Remembering Joseph Silverstein

Joseph Silverstein (1932-2015)
Joseph Silverstein (1932-2015)

 

Legendary violinist, conductor, and teacher Joseph Silverstein passed away yesterday in Boston. He was 83.

Born in Detroit, the son of a public school music educator, Silverstein studied with Efrem Zimbalist, William Primrose, Josef Gingold, and Mischa Mischakoff. He served as concertmaster of the Boston Symphony for 22 years, beginning in 1962. In 1971 he was appointed assistant conductor of the BSO. He was music director of the Utah Symphony between 1983 and 1998. Silverstein was on the faculty of New England Conservatory and the Curtis Institute. He was also a member of the Suzuki Association of the Americas Honorary Board.

In this informal interview from last December, Joseph Silverstein shares thoughts on violin playing, the role of the concertmaster, auditions, stage fright, and much more. He remembers performing concertos with Eugene Ormandy and the Philadelphia Orchestra and accompanying Jascha Heifetz with the Boston Symphony. He recommends that students aspire to “a life in music,” celebrating all aspects of playing (solo, chamber music, orchestral), as well as teaching. The interview provides a hint of Silverstein’s famously gruff and uncompromising teaching style, which underlies intense conviction. Silverstein demonstrated a great love for the violin. When the student interviewers asked why he continued to practice rigorously (including scales) at his stature, he answered “I want to get better.”

In his 1983 book, Great Masters of the Violin, Boris Schwarz wrote,

Whenever I hear Joseph Silverstein, I am convinced that there is no more fastidious violinist around. His playing is so finely chiseled, his tone so warm, his interpretation in such good taste, that he has few rivals.

Early on, Silverstein played a 1773 J.B. Guadagnini which had been owned by Arthur Grumiaux. For most of his career he played the 1742 “ex-Camilla Urso” Guarnerius del Gesù.

Here is a sampling of Joseph Silverstein’s numerous recordings:

Concertmaster Solo from Swan Lake

Here is solo from the Danse russe from the third act of Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake ballet score. It was recorded with Seiji Ozawa and the Boston Symphony in 1978:

Barber Violin Concerto

Here is the first movement of the Samuel Barber Violin Concerto, recorded in 1985 with the Utah Symphony:

Stravinsky Violin Concerto

Silverstein’s recording with Erich Leinsdorf and the Boston Symphony, released in 1965:

J.S. Bach Partita No. 3

Here is the Gavotte en Rondeau from Bach’s Partita No. 3 for solo violin:

Debussy Sonata

Claude Debussy’s Sonata for Violin and Piano, recorded in 1975. Michael Tilson Thomas is playing the piano.

  • Find Joseph Silverstein’s recordings at iTunes, Amazon.
  • Excerpts from a violin masterclass with Silverstein
  • Frank Almond’s tribute

Philippe Quint’s Unedited Tchaikovsky

61Fs5yW6KyL._SL500_AA280_In September, Russian-American violinist Philippe Quint released a recording of the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto, accompanied by conductor Martin Panteleev and the Sofia Philharmonic Orchestra. If you already own a thousand recordings of the Tchaikovsky, there are good reasons to also include this CD in your collection. Quint offers a distinctive and introspective performance, which emphasizes a rounded, singing tone, even in the most difficult passages of the first movement’s cadenza. He also includes Tchaikovsky’s rarely heard original final movement.

As Philippe Quint explains in this interview, Tchaikovsky originally dedicated the concerto to Leopold Auer, the legendary teacher of Mischa Elman, Jascha Heifetz and Nathan Milstein, among others. Auer considered the third movement to be “unviolinistic” and set the concerto aside. Tchaikovsky withdrew the dedication and rededicated the work to Adolph Brodsky, who gave an ill-fated premiere in Vienna on December 4, 1881. Leopold Auer later revised the final movement and this is the version we almost always hear performed.

Listen to Quint’s performance of the first and second movements and the standard Auer version of the third movement. Then compare it with Tchaikovsky’s original version of the final movement (below). The influence of ballet seems to be just below the surface in much of Tchaikovsky’s music. Throughout ballet scores like The NutcrackerSwan Lake, and The Sleeping Beauty, Tchaikovsky often repeats short, symmetrical phrases. We hear a similar kind of repetition in the third movement of the Violin Concerto (1:01-1:09, for example). Auer condensed the score, cutting these repeated passages.

Arensky’s String Quartet No. 2

This recording also includes Anton Arensky’s String Quartet No. 2 in A minor, Op. 35 (1894). Arensky, a student of Rimsky-Korsakov and the teacher of Alexander Scriabin and Sergei Rachmaninov, dedicated the Quartet to the memory of Tchaikovsky. The second movement is a series of variations on a theme from Tchaikovsky’s Legend, No. 5 from 16 Songs for Children, Op. 54. Arensky’s Quartet features the unusual combination of violin, viola and two cellos. Here are the first, second and third movements.

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:

Find on iTunes

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.