Charles Rex, Violin

The New York Philharmonic

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Biography
Charles Rex by Chris Lee

Violinist Charles Rex was born into a musical family in Winter Park, Florida, where his father was a composer and instructor at Rollins College and his mother taught piano. He started his violin studies at age four under Alphonse Carlo, professor of violin at Rollins. Following his solo debut with the Florida Symphony at age 13, he won the Hinda Honigmann Scholarship Award to the Brevard Music Center in North Carolina and toured as soloist with the BMC Orchestra throughout North and South Carolina.

Mr. Rex was awarded a full scholarship to Florida State University (FSU), where he studied with Richard Burgin, former concertmaster and associate conductor of the Boston Symphony Orchestra. Other teachers included Jascha Brodsky and Berl Senofsky. In 1982 FSU honored him as a Distinguished Alumnus, and the FSU School of Music presented him with the Ernst von Dohnányi Faculty Citation for Excellence in Performance.

Immediately after graduating cum laude from FSU with bachelor and master of music degrees in performance, Mr. Rex joined The Philadelphia Orchestra under Eugene Ormandy where he played for eight years before accepting the position of Associate Concertmaster of the New York Philharmonic under Zubin Mehta, a post he held for 19 years. He relinquished the position in 1999 due to an increasing demand of his time for solo appearances and recordings. Mr. Rex has also served as guest concertmaster of the London Symphony under Colin Davis and also acted as concertmaster of the Dallas, Reading, and Delaware symphony orchestras.

In 1988 Charles Rex toured Egypt and Jordan as soloist with the Princeton Chamber Orchestra under conductor Mark Laycock, and he was the first American to appear as soloist in the new Cairo Opera House. The PBS documentary about this tour, Classical Caravans, was honored with an Emmy Award. The Borough of Staten Island of New York City also made March 13 of that year “Charles Rex Day” on the occasion of a special recital he performed there on behalf of the New York Philharmonic.

Mr. Rex has been soloist with the New York Philharmonic numerous times, including in performances of Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons and the violin concertos of Tchaikovsky and Nielsen. His performance of Hindemith’s Violin Concerto with the Philharmonic was released on a special fund-raising CD for the Orchestra’s Radiothons. He and his brother Christopher Rex, principal cello of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, gave the World Premiere of Stephen Paulus’s Concerto for Violin and Cello, a work that the New York Philharmonic commissioned especially for the two brothers for the Philharmonic’s 150th anniversary season in conjunction with the Atlanta Symphony. Other highlights include the New York Premiere of John Harbison’s Violin Concerto and the World Premieres of Gunther Schuller’s Concerto Quaternio with the New York Philharmonic and David Ott’s Violin Concerto, commissioned by the Reading Symphony (Pennsylvania). He performed Bach’s Double Violin Concerto on a Philharmonic tour of Japan, India, South Korea, Hong Kong, and Taiwan. Other solo appearances have included performances with the Atlanta, Cincinnati, Charlotte, Tucson, Milwaukee, Charleston, Florida, Transylvania, Reading, and Northwest Indiana symphony orchestras; the Denver Chamber Orchestra; and the Manhattan and Queens Philharmonic orchestras. His performances in the New York Philharmonic Ensembles series at Merkin Concert Hall have included Schoenberg’s Phantasy for Violin and Piano, which was broadcast twice over the series’ radio broadcasts due to public demand, and Song Cycle on A.E. Housman Poems written by his composer father, Charles Gordon Rex.

A feature-length documentary, Concerto for Two Brothers by Cristina Cassidy Productions, on the Rex brothers’ musical careers and the influence of their composer father, is to be released soon at film festivals and on television. Charles and Christopher Rex are also featured as soloists on an Elysium recording of Saint-Saëns’s La Muse et le poète for violin, cello, and orchestra, with the Czech Republic’s Bohuslav Martinů Philharmonic, led by Peter Tiboris. Charles Rex’s other recordings include Copland’s Piano Quartet for EMI and the World Premiere recording for Opus One label of American composer Mary Jeanne van Appledorn’s Rhapsody for Violin and Orchestra with the Polish National Radio Orchestra, led by Joel Suben.

Charles Rex plays on a violin made by J.B. Guadagnini in 1740 known as the “Ex-Hill,” formerly owned by Theremin virtuosa Clara Rockmore.

“My most memorable moment in the Orchestra was my solo debut in Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto in 1981, when I filled in at the last minute for Shlomo Mintz who had fallen ill. I was excited beyond belief. It was nothing but a sheer pleasure.”

Q&A with Charles Rex

THE FACTS: Born in Winter Park, Florida. Bachelor and master of music degrees from Florida State University. Prior to the Philharmonic: The Philadelphia Orchestra, guest concertmaster of the London Symphony Orchestra, and acting concertmaster of the Dallas, Reading, and Delaware symphony orchestras. At the Philharmonic: Joined in 1980. Solo debut: Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto in 1981, led by Zubin Mehta.

WHAT’S YOUR EARLIEST MUSICAL MEMORY? My mother giving me my first piano lessons when I was about three. I remember sitting at the dining room table filling in notes in a music coloring book.

WHAT WAS THE FIRST MUSIC YOU FELL IN LOVE WITH? Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto, Rachmaninoff’s Second Piano Concerto, Grieg’s Piano Concerto, and Beethoven’s Fourth Symphony

HOW DID YOU BEGIN VIOLIN? My godfather was concertmaster of the Florida Symphony. He discovered that I had perfect pitch and gave me my first violin lessons when I was four. As soon as I got a violin in my hands, I knew I wanted to be a violinist.

WHO WAS YOUR MOST IMPORTANT MUSICAL INFLUENCE? My main violin teacher in college, Richard Burgin, concertmaster and associate conductor of the Boston Symphony Orchestra. He studied with Joachim, for whom Brahms wrote his Violin Concerto. It makes one realize historical events actually aren’t that far away. He had absolutely no ego but instead taught from the standpoint of total love of music.

MOST INSPIRING COMPOSERS? Brahms, Beethoven, and Rachmaninoff. What I find so fascinating about classical music is how notes can produce emotions. I particularly enjoy composers who are most successful at that.

TELL US ABOUT CONCERTO, THE DOCUMENTARY ABOUT YOUR FAMILY THAT PREMIERED THIS YEAR: The documentary is about my brother — who is principal cello of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and with whom I frequently perform — and me and our relationship with our father, a very gifted composer who had something of a troubled and volatile personality due in part to a childhood bout of polio that left his legs paralyzed.

MOST MEMORABLE MOMENT WITH THE ORCHESTRA? My solo debut in Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto in 1981, when I filled in at the last minute for Shlomo Mintz who had fallen ill. I was excited beyond belief. It was nothing but a sheer pleasure.

WHAT DO YOU DO IN YOUR FREE TIME? Indulge in my hobby of tracing the genealogy of my family — I’ve traced some lines back to the ninth century. I have relatives who fought in the American Revolution and the Civil War, and my wife is a direct descendant of William the Conqueror.

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