It’s been a long time since Anshel Brusilow was the music director of the Dallas Symphony Orchestra — 35 years, to be exact — but he’s remained an active figure in the musical life of this area. On Wednesday night he’ll start reducing that activity, though he’s not pulling out entirely.
Brusilow will conduct his final program before retiring as the director of orchestras at the University of North Texas College of Music. He’ll direct the UNT Symphony Orchestra and Grand Chorus in Prokofiev’s Alexander Nevsky cantata and Tchaikovsky’s Pathétique Symphony. The program will begin at 8 p.m. in the Murchison Performing Arts Center in Denton.
It should be noted that Brusilow is not retiring as the music director of the Richardson Symphony Orchestra, another of his longtime associations. But the easing of his schedule will allow him to complete work on a book he’s been writing.
“I’m writing about relationships I have had with so many great artists who have passed away, and some I couldn’t write about until they passed away,” he says.
Certainly Brusilow has ample material. His association with famous musicians began when he was a child and entered the Curtis Institute of Music in his native Philadelphia to study violin. At 16 he was the youngest conducting student ever accepted by Pierre Monteux. He later performed as a soloist with a number of major orchestras. For four years he was the associate concertmaster of the Cleveland Orchestra under George Szell and for seven years was the concertmaster of the Philadelphia Orchestra under Eugene Ormandy. Then he set out on his conducting career.
Among the noted composers he has met and conversed with were Dmitri Shostakovich and Igor Stravinsky. The meeting with Stravinsky did not have a promising start, Brusilow says. Brusilow had brought along a score of The Rite of Spring, Stravinsky’s most famous work. The composer eyed it suspiciously and asked what Brusilow was up to. Brusilow responded that he was going to do it on a summer program. “All conductors are frauds,” the crusty composer remarked. Brusilow encouraged him to elaborate, and Stravinsky complained that conductors tended to tinker with his music. “I promise you, I will never change anything,” Brusilow vowed. Stravinsky patted Brusilow on the shoulder and smiled benevolently.
Wednesday night’s program will be all-Russian. “I guess it’s my background,” Brusilow says. “My parents came from there, I have a strong affinity for the Russian people and I love Russian music.”
He’s quick to head off any idea that there’s any significance in the fact that the final work of his UNT tenure will be Tchaikovsky’s Pathétique, a gloomy work that fades into silence. “I didn’t mean it to be a sad farewell, that has nothing to do with it. To me it’s a masterpiece, so intricate, with so many different human emotions. I thought that it was my last chance to teach it to these students before I left. I put it last because I couldn’t see ending the program otherwise.”
Brusilow will be succeeded at UNT next fall by David Itkin. Meanwhile, his work with the Richardson Symphony continues. His next program will be May 3, with Cliburn Competition favorite Olga Kern as soloist.