This may not be string-related, but it seems impossible not to note the retirement this week of announcer Martin Bookspan from Live From Lincoln Center. On Wednesday, the New York Times profiled Bookspan, "the voice of Live From Lincoln Center.”
“One-half erudite informer, the other half grandfatherly guide, [Bookspan] piloted two generations of listeners through the institution's marbled halls: coaxing them into their seats with a tease of a pre-concert lecture, keeping them tuned in during intermissions with easy-to-digest program notes and anecdotes, and then sealing the evening with a buoyant summation or perhaps a succinct rave." Bookspan comments: "Basically, if I have a technique, it's the technique of the sportscaster. As sportscasters make the game come alive, I hope I have made concerts come alive."
Philip Palermo, acting concertmaster of the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra, has been selected as the 2006 recipient of the orchestra's Patch Leadership Award, according to the ASOL. “The award recognizes the ISO musician who demonstrates a tradition of consistent performance, promotes the positive image of the orchestra, and furthers the cause of music in service to the community. The award honors the memory of Renato ‘Patch’ Pacini, a former assistant concertmaster and assistant conductor. As part of the award, a $1,000 contribution is made to the orchestra's annual fund in honor of the winner.” Palermo has been associate concertmaster since 1985.
5/24/06 – Chee-Yun soloed with the San Francisco Academy Orchestra, conducted by Florin Parvulescu. She performed two works by Mozart: Adagio for Violin and Orchestra and Violin Concerto No. 4. The Academy Orchestra is a new organization, formerly known as the San Francisco Student Philharmonic.
5/22/06 – The Shanghai String Quartet performed the world premiere of Takuma Itoh's Concerto for String Quartet and Orchestra, reports the New York Times. The New York Youth Symphony accompanied. "The 12-minute concerto is written in one continuous movement with three distinct sections. After the deftly orchestrated slow introduction, the instruments of the string quartet enter one at a time with frenetic flourishes that shoot up the scale, which sets the restless first section in motion. In the slow central episode, Mr. Itoh shows an ear for writing thick, pungent chords bursting with notes.”
5/21/06 - Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg was the soloist for Tchaikovsky's Violin Concerto with the Albany Symphony. The Albany Times-Union praised her "wiry yet pleasant tone and a wholly restrained dynamic.”
5/20/06 - Maria Larionoff, acting concertmaster of the Seattle Symphony, performed a "strong, stirring account" of John Corigliano's The Red Violin, reports the Seattle Times.
5/16/06 - Joseph Lanza, a member of the Philadelphia Orchestra since 1958 and its longtime assistant principal second violinist, has died, reports the Philadelphia Inquirer. He had suffered briefly from pneumonia, his wife said. Lanza "was one of those orchestra musicians who hated missing work, and even last week resisted staying home despite illness. His last time playing with the orchestra was Wednesday, in rehearsal." The paper adds: "Mr. Lanza was part of a remarkable musical family that includes his brother, Louis, still a violinist in the orchestra, and four de Pasquale cousins who once populated the orchestra's string section ... He was especially proud to be an embodiment of a performance tradition cultivated by conductor Eugene Ormandy. ‘One thing that struck me as remarkable was he took an audition to move over one chair at the age of 50 ... Some people might not want to be bothered and take the risk,’ said Lanza’s son. ‘But he took the risk and was successful’."
5/22/06 - The Perth-based West Australian Symphony Orchestra, which just completed a major tour of China, ought to be flying high right now, according to The Australian. “Instead, the orchestra has declined to renew the contract of its music director (and informed him the week before the WASO headed to China,) and the tour was plagued by logistical problems and half-filled halls. For the WASO, it's clear that there are a lot of things not working the way they should, and many management problems that will have to be addressed once the ensemble returns home.”
5/22/06 – The San Francisco Opera Orchestra has quietly reached a labor deal, reports San Francisco Classical Voice. “The five-year contract runs from August 2006 through July 2011, providing 2 percent increases for each of the first two years, and 4 percent boosts for each of the next three years. The new contract follows difficult negotiations in 2003, resolved when the musicians agreed to wage reductions in order to help the company deal with a large deficit. One essential fact about the new contract is that it's based on 2003 figures — that is, compensation before the voluntary cuts were made. Thus, the baseline for the increases is the basic annual compensation guarantee of $66,910, from 2003, rather than $64,281, which applies now, at the end of the current contract. In the next season, compensation increases to $68,248, and contract year 2007-2008 adds a 24th week and a 2 percent increase overall, bringing the amount up to $71,848. The number of guaranteed weeks of work increases from 23 to 24 in the second year of the new contract; the basic work week increases from 21 to 24 hours, with corresponding reductions in the hours requiring regular or special overtime.”
5/24/06 – Today, Yahoo is running a general-interest Associated Press story about the Juilliard School's 100th anniversary. Graduation will happen on Friday at Lincoln Center, when 263 students will get their degrees. The article has some interesting quotes:
From James DePreist, 69, conductor of The Juilliard Orchestra: "’People are waiting in line for the few jobs that do exist. The situation is precarious.’ A graduate auditioning for a seat in a major American orchestra these days typically faces 100 or more competitors for the same job.”
Violinist Tai Murray, a 23-year-old from Chicago who spent two years getting her artist's diploma, is “among the lucky ones. She had a budding career before she got to Juilliard, starting with solo concerts when she was 9. She now has a New York manager and a CD on the way, and she lives in her own Manhattan apartment on money earned playing concerts. ‘For me, Juilliard was a haven. It gave me a base to hold on to in the bigness of New York,’ she said, noting that she recently returned from an appearance with an orchestra in Denmark.”
And violinist William Harvey talks about Juilliard’s competitive atmosphere: “One day, this guy walked into my practice room and said, 'Your octaves are out of tune. I can play the best octaves in the world.' And he lifted up his violin and showed me." He says each Juilliard graduate must leave with a very personal definition of why they take on the challenge of an artistic profession: “His answer came after Sept. 11, 2001, when he played the violin for an Army regiment that had just returned from rescue work at ground zero. ‘At Juilliard, kids are hypercritical of each other and very competitive,’ he said. ‘But this wasn't about that. The soldiers didn't care that I had so many memory slips I lost count. They didn't care. I've never seen a more appreciative audience, and I've never understood so fully what it means to communicate music to other people.’
It’s nice to hear about Harvey, whose street performances and an accompanying essay describing his post-9/11 experiences riveted radio listeners around the country. He seems to be a very talented violinist who also has a big heart.
5/16/06 – PlaybillArts.com reported that Romanian police allegedly discovered a Stradivarius violin during a raid on a prostitution gang. “The gang is headed by a Romanian named Catalín, who is currently incarcerated in Salamanca. He reportedly gave instructions that his subordinates were not to sell the violin for less than $1 million euros, although it is worth up to 2.5 million euros, according to Madrid ABC. It is unclear where the violin came from or when it was stolen; it reportedly doesn't match up with any Strads known to be missing. Spanish media report that it is possible one of the gang members played the instrument.”
5/16/06 – “The Hammer” Strad set an auction record for the sale of any kind of instrument, surpassing the previous record of $2 million, reports PlaybillArts.com: “An unnamed buyer bid $3,544,000 for the 1707 instrument yesterday, which Christie's had estimated would fetch between $1.5 to $2.5 million. Another Stradivarius, ‘The Lady Tennant’, sold at Christie's in April 2005 for $2.032 million.” The violin’s name derives from a 19th century Swedish collector called Christian Hammer.
“Previous owners have included violinist and collector Bernard Sinsheimer, industrialist Raymond Pitcairn, collector Albert H. Wallace, and businessman Laddie Junkune, who owned it from 1945 to 1992. Recently, the violin has been on loan to violinist Kyoko Takezawa.”
5/19/06 – Violinist Gil Shaham earned a rhapsodic review from the San Francisco Chronicle for his performance of William Schuman's Violin Concerto: “Shaham's breathless and slightly grainy approach made Schuman's writing sound like the most urgent thing imaginable and when he softened up for the lyrical episodes, it was like the sun breaking through clouds.”
5/12/06 - Violinist Robert Zimmer, a longtime member of the Cleveland Orchestra, has died at 78, reports the Cleveland Plain Dealer. “Zimmer, a native of Angola, Indiana, began studying the violin at age four. He became the youngest member of the Fort Wayne Philharmonic at 16. Shortly after graduating high school, he joined the first violin section of the Indianapolis Symphony. After fourteen years with the ISO, he joined the Cleveland Orchestra in 1966 and played with the ensemble for 36 years. Zimmer also had stints teaching at Butler and DePauw Universities and played in chamber groups including the Indianapolis Baroque Ensemble.”
5/7/06 - The Ariel String Quartet, an eight-year-old ensemble based at the New England Conservatory of Music, won the Fischoff National Chamber Music Competition at Notre Dame University. The Ariel won both the grand prize and first prize in the senior strings category. It will receive a total of $10,500 and the opportunity to tour the Midwest and appear at the Emilia Romagna Festival in Italy. The quartet includes violinists Gershon Gerchikov and Alexandra Kazovsky, violist Sergey Tarashchansky, and cellist Amit Even-Tov, all 21 years old. The group has studied at NEC for the last two years.
5/18/06 - The Charleston (SC) Post & Courier reports that musicians would see their salaries restored to 2003 levels under a tentative one-year contract between the Charleston Symphony Orchestra Association and the Coastal Carolina Association of Professional Musicians Local 502. The paper notes that in 2003 the musicians took a 17 percent cut to keep the orchestra from canceling "at least one season," accepting base salaries of $15,953 "plus extra services that brought total yearly pay to $17,500. Under the proposed contract, an average section player would earn $20,903 and average principal player would earn $26,128 in the 2006-07 season." James Holland, the CSO's principal cellist and chairman of the musicians' negotiating committee, comments: "I believe this leap of faith sends a message to the community that we have value." The agreement must be ratified by both groups on or before June 30.
5/17/06 – The Seattle Symphony has renewed the contract of music director Gerard Schwarz for three years. But an article in Seattle Weekly indicates that perhaps the reasons for keeping Schwarz at the helm have little to do with music. “He has been sued by his own musicians, accused of having little to say musically, and while there can be no doubt that Schwarz has been a masterful raiser of money, one observer says that ‘The [symphony] board is already a laughingstock around the country for allowing itself to become hostage to the fund-raising abilities of its music director’."
5/12/06 - Oregon Symphony musicians voted to accept a one-year contract that will raise their salaries to nearly their 2003 level, reports the Oregonian. Salaries have been frozen since a 5.25 percent pay cut took effect three years ago. The new contract raises salaries and benefits by $2,000, but falls approximately $200 short of the pre-2003 level, according to the paper. Players will also receive an additional $500 for instrument maintenance. The entry-level salary for a section player is $41,539, but principal players make much more, of course. The contract covers only the 2005-06 season, which ends June 7.
5/11/06 - After years of performing under an alternate title, an orchestra in Chandler, Arizona, has gotten the name it always wanted: the Chandler Symphony, reports PlaybillArts.com. “According to the Arizona Republic, the orchestra, based in a suburb southwest of Phoenix, has been performing as the San Marcos Symphony since its founding in 1991 because Irving Fleming, the longtime conductor of the nearby Scottsdale Symphony, owned the Chandler Symphony trade name and refused to relinquish it. Recently, San Marcos Symphony president—and violinist—Laura Russ discovered through the web site of the Arizona Secretary of State that Fleming had let his claim lapse. The Chandler-based orchestra hurriedly registered the name for itself.”
From the “just when you think you’ve heard it all” file, a Chicago company plans to fabricate diamonds using strands of Ludwig van Beethoven's hair, according to PlaybillArts.com. "LifeGem Memorials has been creating diamonds incorporating the remains of human beings since 2002, usually for family members ... The company has acquired several strands of Beethoven's hair from John Reznikoff, a Connecticut-based collector of celebrity hair. They will be turned into three diamonds of under a carat. The diamonds will then be sold at auction, with the proceeds going to military families. The company plans to make diamonds from more hair in Reznikoff's collection -- which also includes hair from Abraham Lincoln, Marilyn Monroe, and Charles Dickens.”
5/17/06 - Violinist David Yonan and pianist Sergiy Komirenko performed as part of the 2006 New Music Marathon at Northwestern University School of Music. The duo performed works of Augusta Read Thomas, Arvo Part and John Adams.
5/15/06 - Composer/violinist Daniel Bernard Roumain performed his 2002 "Voodoo" Concerto with the Chicago Sinfonietta, according to the Chicago Sun-Times. The work, "scored for tiny ensemble including synthesizer and amplified guitar as well as standard orchestral instruments like violin and woodwinds ... [is] mostly full of perky rhythms and repetitious melodic fragments." The paper called Roumain "an entrancing performer, confident and polished, able to make his richly amplified violin sing, shriek or seduce."
5/16/06 – The San Francisco Symphony has announced that two members of the second violin section are retiring at the end of this season. Both Michael Gerling and Enrique Bocedi have played with the orchestra since 1961.
5/13/06 - Jesse Ceci, former concertmaster of the Colorado Symphony Orchestra as well as the now-defunct Denver Symphony and Denver Chamber Orchestra, has died of leukemia, reports the Rocky Mountain News. He was 82. "Born in Philadelphia, where he studied music at the Curtis Institute, Mr. Ceci played in orchestras led by numerous legendary conductors, before arriving in Denver in 1974 to serve with the Denver Symphony. He played in the Boston Symphony under Charles Munch, the New York Philharmonic under Leonard Bernstein, and the Pittsburgh Symphony under Lorin Maazel." The paper adds, "In 1992, Mr. Ceci was fired by the player-run Colorado Symphony due to 'musical deficiencies,' in a much-publicized case that drew a public outcry. Mr. Ceci appealed the decision, gaining support from orchestra players around the country and from locally circulated petitions signed by more than 1,000 concertgoers. An arbitrator ordered his reinstatement, and he played in the Colorado Symphony until his retirement in 1994."
5/9/06 - The Linda and Isaac Stern Foundation has commissioned Richard Danielpour to write a new piece in honor of Isaac Stern, the foundation announced. Violinist Sarah Chang will debut the work for violin and piano next spring on a tour ending at Carnegie Hall. The premiere of the work is tentatively scheduled for March 18, 2007, at the beginning of Chang's spring tour of the United States. The tour reaches Carnegie Hall, which Stern helped save from demolition, on April 10. Later, Chang will perform the work on a European tour.
5/3/06 - Rachel Taylor, a 16-year-old violinist from the San Domenico School Virtuoso Program in San Anselmo, Calif., played at the Strings Magazine gala concert. She also won the $10,000 Jack Kent Cooke Young Artist Award, which will enable Taylor to buy her own violin.
4/28/06 - Violinist Helen Armstrong died of natural causes at age 63, reports the Danbury, Conn., News Times. According to PlaybillArts.com, “she was the artistic director of Armstrong Chamber Concerts, a non-profit organization she founded to bring musical education to public and private schools. More than 100,000 students participated in the program in Connecticut's Litchfield and Fairfield counties, Harlem, and the Bronx. Over the past few decades, Armstrong performed on her 1760 Guadagnini in private homes in Greenwich and in other venues in Washington and New Milford, as well as at Carnegie Hall. She also built a reputation as a teacher. Armstrong was a graduate of Juilliard, where she studied with Dorothy DeLay and Ivan Galamian. She made her Lincoln Center debut in 1976 and performed with orchestras including the Boston Pops and the Indianapolis Symphony, and with the Martha Graham Dance Company. Armstrong recorded on the Musical Heritage, Elysium and CRS labels.”
5/16/06 – According to the Honolulu Advertiser, the Honolulu Symphony “received a financial boost from the state with a $4 million appropriation to its permanent endowment and a $150,000 grant to support music education programs ... The Symphony will be expected to raise matching funds, as required by the state in its allocation." The paper notes: "The Symphony's endowment now stands at about $6 million, and it can use up to 5 percent, or roughly $300,000, to meet annual costs ... The state allocation and matching gifts would raise the Symphony's endowment to $14 million."
5/13/06 – The Ottawa Citizen newspaper buzzed with reports that National Arts Centre employees—including National Arts Centre Chamber Orchestra players—had been asked to sign a document that would prohibit them from revealing any confidential information about the organization as long as they live. Two days later, amid heavy criticism from the paper and musicians union, the NAC agreed to review the policy. Speculation raged that the policy was being implemented in response to the allegedly stormy relationship between NACO music director Pinchas Zukerman and the orchestra. But on 5/16, the paper published the news that the NAC had agreed to waive the requirement that musicians return a sign-off confidentiality form. “We understand that there is a body of information that is properly kept confidential, and the NACO musicians have no issue with that,” said Francine Schutzman, president of the local musicians' union.
5/4/06 – The Salt Lake Tribune recently ran a story about the latest effort to understand what makes a Strad a Strad: "Joseph Nagyvary, an emeritus professor of biochemistry and biophysics at Texas A&M University, said several things set a Strad apart, but none more so than the chemicals that hardened the wood and gave each instrument its fiery appearance." Nagyvary, an amateur luthier, comments: "I have proven more or less that the refinement of sounds comes from a variety of chemical tricks that were not done by Stradivarius himself, but by the local drugstore that developed a manner of preserving against the wood worm." The reporter adds that Salt Lake City violin-maker Peter Prier "attributes a Strad's qualities to exceptional craftsmanship and simple aging. 'After 250 years, the old materials are totally dry and open, and that is the difference. We have the same varnishes and the same technology or better,' but making new wood sound like an old Strad is 'almost impossible.' "
5/14/06 - Starting next year, thanks to a $100 million gift, tuition at the Yale University School of Music will be free. The New York Times ponders the consequences: "Now as the school prepares for commencement on May 22 for the final graduating class to have paid the $23,750 annual tuition each year, many faculty members and students are wondering how the donation will affect Yale's reputation. Will subsidized tuition affect the type and quality of new students? Will the school claim a place alongside conservatories like the Juilliard School and the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia?"
5/12/06 - Cecylia Arzewski, concertmaster of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra who was profiled recently in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, performed the Berg Violin Concerto with the orchestra. The paper noted that Arzweski studied Berg's concerto with its dedicatee, Louis Krasner: "Yet her approach was her own: exacting, lyrical and a bit circumspect. As a soloist, she didn't reach out to the audience but invited the listener into her private world, rich in memory, pathos and a rather cosmic understanding of the music."
5/11/06 – Charles Meacham, concertmaster emeritus of the Marin Symphony, was honored by the College of Marin Music Department in "A Special Tribute to Charles Meacham," reports the Marin Indpendent Journal. "Meacham, who taught music at the college for nearly 20 years, was influential in the Marin music scene for half a century ... Through the college and in private lessons, Meacham taught hundreds of students, some of whom -- now professional musicians themselves – [flew] in from as far away as Florida, Ohio and Utah to join Bay Area musicians in performing at the tribute." The paper adds: "In 1952, Meacham helped found the Marin Symphony, of which he remains Concertmaster Emeritus. He also founded the Marin Arts Quartet, the only Marin string quartet for nearly 30 of its 40-odd years in existence. When the College of Marin music building opened in 1967, Meacham taught classes there until he retired in 1984 ... Meacham will return for Sunday's performance and the announcement of a College of Marin music scholarship in his honor -- the Charles Meacham String Scholarship."
5/11/06 - Andrey Boreyko concludes his short tenure as music director of the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra, reports the Winnipeg Sun. "Soon after taking the reins from former maestro Bramwell Tovey in 2002, [Boreyko] discovered the WSO was in a ‘tragic’ budget bind that threatened its existence. He and the musicians made financial sacrifices, the WSO rallied and Boreyko later extended his contract for an extra year to see the orchestra through its current season. But he bemoans the lack of public support for classical music in Canada." Germain quotes Boreyko: "If I could take this orchestra from Winnipeg to Europe and work with this orchestra for the rest of my life I would do it." Boreyko comments on his successor, Alexander Mickelthwate: "When I came here I was already in a certain part of my career that didn't allow me to be here as much ... He can dedicate himself to this orchestra."
5/11/06 – The Chicago Tribune published an update on Yo-Yo Ma’s Silk Road Project: "Earlier this year, Ma received the $1 million Dan David Prize for preserving cultural heritage" with his Silk Road Project, started in 1998. "The award is administered by Tel Aviv University and endowed by a foundation started by Dan David, a Romanian by birth and former longtime chairman of an automatic photo booth firm based in England," notes the paper. "The prize requires Ma to donate $100,000 for 20 scholarships for study at Tel Aviv and other universities around the world. Laura Freid, Silk Road Project's chief executive officer, says Ma is using the remaining $900,000 as a matching grant" to support Silk Road Chicago, "a year of cross-cultural programs and events here that is to begin June 1."
5/11/06 - "First-rate soloist” Chuan-Yun Li performed the Khachaturian Violin Concerto and Rimsky-Korsakov's Sheherazade with the China National Symphony Orchestra at Avery Fisher Hall, reports the New York Times. The orchestra "has strong players throughout its ranks. They and their energetic conductor, Xincao Li, are still grappling with Western style, at times convincing in their phrasing and expression, at others creating reasonable imitations that can sound stiff and learned."
5/14/06 – The Berlin Philharmonic, fearing the loss of future audiences, has constructed an elaborate education program, reports the New York Times. These are “something still relatively rare on the Continent. Many orchestras in Britain and the United States have been making similar efforts to draw in youngsters and educate the public, but in catching up, the Berliners have created one of Europe's most ambitious programs."
5/13/06 – According to the Las Vegas Sun, even though the Las Vegas Philharmonic is only eight years old, it is growing, seems to have found an audience, and has a $1.5 million budget. So it's time to pick a new music director. The candidates are: David Commanday of the Peoria Symphony Orchestra, David Itkin of the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra and Peter Rubardt of the Pensacola Symphony Orchestra. As part of the selection process, they will serve as guest conductors during the 2006-07 season.
On Saturday night, I had the honor of attending the annual performance of the Allegro!!! String Performance Ensemble of the Western Springs School of Talent Education in Western Springs, Illinois. The 15 violinists and a single cellist, nearly all of middle school age, presented an exciting show in which they danced—as well as played—their way through an hour’s worth of tunes. Complete with a professional-quality multimedia show that included images of the children playing and a variety of props (think boas and fedoras to accompany a tango), the time seemed to fly by.
The amount of work and dedication needed to create such a spectacle boggles the mind—rehearsals start in October each year—but what really struck me was what the Suzuki method is most known for: Creating vibrant performers who play joyously and without a shred of self-consciousness. It was quite a show!
Be sure to read the profile of Cecylia Arzewski, concertmaster of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, that ran in the Atlanta Journal Constitution on 5/7/06.
The profile was timed to coincide with Arzewski’s performance of Alban Berg's Violin Concerto with the orchestra and, as such, noted that Arzewski had learned the work with Louis Krasner, who gave the work’s debut in 1936. Here’s what she had to say about the Berg:
"There's an obsessive quality to the Berg. Once you start playing it, you feel like it's burning into you. I remember a moment when I was practicing, preparing for a lesson with [Louis] Krasner. ... For the first time I felt I was really getting it; everything started to click. It started getting dark so I turned the lamp toward my music stand and kept going, the music was now completely carrying me. I looked at my hand and noticed I'd accidentally cut myself on the lamp, and there was blood everywhere, but I couldn't stop playing. I knew it was over the top, but I was obsessed."
Here are a few more tidbits from the article: "Hired in 1990 by the ASO's then-music director Yoel Levi, Arzewski at the time was one of just three female concertmasters in major American orchestras," the reporter writes, quoting ASO Principal Cellist Christopher Rex: "Cecylia never leaves anything to chance; she's always in perfect tune and complete control. She's very intense, but she puts a lot of thought into the emotional content of what she's playing." The Arzewskis fled Poland in the 1950s to escape anti-Semitism. Later, they moved to New York so Cecylia could study with Ivan Galamian at New York's Juilliard School. "Over the years, Arzewski's notable classmates would include Itzhak Perlman, Pinchas Zukerman and Kyung-Wha Chung ... She later studied with Jascha Heifetz." The profile describes an unusually focused person: "Even as a student, [Arzewski] says, 'I knew what I wanted: to be a concertmaster. I love being part of something great, something big, having the feeling of belonging.' "
Joshua Roman has been named principal cello of the Seattle Symphony Orchestra, effective next season. The 22 year old is a recent graduate of the Cleveland Institute of Music, where he studied with Cleveland Orchestra Principal Cello Desmond Hoebig and received degrees in cello performance. Roman will succeed Raymond Davis, who retires at the end of this season after 44 years with the orchestra.
5/14/06 – Violinist Jennifer Koh has had her most recent recording selected as WFMT-FM Chicago’s Featured New Release. The disc, Profiles, contains Szymanowski’s Violin Concerto No. 1, Op. 35 (1916); Martinu’s Violin Concerto No. 2, H. 293 (1943); and Bartok’s Two Portraits, Op. 5. Koh is accompanied by the Grant Park Orchestra, Carlos Kalmar conducting.
5/9/06 – When the UK's Royal Philharmonic Society has handed out its annual classical music awards, Marin Alsop, conductor of the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, took home the prize as BBC Radio listeners' favorite person in the classical music business. The Leopold String Trio was named favorite chamber music group.
5/9/06 – Timothy Pitts, principal bass of the Houston Symphony, performed the American premiere of John Harbison's Concerto for Bass Viol with the orchestra. The work had received its world premiere in Toronto in April.
5/706 - The Raleigh News & Observer reports that Hugh Partridge, principal violist for the North Carolina Symphony for 31 years, will retire at the end of the current season. Partridge says he is leaving only because he wants to devote his full attention to running youth orchestras. Grant Llewellyn, music director of the N.C. Symphony, tells the paper: "Sonorous, warm and telling, an orchestra with a fine viola section is an orchestra with a soul ... Therefore, to lead such a section is the job for a specialist violist who not only plays the instrument superbly but is also a natural leader and maybe part-time philosopher." The paper notes that Partridge, who turns 67 at the end of the season, is "the symphony's oldest member." Partridge comments: "When I went into the Indianapolis Symphony, I was the youngest member ... The reverse happens now. It's sort of interesting to have started out the youngest and end up being the oldest member."
The Tupelo (Miss.) Symphony Orchestra has announced the appointment of Steven Byess as music director. Byess has been Tupelo's principal guest conductor for the past three years. He also serves as cover conductor for the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, associate music director for Ohio Light Opera, and conductor of opera at both the Cleveland Institute of Music and California State University-Los Angeles. Byess succeeds Louis Lane, who assumes the title of music director laureate.
5/8/06 - The New York Times has noted a "generational shift" underway at the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra: "Nearly half the 122 members are under 40, including 13 20-somethings ...The average age is 45. That is about five years younger than during the [Herbert von] Karajan period, orchestra officials said." The paper adds: "The mandatory retirement age of 65 also keeps the orchestra young. There is generally no such rule in American orchestras," noting: "Under Karajan, it was assumed that only members with many years of experience would dare to speak up at orchestra meetings, [cellist and orchestra co-chairman Jan] Diesselhorst said. Now, he added, 'all the young colleagues are pleased to express an opinion.' Martin von der Nahmer, a 28-year-old violist with the orchestra, tells Wakin: "I feel a sense of youth ... but I feel also a sense of tradition, which is perhaps the most important thing."
5/8/06 - A controversial proposal to merge four orchestras in Osaka, Japan, has the country's musicians buzzing, reports the Daily Yomiuri (Tokyo). The merger idea was suggested by the head of the region's economic authority as a way to overcome dwindling government subsidies and rising musician costs. But some say that the proposal is misguided, and even suggest that Osaka could actually support more orchestras than it already has, given proper management and artistic leadership. The affected orchestras are the Osaka Philharmonic Orchestra, Century Orchestra Osaka, Kansai Philharmonic Orchestra and Orchestra Osaka Symphoniker.
In the “better late than never” category, I thought it would be fun to share the complete results of the Yehudi Menuhin International Competition for Young Violinists 2006, which concluded April 8th in France.
The winners are:
Hrachya Avanesyan (Armenia), First Prize
Robin Scott (USA), Second Prize
Shuai Shi (China), Third Prize
Sulki Yu (Korea), Fourth Prize
Sunao Goko (Japan), First Prize
Fumiaki Miura (Japan), Second Prize
Yu-Chien Tseng (China), Third Prize
Robyn Bollinger (USA), Fourth Prize
Stella Chen (USA), Fifth Prize
Sirena Huang (USA), Sixth Prize
The competition is divided into two sections: A Junior Section, with 22 candidates under 16 years of age, and a Senior Section with 20 candidates under 22 years of age. More than 120 candidates from around the world submitted their applications, which were reviewed by a selection committee led by Competition Director Gordon Back. Here is a list of contestants:
Juniors: Robyn Bollinger (USA), Stella Chen (USA), Sunao Goko (Japan), Victoria Goldsmith (UK), Amelie Lied Haga (Norway), Sirena Huang (USA), Thomas Huntington (USA), Zenas Hsu (USA), Tomohiro Ishii (Japan), Harriet Langley (Australia), Jae Ook Lee (Korea), Ariel Mitnick (USA), Erika Mitsui (USA), Fumiaki Miura (Japan), Sung Mi Park (Korea), Taejun Park (Korea), Ji Won Song (Korea), Min Kyung Sul (Korea), Tong Tong Sun (China), Sakura Tanaka (Japan), Chieri Tomii (Japan), and Yu-Chien Tseng (China).
Seniors: Hrachya Avanesyan (Armenia), Virgil Boutellis (France), Samika Honda (Japan), Lydia Hong (USA), Hwi Eun Kim (Korea), Ji Won Kim (Korea), Jiye Lee (Korea), Woo Il Lee (Korea), Dragos Mihail Manza (Romania), Eugene Nakamura (Canada), Sharon Park (USA), Robin Scott (USA), Shi Shuai (China), Josef Spacek (Czech Republic), Alexander Sprung (Germany/USA), Paula Sumane (Latvia), Evgeny Sviridov (Russia), Mathieu Van Bellen (Netherlands), Jiajing Wang (China), and Sulki Yu (Korea).
Jason Horowitz and Julianne Lee have joined the Boston Symphony Orchestra as section violinists. Horowitz, who joins the orchestra this month at the start of the Boston Pops season, has served as assistant concertmaster of the Colorado Symphony Orchestra, concertmaster of the Breckenridge Music Festival Orchestra and guest concertmaster at the BBC, Baltimore, and Hartford symphonies. Lee will join the BSO at the start of its 2006-07 season. A native of Seoul, she received a bachelor's degree from the Curtis Institute of Music and is currently pursuing a master's degree at New England Conservatory as a violin/viola student. She has participated in the Marlboro and Aspen music festivals and will take part in the Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival this summer.
Todd Doan has been named conductor of the Prelude and Interlude String Orchestras at the Norwalk Youth Symphony, effective next season. Doan also conducts the Carnegie Hill Orchestra of the InterSchool Orchestras of New York and teaches instrumental music in the Newark (N.J.) Public Schools. He is trained as a violist.
5/21/06 - Janos Starker will receive an honorary doctorate from the New England Conservatory, his sixth. In addition to being the former principal cellist with the Metropolitan Opera, Chicago, and Dallas symphony orchestras, Starker has been a soloist and recitalist on all continents with all major orchestras, festivals, and master classes worldwide. He has made more than 165 recordings and is the recipient of a Grammy Award.
5/20/06 - Jamie Laredo will receive an honorary doctoral degree from the Cleveland Institute of Music. He has performed at most of the venues across the United States and Europe, and is a member of the Kalichstein-Laredo-Robinson Trio, winner of Musical America’s Ensemble of the Year 2002. The trio will celebrate its 30th anniversary this Fall.
5/6/06 - Vladimir Jurowski has been named the next principal conductor of the London Philharmonic, reports The Guardian (UK). The 34-year-old Russian will succeed Kurt Masur. Jurowski has been the LPO's principal guest conductor since 2003, and his star has been rising fast on the international scene. "His contract is for an initial five years. He will give a minimum of 25 concerts per year, as well as touring and working with the orchestra in Glyndebourne - spending a total of seven or eight months of the year in Britain."
5/3/06 - Toshiyuki Shimada, outgoing music director of the Portland (Maine) Symphony Orchestra, “ended his 20-year tenure before an effusive audience of 1,908 friends, music lovers and admirers," reports the Portland Herald. At the concert's end, "Audience members, whom Shimada always has viewed as an extended family, stood and cheered for nearly 10 minutes." Charles Dimmick, the PSO's concertmaster, tells the paper: "It's a special concert, especially for those who have been playing for the entire 20 years of his tenure. That's a long time to be working with one person. It's going to be weird letting him go."
The South Dakota Symphony Orchestra has been selected for a Midori Orchestra Residency program in 2008. During a week-long residency in Sioux Falls, violinist Midori will work closely with the Dakota Academy of Performing Arts and the Sioux Empire Youth Orchestras as well as the South Dakota Symphony by performing, coaching young musicians, appearing at benefits and concerts and working with the orchestras to raise arts awareness in the community. Read more about Midori and her arts education initiatives in the May-June issue of Symphony: http://www.symphony.org/news/room/06_mjhands.shtml
The Modesto Symphony Orchestra has selected five finalists in its music director search. They are: Grant Cooper, music director of the West Virginia Symphony and resident conductor of the Syracuse Symphony Orchestra; David Lockington, music director of the Grand Rapids Symphony; Jose-Luis Novo, music director of the Binghamton Philharmonic and Annapolis Symphony Orchestra; Edwin Outwater, resident conductor of the San Francisco Symphony; and Lara Webber, recent associate conductor of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra. Each will participate in a week-long residency in the 2006-07 season.
General Music News
5/3/06 – According to the BBC, listeners of the UK's Classic FM radio station have voted on their favorite pieces of British classical music. The Lark Ascending by Vaughan Williams won. "Edward Elgar came second and third with Cello Concerto in E minor and then Variations on an Original Theme (the Enigma Variations). Welshman Karl Jenkins - the only living composer in the top 10 - was fourth with The Armed Man: A Mass for Peace."
5/1/06 - More than 600,000 students from across Canada participated in the second annual Music Monday on this day. The nationwide simultaneous concert celebrated music education in the schools as students and teachers performed the same song at the exact same time. The theme song, "A Little Music," was composed by Chris Tait. Educators were able to visit the Music Monday web site, http://www.musicmonday.ca, to download arrangements for orchestra, band, and chorus.
The odeonquartet is currently in the midst of a series of six performances premiering Wayne Horvitz's These Hills of Glory, which features a non-improvising string quartet collaborating with a different soloist-improviser—saxophone, cello, violin, viola, piano and trumpet—at each concert. The concerts are sponsored by Earshot Jazz, 4 Culture, and Seattle's Office of Arts and Cultural Affairs.
Here’s the quartet’s “official” take on the project: “Having worked in the past with Wayne, we were already familiar with his captivating improvisations and his subtle, intensely thoughtful musical style. In this new work, composed for us, we found a breadth of musical ideas and textures—contemplative and lyrical melodies, intense and rhythmically driven sections of Bartok-like complexity, jazzy tunes, hauntingly beautiful dissonances, and even reminiscences of hurdy-gurdy or bagpipe music. The elements might seem disparate in when looked at in isolation but they somehow work when put together and unmistakably stamped with Wayne's own style. What is most exciting about the work is that the "topography" of each performance is unique. "Surface features" created by the soloist differ dramatically, creating striking variations in mood, texture, and intensity. The fundamental ideas, shapes and defining structural landmarks of the string quartet part, however, give the piece its familiar identity. Having completed four of the six performances so far, we have witnessed some very interesting approaches to the piece, as each soloist responds in his/her own way. Because of the improvisational aspect, the work is endlessly renewed, and audience members have been coming to hear the piece again and again.”
I recently had the chance to ask Gennady a few questions. Here are his responses. Feel free to make suggestions about other violinists you’d like me to interview.
DL: How did the improviser project come about?
GF: We worked with Wayne last season, and were the first string quartet in Seattle to open at the very trendy Triple Door jazz club. We shared a concert with him and his wife pianist/singer/composer Robin Holcomb. We had great fun and developed a mutual admiration.
DL: Classical string players are rarely taught to improvise. What is it like playing with an improviser and what are some of the challenges?
GF: The challenges depend on the soloist joining. We have played These Hills of Glory with Eric Barber on sax, Ron Miles on trumpet, Peggy Lee on jazz/improvised cello, Eyvind Kang on jazz/improvised viola, Tom Swafford on jazz/improvised violin and Gust Burns on piano.
The most difficult time was when the instruments joining us matched and blended with us completely, like the cello and viola. It took a bit longer to adjust. In fact the easiest were the jazz violin, trumpet and sax.
DL: How does playing with an improviser affect the quartet’s playing overall? Yours personally?
GF: It has taken us to new heights in terms of communicating with one another and relating to the soloist joining us. Even though our parts are written out, it is still a matter of timing, breathing together and of course listening to each other. It has been an amazing experience. It was like experiencing a whole new language.
DL: How did your group get its name?
GF: Originally, we were the Odeon String Quartet. The name “Odeon” comes from a kind of theater in ancient Greece, smaller than the dramatic theater and roofed over, in which poets and musicians submitted their works to the approval of the public and contended for prizes. Hence, in modern usage, the name of a hall for musical or dramatic performances. Shortly afterwards, I suggested shortening the name to odeonquartet since it is easier for most to remember, and looks more hip anyway. And it is easier for reporters/journalists to deal with.
DL: What brand of rosin do you use? Strings?
GF: My rosin is Liebenzeller Gold II. We are endorsing artists for Thomastik-Infeld (via the US distributor Connolly &Co.)
DL: Who made your instrument? How old is it?
GF: J.B. Vuillaume, 1868, and Pietro Sgarabotto, 1976.
DL: What music is on your music stand this week for personal practice?
GF: Brahms Piano Quintet, Mozart "Drum" Quartet and Phillip Glass Quartet #5.
DL: What book is on your nightstand?
GF: Holy War, Inc: Inside the Secret World of Osama Bin Laden, by Peter Bergen and Battles of the Bible: A Military History of Ancient Israel, by Chaim Herzog and Mordechai Gichon.
DL: What are some of the best nuggets of advice you were given regarding playing or the musician’s life? By whom?
GF: "Mean and love every note." and “Music is the divine way to tell beautiful, poetic things to the heart.” Pablo Casals
“Create the character in everything you play.” - Dr. Basil Langton & Constantin Stanislavski's An Actor Prepares
"You have to play like your life depends on it," Isaac Stern
DL: Name three adjectives that describe you as a musician.
GF: Sincere, thoughtful and imaginative.
DL: What projects are next for your quartet?
GF: We’ll be recording These Hills of Glory, Wayne's work that we performed. And there are other premieres by prominent composers awaiting our performance.
The Chicago Tribune ran an interesting follow-up story to Joshua Bell’s recent mid-performance bridge mishap. You may recall that, after knocking it out of position with his frog, Bell ran into the wings and pushed his bridge back into place on the spot. He commented to the paper: "It's very painful to do that on an instrument quickly like that. I didn't know if the violin would even make a sound."
The paper adds: "String-playing superstars such as Pinchas Zukerman and Yo-Yo Ma take their bruised instruments to such respected, established craftsmen as Bein & Fushi in Chicago and Rene Morel in New York. They think nothing of hopping on the next plane to do so when emergency repairs are required." Furthermore, "repairing a badly damaged Stradivarius or Guarnerius violin in the $3 million to $5 million range might require from 1,200 to 1,500 hours of labor and cost up to $100,000."
Coming Sunday: Be sure to read my exclusive Q&A with Gennady Filimonov, first violinist of the Odeonquartet. Find out who made his violin, his preferred choice of strings and rosin, and what pieces he’s practicing this week.
4/27/06 - Michael Tilson Thomas, Music Director of the San Francisco Symphony, has been elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, reports the San Jose Mercury News. “The academy chose 175 Fellows and 20 Foreign Honorary Members for its 2006 class, including former Presidents Clinton and Bush, director Martin Scorsese, U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts, Nobel Prize-winning biochemist and Rockefeller University President Sir Paul Nurse and New York Stock Exchange Chairman Marshall Carter, among others."
4/23/06 – Violinist Jill Levy, concertmaster of the Albany Symphony Orchestra, led the orchestra in the premiere of Dorothy Chang’s Flight: Concerto for Flute and Orchestra. Levy played an extended Celtic fiddle solo in the third movement, according to the Schenectady Daily Gazette, which described her playing as “appropriately manic.”
4/21/06 – Violinist Alan Traverse, former co-concertmaster of the Houston Symphony, died in Houston from heart disease and Parkinson's disease, reports the Houston Chronicle. He was 68. The London-born Traverse "played with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, the London Philharmonic Orchestra and the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra, where he was concertmaster before moving to Houston. Traverse joined the orchestra here in 1978 ... He relinquished his co-concertmaster position in 1995 but continued as a member of the first violin section until he resigned in 1997 because of Parkinson's disease." Ward quotes the Houston Symphony's acting concertmaster Eric Halen, who was Traverse’s stand partner for several years: "I will always remember his kind patience and sincere good will in helping me and my brother, David [Halen, concertmaster of the Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra] to become good orchestral musicians." Ward adds that Traverse enjoyed international travel and, during a sabbatical in 1991-92, was concertmaster of an international orchestra organized for the World Exposition in Seville, Spain.
Music From the Inside Out, Daniel Anker's film about the power of music featuring musicians of The Philadelphia Orchestra, will air on the PBS program Independent Lens in May. The film, which had its theatrical debut last year, also continues to play at theaters across the country.
The Grand Rapids Symphony’s recording of Adolphus Hailstork's Symphony Nos. 2 and 3 will be released on the Naxos label. The recording, which is expected to be available in early 2007, is the orchestra's first release on a national label in nine years. The recordings were made in 2002 and 2003.
4/30/06 - The Akron Beacon Journal is reporting that the American Federation of Musicians and a group of 50 orchestra managers are discussing a national self-produced recording agreement: "The number of symphony orchestras offering music to download could go from a trickle to a downpour if a pending agreement for self-produced recordings were approved." The paper adds, "If this new self-recording agreement were reached, orchestras who made their own recordings would actually retain the copyright. That's crucial, since as the copyright owners, they would have the legal right to sell the music for downloading. Nationally, several models are being tested for making orchestras part of the iPod nation," citing the New York and Los Angeles philharmonics' new agreements to release live concert recordings to the iTunes Music Store.
4/28/06 - Bernard Haitink has been appointed principal conductor of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. Additionally, Pierre Boulez, the CSO's principal guest conductor since 1995, will become conductor emeritus. "Between them, they will lead six to eight weeks of CSO subscription concerts, and both will conduct the orchestra on upcoming annual performances in Carnegie Hall," the Chicago Sun-Times notes. "Haitink's position is a four-year appointment, and Boulez's position is open-ended, according to William Strong, chairman of the Chicago Symphony Orchestral Association board ... The CSO decided to formalize its relationship with Haitink immediately after his concerts in Chicago last month." CSO President Deborah R. Card remarks: "When I saw how the orchestra was working with Maestro Haitink this season ... and how the audience responded, something clicked in my brain." The orchestra is currently searching for a replacement for Music Director Daniel Barenboim, who steps down at the end of the current season.
4/26/06 - The chief executive of the Roanoke Symphony in Virginia has resigned after running $480,000 in deficits and clashing with the orchestra's musicians over cuts in the concert schedule, reports the Roanoke Times. “Paul Chambers had also faced criticism for contracting the orchestra's marketing work out to his wife. The musicians are openly celebrating Chambers' resignation, saying that ‘There wasn't any aspect of Paul's tenure that [we] felt really good about.’ Chambers had come to the Roanoke Symphony after running the Savannah Symphony in Georgia, which went bankrupt on his watch.”
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