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.