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Violin News & Gossip, Op. 2, No. 44

July 11, 2006 at 11:01 PM

Violinist Reinhard Goebel, founder and leader of the renowned period music ensemble Musica Antiqua Köln, has become the latest high-profile musician to succumb to the career-altering effects of focal dystonia. He has announced that MAK will disband at the end of 2006, following completion of the group's previously scheduled commitments.

Focal dystonia is a neurological condition that causes paralysis of an isolated body part and, from a musical perspective, is considered the most serious diagnosis a musician can receive. It ended the violin career of former Tokyo String Quartet leader Peter Oundjian. Focal dystonia has also sidelined Alex Klein, former principal oboe of the Chicago Symphony, and pianists Leon Fleisher and Gary Graffman.

Goebel developed focal dystonia in his left hand in 1990. According to, "Goebel turned his discipline to the task of relearning the violin altogether, holding and fingering the instrument with his right hand while bowing with his left. He continued to play this way until 2001, but the disorder is now forcing him to give up his instrument entirely. As Oundjian did before him, Goebel plans to concentrate on conducting, including work with modern-instrument orchestras."

MAK's remaining performances include appearances at several German summer festivals. Additionally, the group will tour Asia in October and the U.S. in November, including New York, Chicago, San Diego, Los Angeles and Berkeley.

Since 1973, MAK's recordings for Deutsche Grammophon Archiv have won many awards. "Among their most highly-regarded releases have been Heinchen's Dresden Concerti (which won five major awards) and Biber's Mystery Sonatas with Goebel as soloist. Yet the group's most famous recording must surely be its fearless 1987 account of Bach's Brandenburg Concertos, to this day regularly mentioned in online discussion groups for its combination of precise execution and sheer flabbergasting speed."

My advice: if Herr Goebel and Co. are including your city on their final tour, snap up tickets before they sell out. These performances are certain to be memorable.

Other Musician News

The Philadelphia Orchestra has selected Choong-Jin Chang as principal viola. Chang, a Seoul native, joined the Philadelphia Orchestra as associate principal viola in 1994. He moved to the U.S. at 13 to attend the Juilliard School and has degrees in both violin and viola from the Curtis Institute, where he studied with Jascha Brodsky and retired Philadelphia Orchestra principal viola Joseph de Pasquale.

The Cleveland Orchestra has announced that Joanna Patterson will join the orchestra's viola section at the start of the 2006-07 season. She was most recently principal viola in the Canton Symphony Orchestra, and served as principal viola in the Sarasota Music Festival Orchestra in 2003. Patterson is a graduate of the Cleveland Institute of Music, where she studied with Cleveland Orchestra Principal Viola Robert Vernon.

Chicago violinist Elizabeth Matesky was profiled in the June issue of International Musician, the monthly publication of the American Federation of Musicians. A teacher with a large private studio in Chicago, Matesky's profile focuses largely on her experiences with her major teacher, Jascha Heifetz.

"Heifetz was in a different stratosphere. Mr. Heifetz was the greatest violinist in the world, but ‘great' doesn't do him justice," she says. "Heifetz never interfered with a player's personality or individual way of phrasing even if it was different from his own style if he found it convincing. He allowed all students to be who they were and, in this sense, he was a profound teacher. He taught with humor, kindness, and humanness." Matesky notes that Heifetz would not allow her to play the big works like Sibelius until after "enormous time spent on sheer technique, Mozart, Khachaturian and other works."

Among her most memorable performances, Matesky recalls being invited to perform the national anthem at the 2002 Crosstown Classic between the Chicago Cubs and the Chicago White Sox. Being so soon after 9/11, "I was nervous about the reaction of the South Side baseball audience, but was truly uplifted and gratified when 46,000 fans gave me an ovation normally reserved for home runs, with a few tears as well."

7/2/06 - Finally, as previously reported here, a group of Chicago Symphony musicians voted upon exiting music director Daniel Barenboim an honorary, unofficial title of affection. But now other musicians who were not present at the meeting are objecting that the designation was not put to a vote of the entire orchestra, reports the Chicago Tribune.

From Preston Hawes
Posted on July 12, 2006 at 1:19 AM
Focal distonia hardly ended the career of Oundjian, it simply redirected it.


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