The violinist Leonard Hirsch was, from the mid-Thirties until his death, one of the most important players in the string- playing world. In a career which spanned over 70 years he was involved in almost every possible field as soloist, chamber music player, conductor and teacher.
During the Second World War he pioneered the idea of giving concerts in air-raid shelters during the bombing raids, and often gave as many as three in one evening. As leader of the RAF Symphony Orchestra he established and maintained their high standardsof performance by enlisting - as rank-and-file members - many famous names in the profession, including members of the Griller Quartet. As such they made many successful tours throughout the UK and the US. He also played before Winston Churchill, Josef Stalin and Harry Truman at the Potsdam conference in Berlin in 1945.
Hirsch was born in Dublin and received his first tuition from a local teacher. At the age of 17 he entered the Royal Manchester College of Music (now the Royal Northern College of Music) under Adolf Brodsky, with whom he continued to study for a further eight years. In 1921, he joined the Halle Orchestra and Hamilton Harty and graduated to become both leader and soloist. Harty, himself a first-class pianist, often joined the members of the Hirsch String Quartet which Hirsch founded in 1925.
Hirsch moved to London in 1936, where he became leader of the BBC Empire Orchestra from 1937 until it was disbanded in 1939. His reputation reached the ears of the redoubtable Walter Legge, who engaged him after the war to lead the Philharmonia, the orchestra he had founded to offer a British counterpart to the Vienna Philharmonic. Hirsch stayed with them from 1945 until 1949, when he left owing to his increasing number of engagements outside the orchestra. In 1944 he had reformed the Hirsch Quartet, wh ich had been disbanded during the war. He also led the Sinfonia of London and conducted his own ensemble, the Hirsch Chamber Players. He was the first musical director of the BBC Training Orchestra, founded in Bristol in 1961, and held the post until 196
Hirsch shared the view of many of his colleagues that too much emphasis was placed on London: he now made Bristol and the West Country his base, and in so doing established a centre of teaching of such quality that he attracted students away from the metropolis to where they could live in a less expensive area, often on their own doorstep. The risk paid off handsomely.
He coached the string section of the National Youth Orchestra from 1948 to 1966, working with the indefatigable Ruth Railton, who had founded it in 1947. He was a professor at the Royal College of Music from 1967 until 1979; and from 1966 to 1969 was theChief Music Consultant for the county of Hertfordshire.
Hirsch's ability to teach and work with young musicians was legendary. He was exceptionally adept at spotting young talent and had a genius for nurturing it so that it matured under his gentle hand. Korsched Gruenberg, a pupil for some years, told me that she and her fellow students enjoyed their lessons immensely: "He was always so cheerful and understanding. He knew that youngsters can't always be on top of their problems and he made allowances for this. He never lost his temper - ever. If we'd not pa id attention he would talk to us in a serious tone, and it always worked."
A colleague, the violinist Yfrah Neaman, said: "His enduring creativity ,which he could exercise in a remarkable way, enabled him to bring out the very best in his students. I have never known anyone who could instil musicianship in the way that Leonard did."
Hirsch was a fine violinist whose playing was stylish and unmannered and he made a number of recordings, mainly with his quartet: especially memorable are the Bartok Quartet No 1, the Bloch No 2 and Hugo Wolf's Italian Serenade.
Margaret CampbellReuse content