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Jascha Heifetz

Born in February 2, 1901(?)(1901-02-02) Vilna, Lithuania,Russian Empire.
Died in December 10, 1987 (aged 86)Los Angeles, California,United States.

Heifetz was born of Jewish descent in Vilnius, Lithuania, then part of the Russian Empire.
There is controversy over his birth year, which is sometimes placed a year or two earlier to 1899 or 1900.
It is possible that his mother said he was two years younger to make him seem like more of a prodigy. His father, Reuven Heifetz, was a local violin teacher and served as the concertmaster of the Vilnius Theatre Orchestra for one season before the theatre closed down. Jascha took up the violin when he was three years old and his father was his first teacher. At five he started lessons with Ilya D. Malkin, a former pupil of Leopold Auer. He was a child prodigy, making his public debut at seven, in Kovno (now Kaunas, Lithuania) playing the Violin Concerto in E minor by Felix Mendelssohn. In 1910 he entered the Saint Petersburg Conservatory to study under Leopold Auer.

He played in Germany and Scandinavia, and met Fritz Kreisler for the first time in a Berlin private house together with other noted violinists in attendance. Kreisler, after accompanying the 12-year-old Heifetz at the piano in a performance of the Mendelssohn Concerto, said to all present, "We may as well break our fiddles across our knees." Heifetz visited much of Europe while still in his teens. In April 1911, Heifetz performed in an outdoor concert in St Petersburg before 25,000 spectators; there was such a sensational reaction that police officers needed to protect the young violinist after the concert. In 1914, Heifetz performed with the Berlin Philharmonic conducted by Arthur Nikisch. The conductor was very impressed, saying he had never heard such an excellent violinist.
On October 27, 1917, Heifetz played for the first time in the United States at Carnegie Hall and became an immediate sensation. Fellow violinist Mischa Elman in the audience asked "Do you think it's hot in here?", whereupon Leopold Godowsky, in the next seat, imperturbably replied, "Not for pianists."

Heifetz was elected as an honorary member of Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonia, the national fraternity for men in music, by the fraternity's Alpha chapter at the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston. As he was age 16 at the time, he was perhaps the youngest person ever elected to membership in the organization. Heifetz remained in the country and became an American citizen in 1925. When he told admirer Groucho Marx he had been earning his living as a musician since the age of seven, Groucho answered, "And I suppose before that you were just a bum."
Heifetz is considered to be one of the greatest violinists of the twentieth century. Heifetz had an immaculate technique and a tonal beauty that many violinists still regard as unequalled. Yet, from time to time his near-perfect technique and conservative stage demeanor caused some critics to accuse him of being overly mechanical, even cold. Virgil Thomson called Heifetz' style of playing "silk underwear music", a term he did not intend as a compliment. Even so, many other critics agree he infused his playing with feeling and reverence for the composers' intentions. His style of playing was highly influential in defining the way modern violinists approach the instrument. His use of rapid vibrato, emotionally charged portamento, fast tempos, and superb bow control coalesced to create a highly distinctive sound that make Heifetz's playing instantly recognizable to aficionados.

The violinist Itzhak Perlman, who himself is noted for his rich warm tone and expressive use of portamento, describes Heifetz's tone as like "a tornado" because of its emotional intensity. In creating his sound, Heifetz was very particular about his choice of strings.
For his entire career he used a silver wound tricolore gut g-string, plain gut unvarnished d- and a-strings, and a Goldbrokat steel e-string medium including clear hill rosin sparingly. Heifetz believed that playing on gut strings was important in rendering an individual sound.
Heifetz made his first recordings in Russia during 1910-11, while still a student of Auer. The existence of these recordings was not widely known until after Heifetz's death, when several sides (most notably Schubert's L'Abeille) were reissued on an LP included as a supplement to The Strad magazine.

Shortly after his Carnegie Hall debut on November 7, 1917, Heifetz made his first recordings for the Victor Talking Machine Company; he would remain with Victor and its successor, RCA Victor, for most of his career. For several years, in the 1930s, Heifetz recorded primarily for HMV in the UK because RCA cut back on classical recordings during the Great Depression; these discs were issued in the US by RCA Victor. Heifetz often enjoyed playing chamber music. Various critics have blamed his limited success in chamber ensembles to the fact that his artistic personality tended to overwhelm his colleagues. Some notable collaborations include his 1940 recordings of piano trios by Beethoven, Franz Schubert, and Brahms with cellist Emanuel Feuermann and pianist Arthur Rubinstein as well as a later collaboration with Rubinstein and cellist Gregor Piatigorsky, with whom he recorded trios by Maurice Ravel, Tchaikovsky, and Felix Mendelssohn. Both formations were sometimes referred to as the Million Dollar Trio.

He recorded the Beethoven Violin Concerto in 1940 with the NBC Symphony Orchestra conducted by Arturo Toscanini, and again in stereo in 1955 with the Boston Symphony Orchestra conducted by Charles Münch. A live performance of Heifetz playing the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto, again with Toscanini and the NBC Symphony, has also been released.

He performed and recorded Erich Wolfgang Korngold's violin concerto, at a time when many classical musicians avoided Korngold's music because they did not consider him a "serious" composer after he wrote many film scores for Warner Brothers.

After an only partially successful operation on his right shoulder in 1972 Heifetz ceased giving concerts and making records. Although his prowess as a performer remained intact and he continued to play privately until the end, his bow arm was affected and he could never again hold the bow as high as before.
Rudolf Koelman (left) with Jascha Heifetz

Heifetz taught the violin extensively, first at UCLA, then at the University of Southern California, with his friend Gregor Piatigorsky. For a few years in the eighties he also held classes in his private studio at home in Beverly Hills. His teaching studio can be seen today in the main building of the Colburn school, where it is now used for masterclasses and serves as an inspiration to the students there. During his teaching career Heifetz taught, among others, Erick Friedman, Carol Sindell, Adam Han-Gorsky, Robert Witte, Yuval Yaron, Elizabeth Matesky, Claire Hodgkins, Yukiko Kamei, Rudolf Koelman, Varujan Kojan, Sherry Kloss, Elaine Skorodin, Eugene Fodor, and Ayke Agus. Heifetz died at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, California. It was rumored that Heifetz was such a strict discipline observer that the main gate of his Beverly Hills home were closed sharp at the appointment time of his classes to shut out students who arrived late.

Heifetz owned the 1714 Dolphin Stradivarius, the 1731 "Piel" Stradivarius, the 1736 Carlo Tononi, and the 1742 ex David Guarneri, del Gesù, the latter of which he preferred and kept until his death. The Dolphin Strad is currently owned by the Nippon Music Foundation. The Heifetz Tononi violin used at his 1917 Carnegie Hall debut was left in his will to Sherry Kloss, Master-Teaching Assistant to Heifetz, with "one of my four good bows" (Violinist/Author Kloss wrote "Jascha Heifetz Through My Eyes, and is Co-Founder of the Jascha Heifetz Society). The famed Guarneri is now in the San Francisco Legion of Honor Museum, as instructed by Heifetz in his will, and may only be taken out and played "on special occasions" by deserving players. The instrument has recently been on loan to San Francisco Symphony concertmaster Alexander Barantschik.

In 1989, Heifetz received a posthumous Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award.


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