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Great Concertmasters


Lydia Leong
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We talk a lot about the great soloists. But there's an entire category of great players that the public doesn't think about -- the concertmasters, whom we hear, often semi-anonymously, on so many recordings.

Thus: Who were/are the Great Concertmasters, dating back to, say, the time of Joachim?

Two I can think of off-hand are Joseph Gingold (Cleveland) and John Corigliano (New York).

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I am a bit shamed to say that I don't know any names of concert masters. blush.gif I just recognize them by their faces. Thanks to PBS, I think I know the concert master that you are talking about. But seriously, do you know how many of us pay attention to concert masters when a solist is performing a concerto? I tend to look at either the conductor or the solist unless the concert masters have solo parts or they get on the stage or they shake hands with conductors and solists. Am I the only weird one? crazy.gif

[This message has been edited by illuminatus (edited 08-22-2000).]

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Hi Lydia,

Good post. Too many times we forget about the orchestra. Anyway, to add to the list, how about William Purcil. Then with Philadelphia Orchestra, Norman Carol (retired, continuing at Curtis). Then (I know I'll mess the spelling up) Glenn Dictarow(?) sorry. Then Herbert Greenberg (I can spell that) with Baltimore and Joseph Silverstein (now a soloist and teacher).

However, I think we tend to ignor artists from the other string section of orchestra! Don't forget violist Joseph de Pasquale, Philadelphia Orchestra (retired, continuing at Curtis and Peabody) and the famous cellist, Gregor Piatigorsky! (Ah, a plug for cellos).

-J-

[This message has been edited by JKF (edited 08-22-2000).]

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Vienna Philharmonic has produced a string of fine concertmasters who were soloist calibre. Arnold Rose, Wolfgang Schneiderhan, Willi Boskovsky, Walter Barylli, Walter Weller (now active as conductor), Josef Sivo and Gerhard Hetzel(sp?) are among the great former concertmasters of Vienna Philharmonic.

From Berlin Philharmonic, there has been a quite a few fine concertmasters as well. Szymon Goldberg, Tossy Spivakovsky, Gerhard Taschner (a "German Heifetz"!!)and Michel Schwalbe to mention a few.

A phenominal Joseph Wolfsthal was a concertmaster at Berlin State Opera Orchestra.

Herman Krebbers was the concertmaster of Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra for long time. He was also a distinguished soloist.

English produced also some fine concertmasters as well, such as Hugh Bean (student of Sammons), Manoug Parikian, Steven Staryk (well, he is Canadian. But he was the concertmaster of Royal Philharmonic under Beecham) etc.

U.S. concertmasters have been covered somewhat already, but among the ones that have not been mentioned, Michel Piastro (New York), Alexander Hilsberg (Philadelphia), Richard Burgin (Boston), Rafael Druian (Dallas, Cleveland and Minnesota), Daniel Guilet (NBC, later the founding member of Beaux Arts Trio) and Sydney Harth (LA?) are also very fine concertmasters.

From other sections (viola and cello), I can think of Rudolf Streng (viola, VPO), Carlton Cooley (viola, NBC), Emanuel Brabec (cello, VPO) and Leonard Rose (cello, New York) come to my mind as great section leaders.

Toscha

[This message has been edited by Toscha (edited 08-22-2000).]

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Great post, Lydia! I, too, believe that concertmasters are overlooked far too often. The best of them set the tone for the entire string section, as well as bringing to life all of those gorgeous solo lines in the orchestral repertoire. Since all of my favorites have already been mentioned, I'll just give one more nod to my daughter's teacher whose name appears in Toscha's list. I love so many of the Cleveland Orchestra's recordings from the years when Rafael Druian was concertmaster --one of my favorites is his lovely, soaring Lark Ascending. You can listen to a snippet on Amazon.

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Toscha mentioned Albert Sammons as the teacher of Hugh Bean. Sammons was himself leader (in British terminology) of the Beecham Orchestra for some years. Thomas Beecham discovered him playing the Mendelssohn concerto finale at breakneck speed in a restaurant.

Paul Beard, successively leader of the City of Birmingham, London Philharmonic and B.B.C. Symphony Orchestras in the 1920s and 1930s, established himself as a personality without (apparently) having any particular renown outside the orchestra.

As some other contributors have mentioned the principals of sections other than the first violins, perhaps I may go back even beyond Joachim to the extraordinary partnership of Robert Lindley (cello) and Domenico Dragonetti (double bass) at various London venues including the Royal Opera House, which lasted for fifty-two years (1794-1846). They sat side by side under the conductor's nose, apart from the rest of their respective sections - doubtless a reflection of the cellist's special role as continuo-player in Italian comic opera; when the harpsichord faded from the scene in about 1820, the cello simply carried on alone. The overall leader of the Opera House and Philharmonic Society orchestras at the end of this period was the Frenchman Prosper Sainton, who was largely responsible for Wagner's short spell as conductor in London.

At the same time Henry Hill, of the great luthier family, led the violas at the Opera.

W. H. ‘Billy’ Read, leader of the London Symphony Orchestra for over 20 years from 1912, was once described as ‘the champion up-bobbing leader’ because of his readiness to ply the conductor with questions. He and Elgar were close friends; the composer, although himself a fine violinist (and former orchestral player), often consulted Read on technical points.

To Toscha's list of Berlin Philharmonic leaders I may add Siegfried Börries, who toured with Furtwängler in the 1930s. I have an idea that he was Jewish and that Furtwängler (often reviled as a collaborator) kept him in his post for some time in defiance of Nazi displeasure.

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Like some of the people here I don't know or recognize very many concertmasters, with the exception of Joseph Gingold and Joseph Silverstein (who used to play with the Boston Pops).

As I've never heard Gingold play I can't comment on his playing, but Silverstein I've heard several times (on television in the early 80's) when he played with the Boston Pops. He was a marvelous player with a stupendous technique.

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How could I forget to mention Louis Persinger?! He was the concertmaster for San Francisco Symphony back in the 1920s, as well as teacher of Menuhin, Ricci, Bustabo, Wicks and bunch of other prodigies. I have never heard him play (except accompanying Menuhin and Ricci at the piano), but he must have been a fine player.

Toscha

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Here are some concertmaster-soloists:

Gingold, Cardenes (Pittsburgh), Lowe (Boston), Greenberg (Baltimore), Silverstein (former Boston), D. Nadien (former NYPhil), Chalifour (LA Phil), Preucil, Dicterow, Blinder (former San Fran.; taught Stern), Majeske, Chen (Chicago), J. Gordon (Chicago in the early 20's when he was in his early twenties), David Kim (Philly Orchestra as of '98), Roberts (Montreal).

After a masterclass given by Cardenes, I realized that the concertmaster-soloists have exposure to and mastery of lots and lots and lots of solo and orchestral literature. And considering many play or played lots of chamber music or studied at places where chamber music was big (Meadowmount, Aspen, Marlboro, and pretty soon Encore [will produce concertmasters; Sheryl Staples is concertmaster calibre]), they're among the best-trained and best-seasoned musicians in the world. And some are/were great teachers: Gingold, Blinder, Persinger, Silverstein, Greenberg, Lowe, Preucil, D. Kim, Steven Shipps (U. of Michigan; Ann Arbor Symphony), Roberts, etc. The great concertmasters deserve as much recognition as the soloists do, but for different reasons.

Gingold is probably the greatest concertmaster because of his solo, orchestral, chamber music, and teaching careers. And because he was a great guy.

-V

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  • 4 years later...

Rainer Honeck of the Vienna Philharmonic (he is the youngest one of the three, the other being Rainer Kuchl and Werner Hink) is a superb virtuoso. I recently bought a live recording of him playing the Brahms concerto and he is every bit as good as Milstein and Szeryng. He plays with lean, but sweet, penatrating sound and technically, he is the best of the VPO concertmaster I have heard, along with Hetzel and Sivo. He also made a excellent CD of Mendelssohn and Dvorak concerti as well.

The other two current VPO concertmasters are superb chamber music players. Hink leads the Vienna String Quartet for at least 25 years or so and their set of complete Schubert quartets are wonderful, if not quite with the bitter-sweetness of the old Vienna Konzerthaus Quartet (whom Hink claims to admire greatly). Kuchl also leads another VPO-based quartet. I find his vibrato a little disturbing from time to time, but he is a distinguished musician.

T.

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Jaime Laredo is still performing and teaching. He has been at Curtis for many years but he and his wife, cellist Sharon Robinson, have recently joined the faculty of Indiana University. He also serves on a number of juries for international competitions and regularly heads up the jury for the Indianapolis Competition. His students are tremendously successful; I'd say he has one of the most prominent teaching studios in the country. He's never been a concertmaster as far as I know, but of course his career and a soloist and chamber musician is phenomenal.He's one of my all-time favorite violinists, a wonderful musician.

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