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A great schooling

BILL NEWMAN talks to Igor Oistrakh as the 50th anniversary of the violinist's UK début approaches


A garden terrace high up overlooking Kensington's Hyde Park is a pleasant place to talk to one of Russia's great violinists. Igor Oistrakh no longer lives in the shadow of his great father, David, although one still cherishes memories of thrilling Royal Albert Hall events like Bach's Double Concerto, or Igor dashing in brilliant fashion through the Tchaikovsky or Mendelssohn's E minor with David proudly directing the orchestra.

Igor Oistrakh
Igor Oistrakh

Igor is now all set to couple the Mendelssohn with the glorious Beethoven concerto for this special anniversary début concert at London's Royal Festival Hall on Saturday 15 February 2003. Promoted, of course, by the famous Victor Hochhauser, the English Chamber Orchestra is directed by Benjamin Wallfisch. Always giving the impression that he loves to share his own personal brand of music-making with illustrious colleagues everywhere, Igor regards London as one of his favourite vantage points. A broad smile and razor-sharp reactions to my questions soon indicated the way the interview would progress.

Your first teacher at six was Valeria Merenbloom? 'Actually, she was the sister of a very famous violinist, Pyotr (Peter) Merenbloom, who had left Russia at the beginning of the century. I met him later in Los Angeles when I made my début there; he was sitting with Jascha Heifetz. Although she was a good teacher, I should confess that I was very independent from an early age, wanting to develop in my own way.'

'I still remember becoming her official pupil at the Central Music School, Moscow, and bringing along for my first lesson Vieuxtemps' Fantasia appassionata. When I started to play she was a little shocked, but being very flexible turned to the pianist, explaining "this is the way he plays, that's all!" Maybe I had faults and made some mistakes, but at that age she did not expect that I had personality. When I was twelve, I became the pupil of Pyotr Stolyarsky, who had taught my father and Nathan Milstein, and worked with him for ten years.

'At the Moscow Conservatoire meanwhile, I became my father's official pupil at eighteen. I already had first prize at the Budapest contest, but before that he took good care of me, although he was very busy all the time with many pupils and concerts. In the apartment where we lived he listened to my practising and made little corrections every day -- that was very important for me.'

At the time, Igor played the Concerto Militaire by Karl Lipinski, a rare work to Western audiences. 'I think you know about me, a lot ! It is like, as you say, the turning point in a tennis match -- an achievement in early age. I was a bit lazy and started rather slowly, but very interested in attending music school. Only then did I start to practise fanatically -- of course, it was the decisive moment in my development. My father had come back after a long journey of concerts, and usually I looked for more presents like gadgets and toys. But this time -- before he even took his coat off -- I said "Father, I would like to play for you". He was surprised: "OK, with pleasure, but wouldn't you like to eat?" "No", I cried, I wanted to play the Lipinski, and afterwards he realised that I would become a professional violinist'.

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Copyright © 9 February 2003 Bill Newman, Edgware, UK


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