Widor Toccata String Duet!

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Roger has just completed an arrangement of the euphoric Widor Toccata string duet. This famous composition was originally for the organ and, by exemplifying all of that instrument’s specialist characteristics, it creates a mood of grandeur and manic energy. It’s often used as wedding ceremony music for the couple’s exit. Making it work for violin and cello is going to be a challenge, and as usual it’s technically demanding, but I can’t wait to try it at our next rehearsal.
widor toccata string duet

Learning to use Finale Print
Over the last few weeks I have finally worked out how to use Finale Print myself and have now completed four duet arrangements – Gabriel’s Oboe, Time of My Life, Jeannie with the Light Brown Hair and When I Make Love To You (Don’t Make Believe) – a 1950s pop song written by Heifetz under the name of Jim Hoyl, which I love because it’s so sentimental.

This means our repertoire is expanding faster than ever before. Have you ever wondered how many marvellous pieces of music there are in the world? There must be  as many as the stars…



Bach CD

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Next Monday I’m recording a Bach cd of his third  cello suite at Wadenhoe Church. The music is so happy in spirit that however fed up you may be feeling it usually has an uplifting effect. It’s in the uncomplicated key of  C major and has a certain virility and confidence  that makes it a joy to play, despite its technical challenges. You can link to our cd page here:
Bach cd
Baroque Music
I’m not an early music specialist but I’ve been reading musicologist Robert Donington’s book A Performer’s Guide to Baroque Music  which has some interesting things to say:

When  a virtuoso cellist conveys a sense of undue strain in Bach’s unaccompanied  suites by too massive a sonority and too heavy an articulation, this is not from any unsuitablity in his noble  instrument; it is because  he is applying a mental concept which, powerful and impressive though it may be, does not really lie within the baroque boundaries of style and is not really matched to the implications of the music.”

” The baroque performer was meant to set his stamp on the music. Reverence for the written text can be a virtue, but was no part of the baroque attitude. A text left deliberately incomplete was not meant to be exactly established but imaginatively realised. Options left open by the composer cannot be tied down to any exact intention: the intention was that they should remain the performer’s options.
Fab Mr Donington
Quoting  sentences out of context is a bit like the dodgy practice of manipulating phrases from the bible to make your point.  But one interesting aspect of the book is that Mr Donington believes that baroque performers were trained in a completely different way from modern performers and that improvisation in concerts and creatively altering music you were going to play was the norm. This must have given players a wonderful sense of freedom which would be hard to regain today. Perhaps the main point though is just to enjoy it. You can buy the book by clicking here:

Concert at Peterborough Town Hall

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Yesterday we gave a concert at Peterborough Town Hall – a 1930s building which has  an art deco feel and an impressive marble staircase and pillars.
Concert at Peterborough Town Hall
About the programme
The choice of programme  was classical and folk, and we played our own arrangements of Air on a G String, Fairest Isle, Vivaldi’s Gloria, Pachelbel’s Canon and Gigue, Flower Duet, Clarke’s Prince of Denmark’s March, Arrival of the Queen of Sheba, Londonderry Air, My Love Is Like A Red, Red Rose, Gabriel’s OboeThis Is The Day, Chanson de Matin, The Lark In The Clear Air and the aria One Fine Day from Puccini’s opera Madame Butterfly. The audience listened to our playing  intently  throughout and the acoustics were resonant and felt relaxed to play in. Many of the arrangements we performed can be bought at our online shop here:
Peterborough Town Hall 2

Cello Teaching Ideas

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One of the great advantages of You Tube is being able to see and hear other wonderful musicians play, which can inspire new cello teaching ideas. Recently I’ve found two stunningly good cellists who I love listening to: David Finckel and William Molina Cestari.
William Molina CestariCestari makes a beautiful sound, phrases expressively and has a touch of the hero from The Mask of Zorro about him. I especially like his performance of Beethoven’s Triple Concerto, which is one of my favourite pieces and has a fiendishly difficult cello part.

100 Short Cello Talks
David Finckel is the cellist in the Emmerson Quartet but gives a lot of solo recitals as well and you can see why, as both his playing and his rapport with his pianist wife are superb. He’s recently posted 100 short Cello Talks on You Tube.
These are particularly suitable for professionals and discuss the problems of concert hall projection and getting used to different acoustics, lighting and seating in a performance situation.But they’re also useful for students  and  give insight into a professional musician’s life – weird though it probably seems to be to the outside world.  Of course everyone’s approach is slightly different and what works for one person isn’t always effective for another. Nevertheless, if you’re a cellist these videos are well worth viewing.


Kirby Hall Videos

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We’ve just completed  Kirby Hall videos of our two new violin and cello duet arrangements – Boccherini’s Minuet and Trio and Gershwin’s Summertime. Staff at English Heritage were generous enough to allow us to use this magnificent building as a setting for the filming session and Kirby Hall is a building with great charisma.
Kirby Hall

Deciding on the best setting
We filmed the Boccherini outside in the ‘great garden’ which contains statues, topiary and urns – very appropriate for the classical period. Finding a backdrop for the Gershwin’s Summertime was more of a challenge: the song comes from the opera Porgy and Bess which is set in South Carolina and has a sultry blues feel – not at all English stately home. Eventually we decided on a sandy-coloured walkway with a gravel  floor which  evoked some of the character of the music.
Kirby Hall Videos

Lux Technical
Our film crew were the excellent Lux Technical who made our videos last year – one of which won an award on You Tube. Despite the professionalism of our film crew the whole occasion was quite  tough for us, as, like most people, neither Roger nor I are comfortable about being filmed close up. However, everything went well although it was a relief when it was over. You can see the end result here:

Kirby Hall website: www.english-heritage.org.uk/daysout/properties/kirbyhall

Lux technical website: www.luxtechnical.co.uk

Expressive string technique

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While driving to a rehearsal today  I was completely inspired by Heifetz’s expressive string technique when listening to a marvellous cd of his encore pieces, many of which were originally recorded in the 1940s. My favourite tracks were Jeanie with the Light Brown Hair and Deep River – both of which are full of intense, passionate slides. The cd includes Heifetz’s arrangement of White Christmas – the first time I have ever liked this song – and a recording of him playing a sentimental 1950s pop song on the piano that he wrote himself under the name of Jim Hoyl (see below) .

Piano or Strings?
As you can hear,Heifetz brings great warmth of tone to the piano – an instrument which I
think it is the best for just sitting down and enjoying playing music because it is so complete in itself.  What I miss on the piano though is the ability to slide, to crescendo on a note, or to do vibrato – all expressive string  technique that Heifetz uses superbly.
Anyway,  the Heifetz cd motivated me to write my own violin and cello duet arrangement of Jeanie with the Light Brown Hair which you can buy here:
Jeanie with the Light Brown Hair

Quartets at Burghley House Stamford

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Yesterday we played quartets at Burghley House Stamford. The architecture of  this Elizabethan stately home is extraordinary and as you drive through the grounds it is almost impossible not to stop the car and gaze in admiration!
Quartets at Burghley House Stamford

The programme
We played in the Great Hall and the minstrels’ gallery, and, as well are normally a duo,  were joined by two members of the excellent Bingham String Quartet – leader Steve Bingham and the violist Brenda Stewart. The programme included Mozart’s Divertimenti, Eine Kleine Nacht Musik and Alleluila, Handel’s Water Music and Vivaldi’s Seasons as well as other well known classical tunes plus songs from West Side Story, Les Miserables and Fiddler on the Roof.
Burghley House Stamford

The setting
This was an especially elegant  and impressive venue and it was a pleasure to play in such a spectacular setting.

Alexander Technique and string performance

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Last year I had some problems with repetitive strain injury and to help resolve these I took lessons in Alexander Technique and string performance. I found the lessons extremely helpful, and they have improved my playing and given me a greater feeling of security. One of the things that especially appeals to me is that Alexander Technique is not just about learning to be as effectively co-ordinated as possible, but  also about how your feelings affect the way you move.

Putting it into practice
The string duet parts  we perform have lots of beautiful cello tunes, so there will be plenty of opportunities to test new approaches out in a concert situation.But the easiest way to observe perfect co-ordination  in everyday life is simply to watch your dog or cat!
alexander technique and string performance


String Duet Concert in Leicester

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Yesterday we gave a string duet concert in Leicester at All Saints Church. The programme was mainly baroque music and included our own arrangements of  Clarke’s Prince of Denmark’s March, Corelli’s  Violin Sonata No 1, Handel’s Arrival of the Queen of Sheba, Purcell’s Fairest Isle  (one of my favourites at the moment), some of Bach’s two part inventions,  Pachelbel’s Canon and Vivaldi’s Gloria.

string duet concert in leicester


Audience Members
After the concert we  chatted to Father Martin who had been a   professional cellist before he joined the church and had taught at the Menhuin School. This was an occasion where you are suddenly alarmingly aware that some of your audience have been  extremely knowledgeable – but Father Martin was very generous and we came away with happy memories of the event.
To buy our baroque sheet music arrangements click here: https://www.fedorastrings.com/product-category/baroque/


Baroque Sheet Music for String Duet

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Roger is busy working on new baroque sheet music for string duet at the moment. We feel strongly that many of the  pieces suitable for wedding ceremonies are not usually performed, and it’s these which we’re intending pioneering. We now have our own versions of Vivaldi’s Gloria, Charpentier’s Te Deum, some movements from a Corelli violin sonata, Jeannie with the Light Brown Hair and Lark in The Clear Air; and more music is underway. My own commitment to this has been to promise to work out how to use Finale Print ( a computerised music notation system), so that I can arrange music myself. .Our other motive is that we love the music and are desperate to play it!