In the 1920s, my father and many other Bolshoi Theater Orchestra musicians partook in so-called Persimfans. Persimfans is a term standing for “The First Symphony Ensemble without Conductor,” an experimental orchestra and, no doubt, the only one of its kind. Founded upon the idea of collective leadership, it was very much in the spirit of the early age of the Russian Revolution. Established in Moscow in 1922 on the initiative of Lev Zeitlin, the activities of the orchestra were conducted by an artistic committee elected by the group’s members. Acting as its artistic director, Lev Zeitlin, Professor at the Moscow Conservatory and a former pupil of Auer, was a person as sanguine as he was forceful and energetic. The first stand of the first violin group consisted of Lev Zeitlin and Abram Yampolsky, seated on the platform with their back to the audiences. The orchestra as a whole was made up of highly skilled musicians marked by idealism and commitment. In the list of artists involved in Persimfans figure the celebrated cellists Beresovsky and Matkovsky, double bass player Gertovich, the oboe and French horn brothers Soloduev, Tabakov, the trumpet player and premier performer of Scriabin’s “Poem of Ecstasy.” My father, being a young musician, was listed at the last desk of the first violin group.
Josef Szigety who performed Prokofiev’s Concerto No.1 with Persimfans commented upon about the orchestra’s sophisticated artistry in his memoirs. But performance-without-conductor, however innovative the idea, proved to be very rigorous for musicians as it demanded ten rehearsals for every one necessary for a traditional orchestra. It was probably because of those demands that the enthusiasm of musicians in the Persimfans waned, and it disbanded after about 10 years.
In the beginning was the Music… It was so in our home. Our family occupied two rooms in a big communal apartment. Such apartments were called kommunalka, since its residents had to share the bath and kitchen. The inhabitants of our kommunalka were artists of the Bolshoi Theatre Orchestra, and mornings one could hear the singing of two tenors or the sounds of a flute or a clarinet. Our family’s rooms were always filled with my father’s colleagues, students or friends. All came to play. But the principal music of my childhood was that of the Quartet, who gathered frequently at our place to rehearse. For those gatherings, I would put aside my toys and sit listening for long hours. Without exaggeration, I can say that the Quartet’s music filled my existence. Even now, it is with a sinking heart that I listen to Mozart’s String Quartet in D-Minor or Schubert’s “Death and the Maiden.”
My elder brother, Jury, was then a piano student, but not a particularly diligent one. Mother, who usually supervised his homework, used to scold him: “Your friend Jenia has been practicing for hours already, but you have not even started.” Jenia, this neighbor and my brother’s close friend went on to become none other than the celebrated conductor, Evgeny Svetlanov.
The best students in the third grade of the Moscow secondary school, 1938. Standing, third from the left is my brother. Next to him stands Evgeny Svetlanov.