Emanuel Hurwitz

Modest violinist who led numerous orchestras and ensembles - including the Aeolian String Quartet
Click to follow
The Independent Online

Emanuel Henry Hurwitz, violinist: born London 7 May 1919; CBE 1978; President, Incorporated Society of Musicians 1995-96; married 1948 Kay Crome (one son); died London 19 November 2006.

Emanuel Hurtwitz was one of England's great chamber musicians. He was playing in a string quartet at 14 and went on to lead some of the country's best-known string quartets and chamber orchestras. He was also a fine teacher who possessed a charming and modest personality.

"Manny" Hurwitz was born in London into a family with no history of musical performers, save his great-uncle Ossip Gabrilovich, a celebrated pianist who studied with Anton Rubinstein at the Conservatory in St Petersburg, and later emigrated to the United States. He became conductor of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra and married Mark Twain's daughter Clara Clemens.

Hurwitz's immediate family were just music lovers. He once explained to me:

My parents were not well-off, but they did spend money on going to concerts, so as a small boy I must have heard all the great string players of the day, Casals, Kreisler, Heifetz, Huberman, Szigeti and others. It is wonderful to hear great people when you are so young - especially at this time as it was a vintage period. Everyone who tuned up was a master.

He also remembered hearing the Busch, Budapest and Lener string quartets:

I worshipped them. In fact I know it was after hearing the Budapest Quartet that I decided that I would try to become a quartet player myself.

He was given a quarter-size violin when he was five and had lessons at his school for sixpence a week. His progress was so promising that at six he began having private tuition with Leon Bergman -

a remarkable man who taught lots of small boys between the East End and north London. He was a pupil of Leopold Auer in St Petersburg at the same time as Jascha Heifetz and was a very sound teacher with a special gift for beginners.

At 14 Hurwitz won a scholarship given by Baron Profumo - a friend of Bronislaw Huberman - to the Royal Academy of London, where he studied with Sydney Robjohns, an Australian who had been a pupil of Joachim. He was very young to have been given full-time training and was further rewarded when at 17, as he was about to start his third year, his teacher decided he would benefit from having a year off, to do some work.

He auditioned with Georg Szell and to his delight was given a job with the second violins in the Scottish Orchestra:

It was a wonderful chance for an inexperienced teenager, working under a great conductor who incidentally had recently taken over from another young conductor, John Barbirolli.

After his fourth and final year at the RAM he was offered a job by Sir Thomas Beecham at the third desk of the London Philharmonic Orchestra. Hurwitz was over the moon, but his teacher thought it unwise to accept such a position as he needed to continue his studies for a while. Eventually he was accepted by the LPO as an extra and he played for two years with Beecham - including a whole Wagner season at Covent Garden playing under the great Felix Weingartner.

When war broke out in 1939, Hurwitz was called up and joined the RAMC, where he was lucky enough to be taken into their Band Corps. He played the violin throughout the Second World War in string quartets and concerts for the troops.

On demob he reformed the string quartet he had started at the RAM. They were successful in auditioning for Glyndebourne as the management was looking for a young string quartet to play for an opera that had just been written by a young unknown British composer: the opera was The Rape of Lucretia, the composer Benjamin Britten.

Terence Weil, the cellist in the quartet, could not get out of the Army in time for Glyndebourne, so he recommended a young friend of his, Martin Lovett. His second violin was Peter Schidloff, later viola player in the celebrated Amadeus String Quartet, who had not yet played the viola.

When the BBC formed its orchestra - which had no name - for the new Third Programme in 1947, it was the members of Hurwitz's quartet who formed the backbone of the string section. After a few months, the leader, Norbert Brainin, decided he wanted to form a quartet (the Amadeus), so Hurwitz found himself leading the orchestra which in 1969 became the Goldsborough and eventually the English Chamber Orchestra.

From this time onwards he was fully occupied. In addition to the Goldsborough, he was sub-leader in the Boyd Neel Orchestra and ran his own Hurwitz Quartet. When the pressures became unmanageable he left the Boyd Neel and reluctantly disbanded his own quartet. In the early 1950s he joined the Melos Ensemble who specialised in a wide variety of chamber music works, and stayed with them until 1972. He later had an invitation to lead the New Philharmonia Orchestra. He explained:

It was something I'd never thought of doing - leading a symphony orchestra. I'd never led a group of more than eight first violins and six seconds. But it was the opportunity to work under Otto Klemperer whom I'd known socially for many years that persuaded me. I wanted to work with him and get to know what he was like.

However, after he had been with the NPO for a year, the Aeolian String Quartet found themselves without a leader. Hurwitz joined them just to help with a very busy season. The NPO let him off as many concerts as they could. Then, after a year of working with the quartet, Hurwitz realised that his old love was returning after 20 years. So once again, with the greatest reluctance, he resigned from the NPO.

In 1975 the Aeolian String Quartet became known to thousands on BBC Television when they recorded all of the Beethoven quartets. This was a very exhausting series both physically and emotionally. He said:

It is an extraordinary thing but, when you've been living with these masterpieces for a week, the first thing you hear afterwards, however good, is a little flimsy musically - even the early Beethoven!

He went on to say that the only things that were in the same league, so to speak, were the Mozart String Quintets, the Schubert G major, Death and the Maiden and the Bartoks: "You only see this when you are put into such a profundity of thought."

Hurwitz's career went from strength to strength. Despite being a full-time performer, he also found time for teaching. In addition to being professor at the Royal Academy in London, for many years he organised master classes for string quartet study at Monterosso in Italy. He was also String Coach for Erma (the Ernest Read Musical Association) on their summer school at Roedean, and in 1977 was invited to Australia and New Zealand to conduct the Erma course there.

Emanuel Hurwitz, who made many recordings over the years, many of which have been reissued on CD, lacked the ego that is so often associated with the "fiddle'" personality. He was warm, friendly, articulate and entirely without affectation, and his delightful sense of humour would permeate the most profound discussion of the music itself.

He was greatly assisted by his wife, Kay, who was herself a busy teacher and chamber music player.

Margaret Campbell