Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Had an absolutely fabulous experience playing viola with the San Juan Symphony this past weekend. Along with Beethoven's Creatures of Prometheus overture and the always incredible and powerful Shostakovich Symphony No. 5, we played the world premier of James Stephenson's Concerto for Hope with trumpet soloist Ryan Anthony.

As it turns out, my stand partner was Brian Newnam, who used to live in Los Alamos and knows my cousins the Tillerys! His wife Kate is a fine violinist as well.

Our guest conductor, Geoffry Robson, currently with the Arkansas Symphony, did a fine job, connecting with the orchestra and the audience alike.  

Friday, February 05, 2016

In Four and a Half Years: A New Viola and a New Quartet

Yes it's been that long since my last post and a lot has changed. Where to begin? Let me work backwards. One of the highlights of my musical life so far was to perform the Mozart Sinfonia Concertante for violin, viola and orchestra with David Felberg back in 2011. The concert was a smashing success with standing room only in Keller Hall at UNM, and a standing ovation. Wow - I still feel the glow from it all these years later.

At the time, I was playing on a carbon fiber viola by Luis and Clark. After that performance, and after some quartet performances with the Giovanni String Quartet, I heard from a couple of friends including violinist Roberta Arruda and violist Peter Gregory that the newfangled instrument just wasn't projecting. I found this odd because under the ear, this viola was very loud. I decided to do some tests between my 16-7/8" Honeycutt viola, the Luis and Clark, and a viola owned by David Felberg, a 16-3/8" Yoshikai. For the test, I set up some microphones in the loft of our house, and played the instruments from my usual practice location in the den. The idea was to see how they projected and "filled the room" rather than the direct sound.

The results were interesting. The Honeycutt was the clear winner, and the L&C and the Yoshikai were tied for second place. The problem I've always had with the Honeycutt is the size... it is just too big for me to play. Some larger violas have a shorter, thinner neck and a manageable string length, but this one is just big. Fantastic sound, though, as was evident in the recordings.

So for that summer (2014) I decided to stick with playing the Honeycutt despite the physical challenges. I performed the Bach Brandenburg Concerto No. 6 with Rebecca O'Boyle on viola 2, and the APO chamber orchestra behind us.

I sold the Luis and Clark and unfortunately took a beating on the price. It seems that the interest in these instruments has waned considerably in just a few years. Then in the fall, I contacted David Felberg again and asked to borrow his Yoshikai viola once more, but decided to re-string it and also have Justin Robertson look it over and possibly adjust the soundpost, along with touching up some of the dings on the beautiful instrument. The result was: I fell in love with this viola and decided to purchase it. With the new strings (Larson A, Obligato D and G, and Warchal Brilliant C), the projection was there. And being a smaller viola at 16-3/8" I've found it to be very playable. Besides that, it is just a gorgeous instrument.


Also in the fall of 2014, I was asked to join a new string quartet, since named the Petroglyph String Quartet. Members include Justin Pollak, Yakima Fernandez, Jayson Bishop and myself. Our first performance, in April of 2015 included the Beethoven Op. 18, No. 1, the Haydn "Lark", and the Brahms Quartet No. 1. HUGE program! Absolutely exhausting to perform, and thrilling at the same time. The Petroglyph recently put on our 2nd program on January 30th, with a program covering Mozart's K. 575 in D Major, Villa Lobos Quartet No. 1, and the Dvořák Quartet No. 10 in Eb. Once again, thrilling performance and wonderful audience response.

Coming up next in February, a performance with the San Juan Symphony including a world premier trumpet concerto by James Stephenson, the Beethoven "Creatures of Prometheus" overture, and the awesome Shostakovitch Symphony No. 5.

Tuesday, July 05, 2011

Mozart and Carbon Fiber

It's been an awfully long time since I've posted here, but the inspiration has struck once again! On July 30, I'll be performing one of the solo parts of Mozart's famous Sinfonia Concertante for violin and viola, K. 364 (or, K. 320d if you follow the revisionists). This has long been one of my favorite pieces of music and indeed, I've many times concluded that this is among Mozart's best works of all. David Felberg will handle the solo violin duties, and I'm really thrilled to be performing with David. No only is he a terrific musician and violinists, he and I have been friends since college at the University of Arizona in the late 1980s. And we're both from Albuquerque.

So here's the twist! Since December, I've been playing on a Luis and Clark carbon fiber viola. Their #34, to be exact. I purchased this instrument used, and have spent a fair amount of time and effort making it as good as it can be. I replaced the metal tailpiece with one of boxwood. I added my own chin rest - one that was made for me in the '80s by the Old World Violins shop in Albuquerque (it's long gone). The strings are now Warchal Brilliant A, G and C, and Obligato D. I will probably go with all Obligato, with a Warchal or Evah Pirazzi synthetic A at some point. Steel A strings don't tend to sound so great on this thing. Here are some photos, taken prior to the final tailpiece, chinrest and strings.

So, now that I've done all these things, how does it sound? In a word: spectacular. I've never played a viola that produces such a huge, penetrating sound with so little effort. It's loud. It is a tad bright sounding, and has a certain edge to the sound, especially up close. But from a distance, it is unmistakably a "viola sound" and just huge. I'm really enjoying that part of it - it is rare to play a viola, of any vintage or price, that can compete with the L & C in this regard.

It's also a conversation magnet, since it is so rare to see a stringed instrument that is A) black, B) really shiny, and C) up close it is clearly different than anything else. After just about every concert I've played in the past six months, people have approached me afterwards to ask about it.

So on July 30th, 2011, in Keller Hall at UNM, 7:30 PM, it will be a Luis and Clark carbon fiber viola along side a J. B. Vuillaume violin, in the hands of two Albuquerque natives, playing one of Mozart's best compositions. Accompanying us will be the Albuquerque Philharmonic Chamber Orchestra, under the direction of another Albuquerque native, Maestro David Chavez. Be there if you can, and let me know what you think of the new viola.


Sunday, November 29, 2009

Lo and Behold - Delta's response was an automated form letter

You probably already guessed that the response I received from Delta/Northwest Airlines was an automated "bot" form letter... something about the response was fishy, but I chalked it up to being a boiler plate letter with a few things in there to personalize it. So imagine my surprise when, after sending my counter-response, I received exactly the same letter again! Word for word. Clearly, no one is reading these letters at Delta/NWA Airlines. There is simply a computer that kicks out a "response" letter no matter what you write.

My next step is to try and find an actual address for them and send an actual letter. I don't know if it will do any good but I'm going to try. Wish me luck.

Related to this, I ran across this interesting post about Delta/Northwest:

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Delta Responds

I suppose it was partially due to the specter of having this episode exposed on a blog that finally got Delta to respond to my letter from a month ago. Here is there response and below it is my reply.


November 25, 2009

Dear Mr. Winkler,

Thank you for sharing your concerns regarding the service provided while traveling with us. On behalf of everyone at Delta Air Lines, I sincerely apologize for the stress and inconvenience you experienced.

I realize the inconvenience you were caused. We know travelers need an airline they can count on, and I recognize how upsetting it is when plans are disrupted. Feedback like you have provided will help us to improve our overall customer experience.

Our goal is to surpass our customer?s expectations every day. We appreciate your kind comments and will continue to work hard to provide superior service. Be assured we take our commitment to serving you veryseriously. Your feelings are important to us, and I have shared your comments with the responsible leadership team.

I regret the inconvenience you were caused with your checked baggage. Like you, we certainly wish that instances of mishandled bags never occurred. Please know I will be sharing your comments with our Airport Customer Service leadership team. Your feedback is valued and we thank you for taking the time to bring this disappointing experience to our attention.

While we would like to offer special consideration in cases such as yours, we are unable to honor the many requests that we receive from others in similar situations. We follow a consistent policy to ensure that Delta is fair to everyone who travels with us. Accordingly, we must respectfully decline your request. I am truly sorry to disappoint you, as I am sure this is not the answer you expected.

Mr. Winkler, your business is important to us and given the opportunity of serving you in the future, I am confident Delta will not only meet but exceed your expectations.


John M. Smith
Customer Care


My response:

November 25, 2009

Dear Mr. Smith,

Thank you for replying to my letter although I find it interesting that I did not hear from you earlier. Actually, this is approximately the response I expected. I think we are now well into the era when companies like yours do not take responsibility for your actions. I understand that you must have a policy on such matters and that you must be consistent. But if you are not taking steps towards ensuring that A) this kind of thing does not happen and B) if it does, your customers are taken care of, then you will continue to lose customers and ultimately you will go out of business.

I suspect that if you made the decision to properly compensate those that have been wronged in the way that I was, you would A) see the need to take concrete steps to avoid such costs in the first place and B) end up developing a more loyal customer base. It has been proven that customers are more loyal to a company when something goes wrong but the company "takes care of them" vs. when nothing goes wrong in the first place.

All of this, to me, is another example of why it is so critical that each merger or acquisition is carefully scrutinized before it is allowed to take place. Once companies, like Delta, become so large that there are few alternatives for their customers, they will act as Delta has acted in this case - without "doing the right thing". There are many things that you could learn from your competitors like Korean Air (trans-pacific) and Southwest Airlines (domestic). They "get it" from my point of view, and Delta does not. You are not alone. United is even worse, in my experience, and American is not far behind.


Karl Winkler

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

A month so far and still no reply.

I sent another note to Delta Airlines today to let them know that it has been a month since my original complaint and I still have not received a reply. I let them know that I plan to continue posting about it here until we reach a resolution, whatever that means.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Delta Northwest Airlines... No Response

Recently, I went to Japan on a business trip. On my return, I flew NWA/Delta from Tokyo to LAX Los Angeles, then had a connection from there back to Albuquerque. The flight from Tokyo Narita was delayed by 2.5 hours without any explanation, and thus I missed my connecting flight home and had to spend additional money and several hours of waiting at LAX. Below is the letter I sent to Delta/Northwest.

I used their web form to send the letter, and carefully filled in the flight number, ticket number, confirmation number, and all the other required details.

I have yet to receive a reply.

October 28, 2009
RE: NW Flight 2
Dear Delta/Northwest Airlines

Much about this flight was fine, including professional flight attendants, food, entertainment, and the flight itself, but I wanted to comment on some specific issues.

1. The flight was delayed in departing by 2.5 hours. This flight and one other Delta/NW flight were the only two on the entire board at Tokyo Narita that were delayed. No reason was given for the delay.

2. Several announcements were made that "if you miss your connecting flight in Los Angeles, please go to a Delta or Northwest customer service agent to be re-routed to your destination."

3. Despite having a planned 3-hour layover in LAX, I missed my connecting flight on another airline. Part of the reason for this, beyond arriving more than 2 hours late, was that baggage was very slow to be delivered to baggage claim. I waited quite some time for my bag. One thing to note is that bags went onto two separate carousels (one for Delta, one for Northwest) and this was not clear to the passengers, causing confusion and costing time.

4. Once I had my bag and cleared customs, I approached the Delta/NW ticket counter, as instructed, for help in getting home to Albuquerque. I was told that because my connecting flight was on another carrier, that I was out of luck. As mentioned above, the announcements about this did not state "IF your connecting flight is on Delta/NW...." only that we should go to the Delta/NW ticket counter if we missed our connections.

5. To get home, I had to pay a $116 up-charge with my carrier, and spend several extra hours at LAX. The receipt for this is available on request - I can email, fax or mail a copy if needed.

Although I'm sure you have a specific policy about this, I don't think this is right, and I don't think Delta/NW did a good job at all of communicating with me or other passengers. I am requesting to be reimbursed for this extra cost of $116. Not in a travel voucher, please. This was money out of my company's pocket.

Thank you for your time.


Karl Winkler