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Born again, still playing

The cellist who had to teach himself a second time

Michael Church | July/August 2014

Mischa Maisky says he was born twice, first in Riga in 1948 and then in Israel in 1972. In between, he had several lives, first as a 
determined young cellist in Latvia, then as Mstislav Rostropovich’s protégé in Moscow after winning a prize in the Tchaikovsky competition, then as a prisoner in a Soviet labour camp, followed by a period banged up in a mental hospital. Such were the misfortunes which befell him, thanks to the fact that his pianist sister had emigrated to Israel—Jewish musicians suffered routine victimisation under the Soviets—but his characteristic intransigence hadn’t helped. Starting to play in Israel after being separated from the cello for two years was, he says, “like learning to walk and speak again after a huge accident”.

He has never stopped speaking since. In partnership with his friend Martha Argerich, plus a posse of Russian stars, he has long been one of the world’s top chamber players; and he’s a pillar of the establishment at the Verbier Festival where, with his pianist daughter Lily, he will play Bach, Britten and Shostakovich. His sound has exceptional power, while hers has an unusual flexibility, thanks to the fact that her studies at the Purcell School near London included an infusion of jazz. ~ Michael Church

Verbier Festival July 18th to Aug 3rd. The Maiskys play on July 23rd

CLASSICAL AT A GLANCE 

Glimmerglass (Cooperstown, NY, to Aug 23rd). Under Francesca Zambello’s wing, this festival lives up to its reputation for innovation with a new production of Tobias Picker’s “An American Tragedy” plus a “Madame Butterfly”, an “Ariadne auf Naxos”, and a promising new take on “Carousel”. 

Steven Osborne (Lincoln Centre, NY, Aug 1st-2nd). An outstanding Scots pianist makes his debut in the Mostly Mozart Festival, playing Beethoven’s Emperor Concerto under Andrew Manze, and some rare Schubert works. ~ MC

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