Raymond Gniewek, principal violin of the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra for 43 years and a quiet but vital force in raising this ensemble to a new level of fame, passed away on October 1 in Naples, Fla. He was 89 years old. Her daughter Susan Law said the cause was complications from cancer.
M r. Gniewek (pronounced NYEH-vik), a violinist whose solos were invariably acclaimed, was only 25 years old in 1957 when he was appointed first violin of the orchestra. He had two obstacles to overcome.
In one genre, opera, with a strong European heritage, he was only the second musician in American origin to occupy the position to meet. And he was the youngest member of the orchestra when he was appointed first violin, whose duties include advising musicians with much more tenure and experience.
He managed to get it to work.
"I kind of waded through things, I didn't 'was not too arrogant, and the musicians were very supportive of me ", he told Hfrance.fr in 2000 in an interview occasioned by his retirement.
The solo violin, the lead r of the violin section, is the more visible in the orchestra tuning before a concert, but is more crucially an intermediary between the conductor and the rest of the players, helping to provoke the interpretation that the conductor wants . This often means mastering a particular passage or effect, then demonstrating to other violinists the bow technique or fingering necessary to achieve it.
"It's my job to make technical translations of the sound you want," Mr. Gniewek said in the 2000 interview. "And you have to show, not say, because the same words can mean different things for different things. people. "
Another part of the job is to ensure stability and continuity, especially important in an orchestra like the Met Opera which is often conducted by guest conductors. Like the Berklee College of Music describes the work on his careers page:" While conductors may come and go - with different styles and approaches - the first violin provides the orchestra with technique-oriented leadership.
Mr. Gniewek discovered that being a concertmaster could mean being an alarm clock. There is the Met tradition of a German conductor falling asleep during the dialogue of "Der Freischutz" by Carl Maria von Weber; Mr. Gniewek would wake him up with a subtle "Jetzt, maestro" ("Now, maestro").
Mr. Gniewek has been credited with helping to dramatically elevate the ensemble's playing. When he was first appointed to this post, the orchestra was professional at best. In the early 1990s he was playing concerts, making acclaimed recordings and being compared to the great orchestras of the world.
"He plays with precision, amazing nuance and insight, ”Katrine Ames wrote of the Met Orchestra in Newsweek in 1991, adding:“ Fifteen years ago this orchestra was barely more than enough: it gave great performances (usually Verdi) and some dismal ones (usually Mozart). Hearing it was largely ignoring it. "css-1g7m0tk James Levine, who became the principal conductor of the Met during the 1973-74 season and was quickly appointed musica directorthe. But insiders knew that Mr. Gniewek was essential to the execution of Mr. Levine's vision, which Mr. Levine himself acknowledged when Mr. Gniewek retired.
"The luckiest thing that has happened to me since I have been at the Met," he said, "was that Ray Gniewek was the first violin. " Image "I kind of waded through things, I wasn't not overly arrogant, and the musicians were very supportive, ”said Mr Gniewek of how he sailed to become a concertmaster in his mid-twenties, when he was the youngest. member of the orchestra.
Raymond Arthur Gniewek was born November 13, 1931 in East Meadow, NY, on Long Island. Her father, Jacenta, was a tradesman and barber who also played the violin, and her mother, Leocadia (Kurowska) Gniewek, was a church organist and housewife.
After graduating from Hempstead High School, he attended the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, NY, becoming a member of the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra while a student. He graduated in 1953. In 1955 he was appointed Principal Violin of the Rochester Civic Orchestra and Principal Violin of the Rochester Philharmonic.
He had been Principal Violin of the Met for nearly a decade - and for some 1,700 performances - when he made his recital debut in New York City in 1966. Richard D. Freed, reviewing this performance in The Times, could bar ely contain his enthusiasm.
“Mr. Gniewek has everything one would expect from a violinist: an intonaimpeccable tion, a technique so sure that he is free to concentrate on interpretation problems and a pronounced flair for a particular style ", he wrote.
At the beginning of his mandate, in 1958, Mr. Gniewek had to take over when the conductor Fausto Cleva fell ill during a performance of "Manon Lescaut" . This may have been a fantasy fulfilled for some solo violins with conducting aspirations, but not for Mr. Gniewek.
"I prefer to play " , he told The Times in the 2000 interview. “I have strong feelings about the sound, the actual act of playing the instrument. This is what I do best. "
Mr. Gniewek moved to Florida after his retirement and lived in Naples after his death. Her first marriage, with Doris Scott in the 1950s, ended in a porce, as did her marriage in 1960 to Lolita San Miguel. Besides his daughter, from his first marriage, he is survived by his wife, the soprano Judith Blegen ; a sister, Cecilia Brauer , who is also a musician; one stepson, Thomas Singher; seven grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren. Another girl from his first marriage, Davi Loren, died in May.
In 2000, during the Met Orchestra concerts which were to be among the last of M. Gniewek, Mr. Levine did him a rare honor by making him stand out at the end of the program to play the Meditation ofMassenet from "Thaïs". as a reminder. When he did it at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center, Willa J. Conrad of The Star-Ledger of Newark wrote: "It was pure eloquence and grace, and in homage to a particular musician's legacy to a normally invisible orchestra, poignant closure. "
When he did the same at Carnegie Hall two Evenings later, the standing ovation - from the orchestra as well as from the audience - passed the five-minute mark, lasting longer than the solo itself.