Rudolf Barshai (1924-2010)

Russian conductor and founder member of Borodin Quartet dies


The Russian conductor and viola-player Rudolf Barshai has died in his home in Switzerland.

Barshai had been a close colleague of the composer Shostakovich, under whom he had studied composition at the Moscow Conservatory. In 1969 he conducted the premiere of Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 14, directing his own Moscow Chamber Orchestra with soloists Galina Vishnevskaya and Mark Reshetin.
Barshai’s main study at the Moscow Conservatory had been viola, and he started his career in 1945 as the founding violist of the now-legendary Borodin Quartet.
He studied conducting in Leningrad under the legendary teacher Ilya Musin, and subsequently founded the Moscow Chamber Orchestra (MCO) in 1955, which he conducted until he emigrated from the Soviet Union.
With the MCO he performed 18th-century music by composers such as Mozart and Haydn, and contemporary music; he also made several recordings including a Mozart Symphony cycle which was the first to observe all the notated repeats.
He emigrated from the USSR shortly after Shostakovich’s death in 1975, settling first in Israel in 1976 where he directed the Israel Chamber Orchestra until 1981, and the New Israel Orchestra from 1977 to 1979.
Barshai held a number of posts around the world, including as artistic adviser to the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra (1982–8), and as music director of the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra (1985-8).
He also made several recordings, including the critically acclaimed cycle of Shostakovich’s symphonies with the WDR Symphony Orchestra (2002-03).
Until shortly before his death Barshai had been working on his final project, which according to his agent Askonas Holt he considered ‘a life-time achievement’ – an arrangement of Bach’s The Art of Fugue.
Daniel Jaffé