Obituary: Jose Figueroa

APART FROM his illustrious predecessor Pablo Sarasate, Jose "Pepito" Figueroa was one of the few Spanish violinists to reach international status.

He had a career which spanned some 80 years as a soloist, chamber musician and teacher. He was a great favourite with the Spanish royal family and frequently played for them at their palace in Madrid.

Figueroa was born in the beautiful mountain town of San Sebastian and began playing the violin when he was seven; at 14 he won a violin competition which enabled him to tour Mexico and Cuba with Henri Ern, then director of the Cincinnati Conservatory of Music in the United States. When Figueroa was 18, he entered the Royal Conservatory in Madrid where he was soon appointed leader of the orchestra and on graduating was awarded the Sarasate Prize for Excellence.

At this time the Ecole Normale de Musique in Paris was the Mecca for violinists, especially those from the Latin countries, so Figueroa enrolled as a student of the celebrated Jacques Thibaud, a pupil of both Martin Marsick and Eugene Ysae, thus placing him in a direct line to the founder of the Franco-Belgian school, Giovanni Battista Viotti. Figueroa made such good progress that he became leader of the school's string quartet and on graduating won the Premier Prix with the highest marks ever awarded.

From this time onwards his future was assured and he performed with a number of well-known chamber music groups and toured the world as a soloist under many of the leading international conductors including Pierre Monteux and Charles Munch. He made his solo American debut at the Carnegie Hall in 1934 and later took up residence in the US, where he became concert master of the American Arts Orchestra under Karl Krueger and later the National Symphony Orchestra in Washington DC under Hans Kindler. He was also leader of the American String Quartet in New York.

He finally settled in Puerto Rico, where he was a soloist with the Puerto Rico Symphony Orchestra and also participated in many of the Casals Festivals in that city. He taught for many years at the Puerto Rico Conservatory of Music where he was recently awarded a doctorate honoris causa.

He died in San Juan, after a series of heart attacks, following a recent fall in which he broke his hip. His open casket was displayed at the Institute of Puerto Rican Culture, where students and celebrities filed past to pay him homage.

Jose "Pepito" Figueroa, violinist: born San Sebastian, Spain 1905; died San Juan, Puerto Rico 9 November 1998.

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