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.  

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