Tuesday, June 30, 2009

How fast is too fast?

Last night I heard a broadcast of the Chicago Symphony playing Schubert's 9th symphony - the Great. Daniel Barenboim was conducting and I'm not kidding you, he must have been in a hurry to get somewhere because the last movement was taken at a speed I wouldn't wish on anyone - way too fast. If you know this work, you know that the last movement is already hard enough even if you take it at a moderate speed. At the speed Barenboim took it, I know more than one violinist must have gotten hurt. The notes were just a blur. A blur. I was annoyed, of course. Very annoyed. It was as if you had taken your best girl out to the finest restaurant, ordered the best (and most expensive) item on the menu, and then told her you only had five minutes to finish the meal. Please. What was he trying to do? Show off? I have played this piece four or five times but never this fast - I would simply walk out. I don't need the money.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Anne Sophie Mutter

Anne-Sophie Mutter is a German violinist and teacher born on June 29, 1963 (Heifetz was 62 years old.) Although she is in the forefront of international violin virtuosos, she actually never attended any big-name conservatories. Her violin studies from the age of five were with Erna Honigberger and Aida Stucki. At age 13, at Herbert Von Karajan’s request, she played with the Berlin Philharmonic. The rest is history. At age 15 she began her recording career. Mutter is a meticulous perfectionist, known for her highly disciplined, careful interpretations. Her U.S. debut came in New York in 1980, at age 17. She did not, however, play in Carnegie Hall until 1988. Her recording of the Beethoven Sonatas was made in CD and DVD format. She is unusual for not using a shoulder rest – a common piece of equipment used by the vast majority of contemporary violinists – and for only wearing strapless gowns in concert. She is also one of the richest violinists in the world, if not the richest. Her instruments of choice are two Stradivarius violins – the Emiliani (1703) and the Lord Dunn–Raven (1710.) She joined the faculty of the Royal Academy of Music in London in 1985. In 1993, she became involved in a dispute with several English orchestras over her high fees – then approximately $50,000 per night. As a result, she did not perform with any London orchestras for two years. She then cut her fee by 20 percent and started playing there again. It has been said that Mutter came close to retiring in 2008 but changed her mind. She married her first husband when she was 26 – he was 56. After the death of her first husband in 1995, it was rumored that Mutter became a lover to the Russian cellist Mstislav Rostropovich, when he was 75. She married famous conductor Andre Previn in 2002 – she was 39 and he was 73. She divorced him in 2006. There are many videos of her playing – all professionally produced – on YouTube. Her sound is full-bodied and always under control. One will never hear blood, sweat, and tears coming from her violin – in the style of Ivry Gitlis – the soul-baring, wild, virtuosic, risk-taking is simply not there.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Elmar Oliveira

Elmar Oliveira is a Portuguese (some would say American) concert violinist and teacher born (in Connecticut) on June 28, 1950 (Heifetz was 49 years old.) He began studying the violin at age 9 and later continued his studies at the Hartt College of Music (part of the University of Hartford) and at the Manhattan School of Music. He won the Gold Medal at the Tchaikovsky International Violin Competition (Moscow) in 1978 and the Avery Fischer Prize in 1983. His discography on several labels (Vox, Delos, Sony, Artek, Naxos, Melodiya, etc.) is very extensive though YouTube has precious few videos of his playing. We know he has appeared with every major (and some minor) American orchestras, but his website does not say whether he has played with any of the great European orchestras – Vienna, Berlin, Concertgebouw, Paris Conservatoire, or Royal Philharmonic (London.) Perhaps we should assume he has. Oliveira has over fifty concertos in his repertoire – including the Stravinsky but, oddly, not the Prokofiev no.1 - and innumerable recital works. He currently teaches at Lynn University Conservatory of Music in Florida, where he is artist-in-residence. Oliveira plays the Stretton Guarnerius (made on or about 1729.)

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Joseph Joachim

Joseph Joachim was a Hungarian violinist, teacher, conductor, and composer born on June 28, 1831 (Mendelssohn was 22 years old.) Because he was associated with so many important musicians (and pupils) during his lifetime, he is still regarded as one of the most influential violinists of all time. One of his early teachers was Stanislaus Serwaczynski, concertmaster of the opera orchestra in Pest, who also taught Henri Wieniawski. At age 8, he began studies at the Vienna Conservatory where he studied with Joseph Bohm, among others. After studying in Leipzig for a while, he made his London debut with the Beethoven violin concerto in 1844 (at age 13) which concert Mendelssohn conducted. Returning to Leipzig, he became assistant concertmaster of the Gewandhaus Orchestra - Ferdinand David was concertmaster. He was most likely playing in the orchestra when David premiered the Mendelssohn concerto on March 13, 1845. In 1848, he left Leipzig to join Franz Lizst in his new music endeavors (and his Weimar orchestra), serving as concertmaster. In 1852 (at age 21), he left Weimar (and Liszt’s New German School ideals) to work in Hanover (as concertmaster of the Hanover Court Orchestra), rejoining the old guard, which included Robert Schumann, Clara Schumann, and Brahms. Fourteen years later, in 1866, Joachim moved to Berlin, where he founded the Royal Academy of Music and, in 1869, the Joachim String Quartet. He left the Hanover orchestra (at age 35) over a dispute concerning another player, Jacob Grun. On January 1, 1879, he premiered the Brahms concerto in Leipzig, with the composer conducting. On the same program was the Beethoven concerto. On January 13, 1883, he made his debut with the Berlin Philharmonic, again playing the Beethoven concerto.  He was 51 years old.  One source states that Joachim made his debut with the Berlin Philharmonic on March 17, 1899.  That is probably quite incorrect because Joachim would have been 67 years old by then.  Brahms himself related how, after Joachim played his concerto in Vienna on January 14, 1879, the audience applauded right after Joachim finished the cadenza.  The same thing happened years later (1896) when Bronislaw Huberman played it in Vienna - Brahms was again present at that performance.  It was probably a coincidence.  In 1903 (at age 72), he became one of the first violinists to record. Joachim composed a number of works (including 3 violin concertos) which today remain obscure. His best known work is probably the Hungarian concerto in d minor. Though he inspired at least two concertos in the standard violin repertory – the Dvorak and the Schumann – he never played them in public. Thanks partly to his criticism of the work, the Schumann concerto (written in 1853) was not premiered until 1937. A number of cadenzas which he composed for several violin concertos are still in use. Joachim died on August 15, 1907, at age 76. Heifetz was about six years old. Among Joachim's many pupils is Max Pilzer. 

Monday, June 22, 2009

Alois Tommasini

Alois Tommasini (Alois Luigi Tomasini) was an Italian violinist and composer born on June 22, 1741 (Bach was 56 years old.) He played first violin (and later served as concertmaster) in the Esterházy orchestra conducted by Joseph Haydn (1732-1809.) As a teenager he studied in Italy and later also studied with Haydn while at Esterhazy. Among other things, he wrote more than 20 string quartets which are today completely forgotten or seldom played. Tommasini had two sons - Anton (1775-1824) and Alois (1779-1858) - who also played in the Esterházy orchestra; in fact, Anton became the orchestra’s director in 1818. Alois Tommasini died on April 25, 1808 (one year before Haydn.) Note: That's not Tommasini on the upper left - that's Nardini. I could not find Tommasini's photo anywhere but I figured most Baroque composers looked pretty much the same anyway.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Louis Krasner

Louis Krasner was a Russian (Ukrainian) violinist, teacher, and composer born on June 21, 1903 (Heifetz was 2 years old.) He is remembered for having commissioned and premiered Alban Berg’s violin concerto. Krasner asked for the concerto in 1934 - Berg completed it in 1935 and Krasner premiered it in 1936 in Spain. He also premiered the Schoenberg violin concerto (in 1940) among other modern works. Krasner’s live recordings of each concerto date from 1938 and 1954, respectively. Krasner came to the U.S. from Russia as a 5 year-old boy. After the usual course of study at Boston English High School, he attended and graduated from the New England Conservatory. As had Alfredo Campoli, Geza Legocky, Albert Sammons, Vasa Prihoda, Jacques Thibaud, and Grigoras Dinicu, he played popular music in clubs in order to support himself while he studied. He also studied violin in Europe with Lucien Capet, Otakar Sevcik, and Carl Flesch. In the U.S., he studied with Eugene Gruenberg (of the Boston Symphony), among others. He played his New England Conservatory graduation recital in 1922 though he graduated in 1923. After concertizing for two decades, he became concertmaster of the Minneapolis Symphony (1944-1949.) He then moved to Syracuse, New York to teach at Syracuse University. Krasner retired from concertizing in 1973 but dedicated the rest of his life to teaching - he taught at the New England Conservatory from 1976 until the year he died. Krasner died on May 4, 1995.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Christian Ferras

Christian Ferras was a French violinist born on June 17, 1933 (Heifetz was 32 years old.) He began studying with his father while still very young and by age 8 (1941), had entered the Nice Conservatory. Three years later (1944), he entered the Paris Conservatory, winning First Prize in Violin in 1946. One of his teachers there was the well-known violinist Rene Benedetti.  He then worked and studied with George Enesco. After an engagement with the Vienna Philharmonic in 1951, his career as a violin virtuoso became established. He was only 18 years old. He was fond of premiering new works for violin and began recording in earnest in 1954, mostly for EMI. He was (and is) highly regarded for his recordings of Beethoven’s and Tchaikovsky’s works under the DG label. From 1964 onward, he played the Milanollo Stradivarius.  He stopped playing altogether in 1975 (at age 42) but returned to the concert stage seven years later (March of 1982.) He gave his last concert on August 25, 1982. Shortly thereafter, he committed suicide (September 14, 1982.) He was 49 years old. There are numerous videos of his playing (all professionally produced) on YouTube. 

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Julia Fischer

Julia Fischer is a German violinist, pianist, and teacher born on June 15, 1983 (Perlman was 38 years old). She was a child prodigy. Fischer began her violin studies at age 4. At age 9, she entered the Munich Academy of Music where she studied with Ana Chumachenco. At age 12 (1995), she won the International Yehudi Menuhin Violin Competition. She began concertizing soon after. She made her Carnegie Hall debut in 2003. It has been publicized that to honor the 250th anniversary of Mozart’s birth, Fischer played on Mozart’s own violin (a Pietro Antonio Dalla Costa) in Salzburg. Her discography is fairly extensive already and her reviews are always full of superlatives. Her recordings of Prokofiev, Glazunov, Mozart, Tchaikovsky, and Bach have won accolades from reviewers. She plays with a ferocious technique but an unpretentious, alluring sound. YouTube has many videos of her performances. A little over a year ago, Fischer played Grieg’s piano concerto in Frankfurt, Germany. On that occasion, she also played the B minor violin concerto by Camille Saint Saens. Fischer uses a Guadagnini from 1742. She is also currently teaching at the University of Frankfurt. Unfortunately, she has a reputation for being very rude and arrogant with colleagues. 

Friday, June 12, 2009

The voice

I most definitely agree with this quote from concert violinist Giora Schmidt: ”There is a great tradition of violin playing that I think is dangerously getting lost,” Schmidt said, over a lunch of Panini in downtown Miami, ”the generation when violinists had their own voices. There’s a weight to the sound, a tension to the sound that grabs you. It’s seasoned with vibrato, and it’s seasoned with a spoken element. Today when you turn on the radio, everybody sounds great, but if you ask me who’s playing, I don’t know.”

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Tomaso Albinoni

Tomaso Albinoni (Tomaso Giovanni Albinoni) was an Italian violinist and composer born on June 8, 1671 (Bach would not be born until 14 years later.) He is known for his oboe concertos, though he wrote quite a lot of other music. Coming from a wealthy family, he never had to work for the nobility. Very little is known about his personal life. His 50 operas are unknown today, except to musicologists. Albinoni died on January 17, 1751, at age 79.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

New York Times

One of my favorite music quotes: “The violin is a fiendish device that sometimes seems to have been specifically invented to torture all those who study it and all who find themselves within hearing range. Although many learn to manipulate it well enough to please themselves and occasionally others, it is rare to find a violinist who has mastered the instrument's problems to such an extent that all its difficulties are hidden.” Donal Henahan, 1983

Monday, June 8, 2009

Jaime Laredo

Jaime Laredo is a Bolivian violinist, conductor, and teacher born on June 7, 1941 (Heifetz was 40 years old.) He began the study of the violin in Bolivia when he was five years old. Two years later, he came to the U.S. where he studied with Josef Gingold and Ivan Galamian among others. His orchestral debut came at age 11 with the San Francisco Symphony. His diploma is from the Curtis Institute in Philadelphia, where he studied with Ivan Galamian and George Szell. In 1958, he won the Queen Elizabeth of Belgium Competition – the youngest violinist to do so. In 1960, he debuted in Carnegie Hall. His Royal Albert Hall (London) debut followed close behind (1961.) He is known for being incredibly busy. Among other activities, he is the artistic advisor for the Fort Wayne Philharmonic, the conductor of the Vermont Symphony (since 1999), instructor of violin at the Curtis Institute in Philadelphia (since 1971), jury president for the Indianapolis International Violin Competition (since 1994), artistic director of the Brandenburg Ensemble, artistic director of the Chamber Music at the Y series (New York), professor of violin at Indiana University, violinist with the Kalichstein-Laredo-Robinson Trio, recording artist (RCA, Columbia, Sony, Chandos, Vox, Arabesque, and Virgin Classics labels among others), recitalist, and concert violinist. Hilary Hahn and Pamela Frank are among his many pupils. 

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Leopold Auer

Leopold Auer was a Hungarian violinist, teacher, conductor, and composer born on June 7, 1845 (Brahms was 12 years old.) He was born in a small town and first studied with Kohne in Budapest then with Dont in Vienna but stopped in 1858 when the scholarship money from his wealthy patrons ran out. At that point, being only 13 years of age, he was actually forced to start playing for a living. Auer went on to study with Joseph Joachim for two very critical years in Hanover (1861-1863.) From there, he went to work as an orchestral musician in Dusseldorf and Hamburg. In 1868, a trip to London proved fruitful. There, he met pianist Anton Rubinstein, who invited him to teach at the recently founded (1862) St Petersburg Conservatory. The rest is history, since Auer stayed on for 49 years. Nevertheless, Auer continued to play in the various orchestras of the Imperial Theatres and to perform extensively as soloist in other venues. He was also first violin of the string quartet of the Russian Musical Society for 38 years. He came to the U. S. in 1918, debuting in Carnegie Hall in March of that year – aged 73. He started teaching at the Juilliard School of Music in 1926 and at the Curtis Institute in 1928. Before then, he had taught privately from his home studio. Auer is remembered for refusing to play the Tchaikovsky violin concerto despite its having been dedicated to him and for having produced some of the finest violinists of the early Twentieth Century – Jascha Heifetz, Nathan Milstein, Mischa Elman, Boris Chumachenko, Iso Briselli, Mishel Piastro, Kathleen Parlow, Toscha Seidel, Emil Mlynarski, and Efrem Zimbalist among them. He was also somewhat unusual in that, unlike most violinists, he did not idolize J.S. Bach, though he played some of Bach’s music for violin. In addition to three books on violin technique, he wrote some pieces which are now seldom played (if at all) and an arrangement of Paganini’s Twenty Fourth Caprice which Heifetz used to play. Auer died on July 15, 1930, at age 85 (Heifetz was 28 years old.)

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Edward Elgar

Edward Elgar (Sir Edward William Elgar) was an English violinist and composer born on June 2, 1857 (Brahms was 24 years old.) During his early career, he struggled to establish himself as a composer and played in various orchestras and gave lessons in order to support himself. He began his study of the violin and piano at the age of 8 but was mostly self-taught as a composer. He learned much by arranging the music of classical composers for ensembles he played in as a young man. He did not achieve national recognition as a prominent composer until 1899, at age 42; however, by 1902, he was enjoying international fame. Today, he is remembered for his Enigma Variations (1899), violin concerto (1910), cello concerto (1919), and Pomp and Circumstance Marches. His Symphony No. 1 (1908) received over one hundred performances in its very first year, a feat probably unmatched by any other composer since then. One of his violin pupils was Marie Hall, though only for a very brief while. Elgar died in February 1934, at 76 years of age.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Corey Cerovsek

Corey Cerovsek is a Canadian violin prodigy born on April 24, 1972 (Heifetz was 71 years old.) In addition, he is a mathematician and accomplished pianist, having received advanced degrees in both music and math by age 16. Having already studied violin for a number of years, he began studying with Josef Gingold at Indiana University at age 12. He made his orchestral debut with the Calgary Philharmonic in 1981 and has been concertizing since age 16. Although an extraordinary performer and artist, he falls into that group of violinists who, for whatever reason, have not scaled the heights of public or critical recognition – Eugene Fodor, Phillipe Quint, and Vadim Gluzman come easily to mind.