Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Andrei Korsakov

Andrei Korsakov was a Russian violinist, teacher, and conductor born on May 7, 1946 (Heifetz was 45 years old and would live an additional 41.)  Korsakov was a distant relative of Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov (Russian composer known for his book on orchestration and, of course, Scheherazade) and is remembered for his exquisite recordings and for having lived (as did Michael Rabin, Paul Kochanski, and Julian Sitkovetsky) a very short life.  His daughter is concert violinist Natasha Korsakova.  (Korsakov was fluent in three languages – German, Russian, and French – Korsakova is fluent in five.)  It is worth noting that few concert violinists have daughters who grow up to be concert violinists themselves – it is usually sons who follow in their footsteps – Mozart, Kogan, Oistrakh, Sitkovetsky, Markov, and Kaler come to mind.  Korsakov began violin studies with his father, Boris Korsakov, at the Central School in Moscow, at age 7.  He made his debut in 1954 (perhaps 1955), at the Moscow Conservatory.  He was either 8 or 9 years old.  By age 18 he was studying at the Moscow Conservatory with Boris Belenky and Leonid Kogan (famous pupil of Abram Yampolsky.)  Korsakov concertized regularly in Russia, Europe, Australia, Canada, Mexico, and the U.S from that point forward.  While still a student, he had already won prizes at the Paganini Competition in Genoa, the Jacques Thibaud Competition in Paris, and the Montreal Competition in Canada.  In 1971, he was awarded second prize in the Queen Elizabeth Competition (Miriam Fried was given first) though he was by far the audience favorite and felt he should have won.  It sometimes happens that juries disagree with the audience, though, as I always say, the audience has a much better instinct for what is best.  Among the jury that year were Joseph Szigeti, Yehudi Menuhin, Isaac Stern, and Zino Francescatti.  (A similar thing happened to Julian Sitkovetsky at this same competition in 1955.  It happened again in 1967 with Gidon Kremer, who was awarded third prize.  Nobody remembers who came in first or second that year.)  Korsakov later taught at the Conservatory – among his pupils are Natalia Alenitsyna and Alexander Spivak.  One critic called Korsakov’s technique “brilliant and dazzling, full of beauty and nobility.  He played everything as if he were a nineteenth century virtuoso.”  In 1980, at age 34, he founded the Russian Ensemble Concertino which he conducted for 11 years.  In 1989, he became the chief conductor and Artistic Director of the Moscow Chamber Orchestra (founded by Rudolf Barshai in 1956 and originally known as the Russian State Chamber Orchestra.)  A review (by the Holland Telegraaf) stated: "Korsakov can be compared to Heifetz; he is capable of doing anything, and this ability is combined with his remarkable composure and lack of showiness." An example of his refined and breathtaking playing can be found here on YouTube. Another review (of his recording of the Bruch and Paganini first concertos) stated: "for raw electricity, this performance would be hard to beat." Other recordings (of famous showpieces) have also been described as stunning. There is also his recording of a concerto made famous by Heifetz - the Conus - which is a collector's item. It is nearly impossible to find. (Thanks to my Facebook friend - Alison Whalen - I have it.) A few of his recordings can be found here, here, and here. At one point in his career, Korsakov was named the People's Artist by the Soviet government. He initially played an Andrea Guarneri violin from the Russian State Collection and later on a Vincenzo Rogieri.  Korsakov died on January 19, 1991, at age 44. 

Friday, June 24, 2011

Abram Yampolsky

Abram Ilich Yampolsky was a Russian (Ukrainian) violinist and teacher born on October 11, 1890 (Igor Stravinsky was 8 years old and would live an additional 80.)  He, along with Peter Stolyarsky (in Odessa) and Leopold Auer (in St Petersburg) is known for having developed some of the greatest Russian violinists of the twentieth century – Heifetz, Kogan, Oistrakh, Markov, Milstein, Elman, Sitkovetsky, and quite a few more.  He studied with Sergei Korguyev in St Petersburg, graduating in 1913.  Some sources say he actually also studied with Auer as an older student.  He played in the Lenin Quartet with Lev Zeitlin, Ferdinand Krisch (viola), and Gregor Piatigorsky (Piatigorsky was 16 years old.)  As far as I know, they never recorded anything.  He taught for many years at the Moscow Conservatory, but I don’t know exactly how many, possibly as many as forty – in 1955 he was still teaching there.  Among the awards the Communist Party bestowed on him were Honored Worker in the Arts and Honored Artist.  Among his famous pupils are Igor Bezrodny, Boris Goldstein, Elizabeth Gilels, Yakov Rabinovich, Isaac Zhuk, Yuri Yankelevich, Michael Fikhtengoltz, Julian Sitkovetsky, and Leonid Kogan.  Yampolsky died in Moscow on August 17, 1956, at age 65. 

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Buy a New Violin

Back in 1989 or 1990, a couple of violinists from the New York Philharmonic (Richard and Fiona Simon) took the IRS to court over some deductions which had been disallowed.  That case, which they won in U.S. Tax Court in 1994, firmly established that a violinist is lawfully entitled to depreciate the cost of his instrument (over a number of years), be it a humble Roth, a copy of a Strad, or a Guarnerius, even if the instrument is actually appreciating in value.  In any number of metropolitan orchestras around the country, a typical violinist can spend $5 or $10 thousand on a violin.  In a major orchestra, the norm is closer to $100,000.  In a world class orchestra, perhaps $200,000 violins are not all that rare.  (I know five violinists in our own orchestra who own very pricy violins.)  Of course, if you’re a concert violinist, you don’t own your violin, you borrow it.  But if you can afford to, it would be wise to buy a new, expensive violin every five years or so just to be able to take the allowable depreciation against your earnings.  When you hear that so-and-so recently fell in love with a new Guadagnini or a new Stradivarius (or what-have-you) and just had to have it, this might be part of the reason. 

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Max Rostal

Max Rostal was an Austrian violinist, arranger, and teacher born (in Teschen) on July 7, 1905 (Heifetz was four years old.)  He is not particularly well-known for anything other than that he had a long teaching career and was under-rated as a violinist.  He began his violin studies at age 5.  He began playing in public from age 6 (1911.)  One of his teachers was Arnold Rose, concertmaster of the Vienna Philharmonic for many years.  (When Fritz Kreisler - as a teenager - applied to the Vienna Philharmonic, it was Arnold Rose who turned him down.)  Another was Carl Flesch when he was still teaching in Berlin.  According to at least one source, Rostal was often compared to Bronislaw Huberman, Fritz Kreisler, and Eugene Ysaye.  In 1925, he won the Mendelssohn Scholarship.  Another obscure violinist who won this prize was Leonora Jackson in 1897.  From 1930 to 1933 he taught at the Advanced School for Music in Berlin.  From 1944 to 1958, he taught at the Guildhall School of Music in London and played many concerts broadcast over the BBC.  He then taught in Cologne (Germany) from 1957 to 1982.  Simultaneously, he was a violin teacher at the Conservatory in Bern, Switzerland (1958-1985.)  Several recordings of his are posted on YouTube and it is said that his few recordings are now treasured by collectors.  Many critics have also said that he had a very individual style.  He was especially praised for his interpretation of Bartok’s second concerto (as is Silvia Marcovici nowadays) and was known to champion contemporary music.  Rostal premiered Alan Bush’s violin concerto in 1949, a work which has not been heard from since.  He also edited quite a few works for violin and wrote a method book as well.  These works can easily be found on the internet.  A violin (and viola) competition (begun in Bern in 1991 and now held in Berlin) is named after him.  In 1944, Rostal was instrumental in organizing the Carl Flesch violin competition (which ran from 1945 until 1992. Raymond Cohen was the first winner of that competition.)  Among his pupils were Sergiu Luca, Norbert Brainin, Yfrah Neaman, Edith Peinemann, and Igor Ozim.  His Guarnerius del Gesu is now owned by the Stradivari Society (Chicago, USA.)  Max Rostal died in Switzerland on August 6, 1991, at age 86.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Jean-Marie Leclair

Jean-Marie Leclair (Jean-Marie Leclair, the Elder) was a French violinist, composer, dancer, lace maker, and teacher born (in Lyon) on May 10, 1697 (Bach was 12 years old.)  He is frequently mentioned as having founded the French violin school of violin playing, whatever that may be.  His three younger brothers were also musicians.  Leclair is now remembered as one of the very, very few violinists who died a violent death – he was assassinated at age 67.  The culprit was never found out.  He studied dance and violin in Turin but also made a living as a lace or braid maker, his father’s profession.  Little is otherwise known about his early years.  In 1716, he was a dancer with the Lyons Opera and married a fellow dancer in the same opera company (Marie Rose Casthanie) on the first of February that same year.  He was 19 years old.  He became a principal dancer with the Turin Opera in 1722.  In October of 1723, he returned to Paris – which he had previously visited on and off - and played at the Concerts Spirituel, where he was well-received.  He also published his Opus 1, a set of violin sonatas that same year.  The publication was sponsored by a wealthy patron (Joseph Bonnier) to whom the works were, understandably, dedicated.  In 1726 he again visited Turin where he worked as a dancer and choreographer with the Turin Opera and took violin lessons from Giovanni Battista Somis.  In 1728, he returned to Paris.  Leclair’s wife died in that year and he remarried in 1730.  She (Louise Roussel) was an engraver who, beginning with his Opus 2, published all of Leclair’s works from that point forward.  In 1733, he was hired by Louis XV (to whom Leclair dedicated his Opus 3) as a court musician.  He gave up that post in 1737 after quarreling with a colleague (someone named Jean-Pierre Guignon, also known as Giovanni Pietro Ghignone.)  From 1738 until 1743, he worked three months out of the year at The Hague for the Princess (Anne) of Orange, a former harpsichord pupil of Handel.  He dedicated his Opus 9 to her.  (Some sources give these years as 1737 to 1742.)  In Holland, he also met and probably took lessons from the great (and mysterious) violinist Pietro Locatelli.  From 1740 until he died, Leclair worked for the Duke of Gramont as principal violinist and director of his private orchestra, although he spent a few months in Spain in 1743 where he played for some aristocrat called Infante Don Felipe, a fan of French music.  Leclair dedicated his Opus 10 to Don Felipe.  Although his output was comparatively small, he has on occasion been referred to as the French Corelli, the French Vivaldi, and even the French Bach.  He broke up with his wife in 1758 and went to live in an unsavory and dangerous neighborhood in the outskirts of Paris, where he had purchased a small house.  He was 61 years old.  It has been suggested that the Duke of Gramont would certainly have provided comfortable lodgings for him so the reason he chose these undesirable circumstances for himself remains a mystery.  On the morning of October 23, 1764, Leclair’s gardener found him in a pool of blood, dead from three stab wounds in the back.  Since the stabbing probably took place the prior evening, his date of death is usually given as October 22, 1764.  He was 67 years old.  An investigation produced three suspects but nothing was ever proved against anyone.  Many consider Leclair the first French violin virtuoso.  His best known pupil is probably Pierre Gavinies.  Although he composed almost exclusively for the violin, he did write an opera (1746) which is even now occasionally performed.  Much of his music is available through numerous recordings.  Many of his ballets and works for voice and for the stage were either lost or destroyed by Leclair himself.