Aaron Rosand, Renowned Violinist With a Famous Fiddle, Dies at 92

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Aaron Rosand, a leading violinist who closed out an astonishingly long career with a dramatic, emotion-filled gesture, selling his beloved rare violin for some $10 million and donating $1.5 million of that to a music institute, died on July 9 in White Plains. He was 92. )

His wife, Christina Khimm Rosand, said the cause was pneumonia. He lived in Scarsdale, N.Y.

Mr. Rosand made his orchestral debut with the Chicago Symphony when he was 10 and was still performing until just a few years ago. In the intervening years he was nothing if not consistent.

In 1948 The New York Times praised his debut recital at Town Hall in Manhattan, citing “a tone of unusual quality and a technique of near-perfection.”

A half-century later, when he released a recording of Brahms and Beethoven concertos, the notices were much the same.

“Rosand has lost none of his fabled technique,” Richard Dyer wrote in The Boston Globe in 1999, “and plays both pieces with secure intonation, a sound that grows ever sweeter as it ascends, a directly communicative warmth of feeling, and a swashbuckling dash that has always characterized his playing.”

Mr. Rosand performed with major orchestras all over the world, for much of his career playing an instrument made in 1741 and known as the ex-Kochanski Guarneri del Gesù (because it was previously owned by Paul Kochanski, a Polish virtuoso, and was made by Giuseppe Guarneri, known as “del Gesù”). Mr. Rosand acquired the violin in 1957 for about $50,000, financed with a loan that he said took him about a decade to pay off.

That was the instrument he sold to a well-heeled Russian in 2009 for $10.1 million, thought to be a record for a violin at the time. He handed the instrument over in a London hotel suite.

“I just felt as if I left part of my body behind,” Mr. Rosand told The Times shortly after. “It was my voice. It was my career.”

He gave $1.5 million of the proceeds to the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia, from which he graduated in 1948 and where he taught for 38 years. But the gift was only part of his legacy, the institute said in a tribute on its website.

“Mr. Rosand’s students,” it said, “have won every major violin competition; can be found as concertmasters in top ensembles including the Metropolitan Opera, Saint Paul Chamber and National Symphony orchestras, Deutsche Oper Berlin, and the Royal Danish Opera Orchestra; and are themselves highly sought-after teachers.”

Mr. Rosand was born Aaron Rosen on March 15, 1927, in Hammond, Ind. His father, Allen, and his mother, Ida (Rubin) Rosen, were both musically inclined; in a 2014 interview with violinist.com, Mr. Rosand said that when they met, his father was singing in a cabaret near Hammond and his mother was playing piano to accompany silent movies. They used to perform together and would take him along when he was a toddler. Once, when he was about 3, his father was to sing a Schubert lieder.

“I ran up to the stage and said, ‘I want to sing, too!’ ” Mr. Rosand said. “To their amazement, I sang it in German.” He had been listening to his parents practice.

“That’s when they realized that maybe they had a musical monster on their hands,” he said.

He took up the violin after the family had moved to Chicago, where he studied under Leon Sametini, a noted violin teacher, at the Chicago Musical College before taking his degree at Curtis.

Early on, Mr. Rosand developed a reputation for playing the somewhat out-of-fashion Romantic repertoire and for programming seldom-played composers like Jeno Hubay and Joseph Joachim. It was a trait that, as The Times put it in a 1982 article, “marked him as a specialist in the arcane and overly sentimental.” Mr. Rosand, though, was unapologetic.

“If performing ‘Romantically’ means projecting yourself into the period in which the music was written,” he said in an interview for that article, “and then injecting your own personality to show what that music means to you, then Romanticism is for me.”

An early benefactor, the philanthropist Max Adler, supplied Mr. Rosand with a Stradivarius to play. But when Mr. Rosand began to date and then married the pianist Eileen Flissler early in his career, he said, it “did not sit very well with Mr. Adler, who felt that my total dedication must be to the violin.”

“I suddenly found myself in New York without a violin, with a wife and no means of support,” he said.

That led to his acquisition of the ex-Kochanski. Mr. Rosand struck up an arrangement with a New York violin dealer, Rembert Wurlitzer: Mr. Wurlitzer would lend him instruments to play in concerts, and, in exchange, Mr. Rosand would play those instruments in demonstrations for potential buyers.

“But there was one violin that he could never allow me to take out of the shop, and that was the ‘Kochanski’ Guarnerius,” Mr. Rosand told violinist.com. It was kept at the shop by a private owner who was in failing health but would stop by once a week to visit it.

“I played on that violin in the shop,” Mr. Rosand said, “and I realized that this is my voice.”

When the instrument became available, he was given six months to raise the money to buy it.

He did that in part by taking a job at CBS, playing on radio shows. And, he said, there was the Chock Full o’ Nuts connection. At the time, the brand was opening a lot of coffee shops, the Starbucks of the day.

“Those stores were like mushrooms,” Mr. Rosand said. “They were all around New York, and then they came out with a stock, at $16. Whatever work I did, whatever money I had, I bought stock. Don’t ask me why, I didn’t know anything about stocks at that time, but I thought, every time you turn the corner, there’s a new Chock Full o’Nuts, so I kept buying stock.”

The stock price soared, and he used his shares as collateral for the loan that bought him the violin.

From 1962 to 1975, Mr. Rosand played that violin primarily for European audiences. He struggled to get top-notch engagements in the United States, something he later attributed in part to the violinist Isaac Stern, a power in the classical music world. In an eyebrow-raising essay he wrote for the music site Slipped Disc in 2014, Mr. Rosand recounted several instances in which he said Stern, who died in 2001, had sabotaged his career.

Stern, he wrote, objected that he had “gone commercial” in taking the CBS job. There was what seemed to be professional jealousy too, he wrote, as when Mr. Rosand played a Samuel Barber concerto with the New York Philharmonic under Leonard Bernstein in 1960. Mr. Rosand intended to record the piece with the orchestra a few weeks later.

“A fuming Isaac Stern was waiting in the wings when we walked offstage after the first performance,” Mr. Rosand wrote. “He never shook my hand, grabbed Bernstein and took him to his dressing room. I walked out alone for the bows, and from then on Bernstein’s attitude towards me changed.”

Years later, he said, Bernstein told him that Stern “had threatened to cancel his five concerto recordings with the NY Philharmonic if he recorded the Barber concerto with me.”

By the late 1970s, though, Mr. Rosand was performing more often with American orchestras, and in 1981 he joined the Curtis faculty.

Mr. Rosand also taught for years at the Summit Music Festival at Manhattanville College in Purchase, N.Y., where Christina Khimm Rosand, also a violinist, directs the festival’s Aaron Rosand Intensive Violin Program.

Mr. Rosand’s three previous marriages, to Ms. Flissler, Maree Macpherson and Monica Woo, ended in divorce. In addition to his wife, he is survived by three stepdaughters, Suzy Khimm Sarlin, Mia Khimm and, through his second marriage, Dierdre Regina Shula.

Mr. Rosand was known for being able to play dozens of pieces from memory. In the violinist.com interview, he was asked the benefits of memorizing a piece of music.

“I’ll tell you in one word: heart,” he said. “It’s in your brain, it’s in your heart.”

His wife said that in his final days, when he was losing his ability to communicate, she played him a recording of his rendition of the Bach chaconne.

“I thought he was asleep,” she said. But he surprised her.

“He said, ‘Me playing,’ ” she said. “Those were the last words he spoke.”


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