Elmar Oliveira was 5 when his father, inspired by reading a biography of Stradivarius, made the boy a toy violin. By the time he was 9, young Oliveira had graduated to a real violin and lessons with his older brother, John, already an accomplished violinist.
Now, at 44, Oliveira has established an international career playing about 100 concerts and recitals a year. The violin he plays now, the “Ex-Lady Stretton” of 1726, was not made by Stradivarius but by an equally illustrious maker, Guarnarius.
Oliveira will join the Spokane Symphony tonight performing Camille Saint-Saens’ Concerto No. 3 on a program of 19th-century music which includes the Overture to “Il Guarany” by Antonio Carlos Gomes and Franz Schubert’s Symphony No. 9 in C major (“The Great”). The orchestra’s music director, Fabio Mechetti, will conduct.
Oliveira was born in Waterbury, Conn., and after beginning his music studies with his brother, he studied at the Hartt College of Music in Hartford, later at the Manhattan School of Music, with Arianna Bronne and her father, Raphael Bronstein.
Through Bronstein, Oliveira claims the heritage of the Russian school of violin playing.
Bronstein had been the assistant to the renowned Leopold Auer - teacher of Heifetz, Elman and Milstein - in St. Petersburg before both fled Russia for the United States in 1917.
At 14, Oliveira performed as soloist with the Hartford Symphony, and at 16 he was selected by Leonard Bernstein to appear with the New York Philharmonic in a televised Young People’s Concert. A steady, but unexciting, career developed following his recital debut in Town Hall in 1973.
The young violinist won both the G.B. Dealey and the Walter Naumburg awards in 1975. Despite these significant victories, Oliveira occasionally played in Broadway pit orchestras to steady his income.
Oliveira’s leap into the musical fast lane occurred in 1978. That year he became the third American (and the first American violinist) to win the gold medal at Moscow’s Tchaikovsky Competition. He returned from Moscow to a White House reception and the beginnings of a major international career with offers for appearances with major orchestras and recital tours.
In 1983, Oliveira was awarded the Avery Fisher Prize. Many young artists see the Fisher Prize as a kind of coming of age. It is awarded by a jury of seasoned professionals which compares the way careers are developing rather than through competitive performances.
Tonight’s performance marks Oliveira’s second appearance with the Spokane Symphony.
He first performed with the orchestra in 1992, playing the Dvorak Concerto. Tonight he will perform Saint-Saens’ highly romantic Third Violin Concerto, a work originally written in 1880 for the Spanish virtuoso Pablo de Sarasate.
The two orchestral works chosen by Mechetti are both romantic as well. Gomes (the name has two syllables like its Spanish equivalent Gomez) is regarded a national hero in his native Brazil. In fact, his Overture to “Il Guarany” ranks almost as a second national anthem there. The opera from which it is taken was an enormous success when it was first produced in Milan. No less a critic than Verdi pronounced it “a work of true genius.”
Schubert’s Symphony No. 9, on the other hand, had a hard time achieving recognition. During Schubert’s lifetime and for years afterward, orchestras in Vienna simply refused to play it, calling the symphony “too long and too difficult.” Even years after Schubert’s death, the players of London Philharmonic, reading it for the first time, declined to go beyond the first movement. Now it is regarded as one of the supreme masterpieces of symphonic literature.
The music on tonight’s program will be discussed in a pre-concert talk by Mechetti beginning at 7 p.m. in the Opera House auditorium.
MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: The Spokane Symphony Orchestra Conductor: Fabio Mechetti Guest artist: violin soloist Elmar Oliveira Location and time: Opera House, tonight, 8 Tickets: $11-$25 at the Symphony box office, 624-1200, and G&B;