —Fiddler Richard Greene, SEPTEMBER/OCTOBER 1992
I played Mozart, Bruch, and Mendelssohn with Karajan when I was 13, and he worked with me on the Beethoven very carefully for two years, making me listen to the orchestra, think about creating long lines . . . . He was fanatic about that and plagued not only me, but the orchestra, about imperceptible bow changes. —Violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter, MARCH/APRIL 1993
What interests me is the kind of playing that does not ask, but demands that people listen, and I can identify that right away . . . Now what goes on in my head, how I reach a conclusion, that I cannot tell you or anybody else. It’s mine to know, it’s within my own psyche, it’s based on my life. All of us listen to some degree in the mirror of our own minds. —Violinist and pedagogue Isaac Stern, SEPTEMBER/OCTOBER 1994
My idea [in establishing the Midori Foundation] was to inspire children through music, not necessarily to play, but to learn about different cultures and the communication between them, the discipline of concentrating and of dedicating yourself to something you love very much. I’ve always loved children and felt very close to them; just to be with them gives me so much energy.
—Violinist Midori, September/October 1995
What I admire about [Piatigorsky] is that it was such honest cello playing—big, generous, but never tormented. This is the kind of music making I admire—no cheap schmaltz. He played like the old pianists . . . I think a musician should be more like Papageno in The Magic Flute than Sarastro. —Cellist Pieter Wispelwey, MARCH/APRIL 1996
In our world, the imaginative world, what matters is the capacity to dream, and then—we hope—to put into the sound world something from that conception. It’s limitless. That’s how we celebrate the human spirit.—Cellist Yo-Yo Ma, MARCH/APRIL 1997
One day [Stravinsky] asked me if there were still bullfights in Mexico. I told him there was one the next day, and he said, “Please invite me—I love bullfights and I am an expert.” I’m sure not many people can say they have been to a bullfight with Igor Stravinsky, but I even have photographs to prove it. —Cellist Carlos Prieto, JANUARY/FEBRUARY 1998
Pictured above, Stravinksy with the Prieto family and at the bullfight, Stravinsky is wearing dark glasses and covering his mouth. (Photos from Prieto’s memoir, The Adventures of a Cello)
Before the [Berlin] Wall came down, I had to bribe officials to travel. But my music is not political. They knew it was very strange, but what was it? Now I have many possibilities to play. I don’t need a lot of money.
I need just enough. —Violinist and vocalist Iva Bittová, JULY 1999
I feel that part of my job as a musician is to tell the news, to spread the word about what’s going on in the musical world. After all, until maybe 100 years ago, performers played mostly music that was being written at the time. It’s our obligation, as well as a challenge and a pleasure, to work with the composers of the day.
—Violist Kim Kashkashian, AUGUST/SEPTEMBER 2000
[Rostropovich] once told me that when, while practicing, you find something you cannot do, that is your luckiest moment. The most essential thing to look for in a difficult passage is what’s holding you back, even if it’s only one or two notes, because then you know what to improve or fix. —Cellist David Finckel, FEBRUARY/MARCH 2001
With improvisation, it’s your own story, so you can’t be wrong, and in jazz, you’re always a half-step away from where you want to be, so make that wrong note really convincing.—Violinist Regina Carter, FEBRUARY/MARCH 2002
I found the best musicians I could find and stuck to them as a calf sticks to its mother’s utter. —Fiddler Juan Reynoso on his teachers in the Tierra Caliente region of Mexico, OCTOBER 2003
To be a skillful teacher, it’s not only what you say to a student, it’s what you don’t say. —Violinist and pedagogue Itzhak Perlman, AUGUST/SEPTEMBER 2004
Always seek to find your own musical voice. I’m not saying one should be different just to be different, because that can lead to pointless eccentricity. But you should have a personal relationship with the music. Listening to recordings is inspiring; it’s important to do that and get ideas. But in the end, it’s just about making the music personal, which gives listeners your best possible performance. For that, you must feel a strong personal connection with the music. —Violinist Rachel Barton Pine, MAY 2005
It’s like listening to an experience. It’s Midtown at sunset; Manhattan during the day. Harlem in the morning to the evening. Duke Ellington’s work is known for its arresting ability to sound like a great story. —Double-bassist Marcus Shelby on the first time he heard Duke Ellington’s ‘Harlem Suite,’ MAY 2006
I have a deep-seated belief that there’s room for everybody in the choir. I like to think of an old guy playing a beautiful slow Gallic air, profoundly and beautifully, and turning a room into tears because he means it and he’s using his fiddle to express that. As a violinist or a fiddler you can find ways to express it with very little technique and you can find ways to express these ideas with lots of technique. Find your level within. —Fiddler Alasdair Fraser, FEBRUARY 2007
Lionel Tertis traveled the world playing [the York Bowen Concerto], and he had rave notices for it, but for whatever reason it fell out of the repertoire. I’m passionate about it. It’s such a beautifully crafted piece and places the viola in a heroic light. —Violist Lawrence Power, AUGUST/SEPTEMBER 2008
The classical world thought I’d gone nuts, the club world thought Don Quixote had just called.
—Cellist Matt Haimovitz on his initial efforts to play Bach in non-traditional venues, AUGUST 2009
It was purely the sounds—that low hmmmmm! And once I learned how a bass functioned in an ensemble, I was just taken in. You know, it’s music where you’re all “leaning on your ear,” where you’re free to use your intuition. That’s what drove me to the bass from the beginning. —Double-bassist Esperanza Spalding, DECEMBER 2010
It’s such an interesting time when this music was written. People felt they were in a time filled with turbulence and trepidation. People felt like they were on this volcano that was about to erupt.
—Violinist Gil Shaham on little-known gems and beloved masterpieces from the 1930s, APRIL 2011
Playing the Bach Double is similar to doing yoga. In yoga, you are taught to never compete with whoever is standing beside you, but to create a deeper union and presence within yourself. I think this philosophy resonates deeply with the Bach and makes it very profound and personal. —Violinist Anne Akiko Meyers on capturing the rich dialogue within Bach’s Concerto for Two Violins in D minor, AUGUST 2012
Some very dark things, some very cruel and horrible things, have happened in this world. But I believe that people’s hearts are basically good and that music has the power to counter these negative things. That’s a very “present” part of music, that it has this power. You don’t have to do much to get it going. My part in this was extremely small. It was a small idea, yet it’s turned into this enormous thing that’s spread out in a lot of places. And it’s been just wonderful to see. —Violin maker Jonathan Cooper on building his first memorial violin to slain journalist Daniel Pearl, APRIL 2013
[Stephen Shipps] started pulling volumes of works from the shelves by [black composers] William Grant Still, Roque Cordero, Jose White, David Baker, and Joseph Boulogne [Chevalier de Saint-George]—all of these amazing composers throughout history who I didn’t even know existed. Just like all music, there was some amazing, incredible work, and also some total garbage, but it made me think, how could I not have known about this work? There was a cultural connection that I felt to it, and it was at that point that I started thinking, as an artist, do I want there to be a part of who I am culturally reflected in the music I make? —Violinist Aaron Dworkin, FEBRUARY 2014
I learned [John Adams’] first violin concerto almost on a private whim—it was my first major new work written by a living composer. Before that, I had not been happy with my state of being—I was playing a lot of concerts and pretty standard rep, but I didn’t feel like I owned any of the pieces the way that I wanted to. I felt that my level of creativity was hitting a glass ceiling. I longed for a more human connection—with a living person . . . John came to my first performance and then it was like wildfire—suddenly we had many dates lined up with him conducting and me playing, and it was the beginning of this incredible friendship. Now we’ve been all around the world together. —Violinist Leila Josefowicz, AUGUST 2015
You know, Monet painted the same scene at the pond with the lilies 3,000 times. It is because the reflection of light has endless possibility. The same thing with the texture and the sound when you’re playing. There are millions of sounds. —Violinist Kyung-Wha Chung, OCTOBER 2016