Friday, September 30, 2011

Charles Munch

Charles Munch was a French violinist, conductor, and teacher born (in Strasbourg, when it was German territory) on September 26, 1891.  Today, nobody remembers him as a violinist.  Although he conducted many great orchestras, he is best known for his tenure at the Boston Symphony, from 1949 to 1962.  He first studied violin at the Strasbourg Conservatory (inaugurated in 1855.)  His first job as a violinist was in an orchestra conducted by his father (an organist), playing in the second violin section.  In 1912, at age 20, he graduated from the conservatory and moved on to Berlin for further study with Carl Flesch.  He also studied with Lucien Capet at the Paris Conservatory.  In 1920, he was appointed professor of violin at the Strasbourg Conservatory while he was also playing as assistant concertmaster of the Strasbourg Philharmonic.  He was 29 years old.  Later on, he was concertmaster of the Gurzenich Orchestra in Cologne.  (The Gurzenich Orchestra is really not to be trifled with.  It played the world premieres of Brahms’ Double Concerto (1887), Strauss’ Till (1895), Strauss’ Don Quixote (1898), Mahler’s Third Symphony (1902), Mahler’s Fifth Symphony (1904), and Max Reger’s Variations (1907.)  He then served as concertmaster of the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra (1926 to 1933) under Bruno Walter.  In 1933, he left Germany for Paris.  He had already made his conducting debut there in November, 1932.  He was 41 years old at the time of his debut.  As far as I know, after 1933, he never again touched the violin in public.  In 1938, he helped found the Paris Philharmonic.  He had already begun teaching conducting at the Paris Conservatory (1937-1945.)  During the war years (1939-1945), he conducted the Paris Conservatory Orchestra.  For this, he was later accused of being a Nazi collaborator, though the charge did not stick.  The Boston Symphony he first conducted in December, 1946.  His legacy with the Boston Symphony is well-known and documented in dozens of recordings.  Heifetz recorded the Beethoven concerto with Munch and the Boston Symphony in November of 1955.  I don’t think Heifetz recorded it ever again.  If Munch ever recorded anything as a violinist I don’t know where that recording might be found.  After 1962, Munch conducted European orchestras and guest conducted all over the world.  He once owned (from 1925 to 1960) a violin which had been stolen from Eugene Ysaye in Russia - a 1734 Stradivarius - which had been earlier played by Hugo Heermann.  That violin ended up with Henryk Szeryng who left it to the City of Jerusalem who then let the Israel Philharmonic borrow it.  He died on November 6, 1968, in Richmond, Virginia, at age 77.  Here is one of his many YouTube videos. 

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Robert Virovai

Robert Virovai is a Hungarian concert violinist born (in Duravar, Yugoslavia) on March 10, 1921.  Except for this blog profile, he is today almost totally forgotten.  He began his violin studies with his mother at age 6.  By age 8, he was studying at the Belgrade Conservatory with Peter Stojanovich, a Serbian violinist, teacher, and composer.  He spent four years there.  He then studied, from the age of 13, with Jeno Hubay at the Budapest Conservatory.  Hubay later said of him, “Virovai plays so beautifully as to astonish even me.”  Some sources say Hubay declared him his best pupil.  He lived in New York City for a while but later spent most of his career in Europe.  He made his U.S. debut (playing a rented Stradivarius) on November 3, 1938, at age 17, with the New York Philharmonic.  He played Vieuxtemps’ Fourth Concerto in d minor (Opus 31) and all critics agreed he was sensational, one of them declaring that “his attack was positively ferocious.”  He later played a solo recital at Carnegie Hall on December 17 of the same year.  Virovai was soon placed among the front ranks of violinists.  It was said that his playing was “remarkable for speed, accuracy, and beautiful tone.”  He toured the U.S. for two or three years after that, playing with the most important orchestras.  Then he dropped out of sight, spending most of his time in Europe.  As far as I know, he has never commercially recorded anything, though that would be extremely unusual since recording technology had a progressive surge in the 1950s when Virovai would have been in his thirties.  Most violinists reach their apogee between thirty and fifty years of age.  Why there is no record of a discography is a mystery.  Perhaps I just don’t know where to look.  Later on, Virovai played and taught in Switzerland, where he now lives.  As a youth, Virovai was fluent in four languages – German, Hungarian, Croatian, and Slovenian.  Perhaps today, he is fluent in a few more. 

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Rudi Berger

Rudi Berger is an Austrian violinist, singer, pianist, guitarist, and composer born (in Vienna) on November 19, 1954.  Be that as it may, Rudi Berger has actually become the most-recorded jazz violinist of another country (Brazil) and may very well be the only Austrian jazz violinist in the world, though he has lived and worked outside of Austria for many years.  His classical training on violin and piano – begun when he was six - took place at the Vienna Conservatory where he studied with Guenther Schich and Karl Barilly, learning the works of Beethoven, Bach, Mozart, Brahms, Paganini, Kreutzer, Rode, and all the rest.  As have other jazz artists, he began playing jazz as a very young student, having been drawn to it from age fourteen.  His grandfather (Rudolf Berger) and his uncle were strong influences in this regard.  By age fifteen, he had begun to teach himself to play electric guitar and had joined Viennese Blues legend Al Cook in performances and recordings.  Later on, he worked as a violinist, pianist, guitarist, and singer in a night club band and with a Viennese Waltz Orchestra.  (Jazz violinist Stephane Grappelli, although best known as a violinist, also played saxophone, piano, and accordion.)  In 1977, he became a soloist with the newly-formed Vienna Art Orchestra.  He was 22 years old.  He worked with this orchestra for three years while at the same time forming a Jazz Rock group called Good News in 1978.  In 1985 and ’86 he was voted Violinist of the Year by Jazz Live, a European jazz music magazine.  By then, Berger had formed the Rudi Berger Quartet, Rudi Berger Project, and Rudi Berger Group jazz ensembles.  Berger moved to New York in September of 1986, having already released his first album, First Step, in Europe.  In New York, Berger restarted his career by working as a street musician for about a year.  During that time, New York jazz radio station WKCR invited him and his New York Quartet to play a two-hour live Jazz Concert Special.  Among the jazz clubs he worked in were the Village Vanguard, the Bottom Line, the Village Gate, Indigo Blues, and the Knitting Factory.  His international reputation was established in 1988 at the American Music Theater Festival in collaboration with Astor Piazzola, well-known Argentine tango cross-over composer.  Since 1990, he has toured in Europe, Japan, the U.S., and South America.  Berger’s collaborators in film and Grammy-nominated studio recordings have included Tonhino Horta, Mauro Rodrigues, Yuri Popoff, Gerry Weil, Jay Anderson, Phil Bowler, Mike Clark, Ron McClure, Victor Bailey, Michael Gerber, Peter Madsen, Art Frank, Charles Fambrough, Joseph Bowie, and Nana Vasconcelos.  In 1993, Berger performed in Brazil for the first time.  Between 1998 and 2002, he traveled between Brazil, New York, and Vienna, moving among three cultures and working in essentially different jazz worlds.  He was guest instructor at the University of Minas Gerais in Brazil between 1998 and 2000.  In 2003, Berger moved to Brazil permanently, working regularly with some of Brazil’s top composers and musicians, including Toninho Horta, Selma Reis, and Nelson Ayres.  Here is one of his YouTube videos and here is one of his recent CDs – In Search of Harmony.  Rudi Berger plays a 1992 violin by American violin maker David Burgess. His bow of choice is by English bow maker Howard Green - "a really, really great bow," Mr Berger says.  

Friday, September 9, 2011

Liana Isakadze

Liana Isakadze is a Georgian (Russian) violinist, conductor, and teacher born (in Tbilsi) on August 2, 1946.  She is very well known in Europe and Russia though not in the U.S.  She began studying music at age three.  One of her first teachers was Leo Shiukashvili.  She was to have been a pianist but became a violinist by pure chance.  Isakadze first performed in public (as a violinist) at age 7 and by age 9 had already soloed with the Georgian State Orchestra.  Her first recital took place when she was 10.  She started winning prizes at competitions when she was 12, including First Prize in the 1970 Sibelius Competition (Helsinki, Finland.)  She graduated from the Moscow Conservatory in 1968.  She was 22 years old.  Her principal teacher there was David Oistrakh.  Isakadze has been concertizing in Russia and Europe ever since.  Ironically, Isakadze and her cellist brother – Eldar Isakadze - were rehearsing the Brahms Double Concerto with Oistrakh (as conductor) in Amsterdam in 1974 when he suddenly died while there.  In 1971, she became a soloist with the Moscow Philharmonic (1970-1994) and ten years later was made head of the Chamber Orchestra of Georgia (a province of the Soviet Union at that time.)  She led this orchestra for fifteen years.  In 1988 she was named People’s Artist of the USSR, the youngest to be so named.  Isakadze has also received various other honors from the governments of various countries.  For over two years, she even served as a Deputy in the Soviet Congress of People’s Deputies (March 1989 to December 1991.)  She has resided in France and Germany for many years and presided over various music festivals in Georgia, Russia, and Europe.  She has also given Master classes at the Mozarteum (Salzburg, Vienna) among many other venues.  Her recordings are very numerous and YouTube has many videos of her playing.  Here is one of them - a small slice of a nice violin concerto by Georgian composer Otar Taktakishvili.  For many years,  Isakadze played a Stradivarius violin from the Russian State collection.  I do not know what violin she is playing these days.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

James Ehnes

James Ehnes, is a Canadian violinist born on January 27, 1976.  Ehnes is probably, along with Leila Josefowicz, the best known Canadian violinist concertizing today.  He is also one of the most-recorded contemporary violinists, with over 25 CDs to his credit.  One of those CDs is similar to ones which Ruggiero Ricci and Elmar Oliveira have done previously – a comparison of some very remarkable and valuable violins.  Many have said that Ehnes is the most underrated violinist of this generation, though that has also been said of Pinchas Zukerman.  In fact, YouTube has very few videos of his performances though I did find this one.  He began violin lessons with his father, a trumpet player, at age 4 (some sources say age 5.)  At age 9 he began studies with Canadian violinist Francis Chaplin, pupil of Louis Persinger and violin professor at Brandon University (Manitoba, Canada.)  His first recital he gave at age 10.  At age 13, he performed as soloist with the Montreal Symphony, playing Ravel's famous Tzigane.  After 1989, his main teacher was Sally Thomas, pupil of Ivan Galamian.  Ehnes graduated from The Julliard School (New York) in 1997, winning several prizes along the way.  He was 21 years old.  Ehnes has been concertizing on a world-wide scale ever since.  His debut appearance with the New York Philharmonic took place on July 7, 2003.  On that occasion, he played the Tchaikovsky concerto.  The Canadian (British) Monarchy and the Canadian Governor General have also bestowed honors on him.  In 2008, he won a Grammy for his recording of the Korngold concerto; he has also won several other awards for his recordings.  His technique is so advanced and polished a Canadian newspaper has called him “the Jascha Heifetz of our day.”  Another reviewer stated that Ehnes “achieves a sonority of such beauty that words cannot describe it.”  For the last fifteen years, Ehnes has spent part of his summer with the Seattle Chamber Music Society - in 2012, he becomes its Artistic Director.  His violin is the Marsick Stradivarius from 1714, although he has also played the 1717 Windsor Stradivarius and a Riccardo Antoniazzi (1853-1912) violin.  

Friday, September 2, 2011

Protesting politely

If you follow the musical news at all, you must know that some Pro-Palestinian protestors disrupted a Proms concert by the Israel Philharmonic (and Gil Shaham) last night. I am all in favor of freedom of speech and peaceful protests for redress of government abuses. However, there are many good venues available for these protests already, no matter what issues may be in play. A concert by defenseless musicians is not one of them. The protestors were the tyrants and bullies in this case. Here is just one video of the event.