Gerald Elias


Gerald Elias

As a kid growing up on Long Island, my dream was to play first base with the New York Yankees. Though I didn't have the strongest arm in the world, I was a dependable fielder with an excellent on-base percentage. Being left-handed, first base was the perfect fit. For some reason, I never did receive a call from the Yankee brass, perhaps because I didn't hit for power.

Though I still have not given up hope, it became necessary in the meantime to make a living, so the age of eight I started playing the violin, studying with an excellent Juilliard-trained teacher, Amadeo William Liva, who, with his family, became lifelong friends until his recent passing. Under his guidance, after ten months I won a scholarship to the National Music Camp at Interlochen, Michigan, and from there it was all downhill.

In 1966 I began four years of lessons with Ivan Galamian (Mr. Liva accompanied me to all my lessons in Manhattan, stopping for doughnuts on 71st Street) until graduating Westbury High in 1970. While in public school I was concertmaster of the Long Island Youth Orchestra, conducted by Martin Dreiwitz.

In 1969 I attended the Boston University Tanglewood Institute, beginning a relationship with Tanglewood that has lasted to this day. In the same year I was selected to participate in the very first New York String Seminar, led by the inimitable Alexander Schneider. With soloists Isaac Stern and Jean Pierre Rampal, and with the quartet coaching of Mischa Schneider, this experience opened my eyes to a lofty new world of ensemble playing.

After two wonderful years at the Oberlin College Conservatory, where my teachers were David Cerone and Christopher Kimber, I transferred to Yale to study with then concertmaster of the Boston Symphony, Joseph Silverstein. During my college days I attended Norfolk Chamber Music Festival where I was coached by members of the Guarneri String Quartet and Claude Frank, the Sarasota Music Festival, and the Tanglewood Music Festival. I received a Bachelor of Arts degree (cum laude) from Yale College simultaneously with a Master of Music from the Yale University School of Music in 1975.

Still not having heard from Mr. Steinbrenner, I auditioned for and won a position with the Boston Symphony, joining that august ensemble at the age of twenty-three, and remained a member of the violin section for thirteen years. During that time I experienced memorable performances with many of the world's great conductors. I would not trade having played Mahler Second with Claudio Abbado or Mozart's "Prague" Symphony with Sir Colin Davis for all the CEO bonuses in the world. I also performed concertos as soloist with the Boston Pops under Arthur Fiedler and John Williams, was a member of the renowned Elias/Lefkowitz Violin Duo and of the Andover Trio. I also had the opportunity and honor to represent the BSO musicians in collective bargaining negotiations, forming long-standing relationships with members of management which have lasted to this day, a side benefit to achieving industry leading contracts.

In 1986-87, I took a sabbatical leave from the BSO and divided the year between Japan, Australia, and New Zealand, where I performed, taught, and conducted.

In 1988, I won the audition for Associate Concertmaster of the Utah Symphony. This was considered a bold and daring move by my BSO colleagues, as the Utah Symphony, though touting a highly respected artistic reputation, had a budget that palled in comparison to Boston's. The Music Director, Joseph Silverstein, one of the world's finest musicians, had been my teacher at Yale and colleague in the BSO, and my stand partner, Ralph Matson, had been my longtime friend ever since we had met and had been roommates and orchestra stand partners at both Oberlin and Yale! I retired from the Utah Symphony in May of 2011 in order to pursue my other interests.

As it turned out, the move to Utah was providential, offering performance, teaching, and eventually conducting opportunities that I wouldn't have had in Boston. I performed solos with the orchestra regularly, was invited to the faculty of the University of Utah in 1989, founded the Abramyan String Quartet in 1993, had several of my compositions receive their first performances, and became music director of the Vivaldi By Candlelight chamber music series in 2004. Many other positive things came my way as well, one of which was a re-connection with the BSO, where I now regularly play with the orchestra during the summer at Tanglewood. Another development has been the establishment of an ongoing relationship with music-making in Peru and Ecuador. For the past seven years I've had the pleasure of conducting, performing, and teaching in South America, and, with the help of a Fulbright grant in 2008, I was a guest professor of the National Conservatory in Lima.

In 1997 I took a sabbatical leave from the Utah Symphony, taking the whole family to Italy. I did a lot of composing, and significantly, I wrote my first book, Devil's Trill, named after the Tartini sonata with the same title. The ensuing years brought innumerable rewrites to Devil's Trill, but eventually I found an agent and a publisher, St. Martin's Press. Devil's Trill, a murder mystery which takes place in the classical music world (go figure!) was published in August, 2009, and was followed a year later by the second of the series, Danse Macabre. We are pleased to announce the August 2011 release of the third Daniel Jacobus mystery, Death and the Maiden.

Articles by Gerald Elias:

An Interview with Gerald Elias, Violinist and Author
December 1, 2019