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.  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. Here is one of many YouTube videos of him – it features Sarasate’s Zigeunerweisen.  

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.   

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.