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83-Year-Old Rosina Lhevinne Performed with the New York Philharmonic

January 20, 1963
Rosina Lhevinne
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Rosina Lhevinne and her student Van Cliburn, ca. 1958; photographer unknown. Courtesy of The Julliard School.

Russian piano virtuoso Rosina Bessie Lhevinne’s (1880-1976) career traversed oceans and eras. Shortly after her birth in Kiev, Ukraine, anti-Semitic riots in the city caused the family to move to Moscow. Rosina began her musical education at home when she was six; by age nine, she was admitted to the prestigious Moscow Conservatory. Czar Alexander III had imposed a quota on Jewish students at the Conservatory, making young Rosina’s accomplishments extraordinary indeed. For her public debut at age 15, she played Chopin’s Piano Concerto No.1 in E Minor, conducted by Vasily Safonov. She graduated in 1898 with a gold medal – the youngest woman in the school’s history to receive this highest of honors. Shortly thereafter, she married Josef Lhevinne, a fellow pianist.

While Rosina often performed with her husband, she was determined not to take the spotlight away from him as they played the orchestral halls of Moscow, Berlin, and Paris. The couple and their children moved repeatedly, following Josef’s career from prestigious academic post to prestigious academic post. Josef made his American debut in 1906 but subsequently returned to Europe. The family settled in a suburb of Berlin, where Rosina taught Josef’s students while he was on tour. With the outbreak of the First World War; the family was interned in Wannsee because of their Russian citizenship; the family immigrated to the United States. Both Rosina and Josef joined the faculty at Julliard.

Josef died suddenly on December 2, 1944, leaving Rosina uncertain of her future. Would she be able to maintain her academic post at Julliard if she no longer played with her husband? In fact, her reputation grew: as her students garnered ever more awards and accolades, their teacher’s name became famous. In 1956, at the age of 76, Rosina resumed her solo career. In a twist of poetry and history, she played with the New York Philharmonic at the age of 83, the same piece that she had played 61 years before as a gifted teenager in Moscow – “Chopin’s Piano Concerto No. 1 in E Minor.”

To learn more about Rosina Lhevinne, visit Jewish Women: A Comprehensive Historical Encyclopedia.

See also: This Week in History for January 14, 1939, "NY Times hails Carnegie Hall performance by Rosina and Josef Lhévinne".

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Jewish Women's Archive. "This Week in History - 83-Year-Old Rosina Lhevinne Performed with the New York Philharmonic." (Viewed on April 18, 2014) <http://jwa.org/thisweek/jan/20/1963/rosina-lhevinne>.