Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Nathan Milstein

Nathan Milstein (Nathan Mironovich Milstein) was a Russian violinist born on December 31, 1903 - some sources say December 31, 1904 and others say January 13, 1904 (Heifetz was 2 years old.) He was often called the "prince of the violin." He started studying the violin at age 4 (some say age 7) with Peter Stolyarsky, a popular teacher in Odessa (Russia) who also taught David Oistrakh around the same time. At age 10 (1914), he left studying with Stolyarsky and entered the Odessa Conservatory. By age 12, he had entered the St Petersburg Conservatory where Leopold Auer was teaching. His fellow students were Elman, Heifetz, Seidel, and Zimbalist, among many others. He studied with Auer until the summer of 1917 and had no additional instruction thereafter. In 1925, he left Russia to play a few concerts in Europe and never returned. In 1926, he studied with Eugene Ysaye (in Belgium) for a few weeks but later said he learned nothing from him - it was actually Ysaye who told him he had no need of any further lessons. In that same year, Milstein made his Paris debut. On October 17, 1929 (some sources say November 29, 1929) he made his American debut with the Philadelphia Orchestra playing Glazunov's concerto and thereafter concertized non-stop until July, 1986. He is remembered for a very clean and precise technique and very appealing tone. He is also remembered for his Paganiniana - a dazzling arrangement of different tunes written by Nicolo Paganini. Between 1930 and 1986, he recorded most of the violin repertory. Of the Brahms concerto alone there are no fewer than five studio recordings available - each with a different orchestra. Although he made seven (studio) recordings of the Mendelssohn concerto, he didn't record the Sibelius or the Stravinsky concertos even once. Those works were probably not in his repertoire. There are also many superb videos of his playing on YouTube - all of them professionally produced. Milstein died in London on December 21, 1992, at age 88. (Of that era, only Ruggiero Ricci, Albert Markov, Zvi Zeitlin, David Nadien, Camilla Wicks, Ida Haendel, and Ivry Gitlis remain.)

Monday, December 28, 2009

Nigel Kennedy

Nigel Kennedy is an English violinist born on December 28, 1956 (Perlman was 10 years old.) He was born on the same day as Josef Hassid, though 33 years later. He studied with Yehudi Menuhin and Dorothy DeLay (Juilliard.) He is famous for wearing a funny outfit on stage, his funny haircut, and his very slow rendition of the Brahms violin concerto. He has been recording since 1984 and has recorded most of the standard violin repertory in addition to some jazz music. A few critics have said that his classical playing style lacks discipline, insight, and finesse, although that opinion is really open to question.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Joseph Hassid

Josef Hassid (Jozef Chasyd) was a Polish violinist born on December 28, 1923 (Heifetz was 22 years old.) He is famous for having had an incredibly short and tragic career. Everyone agrees that he was a phenomenally gifted player - he was greatly admired by Thibaud, Huberman, Szigeti, and Kreisler, among many other musicians. Such was his talent that Kreisler said of him "A Heifetz comes around every 100 years but a Hassid once every 200." He received an honorary diploma at the 1935 Wieniawski competition (Ginette Neveu placed first and David Oistrakh second.) He was only 12 years old but he supposedly did not advance to the second round due to a memory lapse. He had been studying with Carl Flesch since age 12. In 1937, he was studying with Carl Flesch in Belgium when he fell in love with a young female fellow-student. The romance was ended abruptly by the parents when it was discovered that there were religious differences. Hassid and his father moved to England in 1938. Late in 1939, he made his first recording for EMI in London. It is posted on YouTube. In 1940, he recorded eight more times - he would never get to record again. He made his London debut on December 5, 1940 (at age 16), playing the Tchaikovsky concerto with the London Symphony under Adrian Boult. He is said to have suffered a memory lapse during the performance. His last concert was on March 1, 1941, playing the Brahms concerto. It was reported (in a newspaper review) that the performance was rather uneven. In 1941, Hassid experienced a mental breakdown. He was treated and discharged but finally had to be committed to a mental asylum in 1943 due to recurring episodes of erratic behavior. He remained institutionalized for about seven years until a lobotomy done in 1950 sealed his fate. The cause of death may have been meningitis. He died on November 7, 1950, at age 26.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Johann Pisendel

Johann Georg Pisendel was a German violinist and composer born on December 26, 1687 (J.S. Bach was 2 years old.) He either knew or worked with many outstanding musicians of his day, including Vivaldi, Albinoni, Telemann, Marcello, Torelli, Benda, Zelenka, and J.S. Bach. At the age of 10, he joined the Ansbach court chapel as a choir singer. By 16, he was a violinist in the court orchestra and studying violin with Giuseppe Torelli. In 1709, he left Ansbach for Leipzig (150 miles northeast.) In 1712, Pisendel joined the Dresden court orchestra as a violinist, which afforded him a great opportunity to tour Europe (France, Germany, and Italy) and study with some of the great violinists and composers. In 1730, Pisendel became concertmaster of the Dresden orchestra, already one of the best orchestras in Europe. He composed sporadically due to his duties as a violinist and soloist but managed to write many violin concerti and violin sonatas, among other small works. At present, none of them are played, except perhaps in Germany. He remained in Dresden until his death on November 25, 1755, at age 67. Mozart would be born a year later. 

Friday, December 25, 2009

Boris Goldstein

Boris Goldstein was a Russian violinist and teacher born on December 25, 1922 (Heifetz was 21 years old.) Today, he is largely forgotten. He was a child prodigy who studied with Peter Stolyarsky. He made his debut in Moscow at age 10 playing Mendessohn's concerto (e minor.) He was highly regarded by Kreisler, Heifetz, Menuhin, and Prokofiev. He received prizes at the 1935 Wieniawski and the 1937 Ysaye (Queen Elizabeth) competitions, though neither a first or second prize. It has been said that although he was a top violinist in Russia, he was too outspoken against the Communist government and his career was therefore stifled. He moved to Germany in 1974, where he taught at the University of Wuerzburg for many years. Two of his many students are Zakhar Bron and Alexander Skwortsow. He also toured Europe with his daughter Julia in the 1980s. While in Russia, he made many recordings for the Melodya label but they have never been re-issued. Lately, his fans have posted several videos of his on YouTube. He was truly a brilliant and serious artist. Goldstein died in Germany on November 8, 1987, at age 64.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Glenn Dicterow

Glenn Dicterow is an American violinist born on December 23, 1948 (Perlman was 2 years old.) A Juilliard graduate, he has been concertmaster of the New York Philharmonic since 1980, a job which currently pays him approximately $400,000 a year. Though there are other highly gifted concertmasters among the world's great orchestras (Berlin, Vienna, Concertgebouw, London, Boston, Chicago, Cleveland), he is probably the best concertmaster in the world. Prior to joining the orchestra, Dicterow served as Associate Concertmaster then Concertmaster of the Los Angeles Philharmonic under Zubin Mehta, who later brought him to New York. He studied with Manuel Compinsky, Jascha Heifetz, Henryk Szeryng, and Ivan Galamian, among others. Dicterow made his debut with the Los Angeles Philharmonic at age 11. In 1967, he appeared with the New York Philharmonic with conductor Andre Kostelanetz playing Tchaikovsky's violin concerto. Three years later (1970), he was awarded the Bronze Medal in the Tchaikovsky competition (Gidon Kremer took first prize.) Dicterow has long been a favorite of Hollywood studios for movie soundtracks, including Beauty And The Beast and Aladdin. He is also frequently seen on PBS broadcasts and on YouTube. He began teaching at the Manhattan School of Music in 1982 and at Juilliard in 1987. Interestingly, though his repertoire list is fairly broad, it does not include the Lalo, Wieniawski, Tchaikovsky, or Sibelius concertos.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Charles Dancla

Charles Dancla was a French violinist and teacher born on December 19, 1817 (Beethoven was 47 years old and Paganini was 35 years old.) He began his studies while still a child and later studied with Pierre Baillot for a number of years. In 1835, he became concertmaster of the Paris Opera Orchestra. Between 1848 and 1855 he joined the French Civil Service but continued to play informally. (Pierre Baillot had done something similar.) In 1855 - after years of political intrigues - he was made professor of violin at the Paris Conservatory and taught there for more than 35 years. One of his pupils was Achille Rivarde.  Another famous pupil he had was Maud Powell. Dancla wrote many violin concertos, orchestral pieces, 14 string quartets, and many other works for violin, none of which are played today, except perhaps in France. The Dancla Stradivarius violin of 1703 is named after him. He used it for 22 years - between 1854 and 1876. However, among other very fine violins, he also played a 1710 Stradivari which also bears his name and was later owned and played by Nathan Milstein. Dancla died on October 10, 1907, at age 89 (Stravinsky was 25 years old and Heifetz was already six years old.) 

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Zakhar Bron

Zakhar Bron is a Russian violinist and teacher born on December 17, 1947 (Heifetz was 46 years old and would live an additional forty years.) He began his violin studies as a child. Later on, he entered the Moscow Conservatory and studied with Boris Goldstein and Igor Oistrakh. As are Carl Flesch, Leopold Auer, Peter Stolyarsky, and Ivan Galamian before him, he is much better known as a teacher than as a violinist. Some time during the 1970s, he entered the Queen Elizabeth Competition but did not place among the top five finalists. In 1977, he came in third place in the Wieniawski Competition. His career as a pedagogue began at the Moscow Conservatory when he became Igor Oistrakh's assistant. He started his very successful private studio in Novosibirsk, Russia. After gaining a good reputation as a teacher, he was appointed violin professor at the Royal Academy in London. He has subsequently taught at other major music schools in Europe. He has also given master classes all over the world. Bron currently teaches at the Advanced Music School in Cologne. His star pupils are Vadim Repin and Maxim Vengerov.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Isidore Cohen

Isidore Cohen was an American violinist and teacher born on December 16, 1922 (Heifetz was 21 years old.) He never made a living as a virtuoso concert violinist but had an outstanding career as a chamber music player. He began studying violin at age 6. After graduating from the High School of Music and Art (New York), he attended Brooklyn College until World War Two caught up with him. After the war, he enrolled at Juilliard (at age 24) and studied with Ivan Galamian for a while. From 1952, he played second violin in Alexander Schneider's quartet for about six years then, in the Juilliard Quartet for about ten years. Cohen taught at Juilliard from 1958 to 1966. He also later taught at the Curtis Institute, Princeton University, and the Manhattan School of Music. In 1968, he joined the Beaux Arts Trio and stayed for twenty three years. He recorded extensively with the trio. YouTube has several videos of their playing. (Menahem Pressler, the trio's pianist-founder was also born on December 16, but one year after Cohen. He currently teaches at Indiana University.) Cohen died on June 23, 2005, at age 82.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Ida Haendel

Ida Haendel is a Polish (some would say English) violinist born on December 15, 1928 (Heifetz was 27 years old.) She took up the violin before she turned four and as a seven-year-old was admitted to the Warsaw Conservatory. Her first teacher was Esther Greenbaum. She later studied with Carl Flesch and George Enescu in Paris. In 1937 (age nine), she made her London debut. Her career was interrupted by World War Two but in 1946, having re-started her career, she was the first artist to appear with the Israel Philharmonic. In 1952, she moved to Canada and remained there until 1989, when she settled in Miami. Her autobiography, WOMAN WITH VIOLIN, was published in 1970. The portrait on the cover of her autobiography was painted by her father. She famously said "You cannot play with inspiration when the conductor is an imbecile." Since 1946, she has toured extensively and has also recorded most of the standard repertoire on various labels. Some of her performances can be seen on YouTube. With Ruggiero Ricci, Camilla Wicks, Albert Markov, Zvi Zeitlin, Abram Shtern, and Ivry Gitlis, she is one of the few living legends of the violin - violinists of the Heifetz era. 

Monday, December 14, 2009

Samuel Dushkin

Samuel Dushkin was a Polish (some would say American) violinist born on December 13, 1891 (Stravinsky was 9 years old.) He is remembered as the violinist who premiered the Stravinsky violin concerto and who collaborated with this Russian composer in nearly all of his works for violin. He was never considered a virtuoso violinist but rather a very respectable musician. A not-too-flattering review of his New York Town Hall recital of February 9, 1943 is fairly typical. He initially studied at the Paris Conservatory and later with Leopold Auer and Fritz Kreisler. His European debut took place in 1918. He also premiered Prokofiev's Sonata for Two Violins (with Robert Soetens) in 1932. The famous Stravinsky violin concerto premiere was given on October 23, 1931 with the Berlin Radio Orchestra with Stravinsky himself conducting. The premiere was also broadcast. Dushkin premiered the work in the U.S. as well. Later on, with Stravinsky on the podium, he was the first to record the work. The well-known Dushkin Stradivarius (1701) is named after him, although he also owned one other Strad, a Guarnerius, and a Guadagnini. His widow (Louise) was the founder of the Harlem School of the Arts. (She died in Santa Fe, New Mexico.) Dushkin died on June 24, 1976, in obscurity, at age 84.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Jaap van Zweden

Jaap van Zweden is a Dutch violinist and conductor born on December 12, 1960 (Perlman was 14 years old.) His father was one of his first teachers in Amsterdam. In the U.S., while still a teenager, he studied with Dorothy Delay at Juilliard. In 1979 (at age 19), he was appointed concertmaster of the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, the youngest to ever hold that position. He left the Concertgebouw in 1995 and gradually moved toward a conducting career - Pierre Monteux, Charles Munch, Eugene Ormandy, Theodore Thomas, Alan Gilbert, and David Zinman were also highly accomplished violinists who became conductors. Van Zweden became a full-time conductor in 1997, his post with the Netherlands Symphony Orchestra being one of his first (1997-2000.) In 2005, he became the chief conductor of the Netherlands Radio Philharmonic and will also lead the Dallas Symphony (from 2008) until 2012. In addition, he will simultaneously lead the Royal Flemish Orchestra (Belgium.) I do not know if he even still plays the violin. However, here is proof that he was indeed a virtuoso violinist at one time. 

Friday, December 11, 2009

Leonard Friedman

 Leonard Friedman (Leonard Matthew Friedman) was a Russian violinist and conductor born on December 11, 1930 (Heifetz was 29 years old.) He attended the Guildhall School of Music and Drama (London) and made his debut in 1938 (at 8 years of age) and again in 1949. Beginning in 1966, Friedman spent much time in Edinburgh, Scotland. He was a member of various orchestras - including the English Chamber Orchestra - and was, for a time, Associate Concertmaster of the Royal Philharmonic, as well as concertmaster of other orchestras. In 1969, he founded the Scottish Baroque Ensemble (now the Scottish Ensemble) and in 1974 co-founded the Scottish Chamber Orchestra. In addition, he also founded the Camerata of St Andrew. He was known to have a quirky personality. There are several recordings of him either playing or directing. After playing as soloist with orchestra, he used to sometimes sit in with the players of the orchestra and play the second half of the program - just as Gil Shaham does nowadays - for the pure fun of it.  Friedman died on May 11, 1994, at age 64.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Sarah Chang

Sarah Chang is a Korean (some would say American) violinist born on December 10, 1980 (Itzhak Perlman was 34 years old.) She was a child prodigy and has been highly praised by many of the world's greatest musicians and violinists, including Yehudi Menuhin. Her father, who is also a violinist, was one of her first teachers. When she entered Juilliard (New York) at age 6, she played the Bruch g minor concerto as her audition piece. At age 8, she played the Paganini concerto (in D) with the New York Philharmonic. At age 9, she recorded her first CD for EMI Classics, becoming the youngest violinist to be professionally recorded. She effectively began her concert career at the same age. (Chloe Hanslip was signed to a recording contract at age 13.) It is said that it took Ms Chang no more than two weeks to learn the Tchaikovsky concerto when she was only 12. Although she has garnered many awards (including the Avery Fisher Prize), she has never entered any violin competitions - possibly because she never had to. Chang has recorded most of the standard repertoire. As is usual with modern violinists, there are several videos of her playing on YouTube. In 2010, she got into an unpleasant controversy over her scheduling a concert in Detroit during the Detroit Symphony's strike.  I don't know if she has a page on MySpace. She plays a 1717 Guarnerius.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Joshua Bell

Joshua Bell (Joshua David Bell) is an American violinist born on December 9, 1967 (Perlman was 21 years old.) He is easily one of the most popular concert violinists currently on the scene. Bell began lessons at the age of four. Later on, he studied with Josef Gingold at Indiana University (Jacobs School of Music) from which he graduated in 1989. However, by 1985, he had already made his Carnegie Hall debut. Bell is best known for his soundtrack recording of the violin music on the 1998 film, The Red Violin. He is also known for having taken part in an experiment conducted by the Washington Post two or three years ago in which he played incognito at a D.C. metro station for which he collected about $40 from passersby. Bell has taught at the Royal Academy (London), MIT, and Indiana University. There is lots of information about him on the internet as well as videos on the YouTube and MySpace websites. He has also recorded most of the standard violin repertoire. He customarily wears informal attire for his concerts, as do Nigel Kennedy and Stefan Jackiw. He plays the 1713 Gibson Ex-Huberman Stradivarius, a notoriously famous violin, which, so far, has been stolen (and recovered) twice. 

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Erick Friedman

Erick Friedman (Eric Friedman) was an American violinist and teacher born on August 16, 1939 (Heifetz was 38 years old.) He is mostly remembered for being Jascha Heifetz' favorite pupil. He began to study violin at age 6 with his father, an amateur violinist. A little later on, he studied with Samuel Applebaum. At age 10, he enrolled at the Juilliard School of Music (New York) where he studied with Ivan Galamian for six years. From age 14, he also studied with Nathan Milstein. It was also at age 14 that he made his New York debut. In 1959 (some sources say 1957), against the advice of his concert manager (Arthur Judson), he interrupted his concertizing career to study with Jascha Heifetz at the University of Southern California. After three years with Heifetz, he successfully re-started his world-wide concert career. By then, he had already made his most famous recording - the Bach Double Violin Concerto, with Heifetz as collaborator (1961.) It has been said that this is the only recording Heifetz ever shared with any other violinist. Some say that he developed a sound very similar to Heifetz' sound. You can judge for yourself here.  It is a recording of the Mendelssohn concerto.  Without any real need to boost his career and against the advice of Heifetz (but with plenty of prompting from David Oistrakh), Friedman entered the 1966 Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow. Although he came in SIXTH place, his career did not seem to suffer from this apparently orchestrated setback - Friedman continued to concertize and record for the next 20 years or so. It has been said that Oistrakh engineered Friedman's low placement so as to embarrass Heifetz (who was still considered a defector from Russia), and to advance his own son's career - Igor Oistrakh's concert career, that is. Due to an auto accident in the late 1980s, which injured his left arm, Friedman gave up playing in public. After a long five-year recuperation, he returned to the stage five years later.  He took a permanent teaching position at Yale University in 1989, although he had also taught at the Manhattan School of Music, at Southern Methodist University, and at the North Carolina School of the Arts prior to this. Among many other works, he recorded the Tchaikovsky concerto three times - 1962, 1978, and 1997. He also regularly conducted various chamber groups and adjudicated at several international violin competitions. Among other violins, he played the Ludwig Stradivarius (1724.) Friedman taught at Yale up until one week before he died, March 30, 2004, at age 64.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Francesco Geminiani

Francesco Geminiani was an Italian violinist, composer, and music theorist born on December 5, 1687 (Bach was two years old.) He studied with Alessandro Scarlatti, Carlo Lonati, and Arcangelo Corelli. From 1711 (from age 24), he was concertmaster of the opera orchestra at Naples. In 1714, he went to London where, in 1715, he played his violin concerti (with Handel at the keyboard) at the court of George I. He went to Paris for a time but returned to England in 1755. He is best known for three sets of concerti Grossi - 42 concertos in all. Geminiani also wrote and published The Art of Playing the Violin (1751), Guide to Harmony, solos for the violin, three sets of violin concerti, twelve violin trios, The Art of Accompaniment on the Harpsichord, and The Art of Playing the Guitar. Geminiani was also a collector and dealer of fine art though not always successful in this endeavor. I do not know if recordings of his complete works have been produced. He died in 1762, at age 75 (Bach had been dead for 12 years already.)

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Ilona Feher

Ilona Feher was a Hungarian violinist and teacher born on December 1, 1901 (Heifetz was born the same year.) She is remembered as a teacher rather than as a violinist. Many biographical writings mention her striking beauty. She studied with Jeno Hubay at the Franz Liszt Academy (Budapest) and began concertizing at an early age, until the Second World War interrupted her career. For a number of years after the end of the war, she played exclusively in Eastern Europe. In 1949, she moved to Israel, where she lived and taught for the rest of her life - nonetheless, she gave master classes all over the world as well. Shlomo Mintz is among her well-known pupils. I do not know if she ever did any recording - commercial or live. I'm estimating that Feher died on January 1, 1988, at age 87.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Viktoria Mullova

Viktoria Mullova is a Russian violinist born on November 27, 1959 (Heifetz was 58 years old.) She has been successful in her concert career since before she defected from the Soviet Union twenty six years ago (1983.) Mullova is very much at ease in her extroverted style and likes wearing brightly colored outfits for her appearances. She is also well-known for having had several lovers, Claudio Abbado among them. She began her violin studies at age four. She then studied at Moscow's Central Music School; afterward at the Moscow Conservatory with Leonid Kogan. In 1980, she took first prize in the Sibelius Competition (Helsinki), and the gold medal in the Tchaikovsky Competition in 1982. Her discography is fairly extensive but does not include the Bruch concerto nor the Lalo Symphonie Espagnol. Mullova has played the Jules Falk Stradivarius (1723) for many years and a Guadagnini from 1750 as well. There are many videos posted on YouTube showing her playing in recital and with orchestra.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Hilary Hahn

Hilary Hahn is an American violinist and writer born on November 27, 1979 (Perlman was 33 years old.) She began violin lessons at age four. One of her first teachers was Klara Berkovitch (Baltimore), with whom she studied for five years (1984-1989.) At age ten, Hahn entered the Curtis Institute of Music where she studied with Jascha Brodsky for seven years, learning most of the standard violin repertory - the same 30 concertos that everyone else plays. Hahn also later studied with Jaime Laredo and Felix Galimir, among others. She began concertizing in 1991 (at age 12) but did not make her Carnegie Hall debut until 1996, by then already an established artist. Her graduation from Curtis came in 1999 though her bachelor of music degree belies the fact that she is one of the best (and most expensive) violinists on the world's classical music scene. Hahn's technique is characterized by extreme precision and an even, clear, lean tone. Her sound has few distinguishing features - it is very similar to that produced by a dozen other great violinists on the current concert stage. Her interpretations are subtle, well-defined, controlled, and cautious, not given to an abundance of emotion or idiosyncrasy. Her approach is similar to Anna-Sophie Mutter's in that there is a decided lack of bravado or go-for-broke risk-taking - the opposite approach as takes Leila Josefowicz or Arabella Steinbacher or Ivry Gitlis.  Hahn reminds me of a quote from E.N. Bilbie's book: She has "little to say and so much to say it with."  Her discography is already extensive and is easily accessible on the internet. In addition to having her own website (where she posts journal entries on a regular basis), she has a profile page on MySpace. One can also see and hear videos of her playing on YouTube. Unfortunately, not all of those videos are professionally produced.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Josef Hellmesberger

Josef Hellmesberger (Sr.) was an Austrian violinist, conductor, composer, and teacher born on November 23, 1828 (Paganini was 46 years old.) He is related to four other famous Viennese musicians. (His son, Joseph Hellmesberger Jr. taught Leopold Auer and Fritz Kreisler.) Hellmesberger actually learned violin from his father (Georg Hellmesberger Sr.) from childhood until he graduated from the Vienna Conservatory, where his father was violin professor. In 1849, he founded the Hellmesberger Quartet. In 1851, he became director of the Vienna Conservatory, where he continued until his death. In 1860, he was appointed concertmaster of the Court Opera Orchestra. Hellmesberger died on October 24, 1893, at age 64.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Henri Temianka

Henri Temianka was a Polish violinist, conductor, author, and teacher born on November 19, 1906 (Heifetz was 5 years old.) His teachers were Carel Blitz (1915-1923) in Holland; Willy Hess (1923-1924) in Berlin, Germany; Jules Boucherit (1924-1926) in Paris, France; and Carl Flesch at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia. He graduated from the Curtis Institute in 1930. However, he actually made his New York debut in 1928, prior to graduation and subsequently started touring Europe, Russia, and the U.S. Upon entering the Wieniawski Competition in 1935, he took a third prize, behind David Oistrakh (second prize), and Ginette Neveu, who later died in a plane crash at a very young age. In 1936, he founded the Temianka Chamber Orchestra in London. In 1937, he became concertmaster of the Scottish Orchestra (he was born in Scotland.) In 1941, he served as concertmaster of the Pittsburg Symphony. Then, the Second World War interrupted his career but he served as a translator for the armed services because he was fluent in four languages. Thereafter, he resumed his concertizing and eventually played in over 30 countries. In 1946, as first violinist, he founded the Paganini String Quartet. The quartet's life span was twenty years (1946-1966.) He also gave lectures, held master classes, taught for short periods at many universities around the world, and wrote articles for many periodicals. In 1960, he founded, as conductor, the California Chamber Symphony based at UCLA (USA.) Temianka was one of the first - if not the very first - to give pre-concert talks to his audiences - a common practice nowadays. He also famously said: "There are three fool-proof ways to avoid criticism - say nothing, do nothing, and be nothing." He wrote two autobiographical books: Facing the Music and Chance Encounters. Among the violins he played were a Gagliano, a 1727 Stradivarius (the Salabue), and a 1687 Guarneri. Temianka died on November 7, 1992, at age 85.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Toscha Seidel

Toscha Seidel was a Russian (Ukrainian) violinist and teacher born on November 17, 1899 (Stravinsky was 17 years old.) He is remembered for his work in Hollywood studios. He began his studies in Russia at age 7. At age 9, he was already studying in Berlin at the Stern Conservatory. In 1912, he became a pupil of Leopold Auer at the St Petersburg Conservatory, together with Heifetz, Zimbalist, Milstein, and Elman (among others.) As a teenager, he gave several joint recitals with Heifetz. Among his many highly praised solo recitals was one that took place in New York on September 19, 1920. He concertized in Europe and elsewhere for about fifteen years before coming to permanently live in the U.S. in the early 1930s. Soon, as so many other classical musicians of the time did also, he made his way to the motion picture studios in Hollywood where he served as concertmaster of the Paramount Studios orchestra. It is documented that in 1934 he gave Albert Einstein one or more private violin lessons. Einstein paid him by giving him a diagram of a formula which was tied to his Theory of Relativity - Einstein had a good sense of humor. Later on, they gave a joint recital to raise funds for some philanthropic effort. Seidel also loved to play chess, as did Oistrakh, Kogan, Menuhin, Elman, Kreisler, and so many other violinists. His violins were a Guadagnini of 1786 and the Da Vinci Stradivarius (1725.) Seidel ended his days as a pit orchestra violinist in Las Vegas. Many refer to his later years as tragic but nobody will say what the tragedy was. He died in Los Angeles on November 15, 1962, at age 63.

Leonid Kogan

Leonid Kogan (Leonid Borisovich Kogan) was a Russian (Ukrainian) violinist and teacher born on November 17, 1924 (Heifetz was 23 years old.) There are actually two dates given for his date of birth - I arbitrarily chose this one. He was a modest and quiet man but possessed an astonishing technique, powerful tone, and expressive insight. Kogan began studying violin with his father while still a very young child and by age 10 was taking lessons from Abram Yampolsky. From 1934 until 1951 he continued studying - first at the Central Music School (until 1943) and then at the Moscow Conservatory (until 1951.) However, since he had already made his debut in 1941 at the Moscow Conservatory, his concertizing career actually started in that year. He won first prize at the Queen Elizabeth Competition in that same year, giving an unforgettable performance of the D major Paganini concerto which is still talked about. He started teaching at the Conservatory in 1952. His many recordings are now very much sought after. There are many videos of his on YouTube and he also has a fan page on MySpace. For a time, his daughter Nina was his piano accompanist. He was well-known for shunning publicity though he was one of the finest violinists of all time. He died unexpectedly while on tour on December 17, 1982, at age 58. It has been rumored that the KGB poisoned him.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Franz Clement

Franz Clement (Franz Joseph Clement) was an Austrian violinist, pianist, composer, and conductor born on November 17, 1780 (Beethoven was 10 years old.) He is famous for having commissioned (and premiered) Beethoven's popular violin concerto (December 23, 1806.) A gifted violinist from a very young age, he was known for his ability to play music from memory after only briefly viewing it. Sometimes, he would alternate his virtuoso performances with circus-like displays, such as playing a piece on one string while holding the violin upside down. It was said that his playing was neat, elegant, delicate, and tender. It was also effortless. He appeared to handle the most extreme difficulties with ease. Though he was a very successful touring virtuoso and conductor for a time, he seems to have gone into a premature decline and was soon earning an average living not in keeping with his potential. He composed six violin concertos, among many other works. Were it not for Beethoven's monumental concerto, he would almost certainly be forgotten. However, because of this lucky break, everywhere the concerto goes, he goes too, never to be forgotten. It is said that he sight read Beethoven's concerto at the first performance. Some musicologists think that is debatable since Clement and Beethoven were close friends. It can easily be imagined that Beethoven let Clement try out a page or two every time he paid a visit. Nevertheless, it is quite possible that Clement played the concerto without once rehearsing with the orchestra since Beethoven was working on it up until the time of the performance. Clement died on November 3, 1842, at (almost) age 62.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Leopold Mozart

Leopold Mozart (Johann Georg Leopold Mozart) was an Austrian violinist, composer, conductor, and teacher, born on November 14, 1719 (Bach was 34 years old.) Though he studied liberal arts, theology, science, and law extensively - he graduated Magna Cum Laude in 1735 - he later became a professional musician (1740.) After serving as violinist and valet to a high ranking university official, he eventually found a job with the Prince-Archbishop of Salzburg, attaining the position of Assistant Music Director, which he retained for the rest of his life. He composed many works, some of which were published during his lifetime, but his best known is his book on violin playing. Nonetheless, his virtual immortality rests in the fact that he was the father of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Leopold Mozart died on May 28, 1787 (Beethoven was 17 years old.)

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Simon Standage

Simon Standage (Simon Andrew Thomas Standage) is an English violinist, conductor, and teacher born on November 8, 1941 (Heifetz was 40 years old.) He is easily the most-recorded period instrument violinist in the world. His career has not been spent on the Romantic repertoire of Paganini, Wieniawski, Vieuxtemps, Mendelssohn, Brahms, Lalo, Tchaikovsky, Sibelius, Bruch, and the rest. He studied at Cambridge University and graduated in 1963. He then spent four years in the Netherlands Chamber Orchestra. After winning a fellowship, he went to New York where he studied with Ivan Galamian (1967-1969.) His debut was at Wigmore Hall in 1972, the same year he became a founding member of The English Concert. He has been a member, soloist, concertmaster, or director of various ensembles during overlapping years, including: The English Concert (1972-1991); English Chamber Orchestra (1974-1978); City of London Sinfonia (1980-1989); Salomon Quartet (1981-2009); Academy of Ancient Music (1980-1995); and the Collegium Musicum 90 (1990-2009.) His discography is very extensive and his recordings of much of the music of Bach, Vivaldi, Telemann, Mozart, and Haydn are especially well-known. He has also taught baroque violin at the Royal Academy of Music since 1983. You will find an abundance of his recordings (though no videos) available on YouTube.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Camilla Wicks

Camilla Wicks is a Norwegian (some would say American) violinist born on August 8, 1928 (Heifetz was 27 years old.) She is well-known for her exceptionally thoughtful and insightful interpretations, her inspired phrasing, and the extremely wide range of her repertoire. Most of her recordings are now collectors' items - her recordings of many rare Twentieth Century works (many of them Scandinavian) are significant, illuminating, and incandescent (some would say stunning.) She began her violin studies with her father at age 3. At age 7, she made her debut with orchestra in Long Beach, California, playing Mozart's D major concerto. She learned Bruch's g minor concerto at age 8 and the Paganini D major concerto at age 9. A year later, her family moved to New York where she began studying with Louis Persinger at Juilliard. With Persinger as her piano accompanist, she made her debut at New York's Town Hall in February of 1942. Two years later, she made her debut with the Los Angeles Philharmonic with the third concerto of Saint Saenz. Her Carnegie Hall debut came in April of 1946 with the New York Philharmonic - she played the Sibelius concerto on that occasion. Wicks continued to concertize extensively in the U.S. and in Europe until about 1958. She then stopped playing altogether and even sold her "Duke of Cambridge" Stradivarius. After devoting much time to her five children, she returned to her career in 1966, though she only played sporadically. Among other schools, Wicks has taught at the University of Michigan, Rice University, and the San Francisco Conservatory of Music. She retired from teaching in 2005.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Norbert Brainin

Norbert Brainin was an Austrian (some would say English) violinist born on March 12, 1923 (Heifetz was 22 years old.) He is remembered for having been the first violinist of the Amadeus String Quartet for forty years. He entered the Vienna Conservatory at age 10 and studied with Rosa Rosenfeld and Riccardo Odnoposoff, concertmaster of the Vienna Philharmonic. Five years later (1938), his family was forced to move out of Austria. They soon settled in London where Brainin initially had a hard time - he was put in prison - due to war protocols. Upon his release a few months later, he studied with Carl Flesch and then with Flesch's assistant, Max Rostal. Flesch had fled to Amsterdam to get away from the war's difficulties. Brainin entered and won the gold medal in the Carl Flesch violin competition in London in 1946. The following year, he formed the Brainin String Quartet which changed its name a year later. On April 10, 1948, the Amadeus String Quartet made its debut at Wigmore Hall. In the 40 years of its existence, the quartet never changed personnel and only disbanded because its violist passed away - he was deemed irreplaceable. In the late 1980s, Brainin became involved in an effort (which gained momentum in Italy in 1988) to lower the tuning of the concert "A" to 432 hz. (from 440 hz.) Unfortunately, the effort did not succeed. He also taught in Cologne (1971-2005) and in London (1986-2005) and gave master classes around the world. During his career, Brainin played several important violins, including the "Rode" Guarnerius (1734), the "Chaconne" Stradivarius (1725), and the famous "Gibson" Stradivarius (1713), formerly owned by (and twice stolen from) Bronislaw Huberman - now owned by Joshua Bell. Brainin died unexpectedly on April 10, 2005, at age 82.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Julius Conus

Julius Conus (Juli Eduardowitsch Conyus or Konius) was a French violinist and composer born on February 1, 1869 (Brahms was 36 years old.) He was actually born in Moscow since his family had migrated to Russia in the early 1800s. Today, he is remembered for his violin concerto in e minor, although he wrote other music, though not much. He studied violin with Jean (Jan) Hrimaly (a Czech violinist) at the Moscow Conservatory and received the gold medal in 1888. At the same time, he studied composition with Tchaikovsky. Afterward, he studied in Paris (with Joseph Lambert Massart) and played in the opera orchestra and in Edouard Colonne's Orchestra as well. He was concertmaster of the New York Philharmonic from 1891 until 1893. He returned to Moscow in 1893 to teach at the Conservatory, concertize as a soloist, and play in chamber music ensembles. One of his students was Ivan Galamian. He premiered his popular violin concerto in 1898. He had been working on it since 1896 and he dedicated it to his teacher, Jean Hrimaly. Fritz Kreisler and Jascha Heifetz both championed the concerto, though critics never liked it. Conus moved out of Russia again in 1919, establishing himself in Paris and teaching at the Russian Conservatory there until 1939. In that year, Conus returned to Moscow where he lived out the rest of his life. He was 70 years old. It has been said that the Russian government refused him an exit visa and starved him to death because he refused to join the Communist Party, putting out a decree that anyone helping him by offering him food or shelter would be imprisoned. He supposedly died on the streets of Moscow on January 3, 1942, at age 73. Nobody intervened to save him - however, all of this is hard to believe because he was still a French citizen when he died.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Aaron Rosand

Aaron Rosand is an American violinist born on March 15, 1927 (Heifetz was 26 years old.) He is known for his pure, lustrous tone, for championing (classical) Romantic music, playing in the Romantic style, and for his many years of teaching at the Curtis Institute (Philadelphia.) Rosand first studied with Leon Sametini (a pupil of Ysaye) in Chicago and later with Efrem Zimbalist (a pupil of Auer) at the Curtis Institute. He made his debut with the Chicago Symphony at age 10. He has been concertizing all over the world ever since. He is among the very few to have recorded the violin concertos of Jeno Hubay, Anton Arensky, Klaus Egge, and Claus Ogermann. Among his extensive discography is an unusual one featuring, among many other things, the violin Romances by Liszt, Svendsen, Sinding, Janacek, and Nielsen. He can be seen and heard on several videos on YouTube. On October 14, 2009, Rosand sold his Guarnerius violin (1741 - the Kochanski) for over ten million dollars. He had been playing it since 1957.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Alexander Schneider

Alexander Schneider (Abram Szneider) was a Russian (Lithuanian) violinist, conductor, and teacher born on October 21, 1908 (Heifetz was 7 years old.) He is remembered as the second violinist of the Budapest String Quartet, with which he played for about 23 years, and as Pablo Casals' close colleague. As a teenager (1924), he studied at the Hoch Conservatory (a private music school in Frankfurt, Germany) under Adolf Rebner. At age 19, he was concertmaster of the orchestra at Saarbrucken (1927), and of the North German Radio Broadcasting Orchestra in Hamburg from 1929 until he was dismissed (1932). He then joined the Budapest Quartet, which was also based in Germany (Berlin), as second violinist. The quartet made most of its living outside Germany but it, too, was forced out (1934.) They then settled in Paris. They were touring the U.S. in 1939 when war broke out - since then, the U.S. was their home. Schneider left the quartet in 1944 and pursued a career as a soloist and music festival organizer for more than a decade. He returned to the quartet in 1956 but continued to work on projects independently. After the quartet retired in 1967, Schneider kept working as a freelance violinist, organizer, and teacher. He died on February 2, 1993, at age 84.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Leonidas Kavakos

Leonidas Kavakos is a Greek violinist born on October 30, 1967 (Perlman was 31 years old.) Kavakos is well known for his performances of the works of Nicolo Paganini. He began studying violin at age five and continued his studies at the Greek National Conservatory with Stelios Kafantaris. Later on, a scholarship enabled him to attend master classes with Joseph Gingold at Indiana University. He made his debut in Athens in 1984. In 1985, he won the International Sibelius Competition in Helsinki, where he was the youngest contestant. He also took a first prize at the Paganini violin competition in 1988. By then, he had made his U.S. debut (1986.) Since then, he has been concertizing all over the world and regularly plays in, organizes, and conducts at major festivals. In addition to the standard repertoire, which is part of his extensive discography, he has recorded both versions (on one CD) of the Sibelius violin concerto (on the BIS label.) His technique is second to none - YouTube has many videos of him. As far as I know, he still plays the Falmouth Stradivarius (1692.)

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Karol Lipinski

Karol Lipinski was a Polish violinist, composer, and teacher born on October 30, 1790 (Beethoven was 20 years old.) He is famous for having been Paganini's rival and for the Stradivarius and Guarnerius violins which bear his name. From a very early age, he studied with his father, Felix Lipinski. In Vienna in 1814, he met Louis Spohr and was inspired to study further. He much later (1818) studied with a pupil of Tartini - a forgotten musician by the name of Mazzurana. By 1810, Lipinski was concertmaster of the opera orchestra in Lviv, Ukraine (a town about 250 miles southeast of Warsaw.) Two years later, he became its conductor. In 1817, he traveled to Italy and subsequently met Paganini in Milan. In April of 1818, he and Paganini gave two joint concerts, whereupon (of course) Lipinski's reputation soared. He went to Berlin and Russia in 1820. In Warsaw in 1829, he again played a series of concerts with Paganini, after which the two became rivals. Paganini later said "I don't know who the greatest violinist is, but Lipinski is certainly the second greatest." 1836 found him in England, where he played his second violin concerto (the Military) with the Royal Philharmonic. He more or less retired from touring after his appoinment to the posts of concertmaster and conductor of both, the Royal Oratory and the court chapel in Dresden in July of 1839. At least one source has stated that Lipinski was jealous of Richard Wagner when the composer conducted the Dresden orchestra. Supposedly, Wagner himself also spoke dismissively of Lipinski, describing him as a virtuoso of a bygone era. Several composers dedicated works to him, including Paganini, Schumann (Carnaval), and Wieniawski (Polonaise Brilliant.) Among Lipinski's compositions are four violin concertos, three symphonies, rondos, polonaises, caprices, chamber music, and variations - all of his output now forgotten, though some has been recorded. His Stradivarius (1715) is now played (though not owned) by Frank Almond, concertmaster of the Milwaukee Symphony. After setting up a music academy for young students, Lipinski died on December 16, 1861, at age 71.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Nicolo Paganini

Nicolo Paganini is the most famous violinist who ever lived. He was born on October 27, 1782, in Genoa, Italy (Beethoven was 12 years old.) His early studies were on the mandolin, instructed by his father, who played mandolin on the side to supplement his income. At age 7, Nicolo switched to violin and began studies with Servetto, then Costa, Rolla, Paer, and Ghiretti. By age 18, he had achieved an important appointment to an Italian royal court, after which he received a second appointment at a different aristocratic court (a French court) in Tuscany. Neither appointment meant a great deal to Paganini since, especially after 1813, he earned a very good living through free-lancing. His stupendous and unmatched virtuosity on the violin made him a legend (and a fortune) in his own time. He is also famous as a composer of prodigiously difficult violin music. Because he could execute things with the violin that seemed humanly impossible, he was rumored to be in league with the Devil. Among many other works, he wrote six violin concertos, but is more famous for his twenty four caprices for solo violin, which have been recorded by nearly every violin virtuoso of our time, except Heifetz. His favored instrument was a Guarneri del Gesu of 1742 or 1743 (nicknamed the Cannone.) He died young, at age 58, on May 27, 1840. It is said that Sivori, his pupil, played for him one last time (at Paganini’s home in France), two weeks before he died.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Camillo Sivori

Camillo Sivori (Ernesto Camillo Sivori) was an Italian violinist, composer, and teacher born (in Genoa) on October 25, 1815 (Beethoven was 45 years old.) He is remembered for being Paganini’s only pupil (although some say that Catarina Calcagno also studied with Paganini.) It is known that he initially studied with Paganini (for six months) at age six, but then also with Restano, Costa, and Dellepiane (the Director of the Conservatory at Genoa.) These last three musicians are now completely forgotten. Before leaving Genoa, Paganini wrote some sonatas for Sivori to play publicly. His last teacher, however, was Paganini, whose virtuosic style he adopted. Sivori supposedly later said that Paganini was the worst teacher the world had ever seen. From age 12, he began his career as a traveling virtuoso. He first played in Paris in 1827; Germany, Russia, and Italy in 1839; Belgium in 1841; England in 1846, 1851, 1853, and 1864; the U.S. in 1846 and 1847; all of Europe plus Ireland and Scotland in 1853. He also travelled to Mexico and parts of South America (presumably after touring the U.S. in the fall of 1846.) He actually lived in Paris for many years. Like his famous teacher, Sivori was a very generous man. He taught pupils between his concert tours but they are not well known. One of them was Zino Francescatti’s father. Among his many compositions are two violin concertos which are now forgotten although recordings are now available of some of his minor works. Unlike Paganini, he frequently played works by other composers. One piece which he was very fond of playing was Francois Prume's La Melancolie.  Sivori gave the English premiere of Mendelssohn’s violin concerto (the one in e minor) in London on June 6, 1846. It is said that he owned many fine instruments – a Stradivarius, a Vuillaume, a Bergonzi, and an Amati among them. His Vuillaume was a replica of Paganini’s Guarnerius (the famous Cannone.) Sivori died in Genoa on February 18, 1894, at age 78 (Stravinsky was 11 years old.)

Saturday, October 24, 2009


Midori (Midori Goto) is a Japanese (some would say American) violinist, teacher, and writer, born on October 25, 1971 (Perlman was 25 years old.) She began violin lessons with her mother at age three. Her first public performance took place at age seven. After she and her mother came to the U.S. (1982), she began studying at Juilliard with Dorothy Delay. Her New York debut took place with the New York Philharmonic under Zubin Mehta that same year. She has been concertizing ever since. YouTube features a popular home video of her performance at Tanglewood (1986) when her E string broke twice while she played. In 2000, she graduated from New York University, having earned a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology and again in 2005 a Master’s Degree in the same field from the same school. Nowadays, Midori spends a lot of time teaching - she has founded several educational programs for children. She has also taught at USC (Los Angeles - Heifetz used to teach there) and the Manhattan School of Music, among other schools, and is the recipient of several prestigious awards. However, her discography is not extensive and she has yet to record (or release) the Beethoven and the Brahms concertos, two war horses of the violin repertory. She wrote a memoir (Simply Midori) which was published in 2004. She has played (and perhaps still plays) the famous 1734 Huberman Guarnerius. A wonderful CD  and DVD of her Carnegie Hall recital (1990) are still available. Here is a sample from the DVD posted on YouTube. 

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Hilarion Eslava

Hilarion Eslava (Miguel HilariĆ³n Eslava y Elizondo) was a Spanish violinist, organist, composer, and musicologist born on October 21, 1807 (Beethoven was 37 years old.) He was a famous composer in his own time but today, he is mostly remembered for his solfege (sight singing or ear training) method book, still being widely used. He began his career as a choirboy at the Pamplona Cathedral in 1816. Along the way, he studied violin, piano, and organ. At 17, he was appointed concertmaster of the cathedral in Pamplona. By 1828, his liturgical works were being performed at the Royal Chapel in Sevilla, though he was also writing secular music. He was ordained a priest (as Vivaldi before him) on September 22, 1832, at age 24. He returned to Madrid in 1844 and was named director of music at the Royal Chapel there. Ten years later (1854), he was made professor of composition at the Madrid Conservatory. In 1856, he was named Director of the Conservatory. Eslava composed over 140 works for the church, in addition to an abundance of secular music. This music is no longer performed, except perhaps in Spain. Among his works is a Symphonie Fantastique and about thirty (30) operas. His most famous work – the Solfege Method - came in 1846. Eslava died on June (some sources say July) 23, 1878.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Alfredo Campoli

Alfredo Campoli (also known as Campoli) was an Italian (some would say English) violinist born on October 20, 1906 (Heifetz was 5 years old.) He is remembered for the exquisite, sensuous tone he drew from the violin as well as the span of his repertoire. He began violin lessons with his father, a teacher at the Santa Cecilia Academy in Rome, at age 5 (some sources say age 6.) His family moved to England in 1917. He made his London debut at Wigmore Hall in 1923, though he had already played publicly in London - and entered several competitions - from age 13 and had been playing professionally since then. In the 1930s, he formed the Salon Orchestra and the Welbeck Light Quartet in order to make a living during the Depression, playing in restaurants, hotels, and small halls. He concertized only sporadically during this period. After the war, he re-established his concert career. His U.S. debut came in New York in 1953. On that occasion, he played Lalo’s Symphonie Espagnol with the New York Philharmonic under George Szell. He toured Russia in 1956 and continued touring the world until his retirement. During his 55-year career, he played in over 1000 radio broadcasts and made more than 100 recordings. He also appeared in several films. Arthur Bliss wrote his violin concerto for him and he premiered it in 1955. There are many soundtracks of his playing – no videos yet - on YouTube. Campoli played an 1843 Rocca and the Dragonneti Stradivarius (1700). He died on March 27, 1991, at age 84.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Leila Josefowicz

Leila Josefowicz (Leila Bronia Josefowicz) is a Canadian violinist born on October 20, 1977 (Heifetz was 76 years old.) She is an intense genius who is sometimes not well-understood. She also plays the violin stupendously well. She has been criticized for her physicality while playing but you will not likely find someone performing with greater conviction, precision, and audacity. She began violin lessons at age three. By age 8, she was studying with Robert Lipsett in Los Angeles. She entered the Curtis Institute of Music (Philadelphia) at age 13 where she studied with Jaime Laredo, Joseph Gingold, Jascha Brodsky, and Felix Galimir, among others. By this time, she was already concertizing. She graduated from Curtis in 1997. There is an impressive video of her (on YouTube) playing Paganini with the Boston Pops (conducted by John Williams) at a very young age. Her Carnegie Hall debut was in 1994. Her discography - even this early in her career - is fairly extensive.  Josefowicz was the recipient of a no-strings-attached MacArthur grant in 2008. (Jazz violinist Regina Carter received one in 2006.)  She has played a 1739 and a 1724 Guarnerius.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Wilhelm Molique

Wilhelm Bernhard Molique was a German violinist and composer born on October 7, 1802 (Beethoven was 32 years old.) He was one of Louis Spohr’s pupils. At age 18 he was the concertmaster of the court orchestra in Munich (1820-1826.) In 1822, he undertook his first European concert tour. From 1826 to 1849 he was the concertmaster and royal music director in Stuttgart. He made his London debut (playing his violin concerto No. 5) in 1840 (some sources say this happened in May of 1849.) Molique lived in London from 1849 to 1866 and taught at the Royal Academy there from 1861 to 1866. By then, he had already enjoyed a busy career as a concert violinist. Having retired from teaching in 1866, he returned to Stuttgart in that same year. He wrote six violin concertos which are now totally forgotten but which were popular in his day. He also composed an oratorio (“Abraham”), a symphony, four concertos for different instruments, two masses, chamber music, and small solo pieces. His instrument of choice was a Guarnerius. Molique died in Germany on May 10, 1869, at age 66. 

Emmanuel Wirth

Emanuel Wirth (Emmanuel Wirth) was a German (some would say Bohemian) violinist born on October 18, 1842 (Brahms was 9 years old, but Paganini was already dead.)  He studied at the Prague Conservatory then became concertmaster of the opera orchestra in Rotterdam. He also taught at the Conservatory there. Later on, he taught at the Berlin Music School as Joachim’s assistant. He also played viola in the Joachim String Quartet. He must have been a great teacher because August Wilhelmj said of him that he was the best violin teacher of his generation. That generation would include Wieniawski, Ysaye, Ernst, Georges Enesco, Joseph Joachim, Henri Vieuxtemps, Charles De Beriot, Carl Flesch, Leopold Auer, and Wilhelmj himself. The 1713 Stradivarius violin he played now bears his name. Wirth retired in 1910 and died in Berlin on January 5, 1923, at age 80. (Heifetz was 21 years old.)

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Shinichi Suzuki

Shinichi Suzuki was a Japanese violinist and teacher born on October 17, 1898 (Stravinsky was 16 years old.) He is remembered for having invented the popular Suzuki Method of music education. He did not have formal instruction at the beginning, however, he taught himself to play by listening to records and imitating what he heard. Suzuki began this course of self-instruction at age 17. He was never a concert violinist or a soloist but he did play with a string quartet for a while. At age 22, he traveled to Germany where he studied with Karl Klingler. When he returned to Japan, he taught at the Imperial School of Music in Tokyo. From teaching many children in the countryside, he developed his teaching methods in the 1940s. He often referred to his methodology as talent education. Critics of the Suzuki method have said that pupils who learn through it never learn how to read music well since they become accustomed to playing by ear. Shinichi Suzuki died at his home in Matsumoto, Japan on January 26, 1998, at age 99. As far as I know, only Otto Joachim lived as long. 

Friday, October 16, 2009

Johann Dismas Zelenka

Johann Dismas Zelenka (later on Jan Dismas Zelenka) was an illustrious Czech violinist, bassist, and baroque composer born on October 16, 1679 (Vivaldi was a one-year-old child.) It is thought that he studied at the Prague Jesuit College in his youth. His father was a teacher and an organist. In 1710 – at age 31 – he was appointed principal bass of the Dresden court orchestra. For a composer, the bass is an unusual instrument to take up, but that is that. In 1717, he traveled to Vienna for further study and was a student of Fux. On circumstantial evidence, it is assumed that he also went to Venice and studied with Antonio Lotti (1667-1740) during this period. He returned to Dresden in 1719 to reside and work there permanently. In 1723, he was commissioned to write some of the music for the coronation of Charles VI, which he also conducted. Twelve years later (1735), he was awarded the title of Church Composer (for the Catholic Church) - he had already been working with the title of Court Composer. Although he had served several seasons as de-facto Kapellmeister, he was not granted that title when he applied for it (in 1729 or thereabouts). Evidently, though Zelenka was zealous about his work and very devoted to the court, there was something about him that rubbed his employer the wrong way. However, his music was greatly admired by J.S. Bach and George Telemann so we have little need of other stamps of approval. (He was only six years older than Bach) Though he remained obscure for two hundred years – after his death, performances and publication of his music were banned by order of the court - his music was re-discovered about the middle of the 19th Century. Now, about half of his known output has been recorded. Most of his music was written for the Church – more than 150 works, large and small - but there remains an abundance of secular music from his pen as well. Zelenka’s imagination was so original that his style has been described as “experimental baroque.” There is always something there to surprise and delight the listener - I would say something not unlike a Czech Vivaldi (1678-1741). Zelenka died in 1745.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

William Reed

William Reed (William Henry Reed) was an English violinist, teacher, composer, and conductor born on July 29, 1876 (Brahms was 43 years old.) Though he was concertmaster of the London Symphony for 23 years (1912-1935) and had a very busy career as a violinist, he is now best remembered as Edward Elgar’s biographer (1936.) Reed studied under Emile Sauret at the Royal Academy of Music (London.) In 1904, Reed was one of the founding members of the London Symphony. By 1910, he was assisting Elgar with technical problems in his violin concerto. Reed even played the concerto in a public performance of the work (off Broadway, so to speak) on September 4, 1910. The concerto was later dedicated to Fritz Kreisler, who premiered it on November 10, 1910 (presumably with the Royal Philharmonic in London.) Reed taught violin at the Royal College of Music for many years, where one of his pupils was the mother (Jean Hermione Johnstone) of Andrew Lloyd Webber, the popular music composer. Reed composed works large and small, most notably a violin concerto and a viola concerto which are now never performed. Reed died in Scotland on July 2, 1942, at age 66.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Otto Joachim

Otto Joachim is a German (some would say Canadian) violinist, violist, composer, teacher, conductor, and instrument maker, born in Dusseldorf, Germany, on October 13, 1910 (Heifetz was 9 years old.) He studied violin in Germany from 1916 until 1931. I have no idea about what he did between 1931 and 1934, but I do know that in 1934 (until 1949), he taught in Singapore and China. In 1949, intending to settle in Brazil, he traveled from China by way of Canada and within a very short time opted to stay there. He was Principal violist with the Montreal Symphony Orchestra for some time and taught at the Montreal Conservatory and at other music schools (in Montreal) as well. He has also conducted the National Arts Centre Orchestra, among many other ensembles. Joachim, understandably, is not a prolific composer, but he has managed to write more than thirty works of some variety. His specialty is electronic and twelve-tone music (with German and French titles) which few people have ever heard. I have never heard any of it myself nor do I intend to. Today, he is 99 years old.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Ion Voicu

Ion Voicu was a Romanian violinist born on October 8, 1923 (Heifetz was 22 years old.) He began violin lessons at age six, with Constantin Niculescu. He was later admitted to the Royal Academy of Music in Bucharest, managing to graduate in just three years. In 1946, he won a first prize in a national competition which Yehudi Menuhin organized. Beginning in 1949, Voicu made several tours with the George Enesco Philharmonic. In 1954, Voicu pursued further studies with Abram Yampolsky and David Oistrakh in Russia at the Moscow Conservatory. Voicu made his British debut in 1963 and his U.S. debut in 1965 at Carnegie Hall. He toured the U.S. under the management of Sol Hurok, an important impresario in those days. Voicu concertized on an international scale from then on. He also founded the Bucharest Chamber orchestra in 1969. Later on, he devoted time to teaching at the Mozarteum (Austria), in France, and in Switzerland, among other places. His discography includes more than 100 recordings and YouTube also has a few videos of his playing. Voicu died on February 24, 1997, in Bucharest.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Rachel Barton

Rachel Barton (Rachel Barton Pine) is an American concert violinist and nationally-recognized advocate for music education born on October 11, 1974 (Perlman was 28 years old.) She began violin lessons as a very young child - before she was four. In addition to her extensive concertizing (as a classical violinist), she is known for devoting herself to teaching through master classes and her concerts and collaborations with hard rock bands. After studying with Roland Vamos (in Chicago) for a number of years, she made her debut at age 10 with the Chicago Symphony, with Leinsdorf conducting. However, before then, she had already performed in other venues (since age 7) and with other orchestras. She has been playing professionally since she turned 14. Beginning at age 16, Barton has won major prizes at various prestigious international competitions, including the Paganini, the Josef Szigeti, and the Queen Elizabeth. In 1992, she won the gold medal (first prize) in the J.S. Bach competition in Leipzig (the first American to do so.) Her discography is fairly extensive and is noteworthy for containing the long-neglected concertos of Joseph Joachim (the second in d minor) and Franz Clement (the one in D major.) In fact, her 2007 recording of the Clement concerto is a world premiere recording. It has been said that it compares favorably with the Beethoven concerto, which Clement commissioned and premiered at age 26 (and which was composed a year later.) Barton’s recording of the Beethoven concerto is on the same CD as the Clement so a comparison of both works is quite easy to make. Unlike other contemporary concert violinists, Barton does not hesitate to write her own cadenzas whenever necessary. She has yet to record the concertos of Mozart, Paganini, Mendelssohn, Wieniawski, Bruch, Lalo, Vieuxtemps, Saint Saenz, Tchaikovsky, Sibelius, Prokofiev, and others. Nevertheless, Barton has recently been championing the works of black composers for future recording projects and for live performances. Her work to establish the String Students’ Library of Music by Black Composers with the University of Michigan – a curricular series - is currently ongoing as well.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Guila Bustabo

Guila Bustabo was an Italian-Bohemian violinist born on February 25, 1916 (Heifetz was 15 years old.) She is remembered (if at all) for a brilliant career which ended prematurely. Bustabo later said: "Menuhin got away from his parents. He was lucky. I never got away from mine." She was the daughter of a domineering (some would say abusive) mother. Bustabo was actually born in Wisconsin (which is in itself unusual.) She began lessons with her mother before she was three years old. By age five, she was studying with Leon Sametini (a pupil of Ysaye) in Chicago. After Sametini procured a scholarship for her (from Juilliard), she went to New York to study with Louis Persinger. Other pupils who were studying with Persinger at the same time (including Yehudi Menuhin) would later remember noticing bruises on her little arms and head when she would arrive in the morning. She played Wieniawski’s d minor concerto in her New York, Carnegie Hall debut at age 15 (1931.) By 1934 she was touring Europe and even played the Sibelius concerto for Sibelius himself (by his invitation) in 1937. The old man was exceedingly impressed with her playing. Bustabo was, by then, also playing a Guarnerius violin which had been given to her as a gift by several admirers (including Toscanini.) Some sources say that Lady Ravensdale purchased the violin for her in 1934 after her London debut. Perhaps both versions are true. In 1938 and 1939 she appeared with the New York Philharmonic. During the war years, Bustabo played almost exclusively in all the Nazi-occupied territories in Europe. After the war, she was arrested by General Patton in France, though she was never charged. After that episode, word got around that she had been a Nazi sympathizer (if not a collaborator) and her solo career became somewhat inert, especially in the U.S. She was barely thirty years old. In 1949, she married an American military bandmaster (Edison Stieg.) It has been reported that violinist Yfrah Neaman heard her play in a recital at Wigmore Hall (London) in the late 1940s and “came away very disappointed.” With most of her engagements dried up, she took a teaching post in Innsbruck (Austria) in 1964. She ended up retiring in 1970 and settled in Birmingham, Alabama, with her mother. In Birmingham, she sat in the first violin section of the Alabama Symphony for five years, though she played like a soloist and could not sight read (please see comments below for a second opinion). She divorced her bandmaster husband in 1976 (or 1977 – accounts vary) and her mother (Blanche) finally died in 1992 (see comments below for a correction). Guila Bustabo herself died on April 27, 2002, in her two-room apartment in Birmingham, Alabama, at age 86. I do not know what became of her Guarnerius violin. Bustabo’s recordings of the Bruch and Beethoven concertos with the Concertgebouw are still available.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Carl Flesch

Carl Flesch was a Hungarian violinist and teacher born on October 9, 1873 (Brahms was 40 years old.) He is best known for his books on the art of violin playing, his methodical scale system (which is still in use today), and the international violin competition which bears his name. He began violin lessons at age 6 and by age 10, had started lessons with Adolf Back and Jacob Grun in Vienna (1883-1890). He entered the Paris Conservatory at age 17 and graduated with a first prize in 1894. From 1903 to 1908 he taught at the Amsterdam Conservatory. Many players who would later achieve world-wide recognition studied with him – Ivry Gitlis, Henryk Szeryng, Ginette Neveu, Eric Rosenblith, Roman Totenberg, Ida Haendel, Josef Hassid, Jean Laurent, Jacques Singer, Grigoras Dinicu, Charles Munch, Henri Temianka, Szymon Goldberg, Norbert Brainin, Alma Moodie, Dominique Blot, and others. Flesch toured the U.S. for the first time in 1914. He taught at the Curtis Institute (Philadelphia) from 1924 to 1928. Shortly thereafter he (and his family) settled in Berlin but was forced to leave in 1935. He then lived in London (1935), the Netherlands (1940), Hungary (1942), and finally, Switzerland (1943). The Carl Flesch Violin Competition was set up in his honor in 1945. It is known by a few that he had an intense dislike for Polish violinist Bronislaw Huberman - I don't know the reason.  It has been said that he lost all his money in the U.S. stock market and had to sell his Brancaccio Stradivarius in 1928 to cover his financial needs. He also owned a Storioni, a Goffriller, and a Guadagnini, among many other instruments. He made very few recordings of major works but many of the small scale pieces he recorded are still available on CD – some are also on YouTube. Flesch died in Switzerland on November 14, 1944, at age 71.