Shoot the Conductor
Too Close to Monteux, Szell, and Ormandy (Mayborn Literary Nonfiction Series #7)
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Anshel Brusilow started playing violin in 1933 at age five, in a Russian Jewish neighborhood of Philadelphia where practicing your instrument was as ordinary as hanging out the laundry. His playing wasn’t ordinary, though. At sixteen, he was soloing with the Philadelphia Orchestra. He was also studying conducting.
Brusilow’s tumultuous relationships with Pierre Monteux, George Szell, and Eugene Ormandy shaped his early career. Under Szell, Brusilow was associate concertmaster at the Cleveland Orchestra until Ormandy snatched him away to make him concertmaster in Philadelphia, where he remained from 1959 to 1966. But he was unsatisfied with the violin. Even as concertmaster of the Philadelphia Orchestra, he felt the violin didn’t give him enough of the music. He wanted to conduct. He formed chamber groups on the side; he conducted summer concerts of the Philadelphia Orchestra. The price was high: it ruined his father-son relationship with Ormandy. Brusilow turned in his violin bow for the baton and created his own Philadelphia Chamber Symphony. Next he took on the then-troubled Dallas Symphony Orchestra. Unhappy endings repeat themselves in his memoir—and yet humor dances constantly around the edges. Musicians need it.
Brusilow played with or conducted many top-tier classical musicians and has something to say about each one. He also made many recordings. Co-written with Robin Underdahl, his memoir is a fascinating view of American classical music as well as an inspiring story of a working-class immigrant child making good in a tough arena.
Praise For Shoot the Conductor: Too Close to Monteux, Szell, and Ormandy (Mayborn Literary Nonfiction Series #7)…
“Don’t start reading this memoir by an inspired and inspiring concertmaster, conductor, and teacher too late in the evening, or you may not get much of a night’s sleep. I found it unputdownable, and read the whole book in one sitting. I don’t know which impressed me more: the profound dedication to music evident from first page to last, or the delightfully light and modest touch with which it’s presented. I learned a great deal, too, about the educational process that turns promise into achievement.”—Bernard Jacobson, music critic
"Leading an orchestra of 60 or more musicians is not a job for the meek. Anshel Brusilow tells how he did it, with good humor, and that makes for entertaining reading."—Bernard Garfield, principal bassoon, Philadelphia Orchestra, retired
“I grew up listening to my father’s classical record collection. Szell, Monteux, Ormandy… these were our household idols. (My father trimmed his mustache after the style of Toscanini). Thank the gods of music, then, for Anshel Brusilow—for his robust humor, his sharp insight into character, and above all for his love of music and music-makers. In this wonderful memoir, the titans leave the podium and step down to earth, allowing us to observe through the eyes of Maestro Brusilow—seated only a few feet away in the concertmaster's stand—their foibles, pettiness, tantrums, but also their greatness.”—Bill Marvel, writer for The Dallas Morning News and co-author of Islands of the Damned
“While carrying us along with information about these celebrities [Ormandy, Szell, and Monteux], Brusilow simultaneously gives us a good hard look at the day-to-day grim reality of the life of a professional musician.”—Wayne Gay, music critic, D Magazine
“Brusilow has a remarkable way of telling a story that is conversational and easy to read.”—Brian A. Shook, author of Last Stop Carnegie Hall: New York Philharmonic Trumpeter William Vacchiano (UNT Press)
University of North Texas Press, 9781574416466, 336pp.
Publication Date: July 22, 2016