Friday, July 24, 2009

Ruggiero Ricci

Ruggiero Ricci is an Italian (some would say American) violinist, writer, and teacher born (in San Bruno, California) on July 24, 1918 (Heifetz was 17 years old.) He is one of the last great living (legendary) violinists of the Heifetz era – Ivry Gitlis, and Ida Haendel being the other two. He was a child prodigy who first studied violin with his father. At age seven, Ricci studied with Louis Persinger (who also taught Isaac Stern, Yehudi Menuhin, and Zvi Zeitlin, among others.) Later on, Persinger was also his piano accompanist for many recitals and recordings. One of Ricci’s other teachers was Adolph Busch. His first public performance took place in San Francisco in 1928, at age 10, playing works by Wieniawski, Vieuxtemps, Mendelssohn, and Saint Saens. At age 11, he made his orchestral debut with the Mendelssohn concerto and later that same year gave his Carnegie Hall debut in New York which solidly established him as a virtuoso concert violinist. A quote from a review of the concert has become famous: "All that great violinists do, he did." As a teenager, he went to Berlin for further study. He toured Europe in 1932 (age 14) and continued his worldwide concertizing until 1942. During the Second World War, he played hundreds of concerts everywhere as an enlisted man (1942-1945.) His repertoire includes over 50 concertos, myriads of solo violin works, sonatas, and showpieces. There are several videos of his playing on YouTube, though some are sound-only uploads. One of them is here. His discography is enormous – over 500 recordings. In fact, he has recorded the complete Paganini Caprices no less than four times, the first one dating from 1947 (he was the first to do so) and the last one from 1988.  On one of his interesting recordings he plays 16 different cadenzas for the Brahms concerto.  Jascha Heifetz, Louis Kaufman, and Steven Staryk might rival him in the recording sphere - they also have enormous discographies.  Ricci has taught at Juilliard, Indiana University, and at the Mozarteum (Austria), among other schools. His book on left hand technique is a classic. Ricci played his last concert in the U.S. in October, 2003, in Washington D.C., having already given over 5000 concerts during his 75-year career.  In all those years, he played many violins - a 1731 Guarnerius, a 1734 Guarnerius, a 1771 Balestrieri, a 1780 Storioni, a 1714 Stradivarius, and a Vuillaume (with double purfling) from an undetermined year.  The 1714 Stradivarius has had at least 18 different owners but only 3 have been musicians.  In 1995, Ricci commissioned a violin from modern luthier Samuel Zygmuntowicz.  The violin was a copy of the famous Plowden Guarnerius Del Gesu.  It was sold in 2012 for about $65,000. 

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Robert Soetens

Robert Soetens was a French violinist born (in Montlucon, France) on July 19, 1897 (Stravinsky was 15 years old.) He is remembered for his association with Prokofiev's second concerto, for having lived a very long life, and for being a world-touring concert violinist almost all his life. As a child, he studied with his father, who had studied with Ysaye. His first public appearance was at age 7. By age 11, he was studying with Ysaye and was admitted to the Paris Conservatoire two years later. There, he studied with Lucien Capet, among others. Soon after the beginning of World War One, he left school to join the army (1915.)  Prior to this sudden departure, he had played the premiere of Milhaud’s first string quartet. Upon returning, he played in various orchestras in France for a number of years. In 1925, having successfully premiered Maurice Ravel’s Tzigane, he toured Scandinavia with him. In that same year, he became concertmaster of the Oslo Philharmonic but continued his solo career as well.  He was 28 years old.  With Samuel Dushkin he premiered Prokofiev’s sonata for two violins in 1932. Afterward, Prokofiev was motivated (through a commission) to write his second violin concerto for Soetens, which was premiered by Soetens in Madrid on December 1, 1935, with the Madrid Symphony. It is not surprising that Prokofiev, being accustomed to travel, then undertook a 40-concert tour with Soetens, covering North Africa and Europe. In 1936, Soetens played the first performances of the concerto in England.  Interestingly, he did not play the concerto with Prokofiev conducting until 1938. Except for the intervening war years (which were - due to an unusual circumstance - mostly spent in Spain), Soetens continued to concertize and teach for almost the rest of his life; however, little is known of his discography. 1967 found him teaching at Oberlin College (Ohio, USA) for one year.  He also taught in England and Japan for extended periods. Soetens’ last public appearance was in 1992.   He was 95 years old.  It is believed that no other violinist has performed publicly at that age.  He died (in Paris) on October 22, 1997, at age 100.  

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Gioconda De Vito

Gioconda De Vito was an Italian violinist born on July 22, 1907 (Heifetz was 6 years old.) She began formal violin lessons with an uncle, who was a professional violinist, at the age of 8. Three years later, she entered the Pesaro Conservatory. She graduated two years after that and started her career as a soloist. By age 17, she was teaching at the Conservatory in Bari. At age 25, she won an international violin competition in Vienna. She was then hired (supposedly through the influence of Mussolini) to teach at the Academy of Santa Cecilia in Rome. Since the Second World War interrupted her solo career, her London debut, which was very successful, didn’t happen until 1948. She subsequently performed frequently in the major European venues, sometimes appearing with other important artists, including Yehudi Menuhin, Isaac Stern, Rafael Kubelik, and Furtwangler. She also twice played for the Pope (Pius XII). De Vito was one of several famous female violinists of the early Twentieth Century who were quickly forgotten by the general public – Ginette Neveu and Janine Andrade were two others. In 1961, she retired from playing and virtually from the violin itself. She was then only 54 years old. Although she toured Europe and other countries (Australia, Russia, India, Israel), she never played in the U.S. A highly admired player, she was nevertheless, almost an anachronism during her career. Her repertoire was old fashioned and did not include the concertos of Stravinsky, Prokofiev, Sibelius, Elgar, Bartok, Barber, Shostakovich, Khachaturian, Korngold, Glazunov, Berg, Walton, or Szymanowski. It is said that she was such a meticulous player, that she worked on the Brahms concerto for fifteen years before she played it in public. She married at age 42. Her discography is rather limited but includes the concertos and sonatas of Mozart, Beethoven, Mendelssohn, and Brahms. De Vito died on October 24, 1994 at age 87, virtually forgotten.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Isaac Stern

Isaac Stern was a Russian (Ukrainian) violinist, teacher, and writer born on July 21, 1920 (Heifetz was 19 years old.) His family came to the U.S. when he was less than two years old; he thus received his entire training in the U.S. Other than as a touring virtuoso with a vibrant, robust sound, he is remembered for saving Carnegie Hall from demolition (1960), for his tours of China, and for a comprehensive discography (more than 100 recordings.) Having started music lessons with his mother, he enrolled at the San Francisco Conservatory in 1928 (age 8). One of his first teachers in San Francisco was Robert Pollak, an Austrian violinist who had recently arrived in the U.S. In 1931 (age 11), he studied privately (in New York) with Louis Persinger, who also taught Yehudi Menuhin, Ruggiero Ricci, and Zvi Zeitlin, among others. He returned to the San Francisco Conservatory to study with Naoum Blinder (a student of Adolph Brodsky) for five years. Blinder had taught at Juilliard (New York) between 1929 and 1931. Blinder was concertmaster of the San Francisco Symphony until 1957. Stern gave most of the credit for his training to Blinder. Stern made his public debut at the age of 15 (February 18, 1936) with the San Francisco Symphony. Some sources say he played Saint Saenz’ third concerto on this occasion and others say it was the Brahms concerto. Yet another source says he played the Bach Double concerto with his teacher (Blinder.) [His memoirs probably mentions something about this but I haven't read the book and I have no intention of reading it.] The following year, he made his New York Town Hall debut, which did not go well. He returned in 1943 to debut at Carnegie Hall, after which his career took off. Stern soloed with the New York Philharmonic for the first time in 1944. His European debut came in 1948 and his Russian debut in 1956. So influential did he become, that it has long been rumored that he could make or break any classical musician’s career. He was married three times and had 3 children from his second wife. Stern owned several fine violins, including the Ysaye Guarnerius Del Gesu (1740) which he sold three years before he died. He died on September 22, 2001, at age 81.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Robert Mann

Robert Mann is an American violinist, composer, conductor, and teacher born on July 19, 1920 (Heifetz was 19 years old.) More than anything, he is identified with the Juilliard String Quartet, which he founded (as first violinist) in 1946. As violinists go, he actually got a late start, beginning lessons, not at age 4 or 5, but at the age of 9. When he was 18, he enrolled at Juilliard. One of his teachers there was Edouard Dethier. He made his New York debut in 1941 but was not able to begin his career – due to the war - until 1946. He devoted a great deal of his time to the quartet, from which he finally retired in 1997. Mann’s discography covers virtually the entire quartet literature. However, he has also recorded as a soloist, including the entire set of Beethoven Sonatas for violin and piano. His compositions include many chamber music works and a few orchestral pieces. All of them have been performed and most of them have been recorded. At age 68, he made his conducting debut with the Seattle Symphony. Mann has taught at Juilliard and at the Manhattan School of Music.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Louis Zimmermann

Louis Zimmermann was a Dutch concert violinist, composer, and teacher born on July 19, 1873 (Brahms was 40 years old.) His first lessons were with his father. As a teenager, in Leipzig (1890), he studied with Hans Sitt. Later on, he studied with Eugene Ysaye in Brussels. In the late 1890s, he played in some Royal Court Orchestra in Germany. He then played first chair (in the first violin section) of the Royal Concertgebouw (Orchestra) from 1899 to 1904. He had the distinction of playing the violin solos at the English premiere of Richard Strauss’s Ein Heldenleben in 1902, with the composer on the podium. From 1904 he was a professor at the Royal Academy of Music in Amsterdam and then Concertmaster of the Concertgebouw from January, 1911 to January, 1940. He was a regular soloist with the orchestra, as when he played the Beethoven violin concerto with them on November 29, 1931, and again on January 10, 1937. A live recording of his rendering of the Beethoven is still available. Here is a rare YouTube audio file of one of his recordings.  Zimmermann’s compositions include chamber music, a violin concerto (premiered in 1921), and cadenzas for the Beethoven, Brahms, and Mozart violin concertos. Louis Zimmermann died on March 6, 1954, at age 80.  

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Eugene Ysaye

Eugène Ysaÿe was a Belgian violinist, composer, conductor, and teacher born on July 16, 1858 (Brahms was 25 years old.) His first lessons were with his father but later on, he was largely self-taught until about age 12. After he entered the Conservatory at Liege at age 7, he was dismissed because he made little progress. As a teenager, he became a pupil of both Henryk Wieniawski and Henri Vieuxtemps. Having graduated from the same conservatory he had previously been kicked out of, he became concertmaster of a highly accomplished orchestra which was about to become (in 1882) the Berlin Philharmonic – Benjamin Bilse’s Band. Many famous musicians frequented the beer hall where this orchestra played – among them were Joseph Joachim, Franz Lizst, Clara Schumann, and Anton Rubinstein. At age 27, Ysaye made his Paris debut and thus began a highly successful concert career. The following year, he was appointed violin professor at the Conservatory in Brussels, Belgium. Louis Persinger, Josef Gingold, Nathan Milstein, Jascha Brodsky, Nikolai Sokoloff, and William Primrose were among his many students. In 1886, he founded the Ysaye String Quartet. Debussy, Saint Saenz, Chausson, and Franck were among composers who dedicated works to him. Ysaye was a busy concert artist. In fact, he turned down the conductor’s post at the New York Philharmonic when it was offered to him (1898) precisely because he was too busy. Understandably, Ysaye did not have too much time to compose though he wrote six sonatas for solo violin which are part of the standard repertoire, some chamber music, a few orchestral pieces, and an opera (Peter the Miner.) Carl Flesch, the Hungarian violin pedagogue was quoted as saying that Ysaye was the most outstanding and individual violinist that he had ever heard in his life.   Ysaye was principal conductor of the Cincinnati Symphony for four years – 1918 to 1922 – and made a few recordings with that orchestra. It was during his tenure there that he met his second wife – he was 66 and she was 22 (Jeanette Dincin, a violinist.) Ysaye died in Brussels on May 12, 1931, at age 72. 

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Pinchas Zukerman

Pinchas Zukerman is an Israeli violinist, conductor, and teacher born on July 16, 1948 (Heifetz was 47 years old.) In addition to currently leading the National Arts Centre Orchestra (since April, 1998) and the Zukerman Chamber Players (since 2003), he still concertizes regularly as a soloist. Both of his ensembles are based in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada. While Zukerman is a gifted player with a phenomenal technique and large, impressive sound, he is not a brilliant or even effortlessly virtuosic violinist. One can sense the charisma, but there is very little sparkle or charm in his performances. While still a young boy, Isaac Stern and Pablo Casals helped him come to the U.S. from Israel and Zukerman subsequently studied (from 1962) at Juilliard (New York) with Ivan Galamian, made his New York debut in 1963, and later on won first prizes at various competitions, in the style of many contemporary violinists (and other classical musicians.) In 1980 (at age 32), he was appointed Principal Conductor of the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra (Minnesota) and stayed for 7 or 8 years. From 1988 to 1998, Zukerman had no orchestra to call his own but guest conducted many different ensembles. He still continues to guest conduct around the world. Zukerman has been married to Eugenia Zukerman (flautist – 1968-1985), Tuesday Weld (actress – 1985-1998), and Amanda Forsyth (cellist - 2004), in that order. His discography is very extensive (over 100 recordings) and YouTube has many videos featuring him. One of his most favored videos is of the Halvorsen violin-viola arrangement of the Handel Passacaglia. On that video, he is joined by violinist Itzhak Perlman. He currently also teaches at the Manhattan School of Music. His usual performing violin is the Dushkin Guarnerius del Gesu (1742.)

Monday, July 13, 2009

Willy Hess

Willy Hess was a German violinist and teacher born on July 14, 1859 (Brahms was 26 years old.) He first studied with his father, who was a student of Louis Spohr, and later with Joseph Joachim. He was the concertmaster of the opera orchestra in Frankfurt from 1878 to 1886. Thereafter he taught violin at the Rotterdam Conservatory from 1886 to 1888. He then left to sit first chair in the Halle Orchestra (1888-1895.) From there, he went to the Cologne Conservatory (1895-1903.) For six years he was the concertmaster of the Boston Symphony Orchestra (1904-1910.) While there, he also taught at Harvard University. In 1910, he moved back to Berlin to teach violin at the Hochschule (Academy for Music) after receiving an invitation some time in March of that year. Hess worked closely with composer Max Bruch for a time and even premiered some of his violin works. Adolf Busch, Henri Temianka, and Arthur Fiedler were among his many students. It has been said that Hess was a tall and slender man, in the style of Paganini. He also sometimes sported a beard. I have no photos of him, only his autograph, with a quote from the Beethoven violin concerto. Hess died in Berlin on the eve of World War Two - February 17, 1939.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Henryk Wieniawski

Henryk Wieniawski (Henryk Helman) was a Polish violin virtuoso, composer, and teacher born on July 10, 1835 (Paganini was 53 years old and Joseph Joachim was 4 years old.) Among violinists, he is most famous for his Scherzo Tarantelle and his second violin concerto (d minor – 1862 – dedicated to Sarasate), which all violinists – without exception – have in their repertoire (it’s the one Heifetz played on his U.S. debut.) He began his violin studies at age 5 and at age 8 (1843 - some sources say age 9), Wieniawski entered the Paris Conservatoire. Upon graduation, he concertized all over Europe. By all accounts, he was an extremely busy artist, presenting hundreds of concerts every year. His first published composition was the Caprice Fantastique (1847.) From 1860 to 1872, Wieniawski lived and taught in St Petersburg. He toured the U.S from 1872 to 1874. In 1875, he lived and worked (in the Royal Conservatory) in Brussels, Belgium. Among his pupils is Spanish violinist Achille Rivarde.  Wieniawski also composed, among many other works, Etudes (Caprices) for violin (dedicated to Ferdinand David), Caprices for 2 violins (1862), cadenzas for the Beethoven, Vieuxtemps (#5), and Mendelssohn (!!) violin concertos, and a third (unpublished) violin concerto in a minor (1878.) Few violinists – if any - have ever had their image engraved on a coin but he has (Poland - 1979.) No fewer than three Guarneri and two Stradivari violins still bear his name. He died in Moscow on March 31, 1880, at age 44. 

Thursday, July 9, 2009

David Zinman

David Zinman is an American violinist, conductor, and teacher born on July 9, 1936 (Stravinsky was 54 years old.) However, I do not know if he ever played violin professionally (as Lorin Maazel did.) At age 6 he began studying the violin and later entered the Oberlin Conservatory (Ohio), from which he graduated; afterward he studied theory and composition at the University of Minnesota. At Tanglewood (Massachusetts - 1958), he concentrated on conducting and soon received an invitation from Pierre Monteux to become his assistant with the London Symphony (1961-1964.) In 1965 (at age 29), he became assistant conductor of the Netherlands Chamber Orchestra and remained there for 12 years (1965-1977.) From then on, his career in Europe was established. His American debut was in Philadelphia, with the Philadelphia Orchestra, in 1967. In 1974 (while still assisting in the Netherlands), he was appointed conductor of the Rochester Philharmonic (1974-1985.) Almost simultaneously, he was principal conductor of the Rotterdam Philharmonic (1979-1982.) In 1985, he became conductor of the Baltimore Symphony where he remained for 14 years (1985-1998.) Prior to his last season with the Baltimore Symphony, he was appointed music director of the Tonhalle Orchestra (Zurich, Switzerland - 1995) where he remains up to this day. Zinman has conducted nearly every major orchestra in the world and his discography is very extensive, numbering well over 100. His recording of all nine Beethoven symphonies with the Tonhalle Orchestra was especially well-received. He has also been recognized for several of his recordings through major prizes (Grammys, Gramophone Award, Edison, Grand Prix du Disque, etc.) Zinman teaches at the Curtis Institute (Philadelphia) and is Director (since 1998) of the Aspen Music Festival which takes place over a two-month span every summer. In Zurich, he is known for having begun an innovative late night series of concerts called Tonhalle Late. In Baltimore, he was known for playing a considerable amount of contemporary music and a Saturday morning series of concerts called Casual Concerts. Despite brilliant skills and nearly universal acclaim and adulation, for reasons known only to a select few, David Zinman has never been Principal Conductor of any world-class orchestra – Philadelphia, Boston, Chicago, New York, Berlin, Concertgebouw, London, Vienna and all the rest.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Jan Kubelik

Jan Kubelík was a Czech violinist and composer born on July 5, 1880 (Brahms was 47 years old.) His first lessons were with his father, who was an amateur violinist. At age 8, he entered the Prague Conservatory where he studied with Otakar Sevcik. He began concertizing ten years later (1898), the same year he graduated from the Conservatory. Along with Joseph Joachim and Pablo De Sarasate, he was one of the first violinists to be recorded in the early 1900s. Following debuts in Vienna and London in 1900 and 1901, he toured the U.S. for the first time in 1901, starting out in Carnegie Hall on December 2, 1901. At that first U.S. concert, Kubelik was criticized for being a mere showman. However, he enjoyed great financial success everywhere he went. He was a society darling and was already wealthy in his mid-twenties. Carl Sandburg even titled a poem after him. In the latter part of his career, he played the Emperor Stradivarius (1715.) In 1903, Kubelik married Countess Marianne Czáky Szell and eventually became the father of (among others) conductor Rafael Kubelik. As late as 1930, he was still being hailed as the best-known name in the violinist world. Kubelík also wrote music, including six violin concertos which are now never played, and cadenzas for the violin concertos of Brahms, Beethoven, Paganini, and Mozart. A number of his recordings are posted on YouTube. Jan Kubelík died in Prague on December 5, 1940, having never actually retired.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Tibor Varga

Tibor Varga was a Hungarian violinist and conductor born on July 4, 1921 (Heifetz was 20 years old.) Like so many other great violinists, he was a child prodigy. He studied with Carl Flesch and Jeno Hubay at the Franz Liszt Academy in Budapest. Varga joined a select group of distinguished Hungarian violinists who came before him – Joseph Joachim, Leopold Auer, and Carl Flesch. He could play the Mendelssohn concerto (e minor) from age ten and began his recording career at age 13. At 14 he began concertizing in Europe. In 1947, at age 26, he moved to London and later became a British citizen. Nevertheless, he later (from 1955 on) spent a great deal of time in Germany and Switzerland. Varga worked with the world’s leading orchestras and conductors before starting a long teaching career. A music school he founded in Germany underwent several transformations before he died. A pupil of his became the first female member of the Berlin Philharmonic (1982.) Tibor Varga died in Switzerland on September 4, 2003, at age 82.