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Violinist Efrem Zimbalist Died in 1985

Long-time director of the Curtis Institute of Music, his famed students include Aaron Rosand, Oscar Shumsky, Felix Slatkin, and Joseph Silverstein


A violinist, composer, conductor, and teacher, Efrem Zimbalist was born in 1889 in Rostov-on-Don, Russia. He began violin studies with his father Aaron Zimbalist, who conducted the Rostov Opera orchestra, of which Efrem joined at age nine.

In 1909 at age 12, he was accepted to the St. Petersburg Conservatory to study composition with Nicolai Rimsky-Korsakov and violin with renowned pedagogue Leopold Auer. He was among the esteemed alumni of Auer’s class including violinists Jascha Heifetz, Mischa Elman, and Nathan Milstein.

Upon his graduation in 1907 and his receiving the conservatory’s gold medal and the Anton Rubinstein prize, Zimbalist’s career took off as he made debuts in Berlin and London — notably playing the Tchaikovsky violin concerto at the Leipzig Gewandhaus under Arthur Nikisch in 1910.

On his first American tour in 1911, Zimbalist met Metropolitan Opera soprano Alma Gluck, whom he married three years later and performed with on tour until her retirement in 1925. Gluck died in 1938.

In 1928, Zimbalist was appointed to the violin faculty of Philadelphia’s Curtis Institute of Music (CIM), where he became head of the violin in 1930 and then CIM’s director in 1941 — a role he held until he retired in 1968. In 1943, Zimbalist married widow and CIM founder Mary Louis Curtis Bok.

Among his renowned violin students include Aaron Rosand, Oscar Shumsky, Felix Slatkin, Joseph Silverstein, Norman Carol, Shmuel Ashkenasi, and Hidetaro Suzuki.

Performing with major orchestras such as the Philadelphia Orchestra well into his 60s, Zimbalist also served on the jury of Moscow’s Tchaikovsky Competition between 1962 and 1966. Additionally, he was a prolific recording artist, performing with musicians including Fritz Kreisler.

According to The New York Times, Zimbalist once owned 20 rare violins and continued practicing the violin for 30 minutes daily up until some months before his death.

Zimbalist died in Reno, Nevada, on February 22, 1985, aged 94.

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