Sunday, August 4, 2013

Julian Olevsky

Julian Olevsky (Julian Olewsky) was an American violinist and teacher born (in Berlin) on May 7, 1926 - Olevsky's mother was Russian and his father was Polish.  He was a highly respected and admired musician who died at a relatively young age.  At age 7, Olevsky began his studies with his father (Siegmund Olewsky), who was a professional violinist and leader of an orchestra in Berlin.  In 1935, the family had to move from Berlin (by way of Luxembourg) to Buenos Aires, Argentina, where they stayed for about 12 years and perhaps many more.  There, he first studied with Aaron Klasse for two years and then with Alexander Petschnikoff, both of whom were pupils of the famous Hungarian violin pedagogue Leopold Auer, although Petschnikoff also studied with Jan Hrimaly in Moscow.  At age 10, Olevsky made his recital debut and about two years later - in 1938 - made his debut with orchestra.  On that occasion, with the Orquesta Sinfonica Argentina under Austrian conductor Kurt Pahlen, Olevsky played the Glazunov concerto.  He was 12 years old.  Interestingly, Mischa Elman made his British debut with this concerto and Nathan Milstein and Efrem Zimbalist both made their U.S. debuts with this concerto as well.  It has been said that Fritz Busch (brother of violinist Adolf Busch) conducted the orchestra for Olevsky's debut but such is not the case.  However, he later did play (in that same year, 1938) with an orchestra conducted by Fritz Busch - Orquesta de la Asociacion Wagneriana (Orchestra of the Wagner Association) - at the Teatro Presidente Alvear.  The work on the program was Mozart's Sinfonia Concertante (for violin and viola) and the violist was Andre Vancoillie.  Olevsky went on to present his Teatro Colon debut (in Buenos Aires - similar to playing a Carnegie Hall debut in the U.S.) in 1942 with the Philharmonic Orchestra of Buenos Aires with Juan Jose Castro on the podium.  Olevsky subsequently toured South America extensively and eventually came to reside in the U.S. (1947.)  He was 21 years old.  I could not find any reference stating that he had ever attended a conservatory so it is quite possible that all of his music studies were done privately.  In 1949, he made his New York debut at Town Hall.  Between 1947 and 1949, he had devoted much of his time to studying and enriching his recital repertoire.  During that time he also briefly studied with Raphael Bronstein, another pupil of Leopold Auer.  His appearance at Town Hall was highly successful and much-praised.  His accompanist was Wolfgang Rose', Mischa Elman's former accompanist.  Until 1965, Rose' would remain his accompanist for concerts and recordings.  In 1950, Olevsky played his first recital at Carnegie Hall.  He played three more recitals there over the course of his career.  He went on to play in most of the great halls around the world and with some of the great orchestras and conductors - too numerous to mention - who have since become icons and legends in the classical music firmament.  In 1965, he formed a duo with pianist Estela Kersenbaum with whom he toured and later recorded all of the Mozart Sonatas.  With the addition of cellist Paul Olefsky (Olevsky's cousin), the duo also performed as the Olewsky Trio, recording all of the trios by Brahms as well as trios by Arensky and Tchaikovsky.*  In 1967, Olevsky was appointed to a teaching position at the University of Massachusetts (Amherst), where he taught until the year he died.  His discography on the Westminster label is somewhat limited but includes twelve concertos of Vivaldi (including the Four Seasons with the Vienna State Opera Orchestra), Bach’s six works for unaccompanied violin, Lalo’s Symphonie Espagnole, the Brahms concerto, Bruch’s first concerto, Mendelssohn’s second concerto, and Wieniawski’s second concerto.  I don’t think all of the records have been digitized but you can still acquire one via record collectors – they usually run about forty dollars - although many of his recordings have also been re-issued on the Doremi label.  You will discover that music critics frequently compared Olevsky to Jascha Heifetz and David Oistrakh.  Here is a YouTube file of a performance by Olevsky.  His collection of orchestral and piano scores is now housed at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.  Among the violins he played was the Emperor Guarnerius Del Gesu from 1738, one of the better-known Guarnerius violins.  That violin had been owned by one of Napoleon’s Military Assistants and that’s supposedly how it acquired its name.  None of that has actually been confirmed by anyone but is part of violin lore.  Olevsky died suddenly (in Amherst) on May 25, 1985, at age 59.  His students include Charles Sherba, Chris Devine, David Tasgal, Dean Radin, Eric Bachrach, Eric Tanner, Gerald Itzkoff, Matthew Hunter, and Steve Leonard.  
* I am indebted to Ms Estela Kersenbaum Olevsky for much of the information on this blog post. Her website pays tribute to this magnificent violinist, her late husband. 


  1. Another Olevsky cousin, Leon Spierer, was Concertmaster of the Berlin Philharmonic for about thirty years - in fact, for most of Karajan's tenure.

  2. I studied with Julian at UMass Amherst 1975. Until you are in front of him you can’t imagine how gifted this man was, and it runs in the family. His cousin Paul Olevsky, at the time was principal cellist of the Philadelphia Orchestra. And his wife a Estella Kirschenbaum, a world class pianist. I had the privilege of spending time with all of them. His recital‘s were 100% virtuoso amazing and virtually impossible to say the least. A humorous man with a lot to offer about life

    1. Thank you so much for your comment. It brings realism to this blog.