Sunday, October 16, 2016

Mari Samuelsen

Mari Samuelsen (Mari Silje Samuelsen) is a Norwegian violinist born (in Hamar, Norway) on December 21, 1984.  She is well-known for having the most views for one of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons concertos on YouTube – more than 13,890,000.  That is probably a record for a classical musician on YouTube.  It is a really superb performance.  However, although she is a supremely gifted artist and technically brilliant, her discography is truly tiny – the reasons for that, as far as I know, are a mystery.  She began violin lessons at age 3 then began studying with Norwegian violinist and teacher Arve Tellefsen from age four.  After about ten years, she began studying with Stephan Barratt Due in Oslo.  She also later studied with well-known pedagogue Zakhar Bron in Switzerland.  In addition, she attended masterclasses with Ivry Gitlis, Ana Chumachenco, Midori, Donald Weilerstein, Pamela Frank, and Robert Mann.  Samuelsen’s career is well-established in Europe although she has performed in several venues in the US as well.  She has also played with several major orchestras led by high profile conductors in some of the world’s great concert halls.  As far as I know, she has never entered any violin competitions.  On August 25, 2016, Samuelsen and her cellist brother (with whom she frequently performs as a duo) gave the American premiere (with the Los Angeles Philharmonic) of a work for violin and cello by the late film composer James Horner.  Samuelsen plays a 1773 Guadagnini violin on loan from a Norwegian foundation.  Here is one YouTube video of hers (Vivaldi) and here is another (variations on the theme God Save the King by Adrien Servais and Joseph Ghys.) 

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Sergei Stadler

Sergei Stadler is a Russian violinist, teacher, and conductor born (in Saint Petersburg) on May 20, 1962.  Although he took first prize (alongside Victoria Mullova) in the famous Tchaikovsky Competition (in 1982) and the Grand Prize in the Jacques Thibaud Competition (in 1980 – one source has it as 1979), he is not as well-known as one might expect.  However, he has developed a very successful career in Russia and Europe, having played in most of the important concert venues.  He is also an opera conductor.  Stadler actually began his music studies in piano, taking lessons from his parents, although his father was a professional violinist.  He entered the Saint Petersburg Conservatory at age 12.  He studied violin with Boris Sergeyev in Leningrad (Saint Petersburg.)  He also later studied with Mikhail Vaiman, Victor Tretyakov, Leonid Kogan, and David Oistrakh.  From 1984 to 1989 he taught at the Saint Petersburg Conservatory.  In his career as a teacher, he has conducted master classes in Europe and the far east.  He has also founded several performing organizations - the Hermitage Music Academy, and the New Saint Petersburg Symphony are among them.  He has about 30 CDs to his credit – one source says 50 – including one with all Beethoven Sonatas, accompanied by his sister Julia.  Here is one video of his on YouTube.  

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Vaclav Hudecek

Vaclav Hudecek is a Czech violinist, conductor, and teacher born on June 7, 1952.  He is known for his effortless, natural artistry and having been one of David Oistrakh’s last students.  His recording of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons (with the Virtuosi di Praga - 1992) is the most successful classical recording in the Czech Republic’s history.  He has recorded standard concertos under the direction of famous violinists, namely, Igor Oistrakh, Pavel Kogan, and Dmitry Sitkovetsky, who are themselves sons of famous Russian violinists.  I do not know who his first teacher was but I do know he later studied and graduated from the Prague Conservatory.  His studies with David Oistrakh took place between 1970 (or 1971) and 1974.  One of his early successes took place on November 11, 1967 when he appeared as soloist with the Royal Philharmonic in London.  He was 15 years old.  He has concertized throughout the world and played in the most prestigious venues as well as participated or led renowned music festivals in Europe, Japan, and Australia.  Hudecek has also presented master classes in Canada, Germany, and Japan, as well as other countries.  He plays a 1729 violin constructed by well-known violin maker Antonio Stradivari.  There are several YouTube videos of his performances, including this one.  His recordings are easy to find on the internet.  

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Enric Casals

Enric Casals was a Spanish violinist, composer, teacher, and conductor born (in Barcelona) on July 26, 1892.  He is now completely forgotten, unlike his older brother, the cello player Pablo Casals.  His first studies were with his father.  Later on, he studied with a little-known teacher, Rafael Galvez.  He then traveled to Brussels where he again studied with little-known teachers: Mathieu Crickboom and Joseph Jongen.  I do not know if he ever settled in Brussels.  In Europe, travel distances from one large city to another are not great so commuting and setting up temporary residence in any one place for a few weeks just to study is no big deal.  From 1910 to 1912 he was solo violinist with the Barcelona Symphony.  Casals was now 18 years old.  Between 1912 and 1914, he played with the Kurot Symphony in Saint Petersburg.  I do not know where he was between 1914 and 1918 – the war years.  He moved to Prague in 1918, becoming a pupil of Frantisek Suchy, another little-known teacher.  He was 26 years old.  I do not know if Casals graduated from any conservatory after his many years of study.  By 1920, he was back in Spain.  Between 1920 and 1936 he was playing and (sometimes) conducting the Pablo Casals Orchestra.  Whether he was the concertmaster or just a section player is anyone’s guess.  I didn’t trouble myself with researching that detail of his career.  During almost the same time, he also played in the orchestra of the Gran Teatro del Liceo (1924-1935.)  It is common practice – even in modern times – for musicians to play in various ensembles simultaneously when scheduling allows it, giving the musician enough playing opportunities to make a living.   In 1921, Casals founded the Enric Casals String Quartet and did a lot of touring with the quartet.  I don’t know when the quartet was disbanded.  It’s possible that the quartet was active until 1940.  Casals later devoted a lot of his time to conducting and composing.  From 1940 to 1942 he was permanent conductor of the Orquesta Iberica de Concerts and also served as resident conductor of the Orquesta Profesional de Camara in Barcelona for several seasons.  Other orchestras which he guest conducted were the national orchestras of Portugal, Hungary, Greece, and Mexico, as well as the famous Lamoureux Orchestra of Paris.  He founded the Casals Music Institute and was a director of the Prades Festival (in France) from 1955 to 1983.  His compositions include a violin concerto, a cello concerto, and a suite for cello.  Casals died on July 31, 1986, at age 94. 

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Franz Vecsey

Franz von Vecsey (Ferenc Vecsey) was a Hungarian violinist, conductor, and composer born (in Budapest) on March 23, 1893.  He was a child prodigy in the early part of the last century but is for the most part now forgotten.  There are a few YouTube audio files which attest to his unbelievable artistry at a very young age.  Bela Bartok served as his piano accompanist for a time.  The Sibelius violin concerto was dedicated to him (in 1905) when he was only 12 years old.  Although he did not premiere the concerto, he first played the Sibelius concerto one year later.  His first teacher was his father, Lajos Vecsey.  He studied with Jeno Hubay from age 8.  It has been said that he became Hubay’s favorite pupil.  (Eugene Ormandy and Joseph Szigeti also studied with Hubay.)  His debut took place on May 17, 1903 in Berlin.  He was ten years old and on that occasion played the Beethoven concerto while Joseph Joachim conducted the orchestra.  Afterward, he studied with Leopold Auer in St Petersburg, Russia.  Jeno Hubay dedicated his third violin concerto (probably his best-known among the four he composed) to Vecsey.  Later, after concertizing for about ten years, Vecsey married into an aristocratic family, as did four or five other famous violinists (Teresina Tua, Johanna Martzy, Cesar Thomson, and Georges Enesco come to mind.)   He managed his career from a palace in Venice.  It has been suggested that he became psychologically scarred after serving in the Austrian army during World War One and that his career suffered as a result.  He was very interested in a conducting career in the mid-1930s but became seriously ill just about then and died after an unsuccessful operation in Rome.  Vecsey’s compositional output consisted mainly of miniature violin works, one of which is Le Vent (Caprice number 1), a rather difficult work which is still very popular today.  A 1716 Stradivarius instrument was among the violins he played.  It is now owned by an Italian philanthropic foundation, which also owns other great and valuable string instruments.  Here is a YouTube audio file where Vecsey plays a Paganini caprice.  Vecsey died on April 5, 1935, at age 42.  

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Carl Nielsen

Carl Nielsen (Carl August Nielsen) was a Danish violinist, composer, conductor, writer, and teacher born (in Norre Lyndelse, on the island of Funen) on June 9, 1865.  Although now remembered almost exclusively as a composer – in fact, Denmark’s greatest composer - he spent many years earning his livelihood as a violinist as well as an Army bugler.  His parents were most likely his very first teachers, although it was not their intention that he become a professional musician.  In late 1879, he became a bugler and trombonist for the army.  He was 14 years old.  Nevertheless, he continued to study the violin, sometimes performing at barn dances.  In 1881, he began studying privately with Carl Larsen, a custodian at the Odense Cathedral.  After receiving a release from his army job, he entered the Royal Danish Academy of Music in Copenhagen in 1884 - one source calls this the Copenhagen Conservatory.  His violin teacher there was Valdemar Tofte, a very obscure violinist and teacher.  He left (or graduated) from the conservatory in late 1886.  He was 22 years old.  In 1887, he joined the second violin section of the Royal Danish Orchestra and remained there for about 16 years – one source says this happened in 1889.  Later on, he was also hired to conduct the orchestra every once in a while.  In 1910, he was officially appointed assistant conductor.  However, he had to give up this post in May of 1914.  All the while, he had been giving private violin and piano lessons simply to improve his income.  His opus 1 was premiered when he was 23 years old – September of 1888.  In 1916, he took a teaching post at the Royal Danish Academy of Music.  He was 50 years old.  He continued to teach there until he died.  Outside of Denmark, among the works that continue to be very popular are his symphony number 4, the violin concerto, the Aladdin Suite, the Helios overture, and his string quartet number 4.  He produced well over 100 works during his lifetime.  He also wrote - aside from voluminous correspondence - a set of short essays in 1925 and a memoir of his youth in 1927, both available in English translations.  Nielsen died on October 3, 1931, at age 66.  

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Johan Halvorsen

Johan Halvorsen was a Norwegian violinist, conductor, teacher, and composer born (in Drammen, Norway) on March 15, 1864.  He was the kind of violinist we do not encounter anymore.  We have lots of violinists who are also conductors and teachers – Joshua Bell, Pinchas Zukerman, Itzhak Perlman, Jaime Laredo, Maxim Vengerov, and Leonidas Kavakos quickly come to mind – but no violinist-composers.  Although he composed many other works, Halvorsen will probably remain immortal due to his having composed one of the staples of the cello-violin (or viola-violin) repertoire – the famous variations on a theme by Handel.  After having studied in Oslo and Stockholm, he began his career as a concertmaster in Norway (1885) and Scotland (1888.)  He began his studies at age seven.  Later on, his teachers were Jakob Lindberg (in Stockholm), Adolph Brodsky (in Russia), Adolf Becker (in Berlin), and Cesar Thomson (in Switzerland.)  In 1889, he was appointed professor of violin at the Helsinki Music Institute.  In 1893, he was appointed conductor of the Bergen (Norway) Philharmonic.  He was 29 year old.  In 1899, he was appointed conductor of the National Theater in Oslo.  By this time, he had established himself as one of the top musicians in Norway.  He remained at the National Theater until 1929, the year he retired.  During this period, he composed a lot of incidental music for plays as well as concert music.  The famous Passacaglia was composed in 1897 although he later revised it several times.  In 1909, he wrote a violin concerto (Opus 28) which he dedicated to Canadian violinist Kathleen Parlow.  After she premiered it (in the Netherlands) and played it a couple of times in Norway, the concerto was lost.  After that, it was believed to have been destroyed by Halvorsen although that was not the case.  In January of 2016, it was announced that the score had been discovered (by James Mason) among sheet music which had been donated to the University of Toronto many years before.  It had been misfiled.  The concerto will receive its 21st century premiere in July of this year – in Norway.  The soloist will be Henning Kraggerud.  Johan Halvorsen died on December 4, 1935, at age 71. Here is a video of the Passacaglia.