Sunday, September 21, 2014

Elizabeth Wallfisch

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

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 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

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 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

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.  Rappoldi died (in Dresden) on May 16, 1903, at age 64.  

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Adolfo Betti

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.