Sunday, January 25, 2015

Barnabas Kelemen

Barnabas Kelemen is a Hungarian violinist and teacher born (in Budapest) on June 12, 1978.  He is known for having won the prestigious Indianapolis Violin Competition in 2002.  His repertoire is very extensive and includes Schumann’s concerto and Bruch’s second concerto which are seldom heard live.  Kelemen also plays a great deal of contemporary music.  On May 2, 2013, he premiered (in New York’s Carnegie Hall) a long lost concerto by Mihaly Nador, composed in 1903 (and revised in 1941-42) but never performed.  Reviewers of the performance compared Kelemen to Heifetz.  The audience applauded after each movement of the concerto, which is not typical, especially in the case of more modern works.  Kelemen began studying violin at age six with Valeria Baranyai.  He entered the Franz Liszt Academy at age 11 and studied with Eszter Perenyi.  He graduated in 2001.  He was 23 years old.  By then, he had already won first prize in the Mozart Violin Competition in Salzburg (1999.)  Three years after winning the Indianapolis competition, he began teaching (in 2005) at the same school from which he graduated.  In 2010, he founded (with his violinist wife Katalin Kokas) the Kelemen Quartet.  (Among violinists who married other concert violinists are Olga Kaler, Adele Anthony, Marina Markov, Ruth Posselt, and Elizabeth Gilels.)  The Kelemen Quartet has also received top prizes at chamber music competitions.  In addition, several of Kelemen’s recordings have also received awards from music periodicals and critics.  Interestingly, except for the cellist, the Kelemen Quartet players sometimes switch places with each other – alternating between first violin, second violin, and viola.  Kelemen has taken conducting lessons from Leif Segerstam and has already conducted a few concerts in Europe.  He often appears in the dual role of soloist-conductor with chamber orchestras.  Needless to say, Kelemen has toured the world several times (and continues to do so) as a soloist and with the quartet.  In 2014, he began teaching at the Advanced School for Music and Dance in Cologne, Germany.  Here is a YouTube video of his playing a well-known Mozart sonata.  It shows how different his temperament and style are from a more conventional concert violinist but you be the judge.  After winning the Indianapolis competition, Kelemen played the 1683 Stradivarius (Martinelli Stradivarius) that all Indianapolis competition winners get to use for four years.  (The Martinelli was “restored” in 2014 and is currently being played by Jinjoo Cho)  Kelemen is currently playing a Guarneri (del Gesu) constructed in 1742.  

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Jose Luis Garcia

Jose Luis Garcia (Jose Luis Garcia Asensio) was a Spanish violinist born (in Madrid) on February 25, 1944.  He is best known for being the concertmaster of the English Chamber Orchestra for about 25 years.  Just as the names Ferdinand David, Raymond Gniewek, Glenn Dicterow, Norman Carol, and Richard Burgin unfailingly bring up the names of their respective orchestras (the Gewandhaus, the Metropolitan Opera, the New York Philharmonic, the Philadelphia Orchestra, and the Boston Symphony, respectively), Garcia's biography is inextricably linked to the history of the ECO.  He spent nearly his entire career in England.  His first studies were with his father beginning at age 6.  If he studied with anyone else in Spain, I do not know who that was.  In 1960, he received first prize at the Sarasate competition in Pamplona.  He was 16 years old.  Thereafter (in 1961) he traveled to London to study with Antonio Brosa at the Royal College of Music.  He appeared in concert in a Vivaldi concerto (for four violins in B minor) at a Proms concert (in 1963) at age 19 with the BBC Symphony.  Malcolm Sargent was on the podium.  Two years later, in 1965, he joined the pit orchestra of the Royal Opera, Covent Garden.  In 1967, he toured South America with the English Chamber Orchestra (playing Principal Second Violin.)  However, by then, he had already (intermittently) played several concerts with the orchestra.  In 1968, he was appointed associate concertmaster of the orchestra.  He was 24 years old.  In 1970, he made his second debut as a soloist at another Proms concert.  On that occasion, he played Michael Tippett’s Fantasia Concertante (on a theme by Corelli) with the English Chamber Orchestra, of which, as previously mentioned, he was then Associate Concertmaster.  The composer was on the podium.  By that time, Garcia was already teaching at the Royal College of Music, where he had begun teaching at age 22, being the youngest to ever get a teaching appointment at that school. (Garcia taught at the Royal College of Music until 1982 - a total of fifteen or sixteen years.)  At age 23, he led the string section for one of the Beatles’ most famous albums.  With the English Chamber Orchestra, Garcia would also conduct and perform as soloist.  He eventually toured almost every country in the world.  Although he recorded as a soloist, he far more frequently recorded as an orchestral leader with the ECO.  His best-known solo recording is probably Vivaldi’s Four Seasons.  He also recorded Mozart’s five concertos and the Bach Double Concerto with the ECO.  The recordings are easily found on the internet.  It has been said that the English Chamber Orchestra is the most recorded chamber orchestra in the world, having recorded more than 1,500 individual works, even though multiple recordings of the same works (the Mozart piano concertos, for instance) are probably included in that number.  (Although the orchestra generates quite a bit of revenue on its own, the orchestra also has an outstanding Patron - the Prince of Wales.)  Garcia never wavered from his romantic interpretations of baroque works, unlike other British chamber ensembles (the English Concert, the Academy of Ancient Music, Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, English Baroque Soloists, etc.) which embraced the period instrument (authentic performance practice) musical movements beginning in the late 1960s.  It is quite interesting that in 1983-1984 Garcia offered his services to the musical establishment in Spain to conduct master classes free-of-charge (in Spain) but never got a call in response.  Later on – between 1992 and 1999 – he taught at the Queen Sofia School of Music in Madrid and conducted the school’s orchestra with which he also toured extensively.  Garcia studied conducting with Sergiu Celibidache.  Among the orchestras he guest conducted (outside of England and Spain) are the National Symphony (Washington, D.C.), the Detroit Symphony, and the Israel Chamber Orchestra.  He also guest conducted the Ft Worth (Texas, USA) Chamber Orchestra many times, beginning with a concert going back to October of 1977.  His last concert with that orchestra was probably in October of 1992.  As does another famous concertmaster in the U.S. (from the Boston Symphony), Garcia loved golf.  He was also one of the very few musicians (and possibly the only violinist anywhere) who owned a Rolls Royce automobile.  Garcia played the (Fritz) Hirt Stradivarius from 1704, also known as the Prince (Serge) Obolensky Strad and now known as the Hirt-Garcia Strad.  Among the many other violins he played was a modern violin constructed by American luthier Terry Borman.  (Among the many players who also play Borman violins are Pinchas Zukerman, Jaime Laredo, Pamela Frank, and Joseph Silverstein.)  The Strad is presently owned by a private collector but is on loan to American violinist Esther Yoo.  If there are any videos of Garcia's myriad solo concerts out there, they have not yet been uploaded to YouTube.  Garcia died on August 11, 2011, at age 67.  (Photo is courtesy of the English Chamber Orchestra) 

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Lydia Mordkovitch

Lydia Mordkovitch (Lydia Shtimerman Mordkovitch) was a Russian violinist, violist, and teacher born (in Saratov) on April 30, 1944.  She spent much of her later career in England.  She began her violin studies at the local music school in Kishinev (Kishniev or Kishinyov), a city in Moldova where her family returned after World War Two.  Since Kishinev was a shambles during the war, her mother fled as far as she could (980 miles eastward, all the way to Saratov, in this case) to get away from the fighting forces.  Mordkovitch may have been six or seven years old when she first began her studies.  I didn’t take the trouble to find out.  Beginning in 1960, at age 16, she studied briefly in Odessa (Ukraine) at the Stolyarski School of Music.  (Odessa is only 96 miles southeast from Kishinev.)  She then moved her studies to the (Nezhdanova) Odessa Conservatory.  One of her teachers there was Monzion Mordkovich, a violinist I had never heard about before.  She was there two years and graduated.  She was 18 years old.  Later still, she entered the Tchaikovsky Conservatory in Moscow.  She was 24 years old by then.  Her main teacher there was David Oistrakh.  In fact, when she first met Oistrakh to prepare for her entrance exam, he asked her why she had “come so late,” referring to her age.   From 1968 to 1970, she was Oistrakh’s teaching assistant as well.  From 1970 to 1973 she taught at the Institute of Arts in Kishinev.  A couple of sources say she studied there between those same years but that is highly unlikely – Mordkovitch was already an established violinist by then.  In Israel, she taught at the Academy of Music in Jerusalem between 1974 and 1979.  Mordkovitch made her British debut on January 7, 1979, playing the Tchaikovsky concerto with the Halle Orchestra (Manchester, England) conducted by Walter Susskind.  She moved to England permanently in 1980.  She was 36 years old.  All the while, she was concertizing in Europe, England, Russia, Israel, and the US.  Her American debut came in 1982 with the Chicago Symphony (in Chicago.)  George Solti was on the podium.  In 1980, she began teaching at the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester, England.  In 1995, she began teaching at the Royal Academy of Music in London.  Mordkovitch made over sixty recordings, mostly under the (British) Chandos label.  Some of them are unique in that they feature works for violin which are seldom heard – John Veale’s violin concerto, for instance.  Her recording of the Shostakovich concertos won awards from British and French music critics.  Most of her recordings are easy to find on the internet.  Her best-known pupil is probably British violinist Pip Clarke.  Mordkovitch played a 1746 Nicolo Gagliano violin for many years but she would use other instruments as well (mostly Strads and Guadagninis on loan from friends or the Royal Academy), especially when recording.  Here is a YouTube audio file of her recording of the first Szymanowski concerto.  Mordkovitch died on December 9, 2014, at age 70.   

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. Stabrawa has played a violin by Francesco Ruggeri from 1674 and might still be playing it - of that I am not certain.  



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.