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 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
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'.
Copyright © 9 February 2003
Bill Newman, Edgware, UK