Thursday, June 28, 2012

Alan Gilbert

Alan Gilbert is an American violinist, conductor, and teacher, born (in New York) on February 23, 1967.  Although trained as a violinist from an early age, he pursued a conducting career while still very young – Daniel Barenboim did essentially the same thing.  His conducting pursuits took such a serious turn that the highest post he attained as a violinist was assistant concertmaster of the Santa Fe Opera Company (New Mexico) in 1993.  He was 26 years old.  Gilbert is much better known as the recently appointed conductor of the New York Philharmonic.  He joins Peter Oundjian, Neville Marriner, Jaap Van Zweden, Jean-Pascal Tortelier, David Zinman, Lorin Maazel, Eugene Ormandy, Pierre Monteux, Jacques Singer, Charles Munch, and Theodore Thomas, in a group of violinists who essentially almost entirely left the violin for the podium.  There is another group of contemporary violinists who also conduct but who continue to concertize assiduously – Jaime Laredo, Pinchas Zukerman, Itzhak Perlman, Salvatore Accardo, Joseph Silverstein, Joshua Bell, and Leonidas Kavakos are in this group.  Do violinists or pianists make better conductors?  I would not know.  According to at least one source, Gilbert made his violin debut with the New York Philharmonic in October of 2011.  The piece he chose was Bach’s two-violin concerto.  The same piece was chosen by Alma Rose' for her debut in 1926.  Gilbert has an affinity for modern music, music which is, for the most part, unintelligible, as far as I’m concerned.  Though Gilbert has already programmed a number of world premieres, it is doubtful that he will ever match Theodore Thomas’ record of 112 world premieres with the Chicago Symphony.  In any case, Gilbert’s premieres would be music which almost nobody wants to listen to a second time.  Thomas, by the way, conducted the New York Philharmonic for four years way back in 1887.  Gilbert began his violin studies as a child.  It was not difficult since his mother, his father, and his grandfather were (are) all professional violinists.  He later enrolled at Harvard University, the New England Conservatory of Music, the Curtis Institute, and Juilliard.  Beginning in 1994, Gilbert won a number of conducting prizes which helped further his conducting career.  Gilbert was assistant conductor with the Cleveland Orchestra from 1995 to 1997.  In January of 2000, he became conductor of the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra, a post he held until 2008.  From 2003 to 2006, he served as Music Director of the Santa Fe Opera.  He has also been Principal Guest Conductor of the NDR Symphony (Hamburg, Germany) since 2004.  In September of 2009, he began his tenure as Chief Conductor of the New York Philharmonic, although his appointment came in July of 2007.  He was 42 years old.  In September of 2011, he was appointed Director of Conducting and Orchestral studies at Juilliard.  As for his violin, I guess it is safely put away, though not forgotten.  I happened to hear the performance of the Bach double violin concerto and was impressed with Gilbert’s style as well as his technical accomplishments as a violin player.  Gilbert’s website features him as a conductor and chamber musician and there are several videos of performances on YouTube – one such is here with the Sibelius concerto.  

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Joseph Fuchs

Joseph Fuchs (Joseph Philip Fuchs) was an American violinist and teacher born (in New York) on April 26, 1899.  His early studies were with his father.  He later studied at Juilliard (Institute of Musical Arts - New York) with Franz Kneisel and Louis Svecenski and graduated in 1918.  His American debut took place in 1920 at the Aeolian Hall.  He then went to Berlin for further study and to play in several German orchestras in Frankfurt, Munich, and Berlin.  Returning to New York in 1922 or 1923, he played in the Capitol Theatre Orchestra for some time (where Eugene Ormandy was concertmaster) but also played wherever else the opportunity arose.  Though very highly respected with a distinguished career as teacher and concert violinist, his profile was never very high because – Alessandro Rolla comes to mind - he lived during a time when Jascha Heifetz, Fritz Kreisler, Mischa Elman, Nathan Milstein, Yehudi Menuhin, Michael Rabin, Isaac Stern, Leonid Kogan, David Oistrakh, Arthur Grumiaux, Joseph Suk, Christian Ferras, Zino Francescatti, Joseph Szigeti, and Ruggiero Ricci dominated the violin scene.  Since he was concertmaster of the Cleveland Orchestra for fourteen years (1926 to 1940), his delayed entry into the concertizing world for that many years may have cost him dearly.  His Carnegie Hall debut did not come until 1943.  He was 44 years old.  Nevertheless, Fuchs toured extensively all over the world (Europe – 1954, South America – 1957, Russia - 1965) while developing a teaching career in the U.S.  Fuchs was also one of a few violinists who had to retrain after undergoing surgery on his left hand – Huberman and Thibaud did the same thing.  His first appearance with the New York Philharmonic was on August 1, 1945.  He played Bruch’s first concerto on that occasion.  Soon thereafter – on October 27, 1945 - he premiered the Nikolai Lopatnikoff concerto with the same orchestra.  That concerto has probably not been played much after that though it was recorded by Fuchs.  He premiered several other modern works as well.  In 1946, the same year he acquired the famous Cadiz Stradivarius violin, he began teaching at Juilliard and taught there almost until the day he died – 51 years.  One of his pupils is Anna Rabinova.  In 1952, he recorded (with Artur Balsam) one of the first complete sets of the Beethoven violin sonatas.  His last appearance with the New York Philharmonic was on August 1, 1962.  A YouTube audio file featuring Fuchs playing Beethoven’s Romance in G can be found here.  Fuchs’s last recital was in 1992, at Carnegie Hall.  He was 93 years old.  Nathan Milstein, Joseph Szigeti, Ruggiero Ricci, Ida Haendal, Abram Shtern, Ivry Gitlis, Zvi Zeitlin, and Roman Totenberg have also played recitals at a very advanced age.  On the other hand, it may well be that Nicolo Paganini played his last concert when he was only 52.  Joseph Fuchs died in New York City on March 14, 1997, at age 97.  By the way, the Cadiz Strad (1722), having been sold to an American Foundation, is now on loan to another American violinist.  

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Celebrity Violinists

I have been meaning to put together a list of celebrity violinists for a while, but I have not done so for reasons I do not understand.  However, I have decided – instead - to now put together a list of violinists on this blog who, for reasons I also do not understand, have gotten very little attention – fewer than 70 (unique) views.  And, here it is, in reverse chronological order: Arthur Hartmann, Jacob Grun, Franz Kneisel, Eddie South, Tivadar Nachez, Karl Halir, Camilla Urso, Nahan Franko, Albert Sammons, Jose Lafitte, Daisy Kennedy, Isidore Cohen, Erick Friedman, Victoria Mullova, Joseph Hellmesberger, Robert Mann, Emmanuel Wirth, William Reed, Otto Joachim, Ion Voicu, Jan Kubelik, Willy Hess, Pierre Baillot, Jacques Thibaud, Antonio Bazzini, Roman Totenberg, Jeno Hubay, and Emile Sauret.  With time, perhaps these violinists may get a few more views and reach 100 views or so.  Few people seem even aware that these once-famous people were very influential musicians in their day.  Of course some profiles have gotten over 500 (unique) views but the reason eludes me.  Why some old names stick and others don’t is a mystery.  The ones who are contemporary but have very few views are Robert Mann and Victoria Mullova but the reason for that is that my Pronetoviolins blog post about them does not even show up in the first ten pages of Google.  I wonder if, fifty years from now, Gil Shaham or Itzhak Perlman or Hilary Hahn will still be remembered.  Not too long ago, I asked a violin student if she had heard a certain Heifetz recording.  She said she had never heard of Jascha Heifetz.  Well, there it is.