LONDON — Nathan Milstein
LONDON -- Ukrainian-born concert violinist Nathan Milstein, ranked among the foremost violinists of his generation and noted for his renditions of Beethoven and Bach, died Monday at age 88. No cause of death was given.
Born to Jewish parents in Odessa on Dec. 31, 1904, he defected from the then-Soviet Union to the West in 1926.
He took U.S. citizenship in 1942 but later preferred to live in London. His original name was Mironovich.
His preference was for music of the Baroque period and for 19th-century works, particularly the Beethoven violin concerto and music by Johann Sebastian Bach. He had few modern works in his repertoire.
"Modern composers try to make it [the violin] into some kind of percussion instrument," he chided in a 1960s interview.
The authoritative New Grove Dictionary of American Music said in 1986 that Mr. Milstein is "the least 'Russian' among Russian violinists because his violinistic instincts are controlled by intellect."
"His fiery temperament is firmly disciplined, his line classically pure," it said. "His interpretations of the great concertos are full of nobility and reveal a stimulating mind. He can be a dazzling technician."
Mr. Milstein's father was a prosperous wool merchant. His mother decided that he would be a violinist, although at first he did not much like the instrument.
He studied music with Professor Pyotr Stoliarsky from age 7 to 10, then went to St. Petersburg, where he became the pupil of the great Leopold Auer at the Conservatory there.
He made his official concert debut in Odessa in 1920 and two years later, he recalled, "I went to tea with the [Ukrainian-born] pianist [Vladimir] Horowitz in Kiev and stayed three years."
The two men gave sonata recitals together and formed a trio with cellist Gregor Piatigorsky.
The Soviet Communist Party gave Mr. Milstein permission to go to the West if he wished, but he initially had no desire to leave.
"Life was too wonderful in Russia," he recalled in an interview. "We had universal adulation, lots of money and whipped cream and pastries at the cafe in Stoleshnikov Alley."
But in 1926, he and Mr. Horowitz toured Europe, met emigres on their travels and never returned home.
Mr. Horowitz, now dead, also eventually took U.S. citizenship.
Mr. Milstein went first to live in Berlin and then in Brussels, where he was coached by Eugene Ysaye.
L He made his debut in the United States in 1929 at St. Louis.
In 1979, he celebrated the 50th anniversary of that debut with solo recitals and appearances as soloist with major U.S. orchestras.
He also gave master classes at the Juilliard School of Music in New York and in Zurich.
Mr. Milstein finally gave up playing at age 84 when injuries from a fall left him unable to hold his violin.
He married in 1945 and is survived by his wife, Therese, and their daughter, Maria.
His family said details of his funeral and a memorial service will be announced later.
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