Violinist  Sergiu  Luca

A Conversation with Bruce Duffie


Sergiu Luca (5 April 1943, in Bucharest – 6 December 2010, in Houston) was a Romanian-born American violinist, renowned as an early music pioneer.  During his career he performed and recorded on both baroque and modern violins.

Luca was born in Bucharest, Romania, but his family moved to Israel at his age of 7, and as a 9 year old he debuted with the Haifa Symphony Orchestra. Before going to the United States to study at the Curtis Institute with Ivan Galamian he studied in London and Switzerland.

His American debut was Sibelius's Violin Concerto with the Philadelphia Orchestra in 1965, on which occasion he was chosen by Leonard Bernstein to play its first movement with him conducting the New York Philharmonic later that year. During his career he recorded J. S. Bach's entire oeuvre for solo violin, the Brandenburg Concertos (with Pablo Casals), and a portion of the romantic and 20th century repertoire.

In 1971 he launched the Chamber Music Northwest festival in Portland, Oregon; in 1983 he took the direction of Houston's Texas Chamber Orchestra which he held until 1986 when he founded the Cascade Head Music Festival on the Oregon Coast; in 1988 he founded Da Camera Society of Houston. He was one of the founders of the Context chamber group. From 1983 until his death he was a professor at William Marsh Rice University.


Luca was in Chicago in late June of 1988 to perform the Violin Concerto by William Bolcom with the Grant Park Symphony Orchestra conducted by Zdenek Macal.  [Names which are links on this page refer to my Interviews elsewhere on my website.]  He was in a jovial mood, and there was much laughter throughout our encounter.  This was also at the time when the Da Camera Society was being formed, so he spoke about its creation and the hopes he had for its success . . . . . . . . .

Bruce Duffie:   You are here for the Grant Park concerts, but instead of being outdoors, this week it
’s in Orchestra Hall.

Sergiu Luca:   That
s right.  I’m playing the Violin Concerto of William Bolcom, which is a work that was written for me three or four years ago when we did the premiere.

BD:   Since it was written for you, is there anything special about that is Sergiu Luca, or is it all William Bolcom?

SL:   It would be very hard for me to know what part is Sergiu Luca in it because I am Sergiu Luca.  [Laughs]  It’s for others to recognize whatever it is that’s me, but usually collaborations between good friends tend to produce personal works.  Bill and I have been friends for many years, and he’s written a lot of music for me, the last of which is this Concerto.  Before that he wrote several pieces for violin, or violin and piano, or chamber ensembles with me in mind, so by the time he came to write the Violin Concerto, I would say he knew my style and my playing very well.  Also from Bill I also learned to love Joe Venuti.  When I first met Bill, I didn’t know Joe Venuti, and he became a very important influence on my perception of violin playing, and my concept of what great musicianship really is about.  I hold Joe Venuti as one of my great idols in the violin playing world and as a musician.  The man played the violin as beautifully and as dramatically as anybody I’ve ever heard.  So Bill introduced me to Joe Venuti’s art, and then I became friends with Joe himself, and I would say that part of what this concerto reflects is both of our admiration for his playing.  [To read a bit about Joe Venuti, see the box at the bottom of this webpage.]

BD:   You’ve played this concerto a number of times?

SL:   Yes, I have, and I must say what’s gratifying about this concerto is that you have a piece of new music where you feel confident that you can walk away having satisfied people rather than antagonizing them
which is so often the case with new music, though it is not always because of its own faults.  Nonetheless, this is a piece that I always feel very confident walking out and playing for the audience.  Even some of the orchestra enjoys hearing it and playing it.

BD:   Do you know if this was a conscious effort in the mind of Bolcom as he was writing it?

SL:   I think that’s conscious in the mind of Bolcom whenever he writes anything.  Bolcom is basically a populist, and for a while that was considered to be a real no-no.  It certainly was part of the degeneration of the great art of composing.  If you allowed people to feel comfortable, you immediately lost respect of other composers.  The pendulum is swinging
or has swungand we are in period where basically composers are beginning to accept more the role of collaborators with artists in producing works that can be accessiblenot accessible in the same way as, say, Arvo Pärt, but it can be accessible to the average lay listener, if not on first hearing, much quicker than used to be the case.  This is now considered an advantage, whereas before it was considered a detriment for music to sound accessible.

Arvo Pärt (born 11 September 1935) is an Estonian composer of classical and religious music. Since the late 1970s, Pärt has worked in a minimalist style that employs his self-invented compositional technique, tintinnabuli. This simple style was influenced by the composer's mystical experiences with chant music.

Musically, Pärt's tintinnabular music is characterized by two types of voice, the first of which (dubbed the "tintinnabular voice") arpeggiates the tonic triad, and the second of which moves diatonically in stepwise motion. The works often have a slow and meditative tempo, and a minimalist approach to both notation and performance. Pärt's compositional approach has expanded somewhat in the years since 1970, but the overall effect remains largely the same.

BD:   Then let me ask the big philosophical question.  What is the purpose of music in society?

luca SL:   Society?  I’m not society!  I can tell you what the purpose of music is for me. [Has a huge laugh]

BD:   Okay then, what is the purpose of music for you as a performer?

SL:   The purpose of music is to entertain people.

BD:   Then where does the artistic achievement come in?

SL:   The way in which you entertain.  There is a difference between a ballet dancer and a stripper.  They both entertain, and I would like to think of myself closer to the ballet dancer than the stripper.  But to say that the ballet dance is a cerebral exercise and the stripper is a visceral exercise shows that we are all in the business of entertaining.  Those of us who are in the artistic business are in the business of uplifting while entertaining.  What happens when you are an artist is that you take the listeners
or the viewers minds off of himself, and off of his daily needs, and off his daily concerns, and raise it to the highest form of entertainment.  That’s how you free the mind.  You raise it to the level at which the mind is in touch with things bigger than himself.  Coming out of yourself, forgetting yourself, is, in my opinion, the greatest human quality, and it is that which makes great art.   Great art has the ability to take you out of yourself, and a great artist has the ability to take himself out of himself to produce the art.

BD:   Do you concentrate on this all the time, and work on this all the time?

SL:   No, I live that way.  That’s how I live.  Art is not doing things the way a job is done.  One lives the way one is, and is what one’s art is.  I don’t do this consciously, but I don’t think I ever do it any other way.  The hour and a half I had between rehearsals was spent with other artists because it was convenient, and for me, visual art does what I hope my art does for others.  But when it comes to music, it cannot do that for me.  It can’t take me out of myself because I’m too conscious of what’s happening.  I’m too close to it.  I’m too involved with how it’s produced to be able to lose myself in it.

BD:   Is there any kind of activity that you use to get out of yourself without doing something in artistic venues?

SL:   Yes, of course.  I love cooking for my family.  Cooking does that for me.  I preferably cook Chinese food, and when I have to concentrate on how each piece has to be the same size I forget myself.  I like photography for that reason, particularly with long telephoto lenses.  What happens is that when I concentrate on a bug or a flower, or on a bird that is far away, I look through that lens for a long period of time and I really do forget everything else.  Forgetting yourself, and forgetting that you are the center is what brings out the best in us.  

*     *     *     *     *

BD:   You play concerti, you play chamber music, you play solo.  Do you feel different in any of these areas, or are they all just parts of your artistic realm?

SL:   It’s all the same, and the reason the Da Camera Society is so important to me is that we begin to break down the barriers between the different styles of music
between the periods of music, between elements of solo playing versus chamber music, the elements between a leader and a followerso that the music business becomes less specialized.  Thereby all of usthe audience in particularwill benefit.

BD:   Tell me about the Da Camera Society.  How did it start, where’s it going, what it’s doing?

SL:   It’s just starting, and the first season begins October 1st.  It’s a seven-day extravaganza.  Every day there’s a different concert, but the important thing is it’s an attempt to address artistic means of getting artists.  One of the big questions being posed is the splitting up of audiences, and it is my belief that it’s partly due to the fact that our artists have not been involved enough in the programming and conceiving of concerts and organizations.  They just come in as a contracted laborers to fulfill a job that had been designed often by very competent people, but who don’t have that much background in the arts, and they certainly can’t influence the arts in the way an artist can.  So the Da Camera Society is a living umbrella organization.  That’s one of the things which is very unusual about it.  I
t is both presenting and producing as much music as possible for a variety for small ensembles.  The phrase ‘chamber music’ doesn’t apply to it because anything for a small ensemble is fair game for the Da Camera Society in its initial season.  It has seven different series.

luca BD:   But it is based in Houston and will give concerts throughout the year?

SL:   It will be based in Houston, but it is a new venture and I don’t know what it is.  It’s hard to describe because I don’t think there’s anything quite like it.  It’s actually got seven different concert series, but in this series you will hear everything from a Josquin des Prez evening to an Astor Piazzola evening, to L’Histoire du Soldat, from a jazz evening to all of the things mixed.  The idea is to allow the listener to develop a liking for music, rather than for each specific music; to tease a listener to try something different they might find they like.  So we go to great marketing efforts.  For instance, if you own tickets to one series, you have a chance to get a free ticket to another series, so you will be tempted to go to something you might not have bought a ticket for.

BD:   So you’re hoping this cross-fertilization will take hold for the next year, and that people will be buying two different series?

SL:   I’m hoping for greater things than that.  I never work on small pieces. I’m hoping that we will develop a hybrid listener, a new kind of listener, that the Da Camera Society will develop a listening public of its own, who will not declare themselves or who will cease to declare themselves.  If you just isolate classical music, then we’ve already taken a relatively limited audience and segmented it by having
specialists.  “If you want to hear Baroque music on original instruments the way it’s supposed to be, you’ve got to go to Series X which specializes in Baroque.  Now if you happen to like big romantic stuff, go to Series Y or Organization Y that believes in the Romantic tradition.  Then, organization Z has devoted itself to new music.  They are the cutting edge, and all these other guys are playing old things.  Who cares about that old music?  We really have the mission, you see, and so on and so forth.  By trying to define classical music, we’re losing audience.  We’re getting to the point where endless listeners are saying, “Maybe I’m not sophisticated enough for serious music.  What a silly thing to feel.

BD:   Is there any chance that we’re offering them too much, or too many things?

SL:   Now we’re offering them too many things.  We are segmenting them.  The variety is our strength for the Da Camera Society.

BD:   Will all these concerts be in Houston, or are you going to branch out and go to other cities, too?

SL:   Besides the thirty-five different concerts that we’re doing in the first year in Houston, we are going to do approximately twenty in satellite cities.  But they’re not going to be one-night stands.  We’re going to different communities and playing four times for each community, so we establish a real presence and get a real audience of those communities.  It’s a different and crazy and wild organization.  There are six paid series and one free series, and of the six, three are already sold out.  You’d be most surprised because the Young Artists New Music series was the first to sell out.  So there’s an audience out there who wanted to be addressed, and addressed directly.  It’s not just some recitals with young artists.  They have to be people who’ve never played in Houston before, who have some real credibility as young artists, and then they have to include in their program at least ten minutes of American music written after they were born.  There is also an evening of Josquin des Prez Madrigals, Masses and Motets; an evening of unaccompanied Bach cello works with original instruments; and an evening of the complete Vingt Regards sur l'enfant-Jésus of Messiaen.  Those three concerts appeal to people immediately in that mix.  What an unusual mix for three concerts.  So I feel a little more confident now that maybe what has been a philosophical belief is going to prove to be an actual event.  It’s not just me saying people ought to want this.  They really do.

*     *     *     *     *

BD:   You play all kinds of concerts, so from the vast resources of the violin literature in solo and combination, how do you decide which you’ll play this season and which you’ll play maybe next season, and which you’ll skip forever?

SL:   [Laughs]  Skipping forever is the easiest part.  Yes, I know some pieces that I’ll skip forever, although forever is a long time.  I may surprise myself, but one of the reasons for the Da Camera Society is that I don’t know yet who gets to decide that.  The performing artist has to supply merchandise required by the promoter, and that merchandise tends to become narrower and narrower in scope, and more and more officious.  It’s wonderful that people, like Steve Ovitzky at Grant Park, that we get to have the Bolcom Concerto, and there are more like him.  What’s interesting is I’ve played the Bolcom several times, but often one doesn’t get a chance.  So every so often we play dirty tricks.  Recently I agreed to play the Bruch Concerto, which I’d done once this year.  Then about a month before the date, I decided
I’m not going to play Bruch Concerto.  I don’t have that much to say about the work, so I ask my manager to call and say there’s a problem.  He tells them, Luca is not playing the Bruch Concerto, but he’s willing to come and play the Bolcom.  They say, Bolcom, what? and my manager says, “It’s a violin concerto, and it’s really good.  Pittsburgh Symphony’s played it, European orchestras are playing it, and it was a wild success.  This was in a small Midwestern town with the local civic symphony, and they thanked me profusely for the problems I caused.  It was just one of those things when I suddenly said, I just can’t do this.  It’s been long enough, and if and when I decide I’ve got something really important I want to say with the Bruch Violin Concerto, I will schedule it and then I will play it.  But just to play it one more time, no.

luca BD:   It gets boring for you, and that in turn makes it boring for the audience?

SL:   Yes, it must.  I don’t know if it gets boring for me because I don’t do it.  I couldn’t do it if it were boring.

BD:   So you stopped before it got boring?

SL:   Yes.  It took me too long to get to where I can play the violin at this level to then misuse the privilege, and just go through the motions.

BD:   So you view playing the violin as a privilege?

SL:   A great privilege.  Being a musician is great privilege.  Having the opportunity so many times a year to have so many people stay absolutely silent and listen to everything I have to say... how many people get that?  That’s a true privilege.

BD:   When you’re playing, are you conscious of the audience that’s out there?

SL:   Very much so.  I play for them.  I don’t play for me.

BD:   I just wondered if you got lost in the music.

SL:   Oh, yes, but they write about those moments when we lose our places...  [Both laugh]  No, but you do get lost in the music while the audience is there.  This is going to sound a little corny, but I equate it to the most wonderful moments of making love.  For sure you get lost, but the other person’s there.  Otherwise you’re not needed.  It’s the same with the audience
they’re lost. but you’re lost with them.  It’s a strange thing that audiences have, and that we have.  I can’t really explain it to you, but there is a certain amount of communicative power we have which is either not defined or unlocked as wealth.  Research has been done into this.  One is aware of how everybody’s listening.  They’re doing nothing.  They’re just sitting there, but an artist connects with the listener in this big, inexplicable communication.  You transmit that, and they feel that, and vice-versa.  Keeping that and amplifying that sense is part of what performing is aboutfeeling the listening.  I don’t know how one does that.  

BD:   So you feed off of them too?

SL:    Very much so, yes.

BD:   Do you feel you’re part of a lineage of violinists
from Joachim and Kreisler, through Heifetz and all the others?

SL:   I hope not.

BD:   [Stunned]  Really???  Why not?

SL:   I think it’s time for something new.

BD:   New because it’s better, or new just because it has to be different?

SL:   Better because it has to be of our time.  I was brought up with one foot in the nineteenth century.  My violin teacher was very much of a lineage, and my understanding of the role of a violinist was very much of a nineteenth century mode.

BD:   How has that understanding of the role come in your career?

SL:   I don’t know.  It must have been somewhere inside me.  I didn’t sit down one day and figure out what it was, and what I was, and what I wasn’t, and what I wanted to be, and then proceed from there.  From early on I was curious and happy, and was just doing whatever it was.  It was a very gradual development.  It started with Antal Dorati asking me to play the complete Bach Sonatas at the Kennedy Center.  At the Kennedy Center there was a modern violin and bow, and the violin was tuned a half-step down.  Then I reflected and realized that as a student I had played the viola d’amore.  I don’t know why.  I was just interested.  I found an old instrument and played this viola d’amore.  My aspirations were entirely to be of the highest lineage.  All I ever wanted to be was another violinist playing the Tchaikovsky Concerto in Chicago.  The Chicago Symphony was my idea of what being a violinist at its best would be, and yet somehow, somewhere in me was enough of an interest that I went and bought the viola d’amore, and learned how to tune it, however badly I played.  So the seeds of what of whatever it is that I am and I believe in, must have been in there from where young. 


BD:   Are you pleased with your development so far?

SL:   No, but I am pleased with the fact that I am developing.

BD:   I assume that the development will continue throughout your career?

luca SL:   I’d like to assume so.  The Da Camera Society is a sign of evolution.  I’ve decided to take some of my time and energy, and some of the talents I have, and put them into social music, or organization music, for a career that makes music possible
not just whenever I play, but when others play.  Music’s being played all the time, and who knows what the evolution is?   I have an electric violin on which I play some jazz, and my mind is constantly torn back and forth between the fact that I have a beautiful Stradand it sounds fabulousand yet it’s been tweaked up in order to fill the halls I play most of the time.  Ninety per cent of my playing needs force, and therefore my nuance possibilities remain at ten per cent.  Then when I put an amplifier on a cheap violin, my nuance possibilities and range become enormous.  I don’t know what it means.  All I know is that being a violinist of the lineage with all that attached to me would not probably fit this person.

BD:   Is this in any way making you schizophrenic by playing old instruments and new instruments, old music and new music?  [The word schizophrenia — which translates roughly as "splitting of the mind" and comes from the Greek roots schizein (σχίζειν, "to split") and phrēn, phren- (φρήν, φρεν-, "mind") — was coined by Eugen Bleuler in 1908 and was intended to describe the separation of function between personality, thinking, memory, and perception.]

SL:   I don’t think so, but I don’t know.  Can you ask a schizophrenic if he is two-sided?  [Laughs]  I may be, but from where I’m standing, it doesn’t look like it.

BD:   I’m not sure... and neither am I! [Both have a huge laugh]  

SL:   That’s very good.  Now I know how to answer that question next time.  [More laughter]  But no, I think it’s all made me saner because we’re going to play ourselves right out of existence if we keep narrowing our focus.

BD:   Are you optimistic about the future of concert music?

SL:   Oh, yes.  Well, western concert music I’m not sure.  I’m a radical from the word go, and I’m optimistic as long as there are people that are going to do new music.  Music is the same as all the other vital functions, and concert music is the way of our society, and some other societies, of providing that music for our people.  

BD:   What advice do you have for a composer who’s writing concerto or a sonata for you?

SL:   You have to play it yourself and know how it feels.  That’s what Mozart had to think of.  In Mozart’s time they only listened to modern music.  But the flip side of that is the guy who wrote it also played it, and he had to make a living at it.  Now what I just said is really a gross over-simplification, because a lot of guys who made a very good living
better than Mozartplaying their music, and they are ones whose music I will never play.  Some people suggest that if the new composers make their pieces as accessible as they can they’re going to be another Mozart.  But there was a correlation between the guy who played and the guy who wrote, and for composers there’s nothing that’s happening which is more important than to remain aware that they have as great a need to communicate as I have.  That’s a composer I would like.  I can only speak for myself.  When a piece is successful, such as the Bolcom Violin Concerto, the first thing people ask is, “Do you think it will last?  Do you think that in a hundred years, this will be the next Brahms Violin Concerto?  My answer from the first is, I don’t care.  I really don’t care because a hundred years from now I won’t be there to find out, but the mission of the piece to me is that when I play it, it turns people on.  Even if in twenty years they say, He used to play that lovely, silly piece of trash, I don’t think that would be too bad.  If I got twenty good years out of it, that’s more than you get out of a lot of pieces.

BD:   You don’t want people looking back at Luca playing the Bolcom Concerto the way they look back at Joachim playing the Brahms Concerto?

SL:   Oh, no.  Once you get involved in history, you might as well pack up and go to sleep.  History’s for others who come after you to define and put on the table.  Those big people who really make history don’t have to tell about it.  They just do it.  

BD:   So you’re a doer?

SL:   I’m a doer.  Whether it’s history is a good question but one just does.

*     *     *     *     *

BD:   You’ve made a number of recordings.   Have you recorded the Bolcom Concerto?

SL:   Not yet.  That’s been in the works for a while.  We’re trying to get it done just right with right people, with the right orchestra, and all that.  [That recording, which was eventually made, is shown above]

luca BD:   But you have made a number of recordings...

SL:   Yes, of Bolcom’s music as well.  I’ve made a whole record of Bill Bolcom’s music with him at the piano of music written for me [shown at left].

BD:   Do you play differently in the recording studio than you do in the concert hall?

SL:   Probably, and I hate it, which is why I can’t listen to my own recordings.  Sometimes when I drive there will be on the radio something I’ve recorded, so I try to guess if it’s me playing, and I can’t.  That’s sort of peculiar, but I can’t tell you absolutely.  I can tell you quickly if it’s Heifetz.  I can listen to three notes of Heifetz
whom I admire greatlyand know that’s Heifetz, or that’s Oistrakh.  But sometimes when it’s me, I’m surprised both pleasantly and unpleasantly.  I’m afraid that studios do affect me, and I suspect they affect most people.  Some people they affect positively, but if I had to make an assessment, they affect me negatively.  People will often say to me, I love your recording, but I liked it better tonight.  [Laughs]  That often happens to me.

BD:   Do you feel you’re competing with the recording when you play the same work in a concert?

SL:   I got paid for those records, so there’s no competition left for me.  As far as I’m concerned, records are history, and like we said about history, it’s for others to write.  Once a record’s made, it doesn’t even seem like me.  The best thing I can tell you about records, as far as I’m concerned, is you give them to people when you go to dinner.  I love the fact that I can bring one and they feel so happy.  That’s the most records have done for me personally as an individual.  That’s really nice, and I like that, but beyond that they do very little for me.  In fact, if I sat down and thought about it, I would simply ignore them.  I’m thinking about it as you ask me because I never think about those things.  If I made new recordings of some of the works that I recorded in the past, such as the Bach sonatas, they would be so vastly different from those older records.  

BD:   Will you disown the earlier copy?

SL:   No, or I’d disown the newer ones, too.  [Laughs]  That is who I was at the time.  I worked very hard to be that, and I love the way they are.  But one of the things I find so maddening about recordings is that after you’ve gone through the process of such close self-scrutiny, and keep listening to yourself and keep doing it, that’s when you really can play it.  You’ve learned a lot from the process of recording, and in a way, you even hate this thing.  At least that’s how it is for me.  I don’t know, maybe other people feel differently.

BD:   You don’t find that after doing a few of takes the last one is always the best?

SL:   No, often the first is the best because that’s when you’re least self-conscious; you
re not quite sure that it’s on there.  Often the first take is the real take, and then you patch it.  That’s how it often happens, and then you kick your head against the wall trying to do it better.

BD:   Then speaking about live performances, do you find that one concert will be better than the previous concert?

SL:   Probably, but I don’t always know which one.  There’s pain about that, too.  We play now often triples, and sometimes two and sometimes four.  Then sometimes I’ll go on tour with an orchestra and play ten, which I hate.  I hardly ever do that.  It’s really an unnatural state of being.  Every night at eight o’clock it must be Mendelssohn.  I would almost invariably pick the wrong performance to say which was the better one.  For one thing, it’s subjective and there isn’t an absolute standard for everybody.  But if I ask three or four people, they’ll generally agree which one was better, so I have to defer to them.  And sometimes I’ll just be confused, and I can’t really tell which was better, and that’s a good sign.

BD:   What makes one concert better than another?

SL:   That’s a good question in itself.  The answer is if you enjoyed it more.  There is no such thing as better or worse.  It either communicates or it doesn’t communicate.  There are magic moments and there are magic days, and to try to make a magic day is probably to never achieve it.  But there are magic moments.  There are things that happen that you don’t know how they happened, and it’s best that you don’t try to figure it out.

BD:   It’s like trying to catch a sunbeam?

SL:   Yes.  Galamian, who was a great teacher and who was my teacher, from whom in his simple ways I learned as much as from anybody, used to say,
“The great violinist is not the one who gives a great performance, but is one who, on his worst night, is above the average of the rest.  That is a very wonderful and wise thing to say.  Everybody has some great moments, but being an artist means that you’re not based at a certain level all the time.


Ivan Galamian was one of the most influential violin teachers of the Twentieth Century.

He was born in Tabriz, Persia on February 5, 1903. His parents were Armenians from Russia, but his family emigrated to Moscow soon after his birth. Galamian studied violin at the School of the Philharmonic Society there with Konstantin Mostras (a student of Leopold Auer) until his graduation in 1919. He moved to Paris during the Bolshevik Revolution and studied under Lucien Capet in 1922 and 1923. In 1924 he debuted in Paris. Due to a combination of nerves, health, and a fondness for teaching, Galamian eventually gave up the stage in order to teach full-time. He became a faculty member of the Russian Conservatory in Paris, where he taught from 1925 until 1929. His earliest pupils in Paris include Vida Reynolds, the first woman in the Philadelphia Orchestra's first violin section.

In 1937 Galamian moved permanently to the United States. In 1941 he married Judith Johnson in New York City. He taught violin at the Curtis Institute of Music beginning in 1944, and became the head of the violin department at the Juilliard School in 1946. He wrote two violin method books, Principles of Violin Playing and Teaching (1962) and Contemporary Violin Technique (1962). Galamian incorporated aspects of both the Russian and French schools of violin technique in his approach. Galamian founded the summer program Meadowmount School of Music in Westport, NY. Some of his most well known pupils are Itzhak Perlman, Pinchas Zukerman, Kyung-Wha Chung, and Michael Rabin. His most notable teaching assistants — later distinguished teachers in their own right — include Dorothy Delay. Galamian passed away on April 14, 1981.

BD:   Does the same kind of greatness hold true for compositions?

SL:   I think so.  Some of them are extremely selective, such as Brahms who tore up four symphonies before he published one.  Therefore it’s hard to find a bad note of Brahms.  You may not like this or that piece, but in theory the bad works of Brahms do not exist because he tore them up.  Others were much less discriminating and allowed all kind of things to remain, whether they liked them or not.  They didn’t give a second thought, and with those people the standard might be a little bit more variable.  We all have great and terrible days, but the real good artist is recognizable on his worst night, not on his worst piece.  Then you have groups of composers.  Beethoven’s time was very rich with them, ones who you say sound just like Beethoven.  You wonder if
it’s Hummel or if it’s Dussek.

BD:   But you know it’s not Beethoven?

SL:   You know it’s not Beethoven, and you know it’s good.  It’s not bad, but something is missing.  So it’s not Beethoven and at his worst, it’s Dussek, or whomever.  Dussek is a wonderful composer, and think of all the people, and what must have been a great feeling in Beethoven’s time.

Johann Nepomuk Hummel (14 November 1778 – 17 October 1837) was an Austrian composer and virtuoso pianist. His music reflects the transition from the Classical to the Romantic musical era.

hummel Hummel was born in Pressburg, Kingdom of Hungary, then a part of the Austrian Habsburg Monarchy (now Bratislava in Slovakia). His father, Johannes Hummel, was the director of the Imperial School of Military Music in Vienna and the conductor there of Emanuel Schikaneder's theatre orchestra at the Theater auf der Wieden; his mother, Margarethe Sommer Hummel, was the widow of the wigmaker Josef Ludwig. He was named after St John of Nepomuk. At the age of eight, he was offered music lessons by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, who was impressed with his ability. Hummel was taught and housed by Mozart for two years free of charge and made his first concert appearance at the age of nine at one of Mozart's concerts.

Hummel's father then took him on a European tour, arriving in London where he received instruction from Muzio Clementi, and where he stayed for four years before returning to Vienna. In 1791 Joseph Haydn, who was in London at the same time as young Hummel, composed a sonata in A-flat major for Hummel, who gave its first performance in the Hanover Square Rooms in Haydn's presence. When Hummel finished, Haydn reportedly thanked the young man and gave him a guinea.

The outbreak of the French Revolution and the following Reign of Terror caused Hummel to cancel a planned tour through Spain and France. Instead, he returned to Vienna, giving concerts along his route. Upon his return to Vienna he was taught by Johann Georg Albrechtsberger, Joseph Haydn, and Antonio Salieri.

At about this time, young Ludwig van Beethoven arrived in Vienna and also took lessons from Haydn and Albrechtsberger, thus becoming a fellow student and a friend. Beethoven's arrival was said to have nearly destroyed Hummel's self-confidence, though he recovered without much harm. The two men's friendship was marked by ups and downs, but developed into reconciliation and mutual respect. Hummel visited Beethoven in Vienna on several occasions with his wife Elisabeth and pupil Ferdinand Hiller. At Beethoven's wish, Hummel improvised at the great man's memorial concert. It was at this event that he made friends with Franz Schubert, who dedicated his last three piano sonatas to Hummel. However, since both composers had died by the time of the sonatas' first publication, the publishers changed the dedication to Robert Schumann, who was still active at the time.

In 1804, Hummel became Konzertmeister to Prince Esterházy's establishment at Eisenstadt. Although he had taken over many of the duties of Kapellmeister because Haydn's health did not permit him to perform them himself, he continued to be known simply as the Concertmeister out of respect to Haydn, receiving the title of Kapellmeister, or music director, to the Eisenstadt court only after the older composer died in May 1809. He remained in the service of Prince Esterházy for seven years altogether before being dismissed in May 1811 for neglecting his duties. He then returned to Vienna where, after spending two years composing, he married the opera singer Elisabeth Röckel in 1813. The following year, at her request, was spent touring Russia and the rest of Europe. The couple had two sons. One of them, Carl (1821–1907), became a well-known landscape painter.

Hummel later held the positions of Kapellmeister in Stuttgart from 1816 to 1819 and in Weimar from 1819 to 1837, where he formed a close friendship with Goethe, learning among other things to appreciate the poetry of Schiller, who had died in 1805. During Hummel's stay in Weimar he made the city into a European musical capital, inviting the best musicians of the day to visit and make music there. He brought one of the first musicians' pension schemes into existence, giving benefit concert tours when the retirement fund ran low. Hummel was one of the first to agitate for musical copyright to combat intellectual piracy.


dussek Jan Ladislav Dussek (baptized Jan Václav Dusík, with surname also written as Duschek or Düssek; February 12, 1760 – March 20, 1812) was a Czech composer and pianist. He was an important representative of Czech music abroad in the second half of the 18th century and the beginning of the 19th century. Some of his more forward-looking piano works have traits often associated with Romanticism.

Dussek was one of the first piano virtuosos to travel widely throughout Europe. He performed at courts and concert venues from London to Saint Petersburg to Milan, and was celebrated for his technical prowess. During a nearly ten-year stay in London, he was instrumental in extending the size of the pianoforte, and was the recipient of one of John Broadwood's first 6-octave pianos, CC-c4. Harold Schonberg wrote that he was the first pianist to sit at the piano with his profile to the audience, earning him the appellation "le beau visage." All subsequent pianists have sat on stage in this manner. He was one of the best-regarded pianists in Europe before Beethoven's rise to prominence.

His music is marked by lyricism interrupted by sudden dynamic contrasts. Not only did he write prolifically for the piano, he was an important composer for the harp. His music for that instrument contains a great variety of figuration within a largely diatonic harmony, avoids dangerous chromatic passages and is eminently playable. His music is considered standard repertoire for all harpists, particularly his Six Sonatas/Sonatinas and especially the Sonata in C minor. Less well known to the general public than that of his more renowned Classical period contemporaries, his piano music is highly valued by many teachers and not infrequently programmed. Franz Liszt has been called an indirect successor of Dussek in the composition and performance of virtuoso piano music.

His music remained popular to some degree in 19th-century Great Britain and the USA, and some of it is still in print, with much more becoming available in period editions found online.

BD:   Should we go back now and try and dig up some of these non-Beethoven people?  

SL:   [Thinks a moment]  No... we already play too much old stuff, anyway.

BD:   Better we should play more things from the current crop?

SL:   More new stuff.  I would be interested in things that we don’t know of at all, such as sixteenth century ballet music.   But there must be still some Beethoven that we don’t know.

BD:   Are there Beethovens writing today?

SL:   Yes, there are always Beethovens writing... Beethovens in the sense of highly paid and powerful minds.  We set up Beethoven like an icon, and he would have hated it.  There is something grand and very special about Beethoven, but there’s something grand about a lot of other music, too.  If we remove everybody but Beethoven and his peers, it would be a poor musical world.


BD:   Would it be equally poor if we removed Beethoven, and kept everybody else?

SL:   Sure, but I don’t think anybody would consider that.  Even in our programming nowadays, we sometimes see a move towards having anybody else but Beethoven and his buddies.

*     *     *     *     *

BD:   Is playing the violin fun?

SL:   Oh, yes.  I think the violin is fun, and teaching the violin is fun.  I did not know that until about nine years ago.  I’ve not taught except the last nine years, and it started by accident.  But playing the violin is a lot of fun, and when teaching I tell my students that playing the violin should be fun, and it is fun, and if it isn’t, you should be doing something else.

BD:   Now you make your home-base in Houston?

SL:   Yes, and no.  I live part of the year in Houston and part of the year in Oregon.  I’ve had a love for Oregon for many years, but in the last two years we bought a house, and we live outside of Portland
about an hour and a half awayso the summers I basically live in Oregon, and in winters I basically live in in Houston.

luca BD:    Where are you from originally?

SL:   From Romania.  I left Romania when I was seven.  I lived in Israel for a while, and I lived in New York for a while.  I came here when I was eighteen to study with Galamian at Curtis, and I’ve been here ever since.

BD:   You play in America and in Europe?

SL:   Yes, and the Orient.

BD:   Are the audiences different in those three major sections of the world?

SL:   Yes, some.  They’re even different throughout America in their comfort level of being demonstrative
not just applause, but that is part of itand also coming back-stage.  In certain cities, such as Chicago, I find that people are more comfortable coming backstage.  They know it’s okay, but in Houston people just don’t come back-stage.  In fact, in order to change that, the Da Camera Society has a new policy where the audience will to be invited on-stage at the end of the performance, because we’ve got to break down that barrier.  It feels so weird to finish a concert and not greet the people.  The hall in Houston is designed so it’s almost impossible to find a way back-stage, so that doesn’t help, but that’s something I’ve noticed in different towns in this country, and certainly in Europe.  In a way it’s dangerous for an artist not to know the local custom.  For instance, you can get very quickly a swollen head if you play in Holland for the first timewhere I play quite a bitbecause almost all performances get a standing ovation.  So you assume that if you played all right, you will get the standing ovation.  Then the next time, when you play worse, it’s still a standing ovation.  The third time you play wonderfully, it’s still a standing ovation.  So after a while you understand that in Holland it’s always a standing ovation.

BD:   Does that mean they’re less discriminatory?  

SL:   I guess it’s just their way, to stand up.  No matter, you can really feel the audience listening, and you play off of that.  Some audiences listen with greater intensity than others.  It’s funny that way.

BD:   I assume there are times when you play with greater intensity?

SL:   Right, and I’m sure there is a correlation.  I always have had the ultimate regard and respect for the audiences of England.  I’m not necessarily in the majority in my profession, but I always believe that the audience really does know.  Some audiences have their knowledge clouded by too much hype.  They’re told what to like.  But within those parameters, the audience knows.

BD:   I do a lot of interviews with singers, and they have to make sure they get plenty of rest.  They can’t sing every day.  Is there any correlation at all with their voices and the muscles of the arm and the shoulder for the violinist?

SL:   No, it’s more the brain, probably.  After a while the brain is fatigued.  How creative can you be every night if you play, and especially if you play the same stuff?

BD:   Then do you make sure that you take a few nights off every week, or a week off every month, or something like that?

SL:   I take a month off.  I have declared the summer basically off limits, except for a very special project.  I wouldn’t have been here in Chicago now for the Tchaikovsky Concerto.

BD:   You need to re-charge yourself?

SL:   Yes, and to practice music I don’t have to perform.  That’s one of my missions in the summer
to learn a piece without having it scheduled so that I can decide if I like it, and to see if I play it well enough to schedule it, and to have a pure approach to learning it.  If I do not play it well in six weeks, well, get on with other things, but whatever I think of it, I think about it later.

BD:   You just get the notes out?

SL:   Yes, I can get the thing learned.  I can work on a piece and then put it away, like I used to as a student.  One does that as a student, and once one graduates
if one is fortunate enough to make a careerone never gets that chance again because you just keep using up stuff which you learned as a student.  So that’s what I do in the summer.  It’s important to have slots of time in which you don’t play so much.


BD:   Thank you for being a violinist.

SL:   Thank you for letting me!  [Much laughter]

BD:   It’s great fun.  I’m glad this interview happened.  It worked out very well.

SL:   Thank you for taking the time.

Giuseppe "Joe" Venuti (possibly September 16, 1903 – August 14, 1978) was an Italian-American jazz musician and pioneer jazz violinist.

Venuti was well known for giving out conflicting information regarding his early life, including his birthplace and birth date as well as his education and upbringing. Gary Giddins summarized the situation by saying that, "Depending on which reference book you consult, (Venuti's age when he died in 1978) was eighty-four, eighty-two, eighty, seventy-five, seventy-four, or seventy-two. Venuti, who surely had one of the strangest senses of humor in music history, encouraged the confusion."

Venuti claimed to have been born aboard a ship as his parents emigrated from Italy around 1904, though many believe he was born in Philadelphia. It has also been claimed that he was born on April 4, 1898 in Lecco, Italy, or on September 16, 1903 in Philadelphia. Later in life, he said he was born in Lecco, Italy in 1896 and that he came to the U.S. in 1906 and settled in Philadelphia.

venuti Joe was classically trained in the violin from a young age, and studied solfeggio with his grandfather. He later said that while he studied music from him, he did not learn any one instrument but rather music theory in general. He began studying the violin in Philadelphia, and later claimed to have studied at a conservatory, though there is no documented evidence to support this theory. Despite this, his style of playing was characteristic of someone who had a solid basis in violin technique.

Considered the father of jazz violin, he pioneered the use of string instruments in jazz along with the guitarist Eddie Lang, a friend since childhood. Through the 1920s and early 1930s, Venuti and Lang made many recordings, as leader and as featured soloists. He and Lang became so well known for their 'hot' violin and guitar solos that on many commercial dance recordings they were hired to do 12- or 24-bar duos towards the end of otherwise stock dance arrangements. In 1926, Venuti and Lang started recording for the OKeh label as a duet (after a solitary duet issued on Columbia), followed by "Blue Four" combinations, which are considered milestone jazz recordings. Venuti also recorded commercial dance records for OKeh under the name "New Yorkers".

He worked with Benny Goodman, Adrian Rollini, the Dorsey Brothers, Bing Crosby, Bix Beiderbecke, Jack Teagarden, Frank Signorelli, the Boswell Sisters, and most of the other important white jazz and semi-jazz figures of the late 1920s and early 1930s. However, following Lang's death in 1933, Venuti's career began to wane, though he continued performing through the 1930s, recording a series of commercial dance records (usually containing a Venuti violin solo) for the dime store labels, OKeh and Columbia, as well as the occasional jazz small group sessions. He was also a strong early influence on western swing players like Cecil Brower. Many of the 1920s OKeh sides continued to sell through 1935, when ARC reissued selected sides on the 35-cent Vocalion label.

After a period of relative obscurity in the 1940s and 1950s, Venuti played violin and other instruments with Jack Statham at the Desert Inn Hotel in Las Vegas. Statham headed several musical groups that played at the Desert Inn from late 1961 until 1965, including a Dixieland combo. Venuti was with him during that time, and was active with the Las Vegas Symphony Orchestra during the 1960s. He was 'rediscovered' in the late 1960s. In the 1970s, he established a musical relationship with tenor saxophonist Zoot Sims that resulted in three recordings. In 1976, he recorded an album of duets with pianist Earl Hines entitled "Hot Sonatas." He also recorded an entire album with country-jazz musicians including mandolinist Jethro Burns (of Homer & Jethro), pedal steel guitarist Curly Chalker and former Bob Wills sideman and guitarist Eldon Shamblin. Venuti died in Seattle, Washington.

Venuti pioneered the violin as a solo instrument to the jazz world. He was famous for a fast, "hot" playing style characteristic of jazz soloists in the 1920s and the swing era. His solos have been described as incredibly rhythmic with patterns of duplets and running eighth and sixteenth notes. He favored a lively, fast tempo that showed off his superior technique. Venuti was a virtuosic player with a wide range of techniques, including left-hand pizzicato and runs spanning the length of the fingerboard.

He also frequently implemented slides common in blues and country fiddle playing. Occasionally, he used an uncommon technique in which he unscrewed the end of his bow and wrapped the bow hair around the strings of the violin, allowing him to play chords, lending the subsequent sound a "wild" tone. He was particularly notable in small ensemble jazz, since — prior to the invention of the musical amplifier — the force of the horns in big band jazz was sufficient to drown out the violin.

© 1988 Bruce Duffie

This conversation was recorded in Chicago on June 28, 1988.  Portions were broadcast on WNIB later that evening, and again in 1993 and 1998.  This transcription was made in 2017, and posted on this website at that time.  My thanks to British soprano Una Barry for her help in preparing this website presentation.

To see a full list (with links) of interviews which have been transcribed and posted on this website, click here.

Award - winning broadcaster Bruce Duffie was with WNIB, Classical 97 in Chicago from 1975 until its final moment as a classical station in February of 2001.  His interviews have also appeared in various magazines and journals since 1980, and he now continues his broadcast series on WNUR-FM, as well as on Contemporary Classical Internet Radio.

You are invited to visit his website for more information about his work, including selected transcripts of other interviews, plus a full list of his guests.  He would also like to call your attention to the photos and information about his grandfather, who was a pioneer in the automotive field more than a century ago.  You may also send him E-Mail with comments, questions and suggestions.