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. *