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Japan on the International Tour Circuit and as a Refuge

November 11, 2011 at 2:03 PM

Japan on the International Tour Circuit and as a Refuge

In my last blog I introduced the violinists whose foreign tours took them to Japan already in the late 19th and early 20th century, before WW1. After the war, their number increased. By now it was not just the foreign residents who came to their concerts; increasingly, Japanese lovers of Western classical music emerged in the larger cities. As gramophone records became available, they became fans of Elman, Kreisler, Heifetz and the other stars of the time. In the wake of the devastation caused by Russian Revolution and later by the Nazis, some of the violinists ended up staying for years, although America was usually the preferred choice. Many ware Jews. In the 1930s Japanese-German friendship meant that Japan was not a great country to be a Jew in, although safer than most European countries. While outright persecution seems to have been the exception, Jews suffered discrimination and lived in fear of deportation.

In my book about the violin in Japan (tentatively entitled “Not by Love Alone: How the Violin Became Japanese and the Japanese Became Violinists”), I will describe the historical background and include details about some of the foreign violinists, especially those who stayed longer and played a major role in raising the standards of playing. I have managed to wangle a bit of money for an expert in Russian language and literature (who also reads Polish and Czech) under the University of Copenhagen’s Asian Dynamics Initiative (
She has been searching in reference works and making good headway. Again I have CAPITALIZED the more elusive violinists in the hope that someone has information that is not easily obtained courtesy of Google (not even Russian Google). I have drawn blanks in the reference works I consulted, printed or virtual.
Emilio Colombo (1874-1937)
1918 Mishel Piastro; as mentioned in my last blog he had already visited in 1912
1918 Moscow Trio
Misha Elman
Efrem Zimbalist
1922 Mishel Piastro
1922 Kathleen Parlow – another touring female violinist; biography by Maida Parlow French, “Kathleen Parlow: A Portrait”. Toronto: The Ryerson Press, 1967

1922 Jaroslav Kocián
Willy Burmester
1923 Fritz Kreisler
1923 Mishel Piastro

1923 Jasha Heifetz came in November, not long after the Great Kantô Earthquake. As I wrote in an earlier blog
his concerts brought cheer to music lovers in Tokyo after the devastation.

NATALI BOSHKO (1906-?) The New York Times of 1 April 1917 carries a note about a concert she appeared in with her sister Victoria Boshko in Carnegie Hall. Natalie performed Bruch’s Violin Concerto and “Kol Nidrei” accompanied by the (Arnold) Volpe Symphony Orchestra. The sisters had previously performed for the Czar and Czarina on one occasion, which presumably did not enhance their popularity in post-revolutionary Russia. I am told that googling her in Russian produces loads of hits for a singer of the same name.

1924 Michael Wexler (1896-?): Apparently another pupil of Auer's. The local (Japanese) press reported that he was known as one of the three greatest violinists in Russia; he stayed in Japan longer. He did go to New York in 1930, as he had intended, but returned to Japan, where he continued to perform and teach.

1924 LEOPOLD PREMYSLAV; as I mentioned in my last blog he first performed in Japan in 1909; he seems to have ended his days in South Africa.

1924 Efrem Zimbalist

Boris Lass, a student of Auer; like Wexler, he apparently stayed longer (s.b.) According to a short Japanese Wikipedia article about Tsuji Kichinosuke
the father of Tsuji Hisako (see my previous blog), Boris Lass was Kichinosuke’s teacher. Corwin Slack, that means you played Boris Lass, right?

1925 was also the year several Russian orchestral players came over from Russia and from Harbin and together with Japanese musicians gave concerts as the Japan-Russia Friendship Symphony Orchestra. At the first desk sat Nikolai Schifferblatt and Josef König, who later returned to Japan as conductors of the Japan Symphony Orchestra, the predecessor of what is now the NHK orchestra.

Boris Lass; he later led a string quartet as well as performing piano trio with Mark Lass and Constantine Shapiro, and sonatas with Maxim Shapiro.

1926 LEONID NIKOLAIEVICH SEVCUK another violinist who stayed longer
1926 Alexander Yakovlevich Mogilevsky (he himself preferred the spelling Moguilewsky); he returned to Japan in 1930 after an extended Asian tour and remained there until his death in 1953. His students included Matsumoto Zensô whom I introduced in my first blog. I have just found a recording of Mogilewsky playing Corelli, La Folia here: Health warning: definitely not for historic performance fetishists!

1927 Michael Erdenko; one of the few Russian visitors who did return to his homeland, where his granddaughter arries on the family musical tradition as a singer:

1927 Roberto/Robert Kitain
1927 Naum Blinder
1927 Efrem Zimbalist
EUGEN KLEIN (1893-1943) (Evgenij Klejn or Kreyn?)
1928 Jaques Thibaud,
1928 Cecilia Hansen, described by Auer as “one of my most talented pupils”

Jan Kubelik; by then he was past his best and his Japanese audience, by now used to the likes of Heifetz and co., noticed

Robert NÊBÂ (? – haven’t yet managed to make sense of the Japanese transliteration of his name)
1930 Efrem Zimbalist
1930 Robert Pollack – 1930-37 taught at the Tokyo Academy of Music, Now Tokyo University of Fine Arts:
Jascha Heifetz
Alfred Hoffman - not a great name to be searching; there seems to be more about him in Japanese than foreign publications; he taught at what is now the Kunitachi College of Music:
Renée Chemet – she has been the subject of one of Emily Liz’ contributions about female violinists:
Contrary to what some internet sources say, she did not disappear mysteriously in the East after this tour, but was alive and well in the late 1930s in New York. She is said to have enjoyed a reunion with the composer Miyagi Michio, with whom she performed in Tokyo, when he travelled abroad to the second World Festival of Folk Dance and Song in Biarritz and Pamplona in summer 1953. Maybe she married at some point and changed her name?

1932 Efrem Zimbalist
1932 Joseph Szigeti
Pierre Reitlinger
Boris Lass; the press reported that he had been in Japan for ten years.
1935 Efrem Zimbalist – his sixth (!) and last Asian tour; you can read about Zimbalist’s Asian tours (and indeed about his whole life) in the excellent biography by Roy Malan, Efrem Zimbalist: A Life (Portland: Amadeus Press, 2004).

Szymon Goldberg
1936 Jacques Thibaud
1936 (?) Willy Frey; Polish-born, he studied in Leipzig and Berlin and performed in Germany until he had to flee from the Nazis.
Misha Elman
1937 Piastro Trio, again May 1939 (Alfred Hi/Mirovich pf, Mishel Piastro vl, Joseph Schuster Vc)
Harbin Symphony Orchestra; by then Japan had, of course, annexed Manchuria and controlled large parts of the mainland and the orchestra’s visit was part of a goodwill tour that also took the musicians to Korea. You can read the recollections of Peter Berton who played in the first violin section of the orchestra here:

The list is probably not exhaustive, but these are the names I found in the Japanese secondary sources I consulted. WW2 pretty much put an end to touring artists, unless they were entertaining troops. For several years Japanese music lovers had to make do with native talent. The first violinist to tour Japan after the war was Yehudi Menuhin in 1951.

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