Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Eduard Grach

Eduard Grach is a Russian violinist, teacher, and conductor born on December 19, 1930 (Heifetz was 29 years old.)  He is considered Russia’s preeminent and most illustrious violin pedagogue – currently, head of the violin department at the Moscow (Tchaikovsky) Conservatory from which he graduated.  Though he has traveled the world as a touring virtuoso, he has chosen to remain in Russia (as did David Oistrakh and Leonid Kogan before him) rather than emigrate, as so many other Russian artists have done.  His first teachers (as a child in Odessa) were Veniamin Z. Mordkovich and Peter Stolyarsky – in fact, he was among Stolyarsky’s last pupils (Stolyarsky died in 1944.)  At the Moscow Conservatory he was in Abram Yampolsky’s class.  Nevertheless, he also studied with David Oistrakh after graduation.  Between 1949 and 1962 he received first prizes in three international violin competitions – Bela Bartok (1949 – at age 19), Jacques Thibaud (1955), and Tchaikovsky (1962 – some sources say 1958.)  He had by then already embarked on a concertizing and teaching career across Europe, Russia, the Middle East, and Asia. For a time, Grach was soloist of the State Philharmonic Society as well. Every top honor afforded the finest Russian artists has been bestowed on him, including the Order of National Merit.  He has over 100 recordings to his credit (many of them live performances which have been highly praised), has premiered many contemporary works, has conducted master classes worldwide (including the U.S., China, and Israel), and judged in several international violin competitions (including the Paganini, Wieniawski, and Tchaikovsky), the latest being the First Buenos Aires International Violin Competition (July, 2010.)  Many of his recordings are readily available on the internet.  Along the way, Grach was named honorary professor of the Shanghai Conservatory too, though I do not know in what year. In 1990, he founded the Moscovia Chamber Orchestra; however, he had been conducting other ensembles since 1979.  He has taken the Moscovia on tour to Germany, Greece, Cyprus, France, and China.  (Some fascinating performances of the Moscovia are available on YouTube. It does not shy away from playing a very eclectic repertoire, from Bach to Rossini to popular Argentine tangos.)  In 1996, he organized the Yampolsky International Violin Competition and has been its President several times. There are many videos of his playing on YouTube and a magnificent interview of him on Blip.tv (if you speak Russian, I recommend it.)

Saturday, November 27, 2010

All We Want Are The Facts

I have said several times that the list of violinists on my webpage (numbering 500 and growing) is arbitrary.  Similarly, the list on this blog is arbitrary; however, in choosing which violinists to write about on this blog, there are two categories from which I select: (1) the older generation (born 1650-1920) and (2) the contemporary (1920-1995.)  The older ones are easier to pick among: I try to stick to the obviously legendary and the significant, though forgotten, violinists - the more forgotten, the better.  Among the contemporary bunch, I try to search out those whom I think are already brilliant or promising to be.  But, again, I must say that all my choices are totally and completely arbitrary.  The facts presented here are given without reference, though not (of course) without sources.  I double check everything presented as fact and often triple check those facts.  Whenever I find discrepancies or differences, I note them on the blog.  Anything that sounds like an opinion would be mostly my own doing, of course.  I trust that anyone choosing to quote from this blog or use it as a reference will search other sources.  There are certain dates (and facts) that are available in obscure (and old) source material but are there nonetheless, if one will only look diligently.  Orchestral (rank and file) violinists are almost totally absent and for good reason; there is close to zero information available about them, no matter how significant, and, more importantly, their contribution is not individual.  Orchestra players – like studio musicians - are anonymous, except for concert programs.  There are precious few exceptions, mostly coming from the ranks of concertmasters such as William DeFesch, Ferdinand David, Raymond Cohen, Nahan Franko, Steven Staryk, Theo Olof, Frank Almond, Glenn Dicterow, etc.  Neville Marriner was a second violinist in a London orchestra but he became an important conductor so I wrote something about him.  Now that this has been cleared up, it’s time to write a blog about Adele Anthony or Eduard Grach or Fabio Biondi or Vladimir Spivakov, or who knows.... 

Thursday, November 25, 2010


Compiling statistics can sometimes be enlightening. Numbers can tell us any number of things.  On this blog however, they are completely irrelevant because the micro biographies are written about violinists which are selected purely arbitrarily.  In any case, here are some numbers you might find interesting.  Oldest living violinist on this blog: Ruggiero Ricci, age 92 (born 7/18/1918) – Raymond Cohen is second (7/27/1919.)  Otto Joachim, Canadian violinist, would have been 100 in October of this year but he died in July, 2010.  Oldest deceased violinist: Arcangelo Corelli (born 1653.)  Youngest violinist is Emmy Storms, age 21.  Violinist with shortest career: Josef Hassid whose career lasted two years, if you count the recordings he made in 1939 as the beginning of his career, otherwise it lasted one year.  Violinist with longest career: Ruggiero Ricci, whose career ran for 70 years.  Violinist whose biography has had the greatest number of views: Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg (January, 2010); runner up: Albert Markov (November, 2010.)  Biography with the least number of views: Carl Rosa (March, 2009); runner up: Ion Voicu (October, 2009.)  Composer most often referenced: Ludwig Van Beethoven.  Violinist most often mentioned: Jascha Heifetz.  The nationalities with 10 or more representatives are: American (21), Austrian (10), English (20), French (15), German (16), Hungarian (10), Italian (24), Polish (11), and Russian (28.)  Month in which the greatest number of famous violinists were born: August.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Albert Markov

Albert Markov is a Russian (Ukrainian) violinist, composer, pedagogue, and conductor born on May 8, 1933 (Heifetz was 32 years old.)  He occupies a place in the musical firmament which is unique in the 20th and 21st centuries – he is the only concert violinist who is also a composer of major works and concertos.  Not since Emile Sauret (1852-1920), Jeno Hubay (1858-1937), and Albert Spalding (1888-1953) did any violinist of international stature produce not only symphonic works, but violin concertos which he himself performed, in keeping with a longstanding tradition which included Tartini, Vivaldi, Paganini, Spohr, Viotti, Wieniawski, Vieuxtemps, DeBeriot, Chevalier DeSaint George, and Joseph Joachim.  Of course, Eugene Ysaye, Pablo Sarasate, Kreisler, Milstein, Heifetz and others wrote or arranged many recital pieces or cadenzas but it stopped there – no operas, symphonies, tone poems, rhapsodies, or concertos came from their pens.  In addition, not since David Oistrakh and Leonid Kogan, has a concert violinist produced a son who is also a concert violinist, in this case, Alexander Markov.  (In fact, Alexander Markov has never had a teacher besides his father.  Zino Francescatti and Daniel Barenboim also never studied with anyone other than their father.)  He began his violin studies as a child but by age ten he was studying with Jacob Meksin and the legendary pedagogue, Peter Stolyarsky.  Composition he studied with Henrich Litinsky and Aram Khachaturian.  He graduated from the Gnessin Academy in Moscow in 1960.  By then, he had already won the Gold Medal at the Queen Elizabeth (Belgium) Violin Competition (1959) and gold medals at other European and Russian competitions (1957-1964.)  He concertized extensively in Russia and Europe from that point forward.  A highlight of one of his European tours was an appearance with Rostropovitch (cellist) in Holland in 1964 with Khachaturian conducting.  From 1960 to 1975, he was a soloist with the Moscow State Philharmonic as well as a professor at the Gnessin Academy in Moscow.  In December of 1975 he came to the U.S.  His U.S. debut on May 24, 1976 was memorable and unusual because it was not in New York but in Houston (Eddy Brown’s U.S. debut was in Indianapolis, Isaac Stern’s in San Francisco, Iso Briselli’s in Philadelphia), where he played Paganini’s second violin concerto (b minor.)  (He later recorded this concerto with the Moscow Radio Orchestra, Rozhdestvensky conducting – very likely the best recording of this work in existence.)  His Carnegie Hall debut came later and, from that point, Markov’s concertizing became international in scope.  In 1977 he was appointed to the faculty of the Mannes College of Music (New York), where he stayed until 1979.  In 1981 he began to teach at the Manhattan School of Music (where he still teaches) and from 2007 has also taught at the Long Island Conservatory.  Markov has also served on the juries of the Tchaikovsky and the Paganini Violin Competitions and led many music festivals and master classes around the world.  In May of 1994, Markov embarked on a tour of Russia after an absence of almost twenty years.  In 1999, he formed the Rondo Chamber Orchestra, based in Bennington, Vermont, which he has conducted ever since.  His recordings are on the Melodia, Sunrise, Musical Heritage Society, and RMS labels.  Most of his prolific output has been published by Muzyka and Kompositor in Russia as well as Schirmer’s and RMS in the U.S.  His violin method book, Violin Technique is also available worldwide.  It has been said (by Bernard Holland of the New York Times) that Markov's pedagogy “avoids the traditional teaching of hand positions and fingerings on the violin….  Markov also breaks the art of bowing into three basic positions - another departure from ordinary teaching practices.”  There are many videos of his playing on YouTube and several audio recordings on the Classical Connect website as well.  Markov’s instruments have included a Stradivarius, an Antonio Gagliano, and a Sergio Peresson (based in Philadelphia, Peresson is considered to be the world’s best violin maker of the modern era - he was in so much demand he had to stop taking orders for new instruments in 1982.)  Markov’s compositions include two operas, a violin concerto, a Suite for violin and orchestra, a symphony, 3 Rhapsodies for violin and orchestra, a string quartet, 2 sonatas for solo violin, various works for two violins, 9 works for violin and piano, vocal works, piano pieces, works for viola, at least 20 cadenzas for various violin concertos (including those of Paganini, Mozart, Beethoven, and Brahms), and no fewer than 70 arrangements of works by various composers.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Julia Igonina

Julia Igonina is a Russian concert violinist born on April 3, 1978 (Heifetz was 77 years old.)  She is widely known as a champion of contemporary violin works, though her repertoire includes the standard concertos of Bach, Brahms, Mozart, Beethoven, Mendelssohn, Tchaikovsky, Glazunov, Prokofiev, Sibelius, and all the rest.  One of the rare pieces she plays is Alexander Tchaikovsky’s second violin concerto, a fiendishly difficult work.  Her recital repertoire is also incredibly extensive.  She began her violin studies at the age of six with Vyacheslav Khavkin at the Glinka Music School in Minsk (1984-1997.)  Afterward, she studied with Eduard Grach at the Tchaikovsky Conservatory in Moscow, from which she graduated in 2004.  (Grach has become the most eminent violin pedagogue in the Russian Federation since Zakhar Bron went to the Royal Academy in England.)  Her debut came at the age of fourteen with the Belarus State Orchestra playing the Mendelssohn concerto.  She has since concertized extensively in Europe, the Middle East, and Asia.  As far as I know, she has never played in the U.S.  Igonina has also won (between 1998 and 2005) several major violin competitions.  As Nicolo Paganini played for royalty, Yehudi Menuhin played for the Pope, Isaac Stern played for the U.S. President, and Chloe Hanslip played for the Queen of England, Julia Igonina has also played for a highly placed world dignitary - the President of the Republic of China (Jiang Zemin - 2004.)  In 2008, she became the leader of the New Russian Quartet, based at the Moscow (Tchaikovsky) Conservatory.  She began to judge at international violin competitions in 2009.  YouTube has several videos of her playing, including a brilliant interpretation of the Vitali Chaconne which Heifetz made famous.  Igonina plays on a Vincenzo Panormo (aka Vincenzo Trusiano) violin (made circa 1789) - formerly, Julian Sitkovetsky's violin.  (Photo of Julia Igonina by Anna Chobotova) 

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Lucien Capet

Lucien Capet (Lucien Louis Capet) was a French violinist, teacher, and composer born on January 8, 1873 (Brahms was 40 years old.)  He is remembered for his book on bow technique, Superior Bowing Technique (1916), and for being the teacher of Ivan Galamian, Jascha Brodsky, Charles Munch, and Mario Dias de Figueiredo.  In fact, thanks to Capet, Galamian emphasized bow technique over most everything else.  I do not know who his teachers were when he was a child but he later studied at the Paris Conservatory where he was a pupil of someone named Morin.  He appeared as soloist with many French orchestras, but especially the Lamoureux Orchestra, of which he was concertmaster from 1896 to 1899.  Capet had been supporting himself by playing in dance halls and cafes since he was fifteen.  From 1899 to 1903, he taught at the Society of Saint Cecilia School.  With Henri Casadesus on viola and Marcel Casadesus on cello (uncles of pianist Robert Casadesus) he formed the Capet Quartet in 1893.  In 1924, Capet and fellow violinist Suzanne Chaigneau founded the Modern Violin Institute.  Between 1925 and 1930, after several changes in personnel, the Capet Quartet recorded at least 12 quartets – 5 of them by Beethoven and the others by Mozart, Haydn, Ravel, Debussy, Schumann, Franck, and Schubert.  Josef Gingold heard the quartet perform in Brussels in 1928 and many years later said that it was the greatest string quartet concert he had ever heard.  It was an all-Beethoven program.  There is an audio file on YouTube of the Capet Quartet playing Mozart.  Capet also wrote three string quartets which are now completely forgotten.  He died on December 18, 1928, at age 55. 

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Ivan Galamian

Ivan Galamian (Ivan Alexander Galamian) was an Armenian violinist and teacher (some sources say Persian because he was born in Iran) born on January 23, 1903 - some sources say February 25 and others say February 5 - (Heifetz was 2 years old.)  He is remembered as one of the best violin teachers of the 20th Century – an institution at the Juilliard School (New York.)  As a young man, Galamian studied at the School of the Philharmonic Society with Konstantin Mostras, in Moscow, where he resided with his family from infancy.  It is said he also studied with Julius Conus.  Conus taught in Moscow until 1919, so that is entirely possible. Galamian graduated from the school in 1919, at age 16, and began playing in the opera orchestra of the Bolshoi Theatre.  In 1922, he moved to France where he studied further with Lucien Capet in Paris (1922-1923.)  He made his Paris debut on May 5, 1924 although he played another recital there on December 24, 1926 which is also called his debut recital.  It has been widely reported that he suffered from an incapacitating but undefined nervous condition (possibly stage fright) and soon gave up his dream of a concertizing career – unlike Ruggiero Ricci who never experienced nervousness when playing.  From 1925 until 1929 he taught at the Russian Conservatory in Paris while still performing occasionally.  Even at this early stage of his teaching career, he produced a special student in the person of Vida Reynolds, the first woman to play with the first violins of the Philadelphia Orchestra.  Galamian came to the U.S. in 1937, where he remained for the rest of his life.  While setting up a private studio in New York City he also taught at the Henry Street Settlement House there.  He was hired by Efrem Zimbalist – via a recommendation by Zino Francescatti - to teach at the Curtis Institute (1944) and then was also offered a similar post at Juilliard (1946 – some sources say 1948.)  In 1944 he founded the Meadowmount Music School (Westport, New York) which operated during summer months – a sort of intense music camp which became very successful.  Galamian had hundreds of students and therefore used more than half a dozen teaching assistants – Dorothy DeLay and Robert Lipsett among them.  (In 1970, he and Dorothy DeLay acrimoniously parted ways because of a difference of opinion regarding teaching approaches and he refused to speak to her for the remainder of his life.  He also tried to get her fired from Juilliard – unsuccessfully.)  It has been said that due to his authoritarian methods all his pupils sound the same – unlike Leopold Auer’s.  In 1962, Galamian published two books on violin technique which are still in print.  He also edited many standard works for violin.  As far as I know, he never recorded anything commercially.  Among Galamian’s famous pupils are Michael Rabin, Pinchas Zukerman, Eugene Fodor, Tigran Vardanyan, Hyman Bress, Simon Standage, Stuart Canin, Linda Rose, and Ani Kavafian.  Galamian taught until the day he died, April 14, 1981, at age 78.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Iso Briselli

Iso Briselli (Isaak Briselli) was a Russian (Ukrainian) violinist born on October 20, 1912 (Heifetz was 11 years old.)  Although he concertized for over two decades, he is remembered (as is Franz Clement) for having commissioned a famous concerto – Samuel Barber’s violin concerto.  He began studies at age 3 and while still a child studied with Peter Stolyarsky before his family moved to Berlin (1922) where he began his studies with Carl Flesch.  Two years later, when Flesch moved to the U.S. to teach at the new Curtis Institute (Philadelphia), he encouraged Briselli to go with him.  He arrived in the U.S. - together with the Flesch family - in December of 1924.  Briselli entered Curtis during the winter of 1925 and thus became part of the very first class, at age 13, to enter Curtis.  After Flesch left Curtis (1928), Briselli studied with Leopold Auer and Efrem Zimbalist, among others.  He graduated in May, 1934.  Soon after Briselli arrived in the U.S., a rich Philadelphian – Samuel Fels - informally adopted Briselli and became his patron as well.  Briselli made his debut in 1926 with the Philadelphia Orchestra under Artur Rodzinski, playing the first Paganini concerto.  He was 14 years old.  In 1939, Fels engaged (for $1000) the unknown Barber – who was a fellow Curtis student, although much older - to write a concerto for Briselli.  The concerto was finished in December of 1939.  The myth about Briselli finding the third movement of the concerto too difficult started with Barber and a writer by the name of Nathan Broder.  It was documented later on by Barbara Heyman, a Samuel Barber biographer (1992), that the story was wholly untrue.  Thousands of historically incorrect concert program notes (and liner notes for albums) have been written since Broder’s false story first came out.  Although Barber knew the true facts, he never did anything to set the record straight.  At the time of the commission, Briselli was already a brilliant violinist who regularly played the works of Paganini, Wieniawski, Sarasate, Vieuxtemps, Ysaye, Bruch, Mendelssohn, Beethoven, Dvorak, and all the rest.  It is logical to suppose that the third movement of the Barber would have posed no serious challenges.  Indeed, Briselli never said the movement was too difficult or unplayable.  He objected to the music itself – it did not musically fit the other two movements and it was not an appropriate finale and not grand enough – speaking from a traditional point of view, it was too weak.  It is interesting that critics who first heard the concerto agreed with Briselli’s opinion, though they did not know it at the time.  Briselli never played the concerto in public.  Briselli stopped concertizing in the mid 1940s to devote his time to the various Fels Fund philanthropic projects.  He died on April 9, 2005, at age 92. 

Friday, November 5, 2010

Peter Stolyarsky

Peter Stolyarsky (Pyotr Solomonovich Stoliarsky), was a Russian (Ukrainian) violinist and teacher born on November 18, 1871 (Brahms was 38 years old.)  He, like Leopold Auer, Carl Flesch, and Ivan Galamian, is remembered as a pedagogue and not a concertizing soloist.  He began his studies with his father then progressed to Stanislaw Barcewicz, Emil Mlynarski (the founder of the Warsaw Philharmonic) in Poland, and Josef Karbulka back in Odessa.   He graduated from the Odessa Conservatory in 1893 and went to work almost immediately in the orchestra of the Odessa Opera House where he played for about 26 years.  He started teaching privately in 1898 and opened his own music school in 1912 (some sources say 1911), at age 41.  From 1919 he taught at the Odessa Conservatory.  He was instrumental in the opening in Odessa of a music school for gifted children in 1933.  His famous pupils include David Oistrakh, Nathan Milstein, Boris Goldstein, Albert Markov, Naoum Blinder, Elizabeth Gilels, Eduard Grach, and Zakhar Bron (himself an eminent teacher.)  Stolyarsky died on April 29, 1944, at age 72.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Johanna Martzy

Johanna Martzy was a Hungarian violinist born on October 26, 1924 (Heifetz was 23 years old.)  She is remembered for her short career.  Martzy began studying violin at age six.  Soon afterward she started lessons with Jeno Hubay at the Liszt Academy in Budapest and continued with him until 1937.  By age 13 she was already touring Hungary and Romania.  Her debut, playing the Tchaikovsky concerto, took place in 1943 with Mengelberg conducting the Budapest Philharmonic.  In October of 1947, she won first prize in a competition in Geneva, Switzerland.  In February of 1949 she made her debut in Amsterdam (again with the Tchaikovsky concerto), accompanied by the orchestra of the Concertgebouw.  Once established, Martzy enjoyed great success throughout Europe.  Her first appearance in England was in 1953.  Her New York City debut, with the New York Philharmonic, came in November 1957 playing Bach’s E Major concerto, an unusual work with which to debut.  In December 1958, she played the Mendelssohn concerto with this same orchestra with Bernstein at the podium.  Bernstein had just been appointed chief conductor of the Philharmonic.  She continued touring worldwide until 1976 though by 1969 she had effectively slipped from the limelight.  Some say it was because she had by then married a very rich man – Daniel Tschudi – and lacked any financial incentive to stay active.  She did comparatively little recording – Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Mendelssohn, Brahms, Dvorak, Bartok, Stravinsky - though many tapes of radio broadcasts still exist.  Rumors have circulated that she chose to give up her recording career rather than give in to Walter Legge (EMI’s Director.)  Martzy mostly played a Carlo Bergonzi violin (1733) though she also owned a 1733 Stradivari (previously owned by Kreisler and Huberman) and a Peter Guarnerius - Carl Flesch’s old violin.  She died in Switzerland, her death virtually unnoticed, on August 13, 1979, at age 54.