Hugh Sung Launches “A Musical Life” Podcasts

Hugh Sung: pianist, teacher and musical Renaissance man
Hugh Sung: pianist, teacher and musical Renaissance man

 

Korean-American pianist Hugh Sung can be described as a musical Renaissance man. A graduate of the Curtis Institute of Music, Sung has performed throughout the world, collaborating with soloists such as Hilary Hahn, Leila Josefowicz, and Julius Baker, longtime principal flutist with the New York Philharmonic. As a techie and entrepreneur, Hugh Sung was one of the first professional musicians to imagine performances utilizing digital music scores (beginning with Microsoft’s Tablet PC in 2001). In 2008, he co-founded AirTurn, a company that develops a host of cutting-edge tech gadgets for musicians, including wireless page turning pedals. He is the author of From Paper to Pixels: Your Guide to the Digital Sheet Music Revolution. As a teacher, Sung, who served for 19 years on the Curtis faculty, has reached out to long distance students through Video Exchange Learning technology from ArtistWorks.

Now Hugh Sung is engaging with classical music enthusiasts in yet a new way. On Monday, he launched A Musical Life with Hugh Sung, a collection of weekly podcasts featuring fascinating interviews with renowned musiciansHe describes it as, “sharing stories about making music and the things that move our souls.”

A Musical Life has hit the ground running with an eclectic collection of offerings already in place. Philadelphia Orchestra concertmaster David Kim opens up about his journey through the competitive world of classical music, from early disappointments and insecurities to finding ultimate joy and satisfaction in serving music. Sung does a two-part interview with legendary violinist Aaron Rosand, whom Sung first met as a student at Curtis and later joined as a collaborator. Rosand talks about the distinctive individuality of “golden age” violinists such as Jascha Heifetz, the role of the bow in tone production, the sound of his ex-Kochanski Guarneri del Gesù, his love of old jazz, and more. Other interviews include pianist Gary Graffman, Gaelic singers Isobel Ann and Calum Martin, and Jordan Rudess, a member of the progressive rock band, Dream Theater. In the first episode, A Lonely Song, Sung shares thoughts about the second movement of Maurice Ravel’s Piano Concerto in G major.

A Musical Life is extraordinary, not only because of Hugh Sung’s musical background, but because of his talent as an interviewer. He is sincere and down to earth, asking all the right questions and allowing the discussion to unfold naturally. As a listener, you feel as if you’re sitting in a comfortable room with friends. As musical examples are discussed, we get to hear excerpts from the artists’ recordings. Enjoyable now, these interviews will live on as fascinating historical documents. It will be exciting to follow the podcasts at A Musical Life in the weeks ahead.

Hugh Sung and Aaron Rosand

Hugh Sung first met violinist Aaron Rosand as a student at the Curtis Institute. Later, Rosand and Sung collaborated on a series of recordings.

Here is excerpt from their 2007 recording of the three Brahms Violin Sonatas. (Brahms’ Hungarian Dances and Joachim’s Romance in B-flat are also included on the disc). This is the first movement of Brahms’ Sonata No. 1 in G:

Here is a beautiful and rarely-heard piece from Rosand and Sung’s 2011 recording featuring Romances for violin: Sibelius’ Romance, Op. 78, No. 2.

Josef Gingold: A Rare 1944 Profile

Earlier in the week, a Listeners’ Club reader sent me a fascinating and rare slice of American violin history. Below is music critic Russell McLauchlin’s profile of a 35-year-old Joseph Gingold which appeared in the Detroit Jewish News on December 8, 1940. Gingold had just left Toscanini’s NBC Symphony in New York to become concertmaster of the Detroit Symphony. Within a few years, he would go on to hold the same title with the Cleveland Orchestra under George Szell. Later, Gingold would join the faculty of Indiana University, building a reputation as one of the most influential violin teachers of the twentieth century. (Hear a sample of Gingold’s recordings in past Listeners’ Club posts).

McLauchlin’s profile gives us a sense of Gingold’s humanity and the warm, respectful and collegial atmosphere he fostered within the Detroit Symphony violin section. Most notably, we see his generosity and passion for teaching: he opened his home to weekly coaching sessions for younger and less experienced members of the section. A true leader brings the team together to accomplish a common goal, allowing everyone to produce their best work. In this regard, Josef Gingold provides a fine example.

Thank you to photographer Herman Krieger, who took the story’s photo of Gingold and his son, for sharing this old news clip. Click on the image and click again in the top right corner to make it larger:

DJN_Gingold

Here are a few of Josef Gingold’s recordings:

Frank Huang Headed to New York

violinist Frank Huang
violinist Frank Huang

On Wednesday, the New York Philharmonic announced that violinist Frank Huang will become its new concertmaster, succeeding Glenn Dicterow who stepped down last June after 34 seasons.

The 36-year-old Huang is currently concertmaster of the Houston Symphony. He has held that position since 2010. Before joining the Houston Symphony, he briefly served as first violinist of the Ying Quartet and professor of violin and chamber music at the Eastman School of Music. He was a student of Donald Weilerstein at the Cleveland Institute of Music. Frank Huang was born in China. When he was 7 years old, his family relocated from Beijing to the Houston suburbs.

Frank Huang’s solo career was launched after he won first prize in the 2000 Hannover International Violin Competition and the 2003 Walter W. Naumburg Foundation’s Violin Competition. A 2003 recording released on the Naxos label features this performance of Franz Waxman’s Carmen Fantasie.

Here is Huang performing the first movement of Beethoven’s Piano Trio in B-flat Major, Op. 11 for Houston Public Radio’s The Front RowHe is joined by cellist Sophie Shao and pianist Adam Golka.

Hot Dogs, Fireworks and Violins

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In celebration of Independence Day, take a moment and listen to Noah Bendix-Balgley perform solo violin versions of God Bless America and The Star Spangled Banner at a Pittsburgh Pirates game (below). Bendix-Balgley is the 29-year-old concertmaster of the Pittsburgh Symphony who recently accepted the same position with the Berlin Philharmonic. He will stay in Pittsburgh for at least part of this coming season. Hear a few more clips in this previous post.

If you’re in the mood for more patriotic solo violin music, here is Ruggiero Ricci’s 1995 recording of Henri Vieuxtemps’ Souvenir d’Amérique, Variations burlesques sur “Yankee Doodle” Op.17 . Vieuxtemps (1820-1881), one of the nineteenth century’s most influential violinists, wrote Yankee Doodle in New Orleans during his first American concert tour. Apparently, American audiences in the 1840s had a hard time listening to long European concert music, but when Vieuxtemps played Yankee Doodle he was met with cheers. 

For more music, revisit last year’s Sousa post and have a happy Fourth!

Remembering David Nadien

David Nadien
David Nadien

American violinist David Nadien passed away last week at the age of 88. A student of Ivan Galamian, Adolfo Betti and Adolf Busch, Nadien first soloed with the New York Philharmonic at the age of 14. Between 1966 and 1970 he served as concertmaster of the New York Philharmonic under Leonard Bernstein. You can hear him play the “Pas de deux” violin solo from Tchaikovsky`s Swan Lake here

For years Nadien taught at the Mannes College of Music and performed as a top freelance studio musician in New York. His immaculately clean, Romantic style of playing, suggestive of violinists from Elman to Milstein, was an inspiration to a younger generation of musicians. The Suzuki violin repertoire, books 1-10, are among his diverse recording credits. Notable recordings include the Franck Sonata and Tchaikovsky Concerto as well as showpieces such as Sarasate’s Habañera, Weiniawski’s Scherzo Tarentelle and Massenet’s Meditation from Thais

Here is his recording of Sarasate’s Introduction and Tarantella:

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Glenn Dicterow’s Long Goodbye

Glenn Dicterow
Glenn Dicterow

After 34 years as concertmaster of the New York Philharmonic, Glenn Dicterow will be stepping down at the end of this season. A native of Southern California, Dicterow has accepted a position as professor of violin at the University of Southern California’s Thornton School of Music. The New York Philharmonic has been honoring his service throughout the season. 

As Dicterow explains, the concertmaster’s varied role goes beyond playing occasional orchestral violin solos. Within the violin section, the concertmaster determines bowings and helps to establish a uniform style of playing, based on the conductor’s musical vision. For section players, the peripheral sightline to the concertmaster is an essential part of playing cohesively. Additionally, concertmasters serve as an important link between the conductor and the orchestra. Under the best circumstances, a mysterious and instantaneous transfer of energy occurs between the conductor and the orchestra and between sections of the orchestra, resulting in chamber music on a large scale.

From my experience, the most successful concertmasters leave their egos at the door, are professional in demeanor, lead with a clear and unifying sense of rhythm, and foster an atmosphere of teamwork, mutual respect and cooperation.

Tradition and Renewal

Glenn Dicterow’s retirement comes during a period of unusually high turnover for the New York Philharmonic. A much needed renovation of Avery Fisher Hall also promises to bring significant change in the next few years. The lifeblood of any successful organization seems to be a healthy balance between tradition and renewal. Great conductors from Bernstein and Toscanini to Gustav Mahler have left their imprint on the sound of the New York Philharmonic over time. It will be exciting to see where the organization goes from here.

Dicterow Plays Brahms

While serving as concertmaster, Glenn Dicterow has remained active as a soloist and chamber musician. Through the years he has performed violin solos on movie soundtracks such as Beauty and the Beast (listen around the 0:45 second mark). Here is a live performance of Brahms’ Trio No. 1 in B Major, Op. 8. Dicterow is joined by cellist James Kreger and pianist Craig Sheppard:

Here are the secondthird and fourth movements.

Remembering Abram Shtern

Abram Shtern (1919-2014)
Abram Shtern (1919-2014)

Legendary Ukrainian violinist and teacher Abram Shtern passed away last week at the age of 96. Shtern was concertmaster and professor in Kiev before emigrating to the United States in 1990 and settling in Los Angeles. He represented one of the last direct links to the tradition of Leopold Auer, the teacher of Heifetz, Milstein and others.

For much of his career, Shtern stayed out of the spotlight, but he was deeply respected within the violin world. Isaac Stern said:

[quote]Oh, how he played! This man never leaves behind what the music means and such enthusiasm – he not only loves music but also he lives FOR music! He is an incredible master-musician.[/quote]

Here is a 1971 recording of Abram Shtern playing the solo from Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake:

These informal clips give a sense of Shtern’s rich, singing tone and extraordinary technique. Notice his masterful, seamless bow control. This video, from Shtern’s 75th birthday, highlights his roots in Klezmer fiddling. Here is a profile featuring more background on Abram Shtern’s life.

Next Stop, Berlin For Noah Bendix-Balgley

Noah Bendix-Balgley
Noah Bendix-Balgley

Last Friday we learned that Noah Bendix-Balgley, concertmaster of the Pittsburgh Symphony, won an audition for the position of first concertmaster with the Berlin Philharmonic. The news shows just how global the classical music world has become. Over the last decade, English conductor Simon Rattle has brought a fresh new approach to tradition-bound Berlin. When Rattle leaves in 2018, it will be interesting to see how the organization again attempts to balance tradition with innovation.

Here is an impressive clip of Noah Bendix-Balgley playing the virtuosic concertmaster solo from Richard Strauss’s Ein Heldenleben with the Pittsburgh Symphony. It’s hard to imagine anyone playing it better:

And here he is playing the Romanian Dances by Bela Bartok with pianist David Allen Wehr:

Bendix-Balgley plays a 1732 Bergonzi violin which he talks about here.