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.  

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Tijana Milosevic

Tijana Milosevic is a Serbian violinist and teacher born on March 1, 1978.  She is the youngest concertmaster in the history of the Belgrade Philharmonic.  She is also the only concertmaster – and perhaps the only violinist in history – to pose nude for Playboy magazine.  The Belgrade Philharmonic has been described as Serbia’s “cult”orchestra.  Though the orchestra itself is 90 years old, the average age of the 96 musicians is only 35.  When you visit the orchestra’s website, you’ll have an understanding of what makes this orchestra work so well – it is exciting, stimulating, and imaginative.  As Milosevic’s historic and unafraid entry into the pages of Playboy indicate, the orchestra does not shy away from provocative marketing.  In the U.S., Milosevic might have gotten fired for doing something so daring.  
Tijana Milosevic began her violin studies at age 4.  By age 15, she had been admitted into the Belgrade School of Music.  She studied with, among others, violin pedagogue Dejan Mihailovic.  After graduation, she further studied in New York with Dorothy Delay and Lewis Kaplan at the Juilliard School of Music.  Milosevic also participated in master classes with Itzhak Perlman and Joshua Bell.  Soon thereafter and for a brief time she was assistant concertmaster of the Athens Camerata under Neville Marriner, the famous British conductor.  At age 20, she was appointed concertmaster of the Belgrade Philharmonic.  Milosevic has already recorded several CDs and performed with various well-known artists including Maxim Vengerov, Zubin Mehta, Hagai Shaham, Sarah Chang, and Kurt Masur.  
At the time that she appeared on Playboy, Milosevic caused a scandal in the classical music world, even though the nude profile was, in my view, quite artistic.  When pianist Yuja Wang appeared on stage wearing a mini dress (as shown on the bottom photo at left), she caused a scandal too.  But she was on stage, not doing a photo shoot for a fashion or a gentleman’s magazine.  The question arises whether a female concert artist should ever appear in very short and showy attire (or no attire at all) and when and where.  Opinions will vary, of course, but I think Milosevic’s nude pictorial in Playboy is far more appropriate than Yuja Wang’s on the stage since Wang’s short dress is very distracting during performance - Milosevic wears professional concert dress in performance.  It’s an issue about which you will have to decide for yourself.  
Here is one of Milosevic’s YouTube videos of a work for violin and piano by Serbian composer Aleksandra Dokic - it is beautifully played.  Until the very end, one cannot tell that it is a live recording.  Of herself and the orchestra Milosevic says: “I take special pride in my common sense, adamantly standing between the Old Russian School and the Juilliard – the American school.  I am proud of my orchestra and the energy we radiate in our creative trance.”  Her violin is a 1910 Enrico Rocca (1847-1915), a relatively modern violin.  

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Wanda Wilkomirska

Wanda Wilkomirska is a Polish violinist and teacher born on January 11, 1929.  She was the first violinist to play at gala concerts of three world famous concert halls; the Warsaw Philharmonic Concert Hall (1955), the Barbican Hall (London-1976) and the Sydney (Australia-1973) Opera House.  Her concertizing career was especially fruitful between 1950 and 1980.  Her website says she is the most famous Polish violinist but that is, of course, a big stretch, considering she is in the company of such luminaries and geniuses as Karol Lipinski, Henryk Wieniawski, Isidor Lotto, Joseph Hassid, Henryk Szeryng, Szymon Goldberg, Samuel Dushkin, Henri Temianka, Paul Kochanski, Richard Burgin, Ida Haendel, Cecylia Arzewski, George Bridgetower, and the incomparable Bronislaw Huberman.  She is, understandably, known for promoting modern Polish music.  She began her studies with her father at age 5.  At age 7, she made her public debut in a recital, playing a Mozart sonata.  I don’t know which sonata.  Subsequently she attended the Lodz Academy of Music in Poland.  Lodz is about 80 miles south of Warsaw.  She graduated in 1947.  She was 18 years old.  I do not know how she was able to elude the Nazis between 1939 and 1945.  There is no mention of that anywhere.  In 1950, she graduated from the Liszt Academy in Budapest.  She then studied with Henryk Szeryng for three months in Paris.  In 1952, she competed in the Wieniawski violin competition and took second prize.  She was 23 years old.  Her concertizing career began more or less at about that time and she subsequently went on to play around the world with all the major orchestras and conductors.  On August 22, 1959, she played Paganini’s first concerto with the Berlin Philharmonic.  On October 15, 1960, she again soloed with the philharmonic playing the Mendelssohn concerto – none other than Paul Hindemith was on the podium.  On October 22, 1962, she played the Mendelssohn concerto (the one in e minor) with the Chicago Symphony - the performance took place in Milwaukee.  On September 15 through September 20, 1977, she made her first and last appearances with the New York Philharmonic playing the second concerto of Shostakovich.  Erich Leinsdorf conducted.  She was 48 years old.  In 1982, Wilkomirska decided to settle in (West) Germany, where she began to teach at the Advanced Music School in Heidelberg in 1983.  However, as do practically all concert artists who take teaching posts, she continued to concertize.  In 1999, she settled in Australia, where she has lived ever since.  Wilkomirska has been teaching at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music since that time and has also taught at the Australian Academy of Music in Melbourne, although she no longer teaches at either school.  She has been a member of the jury at various violin competitions and has played chamber music concerts with other artists many times.  Among other premieres, Wilkomirska has given the premieres of the violin concertos numbers 5 and 7 by Grazyna Bacewicz.  Here is a You Tube posting of one of her performances.  Her recordings can be easily found on the internet.  Her record labels have included Naxos, Deutsche Grammophon, EMI, Philips, and Polskie Nagrania.  Wi┼ékomirska performs on a 1734 Pietro Guarneri violin.  She also played a violin for some twenty years which four well-known appraisers (Bein, Beare, Kass, and Rosengard) have said is a fake – a 1740 Domenico Montagnana.  The violin was owned by the Polish government before being sold to Herbert Axelrod who sold it to the New Jersey Symphony in 2003.  The violin had already passed through the hands of Dietmar Machold, the now infamous violin dealer who is in jail for defrauding violin buyers and sellers and banks.  He issued a certificate back in 2002 which assigned a value of $750,000 to the violin.  Experts have said it is likely worth about $25,000.