Sunday, April 21, 2013

Nicolai Berezowsky

Nicolai Berezowsky (Nicolai Tikhonovich Berezowsky) was a Russian violinist, composer, and conductor born (in St Petersburg, Russia) on May 17, 1900.  It has been said that at one time he was more famous than Aaron Copland, the iconic American composer – today, Berezowsky is all but forgotten.  The 1953 edition of Grove’s Dictionary of Music makes no mention of him.  He studied violin, piano, and singing at the Imperial Chapel in St Petersburg, graduating in 1916.  One source has him studying violin in Vienna as well with an obscure teacher named Robert Pollak (aka as Robert Pollack), an Austrian violinist who made his New York recital debut on December 18, 1913 and who taught at the Vienna Conservatory from 1919 to 1926.  Pollak is said to be one of Isaac Stern’s teachers, too.  After graduation from the Imperial Chapel, Berezowsky played violin with the opera or ballet orchestras in Saratov (1917-1919) and Moscow (1919-1920.)  According to one source, he left Russia in 1920 – other sources say 1922.  He arrived in the U.S. in 1922 and studied at Juilliard (New York) with Paul Kochanski for some time.  He also played for a while with the Capitol Theatre Orchestra of New York – the same orchestra which hired Eugene Ormandy as a violinist when he first arrived in the U.S. and it is quite possible they played in that orchestra at the same time.  From 1923 to 1929, Berezowsky played with the New York Philharmonic – actually, the New York Philharmonic Society merged with the New York Symphony in 1928 so it could have been with one or the other orchestra that he played; internet sources are not clear on that.  From 1932 to 1936 he was an assistant conductor at CBS.  From 1929 to about 1931 he must have been a freelance conductor and violinist playing and conducting for radio since it wasn’t until 1932 that he again had a steady job.  He played second violin in the Coolidge String Quartet with William Kroll (on first violin) from 1935 until 1940.  From 1941 to 1946 he again worked at CBS.  As far as composition, Serge Koussevitsky (the Boston Symphony conductor) was a great champion of his and gave the premieres of many of his major works.  His cello concerto was premiered by Gregor Piatigorsky and the Boston Symphony.  It seems not to have been terribly popular with the public since Piatigorsky played it only three times in quick succession – once in New York also - then never played it again.  The concerto was premiered in Boston on February 22, 1935, then repeated on February 23 and finally played in New York's Carnegie Hall on March 2, 1935.  (Thanks to Bridget Carr, archivist for the Boston Symphony, for these details.)  Nevertheless, Berezowsky’s other music was performed far and wide and enjoyed much success while he lived – Carl Flesch performed his violin concerto and William Primrose played his viola concerto.  Berezowsky began composing while still a teenager.  His Hebrew Suite was premiered by the New York Philharmonic on December 6, 1928 – Willem Mengelberg was the conductor.  Later on, the philharmonic played other works of his as well.  The last Berezowsky work to be performed by that orchestra was his Christmas Festival Overture back in December of 1953 so, for 60 years now, Berezowsky’s music has been absent from its programs.  Be that as it may, his music is still occasionally performed and some of it has been recorded.  Of all his compositions, the most popular is probably his children’s opera, Babar, the Elephant.  That was one of his last works.  He also wrote concertos for violin, cello, viola, and harp; an oratorio, two operas, four symphonies, various light orchestral pieces, and many chamber music works, including no fewer than 5 string quartets.  Columbia University and the New York Public Library have substantial archives on Berezowsky.  It would not be difficult to resurrect his music, if someone wanted to.  Here is a YouTube audio file featuring the Coolidge Quartet in 1938, playing a 1921 quartet by Paul Hindemith.  It is superb and Berezowsky’s magnificent, warm, clean violin playing can be distinguished from Kroll’s more austere sound.  Berezowsky also did some recording as an orchestral conductor.  Berezowsky’s first wife (Alice Newman) published a 1943 memoir which covered much of their life together, titled “Duets with Nicky.”  Berezowsky died (in New York City) on August 27, 1953, at age 53.  As was violinist Christian Ferras much later (in 1982), Berezowsky was a victim of suicide.   

1 comment:

  1. You might be interested to know I just posted Berezowsky's own quartet to YouTube in the Coolidge Quartet recording: