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May 6, 2011

In today's Sun: Hear the Stradivarius that inspired Tchaikovsky's Violin Concerto

In case you missed this elsewhere in the Sun, I've got a story about violinist Vadim Gluzman, who will be the soloist for the Tchaikovsky concerto this weekend with the Annapolis Symphony, performing on the Stradivarius the composer had in mind when he wrote the piece.

The instrument's owner at the time, Leopold Auer, famously rejected the concerto, which Tchaikovsky intended to dedicate to him. Auer dismissed it as unplayable. The joke was on Auer, of course, but he did recant later on and championed the work to great effect.

More importantly, perhaps, he passed along his late-blooming enthusiasm to his students, who happened to include some of the greatest fiddlers of the 20th century.

Gluzman, who has been able to play the Strad on loan for 13 years, told me a fascinating thing about the deep-toned instrument (so deep he sometimes thinks, "Oh my God, that sounds like a viola") -- it also inspired ...

Glazunov's concerto. "Both begin on the same low string (G) and on the same note (A)," the violinist said. "I don't think it is a coincidence."

That got me to thinking about how rare it is to hear the Glazunov concerto (Gluzman calls it "an absolutely brilliant piece in every way, but rather difficult for both the soloist and the conductor"), or any of his music, for that matter, in concert halls these days. Outside of Russia, it seems he isn't considered serious enough. Too bad.

Anyway, it should be very cool to hear in person the sound Tchaikovsky imagined while composing his Violin Concerto. Maybe someone in the area will invite Gluzman back soon to perform Glazunov's. I couldn't find a video sample of him playing either concerto, but here he is demonstrating his artistry -- and the dark warmth of the Auer Strad -- in music by Brahms:

Posted by Tim Smith at 9:32 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Clef Notes


With all due respect for the Annapolis Symphony, why isn't an artist like Gluzman appearing with the BSO, NSO, or any of the Big Five?

Mr. Gluzman's performances with the ASO were simply amazing! No doubt, the best live Tchaik performance I have heard and the interaction between soloist and orchestra was superb. If anyone has the opportunity to hear him in any capacity, do yourself a favor and get tickets immediately.

I hope BSO folks will take notice. TIM

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About Tim Smith
Born and raised in Washington, D.C., I couldn't help but develop a keen interest in politics, but music, theater and visual art also proved great attractions. Music became my main focus after high school. I thought about being a cocktail pianist, but I hated taking requests, so I studied music history instead, earning a B.A. in that field from Eisenhower College (Seneca Falls, N.Y.) and an M.A. from Occidental College (Los Angeles). I then landed in journalism. After freelancing for the Washington Post and others, I was classical music critic for the Sun-Sentinel in South Florida, where I also contributed to NPR. I've written for the New York Times, BBC Music Magazine and other publications, and I'm a longtime contributor to Opera News. My book, The NPR Curious Listener's Guide to Classical Music (Perigee, 2002), can be found on the most discerning remainder racks.

I joined the Baltimore Sun as classical music critic in 2000 and, in 2009, also became theater critic, giving me the opportunity to annoy a whole new audience. In 2010, my original Clef Notes blog expanded to encompass a theatrical component -- how could I resist calling it Drama Queens? I hope you'll find both sides of this blog coin worth exploring and reacting to; your own comments are always welcome and valued (well, most of them, at least).

Think of this as your open-all-hours, cyber green room, where there's always a performer or performance to discuss, some news to digest, or maybe just a little good gossip to share.
Note: Tim Smith now writes about the fine arts at This blog will be kept in place as an archive for an indefinite period. Please visit the new location to get the latest Mid-Atlantic arts coverage.
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