Showing posts with label violinists. Show all posts
Showing posts with label violinists. Show all posts

Monday, August 27, 2007

Gioconda de Vito: centenary of an angel

Gioconda de Vito was my second-ever interviewee, twenty years ago. It was a piece for The Strad to mark her 80th birthday (published in the June 1987 edition); she died seven years later. This summer marks her centenary. I've seen her birthday cited variously as 22 June and 26 July.

I was young and impressionable at the time, but meeting this remarkable violinist remains one of my most treasured memories.

Madame de Vito spoke very little English, but had lived in Britain for decades. Her husband, David Bicknell, had been a producer and executive for EMI; the pair settled in a beautiful stone house on the outskirts of Rickmansworth, Hertfordshire, surrounded by countryside and an extensive garden through which a slender river flowed. My interview with her was conducted mainly via David's translation, but after tea she and I took a turn around the garden, during which I met her friends: the local animal population, from flocks of starlings to a family of swans, which she fed from huge cereal bowls on the bank of the stream, as well as squirrels that would eat nuts out of her hand, and some shy roe deer lurking in the wheatfield nearby.

Among the anecdotes that arose were tales of her impossibly early retirement from the violin. She had attended a recital by Cortot when the great pianist was way past his best; the result was a personal resolution not to fall into the trap of continuing too long. She was a deeply religious Catholic, moreover. Having played twice to the Pope, she decided she had reached the peak of her career and that that would be the end of it - even though the Pope himself spent an hour trying to talk her out of abandoning her God-given talent! She spent so long with him that members of her family, waiting to meet her outside, were afraid that she was lost somewhere inside the Vatican. She didn't miss her violin and never doubted that she'd done the right thing.

I'll never forget her eyes, which saw everything and understood life from the heart, language or none. If I ever met an angel in the music world, it was her.

Here is the 1987 article from my archive. And please enjoy her magical Beethoven and the informative film that appeared with it on Youtube only last week.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Philippe Hirshhorn plays Chausson...

Thanks to good old Youtube, here is a clip of this phenomenal yet not widely recognised Russian violinist playing the Chausson Poeme. Hirshhorn, who died of a brain tumour in 1996 aged 50, is something of a legend in violinistic circles and this playing, along with some perceptive comments from Mischa Maisky, helps to prove why.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Vengerov and the healing power of music

Speaking of organisations that enable music to change lives, Maxim Vengerov has just given a recital in a neurological hospital in Putney, celebrating the 30th anniversary of Live Music Now. Richard Morrison went along to report for The Times. Vengerov tells him, among other things, the following:

“This kind of work is my first passion. This is where I think music belongs. And it has a wonderful effect on me, too, not just on these people here. You see, when you talk to severely brain-damaged people, they may not understand what you are saying. But once you start playing music, you are speaking to their subconscious. And what happens is that the effect of that bounces back. So I, as a musician, get in touch with my own subconscious. It goes in both directions, this therapy.”

Read the whole thing here.

And while we're reading Richard, here's his review of the Glyndebourne Macbeth, which will tell you a little more about those cardboard boxes. Also see Ed Seckerson in the Indy.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

OMG. She's back

The sensational Rinat Shaham returns to Glyndebourne to sing Dorabella in Cosi fan tutte, opening next Tuesday, 22 May. I fear I shall have to put an electronic tag on Tom for every single performance.

Here's 'Rini' as Carmen...need I say more?

But hey. I can get my revenge: Rini has a brother, Hagai Shaham, who's a fabulous violinist (=prerequisite), and looks my kinda guy. Here he is with his answer to the Gypsy:

Cold showers all round.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Speaking of busking

Apparently Nigel Kennedy was heard discussing Tasmin's little excursion with Sean Rafferty on Radio 3's 'In Tune' yesterday and quite fancies the idea of having a go himself, though he used to do it for real as a student in New York. Meanwhile rumour has it that at least two other national newspapers are (or were?) planning to carry out similar stunts.

On a slightly more serious note (no pun intended), the violinist David Juritz, leader of the London Mozart Players, is going to busk his way around the world for four-and-a-half months. He's calling his project 'Round the World and Bach'. He starts in June and plans to play solo Bach through Europe, Asia, Australasia and the Americas, with a stint in his native South Africa. The project will raise money for a new charity, Musequality, which aims to finance community music projects in deprived areas and is administered by the Musicians' Benevolent Fund. Follow his progress, and sponsor him, at

Friday, April 20, 2007

When Tasmin went busking...

I spent part of Tuesday afternoon standing under the Waterloo railway bridge watching Tasmin Little playing Vivaldi and shouting "Give us a copper!" to the passing builders - and (above) performing 'Happy Birthday' for a celebrating child. Yes, the boss asked us to do a London edition of the Washington Post/Josh Bell experience - and it was fascinating to see where the results were similar and where they differed. Although the actual statistics were in the same general ball park, we found the experience anything but relentlessly depressing.

Londoners like music, their children really love it and many people knew they were hearing something special. I think they just didn't want to have to pay for it.

Read all about it in today's Independent, here.

BTW, the coverline is FIDDLER ON THE HOOF. But guess which musical, opening in May, is advertised on the back?!? I'm assured that this is complete coincidence.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Hora of horas...

Tom and the LPO are off on tour today - they'll be arriving in Toronto late tonight, then heading for the East Coast of the States (small matters like Carnegie Hall), back on 4 December. So we spent yesterday evening doing what you might expect a fiddler and his wife to do on the last night home before a tour. You guessed it: gawping at Heifetz videos on Youtube. This performance of Dinicu's Hora Staccato is unbelievable:

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Sounds from South Africa

Philippe Graffin is currently in Cape Town coaching the Hout Bay String Project. A report from Jan-Stefan's Kloof Street Blog has some pictures and a brief but touching account of what it's been like. The project's own website has a fuller account of its aims and achievements. Here's an extract:

Our orchestra is a vehicle of social upliftment and change. It allows for fundamental communication between individuals. Our teachers have high standards and give of their best and expect the same of the children. We ask children to attend up to five lessons and rehearsals per week. They practice technical exercises and work at their intonation and interpretation, constantly striving to raise their standard of performance. The children experience adults who are willing to invest time and energy in them. Time and time again we see disruptive and angry children become motivated, disciplined, engaged and joyful individuals. These children then become involved in teaching activities at our Project, sharing their knowledge and encouraging others to progress. Some of our children have come from abused backgrounds or have been involved in violence and crime. Music provides drive, focus, passion and moments of beauty in lives where children are often forced to deal with adult issues like despair and abject poverty.
This is admirable and inspiring indeed: see also the astonishing ongoing activities of Buskaid, founded by Rosemary Nalden in Soweto.

I've recently viewed a DVD of a stunning South African reinterpretation of Carmen, U-Carmen, sung in Xhosa and set in a huge township - a version that transposes and sometimes even strengthens the drama, is wonderfully sung and acted, and proved totally convincing. Go see it

UPDATE, 27 November 11.30pm: Jan-Stefan has posted a report about the concert with Philippe yesterday. Great pics.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Emanuel Hurwitz

Sad today to hear of the death of Emanuel Hurwitz, the inspiring violinist and teacher, aged 87. A good obituary in The Guardian from former Strad editor Anne Inglis: here.

I met Manny a few times: my fiddler duo partner at university was a student of his. We went to his beautiful Finchley home for coaching on various pieces including the Mozart B flat Sonata K454 and the Brahms G major (at 18 one can be arrogant enough to imagine that one can bring off that raw, tender, agonising and unperformable work. I wouldn't dare touch it with a barge-pole now.) It's a long time ago and my memories are not as vivid as they ought to be. But they do leave me with a lingering sensation of discovery, new perspectives and an inspiration that sprang from sound quality, musical exchange - sonatas are chamber music - and seriously hard work. One served the music, not vice-versa. It was a link with a fast-vanishing golden era of musicianship. Whenever I've come into contact with so-called 'golden age' musicians, I've been deeply grateful for the experience and this was no exception.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

oh my goodness...

I've discovered at long last, and on it I found this. Roby Lakatos, live on Prinsengracht. Fiddle fetishists can find a whole new range of displacement activities to stop themselves getting on with their next book. At least I can now pass this off as research: Gypsy fiddling plays a part all its own in my book no.3. Then again, nobody should need an excuse to swoon over something as utterly, gloriously mind-boggling as this guy's violin playing.

And if Lakatos isn't your cup of string tea, you can also watch Heifetz galore and even some footage of Jacques Thibaud playing Szymanowski......

Heck, and I thought chocolate was addictive.

Sunday, October 15, 2006


After hearing Leonidas Kavakos give the most incredible performance of the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto the other week, I went into to see which recordings of his I don't yet have. I was about to order the Ysaye Sonatas when I noticed that I'm not the only one to think of him as the Chocolate Fiddler: there's a sponsored link to Leonidas here for a feast for ears and blood-chocolate-levels alike.

ADDENDUM, 7.30pm: I should have said before: he's an appropriately and definitely sweet guy.

Saturday, September 30, 2006


What a *&%$^&(&* week. Computer virus. Blown fuses in the light circuits on the 1st floor (not that I object to candlelit baths, but you can have too much of a good thing). Proof-reading that proves, as always, endless and frightening. And Solti is having trouble with a new neighbour - a Russian Blue named Maurice (no kidding) who has moved into No.1 and is causing serious diplomatic incidents among the local felines. Imminent change of name from Solti to Scarface...

And so I have missed doing my 'full report' on Le chant at St Nazaire; I've also missed writing up two amazing concerts. First, the Razumovsky Ensemble at the Wigmore, turning their hands to Schubert's 'Death and the Maiden' Quartet and the Mendelssohn D minor Trio, to their usual roof-raising standard. And the other was the LPO's opening concert at the QEH which featured Leonidas 'chocolate fiddler' Kavakos in the most astonishing performance of the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto that I've ever heard. Plenty of violinists play like angels, but Kavakos plays like God.

Worth mentioning, too, some breath-of-fresh-air programming from Vladimir Jurowski - the second half was Schchedrin's Carmen Suite, a Carmen-goes-to-Moscow take on Bizet, clever, funny, powerful, and a fabulous orchestral showpiece, especially for the percussion. Brilliant.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006


Been here, seen last. I've been wanting to go to Budapest for decades. Friends who studied there would return with tales of stylistic expertise, pedagogical inspiration, extraordinary traditions, cheap music, cheaper opera tickets and excessively good cakes. Violinist friends flocked to Hungarian-born teachers living abroad (here or Canada); the great 19th-century violinists and the traditions they left behind sprang almost wholly from Hungary, including Josef Joachim and Leopold Auer and later Jelly d'Aranyi, who was Joachim's great-niece. As for Gypsy fiddling traditions, have you ever seen anything quite as astonishing as Roby Lakatos?

Now the place is an extraordinary melting pot of old and new, 19th-century Art Nouveau grandeur alongside communist-era concrete heaps, bullet-scarred, soot-covered buildings in downtown Pest contrasting with sleek, renovated, olde-worlde central Europe for tourists - but exquisite nonetheless - in Buda. Cranes everywhere. This is a city on the up, enchanting, atmospheric, disturbing, magical and irresistable. Grand yet gentle, forbidding yet vulnerable, the poetic soul of Budapest has got under my skin, and its continuity lies not least in its music.

More soon...

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

And still more...

Stormin' Norman is the latest writer to applaud the new Elgar Concerto CD - read his pithy piece from La Scena Musicale here. Recommended heartily for anyone who doesn't like English music, less heartily for patriots of all things green and pleasant, but very heartily indeed for Graffin groupies and Elgar fiddle concerto fans.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

More about Elgar violin concerto...

Addendum to Island Mentalities: the CD that sparked my article about Elgar, Kreisler and the original Elgar Violin Concerto manuscript is being released today. The soloist is Philippe Graffin, who I reckon has the romantic sensibility nearest to good old Fritz of any violinist working today, with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic conducted by Vernon Handley. Ordering details from Avie Records.

No excuses for recent hiatus in blog's just that I haven't been doing much, at least not outside my study. In-study activities have included producing an Indy review section cover feature on Placido Domingo, which appeared last Friday, plus writing up my interview with someone who may be the world's greatest pianist (watch this space) and editing Book No.2. Meanwhile Hodder is reprinting the hardback of RITES OF SPRING, which is rather good news!

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Author Compromised By Fiddle Passion

I can't believe I did this. But today I went against all my principles and bought The Daily Telegraph. It's a newspaper that I feel takes a political stance light years away from anything I find vaguely acceptable. But today was different, because - dreadful admission - I fell for the special offer.

How could I not? It was a 'free' DVD of INTERMEZZO. This movie, dating from somewhere in the 1940s, was Ingrid Bergman's first English-language film and it stars Leslie Howard as a famous Swedish violinist who falls in love with his daughter's piano teacher (Bergman). The first time I saw it was on TV one afternoon during the half-term holidays. I was about 16. My mother came home from work five minutes after it finished and gazed aghast at my red eyes and the heap of tissues on the floor. I had to explain that I'd just seen this movie where.......

But the ultimate pull of INTERMEZZO, for me, is the last word in slidey violins: a sound-track featuring Toscha Seidel. Seidel was a classmate of Heifetz's, studying with Auer: while Heifetz was described as the angel, Seidel was the devil. Guess which one has the hot sound, the burning tone, the passion that sings out that bit too far? Heifetz, beside Seidel, sounds cool as the proverbial cucumber.

Toscha had some measure of success, but was constantly overshadowed by Jascha's - though a song by George and Ira Gershwin about a bunch of leading violinists went 'Mischa, Jascha, Toscha, Sascha, we're four fiddlers three!' Seidel ended up in Hollywood, like so many amazing European musicians; and he recorded Korngold's suite from 'Much Ado About Nothing' with the composer at the piano (available on Biddulph Records). If you love Korngold for his emotional generosity and overblown, sensual heart, you will love Seidel too; and if you love slidey violins, you will find none slidier. Naturally, with my fiddle fetish, I can't resist him for a moment.

So, dear friends and editors forgive me, I compromised my reputation by buying the Telegraph. Rest assured, however, that I did not read it.

Friday, February 10, 2006

Possibilities of the Internet no.4826503

Tasmin Little is in Slovenia and she's writing reports on her progress there - yes, blogging - which you can read on her website here's the News page, follow the links to her Letters from Slovenia. She has just given the Slovenian premiere of the Elgar Violin Concerto - ! In her second letter, she describes her surprise when a member of the first violin section came up to her before the performance and told her how much he'd just enjoyed reading her first Letter from Slovenia on her website...

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Heim truths

Oh yes! Norman tells it like it is.

All I can add is that I wouldn't mind paying to hear this lady if I could stand what she does musically. But I can't. Her Korngold recording, to be fair, is OK, but the Tchaikovsky that's paired with it is for the Mozart, well, we'll see.

Friday, August 26, 2005


This is the indomitable Norman Lebrecht's inspiring account of how he found himself performing the recitation in Schoenberg's 'A Survivor from Warsaw' at Dartington last week.

Every music commentator should take part in a performance now and then and Norman's article helps to show why.

Speaking of stressful performances, we hear this morning that one of Leonidas Kavakos's strings broke during the Berg at the Prom last night and he finished the concerto on the leader's violin. It must take nerves of diamond, never mind steel, to switch fiddles in that piece, of all pieces, in the middle of the Royal Albert Hall, live on BBC Radio. What's more, Andrew Davis had dropped out and Joseph Swensen was drafted in to conduct instead, somewhat late in the day. Tom and I were down at Glyndebourne and missed the fun...

If I feel stressed out by proofreading my novel and trying to catch last-minute inconsistencies - of which there've been plenty - all I have to do is think 'I will never have to recite Schoenberg, or break a string in a Prom' and I feel better INSTANTLY.