mozart for mom and spring is almost here

It has been a crazy month. On January 26th my mom died after a long struggle with dementia. The following weeks were taken up with arranging details of her memorial, going through thousands and thousands of pages of saved documents – some of which were important, most of which were not – reminiscing with my sister and my mom’s caregiver, and generally being exhausted. When we got back home after nearly three weeks away, it felt like we’d been on the worst vacation ever.

Slowly, I got back into the swing of things at work and teaching. When I’d gotten the news of my mom’s passing, I went into a panic about the upcoming playing obligations that I had over those next few weeks. The Oregon Symphony was very flexible and understanding with me taking leave to deal with the estate. Similarly, Third Angle and the University of Wyoming were very accommodating to my cancellations. The family does indeed come first.

One gig that I really wanted to try to keep was playing the Mozart Sinfonia Concertante with my dear friend and former OSO and Ethos Quartet colleague, violinist Denise Dillenbeck. I know the piece quite well and know Denise’s playing equally well, so even though rehearsal and practice time was going to be at a premium, my thought was that I could make it happen without making a fool of myself. So, the concert is coming up this Sunday, March 5th at 4 pm. It features the wonderful young musicians of the Student Orchestras of Greater Olympia Conservatory Orchestra, and I’m greatly looking forward to it. I’m dedicating my performance to my mom. I think she’d like that a lot.

Here’s me playing the opening viola solo line from the second movement. This movement is one of the greatest things written for stringed instruments. It’s essentially an instrumental opera, a love duet, I’d like to think. See that cool shirt I’m wearing? That is a prized memento of Portland’s great classical radio station (of which I’m a board member) AllClassical Portland, which just happens to be the No. 1 classical radio station in America*!  Help keep a great thing going strong, and give what you can by clicking here.


days of future past

We’re almost halfway through January 2016, and I haven’t managed to do a ‘best of 2015’ or ‘looking forward to 2016’ post. There aren’t any compelling reasons why, aside from being pretty darn busy with musical activities for the past four months or so. So, without any further ado (I so hate this phrase, but it’s so useful), and in no particular order, here are my notable moments from 2016.

  • Third Angle’s New York debut at the Bang on a Can Marathon. This was pretty sweet. We took two brand new pieces and did Portland proud. Plus, I got to meet Julia Wolfe!
  • Takacs Quartet at Friends of Chamber Music. My review of the legendary quartet’s two concerts at Lincoln Hall wasn’t exactly ecstatic, but any chance to hear them play live is a privilege. It was also my first time hearing them with violist Geraldine Walther, one of my all time favorite violists.
  • Strauss’ Metamorphosen with the Oregon Symphony. This piece for 23 solo strings has been on my performing bucket list for, well, ever. The chance to play it on stage with my amazing colleagues at the Oregon Symphony was just about as good as it could get.
  • Mahler’s Symphony No. 2 with the Oregon Bach Festival Orchestra under Matthew Halls. This was a truly memorable performance for me. The key to this particular Mahler symphony is having an amazing chorus on hand for the finale, and the Berwick Chorus is simply one of the finest around. I have seldom been as emotional as I was during the grand final moment of this great symphony.
  • Chamber Music at the Methow Valley Chamber Music Festival. I had so much fun playing piano quartets by Dvorak (his E-flat), and Schumann (also in E-flat), along with John Harbison’s Piano Quintet. The remarkable pianist Ryan MacEvoy McCullough was the indefatigable pianist for all three pieces (filling in on short notice for the Harbison), and all of my fellow performers were incredible.
  • String Quartets of Ott and Bunch with the Arnica Quartet. It was fantastic to play the Second string quartets of these two amazing young composers. The fact that they’re both friends makes it all the better. Daniel Ott | Kenji Bunch
  • Frozen Music at Mt. Angel Abbey with Third Angle New Music. Playing the formidable and complex Magnus Lindberg Clarinet Quintet with my 3A colleagues and clarinetist Louis DeMartino in the incredible, Alvar Aalto designed library – six times over two days – was exhausting and exhilarating!

There are more instances of great musical experiences that I could find from the past year, but these were those which bubbled to the top of my brain most readily.

What does 2016 hold for me? Well, another year at the Oregon Bach Festival, which will announce its season soon, and which looks amazing! An interesting concert by the Arnica Quartet – Beyond Beethoven, which starts with Beethoven’s first completed string quartet and concludes with Pale Blue Dot, by David Ludwig, written in 2014. Much of what is to come, I don’t even know about yet, but I’m sure that 2016 will be another one for the record books!

thoughts of a front desk violist

I’ve just read this wonderful article on LSO principal violist Paul Silverthorne on Ariane Todes’ blog, and if you’re an orchestral player, conductor, or soloist, I’d encourage you to read it. It’s a goldmine of practical information from a top player in a top orchestra who has just about seen it all. Here are a couple of my favorite bits:

‘It’s hard to analyse how great conductors make a difference. It’s much easier to explain what the bad ones are doing that doesn’t help. Bad conductors conduct everything they don’t need to conduct but don’t give the things they do need to. They have self-conscious gestures they use to look good, or they’re not quite convinced of their own ideas.

The problem for conductors is that until they’re famous they don’t get a good instrument to practise on. It takes a different technique to conduct a bad orchestra. You’ll get a young conductor coming in and they’ve probably worked with orchestras that aren’t as good as the LSO and they don’t know how much they can trust the orchestra just to do it.’


‘In my position I can see everything, particularly bow arms, which are so individual and make such a difference to someone’s voice. Rostropovich was amazing – he’d always have yards left at the end of his bow to open out the sound. Even with a diminuendo there was no loss of power. It’s a particularly Russian thing: Yuri Bashmet does it, too. You can learn from the bow arms of all the great players.


‘Turning around and saying things as section leader has to be done with a light touch and as little as necessary. If you do say something, it has to be very simple and clear. I’ve got really good players in the section so I’m not going to be say anything patronising. You have to trust them. You have to give them clear leadership without going over the top, and a strong rhythmic leadership, otherwise they can’t come in together. It doesn’t have to be a big lead but it has to be very clear what you’re going to do, with no hesitation. When you’ve got a good section you can send back clues about what you’re going to do with the phrasing, in how you’re moving, with simple body language. It’s the same as with conductors – if your movements are contrived or self-conscious it doesn’t send the right message. It’s got to come naturally from your playing and then it will work.