Tossy Spivakovsky (Nathan Spivakovsky) was a Russian (Ukrainian) violinist and teacher born (in Odessa) on December 23, 1906. He belongs squarely in the era of individualistic virtuosos born (mostly) in the first half of the Twentieth Century – the era of Kreisler, Kogan, Elman, Milstein, Thibaud, Grumiaux, Spalding, Zimbalist, Suk, Brown, Gitlis, Huberman, Hartmann, Haendel, Heifetz, Oistrakh, Ricci, Rabin, Ferras, Francescatti, and a few others. By 1990, most of these players were dead. It has been said that Spivakovsky was a “highly eccentric violinist with an unconventional bow and violin hold.” For many years, Spivakovsky had a very successful solo career, though he was not among the virtuosos who studied with Leopold Auer, Peter Stolyarsky, Abram Yampolsky, or Carl Flesch. He studied in Berlin with Willy Hess at the Royal Academy (Advanced School for Music) and gave his first public performance at age 10. At age 13, as soon as World War I ended, he toured Europe for the first time. At age 18 (1925), he became concertmaster of the Berlin Philharmonic. He spent a year there (one usually-reliable source says it was two years) then left to pursue a career as a soloist. Also in the 1920s, he – with his older pianist brother Jascha – formed the Spivakovsky Duo. In 1930, he played and toured with the Spivakovsky-Kurtz Trio. In 1933, the trio found itself in Australia where it (rather spontaneously) decided to stay because of the political changes then taking place in Germany. Spivakovsky took a teaching position at the University of Melbourne, as did the other two members of the trio – Jascha Spivakovsky, pianist, and Edmund Kurtz, cellist. In 1940, Spivakovsky came to the U.S. He was 34 years old. Interestingly, Spivakovsky had two other (older) brothers who were accomplished musicians – Isaac and Adolf – who had joined him in Australia in 1934. They (and Jascha) remained in Australia when Spivakovsky emigrated to the U.S. That same year (1940), Spivakovsky made his debut in Town Hall (New York.) After some concertizing activity, in 1942, he was appointed concertmaster of the Cleveland Orchestra. While serving as concertmaster in Cleveland, he gave the U.S. premiere of Bartok’s second concerto (1943) in one of its programs. On October 14, 1943, he gave the first New York performance of the same work with the New York Philharmonic, an orchestra with which he appeared more than 20 times. Bartok himself said his playing of the concerto was first rate. Wherever he played, he received extremely favorable reviews. With the New York Philharmonic, he performed four concertos which never became part of the standard repertoire – those by Gian Carlo Menotti, Roger Sessions, Carl Nielsen, and Frank Martin. Spivakovsky stepped down from his Cleveland post in 1945. His interpretations have been described as highly personalized, meaning that he put his temperamental (some would say idiosyncratic) stamp on everything he played. A few YouTube audio files bear witness to this. One of them is here. His playing of the Tchaikovsky concerto is done in a manner unlike anything I have heard before. As an added bonus, in the C major passage which immediately follows the re-statement of the main theme by the orchestra (about 8 minutes into the first movement), Spivakovsky plays the repeat of the variation-like section an octave higher. I know of only three other violinists who do this – Jascha Heifetz, Erick Friedman, and Leila Josefowicz. You can listen for yourself here. Spivakovsky concertized extensively in Europe, the U.S., and South America for about four decades. Most of his recordings were done between 1925 and 1960 but they are few and far between - most are still available. He taught at Juilliard (New York) between 1974 and 1989. He was 68 years old when he began teaching there and 83 when he retired. As far as I know, he had no famous students. An explanation of his unorthodox bow hold was published in a book in 1949. Spivakovsky was known to conduct extensive research into original editions of music to get as accurate a picture of composers’ intentions as possible. His violin was a 1769 G.B. Guadagnini. I don't know what became of it. He also published an essay on Bach’s unaccompanied violin Partitas in 1967. His ideas were not widely adopted, but that’s putting it mildly. Spivakovsky died (in Westport, Connecticut) on July 20, 1998, at age 91.
Sunday, July 29, 2012
Thursday, July 26, 2012
Josef Gingold was a Russian (Belarusian) violinist, author, and teacher born on October, 28, 1909. He is mostly known for having been a highly successful teacher, one of the artists who put the Indiana University School of Music (Bloomington, Indiana) on the map. Many have put him on the level of Ivan Galamian as an influential violin pedagogue. He began his violin studies as a child (perhaps at age 4) and gave his first public performance for a group of German soldiers during World War I. He was not yet 6 years old and had not yet learned to read music. In October of 1920, his family came to the U.S. and he began his studies at the Music School Settlement in New York City. Later on, from age 12, he studied privately with Vladimir Graffman (father of pianist Gary Graffman), an assistant to the great pedagogue, Leopold Auer. Gingold then made his debut at Aeolian Hall in 1926 when he was 17 years old – one source says 1930, which quite possibly was a second debut. Between May, 1927 and September, 1929, he studied with Eugene Ysaye in Belgium. While there, he gave the premiere of Ysaye’s Ballade – his third sonata for unaccompanied violin (Opus 27, No.3.) – on or about February 28, 1928, at the Brussels Conservatory. Gingold also gave the first U.S. performance of the same work. While in Europe, Gingold concertized for at least a year (in Belgium, France, and Holland) but returned to the U.S. in the fall of 1929. He gave a recital in New York and performed as soloist with the Minneapolis Symphony but things ended there. Additional work was very hard to come by. Nevertheless, he played successfully, earning about $85 a week, as a free-lance violinist – for Broadway shows, the Chicago World’s Fair, the Manhattan Symphony, the Ritz-Carlton Hotel and anywhere else he might find employment, even if temporary - until he landed a position in the first violins of the NBC Symphony in 1937. He played there for seven seasons. In those years, several string players who would later reach world-class status as soloists played anywhere they could. Those players included Eugene Ormandy, Pablo Casals, Mischa Elman, Leonard Rose, Joseph Fuchs, Milton Katims, William Primrose, Oscar Shumsky, Israel Baker, Frank Miller, Emanuel Vardi, and Elias Breeskin. Gingold also joined the Primrose Quartet, playing second violin to Oscar Shumsky. He later played first violin in the NBC Quartet. In 1944, Gingold accepted the position of concertmaster with the Detroit Symphony. He was 34 years old. Three years later, he began his tenure as concertmaster of the Cleveland Orchestra, where he remained for 13 years. While in Cleveland, Gingold taught at Case Western Reserve University. In 1960, he took up teaching full-time at Indiana University. He also taught master classes around the world. It has been said that Gingold emphasized individuality in his teaching, in the style of Leopold Auer. He edited many violin works and compiled a 3-volume set of orchestral excerpts which is highly valued by aspiring orchestral violinists. You can hear one of Gingold's audio files on YouTube here. Among his many pupils are Joseph Silverstein, Jaime Laredo, Philippe Graffin, Erez Ofer, Raymond Kobler, Corey Cerovsek, Miriam Fried, Catherine Lange, Anne Akiko-Myers, Eugene Fodor, Arturo Delmoni, Leonidas Kavakos, William Preucil, Philip Setzer, Shony Braun, and Joshua Bell. Josef Gingold died on January 11, 1995, at age 85. His violin, which he obtained in 1946, was the Martinelli Stradivarius of 1683. In 1998, Gingold’s son George (a lawyer) got into a legal fight with a violin dealer over the commission he owed after the dealer sold the violin (for $1.6 million.) The fight was settled out of court. Augustin Hadelich had this violin on loan from 2006 until 2010.
Sunday, July 15, 2012
Arthur Judson (Arthur Leon Judson) was an American violinist, conductor, and artist manager born (in Dayton, Ohio, USA) on February 17, 1881. After giving up his career as a concert violinist, he became the most powerful artist manager and promoter in U.S. history. One source has him starting his violin studies at age 8 and another at age 12. Two of his teachers were Max Bendix (famous for his connection to Theodore Thomas) and Leopold Lichtenberg (teacher at the National Conservatory in New York, where Antonin Dvorak was the Director from 1891 to 1895.) He graduated from High School in 1899 but his enthusiasm and ambition were soon evident in the fact that he became the Director of the music department at Denison University (Ohio) at age 19. At that University in 1903, he performed the (Richard) Strauss violin sonata, said to be the best violin sonata ever written. The performance, according to Judson, marked the U.S. premiere of the work. That claim, however, is debatable, since the sonata was completed in 1888 and it is unlikely that it would have taken fifteen years for it to reach the American public. After his stint at Denison (1900-1907), he went to New York City to establish himself as a concert violinist. By then, he had also been concertmaster of the orchestra at the Victoria Theatre in Dayton. Since his efforts to make a living as an artist yielded few results, he went into the magazine business, finding employment as music critic and advertising manager for the magazine Musical America. He spent 8 years there. In this capacity, he became very well-known by artists and administrators around the country. It thus appears that his playing career lasted about 7 years. In 1915, he was named manager of the Philadelphia Orchestra. He was 34 years old. Shortly thereafter, he created an artist management agency in Philadelphia and in New York as well. In 1922, he became manager of the New York Philharmonic. By 1927, he had launched his own radio network, something called the United Independent Broadcasters, which was, within a few months, bought by William Paley. Paley renamed it the Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS.) Judson thus became a major stockholder in the new company. The initial intent of Judson’s broadcasting network had simply been to bring artists which he managed to national attention through various radio programs, but, the end result was something far more significant. He was 46 years old. By 1930, Judson had control of Columbia Artists Management, and managed the careers of 125 artists and organizations. Columbia Artists Management had been created via a merger of one of Judson’s agencies with 7 other management firms. After public criticism of the conflicts of interest created by his myriad activities, Judson resigned his position with the Philadelphia Orchestra in 1934. Also, because of his monopolistic influence – by 1935 he controlled two thirds of the concert action around the U.S. – and the incestuous business structures resulting from his management of orchestras, radio networks, and artists, he was in 1939 investigated by the federal government. This resulted in his slowly restructuring and diversifying his empire, though his considerable influence, even in the area of orchestral programming, continued unabated for many years thereafter. It has been said that Judson stopped representing the conductor Otto Klemperer after Klemperer programmed one of Mahler’s symphonies for a New York Philharmonic concert, a decision which Judson disagreed with - I don’t like Mahler either so I would have sided with Judson. He kept his position with the New York Philharmonic until 1956. He was 75 years old. Of course, he was very wealthy by then. Arthur Judson died (in New York) on January 28, 1975, at age 93.
Saturday, July 14, 2012
Laura Archera (Laura Archera Huxley) was an Italian violinist, writer, filmmaker, and lay psychologist born (in Turin, Italy) on November 2, 1911. She is best known for having been the wife of writer, philosopher, and LSD guru Aldous Huxley. Her career somewhat mirrors that of Olga Rudge, a highly accomplished violinist who gave up her career for Ezra Pound, the controversial writer, poet, composer, and political activist. Several sources state that Archera began her violin studies at the age of ten in Turin, Italy. Encouraged by her father, she dropped out of formal school at age fourteen in order to focus on her music studies. At that age also, she played for the Queen of Italy (Marie-Jose’.) According to a usually reliable source, she then traveled to Berlin, Paris, and Rome for further study. The same source states that she earned her degree in Rome at age 17. Another source, however, states she graduated at age 21. In Paris she studied with George Enesco; in Berlin, with Carl Flesch; in Rome, I do not know. She gave numerous recitals throughout Europe during these years. It is also stated in various easily available sources that she traveled between Europe and the U.S. for several years. She made her U.S. debut in 1937 in Carnegie Hall playing Mozart’s fifth concerto, accompanied by the New York Women’s Orchestra. She was 26 years old. She then went on to study at the Curtis Institute in Philadelphia. How much playing she did (or where) in the U.S. is not well-documented on the internet, so I have no clue about that. Some sources state that she played at Carnegie Hall as a teenager but those same sources say that she first came to the U.S. shortly before the war. Both statements cannot be right. After the start of World War II (1939), she did not return to Europe. She played in the Los Angeles Philharmonic from the beginning of the 1943-1944 season to the end of the 1945-1946 season. She owned and played a 1705 (Cozio says 1703) Guarnerius violin, an early gift from her father (a stockbroker), which, supposedly, she later donated to violinist Yehudi Menuhin, though I find that very, very hard to believe. Even extremely generous people do not donate such valuable instruments, unless they are wealthy philanthropists. In any case, Menuhin had the violin until 1978, after which the violin was auctioned off. Archera did have her precious Guarnerius at least up until 1961. It was one of the few things she was able to save when her house in Hollywood burned down. She began working as a free-lance film editor at RKO Studios at about the time she quit her job with the Los Angeles Philharmonic though she had been delving into documentary filmmaking since 1945. If she ever played the violin again after 1946 is anybody’s guess. She was only 35 years old. Along the way, she wrote several self-help books, a memoir-biography of Huxley (whom she married in 1956), and started a group that helps children and parents of children. Archera died on December 13, 2007, at age 96. As far as I know, she died without ever having recorded anything.
Sunday, July 1, 2012
Emanuel Borok is a Russian (many would say American) violinist and teacher born (in Tashkent, Uzbekistan) on July 15, 1944. Although he was Associate Concertmaster of the Boston Symphony for 11 years, he is best known for being the long-time concertmaster of the Dallas Symphony, a post from which he retired in 2010. As a child, he studied violin at the Darzinya Music School in Riga (Latvia) with Voldemar Sturestep. At age 15, he entered the well-known Gnessin Music School in Moscow. One of his teachers there was Michael Garlitsky. After winning some of the top prizes in the All Russian Republic and All Soviet Union Violin Competitions, he joined the Bolshoi Theatre Orchestra as Assistant Concertmaster in 1969. He was 25 years old. He became Second Concertmaster of the Moscow Philharmonic in 1971. Two years later, he went to Israel to serve as concertmaster of the Israel Chamber Orchestra. In 1974, he came to the U.S. to join the Boston Symphony as Associate Concertmaster, a post which automatically made him concertmaster of the famous Boston Pops Orchestra. In 1985, he joined the Dallas Symphony as concertmaster. He was 41 years old. The Principal conductors under which he was concertmaster were Eduardo Mata, Andrew Litton, and Jaap Van Zweden. Besides concertizing in South America, Canada, and Europe, he has several times partnered in solo appearances with Yehudi Menuhin, Pinchas Zukerman, and Janos Starker, among many others. He continues to perform and teach at several music festivals in the U.S. Borok has taught at the Tanglewood Music Center, the University of Houston, Southern Methodist University, and the University of North Texas. However, he has also occasionally taught in Italy, Switzerland, France, Russia, the Czech Republic, and England. In addition to the dozens of recordings with the Boston and Dallas orchestras, Borok has recorded as a soloist on the Eroica label and has also published cadenzas for the Mozart concertos. A 1727 Stradivarius which Borok played was stolen from him in 1985 in Europe. It was recovered 20 years later before being auctioned off by an unsuspecting auction house. This is unusual because such thefts more than often go unsolved. Erica Morini's stolen violin is still out there somewhere. Borok now plays a 1608 Amati violin which he purchased in 1976. It is definitely one of the oldest violins being played on a concert stage today. You can hear the magnificent (gorgeous) tone of this Amati in this YouTube video.