Sunday, June 28, 2015

Stefi Geyer

Stefi Geyer (Steffi Geyer) was a Hungarian violinist and teacher born (in Budapest) on June 28, 1888.  Although a very popular and distinguished violinist in the early part of the century, she is better known for her relationship to Bela Bartok, one of the greatest composers of the 20th Century.  Bartok dedicated his first violin concerto (composed in 1907 but not published until 1959) to her, although she never performed it in public.  It is said she had the only copy of the score and did not release it until very late in her life, after Bartok had died.  Her violin studies began at age three – her father was her first teacher.  From age seven she studied with Kalman Adolf, an obscure violinist.  At age ten she began studying at the Budapest Academy of Music with Jeno Hubay, one of the most respected violinists and teachers of the time.  Geyer began concertizing in Hungary and Austria at age twelve.  Her studies with Hubay ended in 1902.  She was fourteen years old.  She toured Europe frequently and was admired for her intelligent and elegant interpretations of a very wide repertory.  She moved to Vienna in 1911.  In 1919 she settled in Zurich.   She was very busy playing throughout Europe, giving over 100 concerts in the 1922-23 season alone.  She toured the U.S. in 1924, although not for the first time.  Geyer taught at the Zurich Conservatory from 1934 to 1953 (one source says 1923 to 1953.)  In 1935 she was appointed concertmaster of the Sacher Chamber Ensemble.  She became the concertmaster of the Collegium Musicum in Zurich in 1941.  Beginning in 1938, she would often play in the orchestra of the Lucerne Festival.  She played a 1742 Guarnerius (del Gesu) violin known as the Soldat.  The violin has an interesting history.  Her recordings from the 1930s are numerous but somewhat hard to find.  Here is a YouTube audio file of one of her recordings from the year 1927.  Geyer died in Zurich on December 11, 1956, at age 68.  

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Boris Belkin

Boris Belkin (Boris Davidovich Belkin) is a Russian violinist and teacher born (in Yekaterinburg – aka Sverdlovsk) on January 26, 1948.  He began his violin studies at age 6.  One year later, he made his first public appearance with Kiril Kondrashin on the podium.  He was a student at the Central Music School (for specially gifted children) in Moscow, a branch of the Tchaikovsky Conservatory.  At the Moscow Conservatory, his teachers – among others – were Yuri Yankelevich (teacher also of Leonid Kogan, Ilya Kaler, Zakhar Bron, Vladimir Spivakov, and Ruben Aharonyan), Maya Glezarova (assistant to Yuri Yankelevich), and Felix Andrievsky.  He began his concertizing career in Russia while still a student, a very common practice everywhere.  In 1974, at age 26, he left Russia and settled in Western Europe.  (He had applied to take part in the Paganini Competition in Genoa but the authorities denied him a visa so he then applied to emigrate to Israel and from there, he made his way to Belgium.)  He has appeared with virtually every major orchestra in the world.  He performed the Tchaikovsky concerto with the New York Philharmonic and Leonard Bernstein on April 22 and 24, 1975.  On June 6 and 7, 1978, he played the Tchaikovsky concerto with the Berlin Philharmonic.  Belkin's discography is not extensive by any measure but it includes the rarely performed Strauss concerto.  He began teaching in Italy – at the Accademia Chigiana (founded in 1932) – in 1986.  He also teaches in the Netherlands at the Advanced Music School (College of Music) in Maastricht (about 90 miles south east of Amsterdam – the city is a lot closer to Cologne, Germany and Brussels, Belgium than it is to Amsterdam.)  Belkin has played a Stradivarius from the Russian State collection, a 1754 Guadagnini, and two modern violins (1994 and 2007) by Roberto Regazzi.  For many years, he has used a bow made by a famous maker - Daniel Tobias Navea Vera.  Here is one of Belkin’s YouTube files.  

Sunday, May 31, 2015

Gyorgy Garay

Gyorgy Garay was a Hungarian violinist, teacher, and music editor born (in Rakospalota) on December 2, 1909.  He is now a very obscure violinist who was well-known in his day.  His first teacher was Joseph Bloch at the Budapest Academy of Music.  Garay was 9 years old when he started his studies.  Three years later, he was a student of Oscar Studer.  In 1925, he began studying with Jeno Hubay and graduated a year later.  Interestingly, his public debut took place in Vienna (1926.)  He made his debut in Hungary (Budapest) in 1927.  Garay soon gravitated toward a career in chamber music, playing violin in the Hungarian Trio from 1927 to 1930.  Between 1930 and 1933, he was first violinist with the Garay Quartet.  In the 1930s, he developed a second career as a soloist in Europe.  Between 1940 and 1945, he was a violinist with the Fovarosi Orchestra in Budapest.  He became principal violinist at the Hungarian State Opera House in 1945 and stayed until 1951.  From 1951 to 1960, he was concertmaster of the National Philharmonic (State Concert Orchestra) – this orchestra may or may not be the same orchestra which exiled itself (to Germany) in 1956 and became the Philharmonia Hungarica.  From 1949 to 1961, Garay was also a violin teacher at the Franz Liszt Academy of Music in Budapest.  In 1960, he became concertmaster of the Radio Symphony in Leipzig (MDR Symphony Orchestra.)  While there, he also taught at the Mendelssohn Academy of Music.  Henceforth, he performed less and less as a soloist.  He gave many premiere performances of new works (mostly by Hungarian composers) and recorded some of these works as well.  Here is one of several of his audio files on YouTube - the violin concerto (1973) by Wilhelm Neef.  Garay died (in Leipzig) on May 15, 1988, at age 78.  His violin was a Stradivarius of 1733 – as far as I know, it bears no name.  

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Hagai Shaham

Hagai Shaham is an Israeli violinist and teacher born (in Haifa) on July 8, 1966.  For reasons I know nothing about, he has never left Israel as his home base, as have so many other concert violinists – Itzhak Perlman, Pinchas Zukerman, Guy Braunstein, Jonathan Berick, Lydia Mordkovitch, Vadim Gluzman, and Ivry Gitlis, to name a few.  He is also known for recordings of little-known works by Joseph Achron.  Shaham is often asked whether he is closely related to American violinist Gil Shaham – he is not.  Shaham began his violin studies at age 6.  He later studied (from age 12) with Ilona Feher (1901-1988) in Tel Aviv - it has been said that he was her last student.  He also studied with Emanuel Borok (the highest-paid concertmaster in the world), Elisha Kagan, and Arnold Steinhardt.  Shaham has taught at USC (in the US - 2007), the Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance, and Tel Aviv University, among other places.  He has also given numerous master classes throughout the world.  His recording labels have included Decca, Chandos, Hyperion, Naxos, Nimbus, and Biddulph.  His Achron recordings are on the Hyperion label – some of these works have never before been available to the general public.  It has been said that he found these forgotten works (in manuscript form) at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem.  These recordings have been highly praised.  One reviewer stated that “through the richness of his tone, superior vibrato usage, expressiveness of phrasing and top-drawer facility, he fulfills his potential in striking fashion.  It is a treat to hear such tonally satisfying violin playing when commonplace sound, even among accomplished artists, is so prevalent."  Another has stated that he has “an impressive a technique as anyone except Heifetz…”  In 2009, he formed a piano trio with Arnon Erez (piano) and Raphael Wallfisch.  Since then, the trio has toured regularly but mostly in Europe.  Here is a YouTube video of him playing a well-known piece by Jeno Hubay.  

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Stefan Gheorghiu

Stefan Gheorghiu was a Romanian violinist and teacher born (in Galatz) on March 23, 1926.  Although he concertized around the world, he spent most of his time playing and teaching in Romania.  As most professional violinists have done, he began his violin studies very early in life – at age 5.  He later (at age 9) became a student at the Royal Conservatory in Bucharest and later still at the National Conservatory in Paris, studying with Maurice Hewitt, a violinist I had never before heard of.  He completed his studies in Moscow under the tutelage of David Oistrakh.  In 1946, he became violin soloist with the George Enesco Philharmonic in Bucharest.  He also formed the Romanian Piano Trio.  He was 20 years old.  Using Bucharest as his home base, he toured various parts of the world (mostly Europe and Russia), championing the music of Romanian composers, especially George Enesco, recording several first editions of their works.  In 1960, he was appointed violin professor at the University of Music (Music Academy) in Bucharest.  He was 34 years old.  Among his many pupils are Angele Dubeau, Corina Belcea, and Silvia Marcovici.  Gheorghiu died on March 17, 2010, at (almost) age 84.  

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Vladimir Cosma

Vladimir Cosma is a Romanian violinist, composer, and conductor born (in Bucharest) on April 13, 1940.  He is one of several musicians who began their careers as violinists and digressed to other (musical) endeavors.  In France, he is well-known as a prolific film composer although he is a composer of classical (concert) works as well.  Perhaps he can be compared to Victor Young, American violinist-composer.  There is scant information about Cosma’s career as a violinist other than that he began his violin studies while still quite young and he graduated from the Bucharest Conservatory of Music and then moved on to the Paris Conservatory in 1963.  In Paris, he also studied with Nadia Boulanger, the famous French teacher.  Up until about 1968 (between 1964 and 1967 approximately), he played in orchestras and toured as a concert violinist.  After that, he focused on composition and (necessarily) on conducting.  He credits a meeting with French composer Michel Legrand with his entry into the world of soundtrack composing.  He was 28 years old by then.  It has been said that one of his grandmothers (I don’t know which one) studied with the famous piano player, Ferruccio Busoni.  According to one (usually-reliable) source, Cosma is the composer of more than 300 scores for films and television programs.  Another source puts the number at 150.  He has conducted a number of orchestras outside of the recording studios though mostly in France.  The French government has bestowed several honors on him as he is considered a national artistic treasure.  Several of his scores have also been awarded the French equivalent of an Academy Award.  As you can see from the photo, Cosma has never entirely given up the violin.  Whether he has or has ever had any pupils is something I do not know.  He is on record saying that melody is the most important thing in a composition.  In an interview, Cosma was quoted as follows: “In a few centuries, we shall see what will come of the serial experiments and of these [atonal] composers.  I think that all this decadence of the Viennese romantic music is an end and not a beginning as, for such a long time, Boulez and the promoters of new music wanted to make us believe.” Here is a YouTube audio file of one of his film works featuring the Berlin Philharmonic - I don't think I need to identify the violin soloist because you will immediately recognize it is the inimitable Ivry Gitlis.  

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Vilde Frang

Vilde Frang (Vilde Frang Bjaerke) is a Norwegian violinist and teacher born (in Oslo) on August 19, 1986.  She is known for having successfully made the jump from child prodigy to mature violin superstar.  That transition does not always prove successful for artists.  In addition to being technically brilliant, her playing has been described as being fresh, seductive, sinewy, inspired, voluptuous, and possessed of startling emotional sincerity.  A highly regarded music critic went so far as to say that he had never heard such a great violinist since the late Jascha Heifetz.  Her playing is rhythmically and tonally flexible, not straight-laced, predictable, and pedantic.  She began her violin studies at age four, on a violin built by her father, a professional bass player.  By 1993, she was a student at the Barratt Due Institute of Music (founded in 1927) in Oslo.  She was 7 years old.  Her teachers there were Stephan Barratt Due, Alf Kraggerud, and Henning Kraggerud.  Frang made her public debut at age ten with the Norwegian Radio Orchestra (some sources say Norwegian Chamber Orchestra.)  She graduated from the Barratt Due Institute in 2002.  In 1999, aged 12 (or 13), she debuted with the Oslo Philharmonic, playing Sarasate’s Carmen Fantasy.  Mariss Jansons was on the podium.  The concert was a great success and her career took off after that.  However, from 2003 to 2009, Frang studied further with Kolja Blacher at the Advanced School for Music and Theatre in Hamburg and with Ana Chumachenco at the Kronberg Academy in Kronberg (about ten miles from Frankfurt, Germany.)  She debuted with the London Philharmonic in 2007.  Her first album was released in 2009.  She records exclusively for EMI/Warner Classics and has received numerous awards for her recordings, including the Diapason d’Or, Deutsche Schallplattenpreis, Classical BRIT, and the ECHO Klassik Award.  As far as I know, Frang has never entered any violin competitions.  In 2010, Frang received an award of 1 million NOK (Norwegian Krone – about 175,000 U.S. dollars) from a large Norwegian business enterprise.  She also received an award of 75,000 Swiss francs (approximately 79,000 U.S. dollars) from Credit Suisse (international bank) in 2012.  The award included a performance with the Vienna Philharmonic at the Lucerne Festival.  She made her BBC London Proms debut in August, 2013, playing Bruch’s first concerto.  She was 26 years old.  By now, Frang has played with virtually every major orchestra in the world and been accompanied by most major conductors.  She has also played recitals or made solo appearances in all of the world’s important venues, including those in China, Japan, Korea, Austria, Belgium, England, France, Germany, Holland, Switzerland, Russia, and the U.S.  Frang now teaches at the Norwegian Academy of Music in Oslo.  One of her violins is one constructed in 1864 by J.B. Vuillaume, a maker not considered to have the status of a Guarneri, a Stradivari, or even a Guadagnini.  She has also played (since the summer of 2013) the 1709 Stradivarius known as the Engleman Strad.  Frang has made the following interesting comment regarding her artistic perspectives: “I need things to worry about.  I need some resistance and struggle.  That’s part of my music making.  I think talent has a lot to do with knowing how to be inspired.  Inspiration is really the most important thing. ”  On April 1 and 2, 2015 (last week) Frang was to have played the Korngold concerto with the Toronto Symphony (and James Conlon) but had to cancel due to “scheduling difficulties.”  What that really means is anyone’s guess since concerts are scheduled (and contracts are signed) very far in advance (sometimes three years in advance) in order to avoid this sort of difficulty.  Perhaps all it means is that her concert managers are disorganized, although that is extremely unlikely.  Here is a YouTube video of one of her performances.  Photo is courtesy of Marco Borggreve, photographer of (mostly European) musicians.