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. 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. 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.