Alexander Schneider, internationally renowned violinist, conductor and teacher who won a John F. Kennedy Center Honor in 1988, has died. He was 84.
Schneider died Tuesday at his New York City home of heart failure.
Although a popular performer and conductor since he joined the Budapest Quartet in the 1930s, Schneider was perhaps best known as a teacher. Despite his failing health, he recently conducted three performances at Carnegie Hall and at the Kennedy Center as part of the annual 11-day New York String Orchestra Seminar he had run since 1969 for outstanding young musicians. The students have included the now-famous Yo-Yo Ma, Cho-Liang Lin and Pamela Frank.
"There is hardly a string player in this country who hasn't been touched by Sasha (Schneider's nickname), often not too gently," violinist Isaac Stern once said in presenting Schneider an award. "There is no one, other than Pablo Casals, from whom I have learned more about the inner meaning of music."
Schooled in 19th-Century traditions, the Russian-born Schneider played violin in cafes as a teen-ager and studied his instrument in Germany after World War I. He was concertmaster of the Frankfurt Symphony from 1925 until 1933 and maintained his own Schneider Quartet until he joined the Budapest Quartet, with which he toured internationally for 30 years. He fled to the United States in 1938 to escape the Nazis and made his home in Manhattan.
Schneider became a popular guest conductor about 20 years ago, but he often played violin along with his musicians--as he did with a group of Los Angeles Philharmonic players he organized to do a post-season tour in 1973. Among the orchestras he regularly conducted were the Los Angeles and New York philharmonics; the National Symphony in Washington; orchestras of Atlanta, Milwaukee, St. Louis and San Francisco; the New Japan Philharmonic; the English Chamber Orchestra, and the Chamber Orchestra of Europe.
"The longest amount of time I work with an orchestra is two weeks," he once told the Los Angeles Times. "I never conduct more than two weeks because after two weeks, it's all downhill with the musicians."
In San Diego in 1990 to conduct a "Classically Baroque" series by the San Diego Symphony, Schneider told The Times that the pace of the modern music world bothered him.
"Unfortunately, we don't have enough time to rehearse, to really get into the music," he said. "Playing is not relaxed anymore, and we don't phrase the way we used to.
"The pace of life goes faster and faster," he said. "I remember traveling from New York to Los Angeles in the 1930s--that was four days on the train. That gave me time to read books on the train. In those days we had time to read poetry and time to rehearse."
Schneider brought Casals out of political exile and helped him form the Casals Festivals in Prades, France, and in San Juan, Puerto Rico. In 1961, the two performed along with another friend, Mieczyslaw Horszowski, in a highly acclaimed White House concert for President and Mrs. Kennedy.
Married and divorced three times, Schneider leaves two nieces and three nephews.