Thursday, October 28, 2010

Camilla Urso

Camilla Urso was an Italian violinist born in France on June 13, 1842 (some sources say 1840) (Brahms was 9 years old.)  She began violin studies at the age of five with Felix Simon, a violinist in the Nantes (France) opera orchestra.  She made her first public appearance at a small concert at age 7.  She is known for having been the youngest child, at the age of eight, ever enrolled at the Paris Conservatory and the first female ever to be admitted to study the violin.  A fellow pupil, though ahead of her in his classes, was Henri Wieniawski with whom she became friends.  After graduating from the Conservatory in 1852, she came to the U.S. after being encouraged by a promoter and gave a very successful debut concert in New York City.  Overcoming considerable difficulties and economic uncertainty for several years, she established a highly lucrative, interesting, and productive worldwide concertizing career.  Inexplicably, she retired from playing in 1855 and did not reappear until 1862.  Those years were spent somewhere in the Southern U.S.  Details of those missing years are probably found in Jennifer Schiller’s 127-page dissertation (2006) on the life of Urso but I didn’t bother with it.  Her concert in Boston on February 14, 1863 marked her return, at age 20, to active concert life.  She returned for concerts in France in the summer of 1865 then came back to the U.S. in September of 1866.  She later repeatedly toured Canada, Europe, Australia, South America, and South Africa as well as the U.S., playing in places where classical music was not well-known.  It has been said that later in life, she even participated in vaudeville shows.  One of the highlights of her career was a seven-month tour of California in the years 1869-1870.  She also organized, during that same tour, a memorable music festival comprised of several concerts given in San Francisco in February of 1870.  Incredibly, she did not perform in England until 1871, at age 29, playing the Mendelssohn concerto in London.  Later on, her main residence was in New York City, where she died on January 20, 1902, after an unsuccessful surgery, at age 59. 

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Maud Powell

Maud Powell was an American violinist, writer, and arranger born on August 22, 1867 (Brahms was 34 years old.)  She is remembered for having been a concert violinist at a time when women violinists – even among orchestral players - were a rarity.  Her career was spent almost exclusively in the U.S. Her first violin studies began when she was seven.  At age 9 she became a pupil of William Lewis in Chicago.  She then began playing in and was soon made assistant concertmaster of the Aurora (Illinois) Symphony Orchestra.  Her debut as soloist with this orchestra took place in 1880.  She further studied in Europe with Henry Schradieck in Leipzig (1881-1882) and Charles Dancla in Paris (1882-1883.)  She spent a year intermittently concertizing in London and then studied briefly with Joseph Joachim (1884-1885) who conducted the orchestra when she gave her Berlin debut with the Berlin Philharmonic in March of 1885 playing the Bruch g minor concerto.  Returning to the U.S., she gave her New York debut with the New York Philharmonic on November 14, 1885 again playing Bruch’s first concerto.  She was then eighteen years old.  She soon began including works by contemporary American composers in her programs, including Arthur Foote, Henry Huss, Victor Herbert, and John Carpenter.  She gave the American premieres of the Tchaikovsky and Sibelius concertos.  Her fan club claims she premiered the Dvorak concerto but that is not true.  Max Bendix premiered the Dvorak concerto with the Chicago Symphony on October 30, 1891.  Powell gave the first New York performance of the concerto in 1893 but that's all. Mastering a very extensive repertoire, Powell also frequently played the concertos of Saint Saenz, Lalo, Arensky, Conus, and Rimsky Korsakov, among others.  Her premiere of the Sibelius concerto on November 30, 1906 was especially significant although this concerto did not enter the standard violin repertoire until after Jascha Heifetz championed it.  Powell founded a quartet in 1894 and a trio in 1908.  She frequently wrote her own program notes and wrote numerous articles for music journals.  I don’t know if she ever took students.  Among her many violins was a supposed JB Guadagnini (1775) which was later sold to Henry Ford, the car maker.  The Guadagnini was later declared (by Kenneth Warren) to actually be a copy made by New York Luthier George Gemunder on or about 1865.  (She had purchased -  around 1886 - a violin from a dealer named Victor S. Flechter which turned out to be a fake. Powell later sued the dealer because she had paid $500 and the violin was said to be worth only $40. The violin had  supposedly been made by Gaspard Duiffoprugcar in 1515.)  Powell also owned a Guarneri from 1731, the Mayseder Guarneri.  She did a lot of recording for RCA during the industry’s infancy (1904-1907).  YouTube has postings of a few of her recordings.  Maud Powell died (in Uniontown, Pennsylvania) on January 8, 1920, at age 52, while preparing for a concert. 

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Eddy Brown

Eddy Brown was an American violinist, teacher, and radio pioneer born on July 15, 1895 (Brahms was 63 years old.)  His father, with whom he had his first lessons, was Austrian and his mother, Russian.  He later studied with Hugh McGibney in Indianapolis while still a child.  He is known for having launched and hugely influenced classical music radio programming in the U.S.  In fact, he gave the first radio performance of all ten Beethoven sonatas.  In 1936, he pioneered radio station WQXR in New York City (devoted exclusively to classical music) which survives to this day.  His first public appearance as a violinist was at age six.  At age nine (1904), he enrolled at the Royal Conservatory in Budapest where he studied with Jeno Hubay, Bela Bartok and others.  Two years later, he took first prize in the Budapest Concerto Competition.  Eugene Ormandy took second.  Brown graduated in 1909 and soon after made his formal debut in Budapest playing the Beethoven concerto.  That same year he made his London debut with the London Philharmonic playing Tchaikovsky’s violin concerto – he was fourteen years old.  His Berlin debut came in 1910 with the Brahms concerto.  He then studied further (until 1916) with Leopold Auer at the St Petersburg Conservatory and concertized world wide for some time after that.  His U.S. debut was at Indianapolis in 1916 with the Beethoven concerto.  He made his New York debut that same week.  He began to record (if one can call it that) in 1916.  He also formed a string quartet (name unknown) and established the Chamber Music Society of America.  After becoming involved in radio in 1930, he essentially stopped touring, though he played for many of the different radio programs which he created and in various venues close to New York.  Ironically, almost none of the hundreds of performances he gave on radio survive.  Brown started to teach at the University of Cincinnati in 1956.  He was named Artist-in-Residence of Butler University (Indianapolis) in 1971.  His only modern recording was of a violin concerto by Mana Zucca, which few people have ever heard.  A complete recording of it is posted on YouTube, if you should be curious, as are other Eddy Brown recordings. Brown died unexpectedly (in Italy) on June 14, 1974, at age 78. 

Thursday, October 14, 2010

The Top Ten?

This type of thing has very few followers but that’s ok.  Here is my arbitrary list of the top ten most-in-demand, darling, high-fee violinists, in no particular order: Sarah Chang, Nigel Kennedy, Maxim Vengerov, Hilary Hahn, Anne-Sophie Mutter, Itzhak Perlman, Joshua Bell, Leila Josefowicz, Gil Shaham, and Leonidas Kavakos.  Except for Kavakos, Kennedy, and Mutter, they all live in New York.  They are all brilliant players.  Among that bunch, the only ones with a recognizable sound and style are Joshua Bell and Leila Josefowicz.  The others all pretty much sound the same to me.  Now, here are ten – again, arbitrarily chosen - who are just as brilliant but whose profiles are noticeably lower: Elmar Oliveira, Augustin Hadelich, Lara St John, Julia Igonina, Stefan Jackiw, Corey Cerovsek, Kyung Wha Chung, Miranda Cuckson, Eugene Fodor, and Vadim Gluzman.  Except for Oliveira, Igonina, Fodor, and Gluzman, they, too, live in New York.  What is the difference?  Personality?  Marketing?  Patronage?  Management?  Looks?  Social connections?  I know not.  It is certainly not playing ability.  This ladder is very hard to climb to the top, especially when there are unknown, hard-to-identify factors and twists and turns in a career.  Here’s to plain good luck.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Shlomo Mintz

Shlomo Mintz is a Russian violinist, violist, teacher, and conductor born on October 30, 1957 (Heifetz was 56 years old.)  He is known for a career which encompasses a very wide range of activities – solo appearances, teaching, chamber music, recording, recitals, judging, philanthropic sponsorships, and conducting.  He began his violin studies in Israel with the famous and beautiful Hungarian violinist Ilona Feher at age two.  He studied with her until 1973.  At age 11 (April 23, 1969), he made his debut with the Israel Philharmonic playing Mendelssohn's concerto (Uri Segal conducting.)  Soon afterwards, as Itzhak Perlman fell ill, he substituted for him (again with the Israel Philharmonic), playing the first concerto of Paganini.  Many concert musicians have launched their careers in exactly this same fashion.  He made his Carnegie Hall debut at the age of sixteen with the Pittsburgh Symphony playing the Bruch g minor concerto.  He then began his studies with Dorothy DeLay at Juilliard although his career was already well on its way.  In 1997, he played Paganini’s famous Cannone violin (Guarneri del Gesu, 1742) - a replica of which I will soon have in my hands (thanks to luthier Daniel Houck) - during a concert in Maastricht (the Netherlands) with the Limburg Symphony.  From the age of eighteen, Shlomo Mintz added the role of conductor to his artistic life and has since conducted many orchestras worldwide, including the Royal Philharmonic (England), the NHK Symphony Orchestra (Japan), the Rotterdam Philharmonic, and the Israel Philharmonic.  On April 6, 1992, Mintz made his New York conducting debut, conducting the Israel Chamber Orchestra on that occasion.  In March 1994 he was named Principal Guest Conductor of the Maastricht Symphony Orchestra (The Netherlands).  In 2008 Mintz was named Principal Guest Conductor of the Zagreb Philharmonic.  Shlomo Mintz gives master classes worldwide and has been a member of the jury of several international violin competitions.  His discography does not include the Tchaikovsky concerto nor the concertos of Bach or Paganini.  Otherwise, it is fairly extensive.  It has been reported that Mintz has recorded all of Vivaldi’s violin concertos in a single collection but I seriously doubt that – Vivaldi wrote about 230 violin concertos.  I would have to see the collection to believe it.  There are many videos of his on YouTube.  As far as I know, Mintz still plays a Guarneri del Gesu (1700) and a Carlo Testore viola built in 1696.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Chevalier de Saint George

Joseph de Bologne (Chevaliere) de Saint George was a French violinist, harpsichordist, composer, conductor, military leader, and champion swordsman, born on December 25, 1745 (Bach was 60 years old.)  He was never what one might call a touring concert violinist.  He is remembered for being part of the French aristocracy and military prior to and during the French Revolution, despite being the son of a slave (his mother.)  As early as age 18 (1764), he obtained the position of Officer of the King's Guard.  He was also one of the first Black Masons in France.  In 1787, he beat Charles De Beaumont (the infamous French spy, diplomat, and transvestite) in a famous fencing duel.  His first teacher in music was his father.  Later on, after age 8, he may have studied violin and composition with Jean Marie Leclair in Paris.  It is thought that by 1771, he was concertmaster of the orchestra known as the Concert des Amateurs (the title is deceiving.)  It was thought to be the best orchestra in Paris and perhaps all of Europe.  By 1773, at age 28, he was its director.  Mozart was then 17 years old.  He also frequently played his own violin concertos with this orchestra.  Composers of the time, including Antonio Lolli and Carl Stamitz, dedicated works to him.  In 1779, at her request, De Saint George, began performing for and with Queen Marie Antoinette at Versailles.  In 1787, De Saint George, with a different orchestra, premiered Haydn’s six Paris Symphonies (82-87.)  Mozart was in the city at the time, though it is not known whether he attended any of the concerts.  (In fact, De Saint George has often been called the Black Mozart.) De Saint George wrote at least 15 violin concertos, 12 string quartets, 9 sonatas for violin, 10 sonatas for harpsichord, 3 symphonies, 8 symphonies concertante, and other works, among them an opera and other works for the theatre.  One of the violin concertos has been recorded by Rachel Barton.  Other than that, his music is now almost never played.  However, YouTube has a six-part biography of him as well as several videos of his music.  Joseph De Saint George died on June 10, 1799, at age 53.