Friday, December 28, 2012

Daniel Guilet

Daniel Guilet (Guilevitch) was a Russian violinist (some would say French or American) born (in Rostov) on January 10, 1899.  Although he was for a few years concertmaster of the famous NBC Symphony under the ill-tempered Arturo Toscanini, he is better known as the original violinist and founder of the Beaux Arts Trio.  His parents moved from Russia to Paris before the turn of the century, and he later trained at the Paris Conservatory with George Enesco.  After graduation, he toured Europe as a recitalist with Maurice Ravel as his accompanist.  He also played second violin in the Calvet String Quartet (with Joseph Calvet, Leon Pascal, and Paul Mas.)  A YouTube audio file of one of their recordings can be found here.  Guilet came to the U.S. in 1941.  He was about 41 years old.  He soon formed a quartet (which at various times included Henry Siegl, Jac Godoretzky, William Schoen, Frank Brieff, David Soyer, and Lucien Laporte) under his own name.  A YouTube performance by this quartet can be heard here.  Three years later (1944) he joined the NBC Symphony.  Seven years after that (1951), he became its concertmaster and remained in that position after Toscanini retired in 1954, although the orchestra had to change its name – a string quartet from the NBC orchestra which included Emanuel Vardi and Daniel Guilet, used to play for the retired maestro at his home almost every Sunday in order to cheer him up.  In that same year (1954), Guilet formed the Beaux Arts Trio with pianist Menahem Pressler and cellist Bernard Greenhouse.  The trio gave its first concert on July 13, 1955 and its last on September 6, 2008.  Guilet retired from the trio in 1968 and from playing altogether (publicly) in 1969.  The trio (featuring Guilet) has a few audio files on YouTube although files and videos with subsequent violinists are more numerous.  One such audio file is here.  After his retirement, Guilet taught at Indiana University, the Manhattan School of Music, the Royal Conservatory in Canada (Montreal), Oklahoma University, and Baylor University (Waco, Texas.)  He owned a JB Vuillaume violin from 1867, a Carlo (or Michele Angelo) Bergonzi from 1743, and a 1727 Guarnerius Del Gesu which he got rid of in 1973 (after he retired from playing) and which passed through the hands – perhaps in 1998 - of infamous violin dealer Dietmar Machold, who is now in prison for defrauding clients and banks.  I’m guessing Guilet used the Vuillaume and Bergonzi violins for most of his recordings since the Guarnerius was not acquired until 1965.  The violin now bears Guilet’s name.  Guilet died in New York on October 14, 1990, in relative obscurity, at age 91.  

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Sherlock Holmes quote

“There is nothing more to be said or to be done tonight, so hand me over my violin and let us try to forget for half an hour the miserable weather and the still more miserable ways of our fellowmen.”  - Arthur Conan Doyle, quoting Sherlock Holmes 
Holmes was talking about the London weather, which can sometimes be nasty. The quote is from the story entitled The Five Orange Pips. If you have played for some time, you know full well that once you get "into" your playing, you forget pretty nearly every other problem or concern you have - the violin is like a refuge from mundane matters. Perhaps the reason is not a poetic one, but a practical one - it takes a lot of concentration so you are simply not able to focus on anything else with meaningful intensity. 

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Robert Schumann quote

“If we were all determined to play the first violin we should never have an ensemble.  Therefore, respect every musician in his proper place.”  Robert Schumann, pianist-composer   

Schumann had the right idea. Throughout history, the orchestra has supported innumerable musicians of considerable talent. Many orchestral players have gone ahead to forge great music careers after leaving the orchestra. Those players include Israel Baker, Max Bendix, Elias Breeskin, Pablo Casals, Carmine Coppola, Joseph Joachim, Louis Spohr, Heimo Haitto, Neville Marriner, Frank Miller, Charles Munch, Eugene Ormandy,  Arturo Toscanini, Roberto Diaz, Mischa Elman, Zino Francescatti, Leonard Rose, Joseph Fuchs, Milton Katims, William Primrose, Josef Gingold, Daniel Guilet, Alan Gilbert, Felix Galimir, Orlando Barera, Mischa Mischakoff, Louis Persinger, Andor Toth, Gerard Schwarz, Oscar Shumsky, Peter Stolyarski, Theodore Thomas, Lynn Harrell, Jaap Van Zweden, Emanuel Vardi, Tossy Spivakovsky, and Eugene Ysaye.  You never know if you'll be sharing a stand with the  next Mischa Elman, Alan Gilbert, or Arturo Toscanini.  

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Isaac Stern quote

"Outsiders always look for a reason to explain why they are not inside.  They never look in the mirror. Let's face it, the profession I'm in is a very simple and a very cruel one. There is no way that you can create a career for someone without talent and no way to stop a career of someone with talent." - Isaac Stern,  violinist 
Stern was sometimes accused of getting in the way of artists he didn't like. This was part of his response to that criticism.  I think it's very likely that people can and do suppress careers for whatever reasons they may have - professional jealousy, vengeance, financial gain, personal differences....  It happened to Mozart and Zelenka, just to name two. The irony (sometimes) is that those artists who are "black-listed" can (with time) come back and surpass those who tried to stand in the way.  If Stern was ever one of those who actually dampened someone's career, he won't suffer for it - he was too great an artist. 

Friday, December 21, 2012

Napoleon quote

"I love power, but it is as an artist that I love it.  I love it as a musician loves his violin, to draw out its sounds and chords and harmonies."  Napoleon Bonaparte   
It has been said that Napoleon once damaged a cello (the Duport Stradivarius) by holding it in position with his stirrups – while trying to play it.  The cello was owned (for a long time) by cellist-conductor Mstislav Rostropovich.  As far as I know, his heirs have not yet sold it. It is valued in the millions. 

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Jascha Heifetz quote

"I occasionally play works by contemporary composers and for two reasons: First, to discourage the composer from writing any more and, secondly, to remind myself how much I appreciate Beethoven." - Jascha Heifetz, violinist  
I'm pretty sure Heifetz said this half-jestingly. The serious half is what bothers me, although I might have said this myself.  

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Artur Rodzinski quote

"Every violinist is a Misha or Sasha who has been built up by his parents to be a Heifetz and sweep the world.  In the second fiddle section he has to play tremolo—ta-ta-ta. A soloist never plays tremolo. How do I make them like the ta-ta-ta?  By building their self-respect, by calling them to my room, by endless talks…  [Hearing a great soloist] brings back their childhood memories of how they planned to be soloists.  Orchestral work is maybe 75 percent psychology."  Said to an interviewer by Artur Rodzinski, conductor of the Cleveland Orchestra, the New York Philharmonic, the Los Angeles Philharmonic, and the Chicago Symphony. 
This quote pretty much sums up the view held by conductors and players alike. The Misha and the Sasha he mentions probably refers to Misha Elman and Sasha Jacobsen, just spelled a little differently. I'm guessing about that, of course. 

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Heimo Haitto

Heimo Haitto was a Finnish violinist, teacher, conductor, writer, and actor born (in Viipuri, Finland) on May 22, 1925.  He is Finland’s most famous violinist, although he is now (unjustly) forgotten.  Haitto was a notorious, unconventional classical musician, in the style of Nicolo Paganini, Arthur Hartman, Elias Breeskin, and Eugene Fodor.  He was a gambler and loved drinking, although it has been said he was not an alcoholic.  He deliberately turned his concertizing career off a couple of times.  For a time, he actually lived the life of a vagabond, being literally homeless, traveling by train, in boxcars.  However, notwithstanding all of the turmoil, idiosyncrasies, romantic excesses, and bohemian lifestyle, he was a brilliant violinist and a genuine artist.  I think it can be said he had an extraordinary zest for life.  YouTube now contains some of his performances.  As Pinchas Zukerman has done, Haitto married a cellist (Beverly LeBeck, pupil of Pablo Casals) and, later on, an actress (Marja-Liisa Nisula.)  He married a third time in the mid 1970s.  Haitto’s playing style reminds me somewhat of Ivry Gitlis.  Haitto wrote his memoirs in the early 1970s (Heimo Haitto Maailmalla - published in 1976) but I don’t think there’s an English translation available.  He also published a book on his violin playing experiences in 1994 - Viuluniakka Kulkurina.  Although his father worked for the railroad, he was also a violinist and gave Haitto his first lessons, beginning at age 5.  At age 9, Haitto’s father took him to the Vyborg Music Academy and left him entirely in the care of professor Boris Sirpo (1893-1967.)  (Vyborg and Viipuri are one and the same city.)  Under Sirpo’s tough and rigid supervision, Haitto practiced almost constantly.  At age 13, Haitto made his public debut in Helsinki with the Helsinki Philharmonic and Sirpo on the podium.  He also appeared in his first movie – Soldier’s Bride – playing the part of a boy violinist.  In that same year he won an international violin competition sponsored by the British Council of Music in London and soon after briefly toured the Scandinavian countries.  In that year also, due to the Russian-Finnish war, Sirpo brought Haitto to the U.S. to tour on behalf of the Red Cross.  In fact, Haitto's Guarnerius had been destroyed in an air raid.  By then, Haitto had already been studying rigorously under Sirpo’s very strict tutelage for five years.  According to some sources, Haitto was not allowed to have contact with his family during those years.  Arriving in the U.S. in February of 1940, Haitto appeared with the Philadelphia Orchestra in April of that year, playing the Paganini D major concerto.  That was his U.S. debut.  He also soloed with many other American orchestras.  He played in Carnegie Hall under John Barbirolli as well.  Eventually, accompanied by Sirpo, he settled in Portland, Oregon in 1942.  Most European artists arriving in the U.S in those years chose to begin their American careers from home bases in New York, Philadelphia, Boston, or even Chicago, but not Haitto.  In 1943, Haitto was released by his strict teacher and set out on his own.  He then settled in Los Angeles.  There, he played in the Los Angeles Philharmonic (September/1952 to May/1954) and in Hollywood studio orchestras but appeared far and wide as a soloist as well.  He was 18 years old.  He also appeared in another movie: There is Magic in Music.  That's the same movie that violinist Patricia Travers appeared in as a very young teenager. One source says he enlisted in the military but another says he was not accepted because he was foreign-born.  In actuality, he desired to be a parachutist in the Marine Corps but his enlistment was declined, even though he had a letter of recommendation from President Franklin D. Roosevelt.  Instead, he was made a part of the Army Special Services.  That's how he ended up in New York.  Among the group that was in that Special Services Unit with Haitto were Ruggiero Ricci, Red Skelton, Mickey Rooney, and Eddie Fisher.  In New York, he studied privately with Ivan Galamian, famous teacher at Juilliard.  Haitto and Isaac Stern became friends there during this time - Stern was studying with Louis Persinger.  With five other violinists, Haitto performed Paganini's 24 Caprices, each Caprice being alternately played by each violinist until all five played together at the end.  Later, in Los Angeles, Haitto became friends with Jascha Heifetz and was a guest at Heifetz' house many times.  Haitto had married Beverly LeBeck in New York in the spring of 1945.  He was 20 years old.  His new wife later (like him) became a cellist in the Los Angeles Philharmonic - 1949-1950 and, again, 1954-1955.  Evidently, they did not play in the Los Angeles Philharmonic at the same time.  Brilliant as he was, Haitto was dismissed from the orchestra due to excessive absences and other problems.  It has been reported that he loved to go to Las Vegas and gambled heavily.  During the 1950s, he concertized and became the conductor of an orchestra in Salem, Oregon.  Haitto and Beverly moved to Seattle after Beverly left the Los Angeles Philharmonic.  He eventually became the concertmaster of the Seattle Symphony and also conducted a youth orchestra at the Cornish School of Arts in Seattle.  The third photo (circa 1955) shows Beverly and Haitto in the kitchen of the home of a close friend in Seattle.  The photo is courtesy of Mr Ed Vainio, now a resident of Montana (USA), in whose parents' home the photo was taken.  Haitto visited Finland in 1948 and again in 1956.  He moved to Mexico City and lived there (with Beverly LeBeck) between 1960 and 1962, serving as concertmaster of an orchestra, but I don’t know which orchestra.  At the time, there were four professional orchestras in the city.  In 1962, Beverly LeBeck began playing in the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra (New York.)  Haitto spent the years between 1963 and 1965 in Finland.  After divorcing LeBeck, he married Marja-Liisa Nisula (the actress) in 1964 but divorced her 2 years later.  From 1965 to about 1976, he was a vagabond (in the U.S.) and even spent some time in jail.  In 1976, Haitto returned to Finland permanently and began to practice again.  He was 51 years old.  He also remarried (Eva Vastari this time) in that year and, six months later, he was ready to play again.  Vastari had been a journalist.  In childhood he had played a Guarnerius violin but in adulthood I don’t know what he played.  He actually built two (red) violins which he used for performances and recordings.  Those violins now hang in Haitto's favorite restaurant in Helsinki - Tin Tin Tango.   Vastari and Haitto formed a duo.  She read poetry and he played.  He also did some teaching and lecturing at the Lahti Conservatory and other schools.  They finally settled in Marbella, Spain.  The photo shows him playing dominoes there.  Haitto fell ill in 1995 and died on June 10, 1999, at age 74.  Haitto made several commercial recordings which are still available, though they are not easy to find; however, his recording of the Sibelius concerto (along with Six Humoresques which Sibelius wrote as Opus 87 and Opus 89) can be found here.  Finlandia Classics has also released Haitto's recording of the Paganini concerto (number 1) and the Vieuxtemps concerto (number 4) - that release can be found here.  He also recorded for Finnish National Radio (YLE) broadcasts -  those recordings might not be available.  You can hear his unique style of playing here and here.  Most of Heimo Haitto's video and audio files can be found on this Channel - it is Tuomas Haitto's YouTube channel - Tuomas Haitto is Heimo Haitto's nephew.  

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Norman Carol

Norman Carol is an American violinist and teacher born (in Philadelphia) on July 1, 1928.  He is best known for being the Philadelphia Orchestra’s concertmaster from 1966 to 1994.  Among orchestral musicians and concert artists around the world, his name is instantly recognized.  When musicians speak of concertmasters, Norman Carol is one of a small handful who immediately come to mind.  He began his violin studies at age 6 and made his first public appearance at age 9.  At age 13, he entered the Curtis Institute (Philadelphia) from which he graduated in 1947.  There, he studied with Efrem Zimbalist (one of Leopold Auer’s famous pupils) and William Primrose, among others.  In that same year, Carol, then 18 or 19 years old, was invited (by conductor Serge Koussevitsky) to join the Boston Symphony but Carol declined.  He gave his Town Hall debut two years later – April of 1949.  He was 20 years old.  The debut was very successful and was highly praised.  Interestingly, Carol then joined the Boston Symphony (first violin section, but I don’t know at which desk) and played in that orchestra from 1949 until 1952.  Thereafter, he embarked on a solo career which was soon interrupted by the Korean War.  After his military service, he restarted his solo career but was soon tempted to join the New Orleans Symphony as concertmaster.  He remained there between 1956 and 1959.  In 1959, Carol became concertmaster of the Minneapolis Symphony and stayed until 1965.  He and conductor Stanislaw Skrowaczewski began their tenures with the Minneapolis Symphony in the same year.  In 1965, Eugene Ormandy chose Carol to lead the Philadelphia Orchestra as concertmaster and his career there began in the 1966-1967 season.  He was 39 years old.  His first of dozens of appearances with the orchestra took place on December 26, 1966.  However, he had already appeared as soloist with the orchestra back on March 12, 1954, during his brief concertizing career.  On that occasion he played the Mendelssohn concerto.  He played (in 1966) the Barber concerto, the same concerto which Albert Spalding had premiered with the orchestra (with Ormandy on the podium) in 1941.  Coincidentally, Carol was by then playing the same violin Spalding had used for his premiere performance of this concerto.  [On November 13, 1954, Carol  made his New York Philharmonic debut, playing Mozart's fifth concerto.]  Carol stayed in Philadelphia for 28 seasons.  His retirement in 1994 was mostly due to a shoulder injury he had sustained three years previously.  Other violinists who have sustained injuries which affected their careers are Rodolphe Kreutzer, Bronislaw Huberman, Jascha Heifetz, Nathan Milstein, and Erick Friedman.  It is likely that only concertmasters Richard Burgin (Boston Symphony) and Raymond Gniewek (Metropolitan Opera Orchestra) exceed his longevity with a single orchestra.  He may also have been the first to play the concertos of Benjamin Britten, Paul Hindemith, and Carl Nielsen, as well as Leonard Bernstein’s Serenade in Philadelphia.  In 1979, Carol began teaching at the Curtis Institute and is still teaching there.  He has played a 1743 Guarnerius del Gesu since about 1957.  It had been previously owned by Felix Slatkin, father of conductor Leonard Slatkin, and by Albert Spalding before him.  He has also owned a 1966 Sergio Peresson violin and a 1695 Stradivarius previously owned (and played) by American violinist Leonora Jackson and, before her, by Emil Mlynarski (one of the founders of the Warsaw Philharmonic and father-in-law of pianist Artur Rubinstein.)  One of Norman Carol's recordings – done for RCA in 1958 – is available here.  

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Sidney Weiss

Sidney Weiss is an American violinist, teacher, and conductor born (in Chicago) on June 28, 1928.  There is not too much information about him on the internet.  He is best known as one of the former concertmasters of the Los Angeles Philharmonic.  He is also known for making violins, although I don’t know how many he has constructed.  I don’t know at what age he began studying but I do know he later studied at the Chicago Musical College.  Later still he attended De Paul University (Chicago.)  From 1956 to 1966 he played in the Cleveland Orchestra – in the first violins but I don’t know how far up.  He was 28 years old when he joined.  George Szell was the conductor back then.  From 1967 to 1972 he was concertmaster of the Chicago Symphony.  He then left for Europe with his pianist wife and toured Europe with her as the Weiss Duo while also serving as concertmaster of the Monte Carlo Philharmonic (the Orchestra of the Monte Carlo Opera) between 1972 and 1978.  In 1979 he came to play with the Los Angeles Philharmonic as concertmaster.  He remained until his abrupt departure in early May, 1994.  He soloed with the orchestra on several occasions, one being April 15, 1981 (with the Sibelius concerto and Simon Rattle - before he became a very famous conductor - on the podium) and another on March 21, 1991 (featuring the Korngold concerto, Lawrence Foster conducting.)  Among other orchestras, he has conducted the Glendale Symphony (1997-2001) and participated in numerous recording sessions in Los Angeles as well as undertaken tours as the violinist with the Weiss Duo.  You can find a few of his recordings here.  Sample sound files are available here and here.  One of them is of the Mendelssohn concerto for violin and piano, a seldom heard work.  As far as I know, his best-known pupil is Armen Anassian.  

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Johann Stamitz

Johann Stamitz (Johann Wenzel Anton Stamitz) was a Czech violinist, conductor, and composer born (in Deutschbrod, Bohemia) on June 18, 1717.  He is remembered as the concertmaster of the famous Mannheim Court Orchestra and father of two composers, Carl and Anton.  He has been called the “missing link” between Bach and Haydn.  Not too much is known of his early life.  In 1734, he attended the University of Prague but left after a year.  He then traveled as a touring violin virtuoso though little is known about where he went.  Then, in 1741 (or 1742) he was appointed to the Mannheim Orchestra.  He was 24 years old.  He soon became the concertmaster and leader of the orchestra (1745), which he brought to a high degree of excellence, so much so that it has been said that it was the finest in Europe.  It was said in England that Stamitz’ orchestra consisted of “an army of generals.”  He visited Paris in 1754 and performed (in September of 1754) at the Concerts Spirituel, a well-known concert series which attracted much attention in those days.  He also put out some music through French publishers.  However, his music was also published in England and the Netherlands.  After returning to Mannheim in 1755, he died two years later, on March 27, 1757.  He was barely 39 years old and Mozart was a one-year-old child.  Stamitz is credited with having expanded the role of wind instruments in symphonies as well as establishing the four-movement form.  These innovations were later further developed by better-known composers such as Joseph Haydn, Wolfgang Mozart, and Ludwig Beethoven.  Stamitz may have composed as many as 75 symphonies (the real number is not known), 10 trios, 12 flute concertos, 2 harpsichord concertos, 14 violin concertos, and a large amount of chamber music.  You can listen to one of his violin concertos here and one of his very difficult trumpet concertos can be heard here 

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Lee Actor

Lee Actor is an American violinist, composer, and conductor with an unfolding career as a very successful composer, a career which almost happened as a second thought.  He is also an electrical engineer and has worked for years in the Information Technology field as well as the video game industry.  The dual endeavors are not as far apart as many would imagine – not nearly.  Music and Science – especially mathematics – are intimately intertwined.  Actor’s engineering degrees are from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (1970-1975, Troy, New York, about 150 miles north of New York City), one of the top science schools in the country.  Simultaneously studying music and science, he chose to pursue science upon graduation and worked at GTE in Boston for several years.  One of his violin professors was Angelo Frascarelli.  Although he began violin studies at age 7, kept up his pursuit of music studies at Rensselaer, played violin and viola in the Albany (New York) Symphony for three years (1972-1975), Actor also devoted  time to composition.  While working full-time, he studied conducting privately with David Epstein at MIT (Boston, 1975-1978) and composition with Donald Sur.  Up until 1978, Actor was playing violin in various orchestras on a regular basis and was composing chamber music works in his spare time.  Three years later (1979), he found himself in Silicon Valley (California), working in the IT field but  taking advanced courses in music as well.  While there, Actor secured his Master’s degree in composition from San Jose State University (1982) and pursued further studies at the University of California at Berkeley.  In 1982, Actor went to work for a start-up video game company.  The industry was in its infancy.  That led to his starting his own video game development company in 1988.  In 1997, he was one of three founders of Universal Digital Arts, a subsidiary of Universal Studios.  Finally, in 2000, he went to work as Director of Engineering for yet another high-tech start-up and retired from the industry one year later.  All this time, music had never been far away.  It is interesting that several famous musicians in history have had other careers, almost simultaneously as they were playing or writing music – Jean-Marie Leclair, Charles Dancla, Pierre Baillot, Alexander Borodin, Modest Mussorgsky, Ignace Paderewski, Camille Saint Saens, Charles Ives, and Efrem Zimbalist come to mind.  In 2001, Actor was invited to fill the Assistant Conductor post with the Palo Alto Symphony.  However, Actor had already been conducting various orchestras since 1974.  He was later (2002) appointed Composer-in-Residence of the same orchestra and thus began to compose prolifically.  As far as I know, Actor does not devote much time to small-scale works.  Every review of his orchestral music consistently praises his skills, originality, and ingenuity as a composer.  Actor has mostly put the violin aside – as have Alan Gilbert, Lorin Maazel, David Zinman, Jap Van Zweden, and a few other violinists – in favor of other pursuits in music, composition and conductng.  English violinist Leonard Salzedo used to play violin in the Royal Philharmonic (UK) and actually continued playing in that orchestra for quite some time while devoting a lot of his spare time to composition – mostly ballet music.  That, however, is rare.  Other violinists who turned from playing to other endeavors include Theodore Thomas, Victor Young, Eddy Brown, Patricia Travers, Iso Briselli, Pierre Monteux, Joseph Achron, Eugene Ormandy, and Arthur Judson.  Actor has composed concertos for horn, alto saxophone, timpani, guitar, and violin, as well as various orchestral works, including two symphonies, and most of his works have already been recorded as well, by both European and American orchestras.  It is an enviable record for someone “new” to the composition scene, so to speak.  A typical comment from a critic reads: “[the work] is an incredible tour de force, written by an immensely talented composer.”  About his violin concerto, Pip Clarke (the English violinist for whom it was written), says “The music is exciting, passionate, and highly romantic,...filled with beautiful melodies and writing throughout.”  At a time when most music schools here and abroad shun melody, structure, and tonality, Actor is a true iconoclast.  A video of his Horn Concerto can be found here.  As Bronislaw Huberman always said, the true test of permanence in art has always been audience acceptance and Lee Actor has tons of it to spare.  It’s actually a very good thing that he turned from violin playing to composition.  One of my next blogs will focus on his violin concerto.  

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Pip Clarke

Pip Clarke is a British violinist and teacher who, although concertizing all over the world, has been living in the U.S. since 1990.  She is known for playing in a very Romantic and expressive manner and is frequently compared to legendary violinists Ruggiero Ricci, Jascha Heifetz, and Tossy Spivakovsky.  Her tone has been described as haunting and her style as breathtakingly romantic, though that description might be far too limiting.  She also has in her repertoire a work which is a particular favorite of mine – the Bruch second concerto in d minor, which is seldom played nowadays.  Clarke is also one of only two violinists I know of who does not have a website – Silvia Marcovici is the other.  She has appeared with over 70 orchestras in the U.S. alone and has appeared in recital in the most important venues in Canada, Asia, and Europe.  Clarke began her music studies on the piano at age 5 (in Manchester, England) and her violin studies (with Ruth Parker) two years later.  For six years she studied with Roger Raphael at Chetham’s School of Music in Manchester, then with Lydia Mordkovitch (pupil of David Oistrakh) at the Royal Northern College of Music and later still with David Takeno at the Guildhall School of Music in London.  Her public debut was at age 16 at the South Bank Center in London.  She embarked on her very busy career upon graduation and has been concertizing ever since.  Clarke also appeared on British television with English composer and conductor Michael Tippett.  Her American debut took place on October 27, 2007 at Carnegie Hall with the Korngold concerto.  Although her repertoire encompasses all of the standard concertos, she is especially lauded by critics for her interpretations of Bruch’s Scottish Fantasy, and the Walton, Korngold, Goldmark, and Dvorak violin concertos.  Reviewing a recent CD release, a well-known critic said: “She blazes impetuously with plenty of dash and brio...she’s no mere purveyor of bland, unruffled, unengaged precision.”  Of her first CD release, Musical Opinion (the oldest classical music journal in England) wrote that it included “one of the most compelling accounts on record of Chausson’s Poeme.”  One of her most recent recordings is of Lee Actor’s brilliant and unabashedly romantic violin concerto, a work commissioned especially for her.  You can listen to it here.  As almost all concert artists now do today, Clarke participates in music festivals far and wide, including the well-known Ravinia Music Festival near Chicago.  Clarke also gives master classes in the U.S. and Europe.  In recital and in recordings, her accompanists have usually been pianists Sandra Rivers (accompanist of Sarah Chang as well), Scott Holshouser, and (composer-pianist) Marcelo Cessena.  Clarke has played violins by Joseph Guarnerius and Matteo Goffriller, but her present violin is a modern (1983) violin by Sergio Peresson.  Other musicians who own or have owned Peresson’s instruments include Yehudi Menuhin, Pinchas Zukerman, Isaac Stern, Norman Carol, Jaime Laredo, Eugene Fodor, Ivan Galamian, Mstislav Rostropovich, and Jaqueline du Pre.  If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you might recall that Peresson was a Philadelphia violin maker (luthier) whose instruments were in so much demand, he had to stop taking orders for violins in 1982.  As far as I know, their sound is indistinguishable from the very best Stradivarius or Guarnerius violins. 

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Giuliano Carmignola

Giuliano Carmignola is an Italian violinist, conductor, and teacher born (in Treviso, Italy) on July 7, 1951.  He is known for his career as an eminent exponent of Baroque music.  However, his repertoire encompasses works from the early Baroque to late modern.  His repertoire includes the Schumann violin concerto, a piece which has an interesting history.  Nonetheless, his discography is focused on the Baroque.  He first studied with his father.  His later teachers included Luigi Ferro, Nathan Milstein, Franco Gulli, and Henryk Szeryng.  Among the music schools he attended are the Venice Conservatory, the Accademia Chigiana (Siena, Italy – school of Salvatore Accardo, John Williams, and Daniel Barenboim also) and the Geneva Conservatory.  From early in his career, Carmignola has collaborated with many conductors, including Claudio Abbado, Roberto Abbado, Trevor Pinnock, and Christopher Hogwood.  He has regularly played and recorded with various chamber orchestras – the Virtuosi Di Roma (1970-1978), Mozart Orchestra, Il Giardino Armonico, Basel Chamber Orchestra, Academy of Ancient Music, and Venice Baroque Orchestra are among them.  A similar path has been taken by Vladimir Spivakov and Fabio Biondi.  Carmignola's best known recordings are probably his complete Mozart concertos, complete Haydn concertos, a number of Pietro Locatelli concertos, the Four Seasons (Vivaldi), and several two-violin concertos by Vivaldi with Viktoria Mullova.  YouTube has many videos of his playing, including one of the Brahms Double concerto.  You can hear one such video (of the Summer portion from the Four Seasons) here – it is played at the fastest tempo I have ever heard.  He spends almost all of his time in Europe and did not make his U.S. debut until 2001 at the Mostly Mozart Festival in New York.  Since 2003, he has been an exclusive artist for the Deutsche Gramophone label.  Carmignola has taught at the Advanced Music School in Lucerne (Switzerland) and at his old school, the Accademia Chigiana.  His violins include the Baillot Stradivarius of 1732 and a 1739 violin by Johannes Florenus Guidantus.  

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Hubert Leonard

Hubert Leonard was a Belgian violinist, teacher, and composer born (in Bellaire) on April 7, 1819.  He is mostly remembered for having taught – for almost 20 years - at the Brussels Conservatory where Charles De Beriot, between 1843 and 1852, had also taught.  Leonard later settled in Paris where he continued to teach privately.  Among his most celebrated students were Henry Schradieck and Martin Marsick.  As a child, he began his studies with his father and even gave a public concert before entering  the Brussels Conservatory in 1832, at age 12.  From age 9, he had also been studying privately with an obscure teacher surnamed Rouma - this is probably one and the same as Francois Prume, another Belgian violinist who at age 17 (1832) was already professor of violin at the Liege Conservatory and who was only 3 years older than Leonard.  Leonard enrolled in the Paris Conservatory in 1836 where his principal teacher was Francois Habeneck.  He was 17 years old.  Funding for his studies came from a wealthy merchant.  He left the conservatory in 1839 but stayed in Paris where he was employed by the orchestras of the Variety Theatre and the Opera Comique.  He toured through various European cities from 1844 to 1848.  A single source gives a different date for this event in Leonard’s life (1845.)  In Leipzig, he met Mendelssohn who briefly tutored him in composition.  Leonard also learned Mendelssohn’s concerto and played it on tour.  The concerto had just then recently been premiered in 1845 by Ferdinand David but Leonard was the first to play it in Berlin with Mendelssohn on the podium.  Leonard began teaching at the Brussels Conservatory in 1848 (Grove’s Dictionary says 1847), at age 29, but continued to tour sporadically, extending his tours as far as Norway and Russia.  After quitting the conservatory in Brussels in 1866, he again settled in Paris, where he spent the next 24 years.  Leonard’s compositions include five (or six) violin concertos, duos for violin and piano, a cadenza for the Beethoven concerto, fantasias, salon pieces, and etude books for violin, including a book entitled 24 classic etudes.  I am not certain but I’m pretty sure the concertos have never been recorded.  Supposedly, Leonard once said “The bow is the master, the fingers of the left hand are but his servants.”  Leonard died in Paris on May 6, 1890, at age 71.  He had owned a G.B. Guadagnini (1751), an Andrea Guarneri (1665), and two Magginis, one of which went to his widow, who sold it in 1891.  

Friday, October 5, 2012

Lorand Fenyves

Lorand Fenyves was a Hungarian violinist and teacher born (in Budapest) on February 20, 1918.  He is known for having spent much of his career in Canada and is credited with helping establish an entire generation of musicians in that country.  His teachers in Hungary included Jeno Hubay and Zoltan Kodaly, internationally known violinist and composer, respectively.  Though he made his professional debut at age 13, he graduated from the Franz Liszt Academy in 1934, at age 16.  Two years later, having been recruited by Bronislaw Huberman, he left Europe for Israel to become a founding member of the Palestine Symphony (Israel Philharmonic.)  He soon became its concertmaster.  He was 18 years old.  In 1940, he helped found the Israel Conservatory and Academy of Music in Tel Aviv.  He also organized the Israel String Quartet, originally known as the Fenyves String Quartet.  He moved to Switzerland in 1957 (at age 39) where he was concertmaster of the Orchestre de la Suisse Romande and violin professor at the Geneva Conservatory.  He visited Canada in the summer of 1963.  The following year, he accepted a one-year position at the University of Toronto.  He actually remained there until his retirement in 1983.  In 2003, the University gave a recital in honor of his 85th birthday – a common thing for universities to do for their revered music professors.  After his retirement from the University of Toronto, Fenyves began teaching (in 1985) at the University of Western Ontario.  Nevertheless, he also gave masterclasses at music centers around the world and performed as violin soloist with well-known conductors and orchestras numerous times.  You can listen to Fenyves play a Bach Sonata in this YouTube audio file, recorded when he was about 70 years old.  Among his pupils are Tasmin Little, Elissa Lee, Scott St John, and Lynn Kuo.  Fenyves died (in Zurich, Switzerland) on March 23, 2004, at age 86.  The 1720 (circa 1720) Stradivarius violin which he owned – now known as the Fenyves Strad – was sold at auction in 2006 for about $1,500,000 USD.  Fenyves had purchased it in 1961.  

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Lynn Kuo

Lynn Kuo is a contemporary Canadian violinist, teacher, and lecturer with a very successful and versatile career.  In the orchestral world, she is the Assistant Concertmaster of the orchestra of the National Ballet of Canada.  It is a prestigious position.  Not too many people know that Joseph Joachim was assistant concertmaster in Leipzig under Felix Mendelssohn, Zino Francescatti was assistant concertmaster with a French orchestra prior to dedicating most of his career to touring, and Arnold Steinhardt (first violinist of the Guarneri Quartet) was assistant concertmaster of the Cleveland Orchestra.  In the concert world, Kuo has already toured Europe, including Austria, Hungary, Wales, Croatia, Serbia, Romania, Bulgaria, and Ukraine, both in recital and with many major orchestras.  As most concert violinists do, she also performs with many chamber music ensembles and has frequently programmed the works of several modern composers, whom she champions.  She has also served as guest concertmaster of Pinchas Zukerman’s orchestra, the National Arts Centre Orchestra, one of the premier orchestras of Canada.  Her music studies began in her native St John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador, at age 7.  However, her first instrument was not the violin – it was the piano.  Among her first teachers were Mark Latham, Nancy Dahn, and Eileen Kearns.  Kuo later attended summer music festivals in Aspen (Colorado), Kent-Blossom (Ohio, USA), Quebec, Banff, and Schleswig-Holstein (in Northern Germany.)  Her later teachers in Toronto included Erika Raum, Mayumi Seiler, and Lorand Fenyves (pupil of Jeno Hubay and one of the original members of the Israel Philharmonic, having personally been invited by Bronislaw Huberman.)  As do other contemporary violinists – Nigel Kennedy, Itzhak Perlman, Alexander Markov, and Miranda Cuckson among them - Kuo does not limit herself to purely classical music.  Her collaborations with artists in other genres are well-known.  Many of Kuo’s performances have been broadcast on radio and television as well, in Canada and overseas.  She has also been chosen to present world premieres of several new works.  She has recorded for the NAXOS label and her new CD – simply titled LOVE: Innocence, Passion, Obsession - is scheduled to be released soon.  Critics have written that “her technique appears flawless and her playing is dramatic, both rousing and melancholy.”  You can hear for yourself here.  She also has a Facebook page here where she documents some of her career events - she recently received her DMA degree from the University of Toronto.  Kuo plays an 1888 Vincenzo Postiglione violin.  

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Daniel Hope

Daniel Hope is a British violinist, writer, teacher, and conductor, born (in Durban, South Africa) on August 17, 1973.  Besides his concertizing, he is known for his varied interests and is also identified with his extended promotion (more than 17 years) of the music of composers who perished in concentration camps in World War II.  Those composers include Gideon Klein, Pavel Haas, Erwin Schulhoff, and Zigmund Schul.  As a violinist and advocate for various causes, he follows in the footsteps of Bronislaw Huberman, Arthur Hartmann, Joseph Achron, Vladimir Spivakov, Ivry Gitlis, and Shlomo Mintz.  Hope began his violin studies at age four in England as a result of his (indirect) close association with Yehudi Menuhin, whose secretary was Hope’s mother.  He later studied at the Royal Academy of Music (London) with Zakhar Bron (teacher also of Maxim Vengerov and Vadim Repin) until graduation.  However, by age 11, he was already playing concerts with Yehudi Menuhin, with whom he collaborated artistically more than 60 times, including Menuhin’s final concert on March 7, 1999 – Menuhin died five days later.  At age 29, in the midst of an established concertizing career, Hope joined the famous Beaux Arts Trio (Menahem Pressler and Antonio Meneses) in 2002 and played with them until they disbanded (after a 53-year career) in 2008.  Of course, he has already played in most of the major concert halls with most of the major orchestras in the world.  He has for many years also been engaged by some of the top music festivals.  Hope has written a fascinating book entitled Family Album but it is written in German – I don’t know whether an English translation is available.  His recording catalog is not extensive but it includes the original version of the Mendelssohn concerto.  Thanks to this recording, we can better appreciate Ferdinand David’s contribution in making the concerto more Romantic in style – the original version sounds a little archaic; in places, as if it had come from Viotti or Spohr.  The recording is not available on YouTube but this one is - it's a more modern concerto.  The New York Times has stated that Hope “puts classical works within a broader context – not just among other styles and genres but amid history, literature, and drama – to emphasize music’s role as a mirror for struggle and aspiration.”  Among other violins, Hope has played a 1769 Gagliano (purchased from Menuhin) and a 1742 Guarnerius – the Lipinski Guarnerius – on loan from a German family.  

Monday, September 10, 2012

Orchestras in Trouble

The latest news about happenings in the music industry includes plenty of articles regarding the financial troubles the Minnesota Orchestra, the St Paul Chamber Orchestra, the Atlanta Symphony, the San Antonio Symphony, and the Indianapolis Symphony (among others) are experiencing.  This comes on the heels of bankruptcy declarations by the Philadelphia Orchestra, the Syracuse Philharmonic, the Louisville Orchestra, the New Mexico Symphony, and the Honolulu Symphony in 2011.  The Detroit Symphony musicians’ strike last year was also well-publicized.  It’s like an epidemic.  The situation is so dire that orchestra musicians are not even being given the option to strike – the management is simply locking them out of their working venues before any threats of strikes are uttered by the musicians union – the American Federation of Musicians.  That is truly unfair to the musicians.  I won’t go into where you can find the various sites where you can read detailed reports – they are in all the major news journals.  Just google orchestras in trouble and you’ll find as many as you have time for.  Many professional experts (and other people “in the know”) have opinions as to what might be to blame for the mess although, logically, there is really only one culprit: the Board of Directors.  The union shares a little blame, but not much.  Among other things, the Board is responsible for fiscal oversight – their function is not all that different from the function of any other business board.  Whatever else they do, fiscal soundness is their most important responsibility.  It is serious business, but it’s as simple as running a household – you either live within your means or you don’t.  It’s as simple as balancing an equation: X (expenses) must equal Y (income.)  X cannot be greater than Y.  Reading a financial report is not rocket science.  Even I can do it.  In any case, Boards typically hire CPAs who take care of analyzing budgets for them.  If an important and culturally significant enterprise like a world-class orchestra goes under, the blame can only be laid at the feet of the Board which has been appointed (or, in many cases, volunteered) to make certain that these problems don’t suddenly catch up to them.  We are not talking about an ENRON situation, where bankruptcy might be largely due to malfeasance, to put it politely.  We are talking about numbers on a sheet of paper which send clear distress signals (warning bells, if you will) far in advance of any peril.  If an orchestra suddenly finds itself in precarious circumstances, that can only mean that the Board ignored the warnings which were visible to them.  They failed to act.  It cannot mean anything else.  Commentators who are looking for other answers – failures in planning, failures in marketing, failures in programing, in audience building, in communications, in education outreach, in personnel policies - are dancing around the real problem. 
Arts organizations are not expected to turn a profit.  Since time immemorial, artists – composers and performers alike - have turned to the Church or to wealthy and generous patrons for assistance – Bach, Vivaldi, Wagner, Prokofiev, etc.  This is especially true of orchestras because they are so expensive to maintain.  There have been very few exceptions to the need for subsidies (at some point) in any artist’s career, but only in the case of individual artists.  Today especially, for instance, top violinists depend on benefactors to provide fine instruments for them to use.  If that’s not a sudsidy, I don’t know what is.  I have never known any orchestra to subsist entirely on ticket sales.  It could be done, but every ticket would have to be priced in the stratosphere where, in fact, nobody could afford one. Not only that, but every seat would have to be sold for every concert.  If you look at it another way, the arts patron – private or public – is really subsidizing the average concert goer, by as much as 60% of the cost of attending any given concert.  Without the benefactors, there would be no art, except for the wealthy, as in days gone by.  This formula however, does not absolve the Board from its responsibility of looking after the fiscal health of the orchestra.  When funds are lacking, it must sound the alarm, but never after the building has gone down in flames.  If the union – having received due notice of impending doom - balks at renegotiating a contract which by its weight may soon kill the whole enterprise, the union should be shut down because at that point, it is getting in the way of sound fiscal planning.  Nevertheless, it seems like that’s already a moot point in the cases cited above. 
Management is frequently asked to enter into iron-clad contracts (containing salary guarantees, etc.) which are unrealistic in income projections; they do so hoping for best-case scenarios which usually don’t materialize.  They also do so to avoid nasty confrontations with the union.  When these contracts result in deficits, the Board then goes begging for extra funds to make up the shortfall.  Even wealthy Foundations and patrons get tired of the same old routine and sometimes close their purse strings; when that happens, a crisis results, especially in hard economic times.  Then, the finger pointing begins, after which a seriously adversarial relationship between Management and musicians develops.  Usually, the enterprise collapses and then is almost inevitably re-started under a cloud of bad feelings.  Contingency funds should therefore always be in place to help during hard times and contracts should be written with plenty of contigency clauses to cover unintended emergencies, regardless of what the union demands.  It beats having to shut the doors.  Will things ever change?  I doubt it.  Ask the New York Philharmonic if it has a surplus – or ask the Boston Symphony or the Chicago Symphony or the Cleveland Orchestra.  I hope so.  

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Adolph Brodsky

Adolph Brodsky (Adolph Davidovich Brodsky) was a Russian violinist, teacher, and conductor born (in Taganrog) on April 2, 1851.  He is perhaps best known as the violinist who premiered Tchaikovsky’s difficult violin concerto after Leopold Auer turned it down because he found it unplayable.  Although he spent three years in the U.S., his career began and ended in Europe.  His grandfather and father (David) were both violinists and he is said to have begun his lessons at age 4 in his hometown.  At age 9, he played a concert in Odessa (Russia-Ukraine) and was subsequently sponsored by a wealthy patron, to continue his studies in Vienna, at the Vienna Conservatory, with Joseph Hellmesberger (the elder.)  For a time, Brodsky played second violin in the Hellmesberger Quartet, said to be the first string quartet that actually bore a specific name.  In addition, from 1866 to 1868, Brodsky played in the Imperial (Vienna) Court Orchestra.  He was 15 years old.  In 1870, at about age 20, he left Vienna to tour as a concert violinist.  He settled in Moscow in 1873 where he obtained a teaching position at the Moscow Conservatory in 1875.  He held this post until 1878.  On December 4, 1881, he premiered the Tchaikovsky concerto in Vienna with Hans Richter conducting.  He was 30 years old.  Although initially dedicated to Leopold Auer, the dedication was re-assigned to Brodsky.  Nevertheless, Auer subsequently learned the concerto and taught it to his young pupils, one of which was Jascha Heifetz.  Tchaikovsky was not present at Brodsky’s premiere performance although he later attended a concert in Leipzig (in 1888) in which Karl Halir was the soloist and was extremely pleased with the concerto.  From 1883 to 1891, Brodsky taught at the Leipzig Conservatory.  It was here that Brodsky formed the Brodsky String Quartet with Ottokar Novacek, Hans Sitt, and Leopold Grutzmacher.  It was also at Brodsky’s home that Tchaikovsky, Edvard Grieg, and Johannes Brahms met (all at once) for the first time.  Though Brahms advised against it, in 1891, Brodsky accepted a position as concertmaster of the New York Symphony (for which Carnegie Hall was built), playing under Walter Damrosch.  Brodsky returned to Europe in 1894.  Some sources say he returned in 1895.  He was 43 years old.  After spending some time in Berlin, he was invited to England (by Charles Halle) to teach at the Royal Manchester College of Music and to lead the Halle Orchestra as concertmaster.  It was here that he changed his name from Adolf to Adolph.  From 1895 until his death in 1929, Brodsky taught and was Director at the Royal College.  He also occasionally conducted the Halle Orchestra.  It is said that he was one of the first automobile owners in town.  While in Manchester, Brodsky re-established his string quartet with Rawdon Briggs, Simon Speelman, and Carl Fuchs.  In 1919, Edward Elgar wrote and dedicated his Opus 83 string quartet (in e minor) to this new Brodsky Quartet.  In 1927, Brodsky played the Elgar violin concerto with the Halle Orchestra with Elgar on the podium.  He was 75 years old.  For 17 years (1880 to 1897) his violin was the LaFont Guarnerius of 1735, for many years now played by Nigel Kennedy.  Brodsky, who was also a chess player, died on January 22, 1929, at age 77.  Other than Naoum Blinder (Isaac Stern's teacher), I don’t know if he had any famous pupils.  

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

William Kroll

William Kroll was an American violinist, teacher, and composer born (in New York) on January 30, 1901.  As were violinists Joseph Achron, Christian Sinding, Benjamin Goddard, Ottokar Novacek, and Arthur Hartmann, he is famous for a single composition, Banjo and Fiddle, which most concert violinists learn and play at one time or another.  He began his violin studies with his father (a violinist) at age 4.  At age 9 or 10, he went to Berlin to continue his studies with Henri Marteau, Joseph Joachim’s successor at the Berlin Advanced School for Music.  He returned to the U.S. after World War I broke out in 1914.  In New York, he studied at Juilliard (Institute of Musical Arts) with Franz Kneisel from 1916 to 1921.  He actually made his public debut in New York at age 14.  One source describes his debut as “prodigious.”  Although Kroll concertized as a soloist in Europe and the Americas, he dedicated a great deal of time to chamber music as a member of various chamber music ensembles, well-known in their time: the Elshuco Trio (William Kroll, Willem Winneke, and Aurelio Giorni, 1922-1929), the South Mountain Quartet (1923-), the Coolidge Quartet (William Kroll, Nicolai Berezowsky, Nicolas Moldavan, and Victor Gottlieb, 1936-1944), and the Kroll Quartet (William Kroll, Louis Graeler, Nathan Gordon, and Avron Twerdowsky, 1944-1969.)  The Coolidge Quartet was being paid $400.00 per concert in 1938, a good sum in those days – the equivalent of $6,550.00 today.  From a very early age, he taught at several music schools, namely Juilliard (1922-1938), Mannes College (1943-), the Peabody Conservatory (1947-1965), the Cleveland Institute (1964-1967), and Queens College (1969-)  Kroll made very few commercial recordings but an interesting one is a recording of three Mozart Sonatas available here for about $120.00.  It includes the famous K454 sonata which Mozart wrote in 1784 for Regina Strinasacchi, one of the very first female concert violinists.  You can listen to a short Kroll recording on YouTube here.  Among his violins were a 1709 Stradivarius (the Ernst Strad, aka as the Lady Halle Strad, owned and played by Heinrich Ernst, and, later, by Wilma Neruda) and a 1775 G.B. Guadagnini.  Kroll died (in Boston) on March 10, 1980, at age 79.  

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Mischa Mischakoff

Mischa Mischakoff was a Russian (Ukrainian) violinist, teacher, and conductor born (in Proskurov, later known as Khmelnitzky) on April 16, 1895.  His year of birth is also given as 1897.  He is known for having been concertmaster of many orchestras but especially the NBC Symphony under Arturo Toscanini, the well-known and ill-tempered conductor.  In fact, Mischakoff may well have been concertmaster of more orchestras than any other violinist in history – ten that I know of, not counting the St Petersburg Conservatory student orchestra.  For the record, those include the St Petersburg Philharmonic (1913), the Bolshoi Ballet (1920), the Warsaw Philharmonic (1921), the New York Symphony (1923), the Philadelphia Orchestra (1927), the Chicago Symphony (1929), the NBC Symphony (1937), the Chautauqua Symphony (during summer off seasons), the Detroit Symphony (1952), and the Baltimore Symphony (1969.)  He was a gifted artist who nonetheless (unjustly) became less recognized as time went on.  That is one of the disadvantages of playing in an orchestra.  However, even at age 75, Mischakoff was a phenomenal player.  You can hear for yourself here.  As a child, Mischakoff studied with Konstantin Konstantinovich Gorsky, an obscure but highly accomplished Russian violinist.  At about age 10, he entered the St Petersburg Conservatory where he studied under Leopold Auer’s assistant, Sergei Korguyev.  He made his orchestral debut on June 25, 1911, playing the Tchaikovsky concerto.  He was either 14 or 16 years old.  Upon graduation (1912), he played very briefly in Germany (Berlin - 1912) and then became concertmaster in St Petersburg.  Some sources have him playing in Moscow as well – for the Moscow Philharmonic and the Moscow Grand Opera.  He also served in a music regiment during World War One – 1914 to 1918.  He joined the Bolshoi Theatre Orchestra as concertmaster in 1920.  He was 25 years old.  In 1917, he supposedly gave the world premiere of Prokofiev’s first concerto in Russia with Prokofiev conducting.  His name should therefore be very closely associated with the concerto but it isn’t.  A different source states that the world premiere was played in Paris on October 18, 1923, followed three days later by the Russian premiere by Nathan Milstein.  The truth might be found in one of Prokofiev’s diaries; unfortunately, I don't have access to them.  In 1921, greatly assisted by Polish violinist and conductor Emil Mlynarski, he fled Russia (accompanied by cellist Gregor Piatigorsky and, later, pianist Andre Kostelanetz) during a concert tour which took them very close to the border with Poland - Nathan Milstein too, later fled Russia while on a European tour with pianist Vladimir Horowitz in 1925.  Actually, the three musicians (Mischakoff, Piatigorsky, and Kostelanetz) spent about a year in Warsaw.  Twenty years earlier, Mlynarski had been a founder (as well as conductor) of the Warsaw Philharmonic and, therefore, still had considerable influence there.  An interesting fact about Mischakoff is that he sometimes used aliases.  In Poland, he was known as Michal Fieber.  In Germany he was known as Mischa Fibere and in provincial Russia as Mischa Mazia.  Most sources state that Mischakoff arrived in the U.S. (New York) in 1921 – a single (but very authoritative) source has him arriving in New York on Friday, September 22, 1922.  Mischakoff’s birth name had been Mischa Isaakevich Fischberg (or Fishberg.)  When he arrived in the U.S., his agent suggested he change it so he did.  He never had to change it again.  At the beginning, he had to do freelance work but he quickly established himself.  On November 9, 1924, he played the Tchaikovsky concerto with the New York Symphony under Walter Damrosch at Aeolian Hall.  That may have been his first solo appearance in the U.S.  With the same orchestra, on March 11, 1926, he played the Brahms concerto in Carnegie Hall with Otto Klemperer on the podium.  On May 14, 1946, he performed the Tchaikovsky concerto with the New York Philharmonic (which had by then merged with the New York Symphony) at Carnegie Hall.  His longest tenure was with the NBC Symphony.  Mischakoff regularly performed as soloist with the NBC and many other orchestras during his 70-year career.  His many pupils include Ani Kavafian, Joseph Silverstein, Isidor Saslav, Leonard Sorkin, and David Cerone.  Among several other music schools, Mischakoff taught at Wayne State University (Detroit), Boston University, and the American Conservatory in Chicago.  He also taught at Juilliard from 1940 to 1952.  According to one source, he played four Stradivarius violins during his career but I could find no evidence of that.  Cozio – a usually reliable source – gives his violins as follows: (in chronological order) an 1829 Pressenda, a 1737 Gagliano, a 1731 Guarnerius, and a 1714 Stradivarius.  Mischakoff died (in Southfield, Michigan) on February 1, 1981, at age 85.  

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Alina Pogostkina

Alina Pogostkina is a Russian violinist born (in Leningrad) on November 18, 1983.  She began her lessons at age 4 with her father and gave her first concert one year later.  When she was 8 years old (1992), her family moved to Heidelberg, Germany.  According to one source, she and both of her parents - both are violinists – for some time made a living playing on the street.  Marie Hall did essentially the same thing in England, though without her parents.  Pogostkina is said to favor modern music.  She attended the Advanced School for Music in Berlin, studying with Antje Weithaas.  Along the way, she participated in several competitions, eventually winning the Jean Sibelius Competition in Helsinki in December of 2005, using a modern violin by Falk Peters.  She had already won the Louis Spohr Competition in 1997 (Freiburg, Germany) at age 14.  She also participated in the Queen Elizabeth and the Indianapolis Violin Competitions (2001 and 2002, respectively.)  Pogostkina now plays all over the world, accompanied by the best orchestras and the best conductors.  She also participates in quite a few music festivals around the world.  Her sound and technique is similar to Hilary Hahn’s – very crisp, emphatic, and clean with flawless intonation - but her musicianship is different.  YouTube has a few videos of her performances.  One is here, showing a complete (and spectacular) performance of the Sibelius concerto.  For a while, she was playing a 1709 Stradivarius violin, a loan from the German Music Instrument Fund.  Pogostkina now plays a modern violin by ChristianBayon.  Of course, if you are a regular reader of this blog, you know I absolutely favor modern violins over any old instrument.  The reason is that they are at least equal to any Amati, Strad, Guadagnini, Goffriller, or Guarneri and, in most cases, much better.  

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Eugene Kash

Eugene Kash (Eugene Leon Kash) was a Canadian violinist, violist, conductor, and teacher born (in Toronto, Canada) on May 1, 1912.  He was one of the lesser-known students of Bronislaw Huberman and Otakar Sevcik and was a champion of childrens’ music education programs.  He was also the father of children who became actors – in the style of Efrem Zimbalist.  His earliest violin studies were with Luigi Von Kunits (Serbian violinist and first conductor of the Toronto Symphony) until about 1928.  He then went to the CurtisInstitute, where he studied with Albert Meiff (who also taught Iso Briselli and Oscar Shumsky) until 1931.  Thereafter, he studied in Europe (with Sevcik and Huberman) until about 1934.  He was then 22 years old with 16 years of study under his fingers, so to speak.  However, he continued to study (sporadically) with William Primrose (London), Kathleen Parlow (Toronto), and Dmitri Dounis (New York.)  (For a time, it was the custom of some students at the Curtis Institute to take lessons from D.C. Dounis, although they did it surreptitiously.  Those who got caught were disciplined or expelled from Curtis.  I don’t know whether Kash was one of those students.)  He played in the Toronto Symphony (and the Canadian Broadcasting Company’s radio orchestras) from 1934 until 1942, presumably in the first violin section.  Kash was concertmaster of the Ottawa Philharmonic from 1944 until 1950, when he became its conductor.  He was 38 years old.  He remained in Ottawa, as conductor, until 1957.  Nevertheless, he had remained active as a recitalist from the beginning of his professional career.  From 1946, he began developing educational music programs (or concert series) especially suited to children.  CBC television ran a series from 1955 to 1958 which Kash developed called “The Magic of Music.”  Almost simultaneously, Leonard Bernstein in New York was lecturing for the Omnibus children’s music series with the Symphony of the Air, sponsored and broadcast at various times by the CBS, NBC, or ABC TV networks.  From 1961 to 1975, Kash took part in the Casals Festival in Puerto Rico.  In the early 1960s, he served as conductor of youth concerts in Connecticut (with the Fairfield County Symphony) and Montreal (with the Montreal Symphony.)  Kash taught in various places during his career; among them are the Music Academy (Philadelphia – 1967 to 1971), York University (Toronto – 1971 to 1973), and the Royal Conservatory of Music (Toronto – 1975 to 2004.)  Kash was also conductor of the Etobicoke Philharmonic (a community orchestra in Toronto) from 1975 to 1985.  One source says that he was at one time conductor of the National Arts Centre Orchestra (Canada) but that information is quite inaccurate.  The same source states that he taught at the Curtis Institute, which is also erroneous.  Up until 2002, Kash was still performing in public.  His violin of choice, acquired in 1949, was a G.B. Guadagnini of 1753.  Eugene Kash died (in Toronto) on March 6, 2004, at age 91.  

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Victor Aitay

Victor Aitay was a Hungarian violinist, teacher, and conductor born (in Budapest) Hungary on April 14, 1921.  He is remembered as one of the long-time concertmasters of the Chicago Symphony.  As did many of the older players in American orchestras, he came to the U.S. from Europe in the early part of the twentieth century.  He first studied with his father then entered the Franz Liszt Academy at the age of 7.  After graduation, he became concertmaster of the Hungarian Royal Opera and the Budapest Philharmonic.  He did extensive solo playing throughout Europe as well.  In 1941, he was fired, arrested by the Nazis, and sent to a concentration camp.  In 1943, he escaped, made his way back to Budapest and was saved by Raoul Wallenberg, the Swedish diplomat, who provided asylum at the Swedish Embassy.  He was 22 years old.  In 1945, he was given his old job back but soon resigned and left for Vienna.  He then founded the Aitay String Quartet with Janos Starker but work was hard to find.  In 1946, from Vienna, he (with his wife and child) made his way to the U.S.  He was 25 years old.  Arriving in New York with the clothes on his back and his violin, he soon auditioned for his European countryman, Fritz Reiner.  From 1946 to 1948, he played in the Pittsburgh Symphony – Fritz Reiner was the orchestra conductor at that time.  Some sources say Aitay was there one year and others say he was there two years.  From 1948 until 1954, he played in the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra.  He was associate concertmaster of that orchestra from 1952 until he left to join the Chicago Symphony as assistant concertmaster.  In 1965, after 11 years, he was appointed associate concertmaster and (finally) concertmaster in 1967 – from 1963 to 1967, Steven Staryk was the CSO’s concertmaster.  Aitay was 46 years old.  As do all great concertmasters with their respective orchestras, he appeared as soloist with his orchestra a number of times.  One such occasion took place on January 29, 1981, when he played Bartok's first concerto with Georg Solti on the podium.  Aitay was concertmaster until 1986 but served as concertmaster emeritus until 2003.  He was 82 years old when he retired.  He had been in the orchestra almost fifty years.  There are very few commercial recordings by Aitay as a soloist (I found only one) although he recorded with the Chicago Symphony countless times as a member of the string section.  He was also first violinist with the Chicago Symphony String Quartet.  His violin – in addition to a Vuillaume and a Guadagnini – was the Baron von der Leyen Sradivarius of (circa) 1705 - please see comments below for further information.  The Stradivarius was sold for $2,600,000 in April of this year.  Victor Aitay died on July 24, 2012, at age 91. *

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Tossy Spivakovsky

Tossy Spivakovsky (Nathan Spivakovsky) was a Russian (Ukrainian) violinist and teacher born (in Odessa) on December 23, 1906.  He belongs squarely in the era of individualistic virtuosos born (mostly) in the first half of the Twentieth Century – the era of Kreisler, Kogan, Elman, Milstein, Thibaud, Grumiaux, Spalding, Zimbalist, Suk, Brown, Gitlis, Huberman, Hartmann, Haendel, Heifetz, Oistrakh, Ricci, Rabin, Ferras, Francescatti, and a few others.  By 1990, most of these players were dead.  It has been said that Spivakovsky was a “highly eccentric violinist with an unconventional bow and violin hold.”  For many years, Spivakovsky had a very successful solo career, though he was not among the virtuosos who studied with Leopold Auer, Peter Stolyarsky, Abram Yampolsky, or Carl Flesch.  He studied in Berlin with Willy Hess at the Royal Academy (Advanced School for Music) and gave his first public performance at age 10.  At age 13, as soon as World War I ended, he toured Europe for the first time.  At age 18 (1925), he became concertmaster of the Berlin Philharmonic.  He spent a year there (one usually-reliable source says it was two years) then left to pursue a career as a soloist.  Also in the 1920s, he – with his older pianist brother Jascha – formed the Spivakovsky Duo.  In 1930, he played and toured with the Spivakovsky-Kurtz Trio.  In 1933, the trio found itself in Australia where it (rather spontaneously) decided to stay because of the political changes then taking place in Germany.  Spivakovsky took a teaching position at the University of Melbourne, as did the other two members of the trio – Jascha Spivakovsky, pianist, and Edmund Kurtz, cellist.  In 1940, Spivakovsky came to the U.S.  He was 34 years old.  Interestingly, Spivakovsky had two other (older) brothers who were accomplished musicians – Isaac and Adolf – who had joined him in Australia in 1934.  They (and Jascha) remained in Australia when Spivakovsky emigrated to the U.S.  That same year (1940), Spivakovsky made his debut in Town Hall (New York.)  After some concertizing activity, in 1942, he was appointed concertmaster of the Cleveland Orchestra.  While serving as concertmaster in Cleveland, he gave the U.S. premiere of Bartok’s second concerto (1943) in one of its programs.  On October 14, 1943, he gave the first New York performance of the same work with the New York Philharmonic, an orchestra with which he appeared more than 20 times.  Bartok himself said his playing of the concerto was first rate.  Wherever he played, he received extremely favorable reviews.  With the New York Philharmonic, he performed four concertos which never became part of the standard repertoire – those by Gian Carlo Menotti, Roger Sessions, Carl Nielsen, and Frank Martin.  Spivakovsky stepped down from his Cleveland post in 1945.  His interpretations have been described as highly personalized, meaning that he put his temperamental (some would say idiosyncratic) stamp on everything he played.  A few YouTube audio files bear witness to this.  One of them is here.  His playing of the Tchaikovsky concerto is done in a manner unlike anything I have heard before.  As an added bonus, in the C major passage which immediately follows the re-statement of the main theme by the orchestra (about 8 minutes into the first movement), Spivakovsky plays the repeat of the variation-like section an octave higher.  I know of only six other violinists who do this – Jascha Heifetz, Erick Friedman, Konstanty Kulka, Jane Peters, Andras Agoston, and Leila Josefowicz.  You can listen for yourself here.  Spivakovsky concertized extensively in Europe, the U.S., and South America for about four decades.  Most of his recordings were done between 1925 and 1960 but they are few and far between - most are still available.  He taught at Juilliard (New York) between 1974 and 1989.  He was 68 years old when he began teaching there and 83 when he retired.  As far as I know, he had no famous students.  An explanation of his unorthodox bow hold was published in a book in 1949.  Spivakovsky was known to conduct extensive research into original editions of music to get as accurate a picture of composers’ intentions as possible.  His violin was a 1769 G.B. Guadagnini.  I don't know what became of it.  He also published an essay on Bach’s unaccompanied violin Partitas in 1967.  His ideas were not widely adopted, but that’s putting it mildly.  Spivakovsky died (in Westport, Connecticut) on July 20, 1998, at age 91.  

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Josef Gingold

Josef Gingold was a Russian (Belarusian) violinist, author, and teacher born on October, 28, 1909.  He is mostly known for having been a highly successful teacher, one of the artists who put the Indiana University School of Music (Bloomington, Indiana) on the map.  Many have put him on the level of Ivan Galamian as an influential violin pedagogue.  He began his violin studies as a child (perhaps at age 4) and gave his first public performance for a group of German soldiers during World War I.  He was not yet 6 years old and had not yet learned to read music.  In October of 1920, his family came to the U.S. and he began his studies at the Music School Settlement in New York City. Later on, from age 12, he studied privately with Vladimir Graffman (father of pianist Gary Graffman), an assistant to the great pedagogue, Leopold Auer.  Gingold then made his debut at Aeolian Hall in 1926 when he was 17 years old – one source says 1930, which quite possibly was a second debut.  Between May, 1927 and September, 1929, he studied with Eugene Ysaye in Belgium.  While there, he gave the premiere of Ysaye’s Ballade – his third sonata for unaccompanied violin (Opus 27, No.3.) – on or about February 28, 1928, at the Brussels Conservatory.  Gingold also gave the first U.S. performance of the same work.  While in Europe, Gingold concertized for at least a year (in Belgium, France, and Holland) but returned to the U.S. in the fall of 1929.  He gave a recital in New York and performed as soloist with the Minneapolis Symphony but things ended there.  Additional work was very hard to come by.  Nevertheless, he played successfully, earning about $85 a week, as a free-lance violinist – for Broadway shows, the Chicago World’s Fair, the Manhattan Symphony, the Ritz-Carlton Hotel and anywhere else he might find employment, even if temporary - until he landed a position in the first violins of the NBC Symphony in 1937.  He played there for seven seasons.  In those years, several string players who would later reach world-class status as soloists played anywhere they could.  Those players included Eugene Ormandy, Pablo Casals, Mischa Elman, Leonard Rose, Joseph Fuchs, Milton Katims, William Primrose, Oscar Shumsky, Israel Baker, Frank Miller, Emanuel Vardi, and Elias Breeskin.  Gingold also joined the Primrose Quartet, playing second violin to Oscar Shumsky.  He later played first violin in the NBC Quartet.  In 1944, Gingold accepted the position of concertmaster with the Detroit Symphony.  He was 34 years old.  Three years later, he began his tenure as concertmaster of the Cleveland Orchestra, where he remained for 13 years.  While in Cleveland, Gingold taught at Case Western Reserve University.  In 1960, he took up teaching full-time at Indiana University.  He also taught master classes around the world.  It has been said that Gingold emphasized individuality in his teaching, in the style of Leopold Auer.  He edited many violin works and compiled a 3-volume set of orchestral excerpts which is highly valued by aspiring orchestral violinists.  You can hear one of Gingold's audio files on YouTube here.  Among his many pupils are Joseph Silverstein, Jaime Laredo, Philippe Graffin, Erez Ofer, Raymond Kobler, Corey Cerovsek, Miriam Fried, Catherine Lange, Anne Akiko-Myers, Eugene Fodor, Arturo Delmoni, Leonidas Kavakos, William Preucil, Philip Setzer, Shony Braun, and Joshua Bell.  Josef Gingold died on January 11, 1995, at age 85.  His violin, which he obtained in 1946, was the Martinelli Stradivarius of 1683.  In 1998, Gingold’s son George (a lawyer) got into a legal fight with a violin dealer over the commission he owed after the dealer sold the violin (for $1.6 million.)  The fight was settled out of court.  Augustin Hadelich had this violin on loan from 2006 until 2010.