Saturday, May 30, 2009


Jacques Israelievitch is a French violinist and teacher born on May 6, 1948. He is one of Canada's leading chamber music players and was the first to record all of Kreutzer’s 42 Etudes, a recording which has won abundant praise. Israelievitch graduated from the Le Mans Conservatory at age 11, the youngest graduate ever. Later on, his teachers were Henryk Szeryng and Josef Gingold, among others. He has been a concertmaster with the Chicago Symphony, the St Louis Symphony, and the Toronto Symphony (1988-2008.) He is currently on the faculty of the University of Toronto, but has also taught at Indiana University.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Ani Kavafian

Ani Kavafian is an Armenian violinist and teacher born on May 10, 1948. She first came to the U.S. from Turkey in 1956. She began violin lessons at age 9. Among her teachers were Mischa Mischakoff and Ivan Galamian (Juilliard). Her Carnegie Hall debut took place in 1969. In 1973, she debuted in Paris. Since 1979, she has been much involved in chamber music performances with the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center (New York). She has also served as concertmaster with the Seattle Symphony and is currently the New Haven Symphony’s concertmaster (Connecticut.) Kavafian has taught at the Manhattan School of Music, the Mannes School of Music, and the Sarasota Music Festival but (commercial) solo recordings are very, very few. Her sister Ida Kavafian, with whom she frequently performs, is also a well-known musician.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Wolfgang Schneiderhan

Wolfgang Schneiderhan (Wolfgang Eduard Schneiderhan) was an Austrian violinist and teacher born on May 28, 1915 (Heifetz was 14 years old.) He began his violin studies with his mother at age 3. Four years later, he began studies first with Otakar Sevcik then Julius Winkler. By age 11, he had made his public debut with the Mendelssohn Concerto (the one in e minor) in Denmark. While still very young, he lived and worked in England for a while (1929 to 1932). He returned to Vienna to serve as concertmaster of the Vienna Symphony (1933 to 1937) and then concertmaster of the Vienna Philharmonic (1937 to 1951.) He also continued to concertize and record as a soloist. From 1948, Schneiderhan was also heavily involved in chamber music performance (before it had become the popular thing for soloists to do), having formed a quartet in that year. He is remembered for his recordings of the Beethoven Sonatas (with Wlihelm Kempff as accompanist-1952), all of Mozart’s concertos for violin, and the Beethoven violin concerto. He held teaching posts in various parts of Europe, but mainly Vienna. Schneiderhan had a much older brother (Walter) who was a very well-known violinist in Austria. Wolfgang Schneiderhan died in Vienna in May of 2002, almost 87 years old.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Giovanni Viotti

Giovanni Battista Viotti was an Italian violinist, composer, and conductor born on May 23 (or May 12) 1755 (one year before Mozart was born.) He took lessons from Gaetano Pugnani (pupil of Giovanni Somis) and later even toured with him until he made his Paris debut in 1782, where he was an immediate success. Partly due to the French Revolution, he moved to London in 1792, where he enjoyed acclaim, playing for royalty and directing various musical enterprises. He was forced to leave England after France and England became engaged in hostilities. He then retired from playing to run some kind of wine business which ultimately did not do very well. From 1819 to 1821, he ran the Royal Academy of Music in Paris. His pupils included Rode and Baillot who were instrumental in establishing a French school of violin playing, whatever that means. Viotti wrote 29 violin concertos, now seldom played. He also wrote chamber music and a few songs. A famous (and beautiful) Stradivarius violin from 1709 is named after him. Viotti died in March of 1824 (about two years before Beethoven.)

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Henri Vieuxtemps

Henri Fran├žois Joseph Vieuxtemps (Henri Vieuxtemps) was a Belgian violinist, composer, and teacher born on February 17, 1820 (Beethoven was about 49 years old). He first studied with his father and gave his first concert at age 6. When soon afterward he started touring, he met the famous De Beriot in Brussels and began taking lessons from him. He travelled to Paris in 1829 to continue studying with De Beriot. In 1830, back in Brussels, he studied on his own. In 1833, he toured Germany and was praised by Louis Spohr and Robert Schumann. When Vieuxtemps debuted in London in 1834, Paganini himself attended the concert. Having established himself in Paris, he continued to tour extensively but also began composing seriously (at which he was very successful) in 1835. Between 1846 and 1851, he made Russia his home and in fact founded the violin school at the St Petersburg Conservatory, later made famous by Leopold Auer. By 1871, he was back in Brussels teaching at the Conservatory. Eugene Ysaye was one of his pupils there. His compositions include seven violin concertos (number 5 being the most frequently played), two cello concertos and some chamber music. All of his violin concertos have been recorded and are presently available. Vieuxtemps died in June of 1881, at age 61. 

Sunday, May 17, 2009


Sandor Vegh was a Hungarian violinist and conductor born on May 17, 1912 (Heifetz was 11 years old.) He made his reputation as one of the great chamber music players of the twentieth century. He began studying the piano at the age of six and by age 12 entered the Budapest Conservatory where he studied violin with Jeno Hubay and composition with Zoltan Kodaly. Although he graduated in 1930, he had started his solo career in 1927. Not much later, he joined the Hungarian Trio and by 1934, had founded the Hungarian String Quartet. In 1940, he left the quartet to found his own – the Vegh String Quartet, which was active until the early 1970s. Vegh had been a professor at the Franz Lizst Academy since 1940 but left when his quartet left Hungary in 1946 to work in other European cities. Vegh also taught at the Basle Conservatory (and other music schools, including the Mozarteum) from 1953 to 1997. From 1962, he worked closely with Pablo Casals and his popular festivals. I imagine he made quite a number of recordings, though I’ve never heard any. Vegh died in January, 1997.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

My Heifetz Theory

So, what made the great Heifetz so great and distinct? Everyone knows that there have been other very great virtuosos on the scene – Milstein, Kogan, Oistrakh, Gitlis, Rabin, just to name a very few. But almost universally, Heifetz is recognized as being above and beyond this group. Why? He had a unique style, a unique sound, and prodigious technique for sure, but so do the others. It has been said that his intonation was flawless though it wasn’t. Was it just the seriousness of his playing? My theory is that this intrinsic seriousness was part and parcel of the sound. It was communicated via his tone. Somehow, that sound always told you that something special was happening. Every time I hear someone with a similar tone, I pay attention. I take note. I know there are players out there right now who rival Heifetz’ technique, but that’s as far as they get. They do not have the sound. The secret was in his tone - but, how to describe that sound? If we could say it in words, there would be no need to listen. Still, all in all, my favorite fiddler isn’t Heifetz – it’s Ivry Gitlis.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Tasmin Little

Tasmin Little is an English violinist born on May 13, 1965. She studied at the Yehudi Menuhin School and at the Guildhall School of Music. She made her professional solo debut with the Halle Orchestra in 1988 and has been concertizing ever since. She has recently been promoting a project called the Naked Violin which is intended to bring serious music to the public at large, not regular concert goers. Little plays a 1757 Guadagnini violin as well as the Regent Stradivarius from 1708.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Joseph Achron

Joseph Achron was a Russian (Lithuanian) violinist and composer born on May 13, 1886 (Pablo Sarasate was already 42 years old and Joseph Joachim was 55.) He first studied with his father at age five. He later studied with Leopold Auer at the St Petersburg Conservatory. Achron toured Europe and Russia from 1918 until about 1924. In 1925, he came to the U.S. and taught, played many concerts, and wrote music for films and for the concert stage. His best known work is probably Hebrew Melody, written early in his composing career (1911). Heifetz was one of his benefactors, commissioning a violin concerto in 1938 or 1939. I don’t think Heifetz ever recorded it. Achron was the brother of the pianist and composer Isidor Achron, who became Jascha Heifetz's accompanist. Joseph Achron died in Hollywood, California in 1943.

Ottokar Novacek

Ottokar Novacek (Ottokar Eugen Novacek) was a Czech (some would say Hungarian) violinist and composer born on May 13, 1866. He is best known for his Perpetual Motion for violin and piano (or orchestra). He studied first with his father (Martin Novacek) then with Jacob Dont, Henry Schradieck, and Adolf Brodsky. He played in the Gewandhaus Orchestra (Leipzig) and in the Brodsky Quartet (second violin and later, viola). When he came to the U.S., he played in the Boston Symphony (1891). In 1892, he was appointed Principal violist in the New York Symphony under Walter Damrosch. An illness forced him to soon retire and devote himself to composition. His works include a piano concerto, three string quartets, and many other pieces for violin and piano which are seldom played. There are many videos of different world famous violinists playing his Perpetual Motion on YouTube. One of them (with Nathan Milstein) is here. Novacek died (in New York City) on February 3, 1900, at age 33. 

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Heinrich Ernst

Heinrich Wilhelm Ernst was a Czech (Moravian) violinist and composer probably not born on May 6, 1814 (Beethoven was 44 years old). Nobody knows his actual date of birth. He was widely considered the greatest virtuoso after Paganini, who lived during the same epoch. At the age of nine, he began to study the violin and turned out to be a prodigy. He studied with Joseph Bohm, among others. He concertized far and wide, frequently in the same cities and during the same weeks that Paganini scheduled his concerts. After 1844 he mostly lived in England where he joined the Beethoven Quartet Society, often playing with the likes of Henri Wieniawski and Joseph Joachim. He wrote many pieces for the violin, some of which are still in the repertoire. Hear some of his compositions for yourself on YouTube if you want. Ernst died in France sometime in October of 1865, at about age 51.

Theo Olof

Theo Olof is a Dutch violinist born on May 5, 1924. He spent his early years in Germany, where he was born. One of his principal teachers was Oskar Back. He gave his first concert at age eleven with the Concertgebouw Orchestra in Amsterdam. For many years, Olof was concertmaster of the Hague Philharmonic (Residentie Orchestra). He was also concertmaster of the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra from 1974 until 1985. Until 1982, Olof taught at the Royal Conservatory (The Hague).

Saturday, May 2, 2009


Michael Rabin was an American violinist born on May 2, 1931. He began his violin studies when he was seven. His father was a violinist in the New York Philharmonic. Heifetz, upon hearing him, recommended that he study with Ivan Galamian at Juilliard. By the time he made his Carnegie Hall (New York) debut in November of 1951, he had already appeared as soloist with a number of orchestras. It has been said that his mother was very pushy and hard on him, as was the mother of Guila Bustabo.  Rabin recorded many of the standard concertos as well as the Paganini Caprices, one of his favored recordings. He was also said to have recorded the Moto Perpetuo by Paganini (with the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra) in one take. For some time, Rabin played the Kubelik Guarnerius (1735). He died in January, 1972.