Thursday, March 31, 2011

Tigran Vardanyan

Tigran Vardanyan is an Armenian violinist and teacher born on July 4, 1977 (Heifetz was 76 years old and had already retired.)  He is best known as one of the violinists in the first violin section of the Rochester Philharmonic (U.S.A) and exemplifies the type of highly gifted players (about whom I have been writing lately) who occupy some of the top positions in the best orchestras in the world.  Vardanyan is also one of only two Armenian violinists I have on this blog – the famous violin pedagogue Ivan Galamian is the other one.  He began his violin studies with his father, a professional violist, at the age of six.  Later he attended the Sayat Nova School of Music and the Tchaikovsky Specialized Music School, studying with Professors Levon Zorian and Villy Mokazian.  While still very young (age 13), he made his debut with the Armenian Television and Radio Orchestra playing the Mendelssohn concerto.  Two years later, he performed the Bruch g minor concerto with the Armenian Philharmonic Orchestra.  Vardanyan also appeared as soloist with the Armenian Chamber Orchestra during this time.  In 1994, Vardanyan came to the U.S. to study with Abram Shtern, at the Crossroads School for Arts and Sciences in Los Angeles.  Since 1995, he has regularly performed throughout Mexico, and has also presented numerous recitals in that country.  In 1996 Vardanyan moved to Rochester (New York) to study with Zvi Zeitlin (a pupil of Ivan Galamian and Louis Persinger) and Oleh Krysa (a pupil of David Oistrakh) at the Eastman School of Music.  (Zeitlin is one of the oldest living violinists who is - like Ruggiero Ricci, Ida Haendel, Abram Shtern, Albert Markov, David Nadien, and Ivry Gitlis - still actively teaching)  In 1998 (at age 21), Vardanyan won an audition for a vacancy in the Rochester Philharmonic and has been with the orchestra ever since.  The year he graduated from Eastman, he made his professional U.S. debut with the Rochester Philharmonic playing the Sibelius concerto - December 30, 2000 (Christopher Seaman conducting.)  Vardanyan is a winner of several competitions: First Prizes in the 1991 and 1993 Armenian National Competitions, and the Gold Medal in the 1992 Amadeus Competition for Young Artists, and has received awards from the Leni Fe Bland Foundation, the Maurice Sklar Music Scholarship, the Los Angeles Philharmonic (Encourage Award), and the Starling Foundation at the Eastman School of Music.  He continues to perform as a soloist and chamber musician at many music festivals and concert venues in the Middle East, Europe, Central America, and North America.  He also teaches at the Hochstein School and Nazareth College in Rochester.  His repertoire includes all of the standard concertos (and some that are not so standard – Szymanowski, Glazunov, and Khachaturian.)  His particular affinity however is for the small vignettes in the violin repertory, showcased in his recital programs; in fact, his future plans include recording many of these miniatures.  He is unusual in that he plays a modern violin (1984) constructed by Ukrainian violin maker, Stefan Melnik (Stefan Melnyk), whose instruments have been very highly praised. 

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Isolde Menges

Isolde Menges (Isolde Marie Menges) was an English violinist born on May16, 1893 (Igor Stravinsky was 11 years old but Fritz Kreisler was already 18 years old.)  She is known for having a major prize named after her at the Royal College of Music (RCM-England.)  Menges was said to possess a very legato and fine tone and her playing was described as being soulful and exuberant.  She began her violin studies with her father.  She later studied for three years in Russia (St Petersburg) with Leopold Auer, although she was never known as one of his famous pupils.  She also studied with Carl Flesch – she was not one of his famous pupils either.  She began her concertizing career at an early age, as do most violinists, while still a very young student.  For her formal London debut in February of 1913, she played both the Tchaikovsky concerto and the Symphonie Espagnol by Eduard Lalo, something that no concert violinist today would dare do (for a debut.)  She was 19 years old.  (A few violinists – Raymond Cohen and Yehudi Menuhin, for instance - have played three concertos in one evening, but not two in a debut performance.)  Two weeks later, she played the Beethoven and the Wieniawski concertos at another concert.  Soon thereafter, she again played two concertos in a single program - the Brahms and the Glazunov concertos.  Her interpretations were highly praised and she was compared to Marie Hall.  In 1918, she spent several months teaching in Canada.  Menges was entrusted with presenting the English premiere of Ernst Von Dohnanyi’s first violin concerto (opus 27 - 1915) in 1923, a work which was later championed by another English violinist, Eda Kersey.  She also toured the U.S.  Three famous conductors with whom she worked early on were Willem Mengelberg, Bruno Walter, and Ernest Bloch.  In September 1931, she was appointed violin and chamber music teacher at the Royal College of Music in England.  She was 38 years old.  Coincidentally, she also founded the Isolde Menges Quartet in that same year.  The quartet was somewhat unusual for the time in that it brought together female and male players – Isolde Menges, Beatrice Carelle, John Dyer (viola), and Ivor James (cello.)  Menges also played and gave many concerts with a Quintet.  In 1938, her Quartet was one of the first to present the entire cycle of Beethoven Quartets in London.  Menges retired from the Royal College of Music in 1971.  She was 78 years old.  Her pupils include Leonard Salzedo, Norma Varga, Isobel Murray, and Malinee Peris.  The only YouTube performance of hers is here – Bach’s Air on the G String.  Interestingly, her brother, (conductor-composer) Herbert Menges, conducted the recordings by Joseph Szigeti, of the Brahms and the first violin concerto of Prokofiev.  Isolde Menges died on January 13, 1976, at age 83.  She is now completely forgotten, although there is a fan page on Facebook.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Leonora Jackson

Leonora Jackson (Leonora Jackson McKim) was an American violinist born (in Boston, USA) on February 20, 1879 (Brahms was about 46 years old.)  One source gives the year of her birth as 1880.  She concertized at a time when female concert violinists were a rarity.  Although she lived a long life, she is almost completely forgotten today.  As did many artists before her, she received financial support from a benevolent patron to enable her to study in well-known conservatories.  In her case, the patron was none other than Frances Cleveland, wife of U.S. President Grover Cleveland (1837-1908.)  Another of her well-known patrons was George Vanderbilt.  The schools she attended were in Chicago, Paris, and Berlin.  I have no idea who she studied with in Chicago but I do know she won the well-regarded Mendelssohn Stipendium (Mendelssohn Scholarship) in October of 1897, the first American to do so.  The award consisted of about $90,000 in today’s dollars and was intended to assist foreign students to attend the Leipzig Conservatory.  For obvious reasons, it was discontinued in 1934 but later re-established.  Subsequent winners of this prize have included Ernst Toch, Kurt Weill, Max Rostal, and Roman Totenberg (Nina’s father.)  In Berlin, she studied with Joseph Joachim.  Her debut is said to have taken place in 1896.  Jackson often played for European royalty and was also decorated by Queen Victoria of England.  She performed with the top orchestras of Europe and the U.S., including those of Boston and London.  Her career was so successful that in the 1900-1901 season, she played over 160 concerts in the U.S. alone.  Nonetheless, on February 22, 1900, she played the Mendelssohn concerto in New York (with the Boston Symphony) and received a very unfavorable review.   Her retirement came in 1915, at age 36, after her marriage to William McKim (1855-1935.)  As far as I know, she never recorded anything; however, a well-known Stradivarius violin (1714) bears her name and is now owned by William Sloan of Los Angeles.  She sold it four years after her marriage.  The violin had been previously owned by Hungarian violinist Joseph Joachim - one of her teachers.  Leonora Jackson died on January 7, 1969, at age 89, in complete obscurity.  

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Regina Carter

Regina Carter is an American violinist, composer, and teacher born (in Detroit, Michigan - U.S.A.) on August 6, 1966 (Heifetz was 65 years old.)  (One source gives her year of birth as 1963.)  She is one of very few women jazz violinists in the world and is known for having received a MacArthur grant in September, 2006 – just as did Leila Josefowicz in 2008.  She is also just one of two jazz violinists on this blog – the other is Stephane Grappelli.  Carter began her violin studies at the age of four.  She attended Cass Technical High School until graduation, playing with the Detroit Civic Orchestra while studying there.  She then studied at the New England Conservatory (Boston) but ended up returning to Oakland University (Rochester, Michigan, on the northern outskirts of the city of Detroit), graduating from that school.  After graduation, she taught in the Detroit Public Schools for one year.  Carter then spent two years in Germany (1985-1987), immersing herself in the world of the jazz clubs there.  Although she had already been dabbling in jazz music performance, her serious entry into that sphere took place in 1987.  She played with the all-female jazz group Straight Ahead, with which she did some recording, until 1994.  In 2001, she played a concert in Genoa, Italy.  She performed that concert playing Paganini’s famous Cannone violin (Guarneri – 1743.)  Camillo Sivori (Paganini’s pupil), Bronislaw Huberman, Ruggiero Ricci, Leonid Kogan, Eugene Fodor, Dmitri Berlinsky, and Salvatore Accardo, have also been accorded that privilege.  As far as I know, she is the first jazz musician, the first female, and the first black violinist to do so.  She also later recorded a CD using this violin.  Coincidentally, until about 2002, the critics had largely ignored her career as a soloist and recording artist.  Carter has also performed with the String Trio of New York and the Black Rock Coalition.  She is the composer of How Ruth Felt, written for Ruth Felt, President of an arts organization (San Francisco Performances) in San Francisco (California, U.S.) for which Carter was Artist-in-Residence for some time.  There are several videos of her performances on YouTube (one of which you can listen to here) and many albums available on the internet through Verve Records. Her violin is a 1747 Storioni.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Abram Shtern

Abram Shtern is a Russian (Ukrainian) violinist and teacher born March 19, 1919 (Heifetz was 18 years old.)  He is one of the oldest violinists still playing or teaching – Ida Haendel, Zvi Zeitlin, Ruggiero Ricci, and Ivry Gitlis are four others.  He is known as a violin pedagogue in the tradition of Leopold Auer.  He studied violin with David Berthier (aka David Bertie, a violinist about whom almost nothing is known), one of Auer’s pupils.  All I know about Berthier is that he taught at Kiev’s Central School and taught Julian Sitkovetsky there as well.  After graduating from the Kiev State Conservatory, Shtern became an assistant to Berthier and was concertmaster (soloist, leader) of the Kiev Philharmonic.  He concertized in Eastern Europe and Cuba for many years.  He was later granted a professorship at the conservatory.  He held the position of concertmaster of the Shevchenko Opera and Ballet Orchestra from 1947 to 1989, immigrating with his family to the United States, in 1990.  He was 71 years old.  That means that he (more than likely) took part in Alexei Gorokhov’s recordings of the six Paganini violin concertos.  It is a very small world indeed.  (When Heifetz was engaged to play violin solos for a movie soundtrack, he ran into Toscha Seidel, a former fellow student and recital partner from childhood – Seidel was concertmaster of the studio orchestra.)  During his 42-year tenure with the Shevchenko Orchestra, Shtern also appeared frequently as soloist and chamber musician.  He has held master classes in Germany, Holland, Israel, Italy, the United States, Yugoslavia, and the Russian Federation.  Many of his students hold positions in the world’s top orchestras, too numerous to mention.  Shtern is little known outside professional music circles (where his reputation is held in high esteem), but his name is mentioned in several books on the lives of violinists.  One of those books is Henry Roth’s book, Violin Virtuosos, and another is Yakov Soroker’s similar book.  You can hear one of Shtern’s performances on YouTube by pressing here.  It is the famous violin solo from Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake ballet score.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Julian Sitkovetsky

Julian Sitkovetsky (Yulian Sitkovetsky) was a Russian (Ukrainian) violinist born (in Kiev) on November 7, 1925 (Heifetz was 24 years old and already living in the U.S.  Leonid Kogan was a one-year-old child.)  He is remembered mostly for having lived a very short life and for being the father of Dmitry Sitkovetsky, violinist and conductor, and the husband of pianist Bella Davidovich.  He was a prodigy, starting violin lessons at age 4 with his father, then continuing with David Bertie at the Central School in Kiev (Ukraine.)  At age nine, he played the Mendelssohn concerto with the Kiev Symphony.  In 1939, at age 14, he enrolled in the class of Abram Yampolsky (teacher of Leonid Kogan and a well-known Russian pedagogue, though not as celebrated as Eduard Grach, Zakhar Bron, Leopold Auer, or Peter Stolyarsky) at the Moscow Central Music School.  In 1947, in a three-way tie, he won first prize in the Prague Festival violin competition.  The other two winners were Kogan and Igor Bezrodny.  In 1952, he took second prize in the Wieniawski Competition – David Oistrakh took first.  Again, in 1955, he came in second (to Berl Senofsky) in the Queen Elizabeth Competition.  Yehudi Menuhin and David Oistrakh (both of whom were judges in the competition) later said they thought he had been robbed of the first prize.  Later, David Oistrakh himself was quoted (by Joseph Magil of American Record Guide) as saying that, had he lived, Sitkovetsky would have eclipsed both him and Kogan.  Magil stated that “Sitkovetsky had a broad, firm, focused tone in all registers; flawless intonation; a rapid, even trill; a swift, perfectly controlled staccato; strong, immaculate harmonics; and an even, clear sautill√©."  He forgot to mention the natural, intuitive sense of rubato and phrasing for which fellow musicians admired him.  CDs of his recordings (live and studio) are not hard to find on the internet.  YouTube has several audio files of his playing, one of which you can listen to (this one is Paganini’s Le Streghe variations based on a melody [The Witches or Magic Sisters] by Franz Sussmayer, Mozart’s pupil, but arranged by Kreisler, who harmonizes it in his own way [as usual] featuring some very clearly articulated left hand pizzicatos – Bella Davidovich on piano.)  Sitkovetsky played a Vincenzo Panormo violin (also known as Vincenzo Trusiano) for a long time.  That violin is now being played by Julia Igonina, Russian concert violinist and first violinist of the New Russian Quartet.  Toward the end of his life, Sitkovetsky played a Stradivarius, on loan from the USSR State Collection.  He died (not unexpectedly) on February 23, 1958, at age 32. 

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Isidor Lotto

Isidor Lotto (Izydor Lotto) was a Polish violinist, teacher, and composer born (in Warsaw) on December 22, 1840 (Paganini died that same year and Brahms was 7 years old.)  Some sources give the year of his birth as 1844.  Even though he lived a long life which covered some of the most outstanding events in classical music history and had a few prominent pupils in an important music school, details of his life remain obscure.  Other than that his family was poor, little is known of his early life.  His father may have been a street musician and little Isidor could well have played with him as he made the rounds of the Warsaw taverns. At age 12 (1852), he received financial backing from wealthy patrons that allowed him to study at the Paris Conservatoire.  Upon arriving in Paris, he gave a concert at Herz Hall (Salle Herz.)  His principal teachers at the Conservatory were Joseph Lambert Massart (pupil of Rodolphe Kreutzer and teacher of Eugene Ysaye, Henryk Wieniawski, and Fritz Kreisler as well), Napoleon Reber (teacher of Benjamin Goddard), and Ambroise Thomas.  At graduation (1855), he made a very successful debut in Paris.  He toured briefly in Germany and Poland after that then, in 1862, was appointed solo violinist and chamber virtuoso to the Grand Duke in Weimar (J.S. Bach lived and worked in Weimar for nine years, more than one hundred years before this.)  Lotto was either 18 or 22 years old, depending on the actual year of his birth.  He was also later appointed professor of violin at the Warsaw Conservatory (Warsaw Music Academy), all the while sporadically concertizing in Europe.  Ten years later, in 1872, he was appointed professor at the Conservatory in Strasbourg (in northeastern France, on the border with Germany, now the official seat of the European Parliament); however, due to ill health, he was mostly unable to teach there and very soon afterward returned to Warsaw.  (A usually reliable source (Grove's Dictionary, which is, of course, not infallibe) has it that Lotto taught at the Strasbourg Conservatory from 1873 to 1880.)  He taught at the Warsaw Conservatory for many years - I don’t know how many - presumably until his death.  Lotto was also concertmaster of the Warsaw Opera Orchestra during this time.  His most famous pupils were Bronislaw Huberman, who probably only studied with him for three months (either in Paris or at the Warsaw Conservatory), prior to 1892, Richard Burgin (concertmaster of the Boston Symphony), Joseph Achron (violinist-composer), Victor Young (violinist-composer), and Henryk Heller (violinist-theorist.)  A contemporary account of his playing declared that Lotto’s virtuosity rivaled Wieniawski’s, though, of course, his fame now does not even come close.  It is indicative of how carelessly some records are passed down from one generation to the next that even Lotto's year of death is in question.  According to Grove's Dictionary, Lotto died on July 13, 1927, though another very reliable source gives the year of his death as 1936 - the day itself is not in question.  Depending on which dates one relies on, he was either 82, 87, 91, or 95 years old.  The few pieces he composed for violin (which include 5 violin concertos) are now never played. 

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Bernard Chevalier

Bernard Chevalier is an American violinist and teacher born on October 21, 1949 (Heifetz was 48 years old.)  He typifies the violinist who, despite having the ability to perform as a soloist on any stage in the world, deliberately chooses to work with a group of colleagues like himself – a professional orchestra’s string section.  In Chevalier’s case, it’s the San Francisco Symphony’s first violin section.  Playing in a prestigious professional orchestra requires highly developed skills that soloists often do not attend to.  After playing as a guest with many orchestras, Gil Shaham has often sat among the violin ranks (trying to look inconspicuous) to learn what it takes and to learn the orchestral repertoire, which is infinitely larger than the solo repertoire.  Leonard Friedman used to do exactly the same thing. (Concert violinist Guila Bustabo tried playing in the string section of the Alabama Symphony but was unsuccessful due to her training as a soloist.  She was also unable to read music well enough.)  Chevalier’s first teacher was Isabel Stoval (Isaac Stern’s first teacher as well, many years earlier.)  He was six years old.  After Stoval came Carol Weston, pupil of Russian pedagogue Leopold Auer (the intended dedicatee of Tchaikovsky’s violin concerto.)  He later studied with Zaven Melikian, Ivan Galamian, Stuart Canin, Lazlo Varga, Andor Toth, Rolf Persinger, and Frank Houser, among others.  His debut came at age 16 with the San Francisco Symphony playing Lalo’s Symphonie Espagnol.  He later joined the San Francisco Symphony at the invitation of Seiji Ozawa (who would later lead the Boston Symphony as well.)  As a violinist in one of the top orchestras in the U.S. (Gramophone listed it at number 13 in the world, right after the New York Philharmonic, which came in at 12), Chevalier has shared the stage with all of the world’s great artists, too numerous to list, and has also toured widely as soloist, chamber musician, and (needless to say) with the orchestra.  Even prior to being engaged by the San Francisco Symphony, Chevalier was already embarked on his teaching career.  His recordings include the Kreutzer book of 42 Etudes – the only recording of these works other than Steven Staryk’s - and the Caprices of Pierre Rode.  The complete Beethoven Sonatas, the 24 Paganini Caprices, and the Bach Partitas for solo violin, are already among works on his upcoming recording schedule.  Chevalier also has several videos on YouTube  - including the very seldom recorded Scene De Ballet by De Beriot - which you can view here.  Among his violins have been a Nicolas Lupot (1813 – purchased from Frank Passa, pupil of Sacconi), a Guarnerius (1728), and three violins by Anthony Lane, California Luthier (1999, 2006, and 2010.) 

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Eugene Fodor and Fate

Eugene Fodor died young, at age sixty, on a Saturday in late February, 2011.  Perhaps he wanted it this way – the end of what was to have been a great life, from beginning to end.  Eugene Fodor was a great violinist who somehow lost control of himself and his career.  You can read about it here among many other places.  With his credentials, he could have gone anywhere and he did, but only for a time.  Many doors were closed on him for reasons which are not completely understandable – was he black-listed, did his agents let him down, did he antagonize conductors or orchestra managers, did composers not want him playing their works, or was he just simply irresponsible and difficult and not able to cope with the pressures of concert life?  Only those close to him know.  Ever so slowly, though his playing remained brilliant, his engagements got less frequent and less sparkling.  Margalit Fox, in her magnificent New York Times obituary, quotes Susan Davis (Fodor’s widow): “Last year, in despair over his career, he stopped playing the violin entirely.  It was too painful for him.  He felt like his career had been ripped from him, and he didn’t have the great venues to play in anymore. and it just crushed him.”  Ripped from him by whom?  Fate?  The same Fate that brought Mozart, Schubert, Mendelssohn, Bizet, Van Gogh, Franz Clement, Joseph Hassid, Guila Bustabo, Toscha Seidel, and Michael Rabin down?  Mozart would have to be the prime example of someone whose unimaginable genius and earthly rewards were as far apart as could be, whose economic status did not come even a little close to matching what he gave the world.  His must have been a frustration beyond imagining.  It’s as if Fate says “this far and no farther.”  Did Fodor have enemies?  Why were the big, important orchestras not calling him?  Only those closest to him know the answer.  Fodor had drug and alcohol addiction problems on and off.  Apparently, even close friends and family could not intervene for his benefit.  Should they blame themselves for not doing more?  Why?  There have been other concert violinists with the same problems and they did not just give up.  Their careers did not suffer.  Henryk Szeryng comes to mind – it is common knowledge that he drank quite heavily, even right before concerts.  It is rumored that Nigel Kennedy has had drug problems, too, and he seems to be doing just fine.  Other concert artists have gone into decline, accepted it, and just moved on, playing music festivals far and wide, founding chamber orchestras, taking up conducting, taking up full-time teaching, starting private academies and so on.  (They are too numerous to mention.  It happens, even in the natural course of getting old.)  For some reason, Fodor could not bring himself to do any of those things.  Only those closest to him know why.  According to some sources, he got ill last summer and seemingly, just decided to die. 

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Alexei Gorokhov

Alexei Gorokhov (Aleksey Nikolaevich Gorokhov) was a Russian (Ukrainian) violinist and teacher born on February 11, 1927 (Heifetz was 26 years old.)  He is remembered (if at all) for keeping a very low profile and staying out of (Russian) politics, somewhat as did Leonid Kogan and Boris Goldstein before him.  Among those violinists who chose to stay in Russia, he was easily overshadowed by Kogan (1924-1982), David Oistrakh (1908-1974), Vladimir Spivakov, and Eduard Grach.  Gorokhov was the first Russian violinist (and the second in the world – after Salvatore Accardo) to record all six of Paganini’s concertos.  As a child and teenager, he studied at the Central Music School (1934-1944.)  At the Moscow Conservatory he studied with Lev Tzeytlin (aka Lev Zeitlin – pupil of Leopold Auer) and graduated in 1949.  Between 1949 and 1951 he entered several violin competitions but never received anything higher than a second prize.  He further studied with Abram Yampolsky, completing that study in 1955.  Besides being a concert violinist, he was also a musicologist.  He consistently toured Russia and Europe.  He moved to Ukraine in 1956 and in 1957, at age 30, he accepted a position as violin professor at the Kiev Conservatory (Ukraine – the music school from which pianist Vladimir Horowitz graduated) where he remained for 42 years, in fact, until the day he died.  The Kiev Conservatory is now known as the Tchaikovsky National Academy of Music of Ukraine.  Gorokhov left a great number of live (radio) recordings produced through Ukrainian Radio equivalent to about 50 or 60 CDs, including the Bach solo violin Partitas, Paganini’s 24 Caprices, and the concertos of Beethoven, Brahms, Mendelssohn, and Tchaikovsky.  An early studio recording of Lalo’s Symphonie Espagnol from 1952 (with the USSR State Symphony Orchestra and Kyrill Kondrashin) is not currently available, as far as I know.  He was named Honored Artist Worker of Ukraine but, even then, remained rather obscure.  When he was 70 years old, he performed all of Paganini’s concertos in the space of three days, using the original orchestrations he composed.  His initial recording of these concertos (1973, with the Ukrainian National Opera Theatre Orchestra) was reissued in 2006 – Gorokhov uses his own cadenzas and he is billed as the conductor (though the conductor part may not be accurate.)  You may see it for yourself here.  An inexpensive recording of the six is available with what is said to be the Chamber Orchestra of the Shevchenko Opera Theater under the baton of Zakhary Kozharsky – I do not know if it is one and the same recording (it most likely is) but you can listen to this entire set of six here (Napster site.)  Gorokhov died on February 3, 1999, at (almost) age 72.