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Famed Musician to Hold Piatigorsky Chair

by Ljiljana Grubisic

Kirshbaum sees his appointment as an opportunity and a responsibility.

Photo/J. Henry Fair

Cellist Ralph Kirshbaum, who holds a distinguished position among the world’s foremost musicians, has been appointed the fifth holder of the Gregor Piatigorsky Endowed Chair in Violoncello in the strings program of the USC Thornton School of Music.

As “one of the outstanding cellists of his generation,” according to The New York Times, Texas-born Kirshbaum has excelled in a career which encompasses performances with the world’s leading symphony orchestras, solo recital appearances, chamber music collaborations, teaching and numerous recordings.

“Ralph Kirshbaum’s artistry is unsurpassed and his teaching is phenomenal,” said Midori Goto, holder of the Jascha Heifetz Endowed Chair in Violin and the artistic and academic chair of the strings department at USC Thornton. “Kirshbaum’s commitment to mentoring younger musicians is well-known, and he will bring to our strings program a force that cannot be matched anywhere else with his artistry, expertise and dedication.”

Bernard Greenhouse, a founding and longtime member of the Beaux Arts Trio and one of the elder statesmen of the American cello community, called Kirshbaum “undoubtedly one of the most respected teachers and artists in the world. And the fact that he has agreed to take this post at USC will certainly bring the best and the most talented young minds to the university.”

The USC Thornton strings program is considered among the nation’s finest. Its eminent artist/teachers are noted for both individual instruction and coaching in chamber music. High standards of professionalism in performance and teaching have been upheld for more than a century by a faculty that has included Piatigorsky, Heifetz, William Primrose, Eudice Shapiro, Eleonore Schoenfeld, who passed away this year, and her sister Alice Schoenfeld, who is still teaching.

Building on that illustrious legacy, USC Thornton Dean Robert Cutietta recently welcomed internationally recognized Israeli violinist Hagai Shaham to its strings faculty. Midori joined the program four years ago.

“Mr. Kirshbaum is a perfect addition to the already stellar faculty in instrumental music. His impeccable reputation as both an artist and a teacher exemplifies the spirit of the Thornton School,” Cutietta said.

The Piatigorsky Chair of Violoncello was established in 1974 to recognize the achievements of Gregor Piatigorsky, one of the greatest cellists of the last century who taught at USC from 1962 until his death in 1976. Previous holders of this position were Piatigorsky himself (1974-76), Lynn Harrell (1986-1993), Ronald Leonard (1993-2003) and Eleonore Schoenfeld (2004-07).

In a statement from London, Kirshbaum said, “What an honor it is to assume the chair which bears the name of one of the greatest cellists of the 20th century. He served as my boyhood idol. I played to him in a master class as a teenager, and I treasure the memory of a personal visit some years later at his home in Los Angeles. I recognize this appointment as an opportunity and a responsibility; I embrace both wholeheartedly.”

Kirshbaum has appeared with most of the world’s great orchestras and conductors, including Sir Colin Davis, James Levine, Andre Previn, Zubin Mehta and Sir Simon Rattle.

Aside from his busy concerto schedule, his recital programs are much in demand and each year he appears at several of the great international festivals such as Edinburgh, Bath, Verbier, Lucerne, Aspen, La Jolla, Santa Fe, Ravinia and New York’s “Mostly Mozart.” He continues to delight in the pleasures of chamber music and ensures space in a busy solo schedule to continue his associations with many leading chamber musicians, including Pinchas Zukerman, Vadim Repin, Jimmy Lin, Miriam Fried, Yefim Bronfman, Peter Frankl and Nobuko Imai.

Kirshbaum currently teaches at the Royal Northern College of Music, Manchester, where he holds the International Chair in Cello. He was founder and for 20 years the artistic director of the RNCM Manchester International Cello Festival. He gives annual master classes at the International Musician’s Seminar in Prussia Cove, the London Master Classes and throughout the world. He has served on the U.S. President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities for the past four years.

Kirshbaum’s many recordings have included the world premiere recording of Tippett’s Triple Concerto, the Elgar and Walton Concertos, the complete Bach Suites, the Barber Concerto and Sonata, and the Brahms Double and Beethoven Triple Concertos. His most recent release in November 2006 is his recording of the Shostakovich and Prokofiev Sonatas with the pianist Peter Jablonski.

The rare Montagnana Cello that Kirshbaum plays once belonged to the 19th-century virtuoso Piatti.

Currently living in London, Kirshbaum will assume his teaching duties at USC next fall.

In accepting the post at USC, Kirshbaum said, “Having been based for the past 38 years in Europe, I find something particularly apt about my returning to an American base in Southern California, where my father was born and where I spent many happy summer holidays as a child. More significantly, I am very impressed by the palpable sense of excitement and purpose that is evident in the Thornton School and that exists in equal measure in the burgeoning and dynamic arts community of greater Los Angeles.”

Famed Musician to Hold Piatigorsky Chair

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