Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Irina Muresanu

Irina Muresanu is a Romanian violinist born (in Bucharest, Romania) on May 26, 1971.  Muresanu is known for attaining a very successful (and well-balanced) concertizing career on both sides of the Atlantic.  She began her violin studies at age 7 with Vlad Cristian.  She later studied with Stefan Gheorghiu, (pupil of George Enesco and David Oistrakh) who had also taught Silvia Marcovici much earlier.  Muresanu earned her first degree at the Bucharest Academy in 1994.  That same year, she came to the U.S for further study and her career has been non-stop ever since.  In the U.S. she studied at the University of Illinois and at the New England Conservatory.  One of her teachers in Boston was Michele Auclair.  The Los Angeles Times has written that her performances contain “musical luster, melting lyricism and colorful conception.”  Strad Magazine called her Carnegie Weill Hall performance “a first-rate recital.”  Her debut performance at Weill Hall took place in 1997.  She was 26 years old.  In 1999 she received her Artist Diploma from the New England Conservatory.  She had already won top prizes in major competitions, including the Montreal and the Queen Elizabeth (Belgium.)  Although her repertoire includes the standard concertos and recital pieces every violinist plays, her recordings contain many contemporary or seldom-heard modern works.  One of the latest is the violin concerto composed for her by Thomas Lee premiered in March and recorded in August of 2010.  Besides concertizing with major orchestras around the world, she is now Artist-in-Residence at the Boston Conservatory and teaches at Harvard University.  The Boston Trio, which she joined in 2002, is Ensemble-in-Residence at the New England Conservatory.  Muresanu, as do almost all contemporary concert violinists, also plays chamber music and gives Master Classes at music festivals in the U.S. and in Europe, including those in the Netherlands, France, and Belgium.  You can see and hear one of her YouTube videos here - Prokofiev's Second Concerto, one of my favorites.  Her violin is an 1856 Giuseppe Rocca. 

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Rediscovering Joseph Achron

The Joseph Achron Society, headed by pianist Samuel Zerin, is working on digitizing and publishing dozens of Achron’s scores, scores which are still in manuscript form, but especially his version of Paganini’s 24 Caprices.  These are NOT arrangements in the style of Leopold Auer’s, they are Achron’s original compositions based on the Caprices.  The project will disseminate music which has lain dormant for decades.  It reminds me of the rediscovery of J.S. Bach’s music, Antonio Vivaldi’s, and Jan Dismas Zelenka’s as well.  There are literally thousands of violinists out there who will be able, for the first time, to study and play these magnificent works.  For the project to succeed, funding – that most crucial element – must be secured.  The Joseph Achron Society hopes you can help.  Their website will show you how far even ten dollars can go toward assisting the project.  Become part of a historic achievement and receive a free score as well.  Nothing beats discovering new music.   (Here is a symphony Zelenka wrote – more like a violin and oboe concerto - which you have likely never heard.  It is as good as anything Vivaldi ever wrote but it was unavailable to the public for over 200 years.) 

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Maddalena Lombardini

Maddalena Lombardini (Maddalena Laura Lombardini Sirmen) was an Italian violinist, harpsichordist, singer, and composer born (in Venice) on December 9, 1745 (Bach was 60 years old and would live an additional five.)  Today, she is remembered thanks to a well-known (and lengthy) letter which her teacher, Giuseppe Tartini wrote to her on March 5, 1760, outlining several details of violin technique.  The letter is often quoted in music journals and Tartini biographies.  From age seven (1753), she was trained in one of the four hospitality homes (orphanages or Ospedale) in Venice.  This one was called the Ospedale dei Mendicante – Home for the Indigent.  (The orphanage where Antonio Vivaldi usually taught was called the Ospedale della Pieta.)  These institutions, begun in the sixteenth century, were combination orphanages and churches.  They not only took in orphans, but the elderly, poor, and infirm as well.  Music instruction for girls was important to these institutions for both its educational value, and for the income from public attendance of church services at which excellent music performances were featured.  The student body consisted of between sixty and eighty girls.  Although Lombardini was not an orphan – she was the daughter of impoverished aristocrats - she was admitted to the music school of the Ospedale based on her musical talent, as were a few other children who were not orphans.  Her teachers at the orphanage were Antonio Vivaldi, Baldassare Galuppi, and Nicola Porpora.  While at the Ospedale, Lombardini was occasionally allowed to leave the orphanage to study both violin and composition with Tartini in Padua (about twenty five miles west of Venice.)  It has been said she was his favorite pupil.  Lombardini could have become a nun but, in 1767, she chose to marry a violinist-composer by the name of Ludivico Sirmen.  She was 22 years old.  They took off on a tour together and were well-received everywhere.  However, she also concertized by herself to great public acclaim.  Lombardini and Sirmen eventually separated and from that day forward, her constant travel companion was a priest - Don Giuseppe Terzi; according to one source, they died within nine days of each other.  Sirmen established a personal relationship with someone else, too - a now-forgotten Countess.  Lombardini and Terzi's travels took them to London, Paris, and St Petersburg (Russia), among other places.  She first played in London on January 9, 1771 and was highly praised.  Curiously, on April 15 of that year, instead of playing a violin concerto, she played a harpsichord concerto at a benefit concert.  By the time she was 28, she had turned her attention to singing (for reasons known only to herself) but was not able to duplicate her earlier violinistic successes.  In London, she played in the Italian opera orchestra and sang leading opera roles as well.  Nine years later, she was appointed concert singer to the Court of Saxony (Dresden, Germany, 1782.)  In 1785, she appeared at a Concert Spirituel in Paris for the last time. She was 40 years old and her star power had dimmed.  However, at least one source states that by then, she was already a wealthy woman - she had been since 1798.  Her compositions - most of them works which included the violin - were well-regarded by her contemporaries.  Interestingly, most of her pieces were published (in England, France, the Netherlands, Austria, and Germany) before 1774.  There is speculation that some of them may have been written while she was still a student at the Ospedale.  In any case, she was not yet thirty years old at the time of publication.  Even Leopold Mozart praised her writing after hearing one of her concertos played in Salzburg in April of 1778.  Her string quartets have been compared to Joseph Haydn's.  YouTube has several examples of her music - violin concertos and string quartets - here, here, and here.  Recordings of her music are not hard to find on the internet.  Lombardini, who had once been compared to the great Pietro Nardini, apparently died in obscurity (in Venice) on May 18, 1818, at age 72.  Nonetheless, her compositions (and Tartini's letter) have made her immortal.  

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Joan Field

Joan Field was an American violinist born (in Long Branch, New Jersey) on April 28, 1915 (Heifetz was 14 years old and would live an additional 72 years.)  She is a very rare example of an American concert violinist who never attended an American music school, although she studied privately with Albert Spalding (teacher at Boston College), Franz Kneisel (teacher at Juilliard), and Michel Piastro (Concertmaster of the NBC Symphony under Toscanini and the New York Philharmonic under Rodzinski.)  (In fact, Nicolo Paganini, Zino Francescatti, and Alexander Markov never formally attended a conservatory either.  For the record, neither did Daniel Barenboim.)  She began violin studies at the age of 5.  One source states that her earliest teacher was pianist Andre Benoist, whom, it is said, discovered her.  From age 10, in Europe (Paris, France), she studied with Jacques Thibaud and George Enesco, among others.  At age 14, she returned from Europe (1929) and continued her studies, most likely with her former teachers.  Her debut in Town Hall in New York City took place five years later, in 1934.  She was 19 years old.  Benoist was her accompanist, accompanist also of Jascha Heifetz, Pablo Casals, and Albert Spalding.  The program included the violin concerto of Ernst von Dohnanyi (Opus 27 in d minor), a seldom-performed work.  The review of the performance (in the New York Times) stated that "Miss Field's playing is that of a thoughtful, sensitive, and fastidious musician."  From that point forward she regularly concertized and recorded, in the U.S. and in Europe, playing with all of the major orchestras.  In 1937, she played at the White House, hosted by President Franklin Roosevelt and First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt.  She first soloed with the New York Philharmonic in Carnegie Hall on March 25, 1939, playing Wieniawski’s second concerto.  In 1944, she began a successful radio career at WQXR in New York (the same station which violinist Eddy Brown helped found in 1930), eventually writing, producing, and performing in more than 200 weekly programs.  She premiered the violin concerto of prodigious (though unknown) composer Mana-Zucca (Augusta Zuckerman) which was probably written for her.  Eddy Brown later recorded the concerto.  Field also premiered Sergei Prokofiev’s second violin sonata in the U.S.  She was the first to record Charles Ives’ first violin sonata (1951) as well – she had already been playing his violin works for some time.  Her playing (for an October, 1948 Town Hall recital) was described as being “uncommonly satisfying.”  Coming from a professional New York music critic, that wording is itself very uncommon and an exceedingly high compliment.  Decca signed her to a recording contract in 1958 and one of the first works recorded by her for this label was Spohr’s eighth violin concerto - she was only the third violinist to record the work.  (Georg Kulenkampff was the first to record it, in 1935, and Heifetz was the second, in 1951.)  One of her rare recordings – now out of print - can be found here.  Although YouTube has no videos of her playing, a Facebook fan page can be found here.  Until 1968, Field played the Joseph Joachim Stradivarius violin (1698) which is now in Geneva, Switzerland.  She retired (in Florida) in 1965, at age 50.  (Iso Briselli retired from the concert stage at age 35.  On the other hand, at age 89, Ivry Gitlis is still giving concerts.)  Joan Field died in Miami Beach on March 18, 1988, at age 72.  As far as I know, she only taught privately. 

Sunday, August 7, 2011

On The High Cs

It has long been my opinion that in order for an artist to be able to perform, she needs Conviction, Control, Courage, Confidence, Composure, and Concentration.  To a great degree, these are overlapping attitudes.  Conviction is simply the foundation upon which careers (and lives) are built – it is the belief that what one is doing is worth doing to the best of one’s ability.  (Oprah Winfrey once said that you are what you believe. She knows that for sure.)  Before one can convince an audience, one has to be self-convinced.  You might question Leila Josefowicz’ interpretations but not her conviction – it is there in spades.  Then comes Control – that is the same as knowledge or technique – if one cannot exert full control over one’s physical preparedness – control over intonation, rhythm, and tone problems - then one is actually not ready to do the job.  Courage enables us to take that first step onto the stage.  However, Courage comes in varying degrees.  Some of us can muster enough of it to perform in groups, though not as soloists or conductors.  There’s nothing wrong with that.  Isaac Stern called it arrogance and perhaps, in his case, that’s what it was.  Confidence is an attitude that convinces others that you know you can succeed, but it comes after one takes that first step.  Composure is an attitude which overcomes panic.  Ivan Galamian’s solo career didn’t pan out because he was terror-stricken at the thought of playing in front of an audience.  Fear can undermine even the best-prepared, best-trained artist.  Finally comes Concentration.  Imagine going out to play Beethoven or Mendelssohn with great conviction, control, confidence, courage, and composure, but then focusing your attention on the conductor’s very loose bow tie or the second clarinet’s flat tuning or the Principal cellist’s unpolished shoes or the fidgety little boy in the front row.  This is how tiny, little lapses enter a performance.  This is how careers get destroyed.  There are critics out there who know how the music should go – they talk and they write and they tell people who care about these things.  However, these factors only make a career feasible.  Sustainability is another matter. 

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Raymond Gniewek

Raymond Gniewek is an American violinist born (in East Meadow, Long Island, New York) on November 13, 1931 (Heifetz was 30 years old.)  He is best known as the long-time concertmaster (43 years) of the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, to which he was first appointed in 1957.  His longevity is unlikely to ever be surpassed.  He was 25 years old and the youngest concertmaster ever to hold the post as well as the youngest member of the orchestra.  Someone who must have actually done the counting has stated that Gniewek performed 115 different opera scores during his tenure.  At least one source states that he was the first American concertmaster of the orchestra; however, that’s not true – Nahan Franko was the first American concertmaster of the Met orchestra.  Gniewek began his violin studies with his father (a violinist who became a barber) at age 5.  At a later age, he studied at the Eastman School of Music (Rochester, New York.)  It has been written that he studied with Canadian violinist Albert Pratz (who also taught Steven Staryk, Lenny Solomon, and Jack Benny) though I could not find out when or where that would have been.  In 1949, conductor Erich Leinsdorf appointed him, at age 18, associate concertmaster of the Rochester Philharmonic.  He soloed with this orchestra at age 19.  One source has it that Max Rudolf was the person who told Gniewek about the Met Orchestra’s concertmaster job opening.  It helps immensely to know someone who knows something like this.  At that time, the job paid about $9,500 a year.  By 1975, it was paying $60,000.  As Gniewek himself put it, the reward of playing in an opera (pit) orchestra, practically unseen (and unnoticed) by the audience, lies simply in being part of an extravaganza unlike anything else in the performing arts - an amalgamation of voice, orchestra, acting, set design, lighting, costumes, and effects as dazzling in their way as anything Hollywood can do, all performed in large halls peopled with emotional audiences.  After retiring from the Met in May of 2000, Gniewek has led or worked with opera or festival orchestras in Switzerland, Japan, and the U.S.  James Levine, the chief conductor and General Manager of the Met for many years stated that "The single luckiest thing that happened to me since I have been at the Met is that Ray Gniewek was the concertmaster."