Inspirational violin teacher
Tuesday 01 June 2004
Lorand Fenyves, violinist and teacher: born Budapest 20 February 1918; married 1952 Vera Kemeny (two daughters); died Zurich, Switzerland 23 March 2004.
Lorand Fenyves was one of a generation of talented Hungarian violinists who trained at the Franz Liszt Academy of Music in Budapest in the 1930s, under a group of outstanding teachers who included Jenö Hubay and Zoltán Kodály. He made his concert début at the age of 13, and subsequently built a successful international career as orchestral player, chamber musician, soloist and teacher that stretched over 70 years.
Fenyves, who was born into a musical Jewish family in Budapest in 1918, graduated from the Franz Liszt Academy in 1934. In that same year he won the Hubay prize, and was the soloist in the first performances of Felix von Weingartner's Violin Concerto in Budapest and Vienna, with the composer conducting. By 1936 he had become convinced that war in Europe was inevitable, and he gave up a promising career to accept an invitation from Bronislaw Huberman, the great Polish violinist, to join other refugees from the Nazis in emigrating to Palestine.
He became a member of Huberman's Palestine Symphony Orchestra - which later changed its name to the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra - and was soon appointed its leader. Fenyves's boundless energy and dedication also found outlets in teaching - in 1940 he was one of the five founders of the Israel Conservatory and Academy of Music - and in chamber music. The string quartet he formed and led in Tel Aviv was for many years the country's foremost chamber ensemble.
In 1957 Fenyves and his family moved to Geneva, where he was appointed leader of the Orchestre de la Suisse Romande, under Ernest Ansermet. He was also professor of violin at the Conservatoire de Genève. He stayed in Switzerland for eight years, before emigrating again, this time to Canada. He became a Canadian citizen in 1971, but he had not intended to stay. His first visit, in 1963, was as a teacher at the annual Jeunesses Musicales summer school at Mount Orford, Quebec. In the following year he took a one-year visiting professorship at the University of Toronto, which became a permanent appointment.
Fenyves exerted an extraordinary influence on violin teaching and performance in his adopted country. "Lorand single-handedly created a generation of string professionals in Canada," said the dean of the Toronto music faculty, where Fenyves remained until his retirement in 1983. But retiring did not mean slowing down. On the contrary, with the title of Emeritus Professor he continued to teach with undiminished commitment until the end of his life. In 1988 Fenyves founded a scholarship to provide financial support for gifted string students in the music faculty's performance programme. In February 2003 the university held an 85th birthday concert in his honour.
In 1985 he also began to teach at the University of Western Ontario, where he trained many of Canada's leading performers. In 1972, among many other ventures involving young musicians, he had begun an association with the Banff Centre of the Arts that was to continue until his death. He also taught at the Glenn Gould Professional School in Toronto, and had a long association with Canada's National Youth Orchestra.
Fenyves was a regular visitor to Britain, where he performed at the Wigmore Hall, and gave solo and chamber music master classes at the International Musicians Seminar Prussia Cove, the Royal Northern College of Music and Aldeburgh. He also made annual visits to the Toho Gakuen School of Music in Tokyo from 1980 onwards, and from 1985 he returned regularly to his native Hungary, which showed its appreciation by awarding him the Cross of the Order of Merit in 1998, on his 80th birthday.
A charming and unassuming man, Lorand Fenyves was, by common consent, one of the world's greatest and most inspirational violin teachers, with a rare understanding of, and sympathy for, the needs and interests of young musicians. Promising performers, who went on to make brilliant careers as soloists, such as Tasmin Little in Britain, competed to attend his classes and seek his professional guidance.
Although he will perhaps be remembered best as a teacher, Fenyves performed as a soloist with the leading conductors of the day, including Ernest Ansermet, Leonard Bernstein and Seiji Ozawa. He also recorded for all the leading labels, including Decca, RCA and CBC.
Lorand Fenyves was one of the most wonderful and lovable men I have ever known, writes Steven Isserlis. He exuded warmth and kindness; it was impossible not to be charmed by his wit, at the same time as being enriched by his wisdom.
He had a marvellous face, that of a tragic clown, constantly mobile and deeply expressive. One moment he could be telling, with tears in his eyes, the saddest of stories; the next, his every feature could light up with a wicked twinkle as he passed some telling comment on the foibles of life.
As a musician, his gentle warmth and thoughtful nature shone through every note he played. Every year he would arrive, with his adorable wife Vera, at the seminar in Cornwall where we taught and played together, usually not having touched his violin in weeks; at our first rehearsal, he would sound out of practise (though always special) - and would rebuke me roundly if I attempted to compliment him on his playing. After that, he would sound better and better each day; to rehearse with him was a delight, ideas and stories pouring out of him in a constant stream of entertaining insights. By the concert, he would always sound marvellous.
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