Pekka Kuusisto is a Finnish violinist, composer, conductor, and teacher born (in Espoo, Finland – a small city ten miles west of Helsinki) on October 7, 1976. He is known for presenting unusual programs of music which are quite eclectic while maintaining their seriousness. He has been known to sing at his recitals. He also sometimes uses an undulating bow stroke which produces a subtly different sound. As strange as it might sound, Kuusisto was the first (and – up to the present time - the only) Finn to win, in 1995, the Sibelius Violin Competition. He was 19 years old at the time. Here is a YouTube video of his performance at the competition. Kuusisto began his studies at age 3. His first teacher was Geza Szilvay at the East Helsinki Music Institute. (Szilvay is well known for teaching young children.) Four years later Kuusisto enrolled at the Sibelius Academy in Helsinki. One of his teachers there was Tuomas Haapanen. Nine years later, he studied for four years at Indiana University with Miriam Fried and Paul Biss (husband of Miriam Fried.) He finished his studies there in 1996. He was 20 years old. A very curious anomaly about Kuusisto’s career is that his discography is rather slim given his extreme virtuosity as a musician. (That is very striking and reminds me of Norwegian violinist Mari Samuelsen’s discography which is also rather slender.) Besides solo concertizing, Kuusisto regularly participates in music festivals around the world and often performs with ensembles focused on contemporary music. Here is a video of a concert with Kuusisto conducting the Australian Chamber Orchestra in a performance of modern music, including electronics – one of the pieces shows the strings using what look like practice mutes, not regular mutes. As far as I know, Kuusisto’s violin is still a 1752 G.B. Guadagnini.
Sunday, September 17, 2017
Sunday, August 27, 2017
Jacob Dont (Jakob Dont) was an Austrian violinist, composer, and teacher born (in Vienna) on March 2, 1815. Although he was a well-known musician in his day, he is now mostly remembered as a composer of several violin etude books. His father, Joseph Valentin Dont, was a cellist who was well-acquainted with Beethoven. I don’t know who Dont’s first teachers were but he eventually studied with Josef Bohm and Georg Hellmesberger, Sr. at the Vienna Conservatory. (Josef Bohm was also the teacher of Joachim, Ernst, Hubay, Remenyi, and Grun. Interestingly, there are two Georg Hellmesbergers and two Josef Hellmesbergers – all four were related and all four were violinists.) In 1831, Dont joined the Hofburgtheater orchestra and three years later the Vienna Hofkapelle. He began concertizing while still a teenager but decided against a solo career. One source states he taught at the Academy of Art (Akademie der Tonkunst) and the Seminary at St Anna at around this time, although I have no idea what or where those places are - I suspect they are both located in or near Vienna. He simply continued to play in the imperial orchestras until he was appointed violin professor at the Pedagogical Institute in Vienna in 1853. He was 38 years old by then. In 1871 (some sources say 1873) Dont became violin professor at his old school, the Vienna Conservatory. He was now 56 years old. Ironically, Dont’s many instructional books for violin were not allowed to be used at the Conservatory. His Opus numbers 17, 18, 20, 33, 35, and 37 are his best known works for violin studies – most violin students are familiar with these etudes. Dont also wrote considerable vocal music, some chamber music, piano music, and solo works for violin and piano. Almost all of this music was published during his lifetime. His most famous pupil is Leopold Auer, the Hungarian violinist and pedagogue. This fact alone makes Dont nearly immortal as a musician and violinist. Dont died (in Vienna) on November 17, 1888, at age 73.
Sunday, July 16, 2017
Suna Kan is a Turkish violinist and teacher born (in Adana) on October 21, 1936. She is very likely the best-known Turkish violinist, having concertized throughout the world for many years, appearing with many high profile orchestras, artists, and conductors, including Zubin Mehta, Walter Susskind, Arthur Fiedler, Yehudi Menuhin, Pierre Fournier, and Igor Bezrodny. She began her studies at age five, making her first public appearance at age 9, playing Mozart’s Turkish concerto (number 5) and Viotti’s most popular violin concerto - number 22 in a minor – with the Presidential Symphony Orchestra – I don’t know who was on the podium. (Viotti’s 29 concertos have been recorded by Italian violinist Franco Mezzena, in case you’re interested.) Kan’s initial teachers included Walter Gerhard, Lico Amar, and Izzet Albavrak. At age 13, she began studying at the Paris Conservatory, graduating in 1952. She was 16 years old. She then began her international career. In 1971, Kan was named State Artist by the Turkish government. She was also one of the founders of the Ankara Chamber Orchestra at about the same time. Kan has also received meritorious awards from the French government. In 1986, she became violin professor at Bilkent University in Ankara. She was 50 years old. Her most famous pupil is probably Ertan Torgul, concertmaster of several American orchestras. A violin competition which was very recently inaugurated is named after Kan. Although her discography is not extensive, she has recorded several CDs of concertos and other music by her countrymen, whom she champions. Here is the third movement of Ulvi Erkin’s violin concerto.
Sunday, June 25, 2017
Vanya Milanova is a Bulgarian violinist, teacher, painter, and author born on January 12, 1954. According to at least one source, she was the first female violinist to record, in 1985, at age 31, the complete (24) Caprices for solo violin by Nicolo Paganini. That sounds rather unusual but it just might be true. I didn’t bother to confirm it by checking further. Surprisingly, she is the first Bulgarian violinist about whom I have written and that is highly unusual too. Milanova is also known for having a huge repertoire. Her career has taken her around the world several times and she has performed with most of the world’s great orchestras and with some of the leading conductors of her generation in over fifty countries. Although her discography is not extensive, there are quite a few YouTube files of her live performances. Milanova took third prize in the 1973 Paganini Violin Competition (in Genoa, Italy) and third prize in the 1974 Tchaikovsky Competition (the same one where the late Eugene Fodor took second prize.) She was known as a child prodigy - her main teachers were Peter Arnaudov (State Music Academy) in Bulgaria and Yfrah Neaman (Guildhall School of Music) in England. Her 2016 autobiography is titled Wit and Wisdom of a Violinist but is presently out of print. Many of her abstract paintings can be seen on her Facebook page. Milanova has taught at Bilkent University in Turkey, among other schools. Here are two YouTube files of her performances, including the complete recording of the Paganini Caprices.
Sunday, May 28, 2017
Henri Dupont (Henri Joseph Dupont) was a Belgian violinist, conductor, composer, and teacher born (in Ensival) on January 3, 1838. Brahms was five years old that year and Belgium itself was almost a brand new country at that time. Other than that he has a very recognizable surname, Dupont is not known – with regard to the violin - for anything in particular. Belgium has for generations produced many spectacular violin virtuosos but Dupont is not one of them. His name is most often mentioned as a conductor of opera – according to several sources, he conducted many outstanding performances in England (Covent Garden) which today (had they been filmed for posterity) would probably be acclaimed. He received his training from the conservatories at Liege and Brussels – I don’t know how early he began his violin studies nor who his teachers were. In 1863 he won the Belgian version of the Rome Prize (Prix de Rome) for composition. He was 25 years old. After that, he took off on a study tour throughout Europe which lasted four years – this excursion was probably subsidized by the Belgian government, although I am not certain of that. In 1867, he became concertmaster of the Warsaw Opera House. He was 29 years old. In 1871, he took a similar post at the Imperial Theatre of Moscow. One year later, he was back in Brussels where he was hired as professor of harmony at the Conservatory while simultaneously serving as concertmaster of the Monnaie Theatre (Theatre Royal de la Monnaie or Royal Theatre of the Coin – a theatre dating back to 1700.) He also served as conductor there beginning that same year. He was 34 years old. He also guest conducted operas at the Royal Opera House in London many times. In 1873, he took over as director of the Popular Concerts (Concerts Populaires) from none other than Henri Vieuxtemps (who had become incapacitated as the result of a stroke that same year.) Dupont was made a member of the Royal Academy of Belgium in 1899. He died on December 21, 1899, at age 61, just ten days before the start of the Twentieth Century.
Sunday, April 30, 2017
Henry Holst was a Danish violinist and teacher born (in Saeby, Denmark) on July 25, 1899. He spent quite a bit of time in England but is not related – as far as I know – to the other Holst. He was probably the first violinist to play (in 1921 with the Berlin Philharmonic) three concertos in the same concert program – before Yehudi Menuhin, Henryk Szeryng, Szymon Goldberg, and Raymond Cohen did it. Holst must have begun his violin studies while still very young but I don’t know how young nor with whom. In 1913, he was admitted into the Royal Danish Academy of Music. He was 14 years old. His teachers there were Axel Gade (son of Niels Gade) and violinist/composer Carl Nielsen. At age 18, he made his debut playing Henri Vieuxtemps’ first violin concerto, the longest violin concerto Vieuxtemps ever wrote. He then studied further with Hungarian violinist Emil Telmanyi. After that, he traveled to Berlin to study with Willy Hess, a German violinist who played far and wide during his career, including the U.S. In 1923, Holst became concertmaster of the Berlin Philharmonic. He was 24 years old. He quit that post in 1931 and went to live in England where he taught at the Royal Manchester College of Music. There, he founded the Henry Holst String Quartet which he disbanded in 1941 to start the Philharmonia Quartet which itself was disbanded in 1952. He was also active as a soloist. Holst gave the European Premiere of the Walton violin concerto, a work which had been championed by Jascha Heifetz for a time, in 1941. Holst also gave the world premiere of the revised version of the concerto in 1944. The Walton concerto is very seldom played now. In 1945, Holst moved to London to teach at the Royal College of Music. He was 46 years old. Holst moved back to Denmark in 1954 where he taught at the Royal Danish College of Music. I don’t know how many years he was there but it must have been quite a few. Henry Holst died on October 19, 1991 at age 92, largely forgotten.
Sunday, February 26, 2017
Eduardo Asiain (Eduardo Hernandez Asiain) was a Spanish violinist born (in Havana, Cuba) on May 17, 1911. He is best known for his interpretations of the works of Pablo Sarasate and for being one of the longest-lived violinists in history, in the style of Roman Totenberg. He began his studies with his father, a violinist and composer, at a very early age. He gave his first concert at age 7. At age 14, after receiving first prize in violin at the National Conservatory of Havana, he became concertmaster of the Havana Symphony. If that is factual (I could not verify it from more than one source), he joins Paul Kochanski in being the youngest concertmaster (of a professional orchestra) in history. In 1932, Asiain, along with his family, moved to Spain. He was 21 years old. In Madrid, he studied with Enrique Fernandez Arbos and Antonio Fernandez Bordas. He later graduated from the Royal Conservatory of Music in Madrid, obtaining special mention and receiving the Pablo Sarasate Prize. The major part of his career was spent in Europe although he did perform outside of Europe a few times. His discography is limited although his recordings of Sarasate’s music are still highly praised. He founded the Chamber Orchestra of San Sebastian but I could not ascertain in what year that was. In 1968, he became first violinist of the RTVE (Spanish Corporation for Public Radio and Television) Quartet. From 1977 onward, he received various medals and honors from the Spanish government. He played an Amati violin constructed in 1633. Here is a YouTube audio file of Asiain playing music by Sarasate and here is another. Asiain died on May 11, 2010, at (almost) age 99.