Swans Commentary » swans.com December 28, 2009  



Josef Gingold Turns 100


by Isidor Saslav





(Swans - December 28, 2009)   Well, he would have turned 100 if he had still been alive. But no, Josef Gingold, one of the most celebrated teachers of the violin of the 20th century, had died in 1995 at the age of 86 after a lifetime of artistic achievement and the nurturing of great string-playing talent. Filled with deep appreciation thousands of attenders, including Mrs. Saslav and the author, became part of the audience at two concerts held in his memory, the first in the Main Auditorium on the campus of Indiana University in Bloomington on November 1, 2009. The next night, in downtown Indianapolis' Historical Society, a second and different concert was given, which we also attended, this one sponsored by the International Violin Competition of Indianapolis (IVCI), a competition that Gingold himself had helped to found in 1982.

In fact, when one of the organizers conferred with Gingold about the parameters of the proposed competition he mentioned the prizes planned to be given, including prestigious tours and appearances and a first prize of $25,000. Gingold, at that time 73, blinked and humorously replied, "I'll start practicing myself!" Today Jaime Laredo, Gingold's one-time student, has taken over the directorship of that competition, which his erstwhile teacher had helped to found and which he had entreated Laredo to take over.

Gingold can be counted as one of three celebrated American teachers of the violin who held the spotlight for most of the previous century. The Armenian-Parisian-American Ivan Galamian (1903-1981) had as two of his most outstanding prodigies Michael Rabin and Itzhak Perlman; while his one-time associate, the Kansan Dorothy DeLay (1917-2002) could count among her stable Midori and Sarah Chang. But the Polish-American Gingold (1909-1995) needed to take second place to no one, having produced such celebrated artists as Jaime Laredo and Joshua Bell as well as numerous subsequent concertmasters of leading American orchestras.

In the midst of the two concerts described above, screenings were exhibited onstage of films documenting the life of the esteemed maestro, showing him arriving liner-borne in the United States as a boy and not long after, at age 18, residing in the country of Belgium. He had gone there to continue his studies with one of the most respected violinists and musicians of the age, Eugene Ysaye. When Gingold arrived back in the U.S. three years later he brought with him one of the greatest of 20th-century compositions soon to enter every concert violinist's repertoire and of which he was to give the North American premiere in New York, Ysaye's Ballade, Op. 27, No. 3, for unaccompanied violin. The Ballade was one of six sonatas for unaccompanied violin that Ysaye had modeled formally after the famous J.S. Bach solo sonatas for the same instrument. Ysaye had written these sonatas in the 1920s shortly before Gingold arrived. Evidently highly impressed by his young student's talents and capabilities Ysaye gave to Gingold the responsibility of giving the actual world premiere of the Ballade right there in Belgium.

Jacques Israelovitch, former concertmaster of the Toronto Symphony, and, like me, also a former Gingold student, told us the story of this momentous premiere, as recounted to him by Gingold personally. The premiere was to take place at a banquet. And while the diners, including Ysaye himself, were busy enjoying themselves gastronomically, there was Gingold practicing away in the kitchen in preparation for the big event. Suddenly there came a moment when Gingold realized that he had forgotten how the work, then so new and unfamiliar, began. Quietly and carefully Gingold sneaked his way unobtrusively among the diners to where Ysaye himself was seated and explained his dilemma. Ysaye first laughed but then a quizzical look came over his face and he said, "You know, I've forgotten it myself!"

One of Gingold's concert events in Belgium was his performance of Beethoven's Violin Concerto in Waterloo. Many decades later he was invited to perform the same concerto in the other Waterloo, the one in Iowa. Gingold said to me, during the days I studied with him, 1961-64, "I'm probably the only violinist in the world who has played the Beethoven Violin Concerto in both Waterloos."

Ysaye dedicated each sonata to a different celebrated violinist colleague: Szigeti, Kreisler, Enesco, etc. The Ballade was dedicated to Georges Enesco (1881-1955), like Ysaye himself not only a violinist but a composer as well. In the late 1940s in New York Enesco was still giving concerts and master classes. About to participate in one of these master classes was the soon-to-be-celebrated young violinist Sidney Harth, later concertmaster of the Chicago and other prestigious American orchestras. According to the story he told us, Harth, then a student in New York, decided to perform Ysaye's Ballade for Enesco inasmuch as the work had been dedicated to that very master class maestro. Enesco queried Harth, "What are you going to perform for me?" "Ysaye's Ballade, Maestro." "Show me that music," demanded Enesco. Enesco then proceeded to study the work very carefully for what seemed to Harth a long while. Finally Enesco handed the music back to Harth, looked up, and declared, "I hate this piece!"

The fates of Josef Gingold and Indiana University had become entwined in 1959 when the noted musical empire builder, the late Dean Wilfred C. Bain, just recently arrived from the University of North Texas where he had accomplished a similar departmental buildup, had lured Gingold from his highly prestigious concertmastership of the Cleveland Orchestra under George Szell to join the faculty of illustrious stars Bain was just in the process of building in Bloomington. Already part of the brilliant array were pianist Menahem Pressler, by then famous as the founder of the Beaux Arts Trio; and cellist Janos Starker, who, besides his world-wide concertizing and recording, had been the principal cellist of the Dallas and Chicago Symphonies. Many another star was to join the ranks over the decades on other instruments as well: Philip Farkas on horn, James Pellerite on flute, Ted Baskin on oboe, Leonard Sharrow on bassoon, etc. When Dean Charles Webb succeeded Bain he carried on the traditions that made the (now "Jacobs") School of Music at Indiana University the largest, (1500 students) and considered by many to be the finest university-based music school in the U.S., perhaps the world, highlighted especially by its long-renowned opera program ("A performance every Saturday night" was its slogan when I served as the opera orchestra's concertmaster in 1961. Now several more nights of the week have also been added.) and its eight student orchestras. (There were only four when I was there.)

Today the pattern of a star-filled faculty is being continued under the leadership of the present dean, Gwyn Richards, with such luminaries as Jaime Laredo, Joshua Bell, Mark Kaplan, and Jorja Flezanis forming the spine of the violin faculty. (Many further prominent names could of course be added, such as violinist Henryk Kowalski and conductors Arthur Fagen and David Effron.)

After Gingold's auspicious New York debut in 1930, he settled in around town as a prominent freelancer and chamber musician. But when the legendary Arturo Toscanini was offered by NBC his own studio-based orchestra, soon to become famous over nationwide radio, and led by the "concertmaster of the century," Mischa Mischakoff, Gingold gladly accepted his invitation to join it. After some years in the NBC Symphony Gingold was offered the concertmastership of the Detroit Symphony under Karl Kruger, who had succeeded the late Ossip Gabrilowitsch, the orchestra's founder and only conductor up to his death in 1938. Gingold spent but a few seasons in Detroit before he was drafted by the Prague-American maestro George Szell to lead Szell's Cleveland Orchestra as concertmaster and help to turn his new orchestra into a world class ensemble with its own characteristic middle-European sheen and perfection of execution. In between symphony seasons Gingold would perform at various western music festivals including many years of collaboration with pianist Ralph Berkowitz in Albuquerque NM's annual chamber music events.

But while in Detroit Gingold was able to exercise his later-to-become-legendary expertise as a teacher and developer of string talent. A young violin prodigy was brought to him and Gingold became his teacher for about six months. But at the end of that time Gingold went to the young boy's parents and said, "Your child has extraordinary talent and he must be sent to a famous teacher and a famous school where they can develop his talent to the full. I recommend Efrem Zimbalist and the Curtis Institute in Philadelphia." So the young boy left for Curtis at age 13 in 1945 and eventually became the prizewinner, concertmaster, chamber musician, and conductor whom we know so well, Joseph Silverstein.

This procedure was paralleled in later years when another talented young teenager came to Gingold from San Francisco. This time Gingold spent two years with the young lad before also sending him on to where his talent could be most effectively developed. Thus did the young Jaime Laredo become a student of Ivan Galamian, likewise at the Curtis Institute, there to be prepared to eventually win the most prestigious violin prize in the world, The Queen Elizabeth of Belgium Prize, in 1959 at age 18, a prize established by the queen in honor of Gingold's one-time teacher, Ysaye.

Galamian, when he established his world-renowned violin camp, Meadowmount, in the 1940s, could think of no one better to lead his chamber music department than Gingold; and Gingold served there in that capacity for decades. When Gingold arranged for me to attend Meadowmount in 1962 he indeed became my string quartet coach for that summer. Gingold astounded many by his ability to sing everyone's part by memory in the quartets he coached.

But besides Gingold's expertise in chamber music his wealth of experience in the orchestra repertoire earned him the gratitude of aspiring orchestra violinists everywhere thanks to his 3-volume collection of orchestral excerpts. This rich and detailed compendium, filled with Gingold's own fingerings and bowings, has formed down through the years a most treasured item of assistance in the knapsack of many an ambitious audition taker.

But as to his own teaching again, in his later years in Bloomington Gingold was once more approached by the parents of a great violin talent. This time the young performer didn't have to travel from anywhere to take his lessons with Gingold because his family lived right there in Bloomington. And this time Gingold felt no need to send his so-promising pupil anywhere else because he himself took over the full training of the young Joshua Bell and developed him into the prize-winning celebrity he was soon to become.

(Speaking of Bell's prizes, when he was 13 Bell won the nationwide prize given by the American String Teachers' Association. I attended not long ago an annual ASTA convention in Albuquerque, where Bell was invited to perform a recital with pianist Jeremy Denk. Bell had just turned 40 and explained to the audience before the concert began that the last time he had performed for them was when he had won their prize 27 years before. It was nice to be invited back after all those years. Did I detect a note of sardonic irony in Bell's statement about his long-delayed re-invitation?)

It was Bell, along with Laredo, and other former Gingold students like Andres Cardenes and Miriam Fried, who, during the two memorial concerts recently, filled the Bloomington and Indianapolis stages not only with their brilliant and affective performances but with their spoken reminiscences of Gingold and how he had invited them so warmly into his world and made them feel so welcome and appreciated and thus furthered their development both as human beings as well as performers. This was indeed my own experience of the man and his humanity and he served for me the same much-needed service in my own development as I'm sure he did for many of his other former students, many of whom were, no doubt, part of the audience as were we.

To my mind a notable absentee at all these proceedings was the brilliant Canadian violinist, pianist, mathematician, and one-time Gingold student Cory Cerovsek. Cerovsek became at 12 years of age the youngest student in the history of Indiana University's music school in Bloomington. There he studied with Gingold in his mid-teens and graduated from Indiana University in both music and mathematics at the age of 17. Cerovsek, now at age 37, is in the midst of a highly successful touring and recording musical career. Gingold counted him as one of his favorite students and they even made a Canadian documentary film together about Cory's studies with him. I was highly surprised not to see him among the performers or attenders.

Besides his encouragement and support, Gingold became the matchmaker to me and my wife of now 47 years, pianist Ann Heiligman, by putting us together as a collaborating pair in his studio. And not only that, he sent us off by playing at our wedding and convinced two other of our teachers, his colleagues Pressler and Starker, to join him! (We've been told that never before or since had this particular group of three stars performed publicly together as a chamber music ensemble except on this very special occasion.)

So, Joe, wherever you may be on your hundredth anniversary, keep developing the violin talent of any angels you may find. They don't have to stick to just harps.


Bookmark and Share


· · · · · ·


Please keep Swans flying. help us financially. Thank you.

· · · · · ·


Internal Resources

The World of Music

Arts & Culture


About the Author

Isidor Saslav on Swans (with bio).



Please, feel free to insert a link to this work on your Web site or to disseminate its URL on your favorite lists, quoting the first paragraph or providing a summary. However, please DO NOT steal, scavenge, or repost this work on the Web or any electronic media. Inlining, mirroring, and framing are expressly prohibited. Pulp re-publishing is welcome -- please contact the publisher. This material is copyrighted, © Isidor Saslav 2009. All rights reserved.


Have your say

Do you wish to share your opinion? We invite your comments. E-mail the Editor. Please include your full name, address and phone number (the city, state/country where you reside is paramount information). When/if we publish your opinion we will only include your name, city, state, and country.


· · · · · ·


This Edition's Internal Links

2010 Infamous Predictions™ - SWANS

Blips #93 - From the Martian Desk - Gilles d'Aymery

The Ideological Struggle Continues - Cartoon by Jan Baughman

The Religious Right And World Vision's "Charitable" Evangelism - Michael Barker

The Descent Of The Vultures - Femi Akomolafe

Climate Change - Martin Murie

A Private Feminine Eye - Book Review by Peter Byrne

King Of What World? - Art Shay

Asta Nielsen & Hamlet's Gender-Benders - Charles Marowitz

Überhaupt schlüßig Polyhedron - Multilingual Poetry by Silvia dello Russo & Guido Monte

Early The Evening Before - Poem by Jeffery Klaehn

Letters to the Editor

· · · · · ·


[About]-[Past Issues]-[Archives]-[Resources]-[Copyright]



Swans -- ISSN: 1554-4915
URL for this work: http://www.swans.com/library/art15/saslav15.html
Published December 28, 2009