Music and Vision homepage


Ask Alice, with Alice McVeigh

On encores, mandolin arrangements and agony aunting,

Dear Ask Alice --

The other night my wife and I went to Kennedy Center in Washington to hear a concert that included Beethoven's triple concerto. As you might expect there were three soloists -- a Chinese guy on the cello, a brilliant victim of polio on the violin, and a pianist named Hatchet or something.

They were fantastic, and the audience clapped a lot. As a result, they did something that never happens in KC -- they played an encore, a Mendelssohn trio movement.

My question is: do hotshots like these rehearse an encore, or are they so good that they can wing it?

With thanks for your informative column,
J T near D C

Dear J T,

I assume you are referring to the trio of Emanuel Ax, Yo Yo Ma and Itzhak Perlman?

If so, then (especially Ax and Ma) they have not only played before, but they have played together before. In fact the Brahms cello and piano sonatas of Ax and Ma are sensationally good. They breathe as one, and Ax manages (an almost unheard-of feat) to discipline his liquid-gold touch so that his cello line never has that sense of strain so usually evident in these pieces ... I think they've also recorded the Beethoven Triple with Perlman, so (and this is just a guess) I bet they only had to run through the Mendlessohn while sharing a bottle of Valpolicello one evening, if that.

Might even have been a case of:

Ax: Hey they seem to like us here, Itzhak old son!
Perlman: I didn't think we were too mouldy myself, speaking personally.
Ma: Look, here's a wild and crawzy notion ... I'm murdering the Mendlessohn next week in London and I've got the marked-up parts in my case. Why don't we give the good burghers of D C a shock and breeze through movement A?
Ax: I'm game if you are!
Perlman: Well, I played it with Barenboim and Du Pre a hundred years ago but it'll probably come back in a flash.
Ma: Thanks, guys; it'll be a good warm-up for London ...
Ax: Drinks on you tonight, Yo Yo baby!

By the way, about the only time I've heard Perlman live was at a festival concert with the National Symphony, when he limped with a stick on stage wearing jeans and a stripy shirt. He then turned to the audience, remarking, 'Sorry, guys, my tux got lost on the flight from LA,' and proceeded to play the Brahms violin concerto like an angel ...


Ask Alice

are there any recorded versions of paganini's 24 caprices on mandolin? there are plenty for violin and guitar, but it seems logical that some mandolist somewhere would translate to mandolin, since it is tuned the same as the violin. just wondering.

Tim Echols

Dear Tim,

I've never heard of this happening, probably because the caprices are so, well, stringy!!!!! -- I'm sure top mandolinists COULD manage to hit all the notes, but it still wouldn't convey the right feel. You want the swipe of the bow and the feeling of sweat as the fingers creep nearer and nearer the fiddler's nose ... You want the musicological recollection of all those descriptions of Paganini: dark, improbably tall, gaunt, scratchy, majestic, satanic (there have historically been connections made between the virtuoso violin-playing and the devil).

Niccolo Paganini by J A D Ingres, circa 1819

The lovely trickle of sound from a mandolin, in sharp contradistinction, somehow merely conjures up images of banquets and serenades to lady loves. There's also the double and treble-stop problem: even if mandolinists could swipe three or four strings in one go, it wouldn't convey the same sense of power and strain.

Still, with examples all around us of trombonists and mad double-bass players taking on Bach cello suites, etc, somebody will probably have a go one of these days ...


Ask Alice

dear alice, i finish the 6th form this academic year nad i would like to become an advise columnist could you tell me what qualification i would need to join this feild of work thank you


Dear Natasha,

(I will nobly resist the impulse to suggest you sort out your spelling first -- advice columnist, field of work -- because what else are spellchecks -- and editors -- for???)

[Message to Alice from Keith: to ignore words like 'nad', that's what!]

There is, as far as I know no recognised career strategy to advice column work (I could imagine the University of East Anglia running a degree in it: 'Media studies/Agony Aunting, a three-year course, combined with optional pile-driving'). The most logical route would be a degree in journalism or media, or even English, preferably combined with a stint on your university newspaper. However, it has become a bit specialised these days, with sexperts doing sex advice columns, top shrinks writing depression advice columns, make-up artists running make-up advice columns, and even cellists running classical music agony columns, so a better bet might be to become knowledgeable about one particular area and then hawking round your idea for a column to magazines, etc. Having published a book is a great help, as is some kind of journalistic track record.

Which brings me to the one area in which you signally fail, just at the moment, which is that you are currently AT LEAST fifteen years too young, even for a beauty advice column. The top advice columnists seem to be at least 60, favouring fifties hairstyles, comfortably sagging bosoms or scraggy male necks. The ideal seems to be upper middle-age or youthful grandparent type. (I'm certainly a bit on the young side myself, being mid-forties and still ridiculously glam.) No matter what wisdom and experience you may have garnered in your 18-or-so years as of even date, no one will trust you until you have a few wrinkles around your eyes. Fashion advisors on telly can get away with being mid-30s: that's about the youngest people seem to accept.

Of course, time will adjust this factor against you, and with any luck you will one day be as wise and crinkly-eyed as me, sorry, I mean I. In the meantime, think about a spot of journalism, cultivate an expertise and get writing that book!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!


Copyright © 30 September 2005 Alice McVeigh, Kent, UK

Ask Alice




 << M&V home              Alice's previous columns >>