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A Different Kind of Encore

Music: Before violinist Alexander Brussilovsky left the former Soviet Union, he had a promising career. After perestroika allowed him to leave for Paris, he started again.


Unpleasant stories of life in the Soviet Union keep trickling out. Violinist Alexander Brussilovsky, who plays tonight at Irvine Barclay Theatre, for instance, in one sudden stroke became persona non grata, a "first refusenik" among musicians.

His crime? None."

His concert partner, pianist Mikhail Rudy, had defected during their Western tour in 1976. When Brussilovsky returned, he was arrested.

"They punished me because I was the only one they could," the violinist said recently. He was ordered into military service and spent one year in the army.

"All my tour arrangements were canceled. My name was taken off the list of official concert organizations. If your name wasn't there, you weren't anywhere."

He was allowed to play in the military. "But what they gave me was a very bad violin. It was just a piece of wood. I had to play some military music and folk dances."

After being released from the army, he was permitted only to play concerts with friends."[They] were courageous people [who] weren't afraid to invite me. But I couldn't play in the big cities, like Moscow or Leningrad, and I couldn't record, and all my recordings on the radio were erased."

One of those friends was pianist Leonid Levitsky, who will be Brussilovsky's partner in the recital today. The two had met when they were 13 and students at a Moscow school for gifted children.

At that time, Brussilovsky's life looked charmed.

He was born in Ukraine and was "discovered singing something on the street" by a music professor, he said.

"He thought I could be a violinist. He talked to my grandmother. He came to our place and gave me violin lessons. I started at the age of 4 1/2, very early. But I liked it."

Studies at the Moscow Conservatory followed. His teachers included the great pedagogue Yuri Yankelevitch (Brussilovsky calls him "one of the greatest teachers in this century") and renowned violinist Leonid Kogan.

In 1969, Brussilovsky won first prize at the Prague International Music Competition and in 1975 won both the overall prize and the Albert Roussel prize at the Jacques Thibaut Competition in Paris.

"In the former Soviet Union, it was almost an obligation for every performing artist to pass through a competition," he said.


Hard on the heels of his prize, Brussilovsky was booked for 45 recitals with Rudy for the following year. But Rudy's defection put an end to that momentum.

"My career was interrupted for about 10 years," he said. "So I can say that I really started from nothing; when I came back to Paris I started from zero."

Brussilovsky's ordeal ended in 1985 with perestroika, when he was given an exit visa to emigrate to Paris. Permission was granted with unbecoming haste.

"I had four days to say goodbye to my father and some of my friends, and with my family, I came to Paris, where I started all over again," he said.

Since living there, he has appeared in concerts, formed the Ensemble de Ricercata de Paris, formed a small recording company and joined colleagues to form the Tchaikovsky Piano Trio, which played last week in Los Angeles and on Monday at the Irvine theater.

Brussilovsky has returned to Russia several times, most recently in January to play with the Philharmonic at the University of Moscow.

He has not seen Rudy since the defection.

"He was free to make his choice, but he was not very nice to me," Brussilovsky said. "I don't want to see him. He knew perfectly well how this system worked, but he didn't want to acknowledge it. It's a pity. How did I deal with it? It's finished now.

"I feel very happy. I don't think about those years. I'm very busy. I do the things that I like."

* Violinist Alexander Brussilovsky and pianist Leonid Levitsky will play music by Bach, Prokofiev, Ravel and Gershwin today at the Irvine Barclay, 4242 Campus Drive. 8 p.m. $16-$30. Part of Levitsky's Newport Beach Recital Series. (714) 854-4646.

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