Monday, April 25, 2011

Richard Burgin

Richard Burgin was a Polish (many would say American) violinist, conductor, and teacher born (in Warsaw) on October 11, 1892 (Stravinsky was ten years old and Joseph Szigeti had been born about a month before in Hungary.)  He is best known for being the concertmaster of the Boston Symphony for many years (1920-1962); easily the longest tenure by a Boston Symphony concertmaster.  Burgin began the study of violin at age 6.  After studying with local teachers and with Isidor Lotto in Poland, Burgin moved to Germany in 1903 to study with Joseph Joachim at the Advanced Academy for Music in Berlin.  Burgin's first public performance was in 1904 with the Warsaw Philharmonic.  He was 11 years old.  From 1908 to 1912, he studied with Leopold Auer at the St. Petersburg Conservatory, where he graduated in 1912, winning the Silver medal in violin in that year. Mischa Mischakoff took the Gold.   He was never a star pupil of Auer’s, as were Milstein, Elman, Heifetz, Zimbalist, and Seidel.  Burgin became concertmaster of the Warsaw Philharmonic in 1914, at age 22.  (He was not the youngest concertmaster the Warsaw Philharmonic had ever had; Paul Kochanski was, at age 14.)  He was concertmaster of the Oslo (Norway) Symphony in 1915, and of the Stockholm Concert Society (Sweden) from 1916 to 1919.  Some sources list Helsinki (Finland) and Leningrad as other cities where he worked, presumably as concertmaster.  Only Steven Staryk and Mischa Mischakoff have been concertmaster of as many orchestras.  During those years, he played under several famous conductors, including Richard Strauss, Arthur Nikisch, and Jean Sibelius.  Burgin came to the U.S. in 1920 and soon joined the Boston Symphony as concertmaster.  Within a few months after that, he founded the Burgin String Quartet.  According to the Boston Symphony, he used to spend summers in Paris during the 1920s and 30s, probably up until the beginning of World War Two – what he did while there is not known.  From 1927 until he retired, Burgin also served as Assistant Conductor of the orchestra, conducting more than 300 of its concerts in diverse places, including Japan and Australia.  He declared a well-known attitude of concertmasters when he was quoted thus (by TIME Magazine): "I know many virtuosos and I do not envy them. They tell me what it's like to play the same few pieces over and over and know they have to go here and then be there. Not for me. I like the orchestra."  He played under Pierre Monteux, Serge Koussevitzky, and Charles Munch.  He also, of course, played in dozens of recordings under these, and other, conductors.  One of the high points of his career was his playing the U.S. premiere (in Boston under Koussevitzky) of Prokofiev’s first concerto on April 24, 1925 (two years after it was written.)  Coincidentally (or perhaps not), Koussevitzky conducted the world premiere of the concerto with the Paris Opera Orchestra, its concertmaster (Marcel Darrieux) playing the solo part, on October 18, 1923. One obscure source actually states that the world premiere of this concerto was given by Mischa Mischakoff in Russia in 1917, before the work was even published.   Burgin taught violin and conducting (and directed the Conservatory Orchestra from 1953) at the New England Conservatory.  At the Berkshire Music Center he taught conducting.  In 1959, he began teaching at Boston University.  His most famous pupil is probably Sarah Caldwell, Boston organizer and director of operas.  Because all this was (evidently) not enough to keep him totally busy, he conducted the Portland, Maine symphony as well.  I ordinarily don’t touch upon personal details of a violinist’s life but I must report that, in 1940 (July 3), Burgin married Ruth Posselt, about whom I will write something later.  He was 47 and she was 25.  Her concert career (as a violinist) was just beginning to blossom.  As far as I know, Burgin was not a chess player, as are (and were) so many other top violinists, but he was an accomplished Bridge player.  Burgin retired from the Boston Symphony in May, 1962, and moved to south Florida, where he taught at Florida State University and founded the Florestan Quartet.  He was 69 years old.  Burgin also conducted the Florida State Chamber Orchestra.  A great source of very detailed information about him is at this site. Among the several violins he owned and played was a 1744 Guarnerius Del Gesu which is unusual in that it is the only known Guarnerius made entirely of beech wood (instead of spruce and maple.)  It is now somewhere in Europe.  Richard Burgin died (in St. Petersburg, some sources say Gulfport, Florida) on April 29, 1981, at age 88.  His widow died 26 years later. 

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