Maestro Vengerov Inspires Artistic Growth at the 2018 Menuhin Competition

Masterclass: a session of tuition by an expert, esp a musician, for exceptional students, usually given in public or on television.

This year’s distinguished Menuhin Competition, (12 – 22 April) now in its 35th year (but held every two years), was founded by its iconic, eponymous violin virtuoso, Yehudi Menuhin, with the goal of nurturing promising young violinists.

Violinist Maxim Vengerov has certainly continued that tradition over three inspiring master classes in Geneva, the host venue for the 2018 competition.

Diana Adamyan from Armenia was the overall winner of the senior category. The 2018 prize winners. Her performance of the Bruch violin concerto was so nuanced, sublime and effused with emotion that it’s hard to get your head round the fact that she is only eighteen years old! A star in the making.

Anyhow, back to the tuition. A Menuhin Competition masterclass is a valuable opportunity for a young musician to learn from one of the most revered living violinists in the world. And if you want to do something you’ve never done before, it makes sense to be guided by someone who has already done it, and even better if they’ve excelled at it.

Maxim Vengerov duly stepped up to the teacher’s plate and knocked it out of the park.

I attended a masterclass he gave in the Sheldonian Theatre in Oxford a few years ago, recorded for posterity in my first blog!

These 2018 recorded masterclass sessions are manna from heaven for music students and violin lovers. Maestro Vengerov gives priceless advice to participants to help them develop their technical, artistic and performance skills.

As well as being a world renowned violin virtuoso and conductor, Maxim Vengerov is currently the Ambassador and visiting Professor of the Menuhin Music Academy in Switzerland (IMMA) and as of September 2016, the Polonsky Visiting Professor of Violin at the Royal College of Music in London.

Maxim Vengerov is not only an outstanding performer, but also a natural and gifted teacher. His love of the instrument, the music and his students is like a rich, warm sonata that envelops you in a hermetic bubble of energetic nurturing, lighthearted humour and scholarly encouragement.

Is it obvious I worship him?!

These recent masterclass videos are entertaining and inspiring for music lovers and non musicians alike, because they instill an appreciation of the talent, work and dedication that goes into perfecting just one piece; highlighting the depth of knowledge and mastery required to truly convey a composer’s mind through the sound of his notes, to draw the listener in.

It takes a virtuoso to express advanced technique infused with emotion and not get lost in either. It’s called interpretation and it’s a fine line to walk.

What I love is that Maxim immediately knows where the improvement points are, and uses a range of methods to help the students expand their abilities. He is assertive and appreciative in equal measure, a winning combination. I love how he invigorates and encourages them without being overpowering or striking fear into their hearts, and motivates without crushing their confidence.

Not everyone it seems, can give an accomplished masterclass. A Masterclass in how not to give a masterclass.

Vengerov shows the pupils where they can improve, be it in phrasing, the intricacies of bowing, depending on the type of colour and sound required, their technique, voice and musicality, all demonstrated with such wisdom and wit.

He humbly shares his own experience of learning with the legendary cellist Mstislav Rostropovich and jokes about how hard it is to just play two notes evenly!

Even more funny, he quips about the quality of a student’s bow, casually telling the audience that he has multiple bows, and how he uses different ones for Mozart, Shostakovich and Brahms, adding as an afterthought, “It’s an expensive profession!” Then he winks, and clarifies further, “We are starting to work from the age of five.”

You can really hear what a difference his 1747 ‘Kreutzer’ Stradivarius violin paired with Jascha Heifetz’s bow makes.

I have included these wonderful masterclasses as a tribute to musical artistic endeavour!

Nineteen year old violinist I-hao Cheng from Taiwan works through the ‘Andante’ and ‘Allegro’ from Bach’s Solo Violin Sonata No. 2 in A minor, BWV 1003:

Eighteen year old violinist Zachary Brandon from the United States (with pianist Nicola Eimer) tackles Franz Waxman’s Carmen Fantasy:

OMG! Thirteen year old violinist Nurie Chung from South Korea (with pianist Nicola Eimer) plays Eugene Ysaye’s Caprice d’apres l’Etude en forme de Valse de Camille Saint-Saëns:

It’s also worth seeing the excellent masterclass observations and teachings from some of the other 2018 Menuhin Competition jury members.

Japanese violinist, conductor and jury member Joji Hattori works with seventeen year old violinist Julian Walder from Austria (with pianist Nicola Eimer) on Ravel’s Tzigane for Violin and Piano:

Arctic Philharmonic Chamber Orchestra Artistic Director and jury member Henning Kraggerud coaches sixteen year old violinist Elli Choi from the United States on Mozart’s Violin Concerto No. 4 in D Major:

Judging and competition insights from the 2018 Menuhin Competition jury members:

I think the students themselves deserve a round of applause, it must be nerve-racking enough to be taught by a legend, let alone in front of an audience, and I applaud them for their dedication and ambition.

While I’m on the subject of masterclasses…

A violin masterclass happens to be the setting of the opening chapter of my fiction novel, The Virtuoso.

I am in the process of creating a new book cover with a new strapline. I think the current strapline: her life is her cadenza, (although it embodies the story) may be too narrow for non musical readers.

So far I am undecided between:

  1. Performance is everything to a virtuoso. Could you give up the one thing you felt you were born to do? 
  2. Performance is everything to a virtuoso. Is redemption possible without the music?

Let me know what you think if you have read it, or have a constructive opinion. Feedback is always helpful when implementing changes. Thanks!

Maxim’s Masterclass

On 11th April 2013 I was fortunate enough to attend my first masterclass run by world renowned violinist Maxim Vengerov, in conjunction with Oxford Philomusica. We gathered at the iconic (Grade 1 listed) Sheldonian Theatre, designed in 1664 by Sir Christpoher Wren.

I huddled excitedly into my wooden pew along with my fellow spectators, vying for a glimpse of one of my living musical heroes.  Vengerov did not disappoint.

Looking back now at my sketchy notes, the first thing that jumps out at me is his declaration that the violin should replicate the human voice; and he elicited much laughter from the audience by bursting into an impromptu song. He was warm, confident, knowledgeable (as you would expect), and he genuinely seemed to care about the students from Oxford University who were performing for his expert feedback. His insights into the music were unparalleled. He told the first student, who played Mozart’s Adagio in E Major, ‘Know where you are going in relation to the phrasing – have a goal.’

What impressed me was that he was able to impart a lot of relevant advice to the violinists in the short time he had to evaluate them. He was able to spot almost immediately where they needed improvement. To me they all seemed brilliant, and they were, but with Vengerov’s help they could become world class.

The second player tackled the Brahms Violin Sonata No. 1 in G Major.  He seemed to feel that she was too controlling, and he told her simply to, ‘Let go.’ He then proceeded to show her how to balance her bow, using the forefinger for control and the little finger to balance it. All the time his manner was relaxed yet utterly erudite and eloquent.

He compared violin technique to breathing:  ‘The left hand is the heartbeat and the right hand is the lung.’

There were other technical gems about increasing finger pressure, bow speed and vibrato to achieve a crescendo, and he coached on the art of smooth changes in bowing style and speed.

The third violinist was shown where she was missing out notes in the furious tempo of the Grieg sonata, and he told her to lift her fingers off the string completely to improve accuracy, and to accent the first note of a group. He compared her rendition to a train passing through a station without stopping.

He had us all captivated with his unique blend of joviality and humour, mixed with just the right amount of constructive and affable critique. His joy in coaching was evident. His own playing of each of their pieces to demonstrate his points transcended the music.  To add to the experience the acoustics were fantastic, and even though it was a grey day light was streaming in through the high windows. I only wish I had been able to sit closer to the action. In short: he is an amazing ambassador for the violin and classical music.

Meeting Virtuoso violinist Maxim Vengerov after his Oxford MasterclassHe was totally charming and stayed behind afterwards to sign autographs and meet his numerous fans (of which I was one). Hence the slightly deranged coat-hanger smile! I comfort myself thinking he must meet gushing and overawed amateur violinists quite often and forgive them their nervous blabbering.

The day was capped off with a visit to the Ashmolean Museum and sighting of my very first Stradivarius violin, the best preserved of them all – The Messiah.

List of Stradivarius Violins & their provenance

One of my favourite Vengerov performances, Waxman’s passionate Carmen Fantasy:

To round off my point here he is in the documentary ‘Playing By Heart’