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Violin Virtuoso Roman Totenberg Dies At 101

May 9, 2012
Originally published on May 9, 2012 5:01 am
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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

And now, a remembrance. Concert violinist Roman Totenberg died yesterday. He was 101 years old.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Mr. Totenberg was a renowned musician, a performer and teacher - and someone with a familiar name to many, because he was also the father of our legal affairs correspondent, Nina Totenberg. Roman Totenberg's talent surfaced early. He debuted as a soloist with the Warsaw Philharmonic at the age of 11.

GREENE: And his extraordinary career had the power to surprise even his daughter. Here's Nina, describing on this program five years ago what happened when she attended a performance of Beethoven's violin concerto by the National Symphony Orchestra.

NINA TOTENBERG, BYLINE: Imagine my amazement when I looked down at my program. The orchestra's first performance of this work, it said, was on November 7th, 1935, and the artist was Roman Totenberg, my father. And that concert here in Washington was his American debut. He was 24; had come over here on a boat, using the long journey to learn English for his American tour not long before he'd played for the king of Italy - where protocol required that when he finished performing, he literally had to back off the stage, keeping his face to the king.

Here, he was invited to the White House and after playing for President Roosevelt, he was invited to the residence - where Mrs. Roosevelt, seated on the floor before a coffee table, served him dinner. Reflecting on the difference, he said to himself, this is the country for me.

INSKEEP: Nina Totenberg, talking of her father, Roman. He taught at some of the most prestigious music schools in the country, chairing the strings department at Boston University and the Peabody Conservatory, in Baltimore.

GREENE: His career spanned nearly a century, and he continued teaching even as he neared the end of his life. Nina Totenberg says students flocked to her father's bedside, including Letitia Hom.

TOTENBERG: And she wanted a lesson on the Brahms violin concerto, and she was standing at his bedside playing, and he was conducting and sort of slowing down the pace in certain places. And then at some point, he mumbled something - (mumbles). And she said, what? And he said (mumbles). And she put her ear down to his lips, and he said: The D was flat.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

INSKEEP: So let's leave you with this performance of Nina's father playing Brahms' "Violin Concerto."

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC, "VIOLIN CONCERTO")

GREENE: Violinist Roman Totenberg. He died yesterday at his home in Newton, Massachusetts. He was 101 years old.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC, "VIOLIN CONCERTO")

GREENE: You're listening to MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.