The Strad May 2000. Ulf Hoelscher made his name championing rare repertoire but his horizons stretch much further, discovers Carlos María Solare. 'You've never been to Heidelberg? We must do something about that!' exclaims Ulf Hoelscher. Within minutes of meeting the violinist I am whisked off my feet and taken on a lightning tour of Heidelberg Castle. 'On a clear day you can just see my home town from here,' says Hoelscher as we stand on the terrace and watch the Neckar flow by. Indeed, Hoelscher has lived all his life in this beautiful and friendly corner of the world. The son of a music teacher in Neustadt an der Weinstrasse, he commuted to Heidelberg for his violin lessons. Fifty years on, he lives in a nearby village, half-way to Karlsruhe where he has taught at the Hochschule since 1981. Born into a musical family, Hoelscher remembers being lulled to sleep by his mother playing Bach's preludes and fugues on the piano. His first teacher, Bruno Masurat, was a student of Karl Klingler, and he is thus, as he proudly points out, a great-grand-student of Joachim. At 15, Hoelscher went to Cologne to study with Max Rostal with whom he stayed tor five years.
Galamian & Gingold. 'He made me into a musician: apart from giving me the technical wherewithal, he made me think about the music. He was hardly ever satisfied, always demanding that little bit more expressive intensity'. Having graduated from Cologne, Hoelscher went to work with Joseph Gingold at Indiana University in Bloomington. However, after a few lessons Gingold ('one of the finest, most selfless people I've ever met') told him: 'Ulf, you don't need me; you need Ivan Galamian!' The change was easily arranged and Hoelscher spent the following couple of years working with Galamian at the Curtis Institute in Philadelphia and at the summer camp of Meadowmount, where he found himself playing chamber music with the likes of Pinchas Zukerman, Itzhak Perlman, Kyung Wha Chung, Yong Uck Kim and James Buswell. 'Gingold was right, and Galamian proved the ideal complement to Rostal. While Rostal had emphasised left-hand technique, Galamian made me conscious of the fact that tone is actually made by the bow.
Wigmore Hall debut. He gave me a solid, reliable bow arm, which was exactly what I needed for a career as a soloist, where you have to make yourself heard through a symphony orchestra.' Hoelscher also worked with Paul Makanowitzky, who had been one of Galamian's very first pupils. 'He broadened my horizons immensely, teaching me pieces which Galamian wouldn't do, like the Stravinsky and Berg concertos. While in America, Hoelscher won a prize at the 1966 Montreal Competition, and from the 1968-69 season his career started going steadily uphill. Thirty-two concerts with orchestra in his first professional season preceded a Wigmore Hall debut in 1971 with a typically ambitious unaccompanied programme that was very warmly received by The Times, followed shortly afterwards by a Berlin Philharmonic debut. Nowadays Hoelscher plays between 40 and 50 concerts in a season and is quite happy about it. 'There was a time when l was playing anything up to 90 dates a year, and it wasn't the happiest time of my life.
Just for the pleasure of it... I never again want to have sleepless nights because of the pressure from too many engagements. Now I enjoy the luxury of being able to work on, say, a Bach Partita just for the pleasure of it and in my own time, knowing that I don't have to play it in public the day after tomorrow. Only now, after many years of hard work, do I feel that I have reached a stage of complete technical command upon which l can rely.' Hoelscher's repertoire is by any standards uncommonly large: he has travelled the highways and byways of violin literature, premiering quite a few new works in the meantime. A project that has occupied him for the best part of ten years, and is now within hailing distance of the finishing post, is the recording of Louis Spohr's complete works for violin and orchestra as well as the double concertos, in which he is joined by his sister Gunhild. 'When the Spohr Society approached me, I didn't realise quite what I was in for. I knew the Eighth Concerto (the 'Gesangsszene'), but that was about it. Now that I've recorded the 15 numbered concertos there are just a few posthumous ones and some isolated movements to go.
Spohr's original bowings. Apart from the seventh and ninth, which I was able to play a few times in concert, all the others were learnt especially for the recording. I prepared myself as well as humanly possible but, of course, I couldn't really hear what the piece was like until the recording session, and more often than not I had to change bowings or fingerings along the way. I took Spohr's original bowings as my starting point, but I often found them insufficient for projecting above the orchestra. And some of the music is fiendishly difficult. Watch out for the Variations on an aria from Mozart's Die Entführung aus dem Serail, which will be on the next record! The Spohr project has been fun, but I'll be glad when it's over.' Hoelscher's next project is waiting in the wings: the seven sonatas for two violins by Swedish composer Allan Pettersson, which he will record with his namesake Ulf Wallin.
'Bruch was denied the recognition he deserved in his lifetime due to Brahms's oppositionand he hasn't received it yet.' In the German independent label CPO Hoelscher has found an ideal record company, as enterprising in its choice of repertoire as himself. 'It was CPO's artistic director, Burkhard Schmilgun, who drew my attention to Pettersson's music; I've already recorded his Concerto for violin and string quartet for them, and I'll be playing it next September at the Berlin Festival.' Other Hoelscher recordings on CPO include the complete Hindemith violin sonatas ('I grew up with Hindemith's music') and another relative rarity, the Benjamin Frankel Concerto 'In memory of the six million', a devastating piece written in 1951 under the all-too-recent impression of Nazi atrocities. Christopher Fifield's biography of Max Bruch alert Hoelscher to another work he has subsequently championed. The String Octet was Bruch's last finished composition, written six months before his death in 1920. Although Hoelscher saw a set of parts from the BBC, they were full of mistakes and it was only when the autograph score turned up in New York in 1986 and was edited by American musicologist Thomas Wood that he realised the full potential of the work. 'The first violin part is very virtuosic in character almost like a concerto.
The Hoelscher Ensemble. I've performed it many times with colleagues from the Karlsruhe Hochschule (brought together as the Hoelscher Ensemble) and we have recorded it for CPO, coupled with the String Quintet and Piano Quintet of Bruch. When l was younger, people used to look down the noses at him, but I've become a real admirer since Galamian showed me pieces other than the First Violin Concerto. The more I know his music, the more I admire his professionalism; I've been looking lately at some Swedish Dances of his which are glorious to play while not being grotesquely difficult. Bruch was denied the recognition he deserved during his lifetime due to Brahms's opposition and he hasn't received it yet.' These days Hoelscher concentrates on his Ensemble and a sonata partnership with the British pianist lan Fountain, but previous happy partnerships have included a trio with cellist Heinrich Schiff and pianist Christian Zacharias, which yielded recordings of Brahms's B major trio and Beethoven's Triple Concerto for EMl. An LP of duos by Ravel and Martinu was issued with former Berlin Philharmonic principal cellist Wolfgang Boettcher.
Refuses to be pigeon-holed as a 'specialist' in rare repertoire. 'Wolfgang Rihm wrote his Double Concerto for us, which we premiered in 1989. We also played a duo by Wolfgang Fortner and the Introduzione e Balletto by Wolf-Ferrari, a most underrated composer.' Hans Pfitzner's music is also unjustly neglected in Hoelscher's opinion. His Piano Trio, 'with its free-and-easy character, gives the lie to any accusations of academic dryness.' Hoelscher has played this piece with cellist David Geringas and pianist Arnulf von Arnim, who brought it to his attention. For all this, Hoelscher defiantly refuses to be pigeon-holed as a 'specialist' in rare repertoire. 'I've played all the central repertoire and I still do. This season I'm playing the concertos of Beethoven, Brahms, Sibelius and Bruch. In the 1970s and 80s I recorded most of the well-known concertos for EMI as well as showpieces by Sarasate and Wieniawski.'
Cadenzas. Hoelschor's ever-inquisitive mind prevents him from falling into a routine; he continually looks at the staple repertoire from new angles, and this is reflected in his choice of cadenzas. 'In the Beethoven, I first played the Kreisler cadenzas, and then tried the violin transcription of Beethoven's original cadenzas for the piano version, which I found make for a very long work! After a spell with the Busoni cadenzas (which feature the timpani, like the ones by Beethoven) I'm now back with Kreisler. I've never performed the Joachim Beethoven cadenzas, but I play the ones he wrote for the Brahms: they have almost become a constituent part of the work. I've also tried my hand at writing cadenzas to the Haydn C major and the Mozart B flat major concertos. Some day I might even follow Nigel Kennedy's lead and improvise a cadenza on stage!' Teaching is something which has always come easily to Hoelscher. I don't think I've ever been clueless when faced with a technical problem. Having worked very hard as a student myself, I can draw on my own experience to find a solution. Standards have risen immeasurably: Hoelscher and Rodion Shchedrin take to the famous stage of the Moscow Conservatoire after the Russian premiere of the latter's Echo Sonata in 1985. 20 years ago people played for their graduation examinations at a level that wouldn't get past an admission test today. We had a chamber music competition at the Hochschule some months ago and it was like going to an international concert series!' In the summer Hoelscher teaches at a summer school at Cervo (in Northern Italy between Nice and Genoa) wtth cellist David Geringas violist Jean Sulem and pianist von Arnim. He's also looking forward to a trip to England for this year's Dartington Summer School, where he will play an unaccompanied programme of Bach, Bartók and Rodion Shchedrin.
I have always admired Kirchner's Music Composed in the Bach anniversary year of 1985, Shchedrin's Echo Sonata (which quotes and para-phrases Bach's music) is one of many compositions written for and premiered by Hoelscher. As a student in Cologne. Hoelscher led a string quartet in which the student composer Volker David Kirchner played the viola, and he subsequently premiered a number of Kirchner's works, including the Violin Concerto (1984, with the Berlin Philharmonic), Saitenspiel for violin and cello (written for him and Boettcher) and a String Sextet. 'I have always admired Kirchner's music. He was one of the few composers of his generation who refused to let himself be absorbed by the Darmstadt School, which was the latest fad at the time. Saitenspiel is one of the best pieces for that particular combination; I warmly recommend it to everyone! This may sound strange, but there aren't that many good pieces for violin and piano from the last 20 years or so. One of the best is Rihm's Phantom und Escapaden. At 20 minutes long it's a big work - I'll be playing it with Siegfried Mauser in a lecture-recital at the next Salzburg Festival.'
The instrument question. During the first years of his professional career, Hoelscher had the use of the 1699 'Lady Tennant' Stradivari, and then of the 1730 'Triton'. Both instruments were lent to him by the Hannover benefaktor Bernhard Sprengel, who also financed Hoelscher's study years in America. Later he bought a Francesco Goffriller with 'a fantastically big, coarsegrained tone'. For the last four years he has played a Giuseppe 'filius Andrea' Guarneri. 'I am perfectly happy with it - it has Strad quality, but it is not as difficult to handle as I have found some Strads to be. Even if I still get excited when I lay my hands on a Guadagnini with an incredibly gorgeous sound, or a Strad, the instrument question doesn't exist for me any more!' In rehearsal for his first public concert at the age of 15. Hoelscher's diary is full to the brim for the foreseeable future, and its owner is no less full of enthusiasm and love for his work. As I leave, he says (only partly as a joke) that after he has 'done all the esoteric repertoire, and I can still hold bow to string, I will ask CPO for a Mozart concerto recording - using my own cadenzas, of course!'
Retrospect of Reviews - 45 years.
Die Sensation des Abends war natürlich das glanzvolle Auftreten des 15jährigen Violinistvirtuosen Ulf Hoelscher... RNZ, 1957.
Expressive Kraft. Von seinem Spiel geht eine ungewöhnliche, expressive Kraft und verinnerlichte Musikalität aus... Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, 1962.
Konnte einem den Atem verschlagen. Hamburger Abendblatt, 1969.
London debuts. If in the Bach Mr. Hoelscher was on the side of the angels, in the next two pieces he had the devil in him. The Times, 1971.
Violinist of Virtuosity. ... his Wigmore Hall recital last night marked him out immediately as a violinist of exceptional talent and achievement. The Daily Telegraph, 1971.
Zauberei. H.H. Stuckenschmidt, FAZ, 1972.
Smidig intensitet. Berlingske Tidende, 1972.
Sweet tone. Dublin, 1974.
Schönheit und Sensibilität. Die außerordentliche Ausdrucksspannung und dabei Schönheit und Sensibilität ... ist kaum zu überbieten. Hannoversche Allgemeine, 1974
Le tempérament des grands virtuoses. ... Hoelscher a le tempérament des grands virtuoses, ce gout presque démoniaque de la bravoure... Lausanne, 1975.
A virtuoso. ... his approach was decidedly that of a virtuoso. New York Times, 1980.
Musikalischen Sprachvermögens. ... steigerte sich Hoelscher zum überzeugendsten Beweis seines musikalischen Sprachvermögens. Frankfurter Rundschau, 1982.
A Romantic. Hoelscher is a Romantic through and through ... Mineapolis Tribune, 1982.
Grâce au jeu parfaitement accouplé d' Ulf Hoelscher et David Geringas. LA SUISSE, 1983.
Die Hälfe eines Wunders. Ulf Hoelscher spielte Bach-Werke in der Peterskirche. Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, 1984.
Verführerisch. ... Hoelscher und Tate schöpften die wahrhaft verführerische verführerischen Möglichkeiten dieser Partitur hinreisend aus... Vaterland Luzern, 1985.
Keck und schmelzend. Richard Strauss, Violinkonzert - Berliner Philharmonisches Orchester - Daniel Nazareth. Berliner Morgenpost, 1986.
Restlose Durchschlagskraft. Samuel Barber Violinkonzert - Opernorchester Zurich - Andrew Litton. Neue Zürcher Zeitung, 1987.
Eine Meisterleistung. Was Hoelscher .. vollbrachte, war eine Meisterleistung par excellence, die vom Publikum entsprechend gewürdigt wurde. Stuttgarter Zeitung, 1989.
Fabelhaft. Ulf Hoelscher musizierte fabelhaft, er hatte den Mut, nie dick aufzutragen sondern sich dem grüblerischen, versponnenen Moment des Konzerts (Robert Schumann Violinkonzert) zu stellen. Süddeutsche Zeitung, 1990.
Alles ist Poesie. Nichts bei ihm ist Pose, alles ist Poesie. Süddeutsche Zeitung, 1994.
Waldgott ohne Rauschebart. Vor allem strahlte der Geiger ungeheure Ruhe und Souveränität aus... Berliner Morgenpost, 2000.
Der immer moderne Bartok. ...mit einer interpretatorischen Meisterschaft, die getrost als Weltklasse zu kennzeichnen ist. Mannheimer Morgen, 2001.
Phantasie und Ausbruch. ...Der expressiven Atonalität wurde klanglich markante Kontur gegeben, wurden die Strukturen musikantisch aufgeschäumt mit kraftvollem Geigenstrich und erhitztem, attackenreichem Zusammenspiel. Rhein-Neckar-Zeitung, 2001.
Max Bruch. Loving performances by the Hoelscher players, preserved with silky sound by the SouthWest German Radio engineers. Audiophile Audition
Compasion. A Tribute to Yehudi Menuhin. Network Chicago
Benjamin Frankel - Musicweb
Wolf-Ferrari. Koryphäen wie Ulf Hoelscher und Gustav Rivinius setzen sich für das Halbvergessene ein... Tages Anzeiger, 21.08.96
Ulf Hoelscher is excellent, his playing full of fantasy, brilliance and poetry. Musicweb