Itzhak Perlman is the epitome of the word legend. I know I use it often, and have been very fortunate to spend brief moments with a few who have kindly reciprocated by signing one of my scribbles. But Itzhak is undeniably the reigning virtuoso of the violin – the world’s greatest living exponent of the instrument. The 71 year-old Israeli-American
has won 15 Grammy and four Emmy Awards among countless other accolades.
When I found out he was doing a one-off appearance in London to conduct the Mozart Requiem with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and Chorus at the Royal Festival Hall last Sunday I immediately put pencil to paper and did this montage sketch, which he signed and dedicated. It’s one of my prize possessions.
Consistently appearing in all the lists of the world’s greatest violinists is 37 year old American Hilary Hahn. The three-time Grammy Award winner is renowned for her virtuosity , expansive interpretations and creative playing who champions contemporary music with several modern composers writing works especially for her, including Edgar Meyer and Jennifer Higdon.
Hilary started playing the violin one month before her 4th birthday and seven years a later made her major orchestral debut with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, beginning an extensive international career. In 2004 she recorded her first film score for M. Night Shyamalan’s THE VILLAGE, which received an Academy Award nomination. She plays a 1864 copy of Paganini’s Cannone violin by Vuillaume, which according to a recent interview, never leaves her sight. I drew this sketch of Hilary when she performed late last year at the Royal Festival Hall in London, but missed getting it signed. When she returned to the city last week for a one night performance at Wigmore Hall it gave me the opportunity to complete my mission.
One of the world’s leading violinists, Anne-Sophie Mutter returned to London last moth as part of the London Symphony Orchestra’s International Violin Festival at the Royal Festival Hall. Since her debut with the LSO in 1980, the German native Anne-Sophie has performed with the Orchestra on a number of occasions, this time coupling Beethoven’s commanding Violin Concerto with Dvorak’s symphony No 9 in E minor.
Known also for championing contemporary music, she has had several works especially composed for her. Anne-Sophie is one of the few violinists to own her Stradivarius, in fact she has two, the Emilani of 1703 and the Lord Dunn-Raven Stradivarius of 1710. The latter she has played for the past 26 years and it is believed to have belonged to Napoleon Bonaparte. A couple of unique facts about Anne-Sophie’s violin performances are her playing without wearing a shoulder rest and her need for traction with the instrument has led her to wearing the same style of John Galliano dress each time she plays.
I left this drawing at the Hall’s Artist’s Entrance and received it back, signed and dedicated from Germany a couple of weeks later.
I was extra pleased and super surprised to get this back in the mail today. I have lingered outside venues in rain and hail for hours to catch one of the world’s violin greats, Nigel Kennedy, to sign my sketch. This creative ‘defacing’ of my profile drawing of him is a welcome and long overdue addition to my collection of famous fiddlers that include Sir Yehudi Menuhin and Stephane Grappelli, who incidently asked the 16 year old Nigel to appear with him at New York’s Carnege Hall. Nigel’s unique appearance, virtuosity and relaxed attitude has made him a popular figure with audiences worldwide.
Nigel has just finished his ‘The New Four Seasons’ UK tour revisiting his version of Vivaldi’s ‘Four Seasons’ from the original 1989 recording that sold over 3 million copies and is considered one of the best classical albums of all time.
Music critic Rian Evan’s wrote in his Guardian review of the current gig, “The violinist is still a mass of contradictions, but his skill is still in tact and the sound compelling”
His final tour venue was G Live in Guildford. I thought that sounded like a place that would pass on my drawing to Nigel to sign and return. I was right.
The popular Georgian-born violinist Lisa Batiashvili is in demand with all the world’s leading Orchestras. Named ‘Musical America’s’ 2015 Instrumentalist of the Year, she has been artist-in-residence with the New York Philharmonic and the Tonhalle-Orchester Zurich among others.
Last Summer she ‘stole the show’ when the Philadelphia Orchestra played two concerts on the last leg of its European Tour at the Royal Festival Hall. When Lisa joined the distinguished orchestra for Shostakovich’s First Violin Concerto, Telegraph critic John Allison described it as “a performance better than any I have ever heard of this work – indeed a performance that must have left many wondering whether they had ever heard the violin quite so mesmerisingly played”.
She returned to the Royal Festival Hall last week with the London Philharmonic Orchestra as part of the SHAKESPEARE 400 series, celebrating the Bard’s influence on four centuries of music and also finding a few moments to sign my sketch.
Nicola Benedetti – such a great Scottish name, courtesy of her Italian father (who married her Scottish mother) – was born in West Kilbride in Scotland. The 28 year old is one of the world’s most sought after names when it comes to classical violinists. And she has a most sought after name I wanted on my sketch.
The Times once described her, “it was thrilling to hear and watch Nicola Benedetti in a truly risk taking performance that lived so much in the body and fused the sinews of the violin and the nerve system of the player”. Stirring stuff!
After a few years of waiting at various concert halls around London, but missing Nicky (see I’m now on informal first name abbreviations) every time, I finally went to the Royal Albert Hall where Nicola was playing a one-off performance last month and waited for her arrival. Nothing so I left it with a very obliging gentleman at the stage door who said he would get it to her.
A couple of weeks passed – a lifetime in autograph collecting terms – nothing! Then yesterday, bingo! It arrived!
New York born Sir Yehudi Menuhin spent most of his performing life in the UK. He is considered to be one of the great classical violinists of the 20th Century. His EMI contract lasted almost 70 years and is on of the longest in the history of the music inustry. His first recording was in 1929 at the age of 13 and his last was in 1999 aged 83, the year he passed away.
I left my sketch at his London office in 1995 and he signed and returned it with New Year’s wishes.
French fiddler Stephane Grappelli was considered ‘the grandfather of jazz violinists’. His self taught improvisation skills produced ‘tender lyricism and vivacious swing’.
He was playing concerts around the world well into his 80s. He toured New Zealand many times and signed my sketch in Dunedin in September 1991. In 1997 he received a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award. When asked about retirement, he said he didn’t know the word. Music was his ‘fountain of youth’. He died later that year, aged 89, after a hernia operation in a Paris clinic.
Vanessa-Mae Vanakorn Nicholson was a former child prodigy. Her father was an English hotelier of Thai descent and her mother a Chinese lawyer. She was born in Singapore, but moved to the UK at the age of 4. She describes her style as ‘violin techno-acoustic fusion’. Vanessa-Mae signed my sketch at her concert in the Queen’s Wharf Events Centre in Wellington, New Zealand on January 25th 1996. A keen skier, she now lives in Switzerland and plans to compete in the 2014 Winter Olympics in the downhill representing Thailand.