Tuesday, April 26, 2011

False Strings

I discuss false strings in the latest June 2011 issue of Strings Magazine. Here’s the beginning of the article:

"One of the most common questions about stringed-instrument strings is about the nature of false strings. What is a false string? Musicians often use the term to describe any string that does not sound right, such as a string that sounds dead or won’t bow properly. However, a false string technically occurs when a string doesn’t produce the correct pitch due to a lack of uniformity or defects. In rare cases, the instrument itself may be the source of intonation issues.

To understand false strings, it helps to understand a few basic concepts. When we talk about uniformity, what we mean is that the string is not what physicists call an “ideal string.” An ideal string is uniform in density and mass along its length and is completely flexible. This ideal guides the choices that string designers make with materials and varieties of string design.

False strings were more common when gut was the primary string material. Gut strings are a natural product made from highly processed sheep intestines…”

Fortunately, false brand new strings are extremely rare today. However, strings can become false with use. For more details, see the rest of my article "How to Know if False Strings are Hurting your Sound." A subscription to Strings Magazine is required to access the article.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Violinist Alexander Markov at Carnegie Hall

Last October, almost 30 years after his Carnegie Hall debut recital, violinist Alexander Markov returned to a sold out Carnegie Hall to perform his own “Rock Concerto”. He repeated a version of this concert in the Norwalk Concert Hall (Connecticut) last week to a much smaller, but no less enthusiastic audience. The Norwalk Concert Hall brought back fond memories since I grew up in neighboring Wilton and spent many Saturday mornings rehearsing with the Norwalk Youth Symphony in this hall.

Alex became interested in rock music during high school and it became a passion along with Paganini. He commissioned a custom 6-string violin (it is actually viola sized) to use in his rock band, but he was very frustrated with the guitar strings he was using which could not be bowed easily. I designed a special low F string for his instrument, which uses a magnetic pickup, and he was thrilled with the results!

Alex performed the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto for the first half of his Carnegie Hall concert. It was an extremely satisfying “old-fashioned” performance, more concerned with emotional communication as expressed through Alex’s own unique tone and phrasing rather than the more “clean and correct” playing of most modern performances. For his Norwalk concert, he played a variety of show pieces. My favorite was his remarkable performance of the Paganini “Moses” Fantasy Variations played all on the G-string. It was also delightful to hear the Sarasate “Navarra” duet with his father Albert Markov, who is still in remarkable playing shape. And of course he played his signature Paganini 24th Caprice (watch on YouTube) with its famous left-hand pizzicato variation.

Alex has revised his Rock Concerto since the Carnegie concert. The Carnegie version was more dramatic and operatic, with a huge chorus, and long sections. The pacing of the Norwalk version was much improved, with shorter sections, and featured Alex more prominently. The most heartfelt moments were Alex’s lyrical solos, tinged with bitter sweetness. It must have been difficult for his family to emigrate from the Soviet Union in the 1970s. Did I hear echoes of this? The music is completely different, but it calls to mind the emotional landscape of the musical Fiddler on the Roof.

Friday, April 1, 2011

American String Teachers Association Convention

I attended the American String Teachers Association annual convention in Kansas City two weeks ago with Lyris Hung, our Bowed Brand Manager. Scott Laird, music educator at the North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics, was there as well representing D’Addario. With almost a thousand teachers in attendance, our D’Addario booth was mobbed and we quickly ran out of posters and other items!

There were hundreds of presentations, as many as ten simultaneously, and I wish I could have gone to all of them! Lyris and I presented our own session “Demystifying your strings” and we could have stayed for hours answering questions. Several of our artists presented clinics, including Christian Howes, Julie Lyonn Lieberman, Jeremy Cohen (Quartet San Francisco), Eric Gorfain (The Section Quartet), Pedro de Alcantara, Scott Laird and electric violinist Mark Wood. Mark Wood and his band, joined by the Olathe Area Youth Symphony closed the Convention with an exciting concert. Lyris remarked that students are often weak in rhythm, but this orchestra, inspired by Mark, was rockin and groovin! Middle aged classical string teachers were doing the same in the audience!

Lyris and I also visited the Kansas City Symphony to answer questions about strings. We were hosted by Christine Grossman, their principal violist, and a D’Addario string player. We attended their concert and I thought Kansas City was fortunate to have this wonderful orchestra. The strings played with a warm cohesive tone, the principal wind players were excellent, and the balance between the sections outstanding. They seem to have strong support from the community and everyone is looking forward to their new home in the $400million Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts. We walked by the complex which is nearing completion and it looked spectacular!