Ralph Henry Kirshbaum (born March 4, 1946) is an American cellist currently living in Los Angeles. During his career he has performed solos with major orchestras worldwide, won prizes in several international competitions, and recorded extensively.
Early life and musical training
Kirshbaum was born in Denton, Texas, and grew up in Tyler. His father, Joseph Kirshbaum (1911–1996), was a professional violinist, composer, conductor, music educator, and an alumnus of Yale (bachelors – Davenport College 1968; and masters), where he also had taught. From 1944 to 1947, Joseph Kirshbaum was a faculty member at University of North Texas College of Music, where he also conducted its symphony orchestra. Before joining the North Texas faculty, Joseph Kirshbaum had directed the Messiah Festival Orchestra of Lindsborg, Kansas. And before that, he had organized and directed the Oberlin Conservatory String Orchestra. He also had taught strings at Cornell. Ralph Kirshbaum's mother, Gertrude Morris Kirshbaum (1912-1973) taught harp at Texas Woman's University. Joseph Kirshbaum, for 25 years, was a celebrated conductor of the East Texas Symphony Orchestra. He retired from the ETSO in 1978.
Ralph Kirshbaum started cello lessons with his father at age six. At age 11, he continued lessons with Roberta Guastafeste (née Harrison; born 1929), who, back then, was on the music faculty at Southern Methodist University and also was a member of the Dallas Symphony Orchestra. At age 14, he began studying cello with Lev Aronson, then of the Dallas Symphony Orchestra. Kirshbaum won numerous awards as a student and appeared as a soloist with the Dallas Symphony at age 15.
Kirshbaum continued his education at the Yale University School of Music, where he studied with Aldo Parisot. He graduated Yale magna cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa with highest departmental honors. In 1968 he earned a Fulbright fellowship, but Selective Service registration issues prevented him from using it.
Kirshbaum attracted international attention when he won prizes in the First International Cassadó Competition in Florence, Italy, in 1969, and subsequently in the Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow in 1970. He made his London debut recital at Wigmore Hall in 1970, his professional orchestral debut (performing Tchaikovsky's Rococo Variations with the New Philharmonia Orchestra of London) in 1972, and his New York debut at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1976.
In his long career, Kirshbaum has soloed with most of the world's major orchestras, including the BBC Symphony, the Berlin Radio Symphony, the Boston Symphony, the Chicago Symphony, the Cleveland Orchestra, the Dallas Symphony, the Hallé Orchestra, the Houston Symphony, the London Symphony, the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the New Philharmonia Orchestra, the Philharmonia Orchestra, the Pittsburgh Symphony, the San Francisco Symphony, and many others. As a chamber musician he has collaborated with Yefim Bronfman, Peter Frankl, the Juilliard String Quartet, Garrick Ohlsson, György Pauk, Itzhak Perlman, Gil Shaham, the Tokyo String Quartet, Pinchas Zukerman, and others. In particular, his longtime trio collaboration with Frankl and Pauk has generated a large number of concerts and recordings. The BBC commissioned Fourteen Little Pictures by James MacMillan to mark their 25th anniversary in 1997. He has participated in numerous major music festivals worldwide. Kirshbaum founded the RNCM Manchester International Cello Festival in 1988 and was its Artistic Director through its grand finale in 2007, which was held at the Royal Northern College of Music, where he had taught.
In the fall of 2008, Kirshbaum assumed an appointment at the University of Southern California Thornton School of Music as (i) Chair of the Strings Department and (ii) Gregor Piatigorsky Chair in Violoncello, an endowed position. He is the fourth person to hold the Piatigorsky Chair in Violoncello. The three predecessors were Lynn Harrell (1986–1993) (also from Denton, Texas), Ronald Leonard (1993–2003), and Eleonore Schoenfeld (2004–2007). Kirshbaum has recorded extensively; selections from his discography are shown below. His cello was crafted in 1729 by the Venetian maker Domenico Montagnana.
Ralph Kirshbaum and his wife, Antoinette, have one son, Alex, who studied music at the Rimon Music School in Israel.
- Bach: Cello Suites. EMI/Virgin Classics. (recorded 1993; released 2000, 2002, 2004).
- Barber: Concerto, with Scottish Chamber Orchestra; Sonata, with Roger Vignoles, piano. Virgin Classics. (2001)
- Beethoven: Piano Trio, Op. 97 ("Archduke"), and Dvořák: Piano Trio, Op. 90 ("Dumky"), with György Pauk, violin, and Peter Frankl, piano. BBC.
- Brahms: Double Concerto; Beethoven: Triple Concerto, with Pinchas Zukerman, violin, John Browning, piano, and London Symphony Orchestra. RCA. (1998)
- Brahms: Piano Trios, with György Pauk, violin, and Peter Frankl, piano. EMI/Angel.
- Elgar: Cello Concerto; Walton: Cello Concerto, with Royal Scottish National Orchestra. Chandos. (recorded 1979; released 1994, 2001, 2006)
- Haydn: Concerto in D major; Sinfonia Concertante, with Pinchas Zukerman, violin, Gordon Hunt, oboe, Robin O'Neill, bassoon, and English Chamber Orchestra. RCA/BMG. (1993)
- Prokofiev: Sonata in C major; Shostakovich: Sonata in D minor; Rachmaninov: Vocalise, with Peter Jablonski, piano. (recorded 2005; released 2007)
- Tippett: Triple Concerto, with György Pauk, violin, Nobuko Imai, viola, and London Symphony Orchestra. Philips/London/Decca. (1990) (world premiere recording; The Gramophone magazine Record of the Year)
- "Texas Birth Index, 1903–1997" (database), FamilySearch: 5 December 2014), "Ralph Henry Kirshbaum, born 4 Mar 1946; from "Texas Birth Index, 1903-1997," database and images, Ancestry (http://www.ancestry.com : 2005); citing Texas Department of State Health Services
- "Kirshbaum is Named String Teachers Head," Denton Record-Chronicle, February 12, 1950
- Who's Who in the South and Southwest, Marquis Who's Who, Wilmette, Illinois
14th ed., 1975–1976 (1975); OCLC 502333793
15th ed., 1976–1977 (1976); OCLC 15687672
- Who's Who in the West, Marquis Who's Who, Wilmette, Illinois
16th ed., 1978-1979 (1978); OCLC 805903538, 956675948
17th ed., 1980-1981 (1980); OCLC 13777132
18th ed., 1982-1983 (1982); OCLC 805915043
- "Dealey Auditions Winner Will Play With Symphony," Dallas Morning News, March 13, 1967, Sec A, pg. 23 (retrieved via GenealogyBank.com; subscription required)
- "MacMillan, James: 'Fourteen Little Pictures'" (composers notes from online catalog), Boosey & Hawkes (retrieved June 18, 2009)
- "Famed Musician to Hold Piatigorsky Chair," by Ljiljana Grubisic, USC News, November 6, 2007
- Ralph Kirshbaum Official website