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Mischa Mischakoff: Journeys of a Concertmaster.

Mischa Mischakoff: Journeys of a Concertmaster. By Anne Mischakoff Heiles. (Detroit Monographs in Musicology/Studies in Music, no. 46.) Sterling Heights, MI: Harmonie Park Press, 2006. [xxi, 316 p. ISBN 0-89990-131-X. $65.] Illustrations, appendices, index, compact disc.

What do the St. Petersburg Orchestra, the Warsaw Philharmonic, the New York Symphony Orchestra, the Philadelphia Orchestra, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, the NBC Symphony Orchestra, the Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra, the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, and the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra all have in common? They were all led by concertmaster Mischa Mischakoff at one point during his seventy-year career. As indicated by its title, Mischa Mischakoff: Journeys of a Concertmaster illustrates Mischakoff's journey from his home in Russia, where he was a student at the St. Petersburg Conservatory to the United States, where he served as the concertmaster of the orchestras listed above.

Written by Mischakoff's daughter, Anne Mischakoff Heiles, this sole biography of Mischakoff reads like a "who's who" of twentieth-century musical life in Russia and the United States. In his role as student, teacher, soloist, concertmaster, and chamber musician he worked with many conductors and instrumentalists, many of whom are even better known than Mischakoff today. This is due in large part to the fact that even though he also had an extensive career as soloist and chamber musician, "Mischakoff personified the concertmaster as specialist ... and was the first prominent US concertmaster to do so" (p. xx). His colleagues who chose careers primarily as soloists or chamber musicians retain greater recall by the musical (and non-musical) public today.

The author weaves Mischakoff's story using information from several sources, including, of course, personal knowledge of the subject, interviews with Mischakoff and his contemporaries, books, newspaper articles, reviews, and scrapbooks compiled by Mischakoff himself that documented his career. Along with reproductions of repertoire and personnel lists, correspondence, and programs, the narrative is enhanced by numerous photos, many inscribed personally to Mischakoff, depicting him with his musical colleagues. An overall strength of the book is found in the rich detail Heiles provides about supporting characters, often including birth and death dates and personal history. While this is an immense addition to the context of the narrative, at times it seems as if there is more ancillary detail than first-person information from Mischakoff himself.

Each chapter describes a phase in Mischakoff's life in a geographical and chronological manner. The first two chapters provide background on his childhood and training in Russia and Poland. Mischakoff studied with Leopold Auer's assistant Sergei Korguyev at the St. Petersburg Conservatory and felt that "I would have been better off had I gone on to Auer, though, when he offered to teach me" (p. 12). It is hard to imagine how he would have been more successful, but Mischakoff was modest about his abilities and preferred the supporting role of the concertmaster to the spotlight of the soloist even then. We see that from the time he was a student Mischakoff worked with such significant musicians as Sergei Prokofiev, Alexander Glazunov, Gregor Piatigorsky, Jascha Heifetz, and Nathan Milstein. The author also strives to provide historical background in order to illustrate the events of her father's early life, but for those less familiar with the events of the Bolshevik Revolution and World War I, some of the motivations of the political figures who interacted with Mischakoff might seem unclear. The second chapter describes how Mischakoff defected from Russia to Poland with Piatigorsky during a concert tour and later came to the United States.

The next chapter illustrates Mischakoff's arrival in New York in 1921. There he was reunited with many of his family members who were also professional musicians in various orchestras throughout the city. The story of a talented but struggling musician in America was not so different in 1921 than it is now. On Auer's suggestion (he was also in New York by this time), Mischakoff hired a manager to help get his foot in the door. The manager suggested a name change from Michael Fishberg to Mischa Mischakoff, and encouraged him to enter a New York Philharmonic competition. After winning the competition, Mischakoff played several recitals, and it was after hearing one of these that Walter Damrosch hired him as concertmaster of the New York Symphony Orchestra (which later merged with the New York Philharmonic). As mentioned earlier, background information on supporting characters at times takes center stage; here there are six paragraphs about Damrosch alone.

The next three chapters deal in turn with Mischakoff's tenure with the Philadelphia Orchestra, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, and the NBC Symphony Orchestra. The descriptions of his relationships with the primary conductors of these groups, Leopold Stokowski, Frederick Stock, and Arturo Toscanini, offer valuable insight into the inner workings of these three major orchestras. Much has already been written about Stokowski and Toscanini especially, but Heiles strives to provide Mischakoff's personal perspective on these men and their orchestras. Heiles also offers a brief history of each organization, as well as details throughout of Mischakoff's teaching, recital, and chamber music activity.

Mischakoff spent only two years in Philadelphia, in part because he did not agree with Stokowski on matters of bowings and interpretation. However, while Mischakoff appreciated that rehearsals with Stokowski were never boring (p. 94), it was ultimately an incident at a rehearsal where Mischakoff felt humiliated by Stokowski that caused him to tender his resignation in 1929. After taking a solo engagement with the Chicago Symphony in 1930, Mischakoff was hired as their concertmaster. It was in Chicago that Mischakoff had his first interactions with James Petrillo, head of the American Federated Musicians. We see how the union and its boss affected Mischakoff even though he chose not to join. On a lighter note, those of us who have been orchestra librarians might shudder at the recollection that "One of [Frederick Stock's] favorite tricks was to ask the audience [at Children's and Pop concerts] what encores it wanted and then shout to the librarian to bring the parts or music scores onstage" (p. 101). In 1937 Mischakoff was wooed away from the Chicago Symphony by the newly formed NBC Symphony Orchestra.

The longest chapter is given to describing Mischakoff's time with the NBC Symphony Orchestra, which he led for the first fifteen of its seventeen years. Heiles explains how the magnitude of this orchestra and its focus on the string sound were a progression in style for American orchestras. The members of the violin section were concertmasters and soloists in their own right but came together under Mischakoff. "It was a sign of the violin section's excellence that Joseph Gingold, later concertmaster of the Cleveland Orchestra, was at first only on the fourth stand" (p. 131). Heiles also provides context for the importance of radio in American households at this time. The NBC Symphony's weekly broadcasts were instrumental in introducing classical music to the public and served as a significant educational tool.

Heiles is able to provide intriguing background material and details about rehearsals, contracts, and interactions between musicians. For example, Mischakoff was "earning a salary more than double what he had received from the Chicago Symphony, [and] he reputedly became the highest-paid orchestral musician in the country" (p. 135). This chapter depicts how Mischakoff was routinely in the professional company of composers and conductors such as Richard Strauss, Bruno Walter, George Szell, Howard Hanson, and Fritz Reiner. It is clear that Mischakoff was an equal among giants in the musical world. At various times during his career he participated in the premieres of many solo, chamber and orchestral works that are now standard repertoire, including the world premiere of Prokofiev's Violin Concerto No. 1 (when he was still a student), the United States premieres of Shostakovich's Piano Trio in E Minor and String Quartet No. 2, as well as Bartok's String Quartet No. 3. Other pieces that were relatively new when he performed them include a Vaughan Williams Symphony, the Walton Viola Concerto, and a Shostakovich Symphony. The discussions of repertoire in this book offer an interesting look at how pieces come and go from the standard orchestral repertoire.

The final chapters of Mischakoff's story discuss his almost forty-year tenure with the Chautauqua Symphony, his positions with the Detroit and Baltimore Symphonies, and his teaching career. During the summer seasons at Chautauqua, just as he did during the regular season, he maintained a teaching studio and led the Mischakoff String Quartet in addition to his duties as concertmaster. Mischakoff was a dedicated teacher and maintained a studio at Juilliard for twelve years. Many of Mischakoff's students went on to professional careers as performers and teachers. Having recognized the name of one of his students, I discovered that I have a connection to Mischakoff. When I was a freshman viola performance major, my viola professor gave me something he had labeled a "Pedagogical Family Tree." It started at Viotti and one of the branches traced from Mischa Mischakoff, to Bernard Zaslav, to my teacher, to me. From all accounts Mischakoff was a stern and intense instructor, reducing many students to tears, not out of meanness, but because he was so exacting.

Included with the book is a compact disc of Mischakoff's playing that provides a wonderful snapshot of his career in recital, solo, chamber, and orchestral work. It is one thing to read about a performer, but quite another to hear them come to life through a recording. By incorporating details about her father's musical and personal lives, Heiles has created a biography that, like the compact disc, brings Mischakoff to life and will be of great interest to violinists and orchestral scholars.


Duke University
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Author:Dougan, Kirstin
Article Type:Book review
Date:Jun 1, 2007
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