Sunday, January 24, 2016

Russian Violin Makers

In terms of fame, and very likely in terms of expertise, Italian, French, and German violin makers have the Russians beat by a long shot. At least that’s the general opinion. Whether that is so because the violin was actually invented in Italy (around 1530) and the most prolific makers worked from there and were the first to become famous is anyone’s guess.  The names of da Salo, Amati, Stradivari, Tononi, Guarneri, Maggini, Carcassi, Storioni, Gagliano, Guadagnini, Ventapane, Rogeri, Ruggieri, Pressenda, Albani, Gobetti, and Montagnana, are certainly very well known.  Their violins are prized above all others.  On the other hand, Russian makers are not known at all.  This peculiarity is striking since the whole world knows that most of the world’s celebrated violinists are Russian.  To filter them further, most among these superlative Russian players are Jewish – Oistrakh, Goldstein, Kogan, Heifetz, Elman, Zimbalist, Seidel, Milstein, and Gitlis, to name a few.  So, why aren’t there any great Russian violin makers – makers whose names are household words – Jewish or otherwise?  Perhaps it has to do with tradition – like the tradition of exceptional French wine making or fine watch making by the Swiss.  After Amati (and his relatives) and other early makers started violin making enterprises, the violin construction economic engine took off; soon, imitators sprang up elsewhere in Italy - some of them really good.  Entire families (such as the Guarneris and the Stradivaris) got involved in the trade and the tradition of fine Italian violin making was thus established.  By the time the ideas and patterns for violin making spread to other parts of Europe, the Italians had been at it for more than fifty years.  Then the Italian violin virtuosos got going as well.  Up until 1750, they were dominant in the violin playing sphere.  Italian violinists like Corelli, Somis, Pugnani, Tartini, Geminiani, Vivaldi, Tommasini, and Locatelli had few (if any) corresponding contemporaries in the other European countries or Russia. There was a time when Spain ruled the seas.  There was also a time when the Roman Empire ruled the world.  Nothing lasts forever.  Who knows whether the Russian violin makers will not someday soon take over the business?  

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Olga Bloom

Olga Bloom (Olga Bayrack Bloom) was a Russian violinist and violist born (in Boston, USA) on April 2, 1919.  She is best known as the founder of Bargemusic, a very successful venue for chamber music concerts which she founded in 1977, located in Brooklyn, New York, close to the famous Brooklyn Bridge.  Bloom began her violin studies at age four.  I do not know who her first teacher was although it could have been her father – he was an amateur violinist.  Later, she studied at the New England Conservatory of Music and at Boston University.  One of her teachers was Jacques Hoffman, associate concertmaster of the Boston Symphony.  None of the sources I visited stated whether Bloom graduated from the schools she attended and I didn’t bother to check any further.  In any case, Bloom moved to New York where she worked in pit orchestras and recording studios for many years.  At about age 57, she retired from regular playing and looked for other ways to make a living.  (Unless you are a star musician, as you get older, playing opportunities begin drying up – it happens all the time.  Then, if you don’t hustle a teaching post, you have to find other ways to make a living.)  She purchased a used barge for ten thousand dollars at about that time (with her own money) and the rest is history.  Bloom ran the Bargemusic operation for almost 30 years, until 2005.  She was 85 years old.  She was very devoted to chamber music and she famously said: "One gets the greatest gratification and fulfillment in working in concerted effort with one's peers."  Olga Bloom died on November 24, 2011, at age 92.