Lydia Mordkovitch (Lydia Shtimerman Mordkovitch) was a Russian violinist, violist, and teacher born (in Saratov) on April 30, 1944. She spent much of her later career in England. She began her violin studies at the local music school in Kishinev (Kishniev or Kishinyov), a city in Moldova where her family returned after World War Two. Since Kishinev was a shambles during the war, her mother fled as far as she could (980 miles eastward, all the way to Saratov, in this case) to get away from the fighting forces. Mordkovitch may have been six or seven years old when she first began her studies. I didn’t take the trouble to find out. Beginning in 1960, at age 16, she studied briefly in Odessa (Ukraine) at the Stolyarski School of Music. (Odessa is only 96 miles southeast from Kishinev.) She then moved her studies to the (Nezhdanova) Odessa Conservatory. One of her teachers there was Monzion Mordkovich, a violinist I had never heard about before. [Please see comments below] She was there two years and graduated. She was 18 years old. Later still, she entered the Tchaikovsky Conservatory in Moscow. She was 24 years old by then. Her main teacher there was David Oistrakh. In fact, when she first met Oistrakh to prepare for her entrance exam, he asked her why she had “come so late,” referring to her age. From 1968 to 1970, she was Oistrakh’s teaching assistant as well. From 1970 to 1973 she taught at the Institute of Arts in Kishinev. A couple of sources say she studied there between those same years but that is highly unlikely – Mordkovitch was already an established violinist by then. In Israel, she taught at the Academy of Music in Jerusalem between 1974 and 1979. Mordkovitch made her British debut on January 7, 1979, playing the Tchaikovsky concerto with the Halle Orchestra (Manchester, England) conducted by Walter Susskind. She moved to England permanently in 1980. She was 36 years old. All the while, she was concertizing in Europe, England, Russia, Israel, and the US. Her American debut came in 1982 with the Chicago Symphony (in Chicago.) George Solti was on the podium. In 1980, she began teaching at the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester, England. In 1995, she began teaching at the Royal Academy of Music in London. Mordkovitch made over sixty recordings, mostly under the (British) Chandos label. Some of them are unique in that they feature works for violin which are seldom heard – John Veale’s violin concerto, for instance. Her recording of the Shostakovich concertos won awards from British and French music critics. Most of her recordings are easy to find on the internet. Her best-known pupil is probably British violinist Pip Clarke. Mordkovitch played a 1746 Nicolo Gagliano violin for many years but she would use other instruments as well (mostly Strads and Guadagninis on loan from friends or the Royal Academy), especially when recording. Here is a YouTube audio file of her recording of the first Szymanowski concerto. Mordkovitch died on December 9, 2014, at age 70.
Sunday, December 28, 2014
Sunday, December 14, 2014
Melanie Clapies is a French violinist, teacher, and composer born (in Paris) on December 16, 1981. She is one of less than a handful of concert violinists who currently write works for their own use, in the style of so many violinists of past generations – Tartini, Corelli, Nardini, Geminiani, Biber, Vivaldi, Locatelli, Mozart, Leclair, Paganini, Viotti, Lipinski, Gavinies, Spohr, Wieniawski, Joachim, Ernst, Vieuxtemps, De Beriot, Conus, Enesco, Ysaye, Kreisler, Spalding, and Markov are among them. In fact, the tradition of the violinist-composer has so much been neglected that violinists do not even write their own cadenzas to concerti anymore. Clapies does. As did Bronislaw Huberman so many years ago, Clapies has had a good number of teachers. She began her violin studies at age 5 in Paris and later, in the southern coastal city of Toulon, beginning at age 8, with Solange Dessane (Toulon is located about 520 miles south of Paris but only 25 miles west of Saint-Tropez.) Her public debut came at age 14. She later studied with Pavel Vernikov and Christophe Poiget at the Lyon Conservatory. She graduated in 2003. While studying in Lyon, she also studied with John Glickman at the Guildhall School in London as an exchange student. She later entered the Paris Conservatory where she was a student of Ami Flammer and Claire Desert, graduating in 2011. Clapies also received her Master’s from Yale University in the US this year (2014.) Her chamber music studies were under the tutelage of the world-famous Tokyo String Quartet and the Emerson String Quartet. Clapies has already taught at the conservatories in Toulon and Bordeaux, and at the Alfred Cortot Music School in Paris (Zino Francescatti, Pablo Casals, Charles Munch, Jacques Thibaud, and Paul Dukas were once teachers there.) She has also founded (with French cellist Yan Levionnois) a Chamber Music Festival in Burgundy, France. Clapies has performed most extensively in England, France, Italy, Russia, Canada, and the US. Leonard Bernstein once said that “music can name the unnamable and communicate the unknowable.” In a similar vein, Clapies has stated that her compositions are attempts to catch something from the inexpressible. She has also stated the following: “To me, a good interpreter is a researcher, someone able to find new ways to express and reveal what the pieces possess. I find a direct path to composition from there. For me, composing is a means by which to interrogate my surroundings; to make deeper my relation to it.” She formerly played a Tommaso Carcassi violin and a modern violin by Italian luthier Carlo Colombo Bruno but her current violin is a Joseph Gagliano from 1781. Nonetheless, Clapies also plays an authentic (period instrument) baroque violin on occasion. Among the works in her extensive repertoire is one of my favorites – the Schumann concerto. Here is her recording of the second movement from it on YouTube with the Amadeus Chamber Orchestra. You will immediately notice that her playing is intensely poetic. Her recordings include a collection of duo works – in a more contemporary vein - for violin and cello, available here. She is currently organizing a piano trio in New York as well as a project which will feature the music of Ravel which combines music and mime. In addition, Clapies is also interested in conducting! In her upcoming performances of the Beethoven concerto, she will be using her own cadenza. (There are at least ten cadenzas to the Beethoven concerto out there (Kreisler’s and Joachim’s being the most played) and Heifetz used his own too (some of it borrowed from Leopold Auer), but there are no contemporary violinists who play their own original cadenzas so this will be a unique joy for her audiences.) Photo of Melanie Clapies is used courtesy of Francois Olivier de Sardan.
Sunday, November 30, 2014
Daniel Stabrawa is a Polish violinist, teacher, and conductor born (in Krakow) on August 23, 1955. He is very well-known as the concertmaster of the Berlin Philharmonic and easily one of the best concertmasters in the world. In addition, as almost all concertmasters have done for centuries, he performs as soloist or chamber music player as often as he can. Stabrawa began his violin lessons at age 7. He later studied with Zbigniew Szlezer at the Music Academy in Krakow. He entered the Paganini violin competition in 1978 and came in a respectable sixth place. He became concertmaster of the Polish Radio Symphony in Krakow in 1979. He was 24 years old. He probably worked somewhere else prior to this but I don’t know where. In 1980 he again entered the Paganini violin competition and again came in sixth place. He first joined the Berlin Philharmonic in 1983. He was 28 years old. Herbert Von Karajan was chief conductor back then. Three years later, Stabrawa was appointed concertmaster – actually one of three concertmasters. (German orchestras usually hire three concertmasters considered equals – they are known as first concertmasters. They also hire two or three concertmasters of lower rank. It is very unusual for all three first concertmasters to be present for even a few concerts; however, it is also highly unusual for all three first concertmasters to be absent at the same time so this arrangement guarantees that a first concertmaster is always available to play. Therefore, an associate or assistant concertmaster rarely gets to sit in the first chair.) In 1985, Stabrawa began playing – as first violinist – in the Philharmonia Quartet (with Christian Stadelmann on second violin, Neithard Resa on viola, and Jan Diesselhorst on cello - Dietmar Schwalke replaced Diesselhorst in 1999. All are Berlin Philharmonic players.) Here is a YouTube video of the quartet playing a movement from the second of Beethoven’s Opus 59 quartets. The quartet recently completed recording all of Beethoven’s string quartets. Stabrawa taught at the Orchestra Academy of the Berlin Philharmonic for fourteen years - from 1986 to 2000. In 1994, he took an interest in conducting. He began conducting the Capella Bydgostsiensis Chamber Orchestra in 1995 (possibly 1994) and conducted it for at least seven years, although I do not know if he is still conducting that ensemble. It resides in Bydgoszcz, Poland, about 225 miles northeast of Berlin and 175 miles northwest of Warsaw. He has been quoted as saying that he actually conducts very little, which is understandable given the heavy concert schedule maintained by the Berlin orchestra. He has stated: “If you can direct, that helps a lot as concertmaster. Orchestra musicians have always felt they could do better than the conductor. But when you stand in front, you realize: Conducting's like playing the violin, you have to have an incredible technique; you need to know how it works. Every little wrong movement is transferred to the orchestra. Conducting is as hard as playing violin.” In 2008, he founded the Stabrawa Ensemble Berlin. As far as recording, Stabrawa has recorded most of the orchestral repertoire as a concertmaster, though he has also recorded some solo works. His solos in Korsakov’s Scheherazade are second to none (and I should say I have heard quite a few.) His sound has always been described as being very beautiful. You can judge for yourself here (in a short video, playing one of Jeno Hubay’s concertos with his Berlin colleagues) and here, playing a Wieniawski piece (Opus 20.) This one features him with Nigel Kennedy playing a little-known duo concerto by Vivaldi. Stabrawa has played a violin by Francesco Ruggeri from 1674 and might still be playing it - of that I am not certain.
Sunday, November 16, 2014
Boris Kuschnir is a Russian violinist and teacher born (in Kiev, Ukraine) on October 28, 1948. More than anything, he is known as a violin pedagogue and chamber music player. Several of his students play in the Vienna Philharmonic and some have international careers as soloists. Just as Arthur Hartmann and Tivadar Nachez knew so many of the musical luminaries in their day, Kuschnir does in his own time. As far as violinists go, Kuschnir’s website is probably the most comprehensive on the internet. I don’t know at what age he began his violin studies but, as a young man, he studied with Boris Belenky and Valentin Berlinsky at the Moscow Conservatory. He also studied with David Oistrakh. In 1970, he founded the Moscow String Quartet. He was 22 years old. In 1981, he left Russia and settled in Austria, where one of his first jobs was playing concertmaster of the Bruckner Orchestra in Linz (about 110 miles west of Vienna.) In 1984 he began teaching at the Vienna Conservatory. He was 35 years old. That same year, he founded the Vienna Schubert Trio (1985-1993, with Claus Schuster on piano and Martin Hornstein on cello.) In 1993, he founded the Vienna Brahms Trio with Orfeo Mandozzi (cello) and Jasminka Stancul (piano.) The trio is probably still active. He co-founded the Kopelman Quartet in 2002. This group is interesting because the first violinist lives in New York, the second violinist lives in Vienna, and the violist and cellist live (in different cities) in Spain. Here’s a YouTube video of the quartet playing (in Cyprus) the eighth string quartet of Dmitri Shostakovich. In addition to judging at many violin competitions around the world, Kuschnir also plays at music festivals far and wide, including the Spoleto, the Verbier, and the Salzburg Festivals. His best known pupils are probably Alexandra Soumm, Julian Rachlin, Nicolas Znaider, and Lidia Baich. There are many YouTube videos of Kuschnir in performance. Here is one of them. Since 1991, Kuschnir has been playing a Stradivarius from 1698 (or 1703, according to several sources) nicknamed La Rouse Boughton.
Sunday, November 2, 2014
Peter Stojanovic (Petar Stojanovic Lazar) was a Serbian violinist, composer, and teacher born (in Budapest) on September 7, 1877. He is largely forgotten. Several sources have him studying with Jeno Hubay in Vienna and Budapest. I am not aware that Hubay taught in Vienna but I do know he was at the Budapest College of Music and Budapest Conservatory from 1886 onward. At the Vienna Conservatory Stojanovic studied with Jacob Grun, who was also concertmaster of the Vienna Opera Orchestra. Grun was Joseph Joachim's close friend and colleague. In 1925, Stojanovic was appointed professor of violin and composition at the conservatory in Belgrade. He was 48 years old. Stojanovic also concertized throughout Europe as a soloist and with his string quartet. He later founded the Music Academy in Belgrade. Among his compositions are 5 violin concertos, 2 viola concertos, 1 horn concerto, one flute concerto, 2 ballets, 2 tone poems, 3 operas, and diverse chamber music. His most famous pupil is probably Robert Virovai, another obscure violinist. Stojanovic died (in Belgrade) on September 11, 1957, at age 80. The world of classical music had changed drastically by then and he had already become so obscure that the Grove Dictionary of Music (edition of 1953) has no mention of him. You can listen to one of his violin concertos here.
Sunday, October 19, 2014
Stefan Milenkovich (Milenkovic) is a Serbian violinist and teacher born (in Belgrade) on January 25, 1977. He began studying at an extremely young age – age 3, just like Jascha Heifetz. His first teacher was his father – again, just as Heifetz’ father was his first teacher as well. As have other famous violinists – Bronislaw Huberman, Bronislaw Gimpel, Leonora Jackson, Julia Igonina, Hilary Hahn, Natasha Korsakova, and Chloe Hanslip among them - he has performed for world leaders, including President Reagan, President Gorbachev, and Pope John Paul II. By age 6, he had already given his first public concert. By 1994, he had played over 1000 concerts. He was only 16 years old. Ruggiero Ricci played over 5000 concerts by the time he retired at age 85. That is probably a world record, although I am not sure about that. At the rate he was going, Milenkovich would have to play until age 57 before he would surpass the 5000 number; however, few concert artists nowadays play more than 50 concerts per season. Also in that year (1994), Milenkovic graduated from the University of Belgrade. He then began studying in New York with Dorothy Delay at Juilliard. In 2003, he began teaching at that same school. He was 26 years old. All the while, he was concertizing all over the world. He has been known to dance - in the fashion of Maxim Vengerov - during special recitals. Three other violinists that I know of are (or were) also very good dancers; Jean Marie Leclair, Andrew Sords, and Tai Murray. As does Simone Lamsma, Milenkovich loves violin competitions and has won a number of them or placed in the top three, including the Indianapolis, the Queen Elizabeth, the Yehudi Menuhin, the Paganini, and the Spohr competitions. He has recorded several CDs which are easy to find on the internet. Currently he teaches at the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana (about 130 miles south of Chicago) and at the University of Belgrade (since December 26, 2011.) Here is one of many YouTube videos of him – it features Sarasate’s Zigeunerweisen. Milenkovich currently plays a modern violin - a 2006 violin by Chicago luthier Peter Aznavoorian.
Sunday, October 5, 2014
Maurice Hasson is a French violinist and teacher born on July 6, 1934. He is recognized as a long-time violin professor at the Royal Academy of Music in London. He is also known for having spent thirteen years of his music career in Venezuela (1960-1973), contributing greatly to that country’s cultural life. He entered the Paris Conservatory in 1950. He was 16 years old. I do not know who his teachers were before his conservatory days. After graduation, he studied privately with Polish violinist Henryk Szeryng. In Venezuela, he taught at the University of the Andes, after which he relocated his career to England. Though he has dedicated a great deal of time to teaching, he has also been very busy concertizing around the globe since the early 1960s. He owned and played a 1727 Stradivarius for quite some time (the Halphen Strad, also known as the Benvenuti Strad) but now plays a Domenico Montagnana and a Guadagnini, although I don’t know the years of his current instruments. It is said he also owns several other fine violins. The 1727 Strad is now being played (though not owned) by Eckhard Seifert, a violinist with the Vienna Philharmonic. Hasson made his American debut on January 19, 1978, playing Paganini's first concerto (in D) with the Cleveland Orchestra. Lorin Maazel was on the podium. Hasson has been teaching at the Royal Academy of Music since 1986. He has approximately 20 CDs to his credit and has recorded most of the standard repertoire for various labels, including EMI, Philips, and Pickwick. He is also known for master-classes all over the world. Here is a fascinating YouTube video of him playing “Summer” from Vivaldi’s Four Seasons in 1987. It is very interesting and very rare – apart from the brilliant performance – in that Yehudi Menuhin is the conductor. You can marvel at how unobtrusive Menuhin was as a conductor. The governments of France and Venezuela have bestowed several honors on Hasson in recognition of his service to their countries. His best-known pupil is probably brilliant Dutch violinist Simone Lamsma. Among his other pupils are Cassandra Hamilton, Catherine Geach, Gill Austin, Diana Yukawa, Amy Yuan, Marisol Lee, Tereza Privratska, Daniel Pioro, Laurence Kempton, Luis Cuevas, Mark Wilson, Nathaniel Anderson, Patrick Sabberton, Pierre Bensaid, Giovanni Guzzo, Remus Azoitei, and Eloisa-Fleur Thom.
Sunday, September 21, 2014
Elizabeth Wallfisch (Elizabeth Coates Hunt Wallfisch) is an Australian violinist, teacher, author, and conductor born (in Melbourne, Australia) on January 28, 1952. The greater part of her career has been spent outside of Australia. Together with Simon Standage, Fabio Biondi, Andrew Manze, Giuliano Carmignola, Rachel Podger, and Enrico Onofri, she is one of the better-known proponents of historical baroque performance practice, a movement which started in the mid-1970s. Nevertheless, besides playing on baroque (period) violins, Wallfisch also gives concerts on modern instruments. (The photo shows her holding a baroque violin.) One of her many recordings is the one featuring the rarely-heard Rosary Sonatas by Heinrich Biber. Another is the Opus 3 concertos (published in 1733) by Pietro Locatelli. Although she began studying piano at age 4, she did not begin violin lessons until age 10, a rather late age at which to start by traditional standards. I do not know who her first violin teachers were. At 18, she moved to Germany then proceeded to London where she studied at the Royal Academy of Music with Frederick Grinke. At about age 23, her professional career began in England with the London Mozart Players and the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic. Up to about her mid-twenties, her education had been entirely founded on traditional modern performance techniques on modern violins. Her switch to baroque (historical) approaches took place almost by accident. Among the many ensembles she has led and performed with are the Hanover Band, the Australian Chamber Orchestra, the Australian Brandenburg Orchestra, Les Musiciens Du Louvre, the Raglan Baroque Players, the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, Tafelmusik, the Israel Chamber Orchestra, and the St Paul Chamber Orchestra. In 1989, she co-founded the Locatelli Trio. In 2008, she founded the Wallfisch Band, a baroque ensemble that allows for apprenticeships for young players alongside the core orchestra members – personnel changes are made on an on-going basis. Wallfisch has held teaching positions at the Royal Academy of Music (London), the Royal Conservatory at The Hague, and at the University of Melbourne. She has been concertmaster at the Carmel Bach Festival (California, U.S.) for over twenty years. Among the recording labels featuring her are Virgin Classics, Hyperion, and Chandos - they are easy to find on the internet. As far as I could determine, Wallfisch plays a violin by Petrus Paulus (Pietro Paolo) de Vitor (of Brescia) from about 1750. Here is one YouTube audio file of Wallfisch playing several Bach concertos. Here is a short video by the Wallfisch Band playing Telemann.
Sunday, September 7, 2014
Sayaka Shoji is a Japanese violinist born (in Tokyo) on January 30, 1983. She gained considerable attention after winning the Paganini Violin Competition at age 16 (in 1999), the youngest competitor to ever do so and the first Japanese violinist to win the gold medal at that competition as well. Although she spent her very early childhood in Italy, she began her violin studies in Japan, at age 5. Among her first teachers (in Tokyo) were Kazuko Yatani and Reiko Kaminishi. At 15, she moved to Germany for further study. At 21, she graduated from the Advanced School for Music in Cologne where her main teacher was Zakhar Bron, although she also studied with Uto Ughi and Shlomo Mintz, among others. (Bron’s other famous pupils have been Maxim Vengerov, Daniel Hope, Mayuko Kamio, and Vadim Repin.) Needless to say, Shoji has performed with every major orchestra and most of the world’s illustrious conductors. Her first appearance with the Berlin Philharmonic was at the Salzburg Easter Festival in 2002, playing Bruch’s first concerto. Mariss Jansons was on the podium. She first appeared with the New York Philharmonic on October 7, 2004 playing the first Prokofiev concerto under the baton of the late Lorin Maazel. She was 21 years old. Her repertoire includes three works seldom heard in concert: the Schumann, the Mendelssohn (in d minor), and the Max Reger concertos. As far as I know, Shoji has already recorded the Reger concerto but not yet the Schumann or Mendelssohn’s first concerto. Typical reviews from informed, respected, and experienced music critics read as follows:”…virtuosity of the highest order, …infused with poetry, …passionate, free, with an emotional intensity that many violinists will never achieve.” Her spectacular rendition of the Brahms concerto can be seen and heard here. In my opinion, the only performance which rivals it is the Heifetz rendition, and that, for me, is saying a lot. Shoji mostly records for the Deutsche Grammophon label. Volume 4 of her recording of all (10) Beethoven violin sonatas will be released in 2015. Her violin is the Recamier Stradivarius from 1729. Shoji’s photo (used here, slightly modified) is courtesy of Nikolaj Lund, well-known European photographer of classical musicians and classical music subjects.
Sunday, August 24, 2014
John Blake (John Edward Blake, Jr.) was an American jazz violinist, teacher, composer, arranger, writer, and band leader, born (in Philadelphia) on July 3, 1947. Although thoroughly trained as a classical violinist, he gravitated toward jazz early on in his career. He first came to the public’s attention in the mid-1970s as a member of ensembles headed by other jazz musicians, Archie Shepp and Grover Washington, with whom he recorded and toured extensively for several years. Afterward, Blake performed with a wide variety of artists, including the Duke Ellington Orchestra, the Billy Taylor Trio, the Turtle Island String Quartet, Quartet Indigo, and Didier Lockwood. He later released six CDs of his own, beginning in 1984. He was 37 years old. Blake began his violin studies in Philadelphia at age 9. He much later studied at West Virginia University and in Switzerland at the Institute for Advanced Studies in Montreux. Here is a YouTube video in which he appears with Billy Taylor, Chip Jackson, and Winard Harper. In addition to being a guest lecturer on university campuses around the world, Blake taught at the Manhattan School of Music, the University of Arts in Philadelphia, and at East Tennessee State University. He also co-wrote the best-known string jazz method book in use today. His best-known pupil is probably jazz violinist Regina Carter. In fact, he produced one of Carter’s CDs (Reverse Thread), prior to which she had been awarded a MacArthur Genius Grant (2006.) Blake died on August 15, 2014, at age 67.
Sunday, August 10, 2014
Renaud Capucon is a French violinist born (in Chambery) on January 27, 1976. He was discovered by conductor Claudio Abbado, who was instrumental in encouraging his career, just as Arturo Toscanini discovered Vasa Prihoda, Thomas Beecham discovered Albert Sammons, and Edouard Colonne discovered Jacques Thibaud. Capucon began studying the violin at age 4 at the music conservatory in Chambery. He studied, between ages 12 and 19, with American violinist Veda Reynolds (in Europe.) At 14, he entered the National Conservatory of Music and Dance in Paris from which he graduated at age 17. His main teacher there was Gerard Poulet. One of his other teachers was Thomas Brandis (in Berlin.) Capucon briefly played in the European Union Youth Orchestra and then was invited by Claudio Abbado to serve as concertmaster (1998-2000) of the Gustav Mahler Youth Orchestra (which Abbado founded and conducted regularly.) Capucon simultaneously began playing as a soloist and chamber musician and quickly rose to stardom. He first soloed with the Berlin Philharmonic on November 15, 2002, playing the Korngold Concerto. He was 26 years old. His career has taken him around the world and he has already performed with all of the major orchestras and played as soloist or in recital in the best-known concert halls. The only exception is the New York Philharmonic, with which I could not find any record of an appearance. I cannot guess as to the reason, but it does happen now and then – an instance of a major artist who has never appeared with one or another of the major orchestras or this or that major conductor. Although he has over 20 CDs in his discography, his most important recording – as far as I am concerned - is probably his recording of the Schumann concerto, a gem which was unknown and un-played for many decades thanks to Joseph Joachim’s negative opinion of it. Here is a YouTube video of his performance of this concerto with the Chamber Orchestra of Europe. As do most of today’s violinists, Capucon plays lots of chamber music in recital and at quite a few music festivals far and wide, including the Verbier, Lucerne, San Sebastian, Edinburgh, and Tanglewood. Capucon has recorded for the DG, Decca, EMI, TDK, and Virgin Classics labels. On May 25, 2009, Capucon was filmed playing in the midst of metro commuters in Paris (line 6 of the metro but I don’t know which station), unrecognized and unacknowledged by the passing crowd. Joshua Bell did a similar thing on January 12, 2007 in Washington D.C. with similar results. This reminds me of the doctor’s mother (or father) who used the van Gogh portrait of their son (Dr. Felix Rey) to plug a hole in their chicken coup. They had no clue the painting was (or would later be) valuable. After the piece was sold and discovered (20 years later), it was eventually brought to a museum where it was appraised at several millions. Location can, and frequently does, make all the difference in the world. Among Capucon’s violins have been a Vuillaume, a Guadagnini, and the 1737 Panette Guarnerius, previously owned by Isaac Stern.
Sunday, July 27, 2014
Konstanty Kulka (Konstanty Andrzej Kulka) is a Polish violinist and teacher born (in Gdansk, Poland) on March 5, 1947. Kulka spends most of his time in Europe, although he has toured around the world, playing with most major orchestras, including the London Symphony, the Concertgebouw, the Berlin Philharmonic, and the Chicago Symphony. Kulka has also played at many of the world’s music festivals, including ones in Lucerne, Berlin, Prague, Barcelona, and Warsaw. He began studying violin at age 8 with Ludwig Gbiorczyk. At 24, he graduated from the Stanislaw Moniuszco Academy of Music (Gdansk) in 1971, where his primary teacher was Stefan Herman. He had, however, already started concertizing in 1967. In fact, at age 17, he entered and received first prize at the German International ARD Radio Competition in Munich (in 1964.) He first appeared with the Berlin Philharmonic on February 28, 1982, playing Krzysztof Penderecki’s second violin concerto. He was 34 years old. In 1984, he was appointed violin soloist with the Warsaw Philharmonic. In 1994, Kulka was appointed violin professor at the Frederick Chopin School of Music in Warsaw. As far as I know, he is still teaching there. Kulka has recorded extensively and champions the music of modern Polish composers. Among the standard concertos he has in his discography are the Mozart, Mendelssohn, Beethoven, Lalo, Bartok, Prokofiev, Brahms, and Glazunov. In addition, he has recorded for many television and radio programs. Here is a video of his performance of the Mieczyslaw Karlowicz concerto. Karlowicz was a Polish composer who showed great promise but who, unfortunately, died very young (at age 32.) Here is an audio file of the first movement of Lalo’s Symphonie Espagnol. In 1981, Kulka received the Grand Prix du Disque for his recording of both Karol Szymanowski concertos. The Polish government has also bestowed several official honors on Kulka.
Sunday, July 13, 2014
Edouard Rappoldi (Eduard Rappoldi) was an Austrian violinist, teacher, conductor, and composer born (in Vienna) on February 21, 1839. He is best known for his teaching and his close association with Joseph Joachim. He began his violin studies at an early age, as do most concert violinists. His first teachers were two violinists I had never heard of until now - Leopold Jansa and a Mr. Doleschall, whose first name eluded me as I was doing my research, such as it was. At only age 7, he made his first public appearance as a violinist and pianist. It has been said that he later became a skilled pianist. At the Vienna Conservatory he studied (1851-1854) with two of the best teachers in the world, Georg Hellmesberger (Sr.) – or possibly Josef (Joseph) Hellmesberger (Sr.) - and Joseph Bohm. From 1854 to 1861, he played violin in the Vienna Court Opera Orchestra, though presumably not as concertmaster. He also toured Europe as a soloist. He was 15 years old when he joined the orchestra and 22 when he left. From 1861 to 1866 he was concertmaster of the Rotterdam German Opera Orchestra. He then became conductor of orchestras (I don’t know which orchestras) - between the years 1866 and 1870 - in Lubeck (in 1866), Stettin (in 1867), and Prague (in 1869), successively. In 1871, at age 32, he was appointed violin teacher at the Royal School of Music in Berlin, which Joachim had helped establish. Joachim was already teaching there. Rappoldi was a member of the Joachim Quartet (as violist) between 1871 and 1877. When Rappoldi joined the quartet, Heinrich De Ahna moved from viola to second violin and after Rappoldi left the quartet, Emmanuel Wirth took his place as violist. De Ahna stayed on second. In 1877, Rappoldi was appointed principal violin instructor at the Dresden Conservatory. He taught there for 15 years. He was also concertmaster of the Dresden Opera during those years but retired from playing in 1898. He was 59 or 60 years old – I don’t know which. One source claims he was also the conductor at the Dresden Opera. Perhaps he was one of the conductors, as opera companies seldom – if ever – hire just one conductor. His compositions include symphonies, quartets, and sonatas. As far as I know, his music is seldom performed now except perhaps in Germany and Austria. One of Rappoldi’s best known and most accomplished pupils was Charles Loeffler, a very influential violinist and composer in the U.S. in the first half of the twentieth century. According to a usually-reliable source, Rappoldi played a 1719 Stradivarius violin now known as the Rappoldi Strad. Rappoldi died (in Dresden) on May 16, 1903, at age 64.
Sunday, June 29, 2014
Adolfo Betti was an Italian violinist, teacher, and music editor born (in Bagni Di Lucca, Italy) on March 21, 1875. (Bagni Di Lucca is a small village in Tuscany, Italy - it is situated about 30 miles northwest of Florence and about 70 miles south of Cremona.) He is known for leading, as first violinist, the Flonzaley Quartet from 1903 to 1929. In its first few years, he and second violinist, Alfred Pochon, actually alternated playing first violin. Two other quartets who used to or still do this are the Emerson and the Jacobsohn string quartets. The Flonzaley quartet was one of two very famous (and important) American string quartets playing in the early twentieth century - the other was the Kneisel Quartet. Interestingly, its founder was not a professional musician. He was philanthropist Edward J. De Coppet. The quartet was actually named for De Coppet’s summer home near Geneva, Switzerland. Although I have no idea who Betti’s early teachers were, I do know he made his public debut as a child of either six or seven - accounts vary. He entered the Liege Conservatory (Belgium) in 1892. There, he studied with Cesar Thomson. He graduated in 1896, at age 21. Thereafter, he concertized in Europe. In 1900, he was appointed assistant to his former teacher (Thomson) at the Brussels Conservatory. In 1903, he was invited, by Alfred Pochon, to become part of the Flonzaley Quartet. Pochon was also teaching at the Brussels Conservatory at the time. Betti was 28 years old. After the quartet disbanded, Betti spent his time between New York and his birthplace, teaching, editing music, and playing occasionally. The public library in Bagni Di Lucca is named after him. According to one source, he was even mayor of Bagni Di Lucca for a while. In New York, Betti taught at the Mannes College of Music. He played, among other violins, a 1782 J.B. Guadagnini and a 1741 Guarnerius Del Gesu. I don’t know who owns or plays those violins today. One of his better known students was David Nadien, who very recently passed away. Betti died on December 2, 1950, at age 75.
Sunday, June 15, 2014
Dorothy DeLay was an American violinist and teacher born (in Medicine Lodge, Kansas) on March 31, 1917. She is well-known as the teacher of many world famous violinists and as a pedagogue as accomplished as Peter Stolyarski, Leopold Auer, Carl Flesch, Ivan Galamian, Otakar Sevcik, Joseph Gingold, and Zakhar Bron. She easily taught more than a thousand students during her career. A story is told of how when DeLay was two years old, she had opportunity to hug and kiss the King of Belgium – just as the child prodigy Mozart hugged and kissed Marie Antoinette. She began her violin studies at age 4. She first played in public at age 5. By age 14, she was the leader of her high school orchestra, which numbered about one hundred players. At 16, she entered Oberlin College (Ohio) where she studied with Raymond Cerf, an obscure violinist who had been a pupil of Eugene Ysaye. At 17, she entered Michigan State University, from which she graduated at age 20. Her violin teacher there was another obscure violinist and conductor named Michael Press. From there, she went (in 1937) to New York to study with Louis Persinger at Juilliard. She was still only 20 years old. She also later studied with Hans Letz and Felix Salmond at the same school. DeLay earned a living while at Juilliard by doing odd jobs and playing wherever and whenever she could. It was during this time that she founded the Stuyvesant Trio which was active from 1939 to 1942. She also became a member of Leopold Stokowski’s All-American Youth Orchestra which toured South America and the U.S. in 1940 and 1941. She graduated from Juilliard in 1941 but also got married that year. She subsequently traveled with her husband due to his military service during the war but also occasionally performed as a soloist and with the trio. In 1946, DeLay decided to take a break from performing and returned to Juilliard for further study. She was 29 years old. Her teacher then was Ivan Galamian. In 1948 (one source says 1947), she became Galamian’s teaching assistant. The rest is history. She was 31 years old. DeLay had also considered studying medicine during this time but decided against it. (Interestingly, Austrian violinist Fritz Kreisler did study medicine and actually became a doctor, though, as far as I know, he never actually practiced.) She also concurrently began teaching at the Henry Street Settlement School and Sarah Lawrence College (1947-1987.) In 1970, she finally established her own teaching studio at Juilliard. She was 53 years old and had already been teaching at Juilliard for more than 20 years, although under Galamian’s shadow. One fine day, after it had become quite obvious that her teaching style and methods were incompatible with Galamian’s, Delay let Galamian know that she would not be teaching at Meadowmount (Galamian’s summer music camp) that summer (in 1970) but would be at the Aspen Music camp instead; the relationship ruptured and Galamian (1903-1981) never spoke to her again. In fact, he tried to get her fired but was unsuccessful. DeLay played a 1778 GB Guadagnini (named the Dorothy Delay Guadagnini) which was sold at auction in October of 2013 – for $1,390,000. She acquired the violin in 1969. Today, more than a dozen Juilliard teachers are former pupils of hers. Besides Juilliard, DeLay also taught at the University of Cincinnati, the New England Conservatory, and the Royal College of Music in London. It has been said that DeLay once stated that “talent is just a mood.” Among her famous pupils are Anastasia Khitruk, Stefan Milenkovich, Anton Barachovsky, Philippe Quint, Itzhak Perlman, Tijana Milosevic, Miranda Cuckson, Nigel Kennedy, Peter Oundjian, Jaap van Zweden, Shlomo Mintz, David Kim, Robert McDuffie, Aaron Janse, Cornelia Heard, Mark Kaplan, Midori Goto, Frank Almond, Sarah Chang, Angele Dubeau, Paul Kantor, Tamaki Kawakubo, Robert Chen, Gil Shaham, and Akiko Suwanai. Dorothy DeLay died on March 24, 2002, at age 84. Today, Itzhak Perlman teaches in her place. The photo shows DeLay in her early twenties.
Sunday, June 1, 2014
Oldrich Vlcek is a Czech violinist and conductor born (in Byk, Czechoslovakia) on May 18, 1939. (I could not find Byk on a map of Czechoslovakia so I don’t know where it is.) He is known for having recorded over 200 CDs with various European chamber orchestras, although the vast majority (on various labels) have been with the Prague Chamber Orchestra and the Virtuosi di Praga. He has also performed with some of the most outstanding soloists of our time, including Mstislav Rostropovich, Josef Suk, Sergey Krylov, and Placido Domingo. Among his distinguished accomplishments has been his appointment (in 2004) as one of the principal conductors of the orchestra of the Estates Theatre in Prague. You can read a little more about this famous theatre here. After studying with Bohumila Kotmela, Vlcek was a pupil of Nora Grumlikova at the Prague Academy of Art (Academy of Performing Arts in Prague - film director Milos Forman [aka Jan Tomas Kohn] also studied there.) Vlcek also studied conducting with Vaclav Neumann, the chief conductor of the Czech Philharmonic (1968-1990). He was appointed concertmaster and conductor of the Prague Chamber Orchestra (established in 1951) in 1980. In 1990, he re-established the Virtuosi di Praga. He is given credit for quite successfully navigating (with this ensemble) the hard economic times that came upon Czechoslovakia after the fall of the Communist regime in 1990. He had actually founded the Virtuosi di Praga in 1976 but the orchestra had disbanded for reasons I know nothing about. Besides Czechoslovakia, Vlcek has also guest conducted in Europe, Korea, and Canada. As leader and soloist with the Prague Chamber Orchestra and the Virtuosi di Praga, Vicek has toured worldwide. His very interesting recording of the Four Seasons is here. You can hear Vlcek play Vivaldi here.
Sunday, May 18, 2014
Akiko Suwanai is a Japanese violinist and teacher born (in Tokyo) on February 7, 1972. Suwanai won the Tchaikovsky violin competition at age 18 (1990) and is well-known for playing one of Heifetz’ old violins, the Dolphin Stradivarius of 1714. She initially studied in Tokyo with Toshiya Eto. Eventually she moved to the U.S where she studied with Dorothy DeLay and Cho Liang Lin at Juilliard. Then she moved to Berlin to study with Uwe Martin Haiberg at the Advanced School of Art (the University of Art.) Suwanai has since solidly established her career, gaining praise from critics and audiences throughout the world. She frequently tours with top orchestras, but mostly in Europe. She soloed with the New York Philharmonic on November 20, 1997, playing the Mendelssohn concerto – the one in e minor. Suwanai first performed with the Berlin Philharmonic on September 12, 2000, playing Ravel’s Tzigane. She was 28 years old. Charles Dutoit was on the podium. She opened the Shanghai Spring International Music Festival in 2009, being the first Japanese violinist invited to do so. She has recorded with the Academy of St Martin in the Fields, the Philharmonia Orchestra, and the Chamber Orchestra of Europe, among others. Suwanai also teaches master classes occasionally. As far as I know, Suwanai presently has her home base in Paris. Paris, New York, Berlin, Rome, and London are probably the most popular cities for concert violinists to work from. Here is a YouTube video of her playing (in the orchestra) with a few other musicians at the Louvre. And another is here at the same concert, playing the double concerto by Bach. Among her collaborators at the concert are Manrico Padovani, Sergey Khachatryan, Viviane Hagner, Hyun-su Shin, Manuela Janke, Steven Isserlis, and Arabella Steinbacher. There are many other videos of Suwanai in concert on YouTube. The photo is courtesy of Leslie Kee.
Sunday, May 4, 2014
Noel Pointer was an American jazz violinist, composer, and record producer born on December 26, 1954. Just as the lives of many musical luminaries were cut short – Wolfgang Mozart, Felix Mendelssohn, George Gershwin, Franz Schubert, Vasa Prihoda, Glenn Gould, Ginette Neveu, Josef Hassid, Arma Senkrah, Andrei Korsakov, and Michael Rabin come to mind – his life was also cut short at a very early age. What he could have accomplished is anyone’s guess but he was well on his way to becoming a legend. Early in his career he decided to take up jazz violin and went as far as producing albums. Pointer also became involved in national social causes such as literacy and the arts, receiving special citations from the U.S. Congress. In 1981, he was nominated for a Grammy. He was 26 years old. Pointer began his music studies at an early age but exactly what age I do not know. He became interested in jazz while studying at New York’s High School for Music and Art. He began playing for studio sessions while at the Manhattan School of Music. His public debut took place at age 13 in New York, with the Symphony of the New World. He went on to appear with the Chicago Chamber Orchestra and the Detroit Symphony as a classical violinist. By age 19, Pointer was playing regularly with many theatre orchestras in New York City, including the Radio City Music Hall Symphony, the Dance Theatre of Harlem Orchestra, and the Apollo Theatre Orchestra. Pointer enjoyed steady work as a club jazz violinist in New York as well. He recorded for the Blue Note, United Artists, and Liberty record labels. He also recorded with a variety of artists. Of his seven solo albums, four reached Billboard’s top five jazz albums list. As a composer, Pointer wrote music for several dance troupes in New York. He died suddenly on December 9, 1994, at age 39.
Sunday, April 20, 2014
Jacques Singer (Jakob Singer) was a Polish (some would say American) violinist and conductor born (in Przemysl, Poland) on May 9, 1910. Although he was a very fine violinist, he is today remembered as a conductor, owing to the fact that he spent the latter part of his career as a conductor of various well-known orchestras, having almost given up playing the violin altogether. In this respect he joins Edouard Colonne, Eugene Ormandy, Theodore Thomas, Charles Munch, Pierre Monteux, Neville Marriner, David Zinman, Alan Gilbert, Peter Oundjian, Orlando Barera, Jaap Van Zweden, and a few others. Singer acquired a reputation for improving orchestras as well as improving audience attendance dramatically but he also faced problems wherever he went, feuding with music critics, orchestra members, or boards of directors. He began his violin studies at a very early age and by age 7 had already performed in public. When he was 10 years old, the family moved to the U.S, arriving in November of 1920. They settled in Jersey City, a place very close to New York City. In 1925, at about age 15, Singer made his American debut at Town Hall. He then attended the Curtis Institute (Philadelphia), studying with Carl Flesch. A year later (1927) he began studying at Juilliard. He was 17 years old. His teachers there were Paul Kochanski and Leopold Auer. Singer graduated in 1930. Two years before he graduated, he had joined the Philadelphia Orchestra, becoming the youngest player at that time. One source claims he was fourteen years old when he joined the orchestra but that is very unlikely. According to one source, Leopold Stokowski encouraged him to take up conducting. By 1936, Singer had become the conductor of the Philadelphia Orchestra’s Youth Orchestra. He was 26 years old. The New York Times said he was a conductor to watch. Singer was one of the first conductors to address the audience during concerts, something which violinist Henri Temianka also used to do before everyone else thought it was a good idea. Singer was permanent conductor with the Dallas Symphony from 1938 to 1942. He was very well received in Dallas but his tenure there was interrupted by the war. In the Army, he conducted bands but also served as a soldier. He possibly could have rejoined the Dallas Symphony after the war but he didn’t. Why that is so is anyone’s guess. During his tenure there, subscriptions tripled. In 1946, he conducted summer concerts for two months in New Orleans. In 1947, he was appointed music director at Vancouver (Canada.) He stayed until 1951, leaving after feuding with the board of directors over budget issues. He then formed a competing orchestra (the British Columbia Philharmonic) but that didn’t last. He guest conducted in New York (Broadway) and in Israel (Jerusalem Radio Orchestra, Israel Philharmonic, and Haifa Symphony) in 1952. From 1955 until 1962, he served as conductor of the Corpus Christi Symphony. In 1962, he was again guest-conducting in England (London Philharmonic and Royal Philharmonic) among many other places, including South America. He renewed his contract with the Corpus Christi Symphony in 1962 but soon asked to be released because the Portland Symphony offered him a position (and possibly a better financial deal) beginning the same year. He conducted in Portland from 1962 to 1971 – he did not conduct during the 1972-1973 season although he was paid for it. He left after a feud about artistic matters. The Portland Symphony became the Oregon Symphony during his tenure. Players in that orchestra (and others) often complained about his brusque, bombastic manner, his volatile temper, and his poor conducting technique, but admired his musicianship and exciting entrepreneurial style. Singer spent the rest of his life in New York and DeKalb (Illinois), conducting, among others, the American Symphony Orchestra and the Northern Illinois Philharmonic. I’m guessing that there are some recorded broadcasts around somewhere although not readily available. Singer died in Manhattan on August 11, 1980, at age 70.
Sunday, April 6, 2014
Heinrich Biber (Heinrich Ignaz Franz Biber von Bibern) was a Czech (some would say Austrian) violinist and composer born (in Wartenberg) on a date unknown but probably in July or August of 1644. Although he was a virtuosic violinist and highly regarded in his day for his skill in playing the violin, he is today better known as a composer. One source states that he seldom (if ever) toured as a concert violinist. He was in the employ of the nobility and wrote music, both secular and sacred, for them. He was even ascended to the nobility (1690 - at about age 45) by one of his employers. Just as Bach, Vivaldi, Zelenka, and a few other Baroque composers lost favor and remained obscure during a time span of one hundred years or more but were re-discovered, Biber and his music enjoyed a renaissance in the late 1900s. This was due mainly to the discovery of a brilliant set of violin sonatas known as the Mystery Sonatas or the Rosary Sonatas. The set is comprised of 15 works plus a Passacaglia attached to the end as number 16. There are quite a number of recordings of the Sonatas, just as there are dozens of recordings of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons. Biber is said to be one of the most important composers of violin music – just as are Locatelli, Corelli, Vivaldi, Tartini, Paganini, Spohr, Viotti, Vieuxtemps, Wieniawski, Sarasate, and a few others. Little is known of his early life. He did work at various courts from an early age. Eventually he ended up spending the bulk of his career in Salzburg – from the year 1670 onward; playing, conducting, and composing for Maximilian Gandolph, Archbishop of Salzburg. This was about 90 years before Mozart’s time. Biber first published his works in 1676. He was 32 years old. In 1679, he became assistant music director and in 1684, he was appointed music director. Today, his most popular and best-known work consists of the Mystery Sonatas, although they were not published during Biber’s lifetime. If he played these sonatas himself, he must have been an extraordinary violinist because they are riddled with difficulties. In addition, all of the sonatas require that the violin be tuned other than in the usual fifths – only the Passacaglia is played with normal tuning. Biber composed much music for choir and orchestra as well as other instrumental works, some of it quite exploratory or experimental in nature. A piece entitled The Battle (that’s the abbreviated title) makes use of effects which would not again see the light of day until more than two hundred years later – extreme polytonality, imitations of drums, imitations of canon fire, unusual harmonic progressions, and insertion of extraneous objects into instruments to change their texture. Here is part one of a YouTube video of a performance of the piece. Here is part two of the same performance. This is part one of a partita (Partia) for six players in seven movements. This is part two of the same partita. And finally, eight of the famous Mystery Sonatas can be found here. About one minute and 15 seconds into the Praeludium of Sonata number one you may think you hear a striking resemblance to the main melody in the second movement of Saint Saens’ first piano concerto but that is probably just a striking coincidence. Similarly, Sonata number 15 contains a tiny portion which somewhat resembles the theme of Paganini’s twenty-fourth Caprice. Biber died on May 3, 1704, at age 59.
Sunday, March 23, 2014
Andras Agoston is a Romanian (some would say Hungarian) violinist and teacher born (in Cluj) on March 17, 1947. (Cluj is about 230 miles northwest of Bucharest.) For the most part, Agoston has made his career in Eastern Europe but is recognized the world over, though mainly by audiences who keep very close tabs on the world of classical music. To the general public, he is definitely not a household name and there is scant information about him on the internet. Nonetheless, he is a very brilliant and unique artist. He first studied in his native city with Paula Kouba, Peter Zsurka, and Istvan Ruha. An audio file of the famous Handel-Halvorsen passacaglia with Ruha on viola is located here – in my opinion, it’s the best recording of this work available anywhere and it’s not even a studio recording. (Ruha’s viola playing is also simply phenomenal.) After graduating from the Klausenburg Music Academy (in 1972?), he taught there for 20 years. Between 1991 and 2001, he was concertmaster of the Philharmonia Hungarica, an orchestra (mainly composed of self-exiled Hungarian musicians) which was initially based near Vienna, Austria. The orchestra later settled in Marl, a small city about 30 miles northeast of Dusseldorf, Germany. It became famous for its recording of the complete Haydn symphonies – one of only three orchestras to produce such a project. The recording project received every award imaginable. However, the orchestra recorded much more music than this – a total of about 130 discs. The Philharmonia Hungarica was funded by Germany between 1956 and 2001, after which it ceased to exist. Agoston continues to give master classes and perform throughout Europe. As far as I know, he is still based in Marl, Germany. What violin he plays is unknown to me. Here is a YouTube file in which he plays the Brahms double concerto.
Sunday, March 9, 2014
Victor Tretyakov (Viktor Viktorovich Tretiakov) is a Russian violinist, teacher, and conductor born (in Krasnoyarsk, Siberia) on October 17, 1946. He is known for an extraordinary technique. Though Russia was his home base for the first fifty years of his career, he has performed with (almost) every major orchestra in the world and toured far and wide as a soloist, recitalist, and chamber ensemble musician. He has been awarded every major prize and been given every honor Russia offers its artists. Tretyakov began studying the violin at age 5 in Irkutsk (Siberia) with a teacher whom I could not trace (please see comments below). At age 10 (1956), he entered the Central Music School in Moscow where he studied with Yury Yankelevich (pupil of Abram Yampolski and among whose students are Leonid Kogan, Vladimir Spivakov, Ilya Kaler, and Albert Markov.) At age 19 (1966), during his first year at the Moscow Conservatory, he won first prize in the Tchaikovsky Competition. In 1969, he was named soloist of the Moscow State Philharmonic. He graduated from the Moscow Conservatory one year later (1970.) He was 23 years old. However, he continued to study with Yankelevich. His first performance with the Berlin Philharmonic was on October 17, 1981. He played the Brahms concerto on that occasion. He was 35 years old. In 1983, he became artistic director of the USSR State Chamber Orchestra which later became the Moscow Chamber Orchestra. He gave that post up in 1991. From 1986 to 1994, he served as President of the jury for the Tchaikovsky Competition. He also taught at the Moscow Conservatory for many years but I do not have the dates. In 1996, he moved to Germany to teach at the advanced school for music in Cologne. He was 50 years old. He has also held master classes all over the world. Here is a YouTube audio file in which he plays Paganini’s concerto in D. With Yuri Bashmet (viola), Natalia Gutman (cello), and Vassily Lobanov (piano), he formed a piano quartet whose name I do not know. Among other violins, he has played a 1772 Nicolo Gagliano violin and a gorgeous modern violin by Alexander Hazin. His discography is not extensive (it fills ten CDs) but it covers all of the standard concertos and sonatas.
Sunday, February 23, 2014
Wolfgang Schneiderhan (Wolfgang Eduard Schneiderhan) was an Austrian violinist, conductor, and teacher born (in Vienna) on May 28, 1915. He was well-known for being a concertmaster as well as a concert violinist. His many recordings for the German record label, Deutsche Grammophon, are also well-known and his portrait is easily recognizable in that he almost always wore horn-rimmed glasses – he even bore a resemblance to an American diplomat. He spent most of his career in Europe, though he toured the U.S. in 1958 as part of a chamber orchestra. He was also caught up in political movements of the time as were most German and Austrian musicians of that era. His first teacher was his mother, beginning at age 3. He made fast progress and his first public performance took place at age 5 in Vienna. In 1923, he started studying with Otakar Sevcik in Pisek (Czechoslovakia) but later returned to Vienna to study with Julius Winkler because Sevcik was not one to linger long in any one place. In 1926, he played the Mendelssohn concerto in Copenhagen and subsequently began to tour as a prodigy. He was 11 years old. Between 1929 and 1932, he worked in England. He was 17 years old when he returned to Austria. He then became concertmaster of the Vienna Symphony. In 1937, he became concertmaster of the Vienna Philharmonic and remained there until 1951 (some sources say 1949.) All the while, he was concertizing and recording as a soloist. He also formed the Schneiderhan Quartet in 1937 (which he disbanded in 1951) with Otto Strassner, Ernest Moravec, and Richard Kroschak. In 1947, he presented Elgar’s violin concerto in its first performance in Vienna. He was 32 years old. In 1948, he joined a piano trio with which he also recorded, though not much. He left the trio in 1956. In that same year, he left the Mozarteum in Salzburg – where he had been teaching since 1938. He had also taught at the Vienna Academy (Hochschule Fur Musik) from 1939 to 1950 (one source says 1937 to 1950.) He began teaching at the Lucerne Conservatory (Switzerland) in 1949 and co-founded the Lucerne Festival Strings in 1956. His first solo appearance with the Berlin Philharmonic took place on November 3, 1942. He played Viotti’s concerto number 22 in a minor – he was 27 years old. He soloed with this orchestra many times. His last appearance with them took place on October 3, 1987. He played Frank Martin’s violin concerto on that occasion. He was 72 years old. He founded the Fritz Kreisler violin competition in Vienna in 1996. His most popular recordings are probably the Beethoven concerto and the ten Beethoven violin sonatas. Here is a YouTube audio file in which he plays his cadenza to the Beethoven concerto. It is actually an arrangement by Schneiderhan of Beethoven’s own revised cadenza to his piano version of the violin concerto. Schneiderhan does a magnificent job playing it. The Beethoven concerto probably has had at least ten cadenzas written for it but the most played are the ones composed by Joachim and Kreisler. Schneiderhan took up conducting in the middle 1970s but he did not do too much of that. Among Schneiderhan’s violins was a 1715 Stradivarius - now known as the Schneiderhan Stradivarius – which had previously been owned by Martin Marsick – and a 1704 Stradivarius, currently owned by an Austrian Foundation. Schneiderhan died (in Vienna) on May 18, 2002, at (almost) age 87.
Sunday, February 16, 2014
Lola Bobesco (Lola Violeta Ana Maria Bobesco) was a Romanian violinist born (in Craiova, Romania) on August 9, 1921. She spent most of her career in Europe and many of those years were spent in Belgium, which is why Bobesco is frequently referred to as a Belgian violinist. She initially studied with her father, a noted composer and conductor. At age 6, she gave her first public recital. From 1928 to 1935, she studied at the Normal School of Music in Paris. Her main teacher there was Marcel Chailley, a well-known violinist of the time. She almost simultaneously studied at the Paris Conservatory from 1931 to 1935, with Jules Boucherit. She also studied privately with George Enesco and Jacques Thibaud. She apparently made her orchestral debut in Paris in 1936 with the (Edouard) Colonne Orchestra with Paul Paray conducting. Paray would later become chief conductor of the Detroit Symphony, when Detroit was in its prime. It was an unusual debut in that she performed not a concerto from the standard repertoire but a work by a now-obscure Romanian composer, Stan Golestan. She was 17 years old. The next year, she won seventh prize in the Queen Elizabeth (Eugene Ysaye) violin competition – David Oistrakh came in first. After that, she returned to Romania and established a career in Bucharest. On January 17, 1960 she made her first appearance with the Berlin Philharmonic, playing the Brahms concerto, She was 38 years old. She performed with most of the major European orchestras, including the Concertgebouw, the London Philharmonic, and the Berlin Philharmonic, under conductors famous at the time, including Rudolph Kempe, Ernest Ansermet, Karl Bohm, and Otto Klemperer. Having relocated to Belgium in her early thirties, from 1958 to 1978, she led the Royal Wallonia Chamber Orchestra in Mons, Belgium. Mons is situated about 30 miles south of Brussels. She was also violin professor at the Brussels Conservatory. From 1962 to 1974, she taught at the Liege Conservatory. In 1990, she founded a string quartet as well – the Arte Del Suono Quartet. She was 69 years old. You can hear how this quartet sounds here and – I predict - you will most certainly be (pleasantly) surprised. She recorded quite a bit for various labels and those recordings – mostly standard violin sonatas and concertos – are available and easily found on the internet. Her violin, among others, was a 1754 GB Guadagnini. Bobesco died (in Spa, Belgium) on September 4, 2003, at age 82, largely forgotten.
Tuesday, February 4, 2014
News pages have recently been awash in stories about Frank Almond’s stolen Lipinski Stradivarius violin. On the evening of January 27, 2014, he was attacked with a stun gun while leaving a concert venue near the city of Milwaukee and the thieves (a man and a woman, according to Almond) quickly ran off with the violin, which he dropped - due to the shock – at the very spot he was approached. Almond was apparently not unduly physically injured. The papers have been saturated with stories and the FBI and Interpol have become involved with the expected hope that the violin may become impossible to sell or even to show because of the publicity. I predict it will not reappear for a very, very long time. My own theory is as follows: This was a very deliberate theft and well-planned. The attackers were merely hired guns who quickly turned over the violin to another person whom I shall call an intermediary – a professional smuggler, if you will. The exchange probably took place within minutes of the actual theft – I’m guessing no more than thirty minutes. The smuggler would have made a fast run (by car or truck or some other inconspicuous vehicle) for the Canadian border - the most likely crossing point being Detroit. The smuggler would have driven during the night and been in Detroit before 7 a.m. on Tuesday. He (or she) would have waited for the most opportune time to cross into Windsor but well before the news of the theft was broadcast. Once in Canada, the most likely place to hide a violin like that would be Montreal. The problem of getting it out of Canada would be someone else’s and not the smuggler’s – most likely a broker for a trusted ally of the end buyer. I’m guessing that the buyer is known only to his (or her) trusted ally. At this time, I’m guessing the violin is still in Montreal and will remain there until sometime in the spring or early summer. It is unlikely the violin would be stashed in a small city because moving it from place to place presents further risk of being discovered. If it’s not smuggled out of Montreal (or Toronto) by mid-June, it will have to wait until mid-September and beyond. The reason for that is that the easiest way to transport an instrument without arousing curiosity is in the midst of traveling groups – most likely chamber ensembles of ten to fifteen players. Most of these ensembles include violinists who carry their instruments as carry-ons or in luggage compartments. Walking a violin into a plane under those conditions would be easy for someone pretending to be part of a touring group or even as an independent traveling musician traveling on the same plane as the group, especially if the broker is knowledgeable about classical music or is a violinist – I will assume an amateur violinist, of course. Concert activities slow down considerably after June but pick up again after September – a person would have to be quite stupid to try to smuggle something like this during the off season. By April, the attention being paid to this stolen violin would have died down a lot and the time for the broker to act would be ripe. If I were Interpol, I would be watching every touring ensemble coming into and leaving Montreal (and Toronto as well) for the foreseeable future. I would also be reviewing video of all border crossers into Windsor on that Tuesday morning. The final destination of the Lipinski is probably Japan. It could also be Russia. The transit points would most likely be Berlin, London, or Paris. Of course, all of this is pure conjecture on my part – for all I know, at this very moment, the Lipinski might be in somebody’s house in Milwaukee. This newspaper article contradicts pretty nearly everything I have theorized here.
Sunday, January 26, 2014
Lucien Martin was a Canadian violinist, conductor, and composer born (in Montreal) on May 30, 1908. He had a brief concertizing career and later worked as an orchestral player, though not a concertmaster. That, in itself, is unusual. His first lessons were with his father, who was also a violin maker. He began playing in public at age 7. At age 9 he had already earned a gold medal from the National Conservatory in Montreal at which he had been enrolled for two years. His teachers were Albert Chamberland (1917-1920), Alfred De Seve (1920-1923), and Camille Couture (1923-1925) – Camille Couture was also a highly respected violin maker who had made copies of the violins used by Jacques Thibaud, Eugene Ysaye, Jan Kubelik, and Adolfo Betti. Martin began playing professionally - concertizing, mostly in the U.S. - in 1925. He was 17 years old. From 1928 he continued his studies with Couture for about a year. He then went to Paris to study with Maurice Hayot at the Normal School for Music (Ecole Normale de Musique), not to be confused with the Paris Conservatory. In 1933, after receiving his “license” in the art of violin performance, Martin returned to Canada and gave several recitals here and there. He became a member (first violin section) of the Montreal Symphony in 1935. He performed Bruch’s first concerto with that orchestra on February 4, 1935. In 1936, he again traveled to Paris for further study with George Enesco. Martin returned to Montreal in 1937 – Enesco left Paris to conduct the New York Philharmonic for a couple of years beginning in 1937. After that, Martin played second violin in the Dubois String Quartet for a year – unfortunately, the quartet was disbanded in 1938, when the founding member died. Martin was then 30 years old. In the late 1930s and early 1940s Martin played for numerous radio broadcasts. I do not know if recordings of those broadcasts were made and are archived somewhere. He also conducted several concerts at about the same time. Only one of his compositions – a song - was published during his lifetime. A popular source which is often very unreliable says that Martin owned a 1769 Ferdinando Gagliano violin from 1972 to 1982, which is, of course, impossible. None of the sources I found mentioned whether Martin ever taught violin anywhere. On October 29, 1950, Lucien Martin died. He was 42 years old.
Sunday, January 12, 2014
Ruben Gonzalez (Ruben De Artagnan Gonzalez) is an Argentinian (most people would say American) violinist, composer, teacher, and conductor born (in Viale, Argentina) on May 4, 1939. He is best known for having been the concertmaster of the Chicago Symphony from 1986 to 1996. He is also known for having played the Kreisler Bergonzi violin. Fritz Kreisler played that instrument for about ten years (1939 to 1949.) A usually reliable source says that Kreisler used the instrument after he gave up his Guarnerius to the Library of Congress but that is obviously not true since Kreisler gave up his Guarnerius in 1952. From Kreisler, the (Carlo) Bergonzi went to Angel Reyes (in 1949) then to Itzhak Perlman then to Ruben Gonzalez then to a collector. According to one source, it is now in the hands of violinist Guro Hagen, though it is not owned by her. Gonzalez studied with Osvaldo Pessina in Argentina and then with other teachers in Europe who are not exactly household names. In 1965, Gonzalez won the top prize in a well-known competition in Barcelona, Spain. He then played in an ensemble in Italy from which he returned to Buenos Aires, Argentina to begin his career as an orchestral player. From Argentina, he went to Hamburg, Germany where he was concertmaster with the North German Radio Orchestra. Returning to the U.S., he joined the Minnesota Orchestra as associate concertmaster in 1977. From 1981 to 1986 he was concertmaster of the Houston Symphony. In 1986, George Solti named him concertmaster of the Chicago Symphony – actually, one of two concertmasters, in the style of most German orchestras. Among other schools, Gonzalez has taught at Rice University in Texas. Here is a very popular video on YouTube in which Gonzalez is at the very end of the Dvorak concerto when something totally unexpected happens. Gonzalez continues to play but he now devotes most of his time to conducting and composition.