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Stefan Jackiw


lwl
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Has anyone heard Stefan Jackiw live, or heard his live recording of the Mendelssohn concerto, on the CD that comes with "Classic FM" magazine's November issue?

For those who don't know who he is, he's a 14-year-old American violinist, labeled a prodigy. "Classic FM" (which is unfortunately sort of the "People" magazine of classical music recording magazines) writes a pretty fawning article, including a "new Menuhin" label.

I just listened to the recording, and was puzzled:

Very good technique, yes, but it doesn't have the effortless sound of the young Sarah Chang (nor is it spotless, given the live performance, but he seems to have a consistent problem with hitting high notes cleanly and then sustaining a vibrato on them).

His tone bothered me. I couldn't tell if it was the acoustics of the recording or the actual tone. The orchestral sound was fine, but his own tone had almost no bloom or after-ring to the notes, and it seemed like he had highly limited control over the tone color -- an unrelentingly dry, intense sound, despite the use of vibrato.

I wasn't absorbed by the interpretation, either; the third movement was the best of the three, but my thought upon hearing a page's worth of the first movement was, "Someone needs to tell this kid that Mendelssohn is not Brahms." It definitely didn't have the breath-taking quality of listening to the young Sarah Chang or Midori, for instance -- or Menuhin himself.

Is it just me? Is the recording just unflattering? Or is the press, in its search for another prodigy to hype, just thrusting this kid into the limelight?

Somebody tell me what I'm missing. smile.gif

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Is that a recording of a concert with Ben Zander? Ben took him from Boston to play the Mendelssohn in London while doing some other gigs there. The magazine exposure probably has as much to do with Zander's new celebrity as anything else. Jakiw plays at the NEC Prep department, and studies with MaryLou Speaker Churchill, among others. He spends his week at Roxbury Latin School.

I heard him live at a banquet fundraiser for the Conservatory-- he did one movement of a Prokofiev Sonata. (See my post from 10/30.) I, too, was puzzled by his vibrato (very wide and prominent) but assumed that it might be what he wanted to do with that one piece. I did like his sense of where phrases went, and also I thought his tone was much more unforced and natural than Chang's (based on hearing her live on 2 occasions). OF course, the acoustics at the Copley Plaza Hotel are almost as bad as those in London's big concert halls. smile.gif One tidbit-- he plays a pretty cheap violin, and turned down the offer of a Strad for the London concert. Evidently wanted to dance with what brung him.

I don't think he's ready for major exposure yet, but he seems serious, smart, and could develop a Gil Shaham/ Hilary Hahn career if he works on his shortcomings and other things go right for him. Otherwise, might be a good chamber musician. One to watch.

By the way, what's the significance of the new handle? Change of persona, or was the old one too long to type out?

[This message has been edited by Stephen (edited 11-28-2000).]

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Yes, it's a recording of a live performance with Zander and the youth orchestra at the NEC.

I wonder how much of what I perceive as an issue of tone quality is him forcing his instrument / being unable to get the variety of tone color necessary / not having the longer sustain of a better-quality violin.

Change of handle is because I got tired of typing. smile.gif

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I haven't heard the recording (I hope to soon).

I can say that while Jordan Hall is one of the really great places to play or hear music-- in some respects better than Symphony Hall across the street-- it doesn't record all that well. Also, big orchestras can load up the hall, and make soloists try to shout over the din. Given the gusto of youth and Ben's lack of affinity for the accompanist's role, there are any number of things that could have gone wrong with his sound.

Of course, as you so rightly observe, Jackiw doesn't quite sound like Menuhin yet, even under more controlled circumstances. smile.gif He is awfully talented but not a fully-formed prodigy like others on the market today. I am intrigued, however, and intend to hear him again.

[This message has been edited by Stephen (edited 11-28-2000).]

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I have not yet had a chance to hear this young talent, but I am eager to do so after your reports. I do recall a glowing review of Jackiw's London Mendelssohn performance in a spring issue of Strad magazine. I am always skeptical of gushing critics, so I haven't gone out of my way to hear this youngster. Your comments, lwl and Stephen, have left me far more curious than the Strad critic did. Do you know if he will be playing anywhere on the east coast in the near future?

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You should still be able to find the November issue of Classic FM in the magazine racks, if you want to hear the recording, Arpa.

I don't believe he's actively concertizing yet, just doing a few engagements here and there.

I wonder how the London performance was compared to the recorded one. The Strad critics aren't usually readily moved to gush.

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Everyone's entitled to his/her own opinion. I heard that when he played Mendelssohn for a masterclass, there was nothing for the "master" to say techincally or musically. Some people who attended Meadowmount in '98 don't remember what he performed there, but they remembered it was "sooooo moving."

He's one to watch, though the Mendelssohn=Brahms misconception is sure to earn him the brand of "modern violinist."

I know of a lot of people (especially his age) who wouldn't be able to resist playing Mendelssohn athletic-style given the slightest reason (e.g. technical passages you've mastered).

-V

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  • 6 months later...

Stefan went to ENCORE last summer, so I was able to hear him perform live. He's a great violinist.

I enjoyed his simple, pure sound and disagree with the notion that his tone is forced.

[This message has been edited by prok3 (edited 06-05-2001).]

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To tell you the truth, I'd have to hear more of him to be able to pick out any quirks in his playing. It was the first time I'd heard him play (he played the Prokofiev Sonata no. 2)and I was so impressed by the level of his technique/ability that I only paid attention to the things I liked. As I mentioned earlier, I really enjoyed his tone. I found it to be clear and simple and there was a great deal of ring in his playing when I heard him. His intonation is quite good. I'm sure had I listened carefully I would have spotted inconsistencies, but I must say, of all the "prodigies" I've ever heard, I enjoyed his playing the most. I agree that he has the potential for a "Shaham/ Hilary Hahn career." He is a smart, generally personable 14-year-old, so hopefully things will work for him.

[This message has been edited by prok3 (edited 06-05-2001).]

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Well, it was okay. If someone wants to give me free concerts tickets, I'll go.

But I heard Hahn do the Brahms at 14, and this is not in the same league. I agree with Lydia -- it lacks "lilt" or "flow".

(of course, I'm currently relistening to Menuhin doing Bach at 15 -- now there's a GREAT recording.)

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Just heard Jackiw live last night, at a sendoff concert for the YPO tour of Latin America. First movement of Paganini #1.

He's the real thing. My initial response from last year still looks about right, the only difference being that he's now 15 instead of 14. Fabulous control, agility, and great intelligence. Among other things, he knows when NOT to take this concerto too seriously.

Lingering weaknesses? Vibrato had a slight hitch (not always continuous through note changes), although that was very minor and not always present. I'm really nit-picking here. He seems to be much better at varying vibrato through a work than when I'd heard him last year. As an encore, he did the Meditation from Thais, and his sound was actually much simpler, more chaste for this than in the Paganini.

Another potential flaw from the career-building point of view: he doesn't seem to have a monstrous ego. Neither do my favorite younger musicians, but it's hard to imagine him doing the talk show circuit with abandon. Instead of coming out ready to bite the *** off a bear, he was as reserved as a lot of 15-year-olds, and seemed (while playing) to be not too impressed with himself. It was almost as though he had been awakened from a nap by his parents to recite all the state capitals for dinner guests, or something equally silly.

After the concerto, he returned to his seat in the second (!) stand and played the rest of the concert without incident.

Tone still not utterly glamorous-- the scuttlebutt in the hallway was that he still doesn't have a brand name instrument and that is probably a factor. He does NOT force, however, and his sound is really quite attractive.

Of note-- he has fairly slender hands and slim fingers. His fourth finger is also abnormally long. This may keep him from ever sounding like Isaac Stern (or Perlman), but his vibrato is nice and easy, and his intonation in high registers is more secure than Gil Shaham's. I've never seen anyone for whom the fingerboard was so short.

I still haven't heard his Mendelssohn recording when he allegedly had problems with tone, but I'd be prepared to chalk that up to too-close miking combined with an overly enthusiastic orchestral accompaniment. YPO is a fine youth orchestra-- one of the best. They aren't uniformly good at supporting a soloist, however.

Anyway, keep your eye out for this guy. He's really good and getting better.

[This message has been edited by Stephen (edited 06-13-2001).]

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