Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Victor Aitay

Victor Aitay was a Hungarian violinist, teacher, and conductor born (in Budapest) Hungary on April 14, 1921.  He is remembered as one of the long-time concertmasters of the Chicago Symphony.  As did many of the older players in American orchestras, he came to the U.S. from Europe in the early part of the twentieth century.  He first studied with his father then entered the Franz Liszt Academy at the age of 7.  After graduation, he became concertmaster of the Hungarian Royal Opera and the Budapest Philharmonic.  He did extensive solo playing throughout Europe as well.  In 1941, he was fired, arrested by the Nazis, and sent to a concentration camp.  In 1943, he escaped, made his way back to Budapest and was saved by Raoul Wallenberg, the Swedish diplomat, who provided asylum at the Swedish Embassy.  He was 22 years old.  In 1945, he was given his old job back but soon resigned and left for Vienna.  He then founded the Aitay String Quartet with Janos Starker but work was hard to find.  In 1946, from Vienna, he (with his wife and child) made his way to the U.S.  He was 25 years old.  Arriving in New York with the clothes on his back and his violin, he soon auditioned for his European countryman, Fritz Reiner.  From 1946 to 1948, he played in the Pittsburgh Symphony – Fritz Reiner was the orchestra conductor at that time.  Some sources say Aitay was there one year and others say he was there two years.  From 1948 until 1954, he played in the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra.  He was associate concertmaster of that orchestra from 1952 until he left to join the Chicago Symphony as assistant concertmaster.  In 1965, after 11 years, he was appointed associate concertmaster and (finally) concertmaster in 1967 – from 1963 to 1967, Steven Staryk was the CSO’s concertmaster.  Aitay was 46 years old.  As do all great concertmasters with their respective orchestras, he appeared as soloist with his orchestra a number of times.  One such occasion took place on January 29, 1981, when he played Bartok's first concerto with Georg Solti on the podium.  Aitay was concertmaster until 1986 but served as concertmaster emeritus until 2003.  He was 82 years old when he retired.  He had been in the orchestra almost fifty years.  There are very few commercial recordings by Aitay as a soloist (I found only one) although he recorded with the Chicago Symphony countless times as a member of the string section.  He was also first violinist with the Chicago Symphony String Quartet.  His violin – in addition to a Vuillaume and a Guadagnini – was the Baron von der Leyen Sradivarius of (circa) 1705 - please see comments below for further information.  The Stradivarius was sold for $2,600,000 in April of this year.  Victor Aitay died on July 24, 2012, at age 91. *


  1. This is violinist profile number 304.

  2. Along with Raymond Gniewek and Richard Burgin, Aitay enjoyed one of the longest careers in orchestra concertmasters' history, though not with exactly the same title.

  3. * I am indebted to Frank Villella, archivist of the Chicago Symphony, for his invaluable assistance with this blog post.

  4. Sorry, but you've got your violin information wrong. There are two "Baron von der Leyen" Stradivari violins, the one Tarisio recently sold, and another, from 1715. The 1715 violin is the one which is owned by the Chicago Symphony and was played by Aitay. I saw it at Bein & Fushi about 15 years ago, where the CSO had placed it for safekeeping as it was not in use in the orchestra.

    1. Thank you so much for the clarification. I really appreciate it.