Here’s how this week’s arts and culture column begins:
Gregor Piatigorsky (1903-1976) was a Russian-born cellist who emigrated to the U.S. and ended up making his home in Los Angeles. He was a beloved teacher at USC, an inspired mentor, and a sublime musician.
Born in Ekaterinoslav, Ukraine, he began playing cello at 7, and was soon supporting his entire family by playing in bordellos and cafes. He credited a gypsy singer he met during this time with helping him to attain his singing cello tone.
With a small inheritance, his father Pavel moved the family to Moscow so that Gregor could continue his studies at the Conservatory.
Conditions under Lenin were abysmal. People went hungry and without heat: funding for the arts dried up. As a young musician, Piatigorsky was so broke that he sometimes had to make do with harp strings, which he could cut in two and thus make last longer. In 1921, he and a group of fellow musicians bribed some guards, snuck across the Polish border, and defected.
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