Sunday, December 15, 2019

Orlando Barera

Orlando Barera was an Italian (some would say American) violinist and conductor born (in Bologna, Italy) on February 6, 1907.  Two sources say he was born in Ferrara, Italy in 1908.  (Ferrara is about 25 miles north of Bologna.)  He began his career as a concert violinist but is best known for being the conductor of the El Paso (Texas) Symphony from the fall of 1951 to the spring of 1970.  Prior to that he was the conductor of the Baton Rouge (Louisiana) Symphony for one year and just before that, he was the concertmaster and Assistant Conductor (for one year also) of the Houston Symphony.  Before those two posts, he had served as concertmaster of the Kansas City (Missouri) Symphony and the Havana Symphony (prior to Fidel Castro’s political revolution.)  Barera is one of many violinists who turned from concertizing to conducting – Jaap Van Zweden, Eugene Ormandy, David Zinman, Alan Gilbert, Neville Marriner, Pierre Monteux, Peter Oundjian, Jacques Singer, Charles Munch, and Theodore Thomas are among them.  He began his studies with his father, who was a professor at the conservatory of music in Bologna.  He graduated at age 15 with diplomas in violin, composition, and piano.  Immediately thereafter, he added an additional two years of study before embarking on a solo career.  His concertizing began in Italy but then later included France, Germany, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Russia, and the Netherlands.  His first appearance in the U.S. took place at Town Hall in New York on February 10, 1936.  He was 29 years old.  He later played at the Library of Congress in Washington D.C. that same year but returned to play in Europe in the latter part of that year.  On November 11, 1936, he played Lalo’s Symphonie Espagnol with the Prague Radio Symphony.  Karl Ancerl was on the podium.  I do not know if the performance was recorded.  Upon his return to the U.S., he gave a second recital at Town Hall on December 27, 1936. He played Mozart’s fourth concerto with the Boston Symphony on February 21, 1937.  Serge Koussevitzky conducted.  On December 3, 1938, he was guest artist with the New York Philharmonic.  This time, he played the Mendelssohn concerto, the one in e minor.  John Barbirolli conducted.  When war broke out, he enlisted in the U.S. Army and served a tour of duty until the war’s end.  His career - which he took up again when he was appointed concertmaster in Kansas City – was thus interrupted.  An interesting detail in his career is that between July 11 and November 10, 1950, he participated (as assistant principal second violinist) in 14 recording sessions which Leopold Stokowski conducted in New York.  At many of these recording sessions, Victor Aitay, the soon-to-be concertmaster of the Chicago Symphony, was Barera’s stand partner – Aitay was, at that time, a section violinist in the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra.  Being the well-known figure he was on the east coast and beyond, Barera was able to introduce many world class string players to El Paso audiences.  Among them were Ruggiero Ricci, Zvi Zeitlin, Isaac Stern, Berl Senofsky, Zino Francescatti, Pierre Fournier, Mischa Elman, Michael Rabin, Zara Nelsova, Arturo Delmoni, Salvatore Accardo, and Tossy Spivakovsky.  Of his association with Barera, Michael Rabin once said “Barera is very good and a hell of a nice guy.  Believe me, I wish every conductor would be as easy to work with as he is.  He takes away all the tightness and strain and just lets me enjoy myself.”  Barera owned and played a Gagliano violin from a year and specific maker unknown to me – the Gagliano violin-making family produced several good makers.  Barera died on March 26, 1971, at age 64.  

Sunday, November 17, 2019

Ilya Gringolts

Ilya Gringolts is a Russian violinist, teacher, conductor, and composer born (in Leningrad) on July 2, 1982.  He is known for being immersed in period-instrument performance as well as contemporary playing styles.  Ever since he won the 1998 Paganini Competition at age 16, his virtuosity has become well-known.  (The following year, Sayaka Shoji won the competition – she also was 16 years old.)  As is customary with almost all contemporary violinists, Gringolts participates in many music festivals around the world.  (The production of music festivals seems to have exploded after 1950 and festivals of one kind or another can now be found in every corner of the planet.)  Gringolts began studying the violin at age five.  I do not know who his first teacher was.  At age 8, he began studying violin and composition in the St Petersburg (formerly known as Leningrad) Special Music School with Tatiana Liberova and Jeanna Metallidi, two teachers of whom I had never heard.  In 1994, he made his debut with the Moscow Symphony Orchestra.  He was 12 years old.  I don’t know which piece he played at that concert.  In 1995, he made his European orchestral debut in Finland, playing Bruch’s first concerto.  After winning the Paganini competition, he relocated to New York (in 1999) and studied at Juilliard with Dorothy Delay and Itzhak Perlman for three years.  During the latter part of those same three years, he was spending a lot of time in London, studying and giving concerts.  Gringolts made his Canadian debut (in Ottawa) in 1999 (one source says 2002) – Pinchas Zukerman was on the podium.  He was 17 years old.  He has been very busy ever since, playing all over the world with every important conductor and in every prestigious venue.  In 2013, he recorded the 24 Paganini Caprices.  A usually-reliable source states that Gringolts now teaches at the Advanced School for the Arts (aka Zurich Academy of the Arts) in Zurich, Switzerland.  Another source says he teaches (or has taught) at the Basel Hochschule.  When I checked, neither school would confirm his position as violin professor.  Regarding his teaching, he has stated – contrary to universally-accepted dogma - that being a motivator is not part of his job.  In his own words: “I think that everyone is his or her own motivator.  You should know why you do something, otherwise you shouldn’t do it.”  In 2008, he founded the Gringolts Quartet.  He maintains a busy schedule with the quartet.  It also allows him to spend more time with his wife, who is the quartet’s second violinist.  His discography is not extensive by any measure but the recordings he has under his belt have been highly praised and have received awards.  Among those recordings are the Arensky and the Taneyev concertos, two works which are very (very) seldom heard.  You might want to obtain his recording of the first Paganini concerto since it is pretty outstanding – it was released in March of 1999.  It is not yet available on YouTube.  A current project in progress is his recording of all of Igor Stravinsky’s works for violin.  Among the violins he has played are the Kiesewetter Stradivarius (1723), the Provigny Stradivarius (1716), and a Guarneri Del Gesu dated 1742.  Here is one of Gringolts’ YouTube videos – a concerto by the mysterious and enigmatic violinist Pietro Antonio Locatelli.  

Sunday, October 27, 2019

Rodney Friend

Rodney Friend is an English violinist, teacher, and author born (in Bradford, England) in 1939.  He is best known for being the concertmaster of three of the world’s best orchestras – the New York Philharmonic, the London Philharmonic, and the BBC Symphony.  He began his violin studies at age seven.  I do not know who his first teacher was. At 12, he received a scholarship to study at the Royal Academy of Music in London.  His main teacher was Frederick Grinke, a Canadian violinist who played for Churchill, Truman, and Stalin at the famous Potsdam Conference in the summer of 1945.  Friend later studied with Endre Wolf, Yehudi Menuhin, and Henryk Szeryng.  One usually-reliable source says he also later studied at the Royal Manchester College of Music.  In September, 1964, Friend became the concertmaster of the London Philharmonic.  He was 24 years old.  He played the Britten concerto in his first solo appearance with this orchestra.  However, by then, he had made his London debut playing the Sibelius concerto with the Halle Orchestra (in 1961) at the Festival Hall with John Barbirolli on the podium.  Friend played with the London Philharmonic for 12 years. In 1975, he was invited to be the New York Philharmonic’s concertmaster.  He was 35 years old.  He had already made his American debut with this orchestra playing the Britten concerto.  He probably began his tenure as concertmaster in New York in the fall of 1976.  On March 10, 1977, in his new role as concertmaster, he soloed with the orchestra, this time playing Karol Szymanowski’s first concerto.  Erich Leinsdorf was on the podium.  In 1981, Friend returned to England and became the concertmaster of the BBC Symphony.  In that year also, he became professor of violin at the Royal College of Music.  He was 42 years old.  Since 1990, he has devoted his time to teaching, writing, judging international competitions, and playing and/or directing chamber music concerts.  He formed the Solomon Trio in 1991.  In 2006, Friend’s two-volume work entitled The Orchestral Violinist (a study guide for orchestral players) appeared.  It has been acclaimed by many critics.  In 2010, he founded the Cambridge International String Academy at Trinity College.  In 2015, he joined the Royal Academy of Music faculty.  In 2019, his pedagogic work entitled The Violin in Fifths was published.  Many sources say it is a unique study guide.  It is easily found on the internet.  Among other violins, Friend has played (and might still be playing) a Giuseppe (Battista) Guarneri violin dated 1696 (not a Del Gesu.)  (According to a usually-reliable source, for a time, he also played a Guarneri Del Gesu dated 1731.) Needless to say, he has recorded (as an orchestral violinist) practically the entire orchestral repertoire.  He has also appeared in every important concert hall in the world and worked alongside the most eminent conductors and soloists of the twentieth century.  Here is a very charming YouTube audio file of one of his commercial recordings as soloist. 

Sunday, September 29, 2019

Amihai Grosz

Amihai Grosz is an Israeli violist and teacher born (in Jerusalem) in 1979.  He is well-known as the Principal violist of the Berlin Philharmonic.  Nevertheless, he is also in great demand as a soloist.  He began, as most violists do, as a violin student at age 5.  He began to play and study the viola at age 11.  Most of his studies took place in Israel and in Germany.  In 1995, he founded the Jerusalem Quartet with three other student-colleagues from the Jerusalem Music Center.  He was 16 years old.  The quartet (which comprised the majority of his professional activity between 1995 and 2009) subsequently won several distinguished awards and prizes from various organizations.  As a viola soloist, Grosz has also won top prizes in several competitions.  In 2010, Grosz was appointed Principal violist of the Berlin Philharmonic.  Although orchestral players are for the most part anonymous to the general public, principal players enjoy slightly higher profiles.  Grosz continues to perform as a soloist and as a member of various chamber groups involved with music festivals all over the world.  His instrument is one by Gaspar Da Salo, constructed in 1570.  

Sunday, August 18, 2019

Arkadi Futer

Arkadi Futer (Arkadi Naumovitch Futer) was a Russian violinist and teacher born (in Moscow) on September 6, 1932.  He is known for his impressive recording of Wieniawski’s first violin concerto in F sharp minor, but he is also known for having spent a large part of his career in Spain.  For some time, he was concertmaster of Vladimir Spivakov’s Moscow Virtuosi, which was founded in 1979.  I do not know if he was the initial concertmaster – he probably was.  The Moscow Virtuosi later resided in Spain for nine years (1990-1999.)  When the Moscow Virtuosi left Spain, Futer stayed behind.  He then became concertmaster of the Oviedo Symphony Orchestra.  He was 67 years old.  (Oviedo is the small capital city of the principality of Asturias, located in northern Spain, next to the Bay of Biscay.)  Prior to his association with the Moscow Virtuosi, Futer was concertmaster of the Moscow Philharmonic, the Moscow Radio Orchestra, and the Orchestra of the Film Industry of the USSR.  He was also a member of at least two string quartets.  Futer began his studies at age 7 in Kiev, in the years of 1939 or 1940, I don’t know which.  His first teacher was Nina Dulova.  In 1943, he returned to Moscow with his family.  He was 11 years old.  He entered the Tchaikovsky Conservatory at age 18.  Yuri Yankelevitch was one of his teachers.  He later graduated from the conservatory with top honors.  He was named Artist of the Russian Republic in 1998.  Futer died (in Gijon, Asturias, Spain) on September 5, 2011, at (almost) age 79.  His granddaughter, Vera Futer, is now a professor at the University of Oviedo.  Here is an audio file of Futer’s Wieniawski recording. 

Sunday, July 28, 2019

Jennifer Pike

Jennifer Pike is an English violinist and teacher born (in Stockport, England – Stockport is about five miles southeast of Manchester) on November 9, 1989.  She is known for having been the youngest winner of the BBC Young Musician of the Year Award competition in 2002.  On the occasion of her performance, she played the well-known Mendelssohn concerto - the one in e minor.  She was 12 years old.  Since then, she has forged a solo career, touring the world as soloist in recital and with orchestra, as most concert artists do.  Her violin studies began at age 5.  I do not know who her first teacher was, although it is very likely that it was her father, a violinist and composer.  At age 8 she entered Chetham’s School of Music in Manchester.  She made her debut at age 15 playing Haydn’s fourth violin concerto (the one in G), although by then she had already been recognized as a child prodigy and made public appearances, including one at the Royal Opera House when she was ten years old.  She further studied with David Takeno in London.  She also attended the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London and the University of Oxford (in Oxford, England – about 40 miles northwest of London) from which she graduated in 2012.  Her discography is not extensive but she has recorded a few works for the Chandos and Sony labels.  Pike has played a Matteo Goffriller violin constructed in 1708 for some time but I do not know if she is still playing that violin.  Here is a YouTube video where she is playing a popular piece by William Kroll.

Sunday, June 16, 2019

Anna Tifu

Anna Tifu is a Romanian (some would say Italian) violinist born (in Cagliari, Italy) on January 1, 1986.  (Cagliari is the capital of Sardinia, a large island off the western coast of Italy.)  She is known for having studied and spent most of her career in Italy.  She was widely recognized as a child prodigy from the age of eight.  Her first teacher was her father at age 6.  She made such fast progress that by age 8 she had won the Vittorio Veneto competition with a first prize.  (Vittorio Veneto is a small city in northern Italy, situated 60 miles north of Venice, not far from the southern Austrian border.)  At age 11 Tifu made her first solo appearance with orchestra.  At age 12, she played the Bruch g minor concerto at the famous La Scala opera house in Milan.  She graduated from the Cagliari Music Conservatory at age 15.  Tifu studied further with Salvatore Accardo in Italy and with Aaron Rosand (2005 to 2008) in the U.S.  Later still, she studied in Paris also.  Along the way, she won violin competitions in Italy and Romania.  It is possible that Tifu stopped taking lessons when she turned 24 years old but I am not sure about that, although it can be said that Tifu has been concertizing since age 11.  For some time, her violin was the Berthier Stradivarius from 1716 but I do not know if she is still playing it.  She has also played Paganini’s Cannone 1743 Guarnerius.  Here is a YouTube video of Tifu playing Chausson’s Poeme.  Here is a link to a nice article about Paganini’s violin.  

Sunday, May 19, 2019

Wilma Neruda

Wilma Neruda (Wilhelmine Maria Franziska Neruda aka Madame Norman-Neruda aka Lady Halle) was a Czech (Moravian) violinist and teacher born (in Brno) on March 21, 1838.  (As far as I could determine, her year of birth is still in question - it could be 1838, 1839, or even 1840.)  She was very famous and influential in her day but now – even among serious music enthusiasts – is largely forgotten.  However, her name will be immortal in music history for the fact that she married one of the best known names in the conducting world, Charles Halle, founder of the Halle Orchestra.  She began violin studies with her father, Josef Neruda, at age 4.  At age six, Neruda began studying with Leopold Jansa, in Vienna.  Jansa was also the teacher of Composer Karl Goldmark.  At age 7, she made her public debut in Vienna, with her sister at the piano, playing a Bach violin sonata.  In 1848, she made her English debut in London – she was 10 years old.  (One source gives the date as June 11, 1849.)  In 1852, she presented a series of concerts in Moscow.  It has been said that none other than Henryk Wieniawski considered her one of his main rivals.  In 1859, Neruda formed the Neruda Quartet, comprised of three of her siblings and herself as first violinist.  She was 20 years old.  She subsequently enjoyed a very busy and successful career.  In 1864, she married F. W. Ludwig Norman, a well-known Swedish musician, and subsequently presented herself as Wilma Norman Neruda.  The couple separated after four years and she soon moved to London – she had not returned to England since 1848.  She was now 30 years old.  In 1869, she was named professor of violin at the Royal Music Academy in Stockholm.  Many years later, in 1888, Neruda married Charles Halle and, after Halle was knighted that same year, became Lady Halle.  She and Halle, who was an accomplished pianist, had participated in many chamber music concerts together before their marriage and continued to do so afterward.  In 1890, they toured Australia.  In 1895, they toured South Africa.  Shortly after her husband died in October of 1895, she was gifted a palace in Italy (near Venice) by several members of the aristocracy.  She resided there for a while.  In 1899, four years after Halle died, she toured the United States and Canada.  Although she retired from concert life at age sixty, she continued to perform sporadically.  In late 1898, she moved to Berlin to teach, but continued to live part of the year in London.  In 1907, she played at the memorial concert for Joseph Joachim.  Neruda played a Stradivarius violin from 1709 (or 1710), known as the Vieuxtemps Strad.  The violin was a gift to her made (by several members of the aristocracy) in 1876.  She also owned several other violins.  Neruda died on April 15, 1911, in Berlin, at age 73. 

Sunday, March 24, 2019

Alexandra Soumm

Alexandra Soumm is a Russian violinist, teacher, philanthropist, and poet born (in Moscow) on May 17, 1989.  She is one of the best known Russian violinists living (and based) in France and has performed with practically every French orchestra and in every French venue.  When her parents left Russia for France, she was only 2 years old.  As far as I know, her main teacher has been Boris Kuschnir, with whom she studied (according to one very reliable source) for almost fourteen years.  Soumm also frequently participates in music festivals, though mostly in Europe.  She began her violin studies with her father (a violinist) at age 5.  Her first public appearance took place at age 7 in Ukraine with her mother at the piano.  (Her father is Ukrainian and her mother is Russian.)  She entered the Vienna Conservatory, where she began studying with Kuschnir, at age 10.  Two years later, Soumm made her formal debut in Vienna’s Konzerthaus (in 2002) and has been concertizing ever since.  She won the Eurovision Competition in Lucerne, Switzerland, in 2004, at age fourteen.  According to one source, she dropped out of high school when she was 16 years old in order to devote herself to the study of the violin full time and more intensely.  In 2011, Soumm began presenting masterclasses wherever she performed.  She made her U.S. debut in November, 2013, with the Detroit Symphony.  She played the Sibelius concerto - Leonard Slatkin was on the podium.  A few days after that appearance, she made her debut in Chicago, although not with the Chicago Symphony.  She played Mozart’s third concerto with the Illinois Philharmonic.  David Danzmayr was on the podium.  She was 24 years old.  She has twice appeared at the Hollywood Bowl with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, before an audience of about 20,000 people – August 15, 2014, playing the Tchaikovsky concerto and August 20, 2015 playing the Bernstein Serenade.  Playing for huge audiences is something which violinists of a former generation (including Yehudi Menuhin, Jascha Heifetz, and Bronislaw Huberman) used to do there (at the Hollywood Bowl) and in New York at Lewisohn Stadium with the New York Symphony or the New York Philharmonic.  Soumm is fluent in the German, French, English, Spanish, and Russian languages.  Although her discography is not at all extensive, she has performed in almost every famous venue and with every major orchestra (and conductor) in the world.  Soumm used to play a 1785 (or 1782) G.B. Guadagnini violin but I do not know if she is still playing it.  She has also played a Gioffredo Cappa violin constructed in 1700 (approximately.)  Since 2018, Soumm has been associated with the Musica Mundi music school (and festival) which is based in Belgium.  She has stated that one of the key ingredients for learning to play well is an insatiable curiosity.  A direct (and very interesting) quote from a recent interview follows: “A lot of people just play nicely, but that is not the idea because when Beethoven or Tchaikovsky composed their music, they gave their life to it and so should we.” Here is a YouTube video of a Bach concerto played by Soumm with the Galicia Symphony Orchestra. 

Sunday, February 3, 2019

Juliette Kang

Juliette Kang is a Korean violinist (many would say American or Canadian) born (in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada) on September 5, 1976.  She is currently the associate concertmaster of the Philadelphia Orchestra.  She began her career as a soloist but gravitated toward a high position as an orchestral player, a choice that possibly provides the best of both worlds since she continues to successfully concertize as soloist, chamber musician, and recitalist.  (Sometimes, orchestral players leave orchestral work to launch solo careers but that is very rare – only Janos Starker, Zino Francescatti, Emanuel Vardi, Pablo Casals, William Primrose, Emanuel Vardi, Berl Senofsky, Lynn Harrell, and Tossy Spivakovsky come to mind.  It is far more common for soloists to abandon the touring life in favor of a more tranquil existence as a first-desk orchestral player and/or teacher at a top music school.)  Kang began violin lessons with James Keene (concertmaster of the Edmonton Symphony) when she was 4 years old.  Three years later, she made her debut in Montreal.  Two years after that, at age 9 (or 10), she entered the Curtis Institute in Philadelphia where her main teacher was Jascha Brodsky, a well-known violin pedagogue.  At Curtis, she also studied chamber music with Felix Galimir.  In 1991 (after graduating from Curtis), she began studying at the Juilliard School in New York under Hyo Kang and Dorothy Delay.  She was 15 years old.  At 16, Kang made her New York debut in March, 1993 at the 92nd Street Y.  Between 1983 and 1994, Kang won major prizes at several violin competitions here and abroad, including first prize at the Yehudi Menuhin violin competition in 1992 and first prize at the Indianapolis Violin Competition in 1994.  She was 18 years old when she won the Indianapolis competition.  (Among the top 60 prize winners since the Indianapolis competition’s inception in 1982, only six or seven players have achieved high-profile international recognition – Leonidas Kavakos, Simone Lamsma, Clara-Jumi Kang, Sergei Khachatryan, and Augustin Hadelich.)  After many solo appearances, Kang began her orchestral career in 1999, playing with the Kennedy Center Opera Orchestra.  She was 23 years old.  She then played in the first violin section of the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra from 2001 to 2003 – Raymond Gniewek had just retired as concertmaster.  From 2003 to 2005, Kang was assistant concertmaster with the Boston Symphony.  In 2005, at age 29, she was appointed associate concertmaster of the Philadelphia Orchestra.  Now, she has curtailed her solo appearances to just three or four concerts per season.  As is customary, she also gets to be a featured soloist with her orchestra.  On her first solo appearance with the orchestra in 2012, she played Prokofiev’s first concerto.  In November of 2014 she played the Stravinsky concerto and in January, 2018 she played Bruch’s Scottish Fantasy with the orchestra.  Her discography includes her solo recital at Carnegie Hall and the Wieniawski and Schumann concertos with the Vancouver Symphony.  Kang plays a Camillo Camilli violin constructed in 1730 (approximately.)  I do not know whether she has or has had any students.  

Sunday, January 6, 2019

Eda Kersey

Eda Kersey was an English violinist and teacher born (in Goodmayes, a district of London) on May 15, 1904.  She was a very accomplished musician whose career was mostly spent in England.  She was also one of quite a few female violinists who died young – Maud Powell, Johanna Martzy, Ginette Neveu, Edith Volkaert, Alma Rose, Alma Moodie, and Arma Senkrah are among them.  Several sources speak very highly of her and emphasize that she would have left a great legacy if only she had lived long enough to record the great works of the violin repertoire.  She is also known to have stated that practicing seven hours a day (which she routinely did) should be sufficient for any violinist.  Her musical education began on the piano at age four.  She took up the violin at age six when she actually began studying at the Trinity College of Music in London.  Two years later, she was awarded a certificate from the college with very high marks.  She was eight years old.  After that, she began studying with Edgar Mouncher (a pupil of Otakar Sevcik.)  After only two years, at age ten, she played Wieniawski’s second concerto (first movement only) in Southampton, a city which is 65 miles from London.  That concert (in 1915) was a great success.  At age 13, she moved to London to live with an aunt and uncle in London and began studying with Margaret Holloway, a pupil of Leopold Auer.  Her first London recital took place three years later at the Aeolian Hall when she was sixteen years old.  (New York City also had its own Aeolian Hall.)  Along the way, she premiered the concertos of Arnold Bax, Erno Dohnanyi, and Stanley Wilson, as well as works by other contemporary composers.  She also gave the first English performance of the Barber concerto at a Proms concert in 1943.  Her first Proms concert had been in 1930 playing the Beethoven concerto with the famous Henry Wood conducting.  She was 26 years old.  That performance was the first of several appearances she made at the popular Proms concerts.  In 1931, she formed a piano trio which was simply named The Trio Players.  Her last concert took place in June, 1944, at the Albert Hall in London.  Kersey played a Nicolo Amati, a J.B. Vuillaume, and a Guarnerius del Gesu (which she acquired from Belgian violinist Alfred De Reyghere in 1942), among other violins.  Eda Kersey died on July 13, 1944, at age 40.  Negotiations for many recordings of the standard repertoire had nearly been concluded before her sudden death but she never got to actually record anything other than some small pieces (with piano accompaniment) and the Bax concerto (with orchestral accompaniment) several months earlier.