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Horowitz Visits His Homeland

April 15, 1986|WILLIAM J. EATON | Times Staff Writer

MOSCOW — Piano virtuoso Vladimir Horowitz, who left the Soviet Union 61 years ago vowing never to return, came home for the first time Monday to give two concerts as part of a new Soviet-American cultural exchange program.

"We have no enemies here, only friends," said Horowitz, 81, as he arrived at Moscow's Sheremetyevo Airport for a two-week stay. "I am the ambassador of peace."

Horowitz, accompanied by his wife, Wanda Toscanini, held a sentimental reunion with a niece he last saw in 1925 and said he hoped to visit his birthplace in Kiev.

"Bravo! Our first big attraction," said U.S. Ambassador Arthur A. Hartman in an airport greeting.

"I am very glad to be here," said Horowitz, who once told a biographer that he had no desire to visit the Soviet Union. "I don't like the Russian approach to music, to art, to anything," he said then. "I lost all my family there. I never want to go back and never will."

Asked about those statements Monday, Horowitz replied: "It was wartime then. Much has changed." He added: "I had many friends here, but I don't now if they are still alive."

He said he had changed his mind about visiting his homeland because of the cultural exchange agreement signed last November by President Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail S. Gorbachev.

Although his eyes were moist Monday, Horowitz tried to keep his emotions in check during an informal reception in the airport VIP lounge.

"I don't feel anything," he told reporters here.

But excitement is mounting among Soviet citizens over the arrival of Horowitz for a concert Sunday in Moscow's Conservatory of Music and a second performance in Leningrad a week later. Both concerts are sold out.

Many people, mainly music students, have lined up for 8 or 10 hours to buy the relatively few tickets reserved for the public at his Moscow concert in a hall that seats 1,700 persons. The Moscow concert will include the music of Scarlatti, Mozart, Rachmaninoff, Chopin and Liszt.

Horowitz has agreed to play for free, U.S. officials said, but will reserve the rights for radio and television broadcast of his Moscow concert.

The performance will be broadcast live on the CBS television network in the United States and will also be shown on TV networks in Great Britain, France, West Germany, Italy, Spain and Austria.

(It will be shown in Los Angeles at 8 a.m. Sunday on KCBS-TV Channel 2 on CBS News' "Sunday Morning.")

Long accustomed to international acclaim, Horowitz clearly was reaching out to his roots in pre-revolutionary Russia on this nostalgic journey.

His niece, Elena Dolberg, 67, was waiting with red carnations for the uncle she last saw before he left the Soviet Union in 1925 for what is now West Germany.

"He was young and beautiful and happy," she said.

When she sat down with the pianist for a quick chat, they touched fingers and she called him "Volodya," the Russian diminutive for Vladimir.

"Do you remember my mother?" Horowitz asked.

"I will bring pictures of your mother and father," his niece replied.

"Tell your wife, Wanda, that she looks great--she hasn't changed since we saw her 20 years ago," Dolberg added.

"How about me?" Horowitz inquired.

"You've changed," said the woman, looking at the pianist's wisps of gray hair and deeply lined face.

"I know I have changed but I still work and play," he said with a grin. They agreed to have dinner Tuesday and continue their recollections in private.

Horowitz, who will stay at the U.S. ambassador's residence at Spaso House while he is in Moscow, has arranged for daily air shipments of dover sole and other favorite foods that are not available in the Soviet capital.

His piano was airlifted to Moscow--at his expense--and he drove away from the airport in the front seat of the ambassador's limousine, chatting in Russian with the driver, who pointed out city landmarks.

It was far different before Horowitz left the Soviet Union after the Bolsheviks took power in 1917.

"I was extremely cold and extremely hungry, and there was nothing else for me to do but sit at the piano from morning to night," he is quoted as saying in a new biography by Glenn Paskin.

He has painful memories of the Communist takeover in his home city of Kiev.

"In 24 hours, my family lost everything," he is quoted by Paskin as saying. "With my own eyes, I saw them throw our piano through the window, into the street. . . . "

Asked Monday if he had a message for the Soviet people, Horowitz replied:

"I will greet them with the piano--it's better that way."

The Paskin biography said Horowitz left the Soviet Union with money hidden in his shoes to avoid currency controls, and he grew frightened when a soldier examined his passport at the border.

"I began to tremble," Horowitz was quoted as saying. "The soldier looked into my eyes and said: 'Do not forget your motherland.' It was very touching."

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