Julius Conus: Violin Concerto in E Minor. Julius Conus (1869-1942) was born in Moscow into a family of distinguished musicians. He and his two brothers studied at the Moscow Conservatory of Music, one of the most prestigious music schools in the world, and all three later became teachers there. Julius was a violin virtuoso; he won the Conservatory Gold Medal in 1888 at the age of 19. This enabled him to travel extensively to study and perform abroad, including time in Paris, where he studied and played solo concerts and was a member of the Opéra Orchestra, and later New York City.
Conus returned to Moscow in 1893 to teach violin at the Conservatory and continue his concert career. At the Conservatory he became lifelong friends with the virtuoso pianist and composer Sergei Rachmaninoff (1873-1943). The two men often performed together, and were so close that Conus’s son later married Rachmaninoff’s daughter! Conus and his family fled Moscow for Paris in 1917 to escape the Bolshevik Revolution, only to return to Moscow, now in the Soviet Union, in 1939 to escape the rise of Nazism.
As a composer Conus is very much a “one-hit wonder.” Aside from his violin concerto he wrote very little other music, mostly short study pieces or études for the violin, none of which are played today. He wrote the concerto in 1898 and had the good fortune for it to be played frequently by Fritz Kreisler (1875-1962) and later Jascha Heifetz (1901-1987), two of the greatest violinists of all time. Heifitz first played the concerto in 1920 when he made it a regular part of his concert programs, and then recorded it for the first time in 1952. It was popular with worldwide audiences for its long melodic lines, and has stayed in the repertoire in Russia but is rarely played in the west. (As such, it’s a natural piece for MusicaNova: truly great music you haven’t heard – yet.)
A concerto is a work for an instrumental soloist accompanied by an orchestra, usually in three movements, where the soloist’s virtuosity is put on display in a cadenza or solo section without the orchestra. A standard symphony orchestra concert program will often feature a concerto, along with an overture, orchestral suite, and a symphony. Conus’s Concerto in E Minor is very much a technical showpiece, more in the manner of other those composed by other touring violin virtuosos (and show-offs) in Europe and the USA at the time, than of his contemporary Russian composers.
Nowadays advanced violin students often perform the concerto, largely because there are many extremely demanding techniques the soloist must master just to play the work. The result is a performance that is personal and unique to the individual violinist’s style, and brings out the inner beauty of the work.
What you’ll hear at the concert:
The Violin Concerto in E Minor is in three movements, lasting about 18 minutes, and features Bobae Johnson, a junior at Desert Vista High School in Phoenix as the violin soloist. The movements are:
- Allegro moderato (“moderately brisk”),
- Adagio (“slowly”),
- Cadenza – allegro subito (virtuoso solo passage for the violin, then “suddenly brisk”),
The concerto begins with the orchestra playing by itself. This is the traditional way to begin a concerto, a way of announcing the soloist. When the soloist begins, the music is very free – a second introduction, like the player warming up before the main tune is introduced. After the tune, the violin plays a lot of fast passagework based on the tune, using many devices typical of advanced violin technique. You will hear a lot of the music is in a very high register.
The music does not have any breaks, but you will notice a much slower middle section, the adagio, then a return to fast music. Shortly before the end the violin will play a cadenza, where the player plays music without the orchestra for about a minute. After that, the ending comes assertively and quickly.
Violin Soloist Bobae Johnson is a 16-year-old junior at Desert Vista High School in the Phoenix suburb of Ahwatukee. She has been a member of the Phoenix Youth Symphony since 2011 where she has served as principal first violin and concertmaster. In the past year, she won the Dorothy Vanek Youth Concerto Competition sponsored by the Southern Arizona Symphony Orchestra, the American String Teachers Association state solo competition, and was a finalist in the Phoenix Youth Symphony Young Musicians Competition.
She was the strings winner of the Arizona Music Educators Association All-State Solo & Ensemble competition, for which she received an invitation to perform at ASU’s Gammage Auditorium at the All-State Festival. During the past two summers she studied at the Innsbrook Institute, the Bowdoin International Music Festival, and Le Festival International du Domaine Forget, where she performed at master classes with Elizabeth Wallfisch, Patrice Fontanarosa and the Emerson String Quartet.
Bobae is a volunteer strings teacher with Harmony Project-Phoenix, a MusicaNova education partner. She was featured in MusicaNova’s Young Artists series in the 2013-14 and 2014-15 seasons.
Hear the first movement of the concerto: