Modest Altschuler and the Creation of the Russian Symphony of New York
Modest Altschuler in about 1919
Creation of the Russian Symphony Orchestra Society of New York
The Russian Symphony Orchestra Society was created in late 1903 by Modest
Altschuler, and was the training ground for many orchestral musicians who
later achieved fame in the leading "established" orchestras of
America. The Russian Symphony of New York's first concern was in the
Cooper Union Hall (where Lincoln made his famous first speech in New York City in
1840) on January 7, 1904. This was the first of 6 concerts at
Cooper Union that season 1. The first concert was of
music by Tchaikovsky, Glinka, Rachmaninoff (at that time, still an
innovation), and Henryk Wieniawski (1835-1880), with Michael Svedrofsky,
the Russian Symphony's newly arrived Concertmaster as soloist.
The Rachmaninoff work was the U.S. premiere (and first performance
outside Russia) of The Rock.
"...an orchestra of 65, consisting of Jewish graduates of the Imperial
Conservatory performed...Immediate acclaim led the conductor
[Altschuler] to expand his complement of musicians to 95 and to move
uptown to Carnegie Hall..." 1.
During the 1900s and 1910s the Russian Symphony toured the United
States and Canada featuring performances and compositions by leading contemporary
Russian. The Russian Symphony was made up mainly of Russian Jewish
immigrants who, like Altschuler, left Russia and Poland to escape the
pogroms that were an unfortunate feature of the later nineteenth and
early twentieth century there. According to contemporary
reviews, the Russian Symphony of New York typically had 50 to 60
musicians for a concert. As you will see below, many gifted
and later famous musicians were active in the Russian Symphony in New
York in the 1900s and 1910s. However, financially they, and the
Russian Symphony essentially scraped by financially. Some accounts
report that the musicians received their remuneration through donations
donated during the intermissions of performances.
The Russian Symphony of New York did have, however, its prominent
backers. William Boyce-Thompson (1869-1930), a governor of the
Federal Reserve Bank of New York and a lover of things Russian was
President of the Russian Symphony Society during the 1910s.
Modest Altschuler was born in Mogilyov, near Kiev, at that time in Russia,
and now Belarus on February 18, 1873. Interestingly, Irving Berlin
(born Israel Isidore Baline) as well as Benar Heifetz, cello of
the Philadelphia Orchestra, was also born in Mogilev.
Mogilev has been part of Poland, part of Lithuania, and now part of
Belarus. Altschuler studied first, starting at age 13 at the
Warsaw Conservatory. After graduation, Altschuler went to Moscow
where he studied cello with Alfred von Glehn (1858-1930) who was himself a student
of the famous cello teacher, Karl Davydov (or Davidov, 1838-1889). Interestingly, Gregor
Piatigorsky (1903-1976) was also a student of von Glehn, and said that von Glehn was
not a very demanding or inspiring teacher 7. An
interesting later development was that in December, 1907, von Glehn
appeared as a cello soloist at the Russian Symphony Orchestra Society
Altschuler also studied
composition with Anton Arensky (1861-1906), and harmony with Taneyev (1856-1915).
He also studied conducting at the Moscow Conservatory. Modest Altschuler emigrated
to the U.S. in 1896, along with his brother Bernard, also a cellist who played with the
Russian Symphony in concerts in the 1910s.
Altschuler created the Russian Symphony Orchestra Society in late 1903
with the help of Alexander Saslavsky, another Russian émigré.
Alexander Saslavsky was Concertmaster of the Russian Symphony Orchestra
for about half of its life. Even during the life of the Russian
Symphony Orchestra Society, Altschuler continued to give occasional
cello chamber music concerts in New York City 6.
Notable U.S. and World Premieres by the Russian Symphony Orchestra
Modest Altschuler was always interested in new music, and the Russian
Symphony Orchestra Society introduced new music in every season for 15,
including many U.S. premieres, and some world premieres, with most, but
not all of the composers having Russian backgrounds.
The Russian Symphony made the American premiers of a number of later
famous Russian works. For example, on February 25, 1905 at Carnegie Hall,
Altschuler and the Russian Symphony made the U.S. premier of
Mussorgsky's Prelude to Khovanshchina.
The Russian Symphony Orchestra Society also premiered a number of works
by now obscure Russian composers including Alexander Ilyinsky or
Alexander Alexandrovich Il'yinksy (1859-1920), Vasily Andreyevich
Zolotaryov or Zolotarev (1872-1964), Eduard Frantsovitch
Nápravník (1839-1916), who was conductor of the Mariinsky
Theatre in St. Petersburg for many years, and Alexander Nikolayevich
Serov (1820-1871). It made a number of world premiers, often of
now forgotten composers such as Edvard Armas Järnefelt (1869-1958) and
Emil Mylnarski (1870-1935), and father-in-law to Artur Rubinstein).
1903 Premieres by the The Russian Symphony Orchestra Society
The first performance outside Russia of Rachmaninoff's "The Rock
was by Altschuler and the Russian Symphony Society of New York in 1903.
"The Rock is a fantasy for orchestra, composed by Rachmaninoff
in 1893 while both he and Modest Altschuler were students at the St. Petersburg
Conservatory. Rachmaninoff had the same two teachers in composition as did
Modest Altschuler: Anton Arensky for harmony and Sergei Taneyev for counterpoint.
1904 Premieres by the The Russian Symphony Orchestra Society
They also gave U.S. premiers of many other famous compositions, such as
the Caucasian Sketches, opus 10 of Mikhail Ippolitov-Ivanov (1859-1935)
and the First Symphony of Sergei Taneyev (1856-1915), both
premiered by the Russian Symphony in their first 1904 season 4.
That same year, they premiered in the U.S. Rimsky-Korsakov's overture
May Night, and the Glazunov symphonic poem Stenka Razine.
1905 Premieres by the The Russian Symphony Orchestra Society
In 1905, as well as Mussorgsky's Prelude to Khovanshchina, they gave
the U.S. premiere of two Rimsky-Korsakov works: Tsar Saltan suite
and of music from Snegurachka (the 'Snow Maiden'). That year,
they also gave the U.S. premiere of Vasily Kalinnikov (1866-1901) First
Symphony. In 1905, the Russian Symphony also gave the U.S. premiere
of the Anton Arensky (1861-1906) Violin Concerto, with Maud Powell as
1906 Premieres by the The Russian Symphony Orchestra Society
In 1906, they gave the U.S. premiere of the Reinhold Gliere (1875-1956)
(a pupil of Taneyev) First symphony in E flat major, composed in 1900.
Also, Glazunov's Dance Scene, opus 81, composed in 1904, and his
At the November 8, 1906 concert, Alexander Pechnikov (1873-1949), the
violinist who was a student of Leopold Auer appeared as a soloist with
the Russian Symphony Orchestra Society 15.
1907 Premieres by the The Russian Symphony Orchestra Society and the
In 1907, the Russian Symphony Orchestra gave the U.S. premiere of
Sibelius's Karelia Overture and then the Karelia Suite, two different
works, both composed in 1893.
The 1906 -1907, and 1907 - 1908 seasons of the Russian Symphony
Orchestra Society were certainly an Alexander Scriabin seasons.
Alexander Scriabin in about 1900
In December, 1906, Alexander Scriabin himself, conducted by Vasily
Safonoff (then conductor of the New York Philharmonic) performed
Scriabin's Piano Concerto, composed about 9 years previously.
Vasily Safonoff was a teacher of both Scriabin and Modest Altschuler
when they and also the pianist Josef Lhevinne were at the Moscow
Conservatory. Interestingly, Safonoff, like Leopold Stokowski,
conducted without a baton. Safonoff may
have been the first prominent modern conductor not to use a baton.
Also, speaking of Josef Lhevinne, this legendary pianist made he U.S.
debut with the Russian Symphony Orchestra Society at a concert given in
Carnegie Hall on January 27, 1906 4.
Vasily Safonoff in about 1903
In February, 1907, the Russian Symphony Orchestra performed the U.S.
premiere of Scriabin's Symphony no. 1 in E major, composed in
1900. This was less than two months after the December 20,
1906 concert in which Scriabin himself made the U.S. premiere of his piano
concerto with the Russian Symphony Orchestra. In March, 1907, they
gave the U.S. premiere of Scriabin's Symphony no 3 in C minor
"The Divine Poem" of 1904. The next year, in December,
1908, they gave the U.S. premiere of Scriabin's Symphony no. 4
"The Poem of Ecstasy", written in
In 1907, the Russian Symphony also gave the U.S. premiere of the
Glazunov Symphony no. 8 in E flat major, composed just the previous year.
Also, the U.S. premiere of Arensky's First symphony.
1908 Premieres by the The Russian Symphony Orchestra Society
The next year, in 1908, the orchestra premiered in the United States the
Sibelius Symphony no. 3 in C major (however, in my opinion, Sibelius's
weakest of his series of grand and inspired symphonies). Again,
this Sibelius symphony was only completed in the previous year, 1907.
In 1908, they also gave the U.S. premiere of part of Glazunov's
Seasons from which they played Winter. The world
premiere of the Seasons was only a few years previously, in 1900 in St.
Petersburg by the Imperial Ballet conductor Riccardo Drigo (1846-1930).
Another 1908 premiere was not an orchestral composition, but of a later
star soloist. Mischa Elman (1892-1967) who had his U.S. debut on
December 10, 1908 with the Russian Symphony Orchestra Society in
Carnegie Hall in the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto.
1909 and 1910 Premieres by the The Russian Symphony Orchestra
In January, 1909, the Russian Symphony Orchestra gave the U.S. premiere
of Rachmaninoff's Symphony no. 2 in E minor, which of course was
one of Rachmaninoff's most successful works. Rachmaninoff himself
conducted the world premiere less than 12 months earlier in St.
Petersburg February 8, 1908.
In 1910, the Russian Symphony Orchestra gave the U.S. premiere of one of
Glazunov's most successful compositions, his Violin Concerto in A
minor, opus 82 written in 1905, and given its world premiere in St.
Petersburg February 1905 with the legendary Leopold Auer as soloist.
For the 1910 Russian Symphony Orchestra U.S. premiere, the violin solo
was none less than Mischa Elman, then only age 19, who was to go on to a
super-star career. Interestingly, Elman was one of Leopold Auer's
pupils at the St. Petersburg Conservatory.
Later in 1910 (November) the Orchestra gave the U.S. premiere of two of
Anatoly Lyadov's most famous works: the tone poems, The
Enchanted Lake opus 62, and Kikimora opus 63, both composed
only the previous year in 1909. The next month, in December, 1910,
the Russian Symphony Orchestra gave the U.S. premiere of Stravinsky's
Fireworks which again had been premiered in Russia only the year
before in St. Petersburg. Sergei Diaghilev was at this premiere,
and it motivated him to commission Stravinsky in 1910 to compose the
Firebird for Diaghilev's Ballets Russes. This performance by the
Russian Symphony Orchestra was also the first American performance of
any work by Stravinsky 4.
1911 Premieres by the The Russian Symphony Orchestra Society
Alexander Alexandrovich Ilyinsky (1859-1920) - 'Psyche', a symphonic movement.
Later Concerts of the Russian Symphony Orchestra
Although Modest Altschuler
ended the annual seasons of New York concerts of the Russian Symphony
Orchestra Society in 1919, with the post WW1 economic recession, the
orchestra continued to perform in the summer season.
Recall that orchestra
musicians of the era did not have 52 weeks of employment with their
orchestras. Full year around employment for most orchestras did
not occur until the 1960s. The first orchestra to offer 52 week
employment was the Boston Symphony 9, which had the summer
Tanglewood season to bridge the summer. Among performing
orchestras, Toscanini's NBC Symphony Orchestra topped the Boston
Symphony, offering higher salaries and 52 week employment.
In 1964, the New York Philharmonic negotiated its first 52 week
employment contract with its musicians 10. The
Philadelphia Orchestra and the Chicago Symphony followed, but did not
provide the full 52 seeks to all musicians. There were three
tiers: 52 weeks, 50 weeks, and 47 weeks 11. By the
1970-1971 season, six American orchestras had 52 week contracts with
their musicians, adding Cleveland, San Francisco and Houston.
In the 1920s and 1930s, a
large percentage of professional musicians worked in the orchestras of
movie theaters. "...By 1927, approximately 25,000, or an estimated
one-quarter or one-third of musicians who earned the majority of their
income from musical performances worked in front of the silent
screen..." 12. In fact, as you can see in
the article below about Modest Altschuler's Later Career, Altschuler
himself worked for
about two years as Music Director of the Circle Theater, a movie theater
in Indianapolis, and now home of the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra.
However, at the time of the
Russian Symphony Orchestra Society concerts, no orchestral musicians
enjoyed 52 week employment with a symphony orchestra. The U.S. and
Canadian tours of the Russian Symphony, while probably not well-paid,
did provide off-season employment for many leading New York based
musicians. For this reason, the Russian Symphony continued to tour
in the summers of 1920, 1921, and 1922. It is likely that the
musicians who played those summers varied, unlike to stable membership
of, for example, the Boston or Philadelphia orchestras.
The Russian Symphony Orchestra Society Pioneers Women Composers
The Russian Symphony also premiered works by women, rare at that
time. In 1912 they premiered the Serenade by Mary Lawrence Townsend,
presumably an American woman composer, of whom I have found no other
Russian Symphony Orchestra Pioneering Recordings
The Russian Symphony Orchestra was among the first U.S. orchestras to make
recordings. U.S. Columbia discs of short pieces by Tchaikovsky, and
others were made in New York City from 1910-1912. These works
(with corrected titles indicated) included:
Matrix Number - Record Number - Date - Musical Work
30797-1 Columbia A5321 June 26,
1911 Anton Rubinstein - Russkaya & Trepak - Russian Dance
30798-1 Columbia A5394 June 26, 1911
Glinka - Kamarinskaya - part 1
30799-2 Columbia A5394 June 26, 1911
Glinka - Kamarinskaya - part 2
30800-1 Columbia A5321 May 26, 1911
Volga Boatman song (Ej uhnem!,Эй,ухнем!)
A5345 June, 1911 Edward Lassen - Festival Overture
30852 Columbia A5360 June, 1911
Dvorak - Symphony no 9 - Largo
30867 Columbia A5360 June, 1911
Johan Halvorsen - Entrance march of Boyars
30868 Columbia A5345 June, 1911
Tchaikovsky - Sleeping Beauty
30954 Columbia A5321 September, 1911
Ippolitov-Ivanov - Caucasian Sketches - Procession of the Sardar
36485-1 Columbia A5469 October, 1912
38145 Columbia A1211 July 1912
Gounod - Marche funčbre d'une marionnette
The Russian Symphony Orchestra Society Impressive History of
The New York (and likely the U.S.) premiere of Serge Prokofiev's Piano Concerto
no 1 in D-flat Major, was performed by the Russian Symphony at Carnegie Hall on
December 10, 1918 with Prokofiev at the piano. Prokofiev's First Concerto
was composed during 1911-1912, while Prokofiev was still a St. Petersburg conservatory
student and it was dedicated to his teacher Nikolai Nikolayevich Tcherepnin (1873-1945).
This record of U.S. premieres must be at least as impressive as the
record of other American orchestras of the same period. This is
particularly striking given that the Russian Symphony Orchestra Society
gave only about 6 to 8 concerts in each New York season, not counting
the many concerts given as a touring orchestra.
of performances of obscure and forgotten composers is likely because, at
the time when contemporary compositions first appear, it is often not
apparent at that time which compositions are works of real genius, and
which only display craftsmanship, or academic interest. Would it
have been clear at that time that the music of Vasily Zolotarev would be
later forgotten, whereas Igor Stravinsky, only 9 years younger, would
become one of the most famous composers of the Twentieth Century ?
Perhaps it is not immediately manifest.
1913 Interview with Modest Altschuler on Russian Music
As well as its New York concerts, and its national tours, the Russian
Symphony Orchestra was the resident summer orchestra of the Chautauqua
summer festival 1915-1917. Chautauqua then and later has been
something like an American version of the later Salzburg Music Festival,
but located in western New York State.
Modest Altschuler ended the New York subscription concerts of the Russian
Symphony in 1919, in part due to declining financial support during the
two years of economic recession in the United States that followed World
War 1. However, Altschuler and the Russian Symphony continued to
tour in the U.S., primarily under contract with American music festivals
as a touring orchestra. As is documented by newspaper accounts,
such tours seem to have continued from 1919 through 1922.
In about 1922 to 1924, Altschuler performed as a theater orchestra
conductor and composer for silent motion pictures in theaters in
the Circle Theater in Indianapolis. Interestingly, the Circle
Theater is now an historic landmark, and is home to the Indianapolis
Circle Theater, Indianapolis
In working as Music Director at the Circle Theater,
Altschuler continued to provide orchestral music for
the silent films of the era. This was likely the
beginning of what later became a Hollywood composer
of film scores. Altschuler had previously as early
as 1912 written the music for a film called "The Miracle"
and had toured with the film with orchestra to accompany it.
In 1924, Altschuler had moved to California. Altschuler went to
Hollywood initially to compose the music for Frank Lloyd's motion
picture "The Sea Hawk" completed in 1924. Altschuler made
California his home, and lived in Los Angeles. Altschuler
thereafter was continuously active in the Hollywood music scene.
In 1926-1927, Altschuler appointed Music Director of the Glendale
Symphony Orchestra, which had been organized in 1924, made up of
primarily amateur musicians. Altschuler remained as conductor of
the Glendale Symphony until the end of the 1930-1931 season, when the
orchestra structure changed due to the financial difficulties of the
depression 13. In the 1933 until at least 1936, with
the coming of the Roosevelt administration WPA program, Altschuler
became conductor of WPA Federal Symphony number 1 of Los Angeles
8. This was one of the many WPA orchestras across
the United States which gave employment to musicians during the
In August, 1932, NBC broadcast a symphony concert conducted by Modest
Altschuler broadcast from the stadium of George Washington High School
in the Washington Heights section of Manhattan, New York City. The
provenance of this orchestra, and why it was formed is not evident from
the press reports of the time.
In Hollywood, Modest Altschuler both composed and conducted a series of film
scores during the 1930s and 1940s. Among the film scores he composed, and
beginning in 1929 conducted and recorded were: The Sea Hawk (1924), She
Goes to War (1929), It's All in Your Mind (1938), Buffalo Bill Rides Again
(1947). He also conducted film scores, including: Dawn to Dawn (1933),
Glamour (1934), Heavenly Music (1943), Song of My Heart (1948).
A fascinating story is that in 1939, Altschuler filed a $250,000
plagiarism lawsuit against RKO Pictures, Walt Disney Enterprises,
and his fellow Mogilyov-born composer, Irving Berlin. Altschuler
claimed that the song "Whistle While You Work" that Snow
White sang in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1939) was
plagiarized from Altschuler's composition, the "Russian Soldiers
Song ". I have not yet discovered how that lawsuit ended.
After 43 years in California, in Hollywood, Modest Altschuler
died September 12, 1963, aged 90 after a full life.
Modest Altschuler, Eleanor Aller, Felix Slatkin and Leonard
Modest's brother Gregory Aller (1876-1963) helped Modest gain Hollywood
employment. Gregory Aller and his wife Fanny Aller (1876- ) were both
orchestra musicians. Their daughter, Eleanor Aller (1917-1995),
was a famous cellist who married the violinist and conductor Felix Slatkin
(1915-1963). Together, Eleanor and Felix were active Hollywood musicians,
and they founded the legendary Hollywood String Quartet. Their son,
Leonard Slatkin (1944- ) has of course had a distinguished conducting
career and been Music Director of several American orchestras himself,
including 18 years at the Saint Louis Symphony 1979-1996 and during 12
seasons, 1996-2008 the National Symphony Orchestra of Washington.
At the time of writing, Leonard Slatkin is Principal Guest Conductor
of the Pittsburgh Symphony, and beginning with this 2008-2009 season,
he is Music Director of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra.
Concertmasters of the Russian Symphony Orchestra of
1904 Michael Svedrofsky
Michael Svedrofsky was born in Russia December 14, 1873. He came
to the U.S. in 1902 and became concertmaster of the Russian Symphony
Orchestra of New York for the initial Concert of January 7, 1904 until
the end season in about April 1904. Beginning with the 1904-1905
season, Svedrofsky became Concertmaster of the Philadelphia for two
seasons, until 1906. After the Philadelphia Orchestra, he was
third Concertmaster (third chair) at the Metropolitan Opera in New York
1911-1922 and second Concertmaster 1923-1930. Svedrofsky became a U.S.
citizen in 1919. Svedrofsky also played in chamber music ensembles in the 1900s and
1910s in New York. Svedrofsky died in August, 1936.
1904-1908 Alexander Saslavsky
Gdal Saleski states 2 that Alexander Saslavsky helped
Modest Altschuler found the Russian Symphony Orchestra of New
York in late 1903, leading up to their first concert in January,
1904. It seems that beginning with the 1904-1905 season,
Saslavsky took over the Concertmaster chair from Michael Svedrofsky,
who had moved to Philadelphia. Saleski states that
Saslavsky continued as Concertmaster for four seasons until
the end of the 1907-1908 season. Saslavsky was born in Kharkov,
Russia on February 19, 1876. He entered the St. Petersburg
Conservatory in 1887, at age 11 studying under Konstantin Gorsky,
and also under Jacob Grün, in Vienna, graduating in 1893.
He toured North America in 1893 and joined the first violins of
the New York Symphony in that year. Saslavsky became
Concertmaster of the New York Symphony in 1912-1918, and Associate
Concertmaster 1918-1919. In 1919, Saslavsky became Concertmaster
of the Los Angeles Philharmonic. During summers Saslavsky played
summer orchestra concerts in Denver. In He died in San
Francisco in 1924.
1908-1909 Maximilian Pilzer
Maximilian Pilzer in about 1926
Maximilian Pilzer was born in New York City February 26, 1890
of Austrian parents. He studied with Henry Schradieck
(1846-1918), and in about 1900 went to Berlin to study with
Josef Joachim and with Gustave Hollaender at the Stern
Conservatory in Berlin. In about 1903, Pilzer played
public concerts in Berlin and Dresden as something of a child
prodigy. In 1904, he played violin for 6 months with the
Queen's Hall Orchestra in London. In 1905, Pilzer returned
to New York and toured in the eastern U.S. He became
Concertmaster of the Russian Symphony Orchestra of New York
during the 1908-1909 season. During World War 1,
U.S. orchestras were avoiding European musicians, and Maximilian
Pilzer became Concertmaster of the New York Philharmonic from
1915-1917, replacing Leopold Kramer, who was unable to leave
Austria due to the outbreak of World War 1. In the 1920s,
Pilzer moved to the large New York theater orchestras as a
theatre conductor. By the 1940s, Pilzer was a freelance
orchestra musician in New York. Max Pilzer died in
New York in 1958.
1911-1913 Nikolai Sokoloff
Nikolai Sokoloff circa 1911
Nikolai Sokoloff was born in Kiev, then in Russia, now the capital of the
Ukraine probably on May 26, 1886 (not May 26, 1885 or May 28, 1886 as
sometimes Sokoloff sometimes gave the date on various official
documents. Somewhat like Leopold Stokowski, Nikolai Sokoloff
seems to have varied the dates and biographical details he provided
during his career, perhaps aiming at effect.) Sokoloff first studied
violin with his father, Gregory Sokoloff, a musician. At a young age,
of about 10, Nikolai played violin with the Kiev Municipal Orchestra, which
his father conducted 7. Nikolai Sokoloff emigrated with his
family to the US in the summer of 1901 going first to Boston and then to
Westport, Connecticut. In Connecticut, he studied with teachers from
Yale University 7. Sokoloff studied violin in New Haven,
and music with Charles Martin Loeffler in Boston. Nikolai Sokoloff
was in the first violin section of the Boston Symphony beginning at age 18
for three seasons, 1904-1907.
During 1910-1912, studied violin in
France, where he met Vincent d’Indy and studied with Eugene Ysa˙e in
France. He played in a regional orchestra in Manchester, England.
Returning to the US, Nikolai Sokoloff Concertmaster of the Russian
Symphony Orchestra of New York for the 1912-1913 season. He was also
assistant conductor to Altschuler during that period. In 1916, he
went to San Francisco to join a string quartet. In 1917-1918, Nikolai
Sokoloff was in France during World War 1, seeking to aid by music the
After the war, at the end of the San Francisco Symphony
1918-1919 season under Music Director Alfred Hertz,
there was reported dissention by some San Francisco Symphony
musicians, who organized the "People's Philharmonic Orchestra"
4. They invited Nikolai Sokoloff to be their conductor.
This group played during the summer of 1919, but meanwhile, the San Francisco
Orchestra directors raised money and hired new musicians to replace the
defectors. The People's Philharmonic Orchestra tried to continue with
Max Bendix (1866-1945), long term Concertmaster of the Chicago Symphony
as their conductor, presenting popular concerts in San Francisco, but eventually
failed 4. Just before this venture, Nikolai Sokoloff became
the first Music Director of the Cleveland Orchestra, beginning in its
initial season 1918-1919. He conducted the Cleveland Orchestra for fifteen
During this tenure, Nikolai Sokoloff was also an early
conductor of a symphony orchestra recording, on acoustic disks, all heavily cut
as was usual for that period. For Brunswick, Sokoloff and the
Cleveland Orchestra recorded Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture on January 23, 1924
(Brunswick 12 inch - 30 cm disk 7850047). In May, 1924, at another acoustic
recording session, they recorded Nicolai's Overture to The Merry Wives of Windsor
(Brunswick ) and the Saint-Saëns Danse macabre (two sides of Brunswick 50089).
In October, 1924, still acoustically, Sokoloff and the Cleveland Orchestra recording
the Brahms Hungarian Dance no 5 (Brunswick 15092), and the third movement of the Brahms
Symphony no 5 (Brunswick 50053). On the other side of the Brahms was the
first recording of Sibelius's Finlandia (cut to one side), also recorded October, 1924
at the end of the acoustic recording era. Sokoloff's programs during his
Cleveland tenure were adventurous, and critics found his conducting vigorous and
exciting. However, the critic William Osborne summarizing Sokoloff's programming
wrote: "...During his fifteen-year tenure Sokoloff slighted the classical and early
romantic standards in favor of works by late romantic and neo-romantic Frenchmen and
Following his Cleveland tenure,
during the Great Depression, Nikolai Sokoloff was 1935-1937, the Administrator of
the Federal Music Project, part of the Work Projects Administration, a Roosevelt
program to increase employment. Nikolai Sokoloff resigned from the Federal
Music Project in May 1939 8, and by autumn, became Music Director of the
Seattle Symphony for three seasons, 1938-1941. In La Jolla, California,
Nikolai Sokoloff founded the La Jolla Musical Arts Society Orchestra in the
1941 9. Sokoloff continued to conduct the group, which also commissioned
new works until the end of the 1961-1962 season. Nikolai Sokoloff
died in La Jolla (suburban San Diego), California September 25, 1965.
1913-1914 Louis Edlin
Louis Edlin, right in Cleveland in 1920 with Victor de Gomez, Cleveland
Principal cello, left.
Louis Edlin was born in New York City on September 30, 1889 of
Russian-Jewish parents, Boris and Mary Edlin. His younger sister
Sophie was a pianist. After starting violin studies young, Louis
Edlin studied with Arnold D. Volpe (1869-1940) at age 9 63,
violinist and orchestra conductor in New York City. Arnold Volpe
organized and conducted his Volpe orchestra, a training orchestra in the
years prior to World War 1 62, and Louis Edlin gained his
first orchestral experience there. He also appeared in New York with
the Young Men's Symphony and with the Duss Band 63.
Louis Edlin then spent four years studying in Europe. 1906-1908,
Edlin studied at the Paris Conservatoire with Guillaume Rémy.
Louis Edlin then went to Berlin in 1909-1910 where he studied with
Fritz Kreisler, among other teachers 1. Louis Edlin
returned to New York in 1911 and played in the first violin section
of the New York Symphony for two seasons, 1911-1913. In the
1913-1914 season, Louis Edlin become Concertmaster of the Russian
Symphony of New York, following Nikolai Sokoloff in that position.
In the 1914-1915 season, Louis Edlin moved to the first violin section
of the Philharmonic Society of New York 1,2, where he
stayed for four seasons until the end of the 1918-1919. Then,
at the recommendation of the Philharmonic conductor Josef Stransky,
Louis Edlin became became Concertmaster of the Cleveland Orchestra in
March, 1919 2 at age 25, succeeding Sol Marcosson.
Louis Edlin stayed in Cleveland until the end of the 1922-1923 season.
During his Cleveland years, Edlin taught at the Cleveland Institute
of Music 64. He also played in the Cleveland String
Quartet, at that time consisting of the conductor Nikolai Sokoloff first,
Louis Edlin second, Herman Klodkin viola, Victor de Gomez cello
In 1923, Louis Edlin returned to New York City and joined the faculty
of the Institute of Musical Art (Juilliard). Edlin was also a
founding member of the New York Trio, Louis Edlin violin,
Cornelius Van Vliet (1886-1963) cello, Clarence Adler (1886-1969) piano.
The Trio also recorded for Edison records in 1928 65.
In 1926-1927 Louis Edlin he became a radio conductor of the
Atwater-Kent radio orchestra. Louis Edlin later served as a
section head of violins and a conductor at the National Orchestral
Association, a training orchestra for orchestral musicians in New York
City in the 1940s. Louis Edlin died at a date not yet identified,
but after 1950.
1914-1915 Frederic Fradkin
Fredric 'Freddy' Fradkin
Fredric 'Freddy' Fradkin was born in Troy, New York on April 24,
1892 of Russian parents. Fradkin studied violin with Sam Franko
(1857-1937), who was also briefly a BSO violin (2 weeks !), Leopold Lichtenberg
(1861-1935), and Max Bendix (1866–1945). Beginning in 1908, at age sixteen,
Fradkin was admitted to the Paris Conservatoire, where he won the violin Premier prix
in the 1910 Concour. Fradkin was briefly Concertmaster in Bordeaux
and Monte Carlo, and also studied with Ysa˙e in 1911. Fredric Fradkin
then played in 1912 with the Wiener Concert-Verein (Vienna Concert Society
Orchestra, after 1933 called the "Vienna Symphony") in 1912.
In 1914-1915 Fradkin was Concertmaster of the Russian Symphony Orchestra of
New York, under Modest Altschuler. Freddy Fradkin then joined the Diaghilev
Ballet Russe orchestra in their 1916 U.S. tour, conducted by Pierre Monteux.
Fredric Fradkin became Concertmaster of the Boston Symphony in
the 1918-1919 season under Henri Rabaud. At this time, the impact
of the warfare of World War 1 on public thinking was ever-growing, which
generated significant anti-German sentiments. The concert public
considered Fredric Fradkin as being the first US-born Concertmaster of
a major U.S. orchestra - seen as an important event, subject of much
comment. (Perhaps they had forgotten Nahan Franco, Metropolitan Opera Concertmaster
1883-1907, and brother of Freddy Fradkin's teacher Sam Franco.)
The next season, Pierre Monteux became conductor beginning 1919-1920.
In this 1919-1920 season, the orchestra musicians sought to unionize
and gain wage increases, which Fradkin as Concertmaster supported.
Feelings escalated into March, 1920. On March 5, 1920, there was
a confrontation in which Fredric Fradkin remained in his seat when
Pierre Monteux gestured to the Orchestra to rise to recognize the
audience applause for their performance of Berlioz's 'Sinfonie fantastique'.
This caused a sensation, and that evening Fradkin was summarily
dismissed by the orchestra Board80.
spectacular event, Fradkin had a minimal later role in
the concert world. 1922-1924, he was Concertmaster of the
New York Capital Orchestra, a well-known theater orchestra (Eugene
Ormandy became Concertmaster of the Capital Orchestra a few years
later). Freddy Fradkin also toured in Europe in 1924.
Fradkin became a freelance radio orchestra musician, and later
opened a restaurant in New York City. For the next 35 years,
Freddy Fradkin was not active in music concerts. Fredric Fradkin
died in New York in 1963, age 71 after a varied, if perhaps blighted
There is a famous story (told many times, but still good) involving
two leading violinists, Freddy Fradkin and Mischa Elman, attending
a Jascha Heifetz concert with the famous wit and pianist Leopold
Godowsky. One Saturday afternoon, 27th October 1917,
Carnegie Hall was filled to hear the sixteen-year old violin
sensation, Jascha Heifetz. Godowsky, his wife Dagmar
and violinists Fradkin and Elman were seated in their box.
Heifetz successfully performed a dazzling concert. At the
interval, Godowsky's party retired to the open area behind their
box. Elman wiped his brow, and said "Phew, it's awfully
hot in there !" Godowsky, with his famous quick wit
replied "Not for pianists !".
About 1914-1915 Ilya Schkolnik
Ilya Schkolnik circa 1925
Ilya Schkolnik is also said by Gdal Saleski 3 to have been
Concertmaster of the Russian Symphony Society of New York.
Schkolnik was born in Odessa, Russia (now the Ukraine)
on February 11, 1890. He first learned violin from his father,
Samuel. In Berlin in about 1903, he won a scholarship to study
with Gustav Hollaender with whom Maximilian Pilzer
also studied. Schkolnik graduated in
1905 from the Leipzig Conservatory after studying with Hans Stitt.
Ilya Schkolnik toured Europe before settling in Belgium to study with Cesar
Thomson. At the Brussels Conservatory he received the
Premier prix in the 1908 Concour. In 1914, with the outbreak of
World War 1, Ilya Schkolnik, then in Dresden decided to emigrate to the
U.S. It would be at this time that Schkolnik would have joined
the Russian Symphony Orchestra of New York. Schkolnik was later
assistant Concertmaster with the New York Symphony, Concertmaster of
the Stadium Symphony of New York, and 1919-1944, Concertmaster of the
Detroit Symphony (prior to Mischa Mischakoff). In 1944-1945 season,
Ilya Schkolnik joined the Baltimore Symphony as Concertmaster and
Assistant conductor where he stayed until his retirement.
1915-1917 Michel Gusikoff
Michel Gusikoff in about 1920
Mishel, or Michel Gusikoff was born in May 15, 1893 in New York
City. His father Morris emigrated from Russia in 1891 and sons
Michel, Solomon and Benjamin all became musicians. Michel was a violin
student of Franz Kneisel who was Concertmaster of the Boston Symphony
Orchestra from 1885-1903 under Gericke, Nikisch and Paur. In 1915,
Michel Gusikoff became Concertmaster of the Russian Symphony in
New York. He left New York in 1917 to become the Concertmaster of
the St. Louis Symphony under Max Zach (1864-1921). Gusikoff
remained in St. Louis until the end of the 1925-1926 season.
Becoming Concertmaster of the Philadelphia Orchestra for the 1926-1927
season, he joined his brother Benjamin "Benji" (1900-1956),
and also Charles Gusikoff Principal trombone (1897-1966) and Principal
cello Isadore Gusikoff (1901-1962) who were also Orchestra musicians.
Michel and Benji Gusikoff may be brothers of Charles and Isadore Gusikoff,
but I have not verified this. Arriving in Philadelphia in 1926, Mishel
Gusikoff was the first of a series of brief-service Concertmasters.
After serving in Philadelphia in 1926-1927, he seemed
not to find favor with Stokowski. Michel Gusikoff then assumed the
Concertmaster position in the New York Symphony for the 1927-1928.
This was the position vacated by Mischa Mischakoff, who became the
Philadelphia Concertmaster succeeding Gusikoff 9.
Gusikoff later became a successful session musician in
New York. Mishel Gusikoff died in New York City on July 10,
1978. Incidentally, Saul Caston's mother was also a Gusikoff, and
Milan Yancich (1921- ) was Gusikoff's wife's nephew 19.
1910s Edwin Bachmann
Letz Quartet 1921: Hans Letz, first, Horace Britt, cello,
Edward Kreiner, viola, Edwin Bachmann, second
Edwin Bachmann was born in Budapest, Hungary. He began violin
study with his his parents, and then went on to the Budapest Conservatory
and the Budapest Royal Academy of Music. He studied vilion with
Alois Gobbi in the 1910s. He made his debut at age fifteen with the
Budapest State Symphony Orchestra. He then became Concertmaster of
the Orchestra. Edwin Bachmann was a first violin of the of the Russian
Symphony Society of New York in the 1910s. In the early 1920s, Edwin
Bachmann was second violin with the Hans Letz Quartet (see picture above).
Edwin Bachmann later taught at the Curtis Institute in Philadelphia
beginning in the 1920s. He also played violin with Arturo Toscanini's
NBC Symphony during its life: 1937-1954.
Principal Violas Russian Symphony of New York
Jacob Altschuler, older
brother of Modest Altschuler was born in Russia January 1, 1870.
He emigrated to the U.S. with his family in April 1893. As well as
Principal viola with the Russian Symphony of New York, he was also the
orchestra's manager. In this role, he got into trouble with the
Musician's Union, because the orchestra did not pay certain musician's
salaries in 1910, 1911, and 1912. It seems the Russian Symphony of
New York was always just scraping by as to finances. Jacob was a
radio musician in New York in the 1930s. He died in New York City
August 27, 1948.
In 1915, Richard Durrett
replaced Jacob Altschuler as manager of the Russian Symphony Orchestra.
Principal Cellos Russian Symphony of New York
Bernardus or Bernard
Altschuler was born in Mogilyov, near Kiev, at that time in Russia,
and now Belarus on August 16, 1890.
Like his older brother Modest, Bernard was a fine cellist. In the
later 1910s, Bernard was a musician with a hotel orchestra in New
York. In the 1940s, Bernard
was a musician for NBC radio in New York.
1918 Vladimir Dubinsky
Vladimir Dubinsky was born in
Russia in 1873. He emigrated to the U.S. in 1903. He was
Principal cello of the Russian Symphony Orchestra of New York from about
1916 to 1919. During the 1920s, Dubinsky was a theater orchestra
musician in New York City.
Principal Oboes of the Russian Symphony of New York
1911 Raho, Edward
Edward Raho was born in Italy on January 9, 1873.
He died in 1952. He was Russian Symphony of New York
oboe and English horn in 1911
216 He was also second oboe of the Philadelphia
In March, 1930, Leopold Stokowski was criticized for dismissing four
players for being 'stale' 22, of which Edward Raho was
one. The changes were likely greater than the 4, since 13 musicians
did not return the next season.
19xx Philip Kirchner (1890-1970)
Philip Kirchner was born in Vilnius, then Russia and now Lithuania
on March 11, 1890. He emigrated to the U.S. with his family in 1906.
Both Philip Kirchner, and his bassoon playing brother Morris
Kirchner were members of the Russian Symphony Orchestra of New York,
probably at the same time, about 1913, when Nicholai Sokoloff was
Concertmaster of the Russian orchestra. Philip Kirchner was
oboe with the New York Philharmonic in 1917. Philip Kirchner
joined the Cleveland Orchestra as Principal oboe In Nicholai Sokoloff's
second season in Cleveland, 1919-1920, replacing Dominic Aldi, who
moved to the second chair. Philip Kirchner continued with the
Cleveland Orchestra for twenty-eight seasons, until the end of the
1946-1947. Philip Kirchner seems to have been one of the
numerous Principal musicians dismissed (officially he "resigned")
from the orchestra by the new Music Director George Szell.
Philip Kirchner died in the suburbs of Cleveland on June 26, 1970.
Principal Bassoons of the Russian Symphony of New York
Morris Kirchner was born in Vilnius, then part of
Russian-conquered Poland, and now part of the Ukraine, on July 15,
1890. As well as the Russian Symphony Orchestra of New York,
Morris Kirchner spent much of his career in Cleveland.
He was bassoon of the Cleveland Orchestra 1919-1920, then Principal
bassoon 1920-1929. He remained with the Cleveland Orchestra
four more seasons in the bassoon section 1930-1933, until replaced
by Rodzinski. Kirchner also played bassoon with the NBC Symphony
in the 1940s. He died in 1970.
Principal Clarinets of the Russian Symphony of New York
Principal Flutes of the Russian Symphony of New York
Principal Trumpets Russian Symphony of New York
1906-1908 William Adelbert Thieck
William Thieck was born March 27, 1883 in Mecklenburg, in northern
Germany. He emigrated to New York City, where he became Principal
trumpet with the Russian Symphony Orchestra of New York City 1906-1908.
From 1912-1920, Thieck was Principal trumpet of
the Minneapolis Symphony for 8 seasons under Emil Oberhoffer
(1867-1933). Then in the 1921-1922 season, Thieck relocated to the San
Francisco Symphony. After leaving San Francisco, Thieck became
leader of the 150th Cavalry Band in Madison, Wisconsin. Apparently
distraught, William Thieck hanged himself November 10, 1930 in Watertown,
1911-1915 Harry Glantz
Harry Glantz was born in what was then Proskuriv, in the Ukraine in Russia
(now named Khmelnytskyi, in the Ukraine) on January 1, 1896. He emigrated
to the US with his family at age 4 in 1900. His family followed his father,
Pincus Glantz (1866-1939), who had traveled to New York City nine months earlier.
Pincus Glantz was a violinist, but unfortunately had to earn his living
mostly as a cloth cutter, although he also played in theater orchestras.
Harry Glantz studied trumpet with Jacob Borodkin beginning at age 9.
He also studied with Max Bleyer, Christian Rodenkirchen, and Gustav Heim,
all of whom were at various times Philadelphia Orchestra Principal trumpets.
Harry Glantz was also a student of the famous trumpet teacher Max Schlossberg
(1873-1936), who after emigrating from Russia became a long-term trumpet teacher
at the New York Institute of Musical Art (predecessor of the Julliard School) and
New York Philharmonic trumpet. Max Schlossberg is often called the '...father
of the American School of trumpet playing...' 17.
From 1911-1915, Harry Glantz was Principal trumpet of the New York Russian Symphony
Orchestra Society, which was a training ground for many leading U.S. orchestral
players. During much of 1915, Harry was in San Francisco, California as
Principal trumpet at the San Francisco Exposition Orchestra. Beginning with
the 1915-1916 season and also for half of the next season, Harry Glantz was
Principal trumpet of the Philadelphia Orchestra. In December, 1917, Glantz
was drafted into the U.S. Marine Band, and discharged in 1919 at the end of WW1.
From 1919-1922, Harry Glantz was Principal trumpet of the New York Symphony.
Then, in 1922, Glantz moved back to San Francisco where he was Principal
of the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra during the 1922-1923 season.
Harry Glantz said that San Francisco conductor Alfred
Hertz urged him to remain with the Orchestra, since only with brass
of this quality could Hertz perform Wagner as it should be done.
Glantz instead moved back to New York to be with his parents 16.
Harry Glantz went to the New York Philharmonic as Principal
trumpet for 19 seasons, 1923-1942. In 1942, Harry Glantz then
went on to become the Arturo Toscanini's Principal trumpet at the
NBC Symphony, where he stayed until the Symphony disbanded in 1955.
in 1958, he retired to Bay Harbor, Florida. Beginning
in 1972 until his death, Glantz taught trumpet and the
University of Miami Graduate School of Music. Harry
Glantz died in Bay Harbor, Florida December 18, 1982.
First Trombones Russian Symphony of New York
Charles W. Harris
1910s Charles Cusimani
Russian Symphony Orchestra Society of New York National Tours
On its tours, the Russian
Symphony Orchestra typically numbered 55 to about 60 musicians.
Travel with all their instruments, and accommodations, all on a
shoe-string budget must have been difficult. However, a positive
aspect was that at each location and each music festival, the Symphony
was typically guaranteed a given income by the organizers, regardless of
the box office results.
December, 1907 Racine,
March, 1911 Fort Wayne, Indiana
March, April 1911 Oakland,
March, 1911 San Francisco and
April, 1911 Los
March 1912 Fort Wayne,
May, 1912 St. Joseph, Missouri
September, 1913 Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
November, 1913 Elyria, Ohio
November, 1913 Logansport, Indiana
November, 1913 Decatur, Illinois
May, 1914 Youngstown, Ohio
November, 1914 Cornell College, Iowa
November, 1914 Cedar Rapids, Iowa
May, 1916 Wilmington, Delaware
September, 1916 Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
October, 1916 Newark, Ohio
October, 1916 Chicago, Illinois
October, November, 1916 two weeks tour Southern Michigan
Spring, 1917 Granville, Ohio
April, 1918 Piqua, Ohio
November 15, 16 1918 Winnipeg, Canada.
November, 1918 Sandusky, Ohio
November, 1918 Madison, Wisconsin
April, 1920 North Adams, Massachusetts
April 28, 1920 Massillon, Ohio
June, 1920 no performances
July, 1920 tour:
Willow Grove Park, Philadelphia
Ravinia Park, Chicago
Lake Chautauqua, NY
Winona Lake, Indiana
page 139. Rischin, Moses. The promised city By
Moses Rischin. Harvard University Press. Cambridge. 1962, 1977.
2 page 247. Saleski, Gdal.
Famous Musicians of a Wandering Race
Kessinger Publishing. 2006. ISBN 142862516X
3 Page 246. Saleski, Gdal.
Famous Musicians of a Wandering Race. op. cit.
4 Lahee, Henry Charles. Annals of
Music in America. Marshall Jones Company. Boston. 1922
6Columbia University Quarterly New
148. Kenneson, Claude Musical Prodigies,
Perilous Journeys, Remarkable Lives. Hal Leonard
Corporation, 1998 ISBN 1574670468
8 page 215. Smith, Catherine Parsons
Making Music in Los Angeles.
University of California Press. 2007.&nsbp; ISBN 0520251393
Smedvig, Caroline. BSO Quarterly Newsletter. "The
BSO's Ralph Gomberg: an Oboist and a Gentleman".
10 Kozinn, Allan. Rumors of Classical
Music's Demise Are Dead Wrong. The New York Times. May 28, 2006.
Durham, Chris. "Union + Collective Bargaining = Results".
International Musician. July, 2000. Syracuse, New York.
page 257. Kraft, James P. Musicians and the Film
Industry, 1926-1940. University of Hawaii.
Bobbitt, B. G. The Glendale Symphony Orchestra, 1924-1980.
Glendale Symphony Orchestra Association. Glendale, California.
14 page 8. Some Principals in Great
Iowa City Daily Press. Iowa City, Iowa. April 22, 1909.
15 page 8. Petschnikoff's Violin Above
His Family The New York Times. November 18, 1906.
16 page 32. Cooper, Stefan Trumpet Players of
the San Francisco Symphony 1911-1995. International
Trumpet Guild Journal. February, 1996.
17 pages 226,227. Tarr, Edward H. Tarr, Carter, Stewart Carter,
editors. East Meets West: The Russian Trumpet Tradition from the
Time of Peter the Great to the October Revolution
. Pendragon Press. New York, New York. March, 2004.
19 Yancich, Milan. An Orchestra Musician's Odyssey:
A View from the Rear. Wind Music, Inc. Rochester, NY.
20 page 2. Musician Ends Life With Rope
Wisconsin State Journal. November 12, 1930.
21 page 5. Russian Orchestra Fails
to Score. Indianapolis Star.
Indianapolis, Indiana. July 10, 1911.
22Names Make News.
Time Magazine. New York, New York. March 3, 1930.
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