Elias Breeskin - in The United States

In The United States

When the family arrived in America, Olga sought funding for her son’s musical career. She ensconced herself in front of The White House, and asked to see Edith Roosevelt. The guards ignored her. She returned to the front gate day after day, until Mrs. Roosevelt asked for information about “the babushka lady.” Olga told the First Lady about Elias, and asked if she and her friends could sponsor his musical education. After hearing him play, Mrs. Roosevelt agreed to do so, and got together a group of people, including Mr. Frank Damrosch, who sponsored Elias’ education at the Juilliard School of Music, at that time called the Institute of Musical Arts.

In the early part of the century, the best violin instructor in America was Franz Kneisel. Maestro Kneisel took on Elias as a pupil, and had enormous influence on his subsequent career. After nine years at Juilliard, Elias won the Loeb prize in 1915. A part of this prize was a concert at Carnegie Hall, which was extremely well received; the reviewers in the next day’s newspapers remarked on the warmth and purity of his tone, his technical abilities, and the sincerity and refinement of his playing.

A wealthy patron, Edward Schafer, a member of the New York Stock Exchange, gave Elias a Rougemont Stradivarius with a Tourte bow as a gift. Schafer had originally purchased the violin from the Randolph Wurlitzer Company, of 113 West Fortieth Street, for $16,000 together with the bow for $850. Elias and the violin were inseparable for the next ten years. When the stock market crashed in 1929, Elias returned the violin to his benefactor to help him pay his debts.

In 1917, Elias became a member of the New York Symphony under Walter Damrosch. Others in the orchestra included future superstars Mischa Elman, Pablo Casals, and Joseph Hoffman. Elias received great reviews for his performance at the Aeolian Hall in February 1918. Elias won a place as Enrico Caruso’s accompanist for his tour in 1918. That year he made recordings for Brunswick Records, the first of which appeared on a rare vertically-cut issue in Canada. He returned to Carnegie Hall again in April 1919 and was noted for his vigorous style.

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