Obituary: Yvar Mikhashoff

Ronald Mackay (Yvar Mikhashoff), pianist and composer: born Albany, New York 8 March 1941; died Buffalo, New York 11 October 1993.

YVAR MIKHASHOFF lived, as they say, a full life. Friends he stayed with groaned under the weight of the telephone bills. Yvar was an International Figure, large in person and life-style, a focal point of new music. Appointed to the faculty of the State University of New York, Buffalo, in 1973, he seemed constantly to be planning festivals all over the world, having new works written for him, and goodness knows when he practised the piano, which, after all, was meant to be his main thing. He was a composer too.

He once told me his grandfather was a Russian general, though I have no idea if it's true. He took his grandfather's name to replace the more prosaic Ronald Mackay which he was actually born with. He had been to scores of piano teachers, taking what he needed from each. He studied at two prestigious music schools (Eastman and Juilliard) and two universities (Houston and Texas, Austin) before studying composition in Paris with Nadia Boulanger - a rather conservative choice for someone of his age. He accumulated repertoire as fast as he could read the music.

I may have given Mikhashoff his first London date when he took part in a programme devoted to the Italian composer Giacinto Scelsi, at the ICA in 1979. It is hard to imagine so modest a beginning, sharing a concert with other performers. Subsequently he learnt a whole recital programme of John White sonatas specially for me, and gave a lectures recital and master-class on Ives's Concord Sonata, of which he also made a warm, richly imaginative commercial recording.

But I couldn't cope with Mikhashoff's cornucopian musical character; and he went on to become Associate Director of Pierre Audi's Almeida Festival in Islington, where he gave marathon recitals (including his tango collection, which he as an ex-champion ballroom dancer commissioned) and devised thematic plots and subplots which ran through the festival's crowded schedule of concerts. When Audi left to direct the Netherlands Opera in 1990, Mikhashoff stayed as Concerts Director at the Almeida and continued to plan and give concerts until last July. He was in the final stages of planning concerts of new Spanish music for next spring when he died. His final solo recital in London was, believe it or not, called Diabolical Visions, and consisted of Russian music including some of his own transcriptions. The following night he took part in the first performance of Ashes of Soldiers, a Whitman setting of chamber dimensions by the Scottish composer David Horne.

Which gives some idea of Mikhashoff's range. He had a generous, open-minded receptiveness to all kinds of new work which is typical of a certain kind of American musician. And inevitably, he was particularly associated with American music of all kinds, not only experimental.

Being an unregenerate homosexual hedonist, Yvar Mikhashoff was the perfect pianist-hero (Mr Fred) of Sylvano Bussotti's opera Le Racine. But, so far as I know, he didn't play Stockhausen or Boulez. He liked music he could intuit and relax into. Since one knew how well he could play anything he had really lived with, one often wished he wouldn't spread himself so thin. Perhaps he was like that in life, too; but he was great company for an evening.

(Photograph omitted)

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Recruitment Genius: Internal Recruiter - Manufacturing

£20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Internal Recruiter (manufact...

Ashdown Group: HR Manager (CIPD) - Barking / East Ham - £50-55K

£50000 - £55000 per annum + 25 days holidays & benefits: Ashdown Group: HR Man...

Recruitment Genius: Operations / Project Manager

£40000 - £48000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This software company specialis...

Ashdown Group: Human Resources Manager

£28000 - £35000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: A successful organisation...

Day In a Page

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

The honours that shame Britain

Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

International Tap Festival comes to the UK

Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

BBC heads to the Californian coast

The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

Car hacking scandal

Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
10 best placemats

Take your seat: 10 best placemats

Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory
Ashes 2015: Alastair Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

Aussie skipper Michael Clarke was lured into believing that what we witnessed at Edgbaston and Trent Bridge would continue in London, says Kevin Garside
Can Rafael Benitez get the best out of Gareth Bale at Real Madrid?

Can Benitez get the best out of Bale?

Back at the club he watched as a boy, the pressure is on Benitez to find a winning blend from Real's multiple talents. As La Liga begins, Pete Jenson asks if it will be enough to stop Barcelona
Athletics World Championships 2015: Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jessica Ennis-Hill and Katarina Johnson-Thompson heptathlon rivalry

Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jess and Kat rivalry

The last time the two British heptathletes competed, Ennis-Hill was on the way to Olympic gold and Johnson-Thompson was just a promising teenager. But a lot has happened in the following three years
Jeremy Corbyn: Joining a shrewd operator desperate for power as he visits the North East

Jeremy Corbyn interview: A shrewd operator desperate for power

His radical anti-austerity agenda has caught the imagination of the left and politically disaffected and set a staid Labour leadership election alight
Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief: Defender of ancient city's past was killed for protecting its future

Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief

Robert Fisk on the defender of the ancient city's past who was killed for protecting its future