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Eugene Istomin

American pianist Eugene Istomin, known more for his poise and refinement than for heaven-storming bravura, made himself an important figure both as a solo artist and as a chamber player of rare discretion and musicality. His trio with violinist Isaac Stern and cellist Leonard Rose was recognized for the directness and honesty of its interpretations, always heartfelt. As was true for other pianists, winning the Leventritt Award opened doors for Istomin at a relatively early age. He returned from his first European tour in 1950 a well-established artist and continued to involve himself in music activities of high purpose. Under the tutelage of Kiriena Siloti, Istomin was prepared for entry into the Curtis Institute where his instructors included such rigorous concert pianists as Mieczyslaw Horszowski and Rudolf Serkin. At 18, he won two important awards, both leading to appearances with orchestras ranking among America's top five. With the Philadelphia Youth Award, he won an engagement with the Philadelphia Orchestra directed by Eugene Ormandy. Istomin's performance of Chopin's Second Piano Concerto was awarded high praise by both the audience and critics. The more prestigious Leventritt Award resulted in a performance of the Brahms Piano Concerto No. 2 with Artur Rodzinski and the New York Philharmonic, an occasion for which he won further accolades from listeners and press alike. With these two successes, offers from other major American orchestras followed and his career moved forward quickly as both an orchestral soloist and a recitalist. Performances with the Busch Chamber Players were applauded and his first recording, Bach's Concerto in D minor played with the Busch ensemble, created something of a stir in chamber music circles. Istomin's European tour of 1950 found him performing with major French orchestras and giving recitals in Switzerland and Italy. It also introduced him to the Pablo Casals Festival in Prades. For each of the following years, he appeared at the French festival, frequently together with the great cellist. Istomin was much appreciated by Casals, who pronounced him "destined for a great career." When Casals established a new festival in San Juan, Puerto Rico, the young pianist became one of its leading artists, once again proving himself a superior collaborator. Critic Howard Taubman described him as a "revelation," praising his singing tone and noting, "not once did he forget that he was part of an intimate chamber music group." Once Istomin had completed his first European tour, subsequent trips were planned and he performed throughout Europe and America. In 1956, he embarked upon an extended junket to the Far East, giving some 30 concerts through the joint sponsorship of the Sangyo Keizai Shimbun and the American National Theatre and Academy's International Exchange Program. Once again, the reviews were enthusiastic as were the responses of audiences throughout the tour. Istomin assembled the Istomin/Stern/Rose Trio in 1961, prevailing upon two colleagues with whom he felt an ease and musical kinship. The three made a number of praiseworthy recordings, concentrating on late Classical and Romantic-age composers. Several recording made during the Prades Festivals of the early 1950s have seen release on CD. Istomin also made recordings for the Reference label in the 1990s, all reflecting the pianist's thoughtful musicality and attention to detail. Istomin's connection with Pablo Casals continued even after the cellist/humanitarian's death when, in 1975, the pianist married Casals' widow, Marta.
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