String quartet legend, 91, teaches on through dementia

These days Walter Levin is best known as lifelong teacher of the Met’s music director, James Levine.

In his prime, he founded the formidable La Salle Quartet which played modern stuff other ensembles wouldn’t touch. Named after a street in Manhattan where the players lived as students, the quartet was Cincinnati based and world renowned. It premiered works by Lutoslawski and Ligeti and brought back from oblivion four major foursomes by Alexander Zemlinsky.

walter levin

After the group broke up in 1987, Levin continued teaching in Switzerland. But the onset of dementia reduced him to silence. He lives now in a retirement community in Chicago. Amazingly, the only thing that can persuade him to speak is the opportunity to coach musicians.

Read a compelling piece about Walter and his devoted wife Evi in the Chicago Sun-Times here.

 

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  • Walter Levin was teaching string quartets and chamber music in the Basel Musikhochschule for many years. We all loved his lessons and miss him and his wife a lot!

  • According to Levin this is how the quartet was named:
    “One day in 1946 Robert Mann got a message from the Juilliard office saying that a lady with a concert organization in New Jersey had called and wanted to invite the Juilliard Quartet to give a concert. Bobby was at home in his apartment on the corner of Broadway and LaSalle when he got the message from Juilliard and so he returned her call from there. He explained to her that the Juilliard Quartet was already booked on that date but that he could recommend a very good young quartet who would be delighted to play a concert for her. She wanted to know the name of this quartet. Bobby sensed that she wouldn’t invite a no-name quartet, but at this point we still didn’t have a name, so he would have to make one up on the spot. Desperate for inspiration, he looked out his window and saw the street signs on the opposite corner: Broadway and LaSalle, and promptly blurted out that we were the LaSalle Quartet. So that was that!”

  • As a Denver high school student, I remember the quartet’s residency in CO Spgs. before they moved to Cincinnati.

    I’ve recently come to know the Zemlinsky Quartets through the Escher Quartet’s recordings on Naxos and their live performance @ NY Lincoln Center’s Chamber Music Society. They’ve also been critically acclaimed for performances @ Wigmore Hall.

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