IVAN DAVIS Plays ROBERT SCHUMANN Variations on the name "ABEGG" Op.1

IVAN DAVIS, was my piano professor during my Ph.D. He won the Liszt competition the same year Martha Argerich won the Chopin Competition. He’s one of five who had the honor of studying with VLADIMIR HOROWITZ. Here's one of his stunning performances

Learn More About Ivan Davis

Whiz Kid: Tim Bilodeau

The Penndale eighth-grader has combined his passions of music and building to construct his own electric violin.

By Tony Di Domizio | Email the author


Tim Bilodeau pumped his foot on his effects pedal a couple times until he got it to the right setting.

He adjusted the volume on his amp, and then proceeded to do a final tuning before rocking out to “Smooth Criminal” by Michael Jackson.

He set the volume, grabbed his bow, nestled the electric violin under his chin and jammed, albeit classically.

This Whiz Kid, an eighth-grader at Penndale, has a passion for computers and electronics. He also has a passion for the violin and orchestral performance ever since he picked up the instrument in the third grade.

Tim, an Odyssey of the Mind member, has combined his passions into one awesome invention.

He has built one electric violin nearly from scratch, and is hard at work building another one completely from scratch.

“I’m really into computers and building things. I’m not quite into the mechanics of electricity,” he said. “I’m playing with the amp and switches—I’m learning.”

In third grade, a flyer passed around school about the orchestra piqued Tim’s interest in the violin.

His passion for playing led to a recipe of classical music and rock 'n' roll.

“The electric violin is a complex musical instrument,” Tim said. “I’m not yet up to snuff to play regularly. There’s a couple of bugs in (the old violin), and that’s why I’m working on a new one.”

The electric violin hasn’t made it yet into the orchestra at Penndale, but outside of school, Tim has tested it out in the Elite Strings Orchestra. The ESO, as it’s called, has performed at Carnegie Hall and First Fridays in Lansdale. It will also play at the International Spring Festival in April.

Using inspiration from famed violinist David Garrett, who incorporates rock and alternative music into his albums, Tim took to the Internet to research electric violins.

“I saw a picture and thought it would be cool to build one,” he said.

He got a violin and dismantled the neck, fingerboard and bridge. Tim asked for a scroll saw for Christmas to help with his new passion.

“I carved most of the body myself,” he said. “I worked all the wood except for the fingerboard.”

The electric violin works the same way as an electric guitar. A pickup on the bridge picks up the vibrations made by the strings. The amp then broadcasts the sound so you can hear it.

“Using an effects pedal, I can change the sound like an electric guitar,” he said.

Tim said it takes a lot of patience to create an electric violin.

“The first one I worked on over the summer and school year,” he said. “The second one I’ve been working on for the past six months. I just want to do it.”

Tim’s passion for music has been influenced by the Elite Strings Orchestra; he said it has exposed him to diverse styles of music.

“I like rock 'n' roll and the modern stuff and classical,” he said. “In the orchestra, I am exposed to different things like fiddling, South American music and jazz.”

Tim is hoping the electric violin can erase stereotypes of its root instrument.

“There’s a stereotype for the violin, that it plays squeaky, classical music,” he said. “It can be like a guitar and play rock music and look cool, as well.”

Tim’s electric violin has influenced his private teacher, Luigi Mazzocchi, first violin in the orchestra of the Pennsylvania Ballet.

“He commissioned one,” Tim said. “He’s interested in trying it out in the future in the orchestra.”

His key to awesomeness, he said, is the passion for music.

“It’s a lot of determination and persistence,” he said. “I keep at it, and I want to do it.”

Tim’s mother, Kate, who nominated him as the Whiz Kid, said his experience in Odyssey of the Mind since the second grade has given him strong problem-solving skills.

“After many years of doing that, Tim has the skills to solve problems on his own,” she said. “I think it’s amazing. I love how he’s combined his two passions of building and music."

Got a Whiz Kid to nominate? E-mail the name and information to tony.didomizio@patch.com.

Conductor Courtney Lewis invigorates Boston’s classical music scene

by Robert Nesti
EDGE National Arts & Entertainment Editor


Courtney Lewis

"Classical music needs to have an audience in the future. This is not an elitist art. It is something that everybody needs, like air," said conductor Courtney Lewis in a recent interview with WGBH’s Jared Bowen.

That passion led to Lewis to create the Discovery Ensemble, a chamber orchestra formed in 2008
with a two-fold mission: to bring musical education to public schools and to offer invigorating programs to the public.

It’s proved to be a smart idea - in just a short time Lewis and the Discovery Ensemble were getting a palpable buzz in the media. Boston Phoenix music critic Lloyd Schwartz wrote "In the past couple of years, they’ve presented some of the best concerts around, though they still haven’t found the audience they deserve." He then went onto praise Lewis’s conducting of Beethoven’s Eroica as "one of the most exciting and moving" he had ever heard. Schwartz then called the ensemble an "ongoing discovery" in his list of the Top 10 Classical Music Stories of 2010: "The group has a noble mission of going into inner-city schools and exposing the kids, most of them for the first time, to classical music. Large adult audiences are only beginning to discover Discovery Ensemble’s grown-up delights."

They will have an opportunity to do just that this Thursday night when the group returns to Cambridge’s Sanders Theatre for a program entitled Three Faces of Romanticism. As they have in the past, they will mix the familiar with the less-known, in this case repertory favorites Robert Schumann’s Symphony No. 3, "the Rhenish" and Richard Wagner’s Siegfried Idyll will be played with Franz Schreker’s largely unknown Chamber Symphony. A pre-concert talk will begin at 6:30 with Lewis and David St. George, the ensemble’s co-founder and artistic director.

The lanky, good-looking Lewis admirably fills the bill of the dashing young conductor and his passion for music education brings to mind a pioneer in this area - Leonard Bernstein. A native of Belfast, Ireland the 26-year old came to Boston as a Zander Fellow with the Boston Philharmonic. It was on a 2007 trip to Venezuela with the orchestra that he witnessed that country’s successful musical education program known as El Sistema and thought of bringing it to this country. With that and offering an outlet for Boston’s wealth of young, freelance musicians, the Discovery Ensemble was born.

Speaking to Lewis, who divides his time between Boston and Minneapolis where last year he was appointed Assistant Conductor of the Minnesota Orchestra, his passion for conducting is immediately apparent, as his commitment to bringing fresh audiences through educational programs and the orchestra’s concerts. He began the interview by laughing when asked how he likes called one of classical music’s most notable up-and-coming talents.

Courtney Lewis conducting the Discovery Ensemble

A boy with his band

Courtney Lewis: I guess it’s par for the course. I don’t know. I don’t mind it actually, to be in my position.

EDGE: Still it must have been a daunting task to start an ensemble like this. Was it difficult to find the musicians that shared your enthusiasm?

Courtney Lewis: Because Boston has so many brilliant freelance musicians in their 20s, finding the musicians was the easy part. Plus with there are so many younger musicians who are very keen in playing in an orchestra with a slightly different agenda than the other existing ensembles. So playing new music, trying to reach different kinds of audiences and our outreach to schools, has made it very easy to find enthusiastic musicians. The more challenging part is persuading the public to come hear the music because there are so many ensembles in Boston. That is something we are gradually doing, but that is a huge challenge.

EDGE: Did putting the ensemble together come from your interest in bringing music to public schools?

Courtney Lewis: Yes, but the ensemble is equally a music education program and a chamber orchestra that strives to be the best of its kind. If a city such as Boston doesn’t have good musical education in the public schools, then classical music isn’t going to grow, which it needs to do. Also this city didn’t have a world-class chamber orchestra to rival the work of the symphony orchestras we have, so we saw the opportunity to build one.

EDGE: How did you get involved in music?

Courtney Lewis: I was a chorister in a choir since I was five, so music was always there. I didn’t come from a musical family, but music was always a part of my life. By the time I was in high school, I was playing the clarinet. But it was a really wonderful high school music teacher who inspired me to look beyond just playing in an orchestra. He prompted my interest in composition and conducting. I had a really wonderful high school music teacher who inspired me to pursue a musical career. That is part of the reason why I get upset when I see schools don’t have good musical education programs, because music is such an important part of life. When I think of my own experience, if my school didn’t have a music program, I wouldn’t be here today.

Read More of Courtney Lewis'Interview

Watch Courtney Lewis conduct the Discovery Ensemble in the first movement of Beethoven’s Eroica Symphony:

New BSO Conductor Teaches Kids To Love Classical Music, One Wisecrack At A Time


Listen Now

Thomas Wilkins, the BSO's new youth and family concerts conductor, talks to the audience during Wednesday's performance. (Courtesy Hilary Scott/BSO)

BOSTON — If you took a poll that asked, “Who’s the conductor of the Boston Symphony Orchestra?”, most people would probably say, “James Levine.” He’s lead maestro, of course. But the BSO also has several others, and this week it named its first-ever African-American conductor, Thomas Wilkins.

The first thing you need to understand about Wilkins’ new job is that he doesn’t conduct in front of a typical classical music audience. He’s the BSO’s new conductor for youth and family concerts. That means his audiences are mainly kids. And this week, at a series of concerts he’s been conducting at Symphony Hall, the building has been packed with thousands of kids — thousands of them, from first-graders to middle-schoolers.

At the start of his concerts, Wilkins recalls when he was 8 years old and heard his first symphony orchestra.

“I mean, it was unbelievable,” he said. “I sat in this chair like this, saw all those people, and I looked up and I thought, ‘Wow, there’s flutes and oboes and clarinets and bassoons and horns and trumpets and trombones and tuba, timpani, snare drum, base drum, cymbals, violins, instruments that look like a violin only slightly larger called violas, cellos, basses. Oh my goodness — all of these sounds!’ I thought, ‘This is incredible. This is absolutely incredible!’ I was totally blown away.”

Wilkins wants the kids in his audiences to be blown away by the symphony, too. So when he conducts, he’s wildly interactive. He cracks jokes. He wanders through the crowd and asks questions.

“OK, so what do you think was going on there?” Wilkins asked at one concert this week after the orchestra finished a piece by Edvard Grieg. “Yes, right over there — yell it out,” he said, pointing to a young boy seated close to the stage.

“Hockey breakaway?” the boy said.

“Hockey breakaway!” Wilkins bellowed. “Ladies and gentlemen, that’s the first time I’ve heard that one, ever! Hockey breakaway — very good!”

He even lets the audience become part of the music. During one rhythmic piece this week, he instructed the crowd members to shout “hey!” in unison each time he raised his left hand, as if they were an additional instrument.

Wilkins’ children’s concerts are only about an hour long. But he crams them with music, from the John Williams score of “Star Wars” to Brahms, Mendelssohn and Tchaikovsky.

The kids eat it up. Here’s what Ezra Berg, a fifth-grader at the Ward School in Chestnut Hill, had to say afterward: “I thought the conductor was really funny because, well, he just made everyone laugh all the time. Usually I wouldn’t listen to classical music, but this was just, like, really good.”

Many of the kids are completely absorbed in Wilkins’ every move. When he walks off the stage and into the center aisle, they swivel around in their seats and crane their necks to keep their eyes on him.

“If you looked at the faces of the children while they were watching the concert and listening to the music, it was just almost spiritual, you know?” said Ken Marsh, a parent chaperone from the Ward School. “You got to see them truly be engaged in the music.”

“I love the element of surprise. I love the fact that kids don’t realize that they’re going to have such a good time at these concerts.”
–Thomas Wilkins

That’s even though many of the kids said later that they hadn’t expected to like the music at all. They thought it would be boring. Too slow. And no lyrics! But Wilkins says that’s exactly why he prefers audiences of children over adults.

“I love the element of surprise,” he explained. “I love the fact that kids don’t realize that they’re going to have such a good time at these concerts. My wife said to me one night — we were on our way to an evening concert and we were in the concert traffic — and she said, ‘Does it kind of excite you to realize that all of these people in all of these cars are coming to see you work?’ I said, ‘Well, yes, but it’s much more fun when it’s yellow school buses.’ ”

Wilkins doesn’t intend his concerts to be all laughs. He also tries to work in life lessons. Like the value of teamwork, since an orchestra is basically a team. And the power of silence. And the importance of listening.

“I want them to walk away first with this idea that this is a non-threatening environment and, indeed, can be quite fun,” Wilkins said in an interview in his dressing room after one concert this week. “The second thing that I want them to understand is just how powerful classical music is, and yet in all of its power it has a direct relationship to their everyday lives.

“And then the third thing I want them to walk away with is just how special it is to be able to get 100 people on stage to work together in a way that all of this power and all of this beauty can be expressed together.”

About the color of his skin, by the way: Wilkins says he’s sorry that, in this era, it’s even noteworthy that he’s black. But he also says “it delights him” that young African-American kids can see him at the podium in Symphony Hall, baton in hand, and think, “One day, I could do that, too.”

Photo:Thomas Wilkins (Sacha Pfeiffer/WBUR)

Bach meets Monty Python

Classical music was never intended to be a stuffy, elitist, black-tie affair, say top-notch musicians Aleksey Igudesman and Richard Hyung-ki Joo. Their musical comedy acts offer a fresh perspective on an old tradition.

"Without music life would be a mistake." - Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche

LeAnn Rimes, Seal Upset About the Lack of Music Funding in Public Schools

By Hollie McKay

LeAnn Rimes and Jeff Beck perform at MusiCares. (Reuters)

A slew of high-profile stars gathered in Los Angeles recently for the MusiCares Gala, not only to honor music veteran Barbra Streisand for her contribution to the entertainment industry, but to voice their concerns regarding music education in the public education system.

“It is absolutely necessary, there is research that shows that kids involved in music do so much better with all school work – math, science, English, as well as with their overall creativity and focus,” Leann Rimes told FOX411’s Pop Tarts prior to her performance. “I’ve been doing this since I was five years old and (music funding) needs to be back in schools. It comes from the heart and kids need that.”

A recent study funded by the Colorado Council of Arts found that high school students with more access to art courses did better at reading, writing, and science, regardless of their background of socioeconomic status. Moreover, research conducted by James S. Catterall, a professor of education at the University of California, Los Angeles, concluded that students with more exposure to arts both during and after school gleaned better results on standardized tests.

Furthermore, musical star Kristen Chenoweth said that unfortunately when she was growing up, her only outlet to perform was to become a cheerleader.

“I just hope and wish and pray that the government will really see what the arts can do for the children. Growing up in Oklahoma, where football was the main priority and choir and drama were not, I can see the importance of it,” she said. “My only way to perform was to be a cheerleader, as cliché as that sounds. There needs to be more instruments in schools and emphasis on the arts.”

According to the Harvard Graduate School of Education’s Ed. Magazine, arts budgets in public schools have been consistently on the chopping block in recent years, and amid the nation’s economic crisis, faced even deeper cuts.

Singer-songwriter Elvis Costello said if the government continues to slash arts funding for schools, America as a whole will suffer.

“You don’t get it back once you cut it, and the country will be poorer. You can spend money on other things but unless you keep the balance between skills and arts, then you’re not going to have strong people going in to the future,” he explained, while Seal added that “without it in our culture, we’ll all die.”

Well, that may be going a bit far!

"Imagine what it would be like without music in our lives," Seal said. "I know I’d be out of a job.”

Jazz legend Herbie Hancock, despite acknowledging the importance of music in every child’s life, believes Obama has to focus on other more pressing issues – like unemployment – first.

“Obama is on to it, there is only so much he can do at this time. He can’t just push a button and make things go the way he wants. We’re not a dictatorship. Nobody wants a dictatorship,” he added. “(Proper arts funding) may take a while because we have to worry about jobs right now.”

Violinist, Joshua Bell Permforms Beethoven

For more than two decades, Joshua Bell has enchanted audiences worldwide with his breathtaking virtuosity and tone of rare beauty. He came to national attention at the age of 14 in a highly acclaimed orchestral debut with Riccardo Muti and the Philadelphia Orchestra.

Named by Musical America as the 2010 Instrumentalist of the Year, highlights of Bell’s 2010-2011 season include fall performances with The New York Philharmonic, The Philadelphia San Francisco, Houston and St. Louis symphony orchestras.


Peekskill students rock out with classical music

Photo by Sue Guzman Daisy Jopling played Michael Jackson’s "Thriller" on Feb. 17 for Peekskill Middle School students.

PEEKSKILL - Ever hear Michael Jackson's "Thriller" played on the violin?

Nearly 600 students at Peekskill Middle School did on Feb. 17 as internationally acclaimed classical and rock violinist Daisy Jopling brought her high energy performance style and vibrant personality to the Peekskill Middle School auditorium.

In addition to her crowd-pleasing interpretation of Jackson's "Thriller," Jopling treated students to a rendition of Antonio Vivaldi's "Winter" from his "Four Seasons," played on both the violin and electric violin and interspersed with elements of reggae, disco and rock.

The students, many of whom admitted they had never listened to classical music before, reacted with amazement. Sixth-graders Jessica and Autumn chimed in unison, "It was awesome!"

"I loved the Michael Jackson song," Autumn said. "I thought it was gonna be like Beethoven and stuff; things that I don't listen to. But all of a sudden, she started playing and, like, I'm reconsidering playing the violin now."

One of the instruments Jopling plays is a 232-year-old violin created by Italian violin maker Antonio Gragnani. She has been playing violin since the age of 3. Her solo career began at age 14 when she performed at the Royal Albert Hall in London and she has played for a crowd of 30,000 at the opening of the Vienna Festival in Austria. Now, she says, her focus in on young children, and exposing them to classical music.

Jopling recently moved back to Peekskill and was "disheartened" to learn that there had been cuts to the music programs in the area's schools.

"As a Peekskill resident, I want to share my love of music while giving back to the local community," she said. "Music is obviously a big part of my life. I'm a professional musician. But, I know that giving children a chance to learn a musical instrument gives them the discipline, the power to perform. It gives you confidence."

Jopling will perform with her band at the Paramount Center for the Performing Arts in Peekskill on Saturday March 19. A portion of the proceeds will be donated to benefit the Peekskill Education Foundation, Hendrick Hudson Community Education Foundation ,and the Paramount Center's Arts in Education Program. The Hendrick Hudson High School Choir will open the show.