Sunday, December 29, 2013

Oscar Shumsky

Oscar Shumsky was a Russian (most people would say American) violinist, violist, conductor, and teacher born (in Philadelphia) on March 23, 1917.  He had a long and busy career during which he almost completely stopped concertizing in favor of teaching.  It has been said that Otokar Sevcik had over 5,000 students over the span of a greater-than sixty-year teaching career.  Shumsky had lots of students but I’m pretty sure it wasn’t more than five thousand.  It has also been said of Shumsky that he had an un-compromising, opinionated personality – in the style of Berl Senofsky.  Shumsky began to study the violin at age three - one source says age 4 - with Albert Meiff.  He first appeared with orchestra at age seven with the Philadelphia Orchestra and Leopold Stokowski on the podium, playing Mozart’s fifth concerto – known as the Turkish concerto.  At age 8 he began to study privately with Leopold Auer in New York.  Three years later (1928) he entered the Curtis Institute where he continued to study with Auer and later on (beginning in 1930) with Efrem Zimbalist.  He made his New York debut in 1934.  He was 17 years old.  He graduated from Curtis in 1936 but continued to study privately with Zimbalist until 1938.  He joined the NBC Symphony under the ill-tempered conductor Arturo Toscanini in 1939.  He was the youngest member of the orchestra and sat in the second stand of the first violins.  That same year, he also joined the Primrose Quartet as first violinist – William Primrose was also a member of the NBC Symphony.  At the time, many top-flight New York musicians had become members of either the NBC Symphony or the New York Philharmonic because solo work was scarce.  From 1941, he served in the Navy, playing as one of the orchestral soloists and playing in the Navy string quartet with cellist Bernard Greenhouse, violist Emanuel Vardi, and David Stone.  After the war, Shumsky was featured on weekly radio programs on NBC, as were a few other violinists of the time.  However, a very reliable source says that this broadcast activity actually occurred in 1939, before the war.  It may have been both, before and after.  Whether any of those programs survive in recordings is anybody’s guess.  Shumsky also worked as a studio musician, leading the RCA and the Columbia Symphonies as concertmaster on various occasions.  Shumsky taught at the Curtis Institute (1961 to 1965), the Peabody Conservatory (from 1942), Yale University (from 1975), and the Juilliard School (from 1953.)  I do not know how long he taught at each particular school.  On December 15, 1956, he appeared with the New York Philharmonic playing the Beethoven concerto.  Leonard Bernstein was on the podium.  Shumsky made his conducting debut in 1959.  As far as I know, he never conducted any major orchestras.  His commercial discography includes Rode’s 24 Caprices, Beethoven’s concerto, Brahms’ concerto, two Mozart concertos (4 and 5), three Bach concertos, the Glazunov concerto, the complete Mozart Sonatas, the complete Brahms Hungarian Dances, and the Bach solo Partitas and Sonatas.  He also recorded with the Primrose Quartet and those recordings are still available.  Here is a YouTube video of one of his recorded performances.  It is the famous Richard Strauss sonata – the one responsible for the attack on Jascha Heifetz (which resulted in his broken arm.)  Glenn Gould is the accompanist.  Shumsky’s students include Steven Staryk, Stanley Ritchie, Guillermo Figueroa, and Ida Kavafian.  Among many other violins, Shumsky played (and owned) the 1715 Stradivarius known as the Pierre Rode Stradivarius.  The violin was inherited by Shumsky’s two sons who sold it to Tokuji Munetsugu in 2004.  According to at least one source, this violin was subsequently played (at least for a while) by Ryu Goto, brother of the famous violinist, Midori.  Shumsky died (in New York) on July 24, 2000, at age 83.  

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Angel Reyes

Angel Reyes was a Cuban violinist and teacher born on February 14, 1919.  There is little information about him readily available and this blog post is one I had very little time to write so I will conduct further research and expand it later in the week.  His first teacher was Juan Torroella in Cuba and he made his first public appearance at age 12. Reyes then studied in Europe at the Paris Conservatory from which most sources say he graduated at age 16.  His main teacher there was Firmin Touche (1875-1957), concertmaster of the Paris Opera as well as the Edouard Colonne Orchestra.  Touche also had his own quite successful string quartet - the Firmin Touche Quartet.  Reyes had a brief concertizing career before settling down to a teaching career at the University of Texas (1947 to 1955), Northwestern University  (1955 to 1965), and the University of Michigan (Ann Arbor), from which he retired in 1985. He was appointed Chairman of the String Department at Michigan in December of 1977.  Reyes was also first violinist with the quartet-in-residence at the University of Texas.  The quartet probably had a name but I do not yet know what it was.  He made his U.S. orchestral debut with the Philadelphia Orchestra on January 7, 1944.  Eugene Ormandy conducted that concert and Reyes played the Brahms concerto on that occasion.  He again appeared with Ormandy and the Philadelphia Orchestra on April 16, 1948, playing Karol Szymanowski's second concerto.  Reyes first performed with the New York Philharmonic on March 23, 1946, playing the Mendelssohn concerto at Carnegie Hall with Artur Rodzinski on the podium.  The performance was recorded and the recording is still available from the Richard Rodzinski collection. On June 6, 1946, he again played with the Philharmonic - he performed the first movement of Lalo's Symphonie Espagnol at a pops concert on which a variety of works (and several artists) were on the program.  He was 27 years old.  He later soloed with the Havana Philharmonic (pre-Fidel Castro days, of course) and many other orchestras in Europe, Canada, and Latin America many times.  He played, among other violins, the Lipinski Stradivarius (1715) and the Kreisler (Carlo) Bergonzi violins.  It has been said that the Lipinski Strad was first owned by none other than Giuseppe Tartini.  It is now played (and has been for a while) by Frank Almond, concertmaster of the Milwaukee Symphony.  Among Reyes' many students are Barbara Barber, Tyrone Greive, Joseph Sylvan, Laura Hammes Black, Michael Goldman, and Marilyn McDonald.  Reyes died on November 17, 1988, at age 69. 

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Mayuko Kamio

Mayuko Kamio is a Japanese violinist born (in Toyonaka, Osaka) on June 12, 1986.  She has been fortunate to have played with well-known, established artists from an early age.  When she was barely out of her teens, one of the critics for the New York Times described her as being “distinguished by her warmly luxurious, buttery tone and long, seamless phrasing.”  In Japan, she has played in every major venue and appeared with practically every orchestra.  She has also appeared in every major city in Europe.  In the U.S., her activity has been more limited, but no less successful.  She has also been (in 2003) the subject of a documentary by Josh Aronson, the director of the recent film about Polish violinist Bronislaw Huberman – Orchestra of Exiles.  The film is the last film in which Isaac Stern appears.  Kamio’s record labels are SONY-BMG and RCA.  In 1999, she won a major competition in England – the Menuhin competition.  She was 13 years old.  In 2000, she won a major competition in the U.S.  In 2004, Kamio took first prize in another competition in Monte Carlo.  In 2007, she won the best-known violin competition in the world – the Tchaikovsky.  She was 21 years old.  Kamio began to study violin when she was 4 years old.  Her teachers were Chikako Satoya and Chihiro Kudo, among others.  At age ten (1996), she made her debut with orchestra in Tokyo.  The concert was broadcast on TV and Charles Dutoit was on the podium.  Later on, in the U.S., beginning at age 14, she studied with Masao Kawasaki and Dorothy DeLay.  After that, she studied further in Europe with one of the best teachers currently still teaching – Zakhar Bron – at the Advanced School for Music and Theatre in Switzerland.  She received her artist’s diploma from that school but I know not in what year – it may have been 2007.  By then, she had already made her New York recital debut (in 2003.)  Kamio has played a 1727 (nameless, run-of-the-mill) Stradivarius and more recently, the Sennhauser Guarnerius (del Gesu) from 1735.  You can see and hear Kamio – at age 18 - perform the last section of the famous Mendelssohn concerto in this YouTube video.  In this other one, you can hear a PaganiniCaprice – number 13. 

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Sergey Krylov

Sergey Krylov is a Russian violinist, teacher, and conductor born (in Moscow) on December 2, 1970.  A bit of trivia about Krylov’s life is that his father was a violin maker (luthier), a rarity in Russia because Russian violin makers are few and far between, for reasons I know nothing about.  For hundreds of years (1550-1950), the overwhelming majority of violins were produced in Europe and nowhere else.  Another bit of trivia is that none other than (cellist) Mstislav Rostropovich was supposed to have declared Krylov to be one of the top five violinists in the world.  You can judge for yourself in this YouTube video – you can hear a pin drop in the immense audience which you can sense is simply spellbound.  Krylov began violin lessons at age 5.  A year later, he played his first public concert.  He entered the Central School either in Moscow or Kiev (a well-known music school for gifted children) at age 10.  His teachers there were Abram Shtern and Sergey Kravschenko.  His first recording came at age 16 on the Melodiya label, the official (government) Russian label at the time, with the Lithuanian Chamber Orchestra, which resides in Vilnius, city where Jascha Heifetz was born - Krylov would much later (2008) be appointed conductor of this orchestra.  After winning a violin competition in Italy at age 18, he began studying with Salvatore Accardo.  He later won another competition in Cremona, Italy, and still another in Vienna.   By that point, Krylov had begun his concertizing career, spending most of his time in Russia and Europe.  His playing has been described as “hypnotic.”  His articulation is very clean and reminds me of Leonid Kogan’s although Krylov’s sound is much sweeter than Kogan’s.  If you feel so inclined you can hear and see his performance of the Tchaikovsky concerto here.  My favorite recording of this work is Tossy Spivakovsky’s but Krylov’s certainly comes in a close second.  He has also participated in countless chamber music concerts throughout the world with a diverse group of musicians, including Maxim Vengerov, Mischa Maisky, Nobuko Imai, Yefim Bronfman, and Yuri Bashmet.  In 2012, he became part of the music faculty at the University of Music and Art in Lugano, Switzerland.  His recording labels are EMI, Agora, and Melodiya.  He has played the Scotland University Stradivarius of 1734 but I don’t know if he is presently playing that particular violin.  

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Sergey Khachatryan

Sergey Khachatryan is an Armenian violinist born (in Yerevan, Armenia) on April 5, 1985.  He has managed to establish a very busy and successful career from a very young age.  After Ivan Galamian, he is the most famous Armenian violinist.  His violin studies began at age 6 (one source says age 5) with Pyotr Haykazyan in his native Armenia.  At age 8 (1993), he moved to Germany with his family.  There, he studied with – among others - Hrachya Harutyunian (concertmaster of the Stuttgart Philharmonic, the Bavarian Radio Orchestra, and the Munich Philharmonic.)  At age 9, he played his first orchestral concert in Germany, which, as far as I know, is still his home base.  He began to study in Karlsruhe under Josef Rissin at age 11.  Khachatryan credits Rissin with most of his violinistic development and – as Jascha Heifetz did with his own teacher, Leopold Auer – still asks Rissin’s advice.  After winning the Sibelius competition at age 15 (the youngest winner in the competition’s history), Khachatryan began to be engaged to play concerts far and wide.  His first orchestral recording (the Sibelius concerto) was released in 2003.  He was 18 years old.  In 2005, he won the Queen Elizabeth competition, another prestigious violin competition.  Khachatryan made his New York debut on August 4, 2006 playing the Beethoven concerto at the Mostly Mozart Festival.  On February 28, 2007, he played the Sibelius concerto with the New York Philharmonic.  Kurt Masur was on the podium.  He has played with all the major orchestras and with most of the top names in the conducting world since then.  As does Gil Shaham, he sometimes plays recitals with his sister as piano accompanist.  Khachatryan actually recorded his debut CD in 2002 with both his sister and his father as piano accompanists.  YouTube has several videos of his performances.  Here is one.  He has played the 1708 Huggins Stradivarius (from 2005 until 2009), the 1702 Lord Newlands Stradivarius (from 2009 until 2011 – this violin was sold to a collector for $12,500 way back in 1915 and is now on loan to violinist Ray Chen), and the 1740 Ysaye Guarnerius (previously played by Isaac Stern and Pinchas Zukerman.)  I do not know if he is still playing the Guarnerius but I do know the Nippon Music Foundation provided all three violins to him on loan.  Khachatryan also previously played a G.B. Guadagnini violin from 1773.  His sound has been described as sweet, beguiling, and rich; his playing as “poetic, introspective. effortlessly virtuosic.”   A quote from him: “You see many of today’s artists go out on stage and you can tell they’re there because it’s their job.  I’m afraid of that word.  Every time I go out on stage, I want … to create a special atmosphere.”  Photo is courtesy of Marco Borggreve, well-known photographer to (mostly European) musicians.   

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Roger Best

Roger Best was an English violinist, violist, and teacher born (in Liverpool) on September 28, 1936.  I think he is only the sixth violist I have posts on – the others are Alessandro Rolla, Paul Hindemith, Emanuel Vardi, William Primrose, and Walter Trampler.  Every one of them began on violin and later switched to the viola.  Of course, there are many concert violinists who also play viola, even as soloists, but never relinquish violin for viola – Pinchas Zukerman, Maxim Vengerov, Nigel Kennedy, and Wolfgang Mozart are among them.  Best also played other instruments, as did Stephane Grappelli and a few other violinists, but mostly to make a living while he was a student.  He began his violin studies with his father but soon began to study with a professional teacher.  At age 11, he won a scholarship to the Liverpool Institute.  He later won a scholarship to study at the Royal Manchester College of Music – his teacher was Paul Cropper - earning a living touring all over England with various orchestras as well.  Later on, none other than John Barbirolli invited Best to play in the Halle Orchestra, based in Manchester, England.  After two years there, Best joined the Northern Sinfonia as Principal violist.  The orchestra was based in Newcastle, about 300 miles north of London.  Although he sporadically concertized as a soloist, he eventually (by 1972) gravitated toward orchestral playing, performing as a chamber player and studio musician.  He ended up playing in dozens of recordings, though anonymously, as most orchestral players do.  Beginning in 1977, Best was also the violist of the Alberni Quartet but only for a time.  The Alberni has had at least four different violists.  Best was the third in the series.  Among others, Richard Bennett and Malcolm Arnold wrote viola concertos for Best - Best premiered the Arnold concerto in September, 1971 and recorded it later on.  The Bennett concerto he actually premiered in New York in 1973.  Best later taught at the Royal College of Music, the Royal Academy of Music, and the Royal Scottish Academy.  He played an Antonio Mariani viola constructed in 1645, give or take.  The instrument had previously been played by Lionel Tertis.  Best died on October 8, 2013, at age 77.  There is a quote in his obituary which I like: “He also played croquet at national championships level – a game that suited his temperament well, combining as it does courtesy with a killer instinct.” 

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Andrew Sords

Andrew Sords is an American violinist and teacher born (in Newark, Delaware) on June 4, 1985.  As do violinists Hilary Hahn and Joshua Bell, Sords writes a blog to keep his wide audience informed about things related to his career; he also writes about his unique view of many other things as well.  I will say that his website is worth visiting for the blog alone although you will see so much more.  His repertoire includes two of my favorite and (unfortunately) seldom-played concertos – Bruch’s second concerto in d minor and the Schumann concerto.  In fact, I think the time will come when every concert violinist will take on both of these neglected concertos and perform them as regularly as the Brahms and Tchaikovsky.  Incidentally, the Schumann concerto was in danger of never surfacing thanks to a low opinion of it given to Clara Schumann (Robert Schumann’s widow) by none other than Joseph Joachim.  Sords has a very active solo concert and chamber music career which has taken him all over the globe.  He has given concerts with over 100 (different) orchestras, including the well-known major ones, and played the most important venues in every continent.  That may well be a record for any violinist but even those numbers, of course, will continue to increase.  Sords began to study violin privately at about age 6.  His first teacher was Liza Grossman.  However, his first instrumental studies were actually on piano, which he still plays.  He thus joins a number of concert violinists who have been quite proficient as pianists - Fritz Kreisler, Louis Persinger, Jascha Heifetz, Arthur Grumiaux, Andor Toth, Arabella Steinbacher, and Julia Fischer just to name a few.  Sords later studied at the Cleveland Institute of Music and Southern Methodist University.  His main teachers were Linda Cerone (pupil of Ivan Galamian), David Russell, and Chee-Yun (Kim Chee Yun – pupil of Dorothy DeLay.)  As do violinists Maxim Vengerov and Tai Murray, Sords enjoys and has a deep appreciation for dancing and has even participated in the famous “Dancing With The Stars” show for a charity benefit.  He was the first classical artist to do so.  That may seem unusual but French violinist Jean-Marie LeClair was actually a professional dancer, choreographer, and violinist in the early 1700s.  Sords is also unique in that he plays a modern violin constructed in 1912 by Belgian violin maker Augustine Talisse, a violin maker I had never heard of until now.  Albert Markov, Tai Murray, Christian Tetzlaff, Giora Schmidt, Judith Ingolfsson, Pip Clarke, Ilya Kaler, and Alina Pogostkina are among the growing number of concert violinists who are gravitating to modern instruments which, as you may know from reading this blog, I also favor.  Sords’ performances are typically characterized by music critics as being “utterly radiant.”  You can see his Facebook page here.  His most recent audio release is the New Age music CD with composer Sean Christopher.  

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Tor Aulin

Tor Aulin was a Swedish violinist, conductor, and composer born (in Saltsjobaden) on September 10, 1866.  I have never heard any of his music but it is said to have traces of the influence of Grieg and Schumann which is to say that it sounds nice.  Here is a YouTube file of his second violin concerto - the one in a minor.  Scant information is available about him on the internet so I do not know at what age he began his violin studies.  From 1877 to 1883, Aulin studied at the Stockholm Conservatory of music aka the Royal College of Music in Stockholm.  He then studied an additional two years with violin virtuoso Emile Sauret in Berlin, at the Berlin Conservatory (probably the Stern Academy) from 1884 to 1886.  He also studied composition and conducting with Philipp Scharwenka in Berlin though I’m guessing not at the same school since Scharwenka had a private conservatory of his own.  In 1887, Aulin founded the Aulin Quartet, the first professional string quartet in Sweden.  He was 21 years old.  From 1889 to 1892, Aulin was concertmaster of the Royal Swedish Opera in Stockholm.  He spent some time conducting the symphony orchestras in Stockholm and Gothenburg as well – it is very likely that Sweden had no full-time orchestras prior to 1900.  I do not know if he was permanent director with any Stockholm orchestra but he did have a post with the Gothenburg Symphony from 1909 to 1912.  The Aulin Quartet was disbanded in 1912.  He championed the works of his fellow countrymen, Franz Berwald and Wilhelm Stenhammar and premiered some of Stenhammar’s violin works.  Aulin composed a number of works for orchestra – including three violin concertos – and numerous works for chamber groups and solo instruments, including works for violin and piano.  A YouTube file of his third violin concerto (in c minor - dedicated to Henri Marteau - published in 1904 and now in the public domain) can be found here.  I do not know if it has ever been heard (in a live performance) outside Sweden.  Recordings of some of Aulin's violin (with orchestra) works can be found here.  He also wrote cadenzas for at least two of Mozart's violin concertos.  Aulin died on March 1, 1914, at age 47 - the First World War had not yet begun.  Today, at least outside of Sweden, Aulin remains a very obscure musician.  

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Bronislaw Gimpel

Bronislaw Gimpel was a Polish violinist, conductor, and teacher born (in Lviv, Ukraine) on January 29, 1911.  Although he was a very active and successful artist for many years, today, Gimpel is almost totally forgotten.  Perhaps fame is fleeting after all unless you can tie it to something transcendental.  Corelli and Vivaldi had their concertos; Tartini had his Devil’s Trill Sonata; Paganini had his caprices; Kreutzer had his Beethoven Sonata; Clement had his Beethoven concerto: Rode had his Caprices; Joachim had Brahms; Auer had his students; Flesch had his scale book; Mischakoff had Toscanini; Stern had his Carnegie Hall; Briselli had his Barber concerto; any number of famous violinists had their original concertos or recital pieces to be remembered by – Viotti, Spohr, DeBeriot, Wieniawski, Vieuxtemps, Conus, Sarasate, Kroll, Bazzini, Achron, Kreisler – Huberman had his Israel Philharmonic; Heifetz, Kogan, Rabin, Kaufman, and Ricci had their fabulous techniques and recordings, and so on and so forth.  Alma Rose’, a very ordinary violinist, became the conductor of an infamous orchestra in a concentration camp (where she also died) so we shall know her name forever.  Josef Hassid had a one-and-a half-year career (between the ages of 16 and 17), but he became mentally ill, was in an asylum for seven years, underwent a lobotomy, and died at age 26, so his name will live on.  Tie yourself to something that will live beyond your lifetime and perhaps you’ll be remembered past your own generation – if that means anything to you.  Gimpel began to study violin with his father at age 5.  He entered the Lviv Conservatory at age 8.  His main teacher there was Moritz Wolfstahl, someone about whom I do not know anything.  Gimpel made his debut playing Mendelssohn’s concerto at that same age.  The concert was a complete triumph for the young child.  At age 11, he traveled to Vienna to study with Robert Pollack (aka Robert Pollak, one of Isaac Stern’s teachers) at the Vienna Conservatory.  His brother (Jakob, the piano player) was already there.  At age 14 (1925), he soloed with the Vienna Philharmonic playing Karl Goldmark’s concerto.  Some critics compared him to Bronislaw Huberman, another child prodigy.  From age 15 until about age 19, he concertized in Italy, Europe, and South America.  In Italy, he got to play for royalty and the Pope.  Then he went to Berlin for further study at the Advanced School for Music.  His teacher there was Carl Flesch.  I don’t know how long he studied with Flesch but in 1937, Gimpel came to the U.S.  At the invitation of Otto Klemperer, he served as concertmaster of the Los Angeles Philharmonic.  He also conducted the philharmonic from time to time and was very active in the musical life of the city.  In 1942, he enlisted in the Army and after the war, he resumed his solo career.  He was 34 years old.  From 1942 to 1950, he served as concertmaster, conductor, and soloist of the ABC Radio Symphony in New York.  He then formed the Mannes-Gimpel-Silva Piano trio and enjoyed outstanding success with that ensemble.  In 1956, he relocated to Europe.  It has been said that he gave over 100 concerts in a single year in Germany alone.  He was playing concerts in Russia as well.  He formed the Warsaw Quintet in 1963 and played with that group until about 1967.  In that year, he returned to the U.S. and taught at the University of Connecticut from 1967 to 1973.  In Connecticut, he founded the New England String Quartet.  From 1973, he taught at the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester, England.  All the while, he continued to concertize, which is pretty much standard practice for all conservatory violin teachers or professors.  Gimpel was a member of various chamber music ensembles throughout his career, not just the ones already mentioned.  In 1978, he returned to the U.S. once again.  It is not well-known that toward the end of his life, he instructed three youth symphonies in Caracas, Venezuela.  He also had a pilot’s license.  In his last public performance – at the time, of course, he didn’t know it would be his last – he played the Tchaikovsky concerto and he later said it was one of the very best performances of his career.  He was 68 years old.  He made numerous recordings which can easily be found on the internet – a few are posted on YouTube.  He played a 1730 Santo Serafin violin and a J.B. Vuillaume constructed in 1845.  The Santo Serafin is now owned by a first violinist in the San Francisco Symphony – Mariko Smiley.  I don’t know where the Vuillaume is.  It has been said of Bronislaw Huberman that he died in his sleep and it’s been said of Gimpel as well, who died, in Los Angeles, on May 1, 1979, at age 68.  

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Tedi Papavrami

Tedi Papavrami is an Albanian violinist, teacher, and actor born (in Tirana, Albania) on May 13, 1971.  Although it can most assuredly be said that he possesses a quite fantastic technique and formidable artistic insight (second to none, in my opinion), he is much better known in Europe than in the U.S. and therefore has a lower global profile than he might otherwise.  Besides being a musician and actor, he is also a writer.  In addition, he has transcribed various works written for other instruments for his use as violin pieces.  Among them are several Scarlatti piano sonatas.  Nowadays, that activity is rare among violinists, though it was commonplace in the old days – say, prior to 1945.  Papavrami first studied with his father – Robert Papavrami, a violinist and violin teacher – from age 5.  At age 7, he enrolled at the Jordan Misja School of Art in Tirana.  He made his orchestral debut at age 8, playing Sarasate’s Gypsy Airs (Zigeunerweisen.)  At age 11, he played Paganini’s first concerto with the same orchestra – the Tirana Philharmonic.  Soon thereafter, he was offered a scholarship by the French government to study at the Paris Conservatory.  He was 12 years old.  His teacher there – among others - was Pierre Amoyal.  Papavrami graduated from the Paris Conservatory at age 15.  He studied further with Zino Francescatti and Victoria Mullova.  According to one source, he also received a degree – I don’t know in what field of study – from the Lausanne Conservatory in 1987.  By 1986, he had already established his base, so to speak, in Paris, France.  Here is a YouTube video of his performance of Paganini’s second concerto.  I’ve already heard nearly all of the recordings of this concerto that are out there and this one is the best among them.  Papavrami has concertized around the world since completing his formal music studies but spends scant time in the U.S.  He is also one of a handful of violinists who have played recitals composed entirely of the 24 Paganini Caprices.  In 2003, he was engaged to play a principal role in the French film, Dangerous Liaisons, with Catherine Deneuve and the notorious Natasha Kinski.  In 2008, he was appointed violin professor at the Geneva Conservatory in Switzerland and has been living in Geneva ever since.  In 2002, Papavrami was named official French translator by the publisher of the works of his countryman, Ismail Kadare.  His recordings on the Naxos and Aeon labels have been praised by every music critic.  His first major recording (for Naxos) was released in 1997.  It features both Prokofiev concertos.  Papavrami’s transcriptions - for solo violin - of the Domenico Scarlatti Sonatas have been published but I know not by whom.  Papavrami is also the violinist of the Schumann Piano Quartet - with violist Christoph Schiller, pianist Christian Favre, and cellist Francois Guye.  Their magnificent recording of the piano quartets of Ernest Chausson and Gabriel Faure can easily be found on the internet.  Papavrami's violin is one constructed especially for him by French violin maker (luthier) Christian Bayon.  

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Gerard Poulet

Gerard Poulet is a French violinist and teacher born (in Bayonne) on August 12, 1938.  His father (Gaston Poulet), with whom he began his violin studies, was also a violinist.  His career has been mainly spent in Europe though he has performed in almost every continent.  He entered the Paris Conservatory at age 11 and graduated at age 12.  His main teacher there was Andre Asselin.  As did Bronislaw Huberman before him, he had many teachers: Zino Francescatti, Nathan Milstein, Yehudi Menuhin, and Henryk Szeryng were among them.  Poulet made his debut at age 12 playing the Mendelssohn concerto.  He recorded the third concerto of Mozart at age 14 with his father on the podium.  At age 18, he won the Paganini Competition in Genoa, Italy.  As do all winners of that competition, he got to play Paganini’s violin, the famous Cannone.  He later dedicated a good deal of time to teaching at the National Conservatory in Paris.  In 2007, he began teaching at the University of Arts in Tokyo.  He might not be there any longer since I could not locate his name on any faculty roster.  Poulet played the 1720 Henri Marteau Guarnerius from 1975 until about 1988 and that violin is supposedly now owned by Maxim Vengerov, though I could not find a single public source to confirm that.  His most famous pupil is most probably Renaud Capucon.  

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Edouard Colonne

Edouard Colonne (Edouard Juda Colonne) was a French violinist and conductor born (in Bordeaux) on July 23, 1838.  He is best recognized as the founder (actually, co-founder) of the Concerts Colonne and what became known as the Colonne Orchestra in Paris, in 1873.  He was an orchestral violinist for at least ten years but is now almost exclusively remembered as a conductor and concert promoter, in the style of Theodore Thomas.  He began his music studies at age 8, but not on the violin.  He entered the Paris Conservatory at about age 17 but did not study with any famous teachers there.  While going to school, he played in the orchestra of the Lyric Theatre.  In 1863 he won first prize for his violin playing and had already (in 1858) won first prize in harmony.  He was engaged as concertmaster for the Paris Opera orchestra in 1858 – he was 20 years old.  He also played second violin in the Lamoureux Quartet at the same time – Charles Lamoureux played first violin.  Possibly (actually, very probably) simultaneously, he also played in Jules Pasdeloup’s orchestra.  In 1867, he came to New York to play in an orchestra for a newly founded comic opera company; while in New York, Colonne later led an ensemble called Niblo’s Garden Orchestra which until now I had never heard of.  He returned to Paris in 1871 and conducted a hotel orchestra for a while.  In 1873, he founded – together with a music publisher – the orchestra that would become the Colonne Orchestra.  His concerts became known as the Concerts Colonne.  This name was used until the 1960s – about ninety years.  At first, the orchestra presented its concerts at the Odeon Theatre and later at the Theatre of the Chatelet.  Colonne was known to champion the music of Hector Berlioz, Richard Wagner, Gustav Mahler, and Camille Saint Saens.  It has been said that Pierre Monteux was Principal violist of the Colonne Orchestra.  Other famous players who played in his orchestra for a time were Julius Conus and Jacques Thibaud.  Colonne gave the Paris premiere of Tchaikovsky’s fourth symphony in 1878, the year it was completed.  The orchestra toured Spain, Russia, Portugal, Germany, and England.  Among the musical luminaries who conducted the orchestra in performances of their own works were Serge Prokofiev, Gustav Mahler, Richard Strauss, Peter Tchaikovsky, Claude Debussy, Edvard Grieg, and Maurice Ravel.  In 1892, Colonne became conductor and adviser at the Paris Opera.  He was 54 years old.  In 1907 (one source says 1906), he was one of the first to record with an orchestra.  It has been said that he was hard on his players.  Colonne was a pioneer in that his program books were the first to include program notes.  Perhaps they included advertisements as well though I’m not at all sure about that.  He died (in Paris) on March 28, 1910, at age 71.  

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Hans Sitt

Hans Sitt (Jan Hanus Sitt) was a Hungarian violinist, violist, teacher, conductor, and composer born (in Prague) on September 21, 1850.  When he was born, Brahms had not yet even begun to make a name for himself – when he died, Stravinsky had turned the musical firmament upside down.  Although Sitt was a prolific composer, he is better remembered – if at all - as a teacher.  Unfortunately, he had no outstanding students who would have turned him into a legend.  Louis Zimmermann was probably his most famous pupil.  Sitt’s father was a violin maker, a luthier.  Sitt entered the Prague Conservatory (Czechoslovakia) at age 11 and studied with Moritz Mildner and Antonin Bennewitz, among others.  He graduated in 1867, at age 17 and almost immediately was engaged as concertmaster of the Breslau Opera Orchestra in Wroclaw, Poland – Wroclaw is one and the same as Breslau.  It is about 120 miles northeast of Prague.  Sitt stayed for six years and then served as concertmaster of an orchestra in Chemnitz (Germany) for another six years.  Chemnitz is about 60 miles northwest of Prague and 35 miles south of Leipzig, Germany.  Sitt enjoyed a very brief career as a touring virtuoso and served as conductor of several orchestras in Europe – I don’t know which orchestras – including some in France and Austria.  In 1883 (some sources say 1884) he began his teaching career at the Leipzig Conservatory.  It was here that he was invited to be part of the Brodsky Quartet as a violist, with Ottokar Novacek on second, Adolph Brodsky on first, and Leopold Grutzmacher on cello.  He left the conservatory in 1921.  He had been there almost forty years.  From 1885 to 1903 he conducted the Bach Society Chorale in Leipzig.  His violin studies – although not as well-known as the Kreutzer or DeBeriot or Rode books - are still in use today.  He was one of the first to systematize the study of scales – in thirds, sixths, octaves and tenths.  He composed six violin concertos, two cello concertos, three viola concertos, many concert pieces for violin, viola, or cello, and a few chamber music works.  One of his piano trios is available here.  He probably played a very fine violin but I don’t know what that was.  Sitt died on March 10, 1922, at age 71. 

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Antonio Lolli

Antonio Lolli was an Italian violinist and composer born sometime around the year 1725.  He was very famous and influential in his day but is now forgotten.  However, some of his music is still around.  He wrote several violin concertos – eight were published.  Lolli toured Europe extensively while playing in court orchestras in Germany and Russia.  He was solo violinist in Stuttgart from 1758 to 1774.  He then served as chamber virtuoso at a Russian court in St Petersburg from 1774 to 1783.  In 1794, Lolli was appointed chief conductor in Naples.  He composed 36 caprices for violin and 24 violin sonatas.  Some of his music is still in print.  Lolli died (in Palermo) on August 10, 1802, at (about) age 77.  

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Favorite Performances

This is a list of my favorite performances or recordings of the standard violin concerto repertoire, and perhaps a couple that are not yet so standard.  The word “favorite” does not necessarily mean “best,” it just means the one I enjoy the most or the one that speaks to me best or the one I favor for reasons I can’t readily explain.  Just as are my choices of violinists who are profiled here, the list is completely arbitrary.  You will notice that Heifetz figures somewhat prominently and perhaps he would have been named even more times but there are many concertos which he – to the best of my knowledge - never recorded: the Barber, Berg, Dvorak, Haydn, Khachaturian, Mendelssohn 1, Saint Saens 3, Schoenberg, Schumann (!!!), Shostakovich, Stravinsky, and Vivaldi.  Heifetz is named 11 times; Isaac Stern is named 2 times,  Gil Shaham is named 2 times; Michael Rabin is named 2 times; all the rest only once.  Not counting Vivaldi, there are 42 concertos included. I also threw in a few concert favorites which are not concertos but are very frequently played. 

Actor                        Pip Clarke
Bach 1                      Vladimir Spivakov
Bach 2                      Isabelle Faust
Barber                      Elmar Oliveira
Beethoven                Arabella Steinbacher
Berg                         Ivry Gitlis
Brahms                     Jascha Heifetz
Bruch 1                     Isaac Stern
Bruch 2                     Jascha Heifetz
Conus                       Jascha Heifetz
Dvorak                     Joseph Suk
Elgar                        Jascha Heifetz
Glazunov                  Ilya Kaler
Haydn 1                    Judith Ingolfsson
Khachaturian            Leonid Kogan
Korngold                  Jascha Heifetz
Lalo 2                       Joshua Bell
Mendelssohn 1         Yehudi Menuhin
Mendelssohn 2         Gil Shaham
Mozart 3                   Arthur Grumiaux
Mozart 4                   JuliaFischer
Mozart 5                   Jascha Heifetz
Paganini 1                Michael Rabin
Paganini 2                Tedi Papavrami
Paganini 3                Henryk Szeryng
Paganini 4                Uto Ughi
Paganini 5                Salvatore Accardo
Prokofiev 1              Isaac Stern
Prokofiev 2              Jascha Heifetz
Saint Saens 3           Zino Francescatti
Schoenberg              Zvi Zeitlin
Schumann                Frank Zimmermann
Shostakovich 1        Leonid Kogan
Shostakovich 2        Itzhak Perlman
Sibelius                    Jascha Heifetz
Stravinsky                Hilary Hahn
Tchaikovsky            Tossy Spivakovsky
Vieuxtemps 4           Jascha Heifetz
Vieuxtemps 5           Jascha Heifetz
Vivaldi 1-50             Fabio Biondi
Vivaldi 50-100         Giuliano Carmignola
Vivaldi 100-150       Simon Standage
Vivaldi 150-200       Enrico Onofri
Walton                     Jascha Heifetz
Wieniawski I           Gil Shaham 
Wieniawski II         Michael Rabin 
Zigeunerweisen      Arthur Grumiaux 
Zigeunerweisen       Mischa Elman 
Tzigane                    Jascha Heifetz 
Poeme                      Jascha Heifetz 
Rondo Capriccioso Leila Josefowicz 

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Vaclav Suk

Vaclav Suk (Vyacheslav Ivanovich Suk) was a Czech violinist, conductor, and composer born (in Kladno, Bohemia) on November 16, 1861.  I do not know if he is related to composer Josef Suk but it has been said that he is.  Suk studied at the Prague Conservatory with Antonin Bennewitz (teacher also of Otakar Sevcik and Karl Halir) from 1873 to 1879.  He joined the Warsaw Philharmonic in 1880.  He was 19 years old.  Very soon thereafter, he moved to Kiev to play in the Imperial Orchestra as concertmaster.  Two years later, he went to Moscow to play in the Bolshoi Orchestra (1882-1887.)  In 1885, he began his conducting career in Kharkiv (in the Ukraine.)  After that, he guest conducted in Europe and Russia but I do not know if he kept playing the violin.  From 1890 to 1894, he either played in or conducted a private orchestra in Vilnius (Lithuania), Jascha Heifetz' birthplace.  It is entirely possible that Heifetz’ father, Ruben, was playing in that orchestra at the time.  From 1894 until 1906, Suk was probably free-lancing as a conductor or violinist or both.  In that year, he returned to Moscow to serve on the conducting staff of the Bolshoi Opera.  He stayed there for 25 years.  In 1928, he was promoted to the position of Chief Conductor.  However, he also conducted concerts, promoting the works of Czech composers.  In 1927, he began a separate but simultaneous tenure at the Stanislavski Opera Theatre, also in Moscow.  Suk premiered some of Rimsky-Korsakov’s operas and was known for his fine interpretations of Tchaikovsky’s music.  There is no mention of him as a teacher but it's hard to imagine that somewhere along the way he did not have pupils, whether in violin, conducting, or composition.  On the other hand, perhaps he simply didn't care for that kind of work.  Suk died (in Moscow) on January 12, 1933, at age 71.  Prokofiev was 41 years old, Richard Strauss was 69, and Stravinsky was 50.  Music had become modern.  Suk composed a number of works for orchestra, some chamber music, and a few songs.  I don’t think any of that music is played today, except, perhaps, in the Czech Republic.  Late in life, Suk’s portrait was painted by Leonid Pasternak, father of writer Boris Pasternak.  

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Erich Gruenberg

Erich Gruenberg is an Austrian violinist and teacher born (in Vienna) on October 12, 1924.  Although he has appeared as soloist with many orchestras around the world, he is primarily known for his teaching at the Guildhall School of Music and the Royal Academy of Music and his career as a concertmaster with various orchestras.  He has lived in London for over 65 years – since 1946.  He began his studies as a child in Vienna.  From there, he relocated to Jerusalem (Israel – known as Palestine at the time) in 1938 (one source has it as 1939) where he studied at the Jerusalem Conservatory.  Various sources state that he led the Jerusalem-based Palestine Broadcasting Service Orchestra also known as the Palestine Broadcasting Corporation Orchestra (presumably as concertmaster) from 1938 to 1945.  This orchestra may have been the precursor of the Jerusalem Symphony, not to be confused with the Palestine Symphony Orchestra which was founded in 1936 and later became the Israel Philharmonic.  In 1946, he moved to London – he was 22 years old.  The following year, he won the Carl Flesch International Violin Competition in London and took off on a solo career after that.  That was only the third year of the competition and there was no monetary award in those days.  Gruenberg later served on the jury of the competition as well as juries in other violin competitions.  He subsequently served as concertmaster of the Stockholm Philharmonic from 1956 to 1958.  He was 32 years old.  From 1962 to 1965, he was the concertmaster of the London Symphony.  Finally, from 1972 to 1976, he was the concertmaster of the Royal Philharmonic (London.)  All the while, he continued concertizing.  His daughter Joanna, a concert pianist, would sometimes accompany him on recital tours.  Leonid Kogan and his daughter Nina also did the same thing.  Gruenberg also played first violin in the London String Quartet for ten years - I do not know during which years – and formed and led other chamber music ensembles during his career.  He has also premiered several modern works and was the first to play the Britten violin concerto in Russia.  He has recorded on the EMI, Decca, Chandos, Hyperion, and other labels.  The recording that is mentioned most frequently is his recording of all Beethoven sonatas.  His recording of the Beethoven concerto on YouTube is here.  Among his violins have been a Carlo Bergonzi from 1737 (the Emiliani), which Dietmar Machold sold for him in 1996, a Pietro Guarneri from 1704, and a 1731 Stradivarius which was stolen from him in late July of 1990 but recovered in April, 1991 in Central America.  That was indeed rare because once a Stradivarius is stolen, it disappears forever although there have been exceptions.  One such is the Gibson Stradivarius which was twice stolen from BronislawHuberman

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Jules Garcin

Jules Garcin (Jules Auguste Salomon Garcin) was a French violinist, teacher, composer, and conductor born (in Bourges) on July 11, 1830.  He was an important musician in his day but, as were so many other significant violinists of his time, he was, after his death, soon forgotten.  Nevertheless, unlike orchestral musicians, he can never be completely invisible because of two historical facts: he taught Henri Marteau and he conducted the premiere of Cesar Franck’s d minor symphony.  In old age, he bore a striking resemblance to Czech violinist, Ottokar Novacek, although his claim to fame does not in the least depend on that fact.  He must have started violin lessons at an early age but I don’t know what age.  At 13, he entered the Paris Conservatory, studying with Jean Delphin Alard among other teachers.  He graduated in 1853, and was about 23 years old by then.  Three years later (1856) he became a member of the opera orchestra.  Fifteen years after that (1871), he was appointed concertmaster and assistant conductor of the orchestra.  Fourteen years later (1885), he was made chief conductor.  During all that time, he had also been assistant conductor and solo violinist of other orchestras (or concert associations) in Paris.  One such orchestra was the Orchestra of the Concert Society of the Conservatory.  He began teaching at the Paris Conservatory in 1875.  He was 45 years old.  On February 17, 1889, he conducted the premiere of Cesar Franck’s symphony in d minor, a work which was initially much-maligned by French musicians and critics alike.  Garcin played a copy (constructed in 1868 by JB Vuillaume) of the famous Messiah Stradivarius (1716), a Stradivarius from 1715 (the Cremonese, later owned by Joseph Joachim and now held by the City of Cremona), and another Strad from 1731 which bears his name.  The 1731 Strad was later owned by Israel Baker, then Sidney Harth, and later still by Kees Hulsmann.  Among the small number of Garcin compositions is a violin concerto which he used to play.  I don’t know if anyone else ever played it.  After retiring from the conservatory due to illness, Garcin died (in Paris) on October 10, 1896, at age 66.  

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Henry Schradieck

Henry Schradieck was a German violinist, teacher, conductor, and composer born (in Hamburg) on April 29, 1846.  Johannes Brahms had been born there 13 years earlier.  Schradieck is best known for his many study books for violin (and viola) and for several editions of various works for violin, including the Mendelssohn violin concerto in e minor.  It has been said that he moved frequently and preferred not to remain in one place too long.  Among other violinists, Willy Hess, Mischa Mischakoff, and Steven Staryk did the same thing.  Schradieck received his first lessons from his father, who was a violinist, and first played in public at age 6, possibly age 5.  One source states that in 1854, at age 8, he entered the Brussels Conservatory and graduated in 1858.  He was 12 years old.  It has been stated that Teresa Milanollo paid for his tuition at the conservatory.  His teacher there was Hubert Leonard.  He then went to Leipzig to study with Ferdinand David.  In 1864, he was hired as professor of violin at the Moscow Conservatory.  He remained there for three years and then returned to Hamburg to lead the Hamburg Philharmonic Society Orchestra.  After 6 years, he joined (in 1874) the Gewandhaus Orchestra in Leipzig as concertmaster.  Felix Mendelssohn and Ferdinand David had already left the scene – in fact, David had died the previous year.  Schradieck also taught at the Leipzig Conservatory and conducted the theatre orchestra.  He was 28 years old.  In 1883, he came to the U.S and settled in Cincinnati, Ohio.  There, he organized an orchestra and taught at the College of Music.  He returned to Hamburg in 1889 to teach at the Hamburg Conservatory.  Nine years later, in 1898, he returned to the U.S.  He devoted most of his time to teaching in Philadelphia and New York.  Among the oddly interesting things about his career are that he could play all the Beethoven quartets (presumably the first violin part) from memory and he seriously studied the art of violin making.  Among Schradieck’s pupils are Maud Powell, Theodore Spiering, Ottokar Novacek, and Carl Tollefsen.  Schradieck died (in Brooklyn, New York) on March 25, 1918, at age 71.  

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Francois Prume

Francois Prume (Francois Hubert Prume) was a Belgian violinist and composer born (in Stavelot, Belgium) on June 3, 1816.  Nicolo Paganini was then 33 years old and Beethoven, though he didn’t know it at the time, had another ten years to live.  Prume was a highly gifted and accomplished violinist who came on the scene, made an impression, and then left almost without leaving a trace.  According to one source, he began his violin studies at age 3.  His father was the organist at Stavelot.  At age 5, he began studying at the nearby town of Malmedy, in the Province of Liege, a French-speaking section of Belgium.  From 1827 to 1830, he studied at the Royal Conservatory of Liege (the Liege Conservatory.)  He then studied for two years with Francois Habeneck (Director of the Paris Opera) at the Paris Conservatory.  After graduation in 1832, he returned to Liege and was immediately appointed professor of violin at the conservatory.  He was 17 years old.  His most famous pupil was probably Hubert Leonard, though Leonard probably only studied privately with Prume since he (Leonard) began his studies at the Brussels Conservatory in the same year (1832) that Prume returned to Liege.  Prume was only 3 years older than Leonard.  In 1839, Prume toured Russia, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Hungary, Germany, Holland, and Belgium.  In 1844, he played in Paris and in that same year was made head of the violin department at the Liege Conservatory.  He was 28 years old.  He continued touring and teaching during his entire career.  It has been said that he played with Franz Liszt on several occasions.  One source claims that he was totally blind for the last few years of his life.  Prume wrote six violin studies, a violin concerto, and a few concert pieces for his own use but which were also probably published during his lifetime.  His most famous piece is La Melancolie for violin and piano (or orchestra) which Camillo Sivori (one of Paganini’s pupils) was very fond of playing.  Leopold Auer mentioned that piece in his book on violin pedagogy.  Prume died on July 14, 1849, after a very short illness, at age 33.  

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Julian Olevsky

Julian Olevsky (Julian Olewsky) was an American violinist and teacher born (in Berlin) on May 7, 1926 - Olevsky's mother was Russian and his father was Polish.  He was a highly respected and admired musician who died at a relatively young age.  At age 7, Olevsky began his studies with his father (Siegmund Olewsky), who was a professional violinist and leader of an orchestra in Berlin.  In 1935, the family had to move from Berlin (by way of Luxembourg) to Buenos Aires, Argentina, where they stayed for about 12 years and perhaps many more.  There, he first studied with Aaron Klasse for two years and then with Alexander Petschnikoff, both of whom were pupils of the famous Hungarian violin pedagogue Leopold Auer, although Petschnikoff also studied with Jan Hrimaly in Moscow.  At age 10, Olevsky made his recital debut and about two years later - in 1938 - made his debut with orchestra.  On that occasion, with the Orquesta Sinfonica Argentina under Austrian conductor Kurt Pahlen, Olevsky played the Glazunov concerto.  He was 12 years old.  Interestingly, Mischa Elman made his British debut with this concerto and Nathan Milstein and Efrem Zimbalist both made their U.S. debuts with this concerto as well.  It has been said that Fritz Busch (brother of violinist Adolf Busch) conducted the orchestra for Olevsky's debut but such is not the case.  However, he later did play (in that same year, 1938) with an orchestra conducted by Fritz Busch - Orquesta de la Asociacion Wagneriana (Orchestra of the Wagner Association) - at the Teatro Presidente Alvear.  The work on the program was Mozart's Sinfonia Concertante (for violin and viola) and the violist was Andre Vancoillie.  Olevsky went on to present his Teatro Colon debut (in Buenos Aires - similar to playing a Carnegie Hall debut in the U.S.) in 1942 with the Philharmonic Orchestra of Buenos Aires with Juan Jose Castro on the podium.  Olevsky subsequently toured South America extensively and eventually came to reside in the U.S. (1947.)  He was 21 years old.  I could not find any reference stating that he had ever attended a conservatory so it is quite possible that all of his music studies were done privately.  In 1949, he made his New York debut at Town Hall.  Between 1947 and 1949, he had devoted much of his time to studying and enriching his recital repertoire.  During that time he also briefly studied with Raphael Bronstein, another pupil of Leopold Auer.  His appearance at Town Hall was highly successful and much-praised.  His accompanist was Wolfgang Rose', Mischa Elman's former accompanist.  Until 1965, Rose' would remain his accompanist for concerts and recordings.  In 1950, Olevsky played his first recital at Carnegie Hall.  He played three more recitals there over the course of his career.  He went on to play in most of the great halls around the world and with some of the great orchestras and conductors - too numerous to mention - who have since become icons and legends in the classical music firmament.  In 1965, he formed a duo with pianist Estela Kersenbaum with whom he toured and later recorded all of the Mozart Sonatas.  With the addition of cellist Paul Olefsky (Olevsky's cousin), the duo also performed as the Olewsky Trio, recording all of the trios by Brahms as well as trios by Arensky and Tchaikovsky.*  In 1967, Olevsky was appointed to a teaching position at the University of Massachusetts (Amherst), where he taught until the year he died.  His discography on the Westminster label is somewhat limited but includes twelve concertos of Vivaldi (including the Four Seasons with the Vienna State Opera Orchestra), Bach’s six works for unaccompanied violin, Lalo’s Symphonie Espagnole, the Brahms concerto, Bruch’s first concerto, Mendelssohn’s second concerto, and Wieniawski’s second concerto.  I don’t think all of the records have been digitized but you can still acquire one via record collectors – they usually run about forty dollars - although many of his recordings have also been re-issued on the Doremi label.  You will discover that music critics frequently compared Olevsky to Jascha Heifetz and David Oistrakh.  Here is a YouTube file of a performance by Olevsky.  His collection of orchestral and piano scores is now housed at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.  Among the violins he played was the Emperor Guarnerius Del Gesu from 1738, one of the better-known Guarnerius violins.  That violin had been owned by one of Napoleon’s Military Assistants and that’s supposedly how it acquired its name.  None of that has actually been confirmed by anyone but is part of violin lore.  Olevsky died suddenly (in Amherst) on May 25, 1985, at age 59.  His students include Charles Sherba, Chris Devine, David Tasgal, Dean Radin, Eric Bachrach, Eric Tanner, Gerald Itzkoff, Matthew Hunter, and Steve Leonard.  
* I am indebted to Ms Estela Kersenbaum Olevsky for much of the information on this blog post. Her website pays tribute to this magnificent violinist, her late husband. 

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Hugo Heermann

Hugo Heermann was a German violinist and teacher born (in Heilbronn) on March 3, 1844.  He taught briefly in the U.S. but spent most of his teaching career in Frankfurt, at the well-known Hoch Conservatory.  He taught there for 25 years - from 1878 until 1904 – but also concertized sporadically.  Joseph Lambert Massart and Joseph Joachim were among his teachers.  At 20 years of age (1864), he established himself in Frankfurt.  Beginning in 1865, he played first violin in the Heermann Quartet (which also used other names) with Fritz Bassermann on second, Adolf Rebner on viola, and Hugo Becker on cello.  As mentioned previously, he became a teacher at the Hoch Conservatory in 1878.  His most famous pupil at the conservatory (by far) is Bronislaw Huberman – that fact alone is sufficient to keep his name in the music history books forever.  In the early 1900s Heermann came to the U.S. and played the Beethoven concerto in his first U.S. appearance on February 5, 1903.  I don’t know which orchestra accompanied him but I do know he played a cadenza he composed himself.  He very soon after played the Brahms concerto with the New York Philharmonic on February 13, 1903 and received very favorable reviews.  It is said to be the first New York performance of the concerto.  Walter Damrosch was on the podium so it was probably the New York Symphony which he played with, although it was later merged with what we now know as the New York Philharmonic.  Franz Kneisel had already played the first Boston performance – possibly the first U.S. performance of the Brahms concerto - on December 6, 1889.  On April 3 of the same year Heermann played the first Bruch concerto with the philharmonic under the same conductor.  His final appearance with the philharmonic was on January 26, 1907 – by then, he had already settled in the U.S.  He played the Beethoven concerto on that occasion.  A critic pointed out that he had made a “deep impression upon the audience, and was rewarded with all the enthusiastic applause which his performance warranted, being recalled again and again.”  Heermann taught at the Chicago Musical College from 1906 to 1909.  He was later appointed concertmaster of the Cincinnati Symphony, where he served between 1909 and 1911.  In 1911, he returned to Europe, taking up teaching; first at the Stern Conservatory in Berlin, and, beginning in 1912, at the Music Conservatory in Geneva, Switzerland.  For many years, Heermann used a 1733 Stradivarius violin which he purchased in 1860.  On or about the year 1888, Heermann acquired another Stradivarius violin presumably made in 1734.  That violin was purchased by Eugene Ysaye in 1895, from whom it was stolen in 1908.  After it was found in a Paris shop in 1925, none other than (violinist) Charles Munch bought it and kept it until 1960.  It was later played by Henryk Szeryng, who bequeathed it (in 1972) to the City of Jerusalem, to be used by the concertmaster of the Israel Philharmonic.  The violin goes by various names but that does not make it hard to trace.  Another Stradivarius which Heermann used and which was constructed in (about) 1734, is now played by Gidon Kremer.  That violin is known as the Heermann Stradivarius.  Heermann also used yet another Stradivarius violin (from about 1700 - the Jupiter Strad) from 1892 to 1895.  According to the Cozio website, that violin is now in the hands of Hollywood studio violinist Arnold Belnick.  Heermann retired in 1922, living mostly in Merano, Italy, where he eventually died on November 6, 1935, at age 91.  

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Arma Senkrah

Arma Senkrah (Anna Loretta Harkness) was an American violinist born (in Williamson, New York) on June 6, 1864.  She had an extraordinary but very short career (1882-1888) and, as did Patricia Travers much later, stopped playing and dropped out of sight altogether quite suddenly.  Nevertheless, a 1750 G.B. Guadagnini violin (which Isaac Stern owned and played for more than fifty years) is named after her and that alone will ensure she is forever remembered.  If not for that, then there are also very famous photos of her and Franz Liszt playing together.  In fact, she participated in duo recitals with several of Liszt’s pupils on several occasions.  Her career was spent entirely in Europe.  According to almost all sources, her life ended tragically in Weimar, Germany.  Her mother was her first violin (and piano) teacher.  At age 9, she went to Europe with her in order to pursue more advanced instruction.  (At that time, the U.S. had not yet established a solid framework of advanced music schools which Americans could rely on to further their education.  The very few American orchestras then in existence were made up almost entirely of European musicians.)  Between 1873 and 1875, Senkrah studied in Leipzig with Arno Hilf and, in Brussels, with Henryk Wieniawski.  It is not clear whether Senkrah was actually enrolled as a student at the Leipzig Conservatory (where Hilf was a teacher) or the Brussels Conservatory where Wieniawski taught.  It is far more likely that, due to her young age, she studied privately with both teachers.  She is also said to have studied with Henri Vieuxtemps – Vieuxtemps was teaching at the Brussels Conservatory at the time.  From 1875 to 1881, she studied at the Paris Conservatory with Joseph Lambert Massart and received a first prize in 1881.  She was 17 years old.  She began almost immediately to concertize all over Europe, still using her birth name - Harkness.  On November 25, 1882, she made her London debut at the Crystal Palace, playing Vieuxtemps’ fourth concerto, the one in d minor.  The reviewers praised her highly.  It was written that the concerto was “wonderfully interpreted,” that her tone “was clear and soulful,” and that “her mastery of the technical possibilities of her instrument left nothing to be desired.”  Wherever she played, the reviews were just as enthusiastic, if not more.  In Germany, she achieved even greater success.  It may have been in the autumn of 1883 that, at the urging of her German agent, she changed her name to Senkrah.  On December 28, 1883, she played the Mendelssohn concerto at a new theatre in Leipzig.  On January 3, 1884 she played at the Gewandhaus (Leipzig.)  And so it went.  She was compared to Italian violinist Teresina Tua who was touring England and Germany at about the same time.  Some reviewers made it a point to mention that Senkrah was Tua’s equal in technique but not in good looks.  Ironically, Tua and Senkrah both stopped playing publicly at about the same time.  On September 30, 1884, she made her debut with the Berlin Philharmonic with the Vieuxtemps d minor concerto.  On November 13, 1884, she again played with the same orchestra, this time playing the Wieniawski concerto in d minor.  A critic in 1885 mentioned that she overcame any difficulty “with the greatest of ease.”  In the summer of that year, she met Franz Liszt.  She was welcomed into his circle of friends and professional colleagues.  She was 21 years old.  Senkrah and Liszt played Beethoven’s Kreutzer Sonata (and some of Liszt’s music transcribed for violin and piano) on July 20, 1885.  I do not know whether it was a private or public recital.  Several sources say that Liszt was very fond of her and that they gave many public concerts together.  Her handling of the violin was then described as “incomparable.”  She also undertook several tours of Austria and Hungary with pupils of Franz Liszt.  In 1886, she was in Russia and met Tchaikovsky.  In 1888, she was appointed chamber virtuoso to the court of the Grand Duke (Charles Alexander Augustus John) of Saxony.  Karl Halir was the concertmaster of the Grand Ducal Court Orchestra (in Weimar) at the time.  On September 5, 1900, the New York Times reported that Arma Senkrah had committed suicide the previous day.  Another source gives the date of her suicide as September 3.  She was 36 years old.  Be that as it may, it was accepted as fact that she had indeed committed suicide with a pistol, although it was never confirmed.  In the autumn of 1888, she had met and soon after married a Weimar attorney surnamed Hofmann (or Hoffman) – nobody seems to know his first name.  She had henceforth not played in public.  Some sources say her brief marriage was happy but that she suffered from a disorder of the brain which supposedly rendered her emotionally unstable.  Other sources say her marriage was unhappy because she suspected her husband of infidelity and was chronically and hysterically jealous, which eventually resulted in her ending her life in despair.  One source states that she shot herself through the heart.  Whether it might be true that her husband at one time was infatuated with an actress is anyone’s guess.  One source claims that to be the case.  Senkrah owned a 1685 Stradivarius violin which bears her name.  I do not know who owns it now.  She also played the previously-mentioned Guadagnini.  Her mother was forced to sell both instruments (and perhaps others) when she later became destitute.