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Nathan Mironovich Milstein was one of the great violinists of the 20th Century. Although he hailed from Odessa, the cradle of Russian violinists, his personal style was more classical and intellectual in approach.
He began to study violin at the age of seven. His teacher was Pyotr Stolyarsky, remaining with him through 1941. At his last recital as a Stolyarsky pupil, another student on the stage was the five-year-old David Oistrakh. Milstein went to Petrograd to study with Leopold Auer at the conservatory there.
He began his concert career in 1920 with an Odessa concert. In the same year, he played Glazunov¹s concerto with the composer conducting. He continued to tour in the Soviet Union for the next five years. Many of these recitals were joint appearances with Vladimir Horowitz as the other soloists, and Horowitz¹s sister Regina as Milsteins¹s accompanist. In 1925 Milstein and Horowitz made a concert trip outside Russia. They both decided to stay outside Russia.
Milstein recalled in his memoirs that the dramatic "grand manner" of Horowitz immediately made the pianist a star, while Milstein, a much more reserved person, did not have such immediate success. In 1926 he went to Brussels to consult with and discuss matters of interpretation with the great violinist and teacher Ysaÿe.
He made his American debut with the New York Philharmonic in 1929. He established his base in New York. He also established a major recording career. He may not have become a concert hall idol, like Horowitz, but he had a solid musical reputation and was always in demand. When Arturo Toscanini ended his tenure as music director of the New York Philharmonic in 1936, he asked for Milstein as soloist in his final concert. After World War II he made his home primarily in London, and taught master classes around the world. He was a sympathetic and approachable teacher.
Milstein had a remarkably long career, keeping the muscular strength and fluid joint motion he needed until his retirement at the age of 83, which was forced by breaking his arm in a fall.
He was one of the pioneers at playing the Bach solo violin works at a time when few scheduled them, but eschewed the more superficial works that were a prime part of the violin soloist¹s repertory. His 1950s recording of the Bach solo Partitas and Sonatas on the American Capitol Records label are exemplary traversals of that great cycle and are still accounted as classics of recording art.