Modest Altschuler

Modest (Moisei Isaacovich) Altschuler was a cellist, orchestral conductor, and composer. He was born in Mogilev, Belarus, on February 15, 1873. He studied at the St. Petersburg Conservatory and emigrated to the United States in the late 1890s.

Early in the twentieth century, Altschuler organized the Russian Symphony Orchestra Society of New York, which for two decades toured the United States featuring performances and compositions by leading contemporary Russians. Among the Orchestra's notable premieres were Sergei Prokofiev Prokofiev's Piano Concerto No. 1 in D-flat Major, Op. 10, which was performed at Carnegie Hall in New York on December 10, 1918 [1] and Mussorgsky's Prelude to Khovanscina, which Altschuler presented at Carnegie Hall on February 25, 1905 [2].

Despite his rigorous classical training, Altschuler was not averse to modernist experimentation. The Symphony's March 1915 New York premiere of Skryabin's Promethee: Le Poeme de Feu with Marguerite Volavy as pianist, featured a newly invented device, the chromola, which rendered musical tones in color [3].

After disbanding the orchestra on the eve of the first World War, Altschuler moved to California, where he built a notable reputation as a teacher and performer. With help from his brother, film executive Joe Aller, he composed and performed in film scores, including The Sea Hawk (1924), Dawn to Dawn (1933), It's All in Your mind (1938), Buffalo Bill Rides Again (1947), and Song of My Heart (1948), He was also active in southern California's musical community. In 1926, he organized the Glendale Symphony Orchestra [4].

Altschuler founded a musical dynasty which included his niece Eleanor Aller, symphony conductor Leonard Slatkin, and cellist Frederick Zlotkin [5]. Aller and her husband Felix Slatkin were principals in the Hollywood String Quartet [6] [7], one of America's most accomplished classical ensembles in the period 1947-1961.

Modest Altschuler died in Los Angeles on September 12, 1963.