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 16, 2014
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.