Monday, January 10, 2011

Kathleen Parlow

Kathleen Parlow was a Canadian violinist and teacher born (in Calgary) on September 20, 1890 (Stravinsky was 8 years old.)  Today, although there is an abundance of information about her everywhere, she is largely forgotten.  Her biography reads – at least somewhat – like that of Camilla Urso and Guila Bustabo combined.  She never actually studied in Canada.  As a concert violinist, she struggled to make ends meet and finally settled for a teaching career after thirty years of concertizing.  Parlow was said to possess a sweet, legato sound that made her seem to be playing with a nine-foot bow and was admired for her effortless playing.  At age four, she began her violin studies with a cousin, Conrad Coward, in San Francisco (USA). At age six, she gave her first recital.  Still in San Francisco, she continued her studies with Henry Holmes (pupil of Louis Spohr), who helped her obtain playing engagements in England, where he had many good contacts.  The expenses for her (and her mother’s) trip and stay in England were paid by Harriet Pullman Carolan of San Francisco, a wealthy admirer.  After getting settled there, she played at Wigmore Hall (then known as Bechstein Hall), Buckingham Palace, and other places.  She also performed with the London Symphony.  She was fifteen years old.  In 1906, through the sponsorship of a Canadian industrialist (Lord Strathcona – also known as Donald Alexander Smith), she travelled to Russia for further study.  She became the first foreign student enrolled at the St Petersburg Conservatory.  Her teacher there was Leopold Auer.  Her classmates included Efrem Zimbalist (founder of the Curtis Institute) and Mishel Piastro (for a time, concertmaster of the San Francisco Symphony.)  She gave nine solo recitals in St Petersburg and learned Alexander Glazunov's violin concerto which she subsequently performed frequently.  (Glazunov was then the Director of the Conservatory.)  Glazunov later chose her to play his concerto at the Ostend Music Festival in 1907, at which he was a featured composer.  She also appeared in Finland several times and even met Jean Sibelius (some sources claim she never met him) whose concerto she often played.  Also in 1907, she made her debut in Berlin, thereafter touring in Europe.  Parlow later said that, after expenses, her Berlin debut netted her exactly ten pounds.  She did not know it at the time but this was an indication of what her future would be like.  She would study with Auer each summer in order to prepare additional repertoire for subsequent tours.  With time, that repertoire became very extensive.  It has been said that she played more than 375 concerts between 1908 and 1915.  In Norway, Einar Bjornson – part of the well-to-do Bjornson family - gave her the Viotti Guarnerius (1735) to play on (1908 - 1962.)  She also several times played for the King and Queen of Norway.  Her first tour in North America began in 1910.  In 1911, the New York Herald declared her “one of the phenomena of the musical world,” on a par with Mischa Elman.  She also made her first appearance with the Toronto Symphony in February of 1911 – the first of many.  Between 1912 and 1925 she lived in England (at Meldreth, near Cambridge) and continued her touring, including tours to China, the U.S., Korea, and Japan (where she recorded for the Nipponophone Company.)  In 1912, she played a benefit concert in New York for the survivors of the Titanic disaster.  She was highly praised everywhere she played.  Her mother, to whom she was very close, accompanied her on all her tours.  She recorded several small pieces for Columbia Records between 1914 and 1916.  As far as I know, she never recorded after that.  Between 1917 and 1919 she was not able to tour outside England due to travel restrictions (due to the First World War.)  In 1920, she toured the U.S. for the fifth time and made her first radio broadcast (from Seattle, in 1922.)  Considering that her prospects in England were not as good as they had been on the Continent of Europe, they (Parlow and her mother) decided to move to San Francisco (U.S.A. - 1926).  It has been stated that she suffered a mental (nervous) breakdown in 1927, perhaps due to a broken personal relationship.  They then took a year off, about which – understandably - little is known.  In 1929, she toured Mexico – travelling without her mother for the first time.  She was 39 years old.  Despite playing many concerts there and receiving very high praise, financially, she barely broke even.  She later told an interviewer that, when things were very hard, she and her mother had talked about her getting a job to ensure their security for the future but that she just couldn’t do it.  She ended up teaching at Mills College (Oakland, California) from 1929 to 1936.  They moved to New York in 1936.  From 1935 to 1941 she taught in Massachusetts during the summers.  In 1941 she was offered a job at the Toronto College of Music and began making appearances with orchestras, a duo she formed with pianist Ernest MacMillan, the Canadian Trio (with Zara Nelsova, cellist, and Macmillan), and a string quartet – the Parlow String Quartet which was active for fifteen years.  During this time, she was being assisted financially by Godfrey Ridout (Canadian composer, teacher, writer, and conductor) and other friends.  In October of 1959 she was made head of the string department at the London College of Music (Western Ontario, Canada.)  Among her pupils were Victor Feldbrill, Joseph Pach, and Marjorie Edwards.  In 1982, the CBC (Canadian Broadcast Corporation) broadcast a three-part radio series about her career.  The Kathleen Parlow Scholarship was set up with the proceeds from the sale of her Guarnerius and other money from her estate.  YouTube has a few videos of her playing (sound only), one of which contains exceptionally fast trills – faster than Heifetz , Prihoda, or Rabin.  Parlow died on August 19, 1963, at age 72.

1 comment:

  1. Her Viotti Guarnerius is not to be confused with the Stradivarius violin of the same name.