Monday, August 31, 2009

Itzhak Perlman

Itzhak Perlman is an Israeli violinist, teacher, and conductor born on August 31, 1945 (Heifetz was 43 years old.) He is at the forefront of virtuosos (Zukerman, Kremer, Mullova, Wha Chung, Midori, Laredo, Accardo, Fodor, etc.) who came after the early Twentieth Century era of violinists – Kreisler, Milstein, Gitlis, Heifetz, Elman, Szeryng, Zimbalist, Oistrakh, Kogan, Haendel, Francescatti, Ricci, Ferras, Stern, Grumiaux and others. In addition to a golden tone and an impressive, seemingly effortless technique, he is known for having a good bass voice and a charismatic stage presence. He first took up the violin at age 5 while living in Tel Aviv, Israel. He came to the U.S. in 1958. Winning a scholarship, Perlman attended the Juilliard School of Music (New York) where his teachers were Ivan Galamian and Dorothy Delay. Today, he teaches in their place. His U.S. debut (at Carnegie Hall) took place in 1963 and Perlman has been concertizing, recording, and making television appearances ever since. In addition, as most concert artists of today do, he frequently plays chamber music. His conducting work is mostly done with the Detroit Symphony and the Westchester Philharmonic. Perlman has a profile page on MySpace and YouTube features lots of videos of his playing. A particular favorite of viewers is the Handel Halvorsen Passacaglia (with Pinchas Zukerman on viola.) Perlman plays the Soil Stradivarius of 1714, previously owned by Yehudi Menuhin.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Vadim Repin

Vadim Repin is a Russian violinist born on August 31, 1971 (Perlman was 25 years old), in the same city as Maxim Vengerov. He began his studies with Zakhar Bron (in Novosibirsk) at the age of 5 and was soon recognized as a child prodigy. His first public performance with orchestra was made when he was 7. At age 11, he made his recital debuts in Moscow and St Petersburg, the same year he won the gold medal at the Wieniawski Violin Competition. In 1985, at age 14, he debuted in Munich, Berlin, Helsinki, and Tokyo. His Carnegie Hall debut took place when he was 15. He won the Queen Elizabeth Music Competition at age 17, the youngest winner ever. He is known for his interpretations of Russian music. Though he champions (and plays) contemporary works, his discography (on various labels) includes only the standard repertory – Mozart, Beethoven, Sibelius, Prokofiev, Shostakovitch, and Myaskovsky. He played a Guarneri del Gesu (1736) - until it ended up in the hands of Eugene Fodor - but previously (for about ten years) played Sarasate’s old Stradivarius, the Ruby Stradivarius (1708.)  In 2010, the 1736 Guarnerius returned to Europe to be sold in the private market.  It has been said that as a child, Repin played a rare ¾ Stradivarius, though it is thought by many experts that Stradivari never constructed any ¾ violins. YouTube has several videos of his concerts.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Eugene Fodor

Eugene Fodor (Eugene Nicholas Fodor, Jr.) was an American violinist born on March 5, 1950 (Perlman was about 5 years old.) His career was somewhat uneven and enigmatic. He first took up the violin when he was five and initially studied with Harold Wippler, concertmaster of the Denver Symphony for a number of years. At 10, he made his orchestral debut with that orchestra (playing Bruch's first concerto) and continued his studies with Wippler for another five years. At 15, he enrolled at Juilliard (New York) where he studied with Ivan Galamian. He also soloed with the Detroit Symphony at age 15. Josef Gingold was his teacher at Indiana University a short time later. By this time, he was already concertizing. He was then a student of Jascha Heifetz at USC. It has been reported that Heifetz dismissed Fodor from his class after Fodor refused to get a haircut to Heifetz' specifications (short.)  He was also winning several competitions along the way, including the Merriweather Post Competition in Washington D.C. After picking up first prize in the Paganini Competition in Italy in 1972 at age 22, Fodor became famous. As if this weren’t enough, two years later (1974), he won a Silver Medal at the Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow (no Gold Medal was awarded that year.) Ironically, even with these competition wins and dozens of successful concert tours under his belt, he was never a guest soloist with some of the best American orchestras – Boston, Chicago, and New York, among others. Speculation that Isaac Stern was somehow instrumental in shutting him off from certain venues prevails until this day. Fodor had at least 40 concertos and more than 40 violin Sonatas in his repertoire, in addition to countless miscellaneous works for violin and piano or unaccompanied violin. YouTube has a few videos of his playing.  He also recorded several major works for the RCA, Sony, and Grazioso labels, among others. Fodor married (Susan Davis, with whom he had three children) in 1978 and divorced in 1985 (some sources say 1986.) He married her again in November of 2010.  He was said to have a difficult personality.  Fodor is known for having been selected to play Paganini’s violin (the Guarnerius Cannone of 1743, worth about $40 million) in a San Francisco recital in 1999, on the eve of Paganini’s birthday. (Other violinists who have been granted this honor are Camillo Sivori, Bronislaw Huberman, Salvatore Accardo, Ruggiero Ricci, Leonid Kogan, Dmitri Berlinsky, and Regina Carter) The recital received great as well as cool reviews. He is also known for having been arrested (in Massachussetts) for drug possession in 1989. His latest prize was the European Soloist award in 1999. Some time in 2010, he stopped playing the violin altogether. Fodor died on February 26, 2011, at age 60. His 1736 Guarnerius is now for sale in Europe - on the private market.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Arthur Grumiaux

Arthur Grumiaux was a Belgian violinist, teacher, and pianist (in the style of Julia Fischer) born on March 21, 1921 (Heifetz was 20 years old.) He began violin studies when he was 4 years old. As a very young student, he studied at both the Charleroi Conservatory and the Royal Conservatory in Brussels (where Alfred Dubois was his teacher.) He also studied composition with George Enesco (in Paris) later on, though I am not certain whether he studied violin with him. It is quite likely. He won the Vieuxtemps Prize in 1939. It has been said that after his public debut with the Brussels Philharmonic in 1940 (playing Mendelssohn’s e minor concerto), he did not play publicly until 1945, the year in which he made his debut in London with the BBC Symphony. This interval of non-participation in public performances was due to the German occupation of his neutral country during World War Two. However, he did play chamber music privately during this time. He was appointed professor of violin at the Royal Conservatory in 1949. By then, he had established himself as one of the world’s great violinists. His first tour of the U.S. came in 1951. He is remembered for his partnership (and recordings) with pianist Clara Haskil, who was also a violinist (as Grumiaux was a pianist.) Sometimes, Haskil and Grumiaux were known to switch instruments in recitals. It is probably true that their Mozart (and possibly Beethoven) recordings have never been excelled by anyone. Grumiaux’ recording of Zigeunerweisen (Sarasate) is my personal favorite. His recordings for the Philips label covered a wide range of violin repertory. There is at least one recording (of a Brahms and Mozart sonata) in which he plays both the violin and the piano accompaniment. His playing has often been described as supremely refined and elegant and his technique as exquisitely effortless. His intonation was impeccable. A recording of Arthur Grumiaux playing JS Bach’s Gavotte and Rondo from the Partita No. 3 in E major for unaccompanied violin is included on the Voyager Golden Record attached to the Voyager spacecraft. As Menuhin was made a Lord in Britain, Grumiaux was made a Baron in Belgium (1973.) He played a J.B. Guadagnini violin made in 1773 previously owned by Aldredo Campoli and subsequently (after 1962) played by Joseph Silverstein, now in the hands of the concertmaster of the Washington National Symphony. He also played a Guarneri from the year 1744 which was certified by the notorious violin dealer Dietmar Machold. There are numerous videos of his playing on YouTube and he also has a fan page on Facebook. Grumiaux died unexpectedly on October 16, 1986.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Edith Volckaert

Edith Volckaert was a Belgian violinist born on August 27, 1949 (Heifetz was 48 years old.) Someone wrote a biography about her but I do not own it. Since there is precious little information about her on the web, I can only mention that she recorded several albums (works by Beethoven, Vivaldi, Bartok, Cesar Franck, and others) before her early death on July 2, 1992 (at age 42) and that she was the fifth prize winner in the Queen Elizabeth of Belgium violin competition in 1971. Volckaert also taught at the Royal Conservatory in Brussels until 1978. Her CDs can be easily found on the internet. She played a 1620 Maggini. That’s about it. On a different topic, I am guessing that great composers have always been pianists. It seems logical since the piano covers such a wide spectrum of notes all at once, obliging the player to think and see vertically, as if visualizing a score. Bach, Handel, Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Mendelssohn, Brahms, Bizet, Tchaikovsky, Stravinsky, and Prokofiev were pianists (or keyboardists.) Sibelius might be the only exception, if one considers him a great composer. There are many second (and third) tier composers who were violinists though: Vitali, Geminiani, Tartini, Molter, Vivaldi, Corelli, Paganini, Spohr, Rode, Viotti, Wieniawski, Enesco, Ernst, De Beriot, Sinding, Vieuxtemps, Bridge, Novacek, Sarasate, Kreisler, Elgar, Ysaye, and more.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

William DeFesch

William DeFesch (Willem de Fesch) was a Dutch violinist, cellist, organist, composer, and teacher born on August 26, 1687 (JS Bach was 2 years old.) Little is known of him other than that he composed Oratorios for the London public at the same time as Handel. At age 21 (1708), he was concertmaster of the civic theatre orchestra in Amsterdam. He was choirmaster in Antwerp from 1725 to 1731. He then went to England in 1732. Handel was already there. In fact, DeFesch was Handel’s concertmaster. DeFesch composed lots of chamber music, concertos, and two Oratorios (one of which is lost.) You can hear some of his music on YouTube. According to some sources, DeFesch died on January 3, 1761, at age 73. According to others, he died four years earlier, in 1757. 

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Walter Trampler

It seems odd that in the space of just three days, I would be writing about another violist. The other day it was William Primrose - now, it's Walter Trampler. Not that I resent them in any way, though it's annoyingly coincidental. Trampler was born in Germany on August 25, 1915 (Heifetz was 18 years old.) He became famous for playing the viola as well as the viola d' amore and for having been married four times. Trampler studied violin with his father, a violinist in the Munich Opera Orchestra, from age 6. I don't know when he switched to the viola, but he did, early in his career. He made his debut as a violinist with the Beethoven concerto in 1933, at the age of 18. He attended the State Academy of Music in Munich up to 1934. However, at age 17, he was already the violist of the Strub String Quartet - a very obscure ensemble, as far as I know. Finally, Trampler ended up as Principal violist of the Berlin Radio Orchestra. He came to the U.S. in 1939, concertizing extensively, recording, and teaching at many major music schools, including Juilliard and Yale. One of his first jobs in the U.S. was as a violinist in the Boston Symphony. He was also one of the founding members of the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center. He was a champion of contemporary music, but I could not find any videos of his on YouTube. Trampler died on September 27, 1997, at age 82.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Vasa Prihoda

Vasa Prihoda was a Czech violinist born on August 24 (or 22nd), 1900 (Stravinsky was 18 years old.) His father, Alois Prihoda, was his first teacher and remained so for ten years. Afterward, Prihoda attended the Prague Conservatory, where he studied with Marak (who himself studied with Otakar Sevcik.) He graduated in 1912 and gave his first public performance playing Mozart’s fourth violin concerto (D Major.) Most violinists choose Brahms, Mendelssohn, or Paganini for a debut, but not Prihoda. It has been said that Toscanini discovered him playing in a Café (Grande Italia) in Milan, Italy, on December 27, 1919. Prihoda is remembered for his prodigious technique (which included exceptionally clear articulation), his ease in playing Paganini showpieces, and his 1930 marriage to (and 1935 divorce from) violinist Alma Rose (Gustav Mahler’s niece.) [In 1944, Alma, whose father had been concertmaster of the Vienna Philharmonic for 50 years, died in a concentration camp.] After the war, Prihoda was censured by the Czech government because he did not boycott any of the German-occupied territories during the war. Prihoda concertized extensively all over the world and made a number of recordings when the industry was in its infancy. Unfortunately, some of his recordings were not well-produced so the sound quality is poor. He played in the U.S. many times and was greatly admired for his style, dazzling technique, and finesse. Critics have suggested that Heifetz was jealous of him. Vienna was his base of operations for many years though he taught in Prague, Munich, and Salzburg as well. After 1950, he dedicated most of his time to teaching and he also composed small chamber works which are no longer played. Prihoda also composed his own cadenzas to all the concertos he played. He gave his last concerts in April, 1960 and died (of heart disease) on July 26, 1960, at age 59 - Heifetz would live another 27 years. There are many  amazing sound files and videos of his posted on YouTube

Sunday, August 23, 2009

William Primrose

William Primrose was a truly outstanding Scottish viola player of the Twentieth Century. He was born on August 23, 1904 (Heifetz was 3 years old.) His first violin lessons were with his father, John Primrose, a violinist in the Scottish Orchestra. After graduating from the Guildhall School of Music in 1924, he played violin wherever he could. Two years later, he began lessons with (the 68-year-old) Eugene Ysaye, who, it is said, encouraged him to give up the violin in favor of the viola. Nobody knows why and I haven't done enough research to find out. Anyway, "what's done cannot be undone." From 1930 until 1935, he played viola in the London String Quartet. In 1937, he joined the NBC Symphony Orchestra as assistant principal violist but left after he heard that Toscanini would be quitting the conductor's post in 1941. He was there for four years. Eventually, his solo career really took off. He was the first violist to record Harold In Italy, Berlioz's famous viola concerto (or tone poem or fantasy or whatever it is). That was in 1946. This is the same piece Paganini refused to play because it was not dazzling enough, though that is just a rumor. Who really knows? He also premiered Bartok's Viola Concerto (1949). He was so technically brilliant that he could play Paganini's violin caprices on the viola - no small accomplishment. Nevertheless, Emanuel Vardi was the first to record the Caprices on the viola. Primrose played an Amati viola (which is really a reconstructed viola – originally much larger) now owned by the former principal violist of the Philadelphia Orchestra - Roberto Diaz. Later in his life, he was a distinguished teacher at Indiana, USC, Juilliard, and other schools and wrote several method books. There are several videos of his playing on YouTube. As far as I know, Primrose is the only violist in history to have a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. He died on May 1, 1982, at age 77.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Ivry Gitlis

Ivry Gitlis is a Russian violinist, composer, actor, writer, and teacher born on August 22, 1922 (Heifetz was 21 years old.) He received his first violin at the age of five and gave his first concert at age ten. After graduating from the Paris Conservatory, he studied with Carl Flesch, Georges Enesco and Jacques Thibaud, among others – almost the same teachers under whom Henryk Szeryng studied a few years before him. After the Second World War, he made his European debut at the Royal Albert Hall. In 1951, he made his debut in Paris – which was later to become his main residence - and has since gone on to give concerts all over the world. His first recording, Alban Berg’s violin concerto, won the Grand Prix du Disque (Grand Record Prize) in France. Subsequent recordings, many of which until their recent re-releases had become sought-after collectors’ items, have included the concertos of Paganini, Tchaikovsky, Mendelssohn, Stravinsky, Bruch, Sibelius, Wieniawski, and Bartok. Gitlis is also a renowned pedagogue giving master classes all over Europe and beyond, regularly spending summers at the Mozarteum in Salzburg and in France where he has created memorable festivals. In 2001 he was one of the featured commentators in Bruno Monsaingeon’s film, “The Art of the Violin”. Tony Palmer’s 2004 film on Ivry Gitlis was premiered at the Prague Spring Music Festival where it was lauded by the Oscar-winning director Andrea Anderman as "the best artist's profile I have ever seen". And, most recently, he was honored in 2004 as part of the Festival devoted to great violinists of the 20th century, at the Louvre Museum in Paris. Gitlis has lived in Paris since the end of the sixties. His immense impact on the art of violin playing cannot be measured and his unique personality and extraordinary, deeply felt interpretations, many of which can be seen or heard on YouTube are a testament to the great man and artist. The depth of his expressive powers can hardly be exaggerated. You can judge for yourself here and here.  He plays the "Swan Song" Stradivarius of 1737 (the year of Stradivari’s death.)

Friday, August 21, 2009

Simon Rattle

If you go to the Berlin Philharmonic’s website, you can take advantage of this great deal, assuming you like the Berlin Philharmonic. The Philharmonic will make more than 30 concerts from its coming season available as webcasts in its Digital Concert Hall, beginning August 28. Simon Rattle, the orchestra's chief conductor, will lead twelve of the concerts. Guest conductors will conduct the rest – the usual names: Claudio Abbado, Daniel Barenboim, Zubin Mehta, etc. Guest artists include pianists Daniel Barenboim, Mitsuko Uchida, and András Schiff; violinists Janine Jansen and Frank Peter Zimmermann; and cellist Alisa Weilerstein. Fees for the webcasts are 149 Euros (about $214 or about $6.50 per concert) for the full series, 39 Euros (about $56) for a 30-day subscription (any current concerts plus as many concerts from the archives as you want), and 10 Euros (about $14) for any one concert. The exchange rate fluctuates daily so the cost in dollars is variable. Explore this at Digital Concert Hall – type it into the internet browser and it will take you there. There is only one Digital Concert Hall – for now.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Maxim Vengerov

Maxim Vengerov (Maxim Alexandrovich Vengerov) is a Russian violinist, teacher, writer, and conductor born on August 20, 1974 (Itzhak Perlman was 28 years old.) He is known for his phenomenal technique, extroverted playing, high fees, and tango dancing. He began his study of the violin at age 5 (fairly typical for a violinist) in his home town of Novosibirsk. Two years later, he continued his studies at the Special Music School in Moscow. Three years after that, Vengerov began his studies with Zakhar Bron (in Novosibirsk) and continued with him for about the next six years, part of those six years at the Royal Academy of Music in London. By this time, he had won first prize in the Carl Flesch Violin Competition in London (1989 – at age 15). He has been giving master classes, concertizing, and recording ever since. Vengerov has played on three or four different Stradivarius violins, the Kreutzer being one of them (I do not know which one – there are four Stradivarius violins named Kreutzer - from 1701, 1720, 1727, and 1731.) Some of his many recordings have won top prizes and high praise from critics. Vengerov took a nine-month sabbatical in 2005, during which he learned jazz improvisation and the electric violin – in the style of Leila Josefowicz, and Nigel Kennedy – and during which he (despite the sabbatical) also played 50 recitals. Sometime during June of 2007, Vengerov stopped playing altogether in order to deal with a shoulder ailment and to concentrate on teaching and conducting (he has been studying conducting since 1998.) Vengerov has been teaching at the Royal Academy (London) since 2005, but at other schools as well – in the style of Daniel Barenboim. There are many Vengerov videos on YouTube and several fan pages on Facebook.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Georges Enesco

Georges Enesco was a virtuoso Romanian violinist, composer, conductor, and teacher. He was born on August 19, 1881 (Brahms was 48 years old.) He is best remembered for his two Romanian Rhapsodies for orchestra (1901-1902), although there are piano versions of these works as well. He composed quite a number of other pieces (symphonies and a lot of chamber music but no violin concertos) which are now seldom performed by anyone. He entered the Vienna Conservatory at age 7 where he studied with Robert Fuchs, among others. In 1895, he traveled to Paris to continue his studies. As a teacher, he is famous for having taught Ivry Gitlis, Yehudi Menuhin, Christian Ferras, Ida Haendel, and Arthur Grumiaux, among many others. His conducting debut came in 1923 with the Philadelphia Orchestra. Although he continued to conduct until very late in his life, he retired from playing at age sixty nine, due to physical ailments. In the U.S., he spent a season as conductor of the New York Philharmonic (1936-37), gave innumerable concerts, and taught (in New York) for about five years. He famously said that he was not so much interested in perfection as in emotionally reaching his audience. In 1939, he married a princess, a friend of Queen Marie of Romania. His recording legacy extends to not only conducting, but to recording on the violin and piano. He may very well have been the first to record the complete violin solo works of Bach. That recording was not treated kindly by some critics. In Enesco's case, he had the bad luck to reach his violinistic prime when recording technology was virtually nonexistent and to reach old age just as the recording industry was beginning to make progress (1950). An interesting story about Enesco has been told many times though I'm not certain if it is factual or not.  It is said that Enesco once arranged a recital at the Salle Gaveau in Paris, as a favor to a good friend, who was the father of a young violin student who was not terribly gifted and who was not quite ready to play in public.  However, nobody bought a ticket to the recital because the young violinist was completely unknown.  The young boy's father persuaded Enesco to accompany the student on the piano so that the concert would sell out. Reluctantly, Enesco agreed and the concert was sold out quickly. An excited audience gathered on the night of the concert. From the stage, before the concert began, Enesco asked the audience if someone might not volunteer to come up and turn pages for him.  Alfred Cortot, the famous pianist, was in the audience and came up to turn pages for Enesco. The soloist was of a low quality so the following morning the critic of Le Figaro wrote: "There was a strange concert at the Salle Gaveau last night. The man whom we adore when he plays the violin played the piano. Another man whom we adore when he plays the piano turned the pages. But the man who should have turned the pages played the violin."  Enesco died on May 4, 1955, at the age of 74. 

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Benjamin Godard

Benjamin Godard (Benjamin Louis Paul Godard) was a French violinist and composer born on August 18, 1849 (Brahms was 16 years old.) He entered the Paris Conservatory in 1863, at age 14, where he studied with Henri Vieuxtemps, among others. He also began to compose as a teenager and throughout his life received various awards and honors for his compositions, many of them large scale. He worked as a violist while waiting for his eventual success as a composer. His violin concerto (Concerto Romantique) was performed at the Concerts Populaires in 1876 as were other of his large works later on. In 1878, Godard won the Prix de la Ville de Paris for his symphony, Le Tasso. Godard is most famous for his “Berceuse” from his opera Jocelyn, one of eight operas he composed (1888.) He became a professor at the Paris Conservatory in 1887. Godard was among many musicians (including Debussy, Tchaikovsky, Rossini, and Brahms) opposed to the music of Richard Wagner. Among his many works are three symphonies, two violin concertos, two piano concertos, three string quartets, four (or five) violin sonatas, a sonata for cello and piano, two piano trios, one hundred songs, and various other orchestral works. Though live performances of his music are rare, there are almost 100 recordings of his works available. One of the latest is Chloe Hanslip’s recording of the two violin concertos on the Naxos label. Godard died on January 10, 1895, at age 45.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Anton Kersjes

Anton Kersjes was a Dutch violinist and conductor born on August 17, 1923 (Heifetz was 22 years old.) After World War Two, he began his career as a violinist with the Tuschinski Theatre Orchestra in Amsterdam. He later established his reputation as a conductor of the Amsterdam Philharmonic Orchestra - not to be confused with the Royal Concertgebouw. The Amsterdam Phil started its life in 1953 as the Kunstmaand Orchestra and adopted its new name (Amsterdam Philharmonic Orchestra) in 1969. It then became - after a merger with two other Dutch orchestras - the Dutch Philharmonic Orchestra in 1985. In addition to conducting a huge number of concert, opera, and ballet performances, he was Assistant Director of the Maastrich Conservatory. He also recorded a few albums, a few of which are still available. As far as I know, Anton Kersjes never conducted in the U.S. Outside of Holland, his name is almost never mentioned. He died on December 2, 2004, at age 81.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Albert Spalding

Albert Spalding was an American violinist, composer, writer, and teacher born (in Chicago) on August 15, 1888 (Brahms was 55 years old.) Aside from being a superlative virtuoso, he is remembered for many different things. Spalding was an early recording pioneer, playing for over 100 recordings, mostly for the Edison Company. He was also a member of the armed forces twice – during World War One and World War Two, serving in what today would be known as the Intelligence branches. Spalding premiered Barber’s violin concerto (February, 1941) when the violinist who commissioned it (Iso Briselli) refused to play it. He wrote two violin concertos (among other things), though they are no longer played. In the 1920s, he was one of the first to play classical music concerts on the radio. His uncle was a Hall-of-Fame baseball player (pitcher) who began a world famous sporting goods company. Spalding began his violin studies at age 7. His first lessons were in Florence, Italy. He also studied in New York, Paris, and Bologna. At the age of 14, he received his degree and title of Professor of Music from the Bologna Conservatory. He made his public debut in Paris at age 16 (1906) with the third Saint Saens Concerto. He then appeared in London and Vienna. On November 8, 1908, he made his American debut in New York (with the New York Symphony.) In 1909, he toured the U.S. with the Dresden Philharmonic. He was 21 years old.  From that point forward – except for the two breaks taken to serve during World Wars One and Two - he concertized throughout the world. Spalding retired in May of 1950, just after having played with the New York Philharmonic for an audience of 20,000 in New York. He taught at Boston College and Florida State University. Spalding also wrote his autobiography (1946) and a novel (1953.) He died unexpectedly in New York on May 26, 1953, at the age of 64.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Ginette Neveu

Ginette Neveu was a French violinist born on August 11, 1919 (Heifetz was 18 years old.) She was considered one of the greatest of her time, despite a career that was cut short. Neveu was a child prodigy whose first teacher – at age 5 - was her mother, an accomplished violinist. She made her debut at age 7 in Paris with the Colonne Orchestra (at the Sorbonne Amphitheatre.) Further study at the Paris Conservatory, with George Enesco, and with Carl Flesch, completed her training. She is remembered for having beaten David Oistrakh (who came in second) when competing for the top prize at the Henryk Wieniawski Violin Competition in 1934. She was 15 years old. After that, except for the interval during World War Two, during which she did some recording, she never stopped concertizing. She toured the U.S., Australia, Russia, Poland, Germany, South America, and Canada. Her London debut, however, did not come until 1945. Her brother, Jean-Paul Neveu, was often her accompanist. Her favorite composers were Bach, Beethoven, and Brahms. It is said she possessed an intense, powerful sound. There are several videos of her playing on YouTube. Her last concert, at which she played the Sibelius violin concerto, was with the Halle Orchestra – October 20, 1949. A week later, en route to the U.S., Neveu, age 30, died in a devastating plane crash, October 27, 1949. Her brother was with her.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Dressing down

I am posting three photos of well-known violinists so that you can appreciate how far we’ve come in styles of dress among some classical violinists. The first and most formal is from the 1920s. It is elegance itself. Every concert violinist used to dress this way until about 1970. The second is Nigel Kennedy – he delights in really dressing down. I do not know why. We should ask a psychologist. The third is Joshua Bell who is so modestly dressed that it makes him look immodest. Many players have adopted this casual attire; however, it does not fit the music we play – classical music is not elevator music after all. It is serious business and needs to be given more than just casual attention. Concert violinists used to wear a coat and tie to rehearsals. Now they shuffle onto the stage wearing jeans and sandals. In following the lead of the stars, orchestra managers have adopted the come-as-you-are policy for audiences and it is beginning to annoy me. These people are being pretentious by trying to look unpretentious. What silliness. Maybe I’m just old fashioned. Maybe I have a sense of decorum and grace.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Zino Francescatti

Zino Francescatti (René-Charles Francescatti) was a French violinist born on August 9, 1902 (Heifetz was born in 1901.) Both of his parents were violinists - his father had even been a pupil of Camillo Sivori, a pupil of Nicolo Paganini. Francescatti began to study violin at age 3 and made his public debut with Beethoven’s violin concerto at age 10. As far as I know, his father was his only teacher (such was the case with Alexander Markov and Daniel Barenboim as well.) Prior to 1927, Francescatti briefly undertook a career in Law but gave that up when his father died, leaving the family in a precarious financial situation. Before transitioning into a successful solo career, he taught at the National School of Music in Paris (where other teachers included Alfred Cortot, Pablo Casals, Paul Dukas, Arthur Honneger, and Nadia Boulanger.) He also played in the Concerts Poulets Orchestra as assistant concertmaster. He did not make his first world tour until 1931. His U.S. debut took place in New York in 1939. On that occasion, he played Paganini’s first concerto, for which he later became well-regarded. From then on (except for the War years), he concertized and recorded until his retirement in 1976. He was also known as a great humanitarian. His sound was not thin and focused but rather ample and broad and warm (especially well-suited for the Romantic repertoire) and his technique was magnificent. All of his recordings – among which are all the Beethoven Sonatas - are highly regarded. Several videos of Francescatti at work are posted on YouTube. One of the violins he owned was the Hart Stradivarius of 1727, now owned by Salvatore Accardo. Francescatti died on September 17, 1991, at age 89. His most famous pupils are probably Gerard Poulet and Tedi Papavrami. 

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Adolf Busch

Adolf Busch (Adolf Georg Wilhelm Busch) was a German violinist, composer, and teacher born on August 8, 1891 (Stravinsky was 9 years old.) He began violin lessons at age 3 and studied – from age 11 - with Willy Hess at the Cologne Conservatory. Busch also studied composition with his future father-in-law (Hugo Gruters) in Bonn, where he used to sit in on the Joachim Quartet’s rehearsals. In 1912, Busch founded his first quartet, which floundered when the First World War overtook it. After the war, in 1918, he founded the famous Busch Quartet, which played almost continuously until 1951. Apart from this, Busch is remembered for having been one of Yehudi Menuhin’s teachers, though he also taught Erica Morini, among others. In 1927, he moved to Switzerland and from there, in 1939, he moved to Vermont. In the middle of all this, the Busch Quartet had become the core of the Busch Chamber Players, another group Busch founded, and the forerunner of today’s ubiquitous chamber orchestras. In Vermont, he eventually founded (with his son-in-law, Rudolf Serkin, and Marcel Moyse) the Marlboro Music School and Marlboro Music Festival (1951.) During his career, Busch kept concertizing as a soloist, solidifying his reputation as a great Beethoven and Brahms interpreter. Rudolf Serkin often served as his recital accompanist. Though Busch recorded extensively with the quartet, few studio recordings exist of him as a solo player. Live recordings of his performances can be found on YouTube – sound only. It is said that Max Reger (whom he knew since 1907) greatly influenced his composition style. Among his many compositions are a violin concerto, a Quintet for saxophone and string quartet, and a Concerto for Orchestra (1929, fourteen years before Bela Bartok wrote his concerto for orchestra in 1943.)  Adolf Busch died on June 9, 1952, at age 61.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Josef Suk

Josef Suk was a Czech violinist, violist, and conductor born on August 8, 1929 (Heifetz was 28 years old and would live an additional 58.) He is descended from two highly distinguished musicians – his grandfather, the violinist-composer Josef Suk, and his great grandfather, Antonin Dvorak. In Czechoslovakia, he was given the title of National Artist. His concert appearances in the U.S. were few and far between. He is well-known for having favored chamber music over solo playing. At the Prague Conservatory, his teacher (up to 1950) was Jaroslav Kocian. He also studied at the Prague Academy. While still a student, he joined the Prague Quartet as first violinist. In 1951, he formed the Suk Trio with cellist Janos Starker and pianist Julius Katchen (some sources say it was cellist Josef Chuchro and pianist Jan Panenka because the trio was initially begun with these artists.) His solo debut in Prague took place in 1954 and was very successful. It has been said that his worldwide tour with the Czech Philharmonic in 1959 was especially memorable. Suk recorded extensively for various labels – EMI, Decca, Naxos, and Supraphon, among others. Suk won the Grand Prix Du Disque several times – for recordings of music by Claude Debussy, Leos Janacek, Alban Berg, and others. He was once asked why he did not compose like his grandfather and great-grandfather - he said the following: "To be a composer after Dvorak and after Suk, I would have to be sensational.  I don't have that sort of inspiration.  I tried, but it wasn't that good so I stayed with my fiddle."  He also founded the Suk Chamber Orchestra in 1974.  Suk retired in 2004, at age 74, but, like Heifetz, did play afterward now and then.  He even recorded in the year 2010.  He was 80 years old. Suk played a 1729 Stradivarius, a 1744 Guarnerius, and a 1758 Guadagnini. There are many videos of his playing on YouTube. Josef Suk died on July 6, 2011, at age 81.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Raymond Cohen

Raymond Cohen is an English violinist born on July 27, 1919 (Heifetz was 18 years old.) He first studied violin with his father in Manchester. At 15, he entered the Manchester College of Music where he studied (for four years) with Henry Holst, former concertmaster of the Berlin Philharmonic. Soon thereafter, still aged 15, he joined the ranks of the famed Halle Orchestra, based in Manchester - the youngest member of England’s oldest orchestra (founded in 1858.) At age 18, he became concertmaster of the Blackpool Orchestra, a city less than fifty miles from Manchester. While still studying, he concertized extensively, playing the concertos of Mendelssohn, Beethoven, Busoni, Sibelius, and others. In 1940, he played a historic concert with the Halle Orchestra – still only 19 years old – in which he played the Bach (E Major), the Mendelssohn, and the Brahms concertos in the same evening. Few violinists have ever attempted or accomplished such a feat, though Yehudi Menuhin was one who did. The Second World War interrupted Cohen’s fast rise but he re-emerged in 1945 by winning the Carl Flesch Violin Competition. Soon, he had a full schedule of concerts in Europe, having more than 40 concertos in his repertoire by then. However, he slowly gravitated toward concertmaster positions everywhere – English Chamber Orchestra, Philharmonia, London Symphony, BBC, and Royal Philharmonic (1959, under Thomas Beecham.) He also started teaching at the Royal College of Music in London. In addition, he was very active in the chamber music arena. With his pianist wife (Anthya) and son Robert (a cellist), he eventually formed the Cohen Trio. He was the first to realize a videotaped performance of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons. He has also recorded the entire set of Beethoven Violin Sonatas for the Meridian label. Raymond Cohen teaches privately and is on a very short list of distinguished elder statesmen of the violin still working – with Zvi Zeitlin, Ruggiero Ricci, Ida Haendel, and Ivry Gitlis.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Mark O'Connor

Mark O'Connor is an American violinist, born on August 5, 1961. He has been playing professionally since about 1974. Though he is primarily known as a (largely self-taught) fiddler crossover artist, he is heavily into composing what could pass as classical music heavily influenced by Jazz and Country Music idioms. His violin concertos have been especially successful with critics and audiences alike, though reviews of his works by sophisticated and high-powered critics are often diplomatically worded. In the style of Paganini, Spohr, Wieniawski, Enesco, Sarasate, Kreisler, and others, he plays and promotes his own music. O’Connor also frequently records with classical musicians as well as country music artists. Two such artists are cellist Yo Yo Ma and James Taylor. It could easily be said that he is one of the U.S.’s most successful composers, having written for practically every venue – the stage, television, and movies – and every format, from country songs to chamber music to concertos to large-scale symphonies. O’Connor could never be categorized as a classical violinist (playing Bach, Beethoven, Brahms, Tchaikovsky, etc.) using other musical genres in his compositions (ala Copland), but neither could he be dismissed as having no influence (however slight) on the classical music landscape.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Guido Papini

Guido Papini was an Italian violinist born on August 1, 1847 (Brahms was 14 years old.) It is said that he studied alongside Leopold Auer, though that is highly questionable. He was initially a pupil of a teacher named Giorgetti and made his debut at the age of 13 playing Louis Spohr’s third Concerto. He is known for being one of the early editors of Paganini’s 24 Caprices for solo violin and for having owned the Ex-Vieuxtemps Guarnerius Del Gesu (1739.) He became the leader of the Quartet Society of the City of Florence, where he was born, as well as the Court Violinist to the Queen of Italy. Papini made his English debut in 1874 (at age 27), at the Musical Union and later at the Crystal Palace with the London Symphony Society. His Paris debut took place in 1876 at the Concerts de Pasdeloup and the Bordeaux Philharmonic Concerts. Thereafter, he regularly toured throughout Europe, making England his home. In 1893, he accepted the post of head of the violin department at the Dublin Conservatory. In 1896, he returned to London, where he dedicated a good deal of time to composing a large body of works (which are now never played) and taught at the Royal Academy in London. Papini died in London on October 3, 1912, at age 65.

Emil Mlynarski

Emil Szymon Młynarski was a Polish violinist, conductor, composer, and teacher. He was born on July 18, 1870 (Brahms was 37 years old.) He became Artur Rubinstein’s father-in-law when his daughter married Rubinstein in 1932 – her second marriage. Mlynarski was also one of Leopold Auer’s and Rimski-Korsakov’s not-so-well-known students. He was one of the founders, in 1901, of the Warsaw Philharmonic, which he conducted until 1905. From 1910 to 1916 he was principal conductor of the Scottish Orchestra (which became the Scottish National Orchestra in 1950 and then the Royal Scottish National Orchestra in 1991.) Among his compositions are a symphony and two violin concertos which are seldom heard. However, his second violin concerto has been recorded by English violinist Nigel Kennedy. Emil Młynarski died in Warsaw on April 5, 1935, at age 64, about four and a half years before the start of the Second World War.