83-year-old Rosina Lhevinne performs with the New York Philharmonic
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.”
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Jewish Women's Archive. "83-year-old Rosina Lhevinne performs with the New York Philharmonic." (Viewed on March 26, 2023) <https://jwa.org/thisweek/jan/20/1963/rosina-lhevinne>.
I have been fortunate to have studied with one of her pupils, Frances Renzi, who at 77 is still an active performer, both as a soloist and collaborative pianist. She was once the principal pianist for the New York City Ballet. Every great once in a while, I refer to the book written by Josef Lhevinne "Basic Principles In Pianoforte Playing" with a new foreword by Rosina Lhevinne.
Rosina and Josef Lhevinne lived in Kew Gardens, NY from 1919 to 1944. The house still stands and on June 7th a Historical Plaque will be placed in front of the house. The Lhevinnes are buried at Maple Grove Cemetery in Kew Gardens. On March 29, 2014 a Concert will be performed at Celebration Hall in the Center at Maple Grove Cemetery to honor her 134th Birthday. The performer will be Matthew Graybil. Visit www.friendsofmaplegrove.org to learn more.
Madame Lhevinne was the piano pedagogy instructor for my piano teacher more than 60 years ago at the Juliiard School. What an honor it is for me to know that I had the opportunity of being taught by the best- both from my teacher, Anne Vanko Liva, and hers in Manhattan. Thank you for sharing this article.