Local violinist earns Juno nomination


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If violinist Karl Stobbe were a betting man, he would be wise to buy a ticket for the next lottery.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 12/03/2015 (2999 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

If violinist Karl Stobbe were a betting man, he would be wise to buy a ticket for the next lottery.

After all, the odds weren’t in the Winnipeg-based musician’s favour to be nominated for a Juno Award for his 2014 CD Ysaøe Sonatas for Solo Violin. It’s a self-produced effort, and more notably, it’s Stobbe’s first solo recording.

Less intrepid string players might have chosen more typical fare, say, Bach or Mozart, for their first foray into the recording world. Choosing fiendishly difficult works such as six sonatas by Belgium’s “King of the Violin” Eugène Ysaøe nearly boggles the mind.

TREVOR HAGAN/WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Violinist Karl Stobbe, associate concertmaster for the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra, has been nominated for a Juno Award.

Nevertheless, Stobbe is in the running for Classical Album of the Year (Solo or Chamber Ensemble) at the awards, presented this weekend in Hamilton.

Stobbe’s inaugural album represents one of only a handful of recordings made of the entire Ysaøe sonata set, and it has garnered worldwide attention, including a mention in London’s Sunday Times, which praised him as “a master soloist, recalling the golden age of violin playing.”

“At first, I thought it was crazy that I had gotten nominated when some of the other great CDs I knew had been made last year didn’t,” Stobbe, 43, says during an interview at a Corydon Avenue café. “But I was really, really tickled. It’s a very cool feeling and I’m especially happy that all five of the nominations were violinists.”

One of those includes world-renowned artist James Ehnes, who hails from Brandon. Two other albums being considered feature Stobbe’s old chum, Jonathan Crow, from Prince George, B.C., where Stobbe grew up (“hardly the mecca of classical music,” he quips).

Stobbe quickly points out that the country’s violin community shares a warm camaraderie and are fully supportive of each other, including their respective successes.

“You know why? It’s because we play chamber music together. We play in orchestras. All the string players know each other. They’re all friendly. It’s not gloves-off because we work together,” he explains of their non-competitive natures.

Stobbe first took up violin at the tender age of four and made his solo orchestral debut with the Prince George Symphony Orchestra at 14, performing a violin concerto composed for him by his then-11-year-old childhood friend, Marc Law.

After completing his studies first at the University of British Columbia, and then Indiana University, Stobbe arrived here in 1996 to become the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra’s associate concertmaster.

He also serves as concertmaster for the Manitoba Chamber Orchestra and is a core member of the Winnipeg Chamber Music Society, where he regularly performs with the Clearwater String Quartet.

He maintains a small private teaching studio and pursues another great love: woodworking. The trained luthier has built four fiddles.

He rigorously practises up to six hours a day on his prized 1810 Italian-made violin, which he bought from his collector uncle in Vancouver five years ago.

A self-described “violin geek,” Stobbe says it was love at first bow stroke.

“(The violin) was in rough shape at first, but I knew there was something there,” he recalls with palpable pleasure. “There’s a complexity in the sound. It has a mellowness and a darkness and a richness that really attracts me.”

Colin Corneau/Brandon Sun Karl Stobbe on violin

Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra maestro Alexander Mickelthwate, who has witnessed Stobbe’s artistic growth since joining the orchestra in 2006, sings the musician’s praises.

“I think the programming choice is very courageous, and the fact that Karl chose to put this project together says an incredible amount,” Mickelthwate says. “Ysaøe is a master and these are six huge sonatas. Karl’s performance is superb with a beautiful sound. I am very glad he has been recognized with this nomination and I hope he wins.”

Equally drawn to both classical and contemporary repertoire, the versatile artist says his decision to record the demanding works ultimately proved personal.

When his mother became critically ill with breast cancer two years ago, Stobbe found solace practising the sonatas each day at his parents’ home in Victoria, where he had returned to be with family.

His mother was an accomplished pianist; following her death in April 2013, he attempted, to no avail, to locate a recording she had made of herself playing Schumann’s Piano Concerto in A minor as a heartfelt memoir. He vowed then to create his own personal legacy and a lasting gift for his two children — Katherine, 13, and Matthew, 12 — and his wife of 23 years, Stephanie, a former Laotian refugee who is now a professor in conflict-resolution studies at the University of Winnipeg’s Menno Simons College.

The Junos for classical music are presented at a gala awards dinner the evening prior to Sunday night’s televised broadcast. Stobbe says he’ll take a pass on Steeltown this weekend, as he is slated to serve as a guest adjudicator for the Calgary Performing Arts Festival all week long. He’ll likely watch a live stream of the awards ceremony from his hotel room instead.

Stobbe credits the WSO and his adopted city for helping to provide an invaluable infrastructure in order to make the recording.

“It’s a significant accomplishment, and I’m happy it’s out there,” he says of the disc, which was recorded during six intensive sessions at St. John’s Anglican Cathedral in the North End.

“It’s very rare to do something like this, so in that sense, I can say I’m a serious fiddle player.”


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Updated on Thursday, March 12, 2015 5:44 AM CDT: Replaces photo, changes headline

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