Monday, July 18, 2011

Sidney Harth

Sidney Harth was an American violinist, conductor, and teacher born (in Cleveland) on October 5, 1925 (Heifetz was 24 years old.)  He is best known for being concertmaster of several prominent American orchestras – the Louisville Orchestra (1953 - 1959), the Chicago Symphony (1959 - 1962), the Los Angeles Philharmonic (1973 - 1979.) and the New York Philharmonic (1979-1980.)  He graduated from the Cleveland Institute of Music in 1947.  His principal teachers were Mishel Piastro, Joseph Knitzer, and George Enesco.  In 1949, he won the Naumberg Award.  He was 24 years old.  He toured France as a recitalist in the 1951 - 1952 season.  Later, he won second prize in the Wieniawski violin competition in Europe (Poland – 1957.)  It created something of a sensation because he was the first American to win one of the top prizes at that competition.  His recording of the violin solos in Scheherazade with the Chicago Symphony and Fritz Reiner is still much talked about.  Harth’s first appearance with the New York Philharmonic came on June 23, 1964.  He played the Brahms double and the Beethoven Triple concertos on the same program (assisted by Leslie Parnas and Leonard Pennario.)  On January 30, 1965, he soloed with the orchestra in Wieniawski’s second concerto.  He later settled down to an orchestral career with frequent solo and conducting engagements thrown in.  In fact, in Los Angeles, he was often criticized for his numerous absences from his orchestral duties.  He performed with major orchestras in North and South America, Europe, Russia, Israel, and China.  Among the schools at which he was a violin professor or conducting teacher (or both) are the University of Louisville, the University of Texas, the University of Houston, the Mannes College of Music, Carnegie Mellon University (1963 to 1973), Yale University (for 17 years), and Duquesne University (2001 to 2011.)  His conducting career began in Louisville, where he was concertmaster and assistant conductor.  He held the same title in Los Angeles.  His career seems to mirror that of Richard Burgin except that Burgin stayed with the Boston Symphony for 42 years and Harth moved around quite a bit more.  Harth actually became musical director or principal conductor of the Puerto Rico Symphony, the Natal Philharmonic Orchestra (Durban, South Africa), Northwest Chamber Orchestra of Seattle, and the Jerusalem Symphony.  His wife (Teresa Testa) was also a professional violinist.  (Burgin’s wife was a professional violinist too.)  You can find several audio recordings of his on YouTube.  From 1957, Harth played a Domenico Montagnana violin from 1740 aptly named the Duchess of Cleaveland.  He later played a Stradivari violin constructed in 1737 that bears a fancy French name.  Harth died (in Pittsburgh) on February 15, 2011, at age 85.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

I couldn't name one

Using 1875 as a starting point, I am recalling that in 1877, Karl Goldmark composed a violin concerto that is still being played today.  In 1878 Peter Ilyitch Tchaikovsky composed his, then that same year (1878) Johannes Brahms also came out with his concerto, in 1880 Camille Saint Saens composed his third violin concerto, in the same year came Antonin Dvorak’s in a minor, in 1898 Julius Conus’, in 1904 Alexander Glazunov’s, in 1904 Jean Sibelius’, in 1910 Edward Elgar’s, in 1916 Karol Szymanowski’s, in 1917 Serge Prokofiev’s first, in 1931 Igor Stravinsky’s, in 1935 Alban Berg’s, again in 1935 Serge Prokofiev’s second concerto, in 1938 Bela Bartok’s second, in 1939 Benjamin Britten’s, in 1939 William Walton’s, in 1939, Samuel Barber’s, in 1940 Aram Khachaturian’s, in 1945 Erich Korngold’s, and finally in 1948, Dmitri Shostakovich’s still often-played first violin concerto.  That’s twenty one concertos which entered the standard repertoire (and never left it) in a span of 71 years.  I am trying to think of one violin concerto which has been written after 1948 which has entered the standard repertoire and I simply can’t name even one.  Not one in 63 years. 

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Alma Roseˊ

Alma Roseˊ (Alma Maria Rose´) was an Austrian violinist and conductor born (in Vienna) on November 3, 1906 (Heifetz was 5 years old and would live an additional 81.) She is remembered for having (for ten months) conducted the world’s, and possibly history’s, most notorious orchestra – the all-female orchestra which played for inmates at the Auschwitz-Birkenau prisoners’ camp (in Poland, also known as Auschwitz II – there were three Auschwitz camps, Birkenau being the largest) during the final days of World War Two. It is important to point out at this juncture that Alma Rose´ was Jewish, although both parents were converts and were well-assimilated into Viennese Christian society, as she was. Her father was long-time Vienna Philharmonic concertmaster Arnold Rose´ (one and the same who turned Fritz Kreisler down after Kreisler’s audition to join the orchestra. He was highly respected and esteemed all over Europe.) Her uncle was composer-conductor Gustav Mahler, on her mother’s side. She may even have been named after Mahler’s wife, Alma Mahler. She was also at one time married (1930-1935) to brilliant Czech violinist Vasa Prihoda (1900-1960.) Books have been written (by Fania Fenelon and Richard Newman) and films produced about her (one of them using an Arthur Miller script) which go into great detail concerning her activities during her tenure at Auschwitz-Birkenau, if one can call it that. It is generally agreed that her talent was modest but that she had great ambition. She studied at the Vienna Conservatory and at the Vienna State Academy. Her debut came in 1926, playing the Bach double concerto alongside her father – that in itself is indicative of her abilities. (They recorded the concerto two years later and – amazingly - an audio version is available on YouTube, here. If you choose to listen to it, be prepared to hear a bombastic cadenza, some odd-sounding glissandi, and a style of playing which is very much from a long, long time ago. Don’t say I did not warn you.) She never became a full-fledged solo artist or an acclaimed concert violinist. However, in 1932, she formed an all-female orchestra called The Vienna Waltzing Girls (or The Waltzing Girls of Vienna) and enjoyed great success with the highly-accomplished ensemble, which toured all over Europe. It was a wonderful life – while it lasted. The orchestra quickly disbanded after the German annexation of Austria in March of 1938. Shortly thereafter, a few months before the outbreak of World War Two (September of 1939), with the help of several friends, including Bruno Walter, Carl Flesch, and Adrian Boult, she and her father managed to make their way to London. Since Arnold Rose’s pension had been terminated by the Nazis, they experienced acute financial difficulties. In England, they played where they could. At this point, Arnold Rose´ was 76 years old. Alma returned to Holland to play and earn money for expenses back in London. She considered it safe to do so and she had many engagements. However, after the German invasion of the Netherlands in May of 1940, she could no longer perform openly and went into hiding for many months, eventually making her way to France, from where she hoped to get away to safety. In late 1942, she tried to transfer herself to (neutral) Switzerland but was betrayed to the Gestapo and captured before she could do so. She was then interned at Drancy (near Paris.) A few months later, in July 1943, she was sent from Drancy to Auschwitz. When she arrived, she was not immediately recognized. She was placed in a block from which inmates were taken for medical research purposes - experiments. In the nick of time, someone identified her and she was then engaged as a musician for a rag tag orchestra which then already existed at the camp. Among them were at least three professional musicians. The camp commander was a serious music lover. Eventually, Rose´ took over the duties of a full-fledged conductor and arranger and built it up to include 45 members, much larger than a typical chamber orchestra. She would also occasionally play violin solos with the orchestra.  It is generally agreed that she treated the players quite harshly.  On or about April 2, 1944, Rose´ attended a birthday party for one of the camp’s block leaders where, it has been said, she ate some bad meat. As soon as she arrived back at her private quarters, she exhibited symptoms of food poisoning. She was taken to the camp infirmary and, despite treatment, died two days later – April 4, 1944. She was 37 years old. During her tenure, none of the orchestra members died – whether from natural or other causes. Her 1757 Guadagnini violin – which she had entrusted to some friends in Europe – made its way to London in 1945 or 1946 and was soon sold to Felix Eyle, concertmaster of the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra at the time. A usually reliable source has it that Zakhar Bron (Russian violin pedagogue) now owns it.