Saturday, September 4, 2021

Linus Roth

Linus Roth is a German violinist born (in Ravensburg, Germany) on May 31, 1977.  (Ravensburg is about 100 miles west of Munich)  In addition to his brilliant technique and uncompromising musicianship, he is known for having saved Polish composer Mieczyslaw Weinberg from oblivion.  From age 15, Roth has been the recipient of many top awards at various violin competitions.  Roth has also won the ECHO KLASSIK Award twice for his recordings under the EMI and Challenge Records labels.  (The ECHO KLASSIK is Germany’s top classical music award.)  In 2013, Roth received Gramophone music magazine’s Editor’s Choice honors for his recordings of Weinberg’s violin concerto, the Concertino for violin and chamber orchestra, and the complete works for violin and piano.  Every Roth recording is easy to find on the internet.  Among many other works, Weinberg also composed three sonatas for solo violin which Roth has also recently recorded.  Although he has spent most of his career in Europe, Roth has played in venues across the world, including North and South America and the Far East.  As is customary for many classical concert artists, he also plays chamber music (in concert) with a wide variety of world class musicians.  Roth began violin lessons at age 5.  He received his first instruction from his mother, who is a cellist.  At age 6, he made his first public appearance.  His first solo performance with orchestra, at which he played the Mendelssohn concerto (the one in e minor), took place at age 11.  The following year, he began lessons in Zurich with Ukrainian-Polish violinist Nicolas Chumachenco, well-known violin pedagogue.  Four years later, at age 16, he began studying with Russian violin Professor Zakhar Bron, in Lubeck, Germany.  (Bron was also the teacher of Vadim Repin, Maxim Vengerov, Mari Samuelsen, and Daniel Hope.)  Beginning at age 20, he started lessons with someone who would become his most influential teacher, Ana Chumachenco, first in Zurich, then in Munich.  (Ana Chumachenco is Nicolas Chumachenco’s sister.)  In 2012, Roth was appointed violin professor at the Leopold Music Center of Augsburg University where he still teaches.  In 2018, he established the Ibiza (Spain) music festival called Ibiza Concerts.  (Ibiza is an island off the eastern coast of Spain – a very short trip by airplane, but a long trip by ferry.)  Toward that end, he is learning Spanish – he already speaks German, English, and Italian.  He also was appointed Artistic Director, in 2020, of the Spring Music Festival at Ochsenhausen, Germany.  (Ochsenhausen is about 60 miles west of Munich.)  I believe all of their concerts will be streamed live in 2021, although I’m not absolutely sure about that.  Up until the end of 2019, Roth maintained an incredibly busy concert schedule.  However, his schedule was disrupted by events which took every artist around the world by surprise.  Not one single artist was spared the consequences of the worldwide events which resulted from the severe Covid-19 pandemic.  However, Roth wisely spent some of his time off doing a lot of recording that does not require an orchestra, including the six works for solo violin by Bach.  I do not know if any of those CDs have been issued yet.  Fortunately, as his website shows, an upcoming concert tour with Anne-Sophie Mutter as partner will relaunch his concert itinerary.  In a recent interview, Roth was asked which two musicians from the past he would most like to meet; his choices were composer Ludwig Van Beethoven and conductor Carlos Kleiber.  Beethoven is not an unusual choice, but Carlos Kleiber is.  As far as I know, Kleiber never appeared with or conducted for any soloists on stage.  His concerts were all-orchestral concerts or operas; same as his recordings.  Nevertheless, many widely-respected musicians (and many music critics) regard him as the best conductor of the twentieth century.  Roth has stated that he “wouldn’t want to discuss anything musical with him; rather, I would ask him about his views on life, spiritual things, and about the aura of certain other people he worked with.  I’m sure he felt these intensely.  In case we would have managed to have some glasses of wine together, I would ask him about his youth in South America, the atmosphere there, and his feelings about coming back to Munich in 1952 to be Korrepetitor [an opera singer’s coach and accompanist] at the Gärtnerplatz Theater München.”  As for Weinberg, Roth first discovered his music in 2010 (one source says 2011.).  He has championed Weinberg’s music ever since and founded (in 2015) the International Mieczyslaw Weinberg Society which promotes Weinberg’s music.  Weinberg’s violin concerto was dedicated to Leonid Kogan, who recorded it in 1959 or 1960.  Here is a YouTube video with Roth speaking briefly about the concerto, including footage of his recording session in Berlin in August, 2013.  Unlike most concert violinists, Roth is not a chess player (he prefers backgammon), but in a matter of a few months, he will join Kristof Barati and Jeremy Constant as being one of the extremely rare people who are both concert violinists and airplane pilots.  Roth maintains his mental and physical stamina by regularly working out at a gymnasium.  (Arabella Steinbacher practices Yoga but, as far as I know, never sets foot in a gym.)  Here is a YouTube video with Roth playing the Bach E major concerto.  Be prepared to experience a very special and unexpected ending to that video.  Here is another fascinating video showing a rehearsal for the recording session of the Tchaikovsky concerto with the London Symphony.  Since 1997, Roth has played the 1703 Dancla Stradivarius, although he played many other violins before that, including a Landolfi of unknown date.  The photo is courtesy of Belgian Photographer Diego Franssens.  

Sunday, December 6, 2020

Maria Dueñas

María Dueñas (Maria Dueñas Fernandez) is a Spanish violinist and composer, born (in Granada) on December 4, 2002. She is very likely the best Spanish violinist since Pablo Sarasate (1844-1908.) She is also known as a former child prodigy. She has been winning violin competitions since she was 14 years old, including the Zhuhai (China), the Vladimir Spivakov (Russia), the G.P Telemann (Poland), the Yankelevitch (Russia), the Leonid Kogan (Belgium), and the Luigi Zanuccoli (Italy) violin competitions. * (see comments below) Since she is also a composer, she writes her own cadenzas for each concerto she plays. As a member of the Hamamelis Quartet, she also won first prize at the Fidelio Chamber Music Competition in Vienna in 2017. She began her violin studies at age 5 in Spain. I do not know who her first teacher was. At age 7, she entered the Granada Conservatory. She made her local debut with the Granada Symphony at age 11, playing the first concerto of Mozart. Andrea Marcon was on the podium. When she was 12 years old, her family moved to Vienna so that she could study with Boris Kuschnir (well-known violin pedagogue) at the University for Music and Art in Graz and at the Music and Arts University in Vienna, Austria. (Graz is about a two-hour drive from Vienna, driving south.) In this effort, she was assisted by Russian violinist, Vladimir Spivakov. (Spivakov’s Moscow Virtuosi chamber orchestra has a very strong connection to Spain.) In September of 2019, she was named Artist of the Month by Musical America being only 16 years old. Dueñas has already concertized in many countries around the world (including the U.S.) and has played in some of the most prestigious concert halls but, since she is still a student at the University, understandably spends most of her time in Europe. Here is one of her many YouTube video performances. You can judge her virtuosity and style for yourself. Dueñas speaks four languages fluently – German, English, French, and Spanish. She is also currently studying the Russian language. Two of her violins have been a Nicolo Gagliano (1764), on loan from the German Musical Life Foundation and the Muntz Guarneri (1736) on loan from the Nippon Music Foundation. I do not know if she is still using either one of those fine violins. The photo is courtesy of David Ausserhoffer.

Sunday, December 15, 2019

Orlando Barera

Orlando Barera was an Italian (some would say American) violinist and conductor born (in Bologna, Italy) on February 6, 1907.  Two sources say he was born in Ferrara, Italy in 1908.  (Ferrara is about 25 miles north of Bologna.)  He began his career as a concert violinist but is best known for being the conductor of the El Paso (Texas) Symphony from the fall of 1951 to the spring of 1970.  Prior to that he was the conductor of the Baton Rouge (Louisiana) Symphony for one year and just before that, he was the concertmaster and Assistant Conductor (for one year also) of the Houston Symphony.  Before those two posts, he had served as concertmaster of the Kansas City (Missouri) Symphony and the Havana Symphony (prior to Fidel Castro’s political revolution.)  Barera is one of many violinists who turned from concertizing to conducting – Jaap Van Zweden, Eugene Ormandy, David Zinman, Alan Gilbert, Neville Marriner, Pierre Monteux, Peter Oundjian, Jacques Singer, Charles Munch, and Theodore Thomas are among them.  He began his studies with his father, who was a professor at the conservatory of music in Bologna.  He graduated at age 15 with diplomas in violin, composition, and piano.  Immediately thereafter, he added an additional two years of study before embarking on a solo career.  His concertizing began in Italy but then later included France, Germany, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Russia, and the Netherlands.  His first appearance in the U.S. took place at Town Hall in New York on February 10, 1936.  He was 29 years old.  He later played at the Library of Congress in Washington D.C. that same year but returned to play in Europe in the latter part of that year.  On November 11, 1936, he played Lalo’s Symphonie Espagnol with the Prague Radio Symphony.  Karl Ancerl was on the podium.  I do not know if the performance was recorded.  Upon his return to the U.S., he gave a second recital at Town Hall on December 27, 1936. He played Mozart’s fourth concerto with the Boston Symphony on February 21, 1937.  Serge Koussevitzky conducted.  On December 3, 1938, he was guest artist with the New York Philharmonic.  This time, he played the Mendelssohn concerto, the one in e minor.  John Barbirolli conducted.  When war broke out, he enlisted in the U.S. Army and served a tour of duty until the war’s end.  His career - which he took up again when he was appointed concertmaster in Kansas City – was thus interrupted.  An interesting detail in his career is that between July 11 and November 10, 1950, he participated (as assistant principal second violinist) in 14 recording sessions which Leopold Stokowski conducted in New York.  At many of these recording sessions, Victor Aitay, the soon-to-be concertmaster of the Chicago Symphony, was Barera’s stand partner – Aitay was, at that time, a section violinist in the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra.  Being the well-known figure he was on the east coast and beyond, Barera was able to introduce many world class string players to El Paso audiences.  Among them were Ruggiero Ricci, Zvi Zeitlin, Isaac Stern, Berl Senofsky, Zino Francescatti, Pierre Fournier, Mischa Elman, Michael Rabin, Zara Nelsova, Arturo Delmoni, Salvatore Accardo, and Tossy Spivakovsky.  Of his association with Barera, Michael Rabin once said “Barera is very good and a hell of a nice guy.  Believe me, I wish every conductor would be as easy to work with as he is.  He takes away all the tightness and strain and just lets me enjoy myself.”  Barera owned and played a Gagliano violin from a year and specific maker unknown to me – the Gagliano violin-making family produced several good makers.  Barera died on March 26, 1971, at age 64.  

Sunday, November 17, 2019

Ilya Gringolts

Ilya Gringolts is a Russian violinist, teacher, conductor, and composer born (in Leningrad) on July 2, 1982.  He is known for being immersed in period-instrument performance as well as contemporary playing styles.  Ever since he won the 1998 Paganini Competition at age 16, his virtuosity has become well-known.  (The following year, Sayaka Shoji won the competition – she also was 16 years old.)  As is customary with almost all contemporary violinists, Gringolts participates in many music festivals around the world.  (The production of music festivals seems to have exploded after 1950 and festivals of one kind or another can now be found in every corner of the planet.)  Gringolts began studying the violin at age five.  I do not know who his first teacher was.  At age 8, he began studying violin and composition in the St Petersburg (formerly known as Leningrad) Special Music School with Tatiana Liberova and Jeanna Metallidi, two teachers of whom I had never heard.  In 1994, he made his debut with the Moscow Symphony Orchestra.  He was 12 years old.  I don’t know which piece he played at that concert.  In 1995, he made his European orchestral debut in Finland, playing Bruch’s first concerto.  After winning the Paganini competition, he relocated to New York (in 1999) and studied at Juilliard with Dorothy Delay and Itzhak Perlman for three years.  During the latter part of those same three years, he was spending a lot of time in London, studying and giving concerts.  Gringolts made his Canadian debut (in Ottawa) in 1999 (one source says 2002) – Pinchas Zukerman was on the podium.  He was 17 years old.  He has been very busy ever since, playing all over the world with every important conductor and in every prestigious venue.  In 2013, he recorded the 24 Paganini Caprices.  A usually-reliable source states that Gringolts now teaches at the Advanced School for the Arts (aka Zurich Academy of the Arts) in Zurich, Switzerland.  Another source says he teaches (or has taught) at the Basel Hochschule.  When I checked, neither school would confirm his position as violin professor.  Regarding his teaching, he has stated – contrary to universally-accepted dogma - that being a motivator is not part of his job.  In his own words: “I think that everyone is his or her own motivator.  You should know why you do something, otherwise you shouldn’t do it.”  In 2008, he founded the Gringolts Quartet.  He maintains a busy schedule with the quartet.  It also allows him to spend more time with his wife, who is the quartet’s second violinist.  His discography is not extensive by any measure but the recordings he has under his belt have been highly praised and have received awards.  Among those recordings are the Arensky and the Taneyev concertos, two works which are very (very) seldom heard.  You might want to obtain his recording of the first Paganini concerto since it is pretty outstanding – it was released in March of 1999.  It is not yet available on YouTube.  A current project in progress is his recording of all of Igor Stravinsky’s works for violin.  Among the violins he has played are the Kiesewetter Stradivarius (1723), the Provigny Stradivarius (1716), and a Guarneri Del Gesu dated 1742.  Here is one of Gringolts’ YouTube videos – a concerto by the mysterious and enigmatic violinist Pietro Antonio Locatelli.  

Sunday, October 27, 2019

Rodney Friend

Rodney Friend is an English violinist, teacher, and author born (in Bradford, England) in 1939.  He is best known for being the concertmaster of three of the world’s best orchestras – the New York Philharmonic, the London Philharmonic, and the BBC Symphony.  He began his violin studies at age seven.  I do not know who his first teacher was. At 12, he received a scholarship to study at the Royal Academy of Music in London.  His main teacher was Frederick Grinke, a Canadian violinist who played for Churchill, Truman, and Stalin at the famous Potsdam Conference in the summer of 1945.  Friend later studied with Endre Wolf, Yehudi Menuhin, and Henryk Szeryng.  One usually-reliable source says he also later studied at the Royal Manchester College of Music.  In September, 1964, Friend became the concertmaster of the London Philharmonic.  He was 24 years old.  He played the Britten concerto in his first solo appearance with this orchestra.  However, by then, he had made his London debut playing the Sibelius concerto with the Halle Orchestra (in 1961) at the Festival Hall with John Barbirolli on the podium.  Friend played with the London Philharmonic for 12 years. In 1975, he was invited to be the New York Philharmonic’s concertmaster.  He was 35 years old.  He had already made his American debut with this orchestra playing the Britten concerto.  He probably began his tenure as concertmaster in New York in the fall of 1976.  On March 10, 1977, in his new role as concertmaster, he soloed with the orchestra, this time playing Karol Szymanowski’s first concerto.  Erich Leinsdorf was on the podium.  In 1981, Friend returned to England and became the concertmaster of the BBC Symphony.  In that year also, he became professor of violin at the Royal College of Music.  He was 42 years old.  Since 1990, he has devoted his time to teaching, writing, judging international competitions, and playing and/or directing chamber music concerts.  He formed the Solomon Trio in 1991.  In 2006, Friend’s two-volume work entitled The Orchestral Violinist (a study guide for orchestral players) appeared.  It has been acclaimed by many critics.  In 2010, he founded the Cambridge International String Academy at Trinity College.  In 2015, he joined the Royal Academy of Music faculty.  In 2019, his pedagogic work entitled The Violin in Fifths was published.  Many sources say it is a unique study guide.  It is easily found on the internet.  Among other violins, Friend has played (and might still be playing) a Giuseppe (Battista) Guarneri violin dated 1696 (not a Del Gesu.)  (According to a usually-reliable source, for a time, he also played a Guarneri Del Gesu dated 1731.) Needless to say, he has recorded (as an orchestral violinist) practically the entire orchestral repertoire.  He has also appeared in every important concert hall in the world and worked alongside the most eminent conductors and soloists of the twentieth century.  Here is a very charming YouTube audio file of one of his commercial recordings as soloist. 

Sunday, September 29, 2019

Amihai Grosz

Amihai Grosz is an Israeli violist and teacher born (in Jerusalem) in 1979.  He is well-known as the Principal violist of the Berlin Philharmonic.  Nevertheless, he is also in great demand as a soloist.  He began, as most violists do, as a violin student at age 5.  He began to play and study the viola at age 11.  Most of his studies took place in Israel and in Germany.  In 1995, he founded the Jerusalem Quartet with three other student-colleagues from the Jerusalem Music Center.  He was 16 years old.  The quartet (which comprised the majority of his professional activity between 1995 and 2009) subsequently won several distinguished awards and prizes from various organizations.  As a viola soloist, Grosz has also won top prizes in several competitions.  In 2010, Grosz was appointed Principal violist of the Berlin Philharmonic.  Although orchestral players are for the most part anonymous to the general public, principal players enjoy slightly higher profiles.  Grosz continues to perform as a soloist and as a member of various chamber groups involved with music festivals all over the world.  His instrument is one by Gaspar Da Salo, constructed in 1570.  

Sunday, August 18, 2019

Arkadi Futer

Arkadi Futer (Arkadi Naumovitch Futer) was a Russian violinist and teacher born (in Moscow) on September 6, 1932.  He is known for his impressive recording of Wieniawski’s first violin concerto in F sharp minor, but he is also known for having spent a large part of his career in Spain.  For some time, he was concertmaster of Vladimir Spivakov’s Moscow Virtuosi, which was founded in 1979.  I do not know if he was the initial concertmaster – he probably was.  The Moscow Virtuosi later resided in Spain for nine years (1990-1999.)  When the Moscow Virtuosi left Spain, Futer stayed behind.  He then became concertmaster of the Oviedo Symphony Orchestra.  He was 67 years old.  (Oviedo is the small capital city of the principality of Asturias, located in northern Spain, next to the Bay of Biscay.)  Prior to his association with the Moscow Virtuosi, Futer was concertmaster of the Moscow Philharmonic, the Moscow Radio Orchestra, and the Orchestra of the Film Industry of the USSR.  He was also a member of at least two string quartets.  Futer began his studies at age 7 in Kiev, in the years of 1939 or 1940, I don’t know which.  His first teacher was Nina Dulova.  In 1943, he returned to Moscow with his family.  He was 11 years old.  He entered the Tchaikovsky Conservatory at age 18.  Yuri Yankelevitch was one of his teachers.  He later graduated from the conservatory with top honors.  He was named Artist of the Russian Republic in 1998.  Futer died (in Gijon, Asturias, Spain) on September 5, 2011, at (almost) age 79.  His granddaughter, Vera Futer, is now a professor at the University of Oviedo.  Here is an audio file of Futer’s Wieniawski recording.