Sunday, March 31, 2013

Stanley Ritchie

Stanley Ritchie is an Australian violinist, author, conductor, and teacher born (in Yenda, New South Wales – about 350 miles west of Sydney, Australia) on April 21, 1935.  He is known for a successful career encompassing a wide range of musical activity.  He is, however, probably best known for his later involvement in Baroque music, being a specialist in period instrument performance.  In fact, he may well have been one of the first artists to teach (historically-informed) early music practice in America, if not the first.  Sergiu Luca also pioneered early music playing on baroque instruments in the mid-1970s and was the first to record the Bach unaccompanied violin works on a period instrument; however, he did not become as well-known in the field as later violinists did.  It is interesting to note that (in 1980) Austrian violinist Norbert Brainin became involved in a widespread movement in England and elsewhere to lower the tuning of “A” from 440 hz to 432 hz but without success.  This would have applied across the board, not just Baroque music.  I personally favor a lowering of the standard tuning.  The 440 tuning has made music sound a little too brittle and brilliant.  Nevertheless, I think we should keep modern strings – they simply last longer.  Ritchie began his violin studies at age 7 with someone whose name is unknown to me.  He enrolled at the Sydney Conservatory of Music as a young man and graduated in 1956.  He was 21 years old.  Two years after that, he went to Paris where he studied with Jean Fournier (pupil of George Enesco and brother of cellist Pierre Fournier.)  Ritchie finally came to the U.S. in 1959.  He was 24.years old.  In New York, he studied with Joseph Fuchs, Oscar Shumsky, and Samuel Kissel.  In 1963, he became concertmaster of the New York City Ballet.  After two years, he moved to the Metropolitan Opera where he served as Associate Concertmaster.  Raymond Gniewek was the concertmaster at the time.  From 1970 to 1973, Ritchie was a member of the New York Chamber Soloists.  He was appointed Assistant concertmaster of the Vancouver Symphony and played in that orchestra from 1973 to 1975.  In 1975, he joined the Philadelphia String Quartet (University of Washington - Seattle, Washington) as first violinist.  Since 1970, he had developed an interest in early music performance as played on instruments fitted to original Baroque standards or specifications (if one can call them that), using Baroque bows as well.  Supposedly, German violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter has said that period instrument players are “players who ordinarily wouldn't make it, who make silly accents with the bow, cannot produce a sound, and think they are making something profound."  If she in fact made that statement, she has since changed her opinion to a highly positive view.  Ritchie has been professor of violin at Indiana University since 1982 but has continued to concertize and teach far and wide.  He has recorded for various labels, including EMI, Decca, Dorian, Nonesuch, and Harmonia Mundi.  Opinions vary, of course, but my choices for the best authentic (period) instrument ensembles in the world are: the English Concert, the Academy of Ancient Music, Tafelmusik, Europa Galante, Il Giardino Armonico, the Venice Baroque Orchestra, and Les Musiciens du Louvre.  Ritchie’s recording of Vivaldi’s concerto in e minor (with the Academy of Ancient Music) is available on YouTube here.  Vivaldi wrote more than 200 violin concertos – eleven of them are in e minor.  This one is the second in Opus 11 - Opus 11 contains 5 violin concertos and number 2 is the one in e minor.  Whether it’s true or not, it has been widely reported that Igor Stravinsky (or Luigi Dallapiccola or Darius Milhaud) once said that Vivaldi - one of the most important Baroque composers - didn’t compose 600 concertos; “he composed one concerto six hundred times.”  Ritchie has played a Jacob Stainer violin of 1679 for some time.  I do not know if he is still playing it.