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Farewell to a great concert master

Photo: Glenn Dicterow’s life talk at the Atrium

It isn’t actually until the end of the 2013-2014 season that Glenn Dicterow, current concert master of the New York Philharmonic will answer his call from LA’s USC Thornton faculty, but New Yorkers are already paying tribute to one of the New York Philharmonic’s most iconic figures who, after a run of now 32 consecutive years, will be sorely missed.

 

It was impossible not to acknowledge Dicterow’s friendly, well-tempered and round face, and his omnipresent fatherly authority.  Always ready for a little joke, a kind comment, he seems to have been perpetually present on the first chair between the conductor’s podium and the rest of the string sections, maintaining peace for the ensemble, and keeping the communication flowing.

 

Dicterow will be the first artist to hold the newly dedicated Robert Mann Chair in Strings and Chamber Music, established by Alfred Mann to honor his brother’s achievements as founder and first violinist of the renowned Juilliard String Quartet.

 

Dicterow and his wife, violist Karen Dreyfus, with whom he and Cellist Inbal Segev perform as the Amerigo-Trio, will be joining the faculty at Thornton as well.  The two will be a welcome addition to a host of exceptional artists including Midori Goto, who holds the Jascha Heifetz Chair in Violin at USC. Photo: Amerigo Trio

 

Heifetz was one of Dicterow’s influential teachers, who Dicterow was privileged to meet as a teenager growing up in Los Angeles.  Dicterow’s father, Harold Dicterow, was principal player in the second violin section of the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra for 52 years. At age 11, Glenn performed Tchaikovsky’s violin concerto under Zubin Mehta with the Los Angeles Philharmonic. Dicterow spent several years as an associate- and then concertmaster at the Los Angeles Philharmonic under Zubin Mehta, and later became concert master of the New York Philharmonic also under the direction of Zubin Mehta in 1980.  The other great influence in his life was his teacher Ivan Galamian, whom he worked with at Juilliard in Galamian’s famous studio that included Yitzchak Perlman.

Dicterow made it a rule to always dedicate some of his time to external engagements apart from appearing as a soloist with the New York Philharmonic and other orchestras, and playing chamber music. He has also been able to maintain a teaching position at the Manhattan School of Music and the Juilliard School, and he has been able to recruit some of the New York Philharmonic’s orchestral musicians from his talented group of students.

 

On November 5th,Dicterow gave a charming talk at the public Atrium Space (61 West 62 Street).  It became quite obvious that his qualifications for the position he had held for so long did not exclusively lie with his extraordinary gift for playing the violin, but also included his personal and vivid understanding of the role of a concert master.

Glenn Dicterow and Ilona Oltuski

 

“When I received the proposal, it was at a moment in time when I could not refuse. After 34 great years, I will hopefully be leaving with my reputation fully intact,“ he beams gregariously. I suppose it was that sense of humor that brought him through the long chain of fluctuating directors, all with different characters and ego. From the flamboyant Bernstein, to Mehta “who was like a surgeon with his hands, so exact, you could not possibly misunderstand his downbeats…” to Masur, a “master of the old school,” who was perhaps personally controversially received, but changed the sound of the entire orchestra to a more German, darker sound, since he was not afraid to tone the brass players down.” Dicterow continued with times ‘served’ under the stern but “tremendously gifted Maazel” whom “you had to know how to take, but we got along great,” up to current, much younger Alan Gilbert.  Dicterow has managed to get along with them all, creating professional relationships based on great mutual respect. His main objective is to be perceptive, and to be able to communicate between the conductor and the sections, almost as a second conductor.

 

“I have to play in a way the others see what I am doing.” In an orchestra, you can’t just rely on sound, or there will be delays. You have to exist in the moment – the movement of the sections must come simultaneously and that effort depends as much on the eyes as it does the ears, perhaps even more so. I had the pleasure to interview Dicterow in 2010, at which time he explained even more about the role of the concert master, including the need to arrange bowing marks in the musical scores of the entire orchestra according to certain decisions made in rehearsals and seating arrangements. Dicterow’s responsibilities also include sitting in on various committees responsible for admissions, artistic direction, and planning.  The hardest part for him, though, was an element of performance, specifically when he was required to suddenly play challenging solo sections within large orchestral works like in the New York Philharmonic’s recent performance of Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade. These moments are the most personal: “Alan said lately sometimes to me, ‘oh Glenn, this is the last time you will be playing this and this is the last time you will be playing that, just relish the moment!’  …and I do, indeed.”

 

Dicterow will be performing as a soloist with Cellist Alisa Weilerstein, Brahms ‘ Double Concerto for Violin and Cello with the New York Philharmonic under the baton of Director Emeritus Kurt Masur November 8th – 10th and 13th.