The Polish-born American violinist and teacher Roman Totenberg
has died at the age of 101. An acclaimed concert soloist, noted for
his refined technique and musical taste, Totenberg was passionate
about teaching, and served on the faculty at Boston University for
half a century.
Born in Lodz in 1911, Totenberg studied with Mieczyslaw Michalowicz in Warsaw and made his debut with the Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra in 1923. He went on to study in Berlin with Flesch, and in Paris with Enescu and Monteux. He won the Wieniawski Medal of Poland, the Ysaÿe Medal of Belgium, and in 1932 the International Mendelssohn Prize in Berlin. He made his American debut in 1935 with the National Symphony Orchestra in Washington DC, and toured South America with Artur Rubinstein in 1937. A year later he formally immigrated to the US, where he became concertmaster of the New Friends of Music Orchestra in New York.
During the war he was director of chamber music for WQXR radio and played regular live broadcasts as first violinist of the WQXR String Quartet. He also formed the Alma Trio at Yehudi Menuhin's home in Alma, California, with pianist Adolph Baller and cellist Gabor Rejto. In 1947 he became chairman of the strings department of the Music Academy of the West in Santa Barbara, California.
His post-war international solo career took him to major cities in the US and Europe, where he performed with leading orchestras and frequently gave recitals. A champion of contemporary music, he gave premieres of works by Hindemith, Milhaud, Barber, Penderecki and William Schuman.
Totenberg taught at Mannes College in New York from 1951 to 1957. He began teaching at Boston University in 1961, and was chairman of its strings department until 1978, when he became director of the Longy School of Music. In 1983 he was named artist teacher of the year by the American String Teachers Association. He resumed his leadership of Boston University's strings department in 1994, as co-chairman. He gave masterclasses at the Aspen, Salzburg and Tanglewood festivals, and served on the juries of international violin competitions, including the Menuhin and Tchaikovsky contests.