25 years without Nathan Milstein

The great violinist died on December 21, 1992, a ew days shy of his 89th birthday.

He was the mos immaculate individual, calm and reasoned in all he did, a positive fount of wisdom and experience. I learned from him more about life and music than I did from any other musician.

I once asked if he used to play many summer festivals.

‘Festivals?’ said Nathan, ‘what are they?’

‘So what did you do in the summer?’

‘Before the War, Horowitz and I used to spend six weeks with Rachmaninov at Senar, beside Lake Lucerne. In those days, a composer was an enlightened person who knew about all sorts of subjects – archaeology, lepidoptery… We would talk for hours and never get bored.’

‘He praised Horowitz as a great interpreter of his works…’

‘Yes, but he would spend more time with me at Senar. Maybe because I wasn’t a pianist.’

Marvellous man.


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  • There’s a fantastic Christopher Nupen documentary of the great man, “Nathan Milstein in Portrait”. He was in exile not long after the Russian revolution and there’s a very touching story he told about missing a concert somewhere because he was staring at some lady who looked just like his mother at a restaurant.

  • In 1979 I had the great fortune to spend two days with Milstein in Toronto. He was in great form and regaled us with stories of touring Soviet factories with Horowitz in the idealistic early 1920s (we laughed at the descriptions of H’s despair at the deplorable condition of virtually every piano, almost all uprights) and attending performances at the Imperial Theatre (Mariinsky) in the pit, thanks to his teacher, concertmaster Leopold Auer, with Chaliapin over his head giving the floorboards a run for their money and a direct view of the Imperial box with Tsar Nicholas II and family resplendent in their finery….amazing to hear such evocative stories from such a distinguished eyewitness and don’t get me started on his sensational concert, it was truly beyond words.

  • He was a rare voice in the world of music. In his own words, … loved the violin even more than music, and his playing, with immaculate taste was completely lacking in narcissistic ego. There are many wonderful violinists out there but Nathan was really one of a kind.

  • https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Rw35fr87to0

    Milstein imitating a military band (that’s pianist Jonathan Feldman in the background). I shall never forget playing for him when I was a junior in high school in his hotel room at the Ambassador East in Chicago (the same hotel in which Hitchcock filmed North by Northwest). After I played the first two pages of Mendelssohn Concerto, he grabbed my violin and, sitting on the edge of his bed slightly intoxicated, played Sarasate Introduction and Tarantella. I always suspected he didn’t want his neighbors to think the Mendelssohn was coming from him, so he played the Sarasate, which was simply astounding. Years later, while a student at Juilliard, I participated in his Zurich master classes, which were truly inspiring and enlightening. There is nobody to compare with him, then and now. With the passing of Milstein in 1992, the era of great Russian violin playing came to an abrupt end. He was one of this century’s greatest exponents of the violin, and although there are many fine violinists appearing before the public today, few begin to approach the purity, simplicity and elegance of Milstein’s patrician art. He was placed on this earth to play the violin – he was the consummate fiddle player. As Harold Schonberg once wrote, “Milstein is the aristocrat of violinists.”

  • There was absolutely nothing Milstein could not do on the violin, and he continued to play brilliantly well past the age of eighty, a feat unprecedented in the history of violin playing. His own strong and highly individual personality was never allowed to interfere with the structure of the musical line. Architecture was everything to him, particularly in Bach but just as important to him in miniatures and encore pieces. This is something that is entirely missing in these modern times. A renowned Juilliard violin teacher once told me that Milstein’s Bach Sonatas and Partitas were “too old fashioned and outdated.” When I asked this pedagogue whether or not Milstein’s Bach was a work of art, the response was “yes.” I then asked how a true work of art can ever be outdated or old fashioned. To that there was no response, and things were never quite the same between us.

  • I love the CD of Milstein’s last recital; I think he was 82, and the playing – and more importantly the music-making – was exquisite.

    • I bit late but the morning of that last recital he awoke to find that his left hand was impaired because he had slept on it. He spent the day devising new fingerings so he could give the recital.

  • Nathan Milstein is one of my favorite violinists. Though he died before I was born, I am blessed to have access to watching videos of him playing, and his documentary is inspiring. I like his approach and attitude. My teacher was an advocate.

  • My favorite violinist, an elegant man and deep artist; have wonderful memories of him in our home, his great stories at dinners, my dad (Mischakoff) and he playing for each other. One time, when he was in his 70s, he told us that he had finally found a comfortable way to hold the violin!

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