Piatigorsky’s grandson kicks off our second book club

Piatigorsky’s grandson kicks off our second book club


norman lebrecht

May 19, 2018

From moderator Anthea Kreston:

Please join us on our second Fortnightly Music Book Club foray. One that will connect the broad and diverse Slipped Disk audience to great literature as well as give us a chance to engage with leading musicians of our time. The Fortnightly Music Book Club has a rotating, international group of hosts, and covers a wide range of topics.

Our second selection is Grischa: The Story of Cellist Gregor Piatigorsky, by M. Bartley, and we are thrilled to announce that our guest host is cellist Evan Drachman, grandson of Piatigorsky. The book can be found on Amazon, and has been garnering great reviews. A biography written like a novel. It traces the life of the legendary cellist Piatigorsky – from surviving the Russian pogroms, escaping Nazi Germany, falling in love with the daughter of the Baron de Rothschild (Europe’s wealthiest family) and finally settling in an abandoned castle in the Adirondack mountains of New York State. He played for kings, presidents, and emperors, and continues to inspire musicians the world over through his legacy as a teacher and performer.


A word from our guest host, Evan Drachman:

Piatigorsky believed in the nobility and the expressive possibilities of the cello’s voice – his artistry, charm and magnetism made him one of the most beloved performers and teachers of the twentieth century.

I am Evan Drachman, cellist, President and Artistic Director of the Piatigorsky Foundation, a non-profit organization dedicated to bringing live classical music to audiences who might otherwise not have access. At the height of Piatigorsky’s career the “bread and butter” of his touring schedule were the Tuesday Morning Music Clubs. Traveling the Super Chief train from coast to coast he got off at every stop performing in small towns throughout the country. This is the work of the Piatigorsky Foundation – to bring music to the places in-between – the small towns that crave music but which too often get overlooked by today’s busy touring musicians.

I am honored to be a part of the Fortnightly Music Book Club, and look forward to guiding you through this biography, filling in gaps and answering questions about my grandfather.

Every other Sunday, look for a posting about the Fortnightly Music Book Club. We will hear from Mr. Drachman in 2 weeks, and have the opportunity to submit questions and propose book titles through a dedicated email address. Mr. Drachman will then answer reader questions. Please submit questions to: Fortnightlymusicbookclub@gmail.com

See you in a Fortnight!


  • Malcolm Kottler says:

    The moderator writes: “A biography written like a novel.” It is a novel or, if you prefer, historical fiction.

    The author Margaret Bartley writes: “I have chosen to present the biography as a dramatic narrative, telling it from Gregor’s point of view and reconstructing it as accurately as possible.”

    Take this with a grain (or more than a grain) of salt. A very large part of the book is invented dialogue. Some readers accept, even like, this kind of writing; others don’t.

    Unfortunately the novel was published in 2004, and not in 2014. Had it been published after 2010, it could have used Terry King’s real biography “Gregor Piatigorsky. The Life and Career of the Virtuoso Cellist”, as a foundation to make this novel “as accurate as possible.”

    Without the foundation of King’s biography, Bartley’s sources are two autobiographies: Piatigorsky’s “Cellist” (published in 1965) and Jacqueline Piatigorsky’s “Jump in the Waves, a Memoir” (published in 1988).

    Piatigorsky’s “Cellist” is a great read, because Piatigorsky was such a great storyteller. But his penchant for stretching the truth for effect makes his autobiography an often unreliable source for an accurate account of his life. Anyone who has read other accounts by Piatigorsky himself of episodes in his life knows that he told his story differently at different times.

    So read and enjoy Bartley’s “Grisha” if historical fiction is your thing. But remember that what you are reading is not necessarily what happened.

    I would like to quote from Terry King’s Introduction to his biography of Piatigorsky, in order to contrast the two approaches: “I have used his autobiography, “Cellist”, not in the sense of retelling it [the Bartley way, using invented dialogue], but as one of many primary sources. “Cellist” ends in mid-career, but I have used other writings and drafts that reveal more detail as well as delve into his later life. Over the years I have traveled and researched far and wide to get at the essential artist and have interviewed many musicians associated with Piatigorsky and his students. I am grateful to the Piatigorsky family for making his papers available… (p. 4 of Terry King’s book).

    If you do read Bartley’s “Grisha”–and have or will read Piatigorsky’s “Cellist”–the next thing for you to read is Terry King’s biography, “Gregor Piatigorsky. The Life and Career of the Virtuoso Cellist”.

    • Anthea Kreston says:

      Dear Malcolm,
      Thank you for this detailed comment. I am also in touch with Terry, who I have known since I was 6 years old (his wonderful Miracord Trio used to spend summers in the house next to ours on a lake in Wisconsin). We were considering both the Cellist and Terry’s book as well, but since the Cellist is out of print (copies go for over $100 on Amazon) and Terry’s book is also quite pricey, we decided on Grischa. We have a lot to consider when choosing guests and hosts, and since we are all doing this for the love of it, trying to fit it into our busy schedules, we have to weigh all options quickly and for a wide variety of reasons. Mr. Drachman suggested the Cellist, but after realizing no one would be able to buy it, it seemed a poor choice. Let’s see where this journey takes us together!

      • Malcolm Kottler says:

        The idea of reading a novel about imagined musicians is fine.

        But when the novel is about a real person, there is the real danger that many readers will take what they have read as the truth about that person.

        That is my own reason for not liking historical fiction or movies about real people. If you do not know about the person, you won’t know if what you have read or seen is accurate. And if you do know about the person, what you read or see will invariably be annoying, because you know some (or much) of it is not accurate.

        • Anthea Kreston says:

          Hi Malcolm,
          I was just thinking – I am sure you could ask Mr. Drachman about anything in Terry’s book, or the Cellist as well. I just didn’t want to have people read a book which was unrealistic to purchase. I can let him know people might ask questions from the other books as well. He initially suggested the Cellist but it just wasn’t available…..

  • Michael B. says:

    Piatagorsky’s son Joram was a biochemist at Cal Tech in Pasadena, California when I was an undergraduate there.

  • Esfir Ross says:

    I bought “Grisha” and didn’t like it. Worthless reading after “Cellist” written by Grisha Piatigorsky. Wonderfully written by great cellist. I think writer was more interest to depict GP married into Rotchild super rich clan.

    • Anthea Kreston says:

      Hello Esfir-
      I hope to run into you in person when we are on tour! You are a feisty woman. Please see the comment above on the Cellist.

  • Esfir Ross says:

    Surviving pogroms where historically didn’t happend. Fiction in not very honest

  • Nathaniel Rosen says:

    “Gregor Piatigorsky—The Life of the Virtuoso Cellist” by Terry King is the best book about Piatigorsky, and it is one that merits reading and re-reading. Mr. King, who is now in his 70’s, is old enough to have been Piatigorsky’s best friend during many years of the great man’s life and has devoted a large portion of his own life, both before and after Piatigorsky’s death, to exhaustive research all over the world. We should all be grateful to him.

    • Anthea Kreston says:

      Dear Nathan,

      Well said! Feel free to submit questions about Terry’s book. I am happy to send questions his way – and I am certain he would be pleased to answer questions as well. Terry is indeed a wonderful man, cellist, and teacher. This is an open door, and an investigation into the life of a great cellist, so let’s all participate!

  • Mirel Iancovici says:

    Since I am going to perform on October 26th with Philharmonic orchestra in Iassy – Romania the Stan Golestan’s Concerto Moldave composed in 1935 and dedicated to Piatigorsky I’d like to know weather Piatigorsky had ever performed it. I couldn’t find any information about this.

    • Nathaniel Rosen says:

      Ask Terry King. He is the only person who may know.

      • Malcolm Kottler says:

        The Concerto is listed in Terry King’s book on p. 324, with the indication that the work was dedicated to Piatigorsky. I do not see any other mention of the concerto in the book. Stan Golestan is not in the index in the book.