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.