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.