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Archive for April, 2013

Alexandra Preucil (Roger Mastroianni)
Alexandra Preucil
(Roger Mastroianni)

The Cleveland Orchestra announced today (30 April) that violinist Alexandria Preucil has been named an assistant concertmaster. She fills the position opened when violinist Lev Polyakin retired last October (2012). The orchestra’s other assistant concertmaster is Yoko Moore.

Music is in Preucil’s blood: she’s the daughter of the Cleveland Orchestra’s concertmaster, William Preucil. She joined the orchestra’s violin section in 2008. She holds a bachelor’s degree from the Cleveland Institute of Music.

Previously, Preucil was concertmaster of the Cleveland Orchestra Youth Orchestra. She has also held posts as assistant concertmaster with the Akron Symphony Orchestra and the Canton Symphony Orchestra.


Further exploration:

Deciphering Cleveland Orchestra Player Hierarchy at cleveland.com

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Janos Starker coaches a young cellist
Janos Starker coaches a young cellist (Altomedia)

In the years when I was discovering classical music, one of the first recordings of the Bach cello suites I heard was Janos Starker’s for Mercury Records.

Starker was famed for his Bach; in fact he recorded the suites several times. His reserved, focused style suited Bach.

Still, it wouldn’t be right to call Starker a "Bach cellist." He was equally at home in Romantic and contemporary literature, warmly expressive when the music called for it – but he was always tasteful, never indulging in excess. Starker played with complete respect for the composer’s notes and a clean, spare vibrato. He spurned – even ridiculed – the extravagant body language of many a modern cellist as “self-aggrandizement.”

Janos Starker was born in Budapest on 8 July 1924. His talent emerged early; at age seven he met Pablo Casals and shortly thereafter found himself studying at the Franz Liszt Academy.

Starker’s family was Jewish. During the war they were sent to a prison camp near Budapest. He and his parents survived, but 2 brothers were never accounted for. He believed they were shot by Nazi guards.

In 1948 conductor Antal Dorati, who had emigrated from Hungary to the US seven years earlier, encouraged Starker to follow his example. Indiana University wrote to US immigration officials, indicating that they were willing to hire him.

Starker promptly took a gig playing first chair for Dorati’s Dallas Symphony. From there he moved on to the Met Orchestra under Fritz Reiner. When Riener went to Chicago, so did Starker. They later had an infamous tiff, Reiner throwing his baton at Starker when he missed a cue.

Despite their letter, Starker didn’t actually join Indiana University’s faculty until 1958. But working with students had always been important to Starker. "I was born to be a teacher," he said in a 2011 interview. In fact, Starker took on his first student when he was 8 years old (the student was 6).

Though he could be hair-raising in the studio*, passing on his prodigious technique and spot-on intonation to young cellists was just part of what he did. "I cannot perform without teaching," he said, "and I cannot teach without performing." The act of explaining his technique to students gave Starker deeper insight into it.

Starker remained on the Indiana faculty until shortly before his death, attracting multiple generations of young cellists to Bloomington.

Janos Starker
Janos Starker catches a quick drag

Janos Starker was an inveterate smoker – 3 packs a day for much of his life. A cigarette was his last companion before he strode on stage, and the first he greeted after the concert. Starker once bailed on a performance of the Elgar concerto when the concert hall’s management refused to let him smoke backstage.

In fact, he preferred to take his smokes on stage with him when possible. Starker liked to give shirtsleeve recitals, dividing his stage time between playing and opinionated musical commentary (often about other musicians), punctuated by drags on his ever-present cigarette and sips from a glass of scotch.

Janos Starker died Sunday at a hospice in Bloomington. He is survived by his second wife, Rae; a daughter from his first marriage, Gabriella Starker-Saxe; daughter Gwen Starker Preucil (wife of the Cleveland Orchestra’s concertmaster); and 3 grandchildren – Cleveland Orchestra violinist Alexandra Preucil, Nicole Preucil, and J. P. Saxe.


*A joke circulated for years among cellists – reportedly told by Starker himself on occasion – goes like this: Three cellists die and ascend to the pearly gates, where they are greeted by St Peter. The first cellist requests entry into Heaven. "With whom did you study?" St Peter asks. "Leonard Rose," he responds. "Sorry," says St Peter. "I’m afraid you’ll have to go to Hell." The second cellist now steps forward. St Peter again asks the question. "Mstislav Rostropovich," comes the reply. "You too," says St Peter. " To Hell with you." By now the last cellist is really rattled. At St Peter’s inquiry he cringes and whispers, "Janos Starker?" St Peter smiles broadly. "Come on in, and welcome to Heaven! You’ve already been through Hell!"

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Colin Davis (Charlie Bibby)
Colin Davis (©Charlie Bibby)

Conductor Colin Davis died last night (Sunday 14 April 2013) after a short illness. He was 85.

Colin Rex Davis was born in Weybridge, Surrey, on 25 September 1927. His family wasn’t particularly musical – his father was a bank clerk – but as a child he heard the Hans Pfitzner and Berlin Philharmonic recording of the Beethoven Eighth. Davis was captivated. He saved his coins and bought a copy of the score. "Music burst out of the pages. It was intoxicating," he later told an interviewer.

Davis came to the podium by way of the clarinet, a route that hampered his progress to some extent. Conductors were expected to be skilled at the keyboard, so the Royal College of Music refused to admit him to their conducting program. He taught himself by watching Fritz Busch, his conductor at Glyndebourne, and directing choral societies on the side.

Davis got a break in 1957 when (after 3 tries) he was accepted as assistant conductor of the BBC Scottish Symphony. Another break came in 1959, when he replaced an indisposed Otto Klemperer, conducing Mozart’s Don Giovanni. Coincidentally he stepped in for Thomas Beecham not long after, leading The Magic Flute at Glyndebourne.

Davis’s rise as a conductor was also damped by his own personality. The young Davis was, regrettably, known for arrogance and a lack of tact. When he sought the post of principal conductor at the London Symphony in 1964, the musicians voted overwhelmingly to reject him.

Fortunately, Davis was a reader. In the midst of a midlife crisis partly precipitated by the collapse of his marriage to soprano April Cantelo, he embraced the classics, including Hermann Broch’s Death of Virgil. There he found the insight to manage his temper and learn the art of diplomacy. Davis also relaxed by knitting, proudly wearing the thick, warm sweaters of his own creation. His second marriage, to a student from Iran, Ashraf Naini (Shamsi), lasted from 1964 until Shamsi’s death in 2010.

Davis came to be known for his thoughtful readings of Mozart and Sibelius. His 1970s recordings of the Sibelius symphonies with Boston (where he was principal guest conductor from 1972 to 1984) are still a benchmark today. Many music lovers remember his 1966 Philips recording of Handel’s Messiah, which won the Grand Prix du Disque. All in all, he made over 300 recordings.

Colin Davis was deeply involved in music education. He held an international chair at the Royal Academy of Music from 1988, and was president of Dresden’s "Carl Maria von Weber" Landesgymnasium fuer Musik.

Davis received many awards. He was named a Companion of the British Empire in 1965, knighted in 1980, welcomed as a Companion of Honor in 2001, and given the Queen’s Medal for Music in 2009. The British Pipesmokers’ Council even named him Pipe Smoker of the Year in 1996.

In 1995, he was awarded the London Symphony gig for which he’d been rejected three decades earlier. He remained in that post until 2006, the longest tenure of any LSO principal conductor. In 2006, he became the LSO’s president.

Davis continued to conduct in retirement. However, after his second wife’s death in 2010, Davis’s health began to decline. He fell from the podium in 2012, and from then drastically curtailed his appearances.

"Every piece of music is a rehearsal of one’s life," Sir Colin Davis once said. He is survived by two children from his first marriage, and five from his second, including conductor Joseph Wolfe.

Further reading:

Colin Davis at Wikipedia

Colin Davis Obituary at The Guardian

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The story of Schumann’s violin concerto is one of the most convoluted in classical music history.  It includes a composer who was past the breaking point, friends  and family trying to save his reputation, a séance, Anti-Semitism, and another composer the Nazi regime considered a degenerate.

When Robert Schumann composed his Violin Concerto in d minor, it was 1853. He was mighty close to the fateful night when he jumped into the nearly frozen Rhine River.  By then his insanity had become clear to all his friends.

Joseph Joachim (the work’s dedicatee), Schumann’s  dear friend Johannes Brahms, and Schumann’s wife Clara thought the concerto reflected his instability too much. Joachim went so far as to say that it suffered from “mental lassitude,” “bewildering passages,” “morbid brooding,” and “tiresome repetitions.” 

Joachim was put in charge of the score. He decided to sit on it.  After Joachim died in 1907, it passed to the Prussian State Library with the stipulation that it not be published until 100 years after the composer’s death (1854).

Joachim’s niece, Jelly d’Aranyi, a well-known violinist in her own right, claimed that she’d heard of the concerto in a spiritual visitation (more likely, her uncle had "spilled the beans" to her before he died). 

d’Aranyi wanted to perform it. But this was Germany in 1937. The Nazi party claimed she was of Jewish heritage, and forbade the performance. 

When it did premiere later that year, the solo parts had been almost totally re-written by Paul Hindemith, even though by then the Nazis had branded Hindemith degenerate. 

Iit wasn’t until 84 years after the work’s completion that it was finally heard as Schumann had composed it. The premiere of the true Schumann violin concerto was at Carnegie Hall, with the New York Philharmonic and pianist Georges Enescu.

 

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