Saturday, April 28, 2012

Eddie South

Eddie South (Edward Otha South) was an American jazz violinist and bandleader born (in Louisiana, Missouri) on November 27, 1904.  He is known for having achieved legendary status only after he died.  It has been said that had he not been black, he would have chosen a career in classical music.  He began his violin studies at a very early age and by age 10, was studying at the Chicago Music College, from which he graduated, possibly in the year 1921.  He entered the world of jazz in 1921, with assistance from Darnell Howard (a leading jazz violinist of that era), playing with Erskine Tate and Mae Brady.  In 1923, he was musical director of Jimmy Wade’s Syncopators in Chicago.  South's first recording came in that same year with Wade's Moulin Rouge Orchestra.  He formed his own band, the Alabamians, in 1927.  The group was named after the place they performed in, the Club Alabam, on the corner of Rush and Chicago Streets, a section of Chicago then known as Chicago's Bohemia.  Along the way, South also worked with bandleaders Charles Elgar, Henry Crowder, and Freddie Keppard, as well as bassist Milt Hinton, and pianist Billy Taylor.  He toured Europe with this band between 1928 and 1930.  Having arrived in Europe, he also studied at the Paris Conservatory.  While in Budapest, Hungary, in 1929, South took a liking to Gypsy (Roma) music and eventually made it a part of his improvisations.  It is well-known that during a tour of Europe in 1937, he performed and recorded with jazz legends Stephane Grappelli, Michel Warlop, and Django Reinhardt (who famously played with his two usable fingers only) in Paris.  Among the tunes recorded was Bach's concerto for two violins - in jazz style, of course.  Besides recording, he also played on radio and television.  From 1947 to 1949 he played in the big bands led by Earl Hines.  South also worked in New York and Los Angeles.  Nevertheless, despite the exposure he got from working with the biggest names in Jazz, as far as the public was concerned, he stayed unknown for the remainder of his life.  It has been said that his playing style suffered from the strictures imposed by his classical training – it didn’t swing sufficiently.  He recorded for the Chess and Mercury labels among others.  One of his last recordings was produced in 1951, though he last recorded in 1959.  YouTube has several audio files of his playing, one of which you can hear here.  That fascinating recording of the Bach Double concerto (for two violins) he did with Stephane Grappelli can be heard here. South died in Chicago on April 25, 1962, at age 57.  

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Alina Ibragimova

Alina Ibragimova is a Russian violinist born (in Polevskov) on September 28, 1985.  She is known for playing on modern as well as period instruments – equally well.  She is also known for having played at Yehudi Menuhin’s funeral in Westminster Abby in 1999, at age 13.  She began her violin studies with her mother at age four.  She then entered the well-known Gnessin Music School in Moscow at age five, studying under Valentina Korolkova, a familiar name in Russia but not anywhere else.  In 1996, at age ten, she relocated to London with her family and began studying at the Yehudi Menuhin School.  Her main teacher was Natalya Boyarskaya, also known as Natasha Boyarsky.  She spent six years there then moved on to The Royal Academy of Music (Guildhall School of Music) and finally the Royal College of Music, from which she graduated in the summer of 2007.  Her main teacher there was Gordan Nikolitch.  She was 21 years old.  She has been concertizing ever since and has played with some of the major orchestras in the world.  Along the way, she founded a quartet – the Chiaroscuro Quartet – which plays on period instruments.  The quartet does not play on a regular basis since all of its members (Pablo Benedi, Emelie Hornlund, and Claire Thirion) have independent careers.  Ibragimova has recently conducted the Academy of Ancient Music, the famous period instrument ensemble based in England.  Her exclusive record label is Hyperion Records and her discography so far includes 9 CDs on that and the Wigmore Hall Live labels.  She also, of course, has a website, which contains extensive information about her, including all of her future engagements, which are considerable.  YouTube has several videos of her playing, one of which is here.  Ibragimova has played a 1738 Pietro Guarneri violin since 2006 – a violin provided her by industrialist Georg von Opel.  However, she is currently playing a 1775 violin by Anselmo Bellosio (a Venetian violin maker who died young), also provided by Mr. von Opel. 

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Cecylia Arzewski

Cecylia Arzewski is a Polish (some would say American) violinist and teacher born (in Krakow, Poland) in 1948.  She is known for playing in some of the top U.S. orchestras as either Concertmaster or Associate Concertmaster, namely the Cleveland Orchestra, the Boston Symphony, and the Atlanta Symphony.  Although a highly gifted orchestral violinist, her solo repertoire is very extensive – in fact, as extensive as almost any concert artist’s.  The tradition of the concertmaster-soloist reaches as far back as William DeFesch and Leopold Mozart.  More recent examples of this tradition are Rodolphe Kreutzer, Ferdinand David, Joseph Joachim, Ferdinand Laub, Eugene Ysaye, Max Bendix, Karl Halir, Theodore Spiering, Louis Persinger, Abram Shtern, Steven Staryk, Albert Sammons, Hugh Bean, Calvin Sieb, Sydney Harth, Raymond Cohen, David Nadien, Richard Burgin, Simon Standage, Frank Almond, and Glenn Dicterow.  Arzewski began her violin studies in Poland at age 5.  One of her first teachers was Eugenia Uminska at the Krakow Music Academy.  Four years later (1957), she and her family moved to Israel where she was enrolled at the Tel Aviv Conservatory.  Her principal teacher there was Odeon Partos, a violinist I had never heard of until now; he is better known as a Hungarian composer rather than violinist.  Arzewski later came to the U.S (probably 1960, though the year is not entirely certain) and studied with Ivan Galamian at Juilliard (New York) and Joseph Silverstein at the New England Conservatory (Boston.)  She also very briefly studied under Jascha Heifetz and Joseph Gingold.  She played in the Buffalo Philharmonic for one season – 1969 to 1970.  In 1970, at age 22, she joined the first violinist ranks of the Boston Symphony.  She then gradually moved up to the Assistant Concertmaster position, a position she reached in either 1978 or 1985 – sources differ.  Subsequent to receiving a prize at the Bach International Competition in Leipzig, she played a debut recital in New York at Carnegie Hall in 1978.  The program consisted entirely of Bach unaccompanied violin works.  From 1987 to 1990, she played as Associate Concertmaster in the Cleveland Orchestra.  Her tenure as Concertmaster of the Atlanta Symphony began in 1990 and ended in 2008.  She has, of course, performed as soloist on many occasions with the Cleveland and Atlanta Symphonies.  She played the Wieniawski concerto in her first appearance with the Atlanta Symphony in 1990 and the Prokofiev second concerto in her last in 2003.  Today, she devotes herself to solo playing and is also the Artistic Director of the North Georgia Chamber Music Festival.  I do not know what violin she plays.  There are several posts of her playing on YouTube – here is one of them, the Strauss Sonata, said to be one of the best violin sonatas ever written. 

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Edouard Lalo

Edouard Lalo (Edouard Victoire Antoine Lalo) was a French violinist, composer, and teacher born (in Lille, France) on January 12, 1823.  Some sources – in fact, most sources – give his date of birth as January 27, 1823.  Today, he is not remembered as a violinist, but rather, as the composer of the famous violin concerto, Symphonie Espagnol (1874, opus 21), a work which every concert violinist learns and plays and, if they are lucky, records.  It has been said that his marriage to one of his young pupils when he was 42 inspired him to write the Symphonie, though it actually was not written until nine years later.  In fact, he composed nothing between the year he got married (1865) and 1873, the year he wrote his violin concerto in F.  As a child, Lalo studied violin, cello, and piano at the Lille Conservatory.  He left home at age 16 and entered the Paris Conservatory.  His father then disowned him because he was firmly opposed to the idea that the teenager Lalo should make music his profession.  Nevertheless, Lalo stuck it out and paid for his tuition at the Paris Conservatory by giving lessons and playing in ensembles.  At the conservatory, his violin teacher was Francois Habeneck, one of the foremost violinists and conductors of the day.  Lalo made his living by only playing and teaching privately until about age 50, when he seriously entertained the idea of composing large-scale works.  He had already been composing chamber music for many years prior to this but his reputation as a composer was slowly acquired.  He formed the Armingaud Quartet in either 1848 or 1855 (sources vary) in which he played viola at first then second violin.  Chamber music in France was not much appreciated until about the late 1800s but Lalo’s quartet helped change that.  Early works of his were a Fantasy for violin and piano (1848, opus 1), a piano trio (1851, opus 7), and a violin sonata (1853, opus 12.)  Among his major compositions are three symphonies, two violin concertos, a cello concerto, an opera, a ballet, and a piano concerto.  Other than the Symphonie Espagnol and the cello concerto, none of these works is ever performed, except perhaps in France.  However, the premiere of his opera in 1888, was a huge success for Lalo.  Trio Oriens can be seen and heard on YouTube playing Lalo's first trio and Lynn Harrell can be heard playing the cello concerto here.  According to a usually-reliable source, Lalo owned and played a 1700 Matteo Goffriller violin. Only God knows where it is now. Lalo died on either April 22 or April 23, 1892, at age 69.  

Monday, April 2, 2012

Tivadar Nachez

Tivadar Nach├ęz was a Hungarian violinist, teacher, and composer born (in Budapest) on May 1, 1859.  He began his violin studies at age 5, then later studied with the concertmaster of the Budapest Opera, known to me only as Mr. Sabathiel.  He was never a virtuoso of the first rank but was nonetheless successful as a performer, arranger, and composer.  He lived in England most of his life and even became a naturalized English citizen.  While still a young boy, he was accompanied by Franz Liszt.  In Berlin, he studied for three years with Joseph Joachim - at the same time as Jeno Hubay - and privately in Paris with Belgian violinist Hubert Leonard.  He made formal debuts in Hamburg and London in 1881.  He was 22 years old.  He toured regularly - and made friends with all the important musicians of his day - for the rest of his life.  Even as early as 1889, critics who heard him expressed admiration for his musicianship but pointed out technical deficiencies in his playing.  An indication of his limitations as a violinist can be gathered from his opinion that Ernst’s arrangement of Schubert’s Erlkonig for solo violin was “so difficult, in fact, that it should not be played.”  He was quoted as saying that he often practiced between 8 and 10 hours a day.  He performed his second violin concerto with the London Philharmonic on April 17, 1907.  His best known works are probably his edition of one of Vivaldi’s concertos for two violins – the one in a minor, Opus 3, Number 8 – and his Gypsy Dances.  It has been said he used a Tourte bow previously owned by Heinrich Ernst.  He also owned several magnificent violins, including a 1716 Stradivarius which I was not able to find on any list of Stradivari violins.  Nachez died in Switzerland on May 29, 1930, at age 71.