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"I have been a music teacher and performer for over 35 years. Studying with Uli
has been one the most gratifying and enriching musical experiences I have ever had."
"Uli is by far the best music instructor my daughter has ever had"

"I am so surprised by how much I was able to improve my playing. You're a great teacher!"
"Thank you for two wonderful years of music. You're a fantastically eccentric human and I feel honored to know you."
                 Click "My Endorsem​ents" to see more of what students and parents have to say about me

Private Music Teacher in Elmhurst, Illinois

(Violin, Viola, Cello, Piano, Recorder, Theory, Ear Training)

COVID-19 Notice: I teach at my home. My music room is equipped not only with 

a Fazioli grand piano, but also with four top-quality air purifiers. I wear a mask

when I teach, and I ask that students, parents, and visitors do the same.

I want to help you open up the world of music, whoever you are, and regardless of your age, talent, or ability. I have deep musical knowledge and experience, but what makes me unique is my enthusiasm, my sense of humor, my love of teaching, and my wide range of teaching styles and approaches.

 

And with degrees from Brown and Yale Law School, 15 years of teaching at the University of Chicago, and decades of legal practice, I have a broad perspective from which to relate to my students on matters both within and beyond music. 

My ideal student is anyone who loves music, is curious about it, and wants to learn more. I'm delighted to coach a professional or help an advanced student master a difficult new piece. But it makes me just as happy to see a beginner -- whether 7 or 70 years old -- glowing with pride when getting that first beautiful sound out of a violin or that first melody out of a piano.

Violin, Viola, and Piano Teacher in Elmhurst, Illinois

COVID-19 Notice: I teach at my home. My music room is equipped not only with 

a Fazioli grand piano, but also with four top-quality air purifiers. I always wear

a mask when I teach, and I ask that students, parents, and visitors do the same.

I want to help you open up the world of music, whoever you are, and regardless of your age, talent, or ability. I have deep musical knowledge and experience, but what makes me unique is my enthusiasm, my sense of humor, my love of teaching, and my wide range of teaching styles and approaches.

 

And with degrees from Brown and Yale Law School, 15 years of teaching at the University of Chicago, and decades of legal practice, I have a broad perspective from which to relate to my students on matters both within and beyond music. 

My ideal student is anyone who loves music, is curious about it, and wants to learn more. I'm delighted to coach a professional or help an advanced student master a difficult new piece. But it makes me just as happy to see a beginner -- whether 7 or 70 years old -- glowing with pride when getting that first beautiful sound out of a violin or that first melody out of a piano.

Uli Widmaier March 1 2020.PNG

This is a screenshot from a March 1, 2020 video where I play Mozart's Sinfonia Concertante. Here's a link to the video.

About Me

About Me

Learn about my musical and life journey. I've had amazing experiences in a musical world that is largely gone, and they're a big part of what I want to pass on to my students. Read what students and parents have said about me, and watch some of my performances.

My Students

My students profit from their musical training across the board, developing analytic and self-management skills, discipline, long-term perspective, and more. Here you can learn about some of their accomplishments. You can also look at some of the materials that I use in my teaching, many of them created by me and made available here for free.

About Me

Fazioli%20308_edited.jpg

My Story

At 10 ft. 1 in., the Fazioli 308 is the largest -- and most expensive! -- grand piano made today. Its power and characteristic clarity make it much beloved by jazz musicians. The great jazz pianist Herbie Hancock owns one.

I'll tell my story in two versions: a short version and a (very) long one.

   -  My Story (short version):

I received my musical training in Germany. I studied violin performance at the University of  Music and Performing Arts in Munich, and I attended many master classes with eminent violinists, including Nathan Milstein, Henryk Szeryng, and Ruggiero Ricci.

I came to the United States in 1986 to attend Brown University, where I was the concertmaster of the Brown University Orchestra for all four years I attended Brown. I graduated from Brown in 1990 with a B.A. and M.A. in English Literature. I obtained my J.D. from Yale Law School in 1994. From that time through 2016 I worked as an attorney in Chicago, and from 2002 to 2016 I held an appointment as Lecturer in Law at the University of Chicago Law School and taught over twenty courses there. My two daughters studied piano, violin, and viola with me from age five to age 17. Both were highly successful in their musical endeavors.

Starting in 2017, I returned full-time to a life of music. I am principal violist and violinists in three Chicagoland orchestras, I give frequent solo and chamber music performances, and I maintain a substantial teaching studio, focusing on violin, viola, piano, and music theory. 

   -  My Story (long version):

I grew up in in Germany, and that's where I received my first musical impressions. One of my most vivid childhood memories is of my parents -- both excellent amateur pianists -- playing Bach's last composition, the monumental Art of the Fugue, in a transcription for four-hand piano. And they always got stuck at the same places!

I studied violin with Antonio Mingotti, himself a student of famed violin pedagogue Otakar Sevcik, and later with Prof. Kurt-Christian Stier at the University of Music and Performing Arts in Munich. Master classes with violin virtuosos Nathan Milstein in Zurich (1983, 1987) , Henryk Szeryng in Geneva (1980, 1982, 1984), and Ruggiero Ricci in Baden-Baden (1983) were among my formative musical experiences.

Interlude: Stories from my Violin Master Classes

Not that these violin legends were necessarily great teachers. But we didn't pilgrimage to their master classes just to be taught how to play better scales in thirds, or get cool fingerings for a Paganini Caprice. We went for the experience of simply seeing the masters up close. There were unforgettable moments. Here are a few:

  • We went to a pub with Ricci (who had the most brilliant technique of them all), where he proceeded to show how he could drink beer and play the violin (a Guarneri worth millions of dollars) at the same time! At heart, I think Ricci was almost more a fiddler than a classical violin player. In the pub there was a talented guitar player from Eastern Europe, and he and Ricci spent an hour improvising on traditional Eastern melodies. It was awesome!

  • Ricci was not, musically speaking, quite on the same level as Milstein, Szeryng, or Oistrakh. He could be quite musically undisciplined, and he never cared to cultivate a radiant tone. [Historical side note: in his relative lack of interest in tonal gorgeousness, Ricci was a throwback to the 19th century, where people cared more about transcendent technical skills and focused less on tone -- as we know from recordings of artists who came of age in the 1800s. Some of them, like the soprano Nellie Melba and the violinist Eugene Ysaye, have a tone that is shockingly thin and unappealing to our modern ears -- and that's not due to recording technology! The foregrounding of tone, often veering into a fetishization of tone, started with the arrival of recording technology and the artist who, more than any other, helped popularize it: the tenor Enrico Caruso, whose golden voice recorded extremely well on the early equipment. His first "hit" recording dates to 1902! From Caruso and his female counterpart, the soprano Rosa Ponselle, runs a direct path to the violinist Fritz Kreisler, the dominant violinist of the first  half of the 20th century. Kreisler's absurdly beautiful and compelling tone made tonal beauty de rigeur for all violinists. Ricci is one of the very few great violinists who resisted the reigning tonal dogma. Another is the greatest violinist of our day, Hilary Hahn, who never foregrounds her (excellent) tone, never lets it take center stage, always subordinates it to her artistic purpose.]  But in his own special way, he was perhaps the most musically authentic violinist I ever witnessed. There was an honesty about his playing, a complete lack of pretense. One of my strongest musical impressions remains his rendition at the master class of Chopin's Nocturne in C# Minor, written originally for the piano and transcribed for the violin by Nathan Milstein (about whom more below). It had a simplicity and nakedness and rawness and depth that haunts me to this day. This recording may give you a sense of what I'm talking about.

  • Milstein was a violin genius, but his explanations consisted mostly of saying, "don't worry about it, just play," and then demonstrating impossibly difficult passages with total ease and perfection, and always with that special Milsteinian grandeur. Was it instructive? Not in any conventional sense. More in the way that contemplating the Grand Canyon or the Tetons is instructive. One stands, marveling, before the Absolute.

  • Milstein was harshly (sometimes brutally!) critical of almost every student's Bach playing, mainly because I believe for Milstein Bach was sacred. When a student -- a brilliant player -- set out to play the perhaps most spiritual of Bach's violin pieces, the Adagio from the C Major Sonata, we all sensed it wasn't going to go over well with Milstein. This piece is above all simple and needs to unfold on its own, and the student was interposing himself all over the place with inappropriate "expressivness." 30 seconds in, it was over. Milstein, furious at the student's immodesty, told him to stop, ripped his violin (the famous "Maria Teresa" Stradivari, today also known as the "Ex-Milstein") out of the case, slammed it on his shoulder, and without any transition began to play. It was magical. Milstein's angry energy went straight into the music. But as grandeur, not as anger. A sound arose that seemed to conjure up the majesty and space and stillness of an old Cathedral, like Chartres or Notre Dame. The miracle lasted not above 10 seconds. Milstein, a modest person not given to self-presentation, put his fiddle down, said, "that's how you play this" (he meant in terms of attitude), and called the next student. 

  • On the flipside, when a student got done playing that beautiful soft D Major passage in the middle of the Chaconne (the last movement of Bach's D Minor Partita), Milstein stopped him and said, "Sir, are you a religious person? The way you played this, I thought you might be." That was the highest compliment to a person's musical integrity I've ever heard.

  • Szeryng's approach was quite different. He would demonstrate often and at length. For instance, he followed a student's uneven performance of the opening passages of the Beethoven Concerto by simply picking up his Guarneri, playing the same passages with unfathomable mastership, and then saying, "that is how I [with emphasis] interpret the opening of the Beethoven Violin Concerto." It wasn't exactly teaching, but it was a divine moment nevertheless. The student took it with equanimity.

  • Szeryng's combination of greatness, generosity, and a gentle approach to correction (you got played at rather than yelled at) had the odd effect on us students of making us feel quite uncompetitive with one another. He was so infinitely better than any of us that we all felt more or less equal before the master. Only once, in 1984, did something noticeably different happen. A young American boy -- he was actually 16 but seemed three years younger -- joined the master class, closely supervised by his parents. We didn't know who he was. The first piece he played in class was Mozart's Concerto in G. We looked at each other, mouths agape. Here was a great violinist, a great artist, not (yet) quite at Szeryng's level to be sure, but also not obviously below him like the rest of us. Well, that boy was Joshua Bell, who became one of today's greatest violinists. Szeryng, to his credit, did not cater to him at all but simply treated him with the same combination of gentleness, respect, and clarity as he did the rest of us.

  • Szeryng was fluent in at least seven languages (Polish, Russian, English, German, French, Italian, Spanish), but perfection sometimes eluded him. He insisted on absolute silence during the master class sessions, and he would often ask in French (we were in Geneva, after all) for "un peu de silence, s'il vous plait," only to repeat the request in English: "could we have a piece of quiet, please." I held him in such awe that for years afterwards I thought that this was correct English!

  • Szeryng had a huge tone. Probably the most powerful tone in all of violin playing. It came at you with tremendous radiance, like a laser beam. Well, every time he arrived in Geneva for the 3-week master class, he gave his violin, the great "Leduc" Guarneri (a picture of it is further down on this web site) to the excellent local luthier, Pierre Vidoudez, for cleaning and general maintenance. That took about two weeks. During that time, he played on an excellent 19th century Vuillaume. But his tone really maxed out the violin. When he turned it up, you sort of felt bad for the poor fiddle -- it seemed to burst at the seams. And then he'd get his Guarneri back. To say "what a difference!" doesn't quite capture it. We're talking different universes. The Guarneri sat there on Szeryng's shoulder quite unperturbed, and it seemed to provide him with infinite space, like a vast canvas on which he could paint his tonal pictures. Everything he put into it, the Guarneri would instantly translate into an enveloping sound of incomparable sweetness, spaciousness, and transparency -- while seeming to keep infinite reserves. It was eerie, like the laws of physics were being defied. You can get a bit of a sense of what I'm talking about from this recording, from around 4:00 to around 5:30. 

I came of age in the 1970s, a golden age of piano playing. During concert season, I went almost every week to hear pianists who set standards of musical and technical excellence unsurpassed to this day (to be honest, almost no one today gets even close). I always bought standing room tickets, but I almost always sat first or second row center. How? Well, I got to know the season ticket holders really well. They were all friends with each other, and they told me which of them wouldn't show up that night, so that's the seat I took. Worked like a charm!

 

Interlude: The Golden Age of Piano Playing

Here are some of the pianists I grew up hearing live, most of them many times, with links to videos of them that I especially love. Check them out, even if you're not a pianist! There's some great stuff here.

Temperament, drive, ferocity, but always presented with dignity and a sense of proportion -- and the most sumptuous sound in all of piano playing. I heard him live once, in Strasbourg in 1973. I was 11. I remember an incredibly full sound, and a small man with a remarkably large head. For many decades afterwards, I associated Liszt's Mephisto Waltz, which concluded Rubinstein's recital, with that very special sound.

For a video of Rubinstein, I selected his rendition of Chopin's Ab Major Polonaise at a 1964 recital in Moscow. No one, other than Vladimir Horowitz, equals Rubinstein in this glorious and enormously difficult piece. Notice the combination of temperament, abandon, rhythmic drive, and heroic dignity. 

I often watch this video. The greatest of all pianists, a person of frightening passion and despair and inner conflict -- yet at the end of a long and tortured life he has found peace and something like happiness, and he shares his journey with us. I am very lucky to have heard Horowitz live five times: in New York in 1987 and 1980, London 1982, Paris 1985, and Hamburg 1986. I have many powerful memories. One is from the first seconds of the 1978 recital, the opening of Chopin's Barcarolle. I felt that in those bars Horowitz summed up the entire history of piano playing from Liszt to our time. The resonances of meaning that he evoked were uncanny. Two more vignettes: In Paris in 1985, he played the end of Scriabin's D sharp Minor Etude op. 8 no. 12 in a fortissimo so incomprehensibly dark and powerful that I thought the hall must burst. And he was 82 at the time -- a little old man with sloping shoulders! I later learned that the great Polish pianist Krystian Zimerman -- who was in the audience -- used to discuss that moment at his master classes. And in Hamburg in 1986, when I got up from my chair at intermission, an older man was standing there shaking his head and muttering to himself, "it's not possible, it's not possible." I asked him what was not possible. He said Horowitz's pedaling of a certain section of Schumann's Kreisleriana was simply superhuman. "And I should know!," he added. "I'm a professional pianist myself!" 

For a video of Horowitz, I selected his rendition of Schubert's Gb Major Impromptu at a 1987 recital in Vienna. In my opinion, this recital -- all of which was recorded and videotaped in Austrian television -- is the greatest complete recorded live performance of any pianist. Horowitz's interpretation of the Schubert is totally unique in its colorations and shadings, its atmosphere of Viennese charm intermingled with deep melancholy and bitterness, and its virtually motionless delivery which contrasts strangely with the extreme expressiveness of the playing. 

A giant of a man, he seemed to swallow the piano whole when he sat down. I heard him often in Munich and other cities in South Germany. I particularly remember his Chopin's F Minor Ballade in Tuebingen in 1978. The piano seemed to shrink under his hands to toy proportions. You seemed to experience the music from a bird's eye perspective, so complete was his architectural sense.

For a video of Richter, I selected his rendition of Schubert's early A Major Sonata. Richter loved Schubert, and by focusing his overwhelming physical and mental strength Schubert's seeming sweetness, he discovers the music's hidden abysses. Richter's playing is notably slow, but his artistic conception is so strong that the piece maintains its architectural integrity.

Arrau devoted his art to submission to the composer's will. ​I believe this helped him manage a flamboyant temper. The result was objectivity, insight, sublimated energy, mastership. In an Arrau recital you could relax. You knew you were getting pure music. He came to Munich every year during the time I lived there, so Arrau recitals were an annual pilgrimage. His tone, warm and grand, seemed to bathe the hall in a coppery light. I remember marveling at the perfect shape and structure of the sound emanating from the piano.

For a video of Arrau, I selected his  rendition of Beethoven's two most famous piano sonatas: op 53, the Waldstein Sonata, and op. 57, the Appassionata. These sonatas were mainstays of Arrau's repertoire, and he played them with unequaled drama, integrity, and analytic penetration.

Kempff was like a great British actor. He played Beethoven the way an Ian McKellen might play Hamlet -- performance, analysis, comprehension, knowledge, experience, and wisdom merge into a greater whole. You walked out enriched. He lived near Munich and often played there. Where Arrau's sound was massive and golden, Kempff's was light and silvery. Yet his musical conceptions, always delivered with lightness and a dash of humor, were, how should I say, gigantic in a spiritual sense. Kempff gave me two of my greatest musical memories. Without any thundering or histrionics, Kempff played the development section of the first movement of Schubert's Major Sonata D664 as an earth-shattering breakdown of the innocent beauty of the opening melody. And an encore he played in 1978, the F# Major Romance by Schumann, had such breath and spaciousness that the entire concert hall seemed to levitate. 

For a video of Kempff, I selected his rendition of Beethoven's Sonata op. 106, the Hammerklavier Sonata. It is the longest and most difficult -- both technically and musically -- of all of Beethoven's 32 piano sonatas. I think it is the most musically difficult piece in the entire piano repertoire, so vast are its architectural and emotional dimensions. The heart of this sonata is its slow movement, which eerily anticipates the music of Chopin and beyond. In this movement, Kempff simply has no equal. He sees more deeply, understands more wisely, and lets the music unfold more freely, than anyone else. This is one of the greatest interpretive achievements in all of recorded music. The slow movement starts at 11:38.

There is something​ deeply ethical about Serkin's playing. Such love, such devotion to the music, such honesty and pure intensity, such modesty and disdain for showmanship. Some young superstars would do well to consider Serkin's art. He communicated his personality, warm, generous, consumed with love for music and conviction of music's importance, directly to the audience. I was very lucky to be part of a dinner invitation with Serkin once. He was sweet and modest, and kind enough to ask me about my violin studies. A wonderfully genuine, unfiltered artist and person!

For a video of Serkin, I selected his 1987 rendition of Beethoven's op. 109, 110, and 111, his last three piano sonatas. Together with Beethoven's op. 106 (see Kempff entry, above), they pose the ultimate test of a pianist's technical, musical, and personal strength and depth. Serkin rises to the occasion with a profoundly moving performance that vividly shows his absolute integrity and devotion to music.

A great virtuoso with a spectacular technique​ and, with Rubinstein, the most beautiful piano tone of all of them, he sought to put everything he had in service of the music. You can see the intensity of his labor. I heard him only once, in the early 1980s. Other than in Horowitz recitals, I never heard such roaring, soaring bass notes. My most vivid memory is of the Finale from Schumann's Symphonic Etudes. The restraint and discipline he imposed on himself in his later career slipped a bit, and the young super virtuoso peeked out. It was spectacular!

For a video of Gilels, I selected his rendition of Schumann's piano concerto. Gilels's interpretation of this piece is unique in its beauty and noblesse. 

No one had Michelangeli's smoothness, elasticity of musical line, absolute evenness and clarity. Like polished marble. Like a Michelangelo statue! You sat in his concerts filled with gratitude that such perfection existed. The first time I heard him, I could not believe that the piano was capable of such a legato. He was quite moody. When he was not satisfied with his playing, he could treat the audience with visible disdain. But fortunately, he played in Munich every year, so there was always hope. Once, in September 1978, he was in spectacular form. We all felt, Michelangeli included, that this was an inspired evening. Our ovations led him to play no fewer than eight encores. It went on so long that they started turning the hall lights off. And still he played, concluding -- in half darkness -- with an impossibly atmospheric rendition of Debussy's Cathedrale Engloutie, the sound both roaring and utterly controlled.

For a video of Michelangeli, I selected his studio performance of Chopin's Grande Polonaise Brilliante in Eb Major. This is a fun, virtuosic piece with no pretensions of depth. Michelangeli plays the humor and sheer abandon of this lovely piece. But he does more. He reaches a genuine endpoint of pianistic perfection. Underneath the fun you can hear the utter seriousness of a pianist who came closer to perfection than any other before or since. I cannot fathom what discipline and suffering it must have taken him to achieve the degree of mastership displayed here. This video is a remarkable document, and I often listen to it just to be in the presence of absolute standards.

A late bloomer, equipped with a merely decent tone and technique, ​Brendel became one of the all-time great pianists through his intelligence and interpretive insight. And a wonderfully puckish sense of humor! My favorite Brendel memory is actually from a 1983 recital at Carnegie Hall in New York, where he played Beethoven's Sonata alla Tedesca op. 79 with a bone-dry humor that almost made one want to laugh out loud. 

For a video of Brendel, I chose a program entirely of Schubert piano sonatas, concluding with the sonata in Bb Major, one of the most beautiful compositions for any instrument. Brendel's achievement here is stunning. He lets the beauty and emotional immensity of the music emerge not by emphasizing emotion and aesthetic appeal, but by a radical focus on the musical text. This has the effect of liberating the audience from distracting intrusions by the performer, and instead allows us simply to listen to the music itself. The effect is powerful. You find yourself genuinely engaging with Schubert, without distractions. 

He stormed onto the scene in the 1970s with technical brilliance, musical honesty, and an analytic-modernist sensibility. His devotion to musical objectivity was -- and is -- similar to Arrau's and Serkin's. At one of his recitals in the 70s, I had the best seat in the house -- on the podium, feet away from the keyboard, with no one in between and perfect view of his hands. He played Schumann's C Major Fantasy op. 17 and Chopin's Bb Minor Sonata op. 35, both with his incomparable combination of Michelangeli-like technique, Arrau-like devotion to the text, and his very own honesty and deep care for musical authenticity. It was a musical and pianistic feast. And after all this, several difficult Chopin encores, concluding with the monumental A Minor Etude op. 25 No. 11, which he played better than probably anyone on the planet since that time. 

For a video of Pollini, I chose his rendition of the Nocturne op. 27 no. 2 by Chopin. To me, this interpretation sums up what Pollini stands for: a burning will for integrity, an almost existential drive to serve the musical text and put all of his (huge!) intellectual and technical resources in service of the text. And interestingly, the texts upon which Pollini bestows this immense attention are very often the works of Chopin. Many pianists play Chopin grandly, excitingly, compellingly. I believe Pollini takes the tetx of Chopin's music more seriously than any other pianist. He never treats the music as a vehicle for technical or emotional display. This short video shows the essence of Pollini's approach.

The mercurial genius of the piano from her rise in the 1960s to today. Wonderfully modest and self-effacing as a person, she is the last living true piano virtuoso in the tradition of Hofmann, Horowitz, and Lhevinne. ​Today she has no equal. I heard her twice in quick succession: at the dress rehearsal and the concert of her playing the Tchaikovsky Concerto under the baton of the excellent Kirill Kondrashin. Everyone, orchestra musicians and audience alike, fell under her spell. To this day, there are moments in her rendition of that Concerto that I cannot forget. Walking to the piano and playing ridiculously intricate things on it seemed for Argerich equally easy. Only violinist Nathan Milstein was Argerich's equal in terms of the naturalness with which she related to her instrument.

For a video of Argerich, I chose her 1977 rendition of the Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto. Vladimir Horowitz "owned" this piece in the first half on the 20th century. Since the 1970s, it belongs to Martha Argerich. Here you can see and hear why. The  great music critic Joachim Kaiser (more on him below) once said to me, "compared to Argerich's Tchaikovsky, all the others sound like flies stuck in honey." 

I learned immeasurably from my decades-long friendship with musicologist and literary critic Joachim Kaiser, one of Germany's leading public intellectuals from the 1950s to his death in 2017. Above all, Kaiser taught me the trenchant analysis and uncompromising standards that he believed should be applied to all things musical. From his teacher, philosopher and cultural theorist Theodor W. Adorno, Kaiser learned the existential importance of music and art -- not amusement or entertainment or diversion, but an activity of deepest ethical and political and human significance. Music really matters! That notion suffused all of Kaiser's work, and it's the central notion he passed on to me. I also learned from Kaiser that underlying even the most sophisticated interpretation and analysis of music has to be the sheer love of music, and a burning desire to engage with it. 

Interlude: The Man Who Knew Everybody

In the early 1980s, I met an older gentleman by the name of Edwin Bachmann, who was visiting Munich to sell some rare books he owned. He was a violinist, taught at the Curtis Institute, and served for many years as principal second violinist in the NBC Symphony Orchestra under Arturo Toscanini (1867-1957). Toscanini was by far America's most important classical musician and an absolute world superstar. In this video you can see Toscanini in action, with Bachmann to his immediate right. Toscanini and Bachmann were quite  close, and Bachmann visited him often. Apparently, he was not a lot nicer as a person than as a conductor (check out the recording -- he's genuinely scary!). 

 

In May 1983 I had the privilege of meeting Bachmann in his New York apartment on the Upper East Side, just a block or two from the Metropolitan Museum. It was perhaps the most fascinating single hour of my life. Bachmann knew everybody. He told me about playing chamber music with violinist Mischa Elman, who in my opinion had the most voluptuously gorgeous tone of all of them. And, Bachmann believed, the most perfect intonation. The Saturday before my visit, he'd had the Horowitzes -- Vladimir and his wife, the famous Wanda Toscanini Horowitz, the conductor's daughter, a prodigiously talented woman who put everything she had into fostering her husband's career -- over for coffee (they lived nearby). The previous February, Jascha Heifetz -- generally acknowledged to be the greatest violinist in the history of the instrument -- had visited Bachmann from Los Angeles, and they spent time together trying out violins. Jascha Heifetz! I couldn't believe it!

 

But there's more. Bachmann, it turns out, regularly played string quartet with Albert Einstein (yes, that Einstein). Bachmann said Einstein was a passionate but not very good violinist. He played out of tune and wasn't great at counting (!). I asked Bachmann whether he ever got a glimpse of Einstein's mental powers. Only once, he replied. Here's what happened. They were meeting at Princeton to rehearse (Einstein worked at the Advanced Institute there), and Einstein was late. The room they'd been assigned was much too small. They could barely get the four chairs and music stands into it, but there was no room for the people. Then Einstein shows up. He takes one look at the room, arranges the chairs and stands, and poof, everybody has plenty of space! 

 

Upon moving to the United States in 1986, I became concertmaster of the Brown University Orchestra, a position I held for all four years I attended Brown, and won several music awards. After graduating from Brown and Yale Law School, I worked as an attorney in private practice for 23 years, and for fifteen of those years I served as an adjunct professor at the University of Chicago Law School. I also taught my two daughters piano, violin, and viola, and continued to perform on the violin and viola.
 

At the end of 2016, I decided to go back to my first love, and once again became a full-time musician. Since then, I've studied with viola virtuoso Elias Goldstein, as well as with Charlie Pikler, who for over 30 years was principal violist of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. I'm principal violist of several Chicagoland orchestras: the Symphony of Oak Park & River Forest, the Northwest Symphony Orchestra, and the Salt Creek Chamber Orchestra. Usually, I have a busy schedule as a soloist and chamber musician, though that's all on hold at the moment (April 2020). But what I love most is teaching, and I'm delighted and incredibly grateful that thanks to Zoom and related technologies, I can fully continue all of my teaching activities!

We live in a new golden age of violin and bow making. The first golden age came to an end approximately with the death in 1762 of Pietro Guarneri of Venice, Italy. What followed were nearly 250 years of mediocrity (that's not quite fair, but also not totally wrong). But in the last 30 years or so, things changed. Revolutionary technological developments have led to a burst of creativity among modern luthiers and bow makers. Today's luthiers make instruments that equal and sometimes surpass many of the works of the Old Masters -- and at dramatically more realistic prices. Yes, the 1743 Guarneri del Gesu violin that I had the privilege of playing recently at the renowned Chicago violin dealership Bein & Fushi is the greatest musical instrument I've ever interacted with. But at an asking price far in excess of $10 million, no ordinary mortal can remotely afford to buy it. So I sold my 1756 Italian violin and my fancy French bow. Today I play modern instruments and bows that are better than anything I've ever owned before: a 2015 violin by German luthier Martin Schleske, a 2014 viola by Vermont luthier Douglas C. Cox, and several bows by Indiana bow maker Michael F. Duff.

My Story

My Endorsements

William Riddle, professional drummer and keyboard player,

Performing Arts Department Chair (retired),York High School, Elmhurst, IL:

Would you walk 2 miles across town to your piano lesson in the dead of winter? On an unusually cold day last February (when my wife had the car) I did just that! There was no way I was going to miss my piano lesson with Uli! I have been a music teacher and performer for over 35 years and have taken thousands of music lessons myself from dozens of teachers over the course of my life, and I truly feel that the past two years of studying piano with Uli has been one the most gratifying and enriching musical experiences I have ever had.

What do you remember about the teachers in your life that have had the greatest impact on you? Was it the way they beamed with excitement when they taught? Was it the connection they made with you when you felt that they really took the time to know who you were and what made you tick or was it the higher expectations they had for you than you had for yourself?

I began studying with Uli to improve my piano technique but from the very beginning our lessons were not only about uncovering the endless technical aspects of playing the piano, but also about discovering the beauty and sheer joy of playing a piece by Bach or Chopin to the very best of my ability...most often beyond the ability I thought I had.

 

Most importantly Uli’s unique gift as a teacher has been to help me to uncover a new musical potential in myself which was surprising to me considering I have been teaching and studying music for the better part of 60 years!

Anne Olson, Music Teacher/Chorus Director, Sandling Junior High School, Palatine, IL,

and mother of high school viola student:

Uli Widmaier is an extremely knowledgeable and passionate teacher. Not only is he a talented performer, he is an excellent communicator. He is able to explain how to achieve a beautiful sound with clarity and encouragement. His teaching goes beyond the actual lesson time. He follows up with written feedback and videos to support what was taught in the lesson. My daughter's playing has flourished under his instruction and she looks forward to her lessons each week.

 

Leah Gleason, mother of high school viola student:

Uli is by far the best music instructor (and all around nice person) that my daughter has ever had. He's a talented musician who has the ability to connect to his students and bring out their very best performances. Highly recommend!

 

Maddie Fine, violist and student at York High School:

Private viola lessons with Mr. Widmaier have taught me so much. I am currently a sophomore at York High School and I am the viola section leader in York's concert orchestra. During our time together, I have learned tons of theory, scales, and new pieces during our lessons and it has made me truly excited to practice and excel on my instrument. Mr. Widmaier is very knowledgeable, understanding, and personable, and I wholeheartedly encourage everyone to experience enriching private lessons with Mr. Widmaier. I feel that I have become a much more mature player under Mr. Widmaier's tutelage, and I look forward to lessons every week!

Claire Fine, violinist and student at York High School:

During my time working with Mr. Widmaier I have learned so much more about music, and what I am capable of as a musician. Mr. Widmaier is very dedicated to each of his students, and I feel that he is truly set out to making each one the best they can be. I have learned in-depth about music theory and music history, along with studying many new pieces of music, which I truly enjoy playing. I thoroughly recommend Mr. Widmaier as a music teacher, as he is very enriching, hardworking, and knowledgeable about music. He is not only a great music teacher, but is personable and cares deeply about each of his students. 

Diana Fine, mother of Maddie and Claire:

Mr Widmaier has been a most enthusiastic, knowledgeable, and dedicated teacher to my children. I can most definitely attest to his effectiveness in engaging and bringing out the best in his students. We feel fortunate to have his instruction!

Laly Herculano, violist and student at York High School:

Thank you for being my teacher! You always have faith in me & you're able to challenge me  (for the best). I also never would've thought I'd be doing as many shifts as I currently am. (Crazy!!!) I am so surprised at how much I was able to improve my playing. You're a great teacher!

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The Sonata op. 110 in Ab Major by Ludwig van Beethoven is one of my favorite piano pieces. Beethoven wrote it late in life, and its mood is reflective, serene, and wise. This excerpt, from the beginning of the first movement, is from the 1822 first edition.

My Endorsements
My Performances

My Performances

February 2021 Performance of Bach's Cello Suite in G Major, BWV 1007, transcribed for viola, for an online event of the Symphony of Oak Park and River Forest.

February 2021 Performance of Mozart's Duo for Violin and Viola in G Major, K 423 for an online event of the Symphony of Oak Park and River Forest (with our concertmaster John Gerson, violin).

July 8, 2020 Performance of Bach's Chaconne for an online event of the Symphony of Oak Park and River Forest.

March 1, 2020 Performance of Mozart's Sinfonia Concertante for violin, viola, and orchestra with the Symphony of Oak Park and River Forest under the direction of Maurice Boyer. The violin soloist is our wonderful concertmaster, John Gerson.

November 10, 2019 Performance of the Bruch Romance for viola and orchestra with the Salt Creek Chamber Orchestra under the direction of Tim Semanik

March 24, 2018 Lecture-Recital on Bach's works for solo cello and solo violin, at the Bethel United Church of Christ in Elmhurst. All music performed on the viola.

     My Presentations

My Presentations

I love giving presentations about classical music. Here are some Zoom presentations I've given since the beginning of the Covid era

Classical Music 101

Student Accomplishments

I love my students! They're such amazing people! Many of them have pursued, or are about to pursue, careers ranging from music to engineering, psychology, computer science, education, IT, and philosophy. All of them consider music an indispensable part of their lives. Quite a few have told me that their musical training has made them better problem solvers and creative thinkers across the board.

 

Musically, my students and former students have been very successful. They've won prizes, competitions, and scholarships, and they've been admitted to excellent orchestras, summer programs, and music schools, including:

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The best-sounding violins are by Giuseppe Guarneri del Gesu (1698-1744) of Cremona, Italy. This one, the famous "Leduc-Szeryng," tops them all. The great Henryk Szeryng played it until his death in 1988. Then it sat around for 30 years. Since early 2020, it is on loan to the German violinist Augustin Hadelich. 

Student Accomplishments

Student Resources

Here you can view and download some of the materials that I've created for my students. They're in the following order:

  • Violin and Viola

  • Violin 

  • Viola

  • Piano

  • Theory

Violin and Viola 

  • Exemplary bow changes at the frog:

  • Perfect long bow strokes:​

    • David Oistrakh, from the beginning (this really is the most beautiful bow handling I have ever seen. Notice the freedom in the shoulder, the marvelously controlled finger stroke, and the perfect overall balance)

    • Henryk Szeryng, from the beginning (Szeryng activates from the shoulder. This is a powerful bow stroke, producing a huge sound.)

    • William Primrose, starting at 0:19 (the best bow change at the tip, ever)

    • Pinchas Zukerman, from 15:52 to 17:25 (so simple, so relaxed, so effortless!)

    • Sarah Chang, from the beginning (optimal in all respects. Notice especially the gorgeous activation from the core)
       

  • Optimal ​Left Hand

Violin

Viola

Piano

Theory

Student Resources

Contact Me

I’m here to help you or your child open up the world of music. Please contact me to set up a free trial lesson!

You may email me at info@ulimusic.net. Or you can submit the form on this page.

Thanks for submitting!

Chaconne ending.PNG

This is the ending of the Chaconne for solo violin, written by J.S. Bach in the 1720s. It's considered the greatest piece of music written for any solo string instrument. I've worked on it since my early teens, and I still discover new things in it every time I play it. These days, I actually prefer playing it on the viola.

©2020 by Uli Widmaier.

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