Jacob Avshalomov


Jacob Avshalomov was born on March 28, 1919 in Tsingtao, China. His mother was a San ~lnciscan; his father is Aaron Avshalomov, Siberian-born composer whose work is characterized by oriental musical materials cast in western forms and media–produced during a thirty-year residence in China. Naturally enough, the son’s early musical studies were with his father. After graduating from British and American schools before he was fifteen, Avshalomov Jr. worked as a factory supervisor in Tientsin, Shanghai and Peiping for four years. During this period he was active in many sports and held the fancy-diving championship of North China. Early in 1937 a business assignment to Shanghai brought him into the orbit of his father’s activities; here (within the elastic hours of colonial business life) he assisted in the preparation of a Chinese Ballet and served an apprenticeship by working on scores and parts of his father’s music. Up to that point music had been an avocation; and although these activities were interrupted by the Japanese invasion and a stint in a British volunteer corps, the commitment to music had been made. In December of that year, Avshalomov’s mother returned to the United States for repatriation, and with her came her immigrant son, resolved to devote himself to compostion. A year in Los Angeles brought a brief but rewarding contact with Ernst Toch: two years in iland, Oregon, at Reed College, in the Junior Symphony, and in studies with Jacques Gershkovitch, were followed by two years at the Eastman School of Music, where Bernard Rogers was his teacher in composition and orchestration. During the war, Avshalomov was in London, where he found time to conduct a performance of the Bach St. John Passion at Friends House, and met Michael Tippett. A later assignment brought him to the China desk of the O.S.S. in Washington, where he met a double-compatriot, Vladimir Ussachevsky, who is also from China. The end of the war brought an Alice M. Ditson Fellowship in composition, and a post on the music faculty of Columbia University which he held from 1946 to 1954. During this period, in addition to teaching, he conducted the university chorus and orchestra in the United States premieres of Bruckner’s Mass In 0, Tippett’s A Child Of Our Time and Handel’s The Triumph of Time and Truth revived in celebration of Columbia’s becentennial). Avshalomov received a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1951, the New York Critics Circle award in 1953 for his tom 0′ Bedlam and the Naumburg Recording Award for 1956. He has been Visiting professor at Reed College and the University of Washington and is conductor of the Portland Junior Symphony. Composer/conductor Jacob Avshalomov died peacefully in his sleep of natural causes on Thursday, April 25, 2013, in Portland, OR, after several years of gentle decline. He was 94.


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