Rostislav Dubinsky: A Biographical Sketch
by Geoffrey Dean

Rostislav Dubinsky (November 23, 1923, Kiev, Ukraine – December 3, 1997, Bloomington, Indiana) was a Russian-American violinist, best known as the founding first violinist of the Borodin Quartet and later as the violinist of the Borodin Trio. From 1981 until his death he was Professor of Chamber Music at the Indiana University School of Music in Bloomington.

Early years

    Born in Kiev, Ukraine, Rostislav Dubinsky was the son of David and Evgenia Dubinsky. After receiving early instruction from his violinist father, he was taken to Odessa, where he studied with Peter Stolyarsky (1871-1944),1 the founder of the famous Odessa school of violin playing that also produced David Oistrakh and Nathan Milstein.2 In 1933 the family relocated to Moscow, where Dubinsky (then nine years of age) began studies with Abram Yampolsky at the Central Music School, the newly-founded preparatory division3 of the Moscow [State] Conservatory. In Moscow the Dubinsky family shared a room with three other families, including those of two other Yampolsky students from the Ukraine, Leonid Kogan and Yulian Sitkovetsky.4

     After graduating from the Central Music School, Dubinsky entered the Moscow Conservatory. During World War II, his attempts to enlist in the Soviet army were unsuccessful, and he joined the evacuated conservatory in the city of Penza,5 625 km south-east of Moscow.6 Dubinsky’s earliest quartet experience dates from 1942, and three years later he made the decision to pursue chamber music professionally7. Among his chamber music teachers at the Conservatory was Mark Milman, who would later lobby for Dubinsky to join to the Conservatory faculty.8

Borodin Quartet

     In 1945 Rostislav Dubinsky founded the Moscow Philharmonic Quartet together with fellow Moscow Conservatory students from the chamber music class of Comitas [Komitas] Quartet violist Mikhail Terian: Vladimir Rabei (second violin), Rudolf Barshai (viola), and Valentin Berlinsky (cello). After a brief period with the quartet, Mstislav Rostropovich had opted out of the ensemble due to other engagements, bringing in Berlinsky as the quartet’s permanent cellist. The quartet made its public debut at the Moscow Conservatory in 1946. After two years Rabei was replaced by Nina Barshai, who played in the quartet until Yaroslav Alexandrov joined in 1952. Dmitri Shebalin took over from Rudolf Barshai in 1953.9 From 195410 this ensemble has been known as the Borodin Quartet.11

    One of the most remarkable episodes in the early years of the quartet was in March 1953, when the ensemble played at the funeral of Sergei Prokofiev before spending several days “on call” at the funeral of Joseph Stalin, who had died on the same day as Prokofiev (March 6). Dubinsky himself recalled this experience in Stormy Applause, his quasi-memoir of the Soviet years:

           Over and over again, we played Tchaikovsky's Second Quartet. Everything began to appear unreal, repeating 

           itself as if in a strange dream. And again, people walked in, heads bare, looking at the coffin with the same

           expression of grief and humility. Toward evening, I fell asleep with my violin in my hands. Alexandrov nudged

           me. I fell asleep once more and he nudged me again. ''Don't fall off the chair,'' he whispered. ''We have to

           play now.''

           …The third and final day came. We still had had nothing to eat. Contact with the outside world was

           maintained only by those who could make their way back after going out into the streets. They said that

           people kept coming and coming. …Late in the evening, we put mutes on our instruments and began

           Tchaikovsky's ''Andante Cantabile.'' We played quietly, without vibrato, the way Russian folk songs are

           sung. The delicate sound of the quartet drowned in the incessant noise of the slowly moving crowd.12

   In 1955 the quartet made its first tours outside of the Soviet Union, with concerts in East Germany and Czechoslovakia, and was later among the first Soviet chamber ensembles to visit the United States.13 Dubinsky was the quartet’s artistic director, leading the interpretative process and organizing rehearsals,14 but repertoire recommendations were made by a “special ideological committee,” the Gosconcert concert agency decided where the quartet would play, and half of the quartet’s earnings were taken by the state.15 During the thirty years from its founding until Dubinsky left the ensemble in 1976, the Borodin Quartet performed around 3000 concerts worldwide16 and earned a reputation as one of the world’s most outstanding chamber groups. In addition to the standard quartet literature, the quartet introduced to the West the then-new quartets of Dmitri Shostakovich, the composer with whom the ensemble remains most closely identified.17

     At home, the Borodin Quartet’s performances throughout the former USSR took place in every conceivable venue.18 It gave the world premiere performances of many new works by Soviet composers, including Alfred Schnittke, Boris Tchaikovsky, Lev Knipper and Moisei Weinberg,19 and performed and recorded quintets and sextets with colleagues such as Rostropovich, Sviatoslav Richter, and Luba Edlina.20 In around 1970 the members of the quartet were elected People’s Artists of the USSR, but by his own account, Dubinsky was uneasy with this distinction and demonstratively refrained from wearing his People’s Artist lapel pin.21

      Among the many recordings of the “Original Borodin Quartet,”22 first released on the Soviet Melodiya label, those of the Shostakovich quartets Nos. 1 through 13 have had an especially far-reaching influence and continue to set the musical and technical standards for this repertoire. These interpretations stand apart for the personal “nuances…[found] in the basic content of the music[,]” nuances that encompass the full range of the composer’s thought. For example, the elegiac violin melody that opens the eleventh Shostakovich quartet (1966) “isn't only sad, or sad and pensive. With Shostakovich's characteristic complexity of vision, it is also ennobling, even uplifting, as can be heard in the full-bodied, lyrical playing of Rostislav Dubinsky, the Borodin's first violinist and artistic director.”23

     The “original” Borodin Quartet membership – Dubinsky, Alexandrov, Shebalin, and Berlinsky – remained unchanged from 1953 until Alexandrov left the quartet for health reasons in 1974.24 In June 1976 Dubinsky emigrated from the USSR with his wife, pianist Luba Edlina, whom he had married in 1950.25

The Borodin Trio and Dubinsky Duo

      In 1976 Dubinsky and Edlina, a graduate of Yakov Flier’s class at the Moscow Conservatory,26 founded the Borodin Trio with another emigre from the USSR, former Moscow Chamber Orchestra principal cellist Yuli Turovsky (born 1939).27 The trio’s first major public performances included its ambitious American debut of July 1977, when the ensemble presented 12 trios in four concerts over a ten-day period.28 Its 1978 British debut at London’s Wigmore Hall was described in the press as “an outstanding success,”29 and the trio went on to perform in all of the major cities of Europe and America and also toured Australia and Asia.30 Over the next two decades the Borodin Trio regularly returned to Wigmore Hall and was a constant presence in New York, making multiple appearances at the Mostly Mozart Festival and Carnegie Hall and performing annually at “Summer Evenings at Sarah Lawrence.”31

During the 1980s the Borodin Trio recorded most of the standard piano trio literature for the Chandos label, and in many cases its interpretations were the first versions available in the compact disc medium. Highly praised when they were first released,32 these recordings continue to enjoy critical acclaim and popular appeal, as the following excerpts from reviews of its recording of the Mendelssohn trios (originally released in 1985, re-released in 2009) illustrate:

              Claiming many a success for Chandos, the redoubtable Borodin Trio, among the finest now heard on disc, apply

              themselves to the elegant, beautifully crafted Mendelssohn works – tuneful, light in character, satisfying…

                                                                                                                                                                      Which Compact Disc

              …the Borodins have the field to themselves on CD… the three instruments merge in exceptionally ripe,

              full-bodied sonority… their sound-world is in fact almost Brahmsian. Always the players emphasize the

              romantic heart beneath Mendelssohn’s classical facade.                                                       Gramophone, August 1986

              Some may find the Borodin Trio's approach to first movements a touch wayward, but most will warm to the

              full-blooded Romanticism of their way with Mendelssohn. The scherzos in particular have a magical

              lightness; recording is warmly supportive.                                                    BBC Music Magazine, September 2009 ****​​​33

      In 199234, founding cellist Turovsky left the Borodin Trio and was replaced by the Hungarian-American cellist Laszlo Varga (born 1924),35 with whom Dubinsky had first performed when Varga stepped in for an indisposed Berlinsky during an American tour of the original Borodin Quartet.36 The trio continued to perform widely and added several more well-received recordings to its extensive Chandos discography.

      Although the Dubinskys had concertized together as a violin and piano duo in the USSR37, and Edlina had performed and recorded regularly with the Borodin Quartet38, it was only after their emigration that they could freely tour together. The Dubinsky Duo gave its first New York recital in February 1982 with a program of sonatas by Shostakovich, Beethoven, Debussy, and Brahms. Of this concert the New York Times wrote: “There could be no mistaking the Russianness of this technically sovereign playing. These are major artists… a most impressive “debut,” and a duo worth hearing again, soon.”39 The following year the duo’s performances included the complete Beethoven sonatas for violin and piano.40

 

      The Dubinsky Duo also recorded the Beethoven sonata cycle for Chandos; when it was released in 1988, the duo’s interpretation was compared to those of Oistrakh, Menuhin, and Perlman. Praised for their “artistic unanimity” and “authoritative playing,” the style of the Dubinsky Duo in these sonatas was characterized in a Gramophone review as “reasonably flexible in rhythm and tone [but] essentially powerful.” While finding their approach “a little unyielding,” the reviewer continued, "the sound is at the same time admirably clear, with every detail of tone and texture audible. This quality of clarity, of a well-lit musical landscape, is also a feature of the players' interpretative approach. Theirs is a virile and structurally strong Beethoven…Dubinsky's tone can be sweet and full in lyrical music [, and] both he and his partner bring fluency and a clean healthy energy to these scores."41

Bloomington and Legacy

      For five years from 1976 the Dubinskys lived in the Netherlands and taught at the conservatories of The Hague and Rotterdam. In 1981 they were appointed to the faculty of the Indiana University School of Music (now the Jacobs School of Music of Indiana University), Edlina as professor of piano and Dubinsky as Professor of Chamber Music.42

During Dubinsky’s years in Bloomington, the chamber music program at Indiana University (IU) flourished and scores of student ensembles benefited from his knowledge, experience, and nurturing encouragement. As head of the chamber music department, he coached most of the school’s student chamber ensembles, including the Kuttner Quartet, whose members changed annually as new Kuttner Quartet scholarship recipients were chosen.43 He organized the MAC [Musical Arts Center] Chamber Music Festival at the end of each semester to highlight recent student achievements in chamber music, and was also a regular faculty member at the annual IU Summer String Academy.44

      Dubinsky was a crucial factor in the formation and development of a number of young chamber ensembles that have achieved prominence. The Lafayette String Quartet (LSQ, founded 1986) credits Dubinsky as its “musical father.” LSQ first violinist Ann Elliott-Goldschmid elaborates: “It was his belief in the quartet; his dedication to [us] as individuals and his constant encouragement that enabled the LSQ to continue working as a foursome for over 20 years.”45 The majority of the members of the Sorrel Quartet also studied with Dubinsky, whose influence can be heard in the Sorrel’s Shostakovich quartet cycle for Chandos, judged to have “rather more in common with the [original Borodin Quartet’s] approach” than other contemporaneous recorded versions.46 One of the last ensembles that Dubinsky mentored later renamed itself to honor his memory. Dubinsky Quartet cellist Jonathan Ruck recalls Prof. Dubinsky as “a truly inspiring man whom I believe deserves more attention for his pedagogical contributions to the world of chamber music.”47

      A clue to the success of Dubinsky’s approach to teaching chamber music is found in his own deep conviction that nothing in music, including musical talent, can be taken for granted. Dubinsky himself expressed this with his usual laconic eloquence: “Music never comes by itself. It has to be invited by painstaking daily work. Then, maybe, one day it will favor you.”48

      On October 1, 1997, Rostislav Dubinsky was diagnosed with lung cancer. He died in Bloomingon on December 3, 1997. At the time of his death he was finishing his second book (currently in preparation for publication).49 In memory of a great artist: Rostislav Dubinsky, a selection of recordings he made for Chandos from 1977 to 1997, was released in 1998.50 In 2007 Luba Edlina-Dubinsky established the Rostislav Dubinsky Music Scholarship, awarded each year to an undergraduate or graduate student specializing in chamber music at the Indiana University School of Music.51 The IU School of Music also hosts an annual Rostislav Dubinsky Memorial Concert.52

___

1 Edlina-Dubinsky, Luba. Biographical outline of Rostislav Dubinsky, received January 30, 2011

2 “Pyotr Stolyarsky”, and “School of Stolyarsky” accessed on February 10, 2011.

3 From 1935 the Moscow Conservatory preparatory division has been called the Central Music School. See Central Music School website: (accessed on February 10, 2011).

4 Edlina-Dubinsky, Luba. Biographical outline (see 1 above)

5 Edlina-Dubinsky, Luba. Biographical outline (see 1 above)

6 Penza (accessed on February 10, 2011).

7 Edlina-Dubinsky, Luba. Biographical outline (see 1 above)

8 Dubinsky, Rostislav. Stormy Applause: Making Music in a Worker’s State. New York: Hill and Wang, 1989, p. 215.

9 Borodin Quartet website (“legacy”), accessed on February 15, 2011).

10 Some sources say 1955.

11 For an account of how the quartet got its name, see Dubinsky, Rostislav. Stormy Applause (see 6), pp. 54-7. This account is paraphrased in “Sunday Classics: From the Borodin Quartet to the Borodin Trio”, Sept. 6, 2009, at http://downwithtyranny.blogspot.com/ (accessed on February 15, 2011).

12 Dubinsky, Rostislav. Stormy Applause (see 6), pp. 42-4. See also “The Night Stalin Died”, an excerpt from Stormy Applause published in the New York Times on March 5, 1989 (accessed on February 15, 2011)

13 Borodin Quartet website Legacy page (see 9)

14 Dubinsky, Rostislav. Stormy Applause (see 6), p. 65, p. 169.

15 Valentin Berlinsky: cellist with the Borodin Quartet, obituary published in The Times (UK) on Jan. 9, 2009 (accessed on February 16, 2011).

16 Dubinsky, Rostislav. Stormy Applause (see 6), p. ix.

17 “Valentin Berlinsky” (see 15)

18 Dubinsky, Rostislav. Stormy Applause (see 6), pp. 213-139

19 “Valentin Berlinsky” (see 15)

20 Chandos Historical catalog (accessed on February 16, 2011).

21 Edlina-Dubinsky, Luba. Biographical outline (see 1 above)

22 The CD re-releases in the Chandos Historical Series refer to the ensemble as the “Original Borodin Quartet,” or as “Borodin Quartet: original members,” to distinguish it from later incarnations of the quartet, in which cellist Berlinsky was a constant presence until his retirement in 2007.

23 Furie, Kenneth. “RECORDINGS VIEW; The Shostakovich Quartets: A Diverse Lot” Published July 14, 1991 in the New York Times. (accessed on February 18, 2011).

24 Borodin Quartet website legacy page (see 9)

25 Edlina-Dubinsky, Luba. Biographical outline (see 1 above). In Stormy Applause, Dubinsky’s courtship with Edlina is one of the episodes that he has “shifted slightly in time,” (p. ix) relocating it about a decade later than it actually occurred.

26 Luba Edlina biography at IU, accessed on February 21, 2011

27 “Turovsky, Yuli”, accessed on February 21, 2011

28 Hughes, Allen. 

New York Times, July 20, 1977 accessed on February 21, 2011

29 London Daily Telegraph (credited in Borodin Trio Chandos CD booklet bio)

30 Borodin Trio biography published in Chandos CD booklets, 1981-2009 (most recently with 2009 Mendelssohn Trios CD re-release).

31 See New York Times reviews of May 11, 1981, June 9, 1985, June 3, 1990, and August 7, 1993 accessed on February 24, 2011

32 See Gramophone reviews of Borodin Trio releases. Also “Subtle Interpretations of the Beethoven Trios” in New York Times, February 7, 1988. Accessed online on February 24, 2011

33 Mendelssohn trio review clippings. Accessed on February 24, 2011.

34 This year is sometimes given as 1991 or 1993 (see Chandos Borodin Trio biography with Spohr and Hummel trio CDs). The last Chandos release with Turovsky as cellist appears to have been CHAN 9016: Debussy/Turina/Martin, recorded in July 1991. Accessed on February 24, 2011.

35 Laszlo Varga biography, accessed on February 24, 2011.

36 November 2002 ICS interview with Laszlo Varga, accessed on February 24, 2011.

37 Dubinsky, Rostislav. Stormy Applause (see 6), p. 153

38 Luba Edlina biography at IU . See also May 20, 1975 Gramophone review of Shostakovich piano quintet. Accessed on March 1, 2011.

39 John Rockwell “Dubinsky Duo Bows To New York Audiences” New York Times, February 14, 1982. Accessed on March 1, 2011.

40 “Dubinskys Close Cycle” in New York Times, July 1, 1983. Accessed on March 1, 2011.

41 Aug 1988 Gramophone Review of Dubinsky Duo COMPLETE Beethoven vln sonatas. Accessed on March 1, 2011.

42 Borodin Trio biography published in Chandos CD booklets

43 The Kuttner Quartet program at the Jacobs School of Music is still in existence, with a new quartet chosen each academic year.

44 http://music.indiana.edu/precollege/summer/string/index.shtml. Accessed on March 4, 2011.

45 Ann Elliott-Goldschmid biography at LSQ website, accessed on March 4, 2011. Dubinsky’s influence has been detected in the LSQ’s recorded interpretations, including string quartets by Borodin, Tchaikovsky, and Shostakovich. The LSQ has also recorded two Shostakovich Preludes and Fugues in Dubinsky’s arrangement for string quartet. (See Gramophone online reviews archive)

46 David Gutman, “Shostakovich String Quartets - Nos 5 & 15” (Vol. 5 of Sorrel Quartet Shostakovich cycle), Gramophone, November 2004, p. 73, accessed on March 4, 2011. The Sorrel Quartet was based in England and active for two decades before disbanding in 2007.

47 Email from Jonathan Ruck (former Dubinsky Quartet cellist, now cello professor at University of Oklahoma), Feb 28, 2011. The following paraphrases his account of the Dubinsky Quartet’s history. A precocious foursome from Wisconsin then known as the Cumberland Quartet studied with Prof. Dubinsky at the 1996 IU Summer String Academy. After winning the first prize in the junior division of the 1997 Fischoff National Competition, this teenage group decided to continue to study together at the college level. With Dubinsky’s encouragement, all of the quartet’s members entered the IU School of Music in January 1998, but meanwhile Dubinsky had passed away. Luba Edlina-Dubinsky gave the quartet permission to rename itself the “Dubinsky Quartet” in Dubinsky’s honor. The winner of the Kuttner Quartet competition during its first semester in Bloomington and a top prizewinner at the 1999 Coleman National Competition, the Dubinsky Quartet was the youngest of ten quartets selected to compete in the 1999 Melbourne International Chamber Music Competition. It disbanded when the members graduated from IU in the spring of 2001.

48 Dubinsky, Rostislav. Stormy Applause (see 6), p. 94

49 Edlina-Dubinsky, Luba. Biographical outline (see 1 above)

50 http://www.chandos.net/Details06.asp?CNumber=CHAN%209627M, accessed on March 8, 2011.

51 http://www.music.indiana.edu/giving/scholarships/scholarships-dubinsky.shtml accessed on March 8, 2011.

52 Dubinsky memorial concert Feb 15, 2011 Accessed on March 8, 2011.

Moscow Philharmonic Quartet (Dubinsky, Berlinsky, Nina Barshai, Rudolf Barshai) with Dmitri Shostakovich, about 1950

Stormy Applause, Dubinsky's quasi-memoir of the Soviet years

Setting the standard:

The original Borodin Quartet

(Dubinsky, Alexandrov, Berlinsky, Shebalin)

The Borodin Trio: Edlina, Dubinsky, and cellist Yuli Turovsky (center)

The Dubinsky Duo

Dubinsky: musical father to the Lafayette String Quartet

(photo credit: Frances Litman)

Memorial CD release