A violin, a CD project, a concert
Violinist Frank Almond and pianist William Wolfram will celebrate a CD launch, a long partnership and the Lipinski Stradivarius Monday night.
The life of the “Lipinski,” one of the greatest of the Stradivari violins, encompasses and in a way absorbs the lives and accomplishments of those fortunate enough to have played it since the master built it in Cremona in 1715.
Since 2008, Frank Almond’s life has been bound up with this remarkable instrument. Almond is concertmaster of the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra and proprietor of the Frankly Music series. On Monday (Feb. 25) at Wisconsin Lutheran College, Almond will celebrate the violin by playing music closely associated with it. The program will reflect the repertoire on Almond’s latest CD, The Life of a Violin, on the Avie label. He’s billed Monday’s concert as a CD Preview Party. Patrons can pre-order the first discs and receive them before they go into general release in April.
The classical record business being what it is these days, Almond had to raise a minimum of $30,000 to produce and distribute it. The old violin has become the beneficiary of a thoroughly modern financial strategy, crowdsourcing. A Kickstarter campaign netted $33,221 for the recording project by the July 24, 2012, deadline.
That depends on how you define classical, but A Violin’s Life is definitely up there. It stands as #125 on the Kickstarter music project money list, after lots of rock bands and WMSE’s Keep Live Music on the Radio campaign (#122). Almond’s campaign attracted 182 donors, who gave from $1 to $8,000 each.
“We have all the names and contacts, and about 80% of them I don’t even know,” Almond said.
That’s what Stradivari magic — and a very good video — can do.
Giuseppe Tartini was the first known owner of the violin. He certainly played “The Devil’s Trill” Sonata, his most famous work, on the Lipinski. That sonata is on the CD, but Almond felt that he has played it enough in these parts and left it off the Monday program. But here’s a little dose of it, through the magic of internet video:
Karol Lipiniski (1790-1861), a celebrated Polish violinist and teacher, owned the Stradivarius that would take his name for most of his career. Lipinski was great friends with Robert and Clara Schumann and certainly played Robert’s music along with pianist Clara. So a Schumann sonata is on the CD and the Frankly Music program. Brahms, of course, was tight with the Schumanns, so he’s in the CD mix as well. And Brahms had something of a protege and close friend of one Julius Röntgen (1855 – 1932), a German composer, conductor and pianist who worked primarily in Amsterdam. Röntgen’s father, Englebert, held the job that Lipinski had sought but not won: Concertmaster of the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra.
Röntgen, largely forgotten today, was well-known and respected in Europe. Several offspring became musicians, including Julius Junior – a violinist. And guess which Strad he acquired? Well, Julius Jr. played in the Kneisel Quartet, among the first to travel extensively and be pretty much a full-time job for its members. Junior, Lipinski Strad in hand, made several U.S. tours. Some included stops in Milwaukee.
“So this violin was probably in Milwaukee before,” Almond said.
The history piqued Almond’s interest in all things Röntgen, to the point that he went to a great deal of trouble to find the music for Julius Sr.’s Opus 20 Sonata for Violin and Piano, which Frankly Music fans will hear Monday night.
“It might be the first time it’s been played in America,” Almond said. “It’s not Brahms, but it’s a very good piece and deserves to be heard.”
A historical connection of a different sort comes into play with this project. Pianist William Wolfram joined Almond on the recording and will play Monday. Wolfram was Almond’s touring partner when they’d both just graduated from Juilliard. They first came to Milwaukee to be resident artists for the old Artist Series at the Pabst, years before Almond auditioned for the MSO.
Wolfram, who has appeared often in Milwaukee over the years, possesses a big technique and an appetite for big Romantic music. He’ll step outside the Stradivari orbit to play Liszt’s piano spectacular after the Pilgrim’s Chorus from Wagner’s Tannhauser.
A Violin’s Life is set for 7 p.m. Monday, Feb. 25, at the Schwan Concert Hall of Wisconsin Lutheran College, 8815 W. Wisconsin Ave. Tickets are $10-39 and can be purchased online or through the WLC box office, 414 443-8802.