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.