Leri Slutsky, 72, veteran BSO violinist


Leri Slutsky, a veteran Baltimore Symphony Orchestra violinist and teacher of young violin students at the Peabody Conservatory, died of lung cancer at the Johns Hopkins Medical Center on Friday. The Pikesville resident was 72.

Born in Baku, Azerbaijan, Mr. Slutsky began attending the Special School for Gifted Children there at age 7. His father, Lev, worked as an ophthalmologist; his mother, Rivekah, was a pianist. At 19, he earned a spot at the prestigious Moscow Conservatory to study with Yuri Yankelevich, who trained many renowned violinists.

While at the conservatory, Mr. Slutsky fell in love with Genia Gordina, who was studying viola. With his wry sense of humor, Mr. Slutsky had a friend describe him to Ms. Gordina as an ugly, limping, stuttering man. When he showed up at her birthday party, Ms. Gordina didn't recognize Mr. Slutsky and then was pleasantly surprised.

They married in 1958, two years after graduating from the conservatory.

Mr. Slutsky performed with the Moscow Radio Symphony Orchestra for nine years. He also taught at the Special School for Gifted Children of Moscow, assisting Mr. Yankelevich.

In 1964, Mr. Slutsky successfully auditioned with the State Symphony Orchestra in Moscow, earning a spot as a second violinist. With that orchestra, he traveled the world.

Mr. Slutsky visited the United States twice while on tour and emigrated in 1977 with his wife and two children. Landing in New York City, he freelanced with various groups, including the Metropolitan Opera and the American Symphony Orchestra. He also taught at the Mannes College of Music there.

"Growing up during the Second World War was not an easy life for my father," said Boris Slutsky of Pikesville, Mr. Slutsky's son. "Though he loved his work and friends [in Moscow], he decided that there would be limited opportunities for me and my sister there."

In 1980, Mr. Slutsky joined the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, where he served as a second violinist. A year later, his wife joined the BSO in the viola section. The family settled in Pikesville.

Once in Baltimore, he taught for 10 years at the Preparatory Division of the Peabody Conservatory. There, he worked with the young Igor Yuzefovich, who emigrated from Moscow in 1991 and now is the BSO's assistant concertmaster, playing in the first violin section.

"It's very hard to find a teacher so dedicated to his students," Mr. Yuzefovich said. "You could call him at any hour of the day. He would drop everything for pretty much anyone."

While Mr. Slutsky loved all music, perhaps his favorite composer was Dmitri Shostakovich, Mrs. Slutsky said.

"Whatever piece he was teaching or playing at the time, you would think that was his favorite," Mr. Yuzefovich said. "He treated everything he played as if it was the only piece every written."

Mr. Slutsky never lost his sense of humor throughout his three-year struggle with cancer. This month, he and his wife were honored at a concert celebrating those with more than 25 years with the BSO. Mr. Slutsky played with the orchestra despite having undergone a seven-hour blood transfusion that day. He stopped traveling with the orchestra in October.

"If he was able to move and breathe, he would go to work," said Mr. Slutsky's son, himself a pianist. At a 45th wedding anniversary party almost three years ago, Mr. Slutsky wouldn't let any of the guests know he had just been diagnosed with terminal cancer.

Upon his death, his family received calls from all over the world, said Boris Slutsky.

"Everyone who calls can't believe it has happened," he said. "All they can hear is his laughter."

A funeral was held yesterday.

In addition to his wife and son, he is survived by a daughter, Dina Feinberg of Pikesville; a brother, Alexander Slutsky of Moscow; and two granddaughters.


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