The best musicians in Hollywood

The best musicians in Hollywood


norman lebrecht

March 10, 2021

From a Wall Street Journal article by Terry Teachout:

The major studios employed in-house orchestras to record the scores for the films they released, and the players were highly trained, well-paid top-tier musicians who took their anonymous studio work seriously. Nevertheless, many of these artists continued to perform classical music on the side, and four of the finest of them started giving concerts in 1947 and, later, making records.

Unashamed of their unprestigious day jobs, they instead flaunted them by dubbing themselves the Hollywood String Quartet, and within a few years the HSQ was widely regarded as one of America’s top chamber-music groups. The HSQ was led by Felix Slatkin, the concertmaster of the Twentieth Century Fox orchestra, whose first-chair cellist, Eleanor Aller Slatkin, was Felix’s wife and a charter member of the quartet. The other members, Paul Shure and Paul Robyn, who was later replaced by Alvin Dinkin, were also Hollywood studio musicians. The group was noteworthy for many reasons, starting with the fact that all of its players were born and trained in America….

Read on here.



  • Frankster says:

    It’s an LA story. When LA resident Bruno Walter recorded his Beethoven cycle with the “Colombia Symphony Orchestra” critics marveled. It was just an LA pick-up orchestra but the best musicians in America were all there. They couldn’t work at the LA Phil, for example, because they needed to be free when the very high pay studio work came around.

    • Ilio says:

      Walters LA Columbia symphony had many Philharmonic members. In fact in his Bruckner 9, it was the LA Phil.

  • Not Heifitz says:

    They say the reason Heifitz became a soloist is because he wasn’t good enough for one of the studio orchestras.

    • NYMike says:

      Included in your misinformation is Heifetz’s spelling. He had an international concert career long before moving to CA where his friends Piatigorsky and Rubinstein also lived. Indeed, a few of the LA studio violinists were creditable Heifetz imitators. “Good enough for studio orchestras”? Really???

  • Micaelo Cassetti says:

    I LOVE their recording of Verklaerte Nacht, as did our two giant rabbits!

  • Larry says:

    Felix and Eleanor are, of course, the parents of Leonard Slatkin, who is an occasional contributor to this site.

    • Armchair Bard says:

      There’s an excellent Testament CD (SBT 1031) of the 1950/51 Capitol recordings of the HSQ playing Verklärte Nacht and the Schubert Quintet in C.

      • microview says:

        Testament also reissued their set of the late Beethoven quartets. Pristine Audio now llsts digital transfers.

  • David K. Nelson says:

    Many many months ago N.L posted on S.D. a wonderful video of the HSQ playing varied repertoire in what seems to have been a pilot for a television program. Worth seeking out.

    Paul Shure, the HSQ’s 2nd violinist, went on to himself become a distinguished quartet leader.

    Another of the astounding talents in the Hollywood studio music pool was violinist Louis Kaufman, perhaps the greatest violinist to truly make his living in the studios, although there is also the name of Toscha Seidl to reckon with. But I might also mention Israel Baker, Endre Granat, Glenn Dicterow, Stuart Canin, Eudice Shapiro, Ronald Thomas, and the list goes on — at least some substantial portion of their careers was spent doing studio work.

  • John Kelly says:

    The Hollywood String Quartet recordings are fabulous. Felix Slatkin’s playing is also to be heard on the Frank Sinatra CD “Close to You and More” in most of the numbers and it’s absolutely a delight. I also recently bought a Scribendum 13 CD set “The Art of Felix Slatkin” which features recordings as wonderful as the Poet and Peasant Overture and unusual repertoire by Villa Lobos and others, and as execrable as the most horrendous arrangements by one AR Marino…………..Of note, Felix Slatkin with the Hollywood Bowl Symphony or Concert Arts Orchestra (both pickup bands) deliver absolutely fantastic performances of Carnival of the Animals, Delius tone poems! (marvellous) and a recording of US Military Marches that had me grinning ear to ear and wondering was I right that these were as good as or better than Frederick Fennell…….anyone interested in Felix Slatkin, clearly a conductor and violinist of the highest calibre should get this set (Amazon) and of course the HSQ recordings are a must have.

    • Michael Paré says:

      It was not just Felix Slatkin, but the entire Quartet, which accompanied Frank Sinatra on the “Close to You” album. Sinatra is said to have been quite pleased with it.

  • David J Hyslop says:

    Got to know Eleanor well during my time with Leonard Slatkin in St. Louis . The string quartet recordings are excellent .

  • Has-been says:

    There is a BBC documentary hosted by Leonard Slatkin focusing on Korngold but talking extensively about the studio orchestras and musicians in Hollywood in the 30s and 40s. It is available on Youtube.

  • Mick the Knife says:

    The best has to include trumpet and horn players. Some are still legends.

  • Edgar Self says:

    Pianist Victor Aller, brother-in-law of Felix Slatkin, and cellist Kurt Reher, L.A. Phi principal, also played with the HSQ. Toscha Seidel, an Auer student, played solos in many ilms. David Nelson mentions him and Louis Kaufman. I think cellist George Neikrug worked in the studios. Kurt Reher called him the best cellist in L.A., but he was being modest. His brother SVEN Reher was in the LAP.

    Werner Janssen of the Janssen Symphony and Jacques Rachmilovich of Santa Monica Philharmonic were in the area. This wasn’t long after Klemperer and Willem van Hoogstraten were conducting on the West Coast. Korngold, Stravinsky, Schoenberg , Theodor Adorno, and Thomas Mann lived there.

    Part of the fun of going to concerts was seeing members of the film colony … Orson Welles, Joseph Cotten, Nina Koshets, and Albert Bassermann.

  • Gaffney Feskoe says:

    Don’t forget that Andre Previn got his career started as a studio composer in Hollywood. He outlines his experiences and the people he knew in his wonderful book “No Minor Chords”.