Sunday, September 6, 2009

Roman Totenberg

Roman Totenberg is a Polish (some would say American) violinist and teacher born (in Lodz, Poland) on January 1, 1911 (Heifetz was 10 years old.) It has been said that he was a child prodigy. His first teacher seems to have been one of his neighbors in Moscow, where he lived as a young child. The neighbor was the concertmaster of the Bolshoi Theatre Orchestra. He later studied in Warsaw where he made his debut with the Warsaw Philharmonic at age 11 (1923.) After being awarded the gold medal at the Chopin Conservatory, he traveled to Berlin to study with Carl Flesch. Having won the Mendelssohn Prize in Berlin in 1932, he went to Paris to study with George Enesco. In 1935, he made his British and his U.S. debuts. The U.S. debut was with the National Symphony in Washington, D.C. Shortly thereafter, he played for President and Mrs Roosevelt at the White House. Totenberg has been concertizing far and wide (in the most famous venues and with all the major orchestras) and teaching ever since. He also formed the Alma Trio (with Gabor Rejto and Adolph Baller) in 1942. In 1947, he was made chairman of the string department at the Music Academy of the West. At Boston University, from 1961 to 1978, he held the same position. He has also taught at various other places (Peabody Conservatory, Mannes College of Music, Longy School of Music, etc.) Totenberg is the author of a book on violin technique which nobody uses anymore. He is also well-known  for being the father of a popular journalist (Nina Totenberg of NPR.)

P.S. Roman Totenberg died on May 8, 2012, at age 101. As far as I know, he is the longest-lived violinist of all time. Leon Botstein, President of Bard College and former pupil said this: "If modern violin playing is an undifferentiated carpet of sound, for Totenberg, it was a voice of intimacy, a voice of drama. The violin wasn’t a machine; it was a living vehicle of human expression.”

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