Sunday, August 24, 2014

John Blake

John Blake (John Edward Blake, Jr.) was an American jazz violinist, teacher, composer, arranger, writer, and band leader, born (in Philadelphia) on July 3, 1947.  Although thoroughly trained as a classical violinist, he gravitated toward jazz early on in his career.  He first came to the public’s attention in the mid-1970s as a member of ensembles headed by other jazz musicians, Archie Shepp and Grover Washington, with whom he recorded and toured extensively for several years.  Afterward, Blake performed with a wide variety of artists, including the Duke Ellington Orchestra, the Billy Taylor Trio, the Turtle Island String Quartet, Quartet Indigo, and Didier Lockwood.  He later released six CDs of his own, beginning in 1984.  He was 37 years old.  Blake began his violin studies in Philadelphia at age 9.  He much later studied at West Virginia University and in Switzerland at the Institute for Advanced Studies in Montreux.  Here is a YouTube video in which he appears with Billy Taylor, Chip Jackson, and Winard Harper.  In addition to being a guest lecturer on university campuses around the world, Blake taught at the Manhattan School of Music, the University of Arts in Philadelphia, and at East Tennessee State University.  He also co-wrote the best-known string jazz method book in use today.  His best-known pupil is probably jazz violinist Regina Carter.  In fact, he produced one of Carter’s CDs (Reverse Thread), prior to which she had been awarded a MacArthur Genius Grant (2006.)  Blake died on August 15, 2014, at age 67.  

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Renaud Capucon

Renaud Capucon is a French violinist born (in Chambery) on January 27, 1976.  He was discovered by conductor Claudio Abbado, who was instrumental in encouraging his career, just as Arturo Toscanini discovered Vasa Prihoda, Thomas Beecham discovered Albert Sammons, and Edouard Colonne discovered Jacques Thibaud.  Capucon began studying the violin at age 4 at the music conservatory in Chambery.  He studied, between ages 12 and 19, with American violinist Veda Reynolds (in Europe.)  At 14, he entered the National Conservatory of Music and Dance in Paris from which he graduated at age 17.  His main teacher there was Gerard Poulet.  One of his other teachers was Thomas Brandis (in Berlin.)  Capucon briefly played in the European Union Youth Orchestra and then was invited by Claudio Abbado to serve as concertmaster (1998-2000) of the Gustav Mahler Youth Orchestra (which Abbado founded and conducted regularly.)  Capucon simultaneously began playing as a soloist and chamber musician and quickly rose to stardom.  He first soloed with the Berlin Philharmonic on November 15, 2002, playing the Korngold Concerto.  He was 26 years old.  His career has taken him around the world and he has already performed with all of the major orchestras and played as soloist or in recital in the best-known concert halls.  The only exception is the New York Philharmonic, with which I could not find any record of an appearance.  I cannot guess as to the reason, but it does happen now and then – an instance of a major artist who has never appeared with one or another of the major orchestras or this or that major conductor.  Although he has over 20 CDs in his discography, his most important recording – as far as I am concerned - is probably his recording of the Schumann concerto, a gem which was unknown and un-played for many decades thanks to Joseph Joachim’s negative opinion of it.  Here is a YouTube video of his performance of this concerto with the Chamber Orchestra of Europe.  As do most of today’s violinists, Capucon plays lots of chamber music in recital and at quite a few music festivals far and wide, including the Verbier, Lucerne, San Sebastian, Edinburgh, and Tanglewood.  Capucon has recorded for the DG, Decca, EMI, TDK, and Virgin Classics labels.  On May 25, 2009, Capucon was filmed playing in the midst of metro commuters in Paris (line 6 of the metro but I don’t know which station), unrecognized and unacknowledged by the passing crowd.  Joshua Bell did a similar thing on January 12, 2007 in Washington D.C. with similar results.  This reminds me of the doctor’s mother (or father) who used the van Gogh portrait of their son (Dr. Felix Rey) to plug a hole in their chicken coup.  They had no clue the painting was (or would later be) valuable.  After the piece was sold and discovered (20 years later), it was eventually brought to a museum where it was appraised at several millions.  Location can, and frequently does, make all the difference in the world.  Among Capucon’s violins have been a Vuillaume, a Guadagnini, and the 1737 Panette Guarnerius, previously owned by Isaac Stern.