Sergiu Comissiona, former music director of the Vancouver Symphony, was a brilliant interpreter of George Enescu (and had the best “Maestro hair”)
George Enescu (whom you may know as “Georges Enesco”), is considered a legend in Romania. He was a composer, but also a noted violinist, pianist, conductor, and teacher. He was one of those prodigies that composed as a young child, as early as five. He was admitted to the prestigious Vienna Conservatory at the age of seven, one of only two who was allowed to attend under the minimum age of 14. The only other gifted child was violinist Fritz Kreisler who was also seven; Enescu was the first non-Austrian prodigy to be accepted.
Enescu had the very best music education. He was playing Brahms, Sarasate and Mendelssohn as a child, studying violin and composition (with the likes of Jules Massenet and Gabriel Faure). He moved on the Conservatoire de Paris and became known as the student “with ideas and spirit”. Like so many composers of the Romantic era (Brahms, Dvorak, and Liszt), he incorporated folk idioms of his home land into his classical works. His Romanian Rhapsodies (1901-2), an example of this, continue to be programmed regularly with symphonies across the world.
Always curious, Enescu once teamed up with Uday Shankar, the Indian dancer and choreographer (and brother of Ravi) to rehearse and explore. Enescu also influenced the young violin prodigy Yehudi Menuhin, and introduced him to the Gamelan Orchestra of Indonesia that was in Paris for an exhibition.
Enescu made his American conducting debut with the Philadelphia Orchestra at Carnegie Hall and returned often for American orchestral appearances. He was even up for the inimitable task of succeeding Arturo Toscanini of the New York Phil, but that post eventually went to Sir John Barbirolli in 1936.
Along with his legacy as a violin teacher and composer, Enescu promoted contemporary Romanian music, and performed newly-written works at the time. Today, there are many places that are preserved for the public to visit and learn more about Enescu. There is a museum in his memory in Bucharest; his childhood home is open to the public; the Bacau International Airport in Romania was renamed the George Enscu International Airport.
Let’s have a listen to Enescu’s music! I remember this recording quite well – I was the publicist at the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra when it was released, and Romanian-born Sergiu Comissiona was the Music Director. He performed and recorded Enescu’s Romanian Rhapsodies, and I still remember those performances. Here is the first of those rhapsodies, with a gorgeous clarinet opening by then-Principal Clarinettist, Lawrence Foster. My favourite moments are towards the end, where the Maestro whipped the players into a musical frenzy. Live in concert, it was unforgettable.
George Enescu was born August 19, 1881 in Liveni (later renamed “George Enescu” in his honour), Romania, and died May 4, 1955, in Paris, France.