Wednesday, April 27, 2011
Monday, April 25, 2011
Tuesday, April 19, 2011
Thursday, April 14, 2011
Fabio Biondi is an Italian (Sicilian) violinist and conductor born (in Palermo) on March 15, 1961 (Heifetz was 60 years old and would live another 26 years.) He is known for leading the Italian baroque ensemble which he founded (in 1989 – some sources say 1990), Europa Galante, one of the many original (authentic or period) instrument groups in Europe, with which he has toured the world. Biondi is to Europa Galante what Simon Standage is to the English Concert except much more. (Biondi has in fact recently conducted the English Concert ensemble.) He began violin lessons at age five with Salvatore Cicero (concertmaster of the Sicilian Symphony Orchestra) in Palermo. He made his public debut with the well-known Italian Radio Symphony (RAI) at age 12. Interestingly, and perhaps foretelling the huge celebrity he would later attain, on this occasion, Biondi played Vivaldi's Concerto number 9 out of his Opus 8. (Vivaldi's Opus 8 also contains the Four Seasons, the best known baroque work for violin - they are the first four concertos in the set of 12 concertos in Opus 8.) Later on, he studied at the Conservatory of Rome with Mauro Lo Guercio (pupil of Salvatore Accardo and violinist with the Trio Modigliani), where he won a first prize in violin in 1981. He was 20 years old; however, by age 16, he had already played a recital comprised of Bach violin concertos at the Musikverein (concert hall) in Vienna. After that, he decided to concentrate on authentic baroque performance practice and subsequently played with a number of chamber music ensembles for a number of years, including the Musicians of the Louvre (Les Musiciens du Louvre), Seminario Musicale, and Vienna’s Musica Antiqua. (Sergiu Luca was one of the first to delve into this area of performance but never became a specialist.) In addition to the music of the typical baroque composers - Vivaldi, Bach, Handel, Corelli, Locatelli, Scarlatti, and Tartini – Biondi has also recorded the works of Mozart, Franz Schubert, and Robert Schumann. However, Biondi still performs as a soloist with other orchestras and ensembles, including the Mozarteum Orchestra, the Zurich Chamber Orchestra, and the Chamber Orchestra of Norway. It has been said of him that he “pursues style, free from dogmatism, in a quest for the original language.” There are many videos of his on YouTube. The one I have linked here is not Vivaldi or Corelli but it displays his fluid virtuosity quite well. He plays a Gofredo Cappa violin (1690), a Carlo Gagliano (1766), and an Andrea Guarneri (1686.) In 2005 Biondi was appointed artistic director for baroque music of the Stavenger Symphony (Norway.)
Tuesday, April 12, 2011
After a bit of half-hearted haggling, I wrote a check and took her home, excited to show my dad what I'd found. We were sitting on the couch, and as I passed the violin to him, I noticed more carving along the reverse upper bout that I hadn't previously seen. Closer examination revealed the name 'A. Whalen.' My first initial and my last name!
Some folks may write this off as mere coincidence, but as a firm believer in the threads that guide us through our destiny, I know better. 2500 miles from my home, this violin was waiting for me. A whim directed me to a favorite flea market where I searched for and found a dealer whom I hadn't seen in 10 years, and he just happened to have a violin bearing carvings of my initials and my name. This connection was meant to happen. This violin perfectly suits my playing style. The minor keys reveal her soul, and it's as though she's always a hair ahead of me, somehow intuitively knowing exactly what I'm trying to express, no matter what I'm playing. I call her my gypsy girl, my serendipity. She may not be worth a fortune at auction, but to me, she's priceless. By the way, my dad was a professional magician. He used to tell me that I had magic in my DNA, and that my life would be filled with unusual occurrences with no logical explanation. I'm glad that he and I had the chance to share this special one. He passed away two weeks later. “
Tuesday, April 5, 2011
Hyman Bress was a Canadian violinist born (in Cape Town, South Africa) on June 30, 1931 (Heifetz was 30 years old.) He is known for having recorded the violin concertos of Joseph Joachim and Ernest Bloch, probably the first to do so, among many other obscure works. He was also the first violinist of the Montreal String Quartet in its third incarnation in 1955. It was composed of Hyman Bress, Mildred Goodman, Otto Joachim, and Walter Joachim (cellist and brother of Otto Joachim, violist.) In fact, on May 21, 1956, the quartet played the premiere of Canadian pianist Glenn Gould’s string quartet (Gould’s Opus 1), a work that has kindly been described as being serious and pensive. Bress later recorded a series of five records for Folkways Records entitled The Violin. (Folkways is a special project of the Smithsonian Institution.) The series covered material from the Baroque to the Twentieth Century (1960s) and included one of his own electronic compositions – the Fantasy for Violin, Piano, and electric tape. (One of the pieces recorded in this series is the Sarasate Zapateado played at the fastest tempo I have ever heard.) He first studied with his father and gave his first public performance in Cape Town (South Africa) at age nine with the Cape Town Municipal Orchestra. After that debut, he performed throughout South Africa for a time. In 1946, at age 15, he began studying with Ivan Galamian at the Curtis Institute (Philadelphia) and continued with Galamian until 1951. In 1951, he moved to Canada and established himself in Montreal, giving recitals and playing in radio as well (mostly for the CBC.) He performed regularly there, in the U.S., and in Europe, eventually founding the Montreal String Quartet in Canada with the Joachim brothers. He became concertmaster, at age 27, of the Montreal Symphony for one season (1958-59) then continued his concertizing career as a soloist, often with major orchestras like the Berlin Philharmonic and the London Symphony. He first appeared with the Berlin Philharmonic on April 1, 1968, playing a work by Boris Blacher. Reinhard Peters was on the podium. (Bress was never a guest artist with the New York Philharmonic.) He also continued playing with the quartet (until 1963.) A Canadian newspaper reported that in 1966, Bress became the first Canadian violinist to tour Russia, though it seems unlikely. In 1973 he toured the Far East. He settled in Europe for a time but returned to Canada in the 1980s. By this time, he was no longer playing, being prevented by what has been called mental illness. He was 55 years old. Bress premiered several works which are no longer heard and will most likely not be heard again for some time, including Violet Archer’s violin concerto, Udo Kasemets’ concerto, and Kelsey Jones’ Introduction and Fugue. In New York, he presented his Fantasy in 1962 (or thereabout) while the score of the piece was being shown on a large screen as it was being played – one of the first instances of a multi-media concert presentation. YouTube has a sound recording of his – the Tchaikovsky concerto – which you can listen to by pressing here. His recordings are not hard to find on the internet. Hyman Bress died on October 30, 1995, in Montreal, largely forgotten, at age 64.