Sunday, May 28, 2017

Henri Dupont

Henri Dupont (Henri Joseph Dupont) was a Belgian violinist, conductor, composer, and teacher born (in Ensival) on January 3, 1838.  Brahms was five years old that year and Belgium itself was almost a brand new country at that time.  Other than that he has a very recognizable surname, Dupont is not known – with regard to the violin - for anything in particular.  Belgium has for generations produced many spectacular violin virtuosos but Dupont is not one of them.  His name is most often mentioned as a conductor of opera – according to several sources, he conducted many outstanding performances in England (Covent Garden) which today (had they been filmed for posterity) would probably be acclaimed.  He received his training from the conservatories at Liege and Brussels – I don’t know how early he began his violin studies nor who his teachers were.  In 1863 he won the Belgian version of the Rome Prize (Prix de Rome) for composition.  He was 25 years old.  After that, he took off on a study tour throughout Europe which lasted four years – this excursion was probably subsidized by the Belgian government, although I am not certain of that.  In 1867, he became concertmaster of the Warsaw Opera House.  He was 29 years old.  In 1871, he took a similar post at the Imperial Theatre of Moscow.  One year later, he was back in Brussels where he was hired as professor of harmony at the Conservatory while simultaneously serving as concertmaster of the Monnaie Theatre (Theatre Royal de la Monnaie or Royal Theatre of the Coin – a theatre dating back to 1700.)  He also served as conductor there beginning that same year.  He was 34 years old.  He also guest conducted operas at the Royal Opera House in London many times.  In 1873, he took over as director of the Popular Concerts (Concerts Populaires) from none other than Henri Vieuxtemps (who had become incapacitated as the result of a stroke that same year.)  Dupont was made a member of the Royal Academy of Belgium in 1899.  He died on December 21, 1899, at age 61, just ten days before the start of the Twentieth Century.  

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Henry Holst

Henry Holst was a Danish violinist and teacher born (in Saeby, Denmark) on July 25, 1899.  He spent quite a bit of time in England but is not related – as far as I know – to the other Holst.  He was probably the first violinist to play (in 1921 with the Berlin Philharmonic) three concertos in the same concert program – before Yehudi Menuhin, Henryk Szeryng, Szymon Goldberg, and Raymond Cohen did it.  Holst must have begun his violin studies while still very young but I don’t know how young nor with whom.  In 1913, he was admitted into the Royal Danish Academy of Music.  He was 14 years old.  His teachers there were Axel Gade (son of Niels Gade) and violinist/composer Carl Nielsen.  At age 18, he made his debut playing Henri Vieuxtemps’ first violin concerto, the longest violin concerto Vieuxtemps ever wrote.  He then studied further with Hungarian violinist Emil Telmanyi.  After that, he traveled to Berlin to study with Willy Hess, a German violinist who played far and wide during his career, including the U.S.  In 1923, Holst became concertmaster of the Berlin Philharmonic.  He was 24 years old.  He quit that post in 1931 and went to live in England where he taught at the Royal Manchester College of Music.  There, he founded the Henry Holst String Quartet which he disbanded in 1941 to start the Philharmonia Quartet which itself was disbanded in 1952.  He was also active as a soloist.  Holst gave the European Premiere of the Walton violin concerto, a work which had been championed by Jascha Heifetz for a time, in 1941.  Holst also gave the world premiere of the revised version of the concerto in 1944.  The Walton concerto is very seldom played now.  In 1945, Holst moved to London to teach at the Royal College of Music.  He was 46 years old.  Holst moved back to Denmark in 1954 where he taught at the Royal Danish College of Music.  I don’t know how many years he was there but it must have been quite a few.  Henry Holst died on October 19, 1991 at age 92, largely forgotten. 

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Eduardo Asiain

Eduardo Asiain (Eduardo Hernandez Asiain) was a Spanish violinist born (in Havana, Cuba) on May 17, 1911.  He is best known for his interpretations of the works of Pablo Sarasate and for being one of the longest-lived violinists in history, in the style of Roman Totenberg.  He began his studies with his father, a violinist and composer, at a very early age.  He gave his first concert at age 7.  At age 14, after receiving first prize in violin at the National Conservatory of Havana, he became concertmaster of the Havana Symphony.  If that is factual (I could not verify it from more than one source), he joins Paul Kochanski in being the youngest concertmaster (of a professional orchestra) in history.  In 1932, Asiain, along with his family, moved to Spain.  He was 21 years old.  In Madrid, he studied with Enrique Fernandez Arbos and Antonio Fernandez Bordas.  He later graduated from the Royal Conservatory of Music in Madrid, obtaining special mention and receiving the Pablo Sarasate Prize.  The major part of his career was spent in Europe although he did perform outside of Europe a few times.  His discography is limited although his recordings of Sarasate’s music are still highly praised.  He founded the Chamber Orchestra of San Sebastian but I could not ascertain in what year that was.  In 1968, he became first violinist of the RTVE (Spanish Corporation for Public Radio and Television) Quartet.  From 1977 onward, he received various medals and honors from the Spanish government.  He played an Amati violin constructed in 1633.  Here is a YouTube audio file of Asiain playing music by Sarasate and here is another.  Asiain died on May 11, 2010, at (almost) age 99.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Augustin Dumay

Augustin Dumay is a French violinist, teacher, and conductor born on January 17, 1949.  He has enjoyed an international career since 1979, although he has spent most of his time in Europe and Japan.  He has recorded most of the standard repertoire (a repertoire consisting of about 15 concertos plus a few sonatas by the upper crust of composers for the violin – Bach, Vivaldi, Brahms, Mozart, Beethoven, Franck, Prokofiev, Strauss, and Debussy) on more than forty discs.  Dumay has appeared with most major orchestras and conductors in the most important and prestigious venues around the world.  He began his studies as a child but with whom I do not know.  He entered the Paris Conservatory when he was 9 years old.  After two years at the Conservatory, he studied privately with a few teachers, including Nathan Milstein and Arthur Grumiaux.  His public debut came at age 14 at the well-known Montreux Festival in Switzerland.  Orchestras he has conducted include the Royal Chamber Orchestra of Wallonia (since 2003), the Salzburg Camerata, the Picardie Orchestra, the New Jersey Symphony, the Kansai Philharmonic, the Sinfonia Varsovia, and the English Chamber Orchestra.  It has been said that none other than Herbert von Karajan gave him conducting lessons.  He has taught at the Queen Elizabeth College of Music in Brussels.  Here is a YouTube video of him playing the seldom heard Mendelssohn concerto for violin in d minor. 

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Higinio Ruvalcaba

Higinio Ruvalcaba (Rodolfo Higinio Ruvalcaba Romero) was a Mexican violinist, conductor, and composer born (in Yahualica, Jalisco) on January 11, 1905.  He is probably the best-known Mexican violinist of all time, although not the best-known Mexican classical musician.  His first lessons began at age 4 with his father, an upholsterer and cellist and member of the local band.  He began playing violin left-handed because one of his first teachers played left handed (with the bow held by the left hand) and simply had the young child imitate him.  Later on, while still very young, Ruvalcaba studied with Federico Alatorre, Ignacio Camarena, and Felix Peredo (Director of the String Academy in Guadalajara), three violinists from Guadalajara.  With these teachers, he was obligated to switch from left-handed playing to right-handed playing.  (In the history of violin playing, there are extremely few left-handed players, although there are a few left-handed players who play right-handed – concert violinist Caroline Goulding is one.)  He gave his first public performance at age 5 at the Degollado Theatre in Guadalajara.  Several sources state that his father took him around taverns and dance halls to earn money to help support the family.  He was also a street musician for some time.  There are many other classical musicians who did the same as kids – Johannes Brahms, Theodore Thomas, Carl Nielsen, and Marie Hall come to mind.  According to one source, Ruvalcaba made his formal debut with the Guadalajara Symphony playing the first Bruch concerto (the one in g minor) at age 11 – another source says age 10 and still another says age 12.  In 1916, he became a member of the string orchestra directed by Peredo and also joined Peredo’s string quartet as first violinist – Peredo (who had been playing first violin) switched himself to second violin.  In 1918, Ruvalcaba joined the Guadalajara Symphony where he played cello and viola in addition to violin.  He was 13 years old.  In 1920 (some sources say 1922) he relocated to Mexico City.  He entered the National Music Conservatory in 1922.  He was 17 years old.  There, he studied with Mario Mateo, a Spanish violinist, until 1925.  It has been said that he joined the YMCA and took up boxing and physical fitness at that time.  It has also been said that he fractured the middle finger of his left hand and lost visual acuity in his right eye as a result of boxing.  For a while – probably while still a student and shortly thereafter – he played in a local band (conducted by Miguel Lerdo De Tejada) where he was obligated to wear a police uniform and also (sometimes) play guitar.  He had also founded, back in 1921, a string quartet which took his name – Cuarteto Clasico Ruvalcaba.  As far as I know, it remained active until 1942 but it only gave concerts in Mexico.  Ruvalcaba joined the second violin section of the National Symphony in Mexico City in 1928.  He was 23 years old.  In 1931, he soloed with this orchestra playing Wieniawski’s second concerto.  In 1935, he became concertmaster of the National Symphony.  He was 30 years old.  Five years later, he was fired by conductor Carlos Chavez for insubordination.  A similar thing happened to concertmasters Scipione Guidi (in 1942 in St Louis) and Max Bendix (in 1896 in Chicago) under conductors Vladimir Golschmann and Theodore Thomas, respectively.  One source states Ruvalcaba was also concertmaster and conductor of the Philharmonic Orchestra of Mexico City – presumably after his stint with the National Symphony - although I could not verify that information.  Several sources state that for 25 years (1942 to 1967), Ruvalcaba played first violin with the famous Lener Quartet (Joseph Smilovitz on second, Sandor Roth but later Herbert Froelich on viola, and Imre Hartmann on cello) but some sources say he joined the quartet in 1959.  Still others say he joined the quartet in 1948, after the first violinist (Jeno Lener) died.  The actual documented date Ruvalcaba joined the quartet is (October) 1942 – it gave its first concert on December 4, 1942, at the Palace of Fine Arts.  (The Lener Quartet, which was founded in 1918 and very famous in its time, was the first to record all of Beethoven’s string quartets.)  Many sources state that Ruvalcaba loved to play chamber music, a fairly common sentiment among concert violinists.  Ruvalcaba ultimately concertized in Japan, Europe, and the U.S., playing under famous conductors such as Erich Kleiber, George Solti, Sergiu Celibidache, and Antal Dorati.  He gave world premieres of many works by Mexican composers (some of which were dedicated to him), including the violin concerto by Hermilio Hernandez in 1968.  He also formed a duo, in 1946, with pianist Carmen Castillo Betancourt who also became his third wife in that year.  He briefly held the post of Principal conductor of the Puebla Symphony Orchestra; although I was not able to determine which years he held the post.  Ruvalcaba was also a studio musician for many years, participating in well over 200 film soundtrack recordings.  As a composer, Ruvalcaba began early in his career, writing about 14 string quartets by age 15.  He wrote eight more after that.  Of that total (22), numbers 2, 4, and 6 survived.  The others were either destroyed or lost.  Quartet number 6 was composed in 1919 but not premiered until November 17, 1955 (by the Lener Quartet in Mexico City.)  Here is one movement from the work.  He also wrote three (or four) violin concertos, a bass concerto (Concierto Miramon), a piano quintet, two string sextets, many works for violin and piano, many salon pieces for piano (some including voice), a transcription of 22 of Paganini’s 24 Caprices for violin and piano (I don’t know which two he left out), and a symphonic poem.  You can listen to his gypsy dance for violin and piano here.  I do not know whether Ruvalcaba ever owned or played a modern violin or an old, Italian violin such as a Guadagnini, Guarnerius, or Stradivarius.  Here is an audio file of Ruvalcaba playing Manuel Ponce’s violin concerto – it appears to be a studio recording.  In 1970, Ruvalcaba suffered a massive heart attack and collapsed while playing Bach’s E major concerto.  As far as I know, he never played in public again.  He was 65 years old.  Ruvalcaba died (in Mexico City) on January 15, 1976, at age 71.  

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Katariina Maria Kits

Katariina Maria Kits (Katariina Kits) is an Estonian violinist born (in Tallinn, Estonia) on May 2, 1995.  She is known for having more than 815,000 views on a YouTube post when she was only 15 years old.  Here is that post.  Unless I am seriously mistaken, she is still a student at one of five music conservatories (I don’t know which one) in Trossingen, Germany, although she has been concertizing since she was a teenager.  She is also known to love violin competitions.  I do not know at what age she first began her violin studies but in 2002 she entered the Tallinn Music School.  She was 7 years old.  Her first teacher there was Marge Lille.  She has studied (in masterclasses) with Pavel Vernikov* in Italy and Alf Kraggerud in Norway.  Kits won second prize in the Estonian National String Competition when she was barely 11 years old.  A year later she won second prize in the Enescu Violin Competition in Romania.  She has already toured Europe and Australia as soloist with different orchestras.  Here is an outstanding video of hers playing the 5th Mozart concerto in a competition.  It is a mesmerizing and memorable performance (second to none) and it is not yet on YouTube.  It is quite possible (although I don't know for sure) that Kits has a twin brother who is a cellist with whom she sometimes performs.  Kits speaks three languages fluently - German, French, and English. As do other young prominent violinists, she plays a modern violin made in Cremona, Italy, in 2007. 

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.)