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Lev Aronson was on born February 7, 1912 in Mönchengladbach, Germany. Aronson's family had briefly settled in Germany, but returned to their home in Mitava (presently Jelgava, Latvia) until 1915. Latvia, at this time, was a part of the Russian Empire. In the spring of 1915, the Aronsons were forced from Mitava, as Czarist Russia expelled the Courland Jewish population into Russia with the German advance (April 18, 1915). The Aronsons were deported by train to Voronezh, southeast of Moscow. During his time in Voronezh, Aronson received a formal Russian education and was introduced to the cello by a relative who was staying with his family. Three years after the initiation of the Russian Revolution, in 1920, the family was allowed to leave Veronezh and they chose to go to Riga.
Lev Aronson's first cello teachers included Aron Rafaelovitsch Rubinstein and Paul Berkowitz. He began public performance at the age of 13, performing in silent movie orchestras. Upon his graduation from high school at 16, Aronson moved to Berlin to study law, but a doctor, who was an amateur cellist, introduced him to Julius Klengel in Leipzig and he returned to cello studies with him. After working with Klengel, Aronson continued with Alfred von Glehn at the Klindworth-Scharwenka Conservatory in Berlin. When von Glehn died, Gregor Piatigorsky took over his class. Piatigorsky was to become Aronson's life-long mentor and friend.
Aronson left the Berlin Conservatory in 1932, he began performing locally with three German friends in the Peters String Quartet in addition to performing throughout Europe as a soloist and in orchestras. Although the Jewish population of Europe became subject to increased political hostility through the 1930s, Aronson was able to perform and served as principal cellist for Liepaja (Libaja) Philharmonic Orchestra. German forces invaded and occupied Riga in June 1941. Aronson's cello was confiscated and he and his family were trapped in the Riga Ghetto. Aronson worked as a slave laborer in the Riga-Kaiserwald system until September, 1944 when he was deported to Stutthof. From there he went to Burggraben and worked in the Danzig shipyards and later he went to Gotentov (near Lauenberg) where he was liberated in the spring of 1945. Some of the musicians from the Riga ghetto survived the war in the same camps; the tenor Gregor Shelkan was one of them. After the war, Aronson and Shelkan, memorializing those who had died in the war (including Aronson's parents and sister), composed several of the original compositions within the collection. Just months after liberation, Aronson, along with many other survivors, was arrested and sent to a Soviet repatriation camp. He managed to escape and made his way with the help of the Jewish underground through Poland to the American militarized zone.
Aronson immigrated to the United States in 1948, reuniting with his mentor Piatigorsky. He accepted a contract with the Dallas Symphony Orchestra and moved to Texas. Aronson served as principal cellist in the Dallas Symphony until 1967. Aronson was offered a teaching position at Baylor University in Waco. In 1980, Aronson began teaching at Southern Methodist University. In the 1970s, Aronson collaborated with Croatian cellist and composer, Rudolf Matz, producing the two volume work, The Complete Cellist.
Death and legacy
Lev Aronson died in Dallas on November 12, 1988. His students include Lynn Harrell, Ralph Kirshbaum, Brian Thornton, John Sharp, Adron Ming, Brook Pearce, Christopher Adkins, Laurie Arnold, Alicia Randisi-Hooker, Karen Terbeek, Carol Haski, Philip Taggart, Kevin Dvorak, Richard Pope and Mitch Maxwell.
Brent, Frances Padorr. 2009. The Lost Cellos of Lev Aronson. New York: Atlas & Co. Publishers.
Chism, Olin. "The Incredible Story of Lev Aronson," Dallas Times Herald, January 14, 1979.
Lesch, Carolyn. "High Profile: Lev Aronson," Dallas Morning News, March 2, 1986.
Lev Aronson Cello Music Collection, SC009.1. Martha Blakeney Hodges Special Collections and University Archives, The University of North Carolina at Greensboro, NC, USA.
Lev Aronson Curriculum Vitae, SC009.2. Lev Aronson Personal Papers Collection, Martha Blakeney Hodges Special Collections and University Archives, The University of North Carolina at Greensboro, NC, USA.
Universitat Hamburg. "Lev Aronson," Lexikon verfolgter Musiker und Musikerinnen der NS-Zeit. Accessed May 27, 2013: http://www.lexm.uni-hamburg.de/object/lexm_lexmperson_00000769