Sunday, December 14, 2014

Melanie Clapies

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

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. 



Sunday, November 16, 2014

Boris Kuschnir

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

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

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

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 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.