As professional musicians in a musical family, there’s no shortage of sound in our daily lives. If we’re not performing music, we’re teaching others to play it. When we’re not playing, there’s a good chance that at least one of six violinists in the Valenches house is practicing. (And yes, there are six violinists here: Giada may be a little shy on hair and teeth, but at nearly 18 months, she’s already had 4 lessons — heck, she’s gotta start sometime, right?)
The point is, we certainly get our fill of music around here, but practice mode, teaching mode, and performance mode generally require a lot of concentration. Don’t get us wrong, we love concentrating as much as the next guy, but sometimes, we just need to luxuriate in the music, no strings attached.
Valenches Music: 10 Listening Pleasures
When we’re not making the music ourselves, we turn to a variety of resources to help us get our fix. Here are some of our favorites:
1. XM Pops on XM Radio
If you love classical music but can do without long sonata marathons and repetitive chamber music, then XM Pops, channel 75 on XM radio, is the radio station you’ve only ever dreamed about. They play all the good stuff, all the time, hence the name “Pops” — popular classics. Don’t get us wrong, sonatas and chamber music are a blast when you’re actively involved playing them, but as far as listening goes, they’re not always the most palatable to the ear.
XM Pops has programming down to a science with a playlist that never disappoints. Their programming features everything from the popular symphonies of Mozart and Beethoven to the virtuoso show pieces of Sarasate and Gershwin. However, the music is not limited to strictly classical pieces; this station does an exceptional job of highlighting the orchestra as a creative medium. You’ll often hear striking movie scores mixed among the classical gems. What’s more — and go ahead — call us biased, this station is not shy when it comes to violinists. Standard and even not-so-standard violin repertoire is commonplace on this station. On XM Pops, you’re just as likely to hear “Zigeunerweisen” as you are a Mozart Violin Concerto. Love at first listen? You bet!
2. Fritz Kreisler
You can’t be named after the great violinist Fritz Kreisler and not have his music running through your veins! Our very own violin professional, Fritz Valenches, was named by his father Leon, who was a die-hard Fritz Kreisler follower. Leon attended every Kreisler concert he could and even struck up a friendship with the violinist (in which, he noted, that Kreisler always had soup stains on his tie — even Kreisler was human). In the Valenches household, Sunday listening was reserved for Kreisler only, and though we don’t subscribe to exactly that protocol now, we cherish Kreisler and his music all the same.
Fritz Kreisler was the last of the great violin-composers. His compositions were unlike those of any other composer. But what really keeps us coming back for more is Kreisler’s unmistakable playing style. We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again, it’s trance-inducing. No one, and we mean no one, has ever been able to replicate the glossy, intimate sound of Kreisler, period. If the word “charismatic” can be used to describe sound, then Kreisler’s sound is exactly that: charming, fascinating, strong in character, magnetic, captivating and alluring. Pure admiration.
(As a side note, Kreisler was an equally brilliant technician on the violin, and for that matter, the piano too. His dear friend Rachmaninoff was thankful that Kreisler pursued the violin rather than the piano. Kreisler was such an accomplished pianist that Rach felt he’d be out of a job, had Kreisler not pursued the violin instead!)
“Kreisler Plays Kreisler” is our favorite Kreisler album because it features Kreisler’s compositions, played by Kreisler himself. It doesn’t get any more intriguing than that!
3. Jascha Heifetz
Jascha Heifetz is the Evil Knievil of violin playing. If there’s a stunt to be executed on the violin, Heifetz has done it, and with stunning perfection. When Heifetz made his USA premiere in 1917, audience member and fellow violinist Mischa Elman asked, “Do you think it’s hot in here?”, to which Leopold Godowsky, unfazed, replied, “Not for pianists.” When Heifetz arrived on the scene, EVERY violinist wanted to hide behind their Carl Flesch books because they simply couldn’t compete with the new technical fireball on the block. Heifetz is the master of smokin’ speed and rip-roaring chords, not to mention, ridiculous bow technique (Hora Staccato anyone?). Needless to say, anything Heifetz plays will make a violinist want to temporarily quit — but don’t.
Check out these Heifetz classics:
- Jascha Heifetz Plays Great Violin Concertos
- Heifetz Showpieces
- Heifetz in Performance [DVD + CD]
- Bach: Sonatas & Partitas
- Selections from “The Heifetz Collection”
4. Luciano Pavarotti
We know, NOT a violinist, but wouldn’t we lack variety if it were just all violinists, all the time? Hands down, Luciano Pavarotti is the greatest tenor of all time. What Heifetz and Kreisler are to the violin, Pavarotti is to the voice. His pipes couldn’t be more perfect: robust, satiating, and downright heavenly, but beyond that, he’s got impeccable intonation and expressive mastery. His “La Donna Mobile” boasts energy and fire while at the opposite end of the spectrum, “Nessun Dorma,” his signature aria, is heavy with passion. Pavarotti is sheer listening pleasure, so much so that even we can’t help but sing along (and we don’t speak Italian, nor can we sing for that matter). Any recording that bears the Pavarotti name is an insurance policy on good listening, but we’ve literally worn out several copies of his Italian Wedding Favorites.
5. Tijuana Brass
Yikes! We know what you’re thinking. First a tenor, now a brass band? Yep. Herb Alpert and his Tijuana Brass will knock your socks off with their Latino beats and though it’s a far cry from classical music, we love it just the same. These guys are the ideal blend of talent and showmanship with classics like “A Taste of Honey”, “Zorba the Greek” (Fritz does an impressive rendition of this on the violin — covering both trumpet parts at once! #doublestops), and “Tijuana Taxi,” a Valenches household favorite. This music gives a definite high-octane boost to a slow day and is a great vacation from classical music, without sacrificing talent.
6. Mozart, Beethoven & Friends
We’re classical violinists so it’s a given that we absolutely adore the music of immortal composers like Mozart, Bach, Beethoven and more. Mozart and Beethoven Symphonies are staples on our playlist, as is most everything in the classical music genre. Dvorak? Love it. Tchaikovsky? Of course! Rimsky-Korsokov? Yep, love that too. What can we say? We’re classical music junkies to the core. Sure, we could list every last piece of classical music that tickles us pink, but that would take up our valuable practice time. 🙂 The bottom line is, you really can’t go wrong with timeless composers.
7. John Williams
John Williams is the creative mastermind behind many of the best loved film scores and well-known themes. This inventive genius uses the entire orchestra as his instrument, conveying musical ideas through an orchestral body with the same ease that a single Itzhak Perlman plays his violin. Each of Mr. Williams’ compositions sound completely unique and fresh. We’re still amazed how one man can write so many energizing anthems without them sounding like knock-offs of each other. It seems like this rockstar composer is endowed with a never-ending bank of clever ideas. John Williams didn’t win 21 Grammy Awards (nope, not a typ0 — he really won that many) without knowing how to use the orchestra as his artistic canvas. Not sure if you’ve ever heard John Williams’ music? Here’s a list of some of the film scores and themes credited to his name:
- “Star Wars”
- “Indiana Jones”
- “E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial”
- “Home Alone”
- “Schindler’s List”
- “Jurassic Park”
- “Harry Potter”
- “Saving Private Ryan”
- Theme music for 4 Olympic Games
- Music for NBC Nightly News
John Williams – Greatest Hits 1969 – 1999 has been our listening weapon of choice. His “Superman Theme” will have you jumpin’ outta your skin — guaranteed!
8. “Bond and Beyond”
The orchestra is an asset to film score composition and though John Williams is the best of the best in that arena, there’s a whole host of other noteworthy tracks to explore. Another album we’ve had to repurchase several times is the cops-and-robbers themed “Bond and Beyond” recorded by Eric Kunzel and the Cincinnati Pops. This collection includes the best in “Bond” themes such as the “James Bond Theme”, “Live and Let Die”, “Theme from Goldfinger”, and “For Your Eyes Only”. Rounding out the list are themes from other adventure-type movies like “Rambo”, “Dick Tracy”, “Beverly Hills Cop” and “Lethal Weapon”. But, what really takes the cake, is the “Medley of TV Adventure Themes”. Who doesn’t love “Mission Impossible”, “Peter Gunn”, and “Hawaii Five-O”? Our final say? “Book ’em Danno!”
9. Eric Kunzel & The Cincinnati Pops
We’re partial to “Bond and Beyond” but actually, Eric Kunzel and the Cincinnati Pops have produced a whole library of appealing orchestral albums based on popular themes, ranging from television and movies to big band and The Beatles. If there’s an interesting piece of music to be performed, Eric Kunzel can smell it from a mile away. Stir up your regular playlist and give these a try:
10. Mark O’Connor
And finally, we never thought he’d be on our “10 Listening Pleasures” list, but since interacting with international fiddle icon Mark O’Connor this past year, we couldn’t help but add his name. It’s not that we didn’t enjoy Mr. O’Connor’s music before, we just simply NEVER listened to it, ever. That all changed when our Valenches Music Company students were asked to do an onstage performance with the two-time Grammy Award winner and the Northeastern Pennsylvania Philharmonic. We began scouring YouTube for Mark O’Connor everything and man, were we both delighted and impressed with what we found! His music certainly couldn’t be called classical, but he stands in a well-deserved category all his own.
Though he’s mostly associated with “fiddle” music, Mr. O’Connor is every bit as talented as any concert violinist A-lister. His fingers sure do move fast but what makes him the one-of-a-kind violinist that he is, is his fantastic ability to create. There are literally hundreds of violinists who are technical machines on the violin, and while that’s certainly an admirable and highly impressive feat to accomplishment, it’s more based on skill than musicality in the creative sense of the word. Don’t get us wrong, it takes a tremendous amount of ability and drive to get to this level of playing, but in a sea of violin powerhouses, Mr. O’Connor adds a much needed breath of fresh air. He’s got music in every cell of his body, improvising most of what he plays and composing everything else, himself. Fiddle music or not, Mark O’Connor is at the forefront of a global music awakening and we’ll be the first to admit that we are truly humbled by his work.
What’s on your playlist?
That wraps up our collection of best-loved listening treasures but there’s always room for more. So, in case we run out of addictive listening pleasures, we’d love to know what’s on your playlist.
Don’t be shy. Pour your heart out in the comment section below.