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Karl Ilyich Eliasberg
Birth: Jun. 10, 1907
Minsk City District, Belarus
Death: Feb. 12, 1978
Leningrad Oblast, Russia

Conductor. As music director of the Leningrad Radio Orchestra (LRO) from 1937 to 1950, his fame rests on a single concert during World War II - one of the most dramatic in the history of classical music. Karl Ilyich Eliasberg was born in Minsk, Russia, and studied violin and conducting at the Leningrad (now St. Petersburg) Conservatory. He joined the LRO as associate conductor in 1931. When the German Army began its Siege of Leningrad in September 1941 - a 900-day blockade that would kill some 700,000 of the city's population - most local cultural institutions were evacuated to safety in the East. Eliasberg's Radio Orchestra was left behind because its presence was deemed necessary for morale, but as the siege wore on musical broadcasts dwindled and eventually ceased. This changed after the premiere of Dmitri Shostakovich's Symphony No. 7, the "Leningrad", in Kuibyshev on March 5, 1942. Dedicated to the composer's beleaguered birthplace, the symphony immediately became world famous and Soviet authorities recognized its value as wartime propaganda. They decided to have it performed in Leningrad, in the presence of great suffering and death, as a symbol of Russian resistance to Hitler. In July 1942 the score was flown in over the Nazi lines with a shipment of medical supplies, and delivered to Eliasberg. He initially thought performing it would be impossible. Of the Radio Orchestra's 100 members, only 15 were left - the rest had starved to death or gone off to fight. The conductor made an emergency appeal to Red Army General Leonid Govorov, commander of the Leningrad front, who ordered all soldiers and civilians capable of playing an instrument to report to the Radio Committee for the occasion. The rehearsals were tragic. Ten months of hunger and privation had reduced the musicians to walking skeletons who scarcely had strength enough to breathe, and the Shostakovich symphony was a physically demanding work of some 70 minutes in duration. One musician later recalled, "Sometimes people just fell over on to the floor while they were playing". Three of them died. The rest were spurred on by Eliasberg, himself weakened by malnutrition but strict to the point of cruelty in his determination to see the concert through. "Go on, no complaining!" he would bark at the players. On August 9, 1942, an overflow crowd of emaciated Leningraders packed the Philharmonic Hall to hear "their" symphony, while many more stood outside the venue. The nationwide radio broadcast began with an introduction by Eliasberg: "A great occurrence in the cultural history of our city is about to take place. In a few minutes, you will hear for the first time the Seventh Symphony of Dmitri Shostakovich, our outstanding fellow citizen. He wrote this great composition in the city during the days when the enemy was, insanely, trying to enter Leningrad...and Europe believed the days of Leningrad were over. But this performance is witness to our spirit, courage and readiness to fight...". The starved orchestra summoned the strength to play the work through and at the end were greeted with thunderous ovations that lasted nearly as long as the music itself. People in the audience wept and embraced. During the concert an unexpected silence had fallen over the city. Hours earlier General Govorov had ordered a reckless artillery barrage - dubbed "Operation Squall" - to knock out as many enemy guns as possible so the performance would not be disrupted. Loudspeakers were then aimed at no man's land so the Germans could hear the music, a surreal gesture of defiance. Afterwards Govorov informed Eliasberg, "We played our instrument in the symphony too, you know". The triumph of the event made Eliasberg a hero in Leningrad. He was named Honored Artist of the RSFSR in 1944 and his musicians were each awarded a special medal. But after the war his career did not prosper and accounts of the Shostakovich concert were hushed up in the annals of Soviet music. In 1950 he was abruptly dismissed as leader of the LRO and for the rest of his life worked mainly as a touring guest conductor of provincial ensembles. It is believed that professional jealousy on the part of Yevgeny Mravinsky - director of the Leningrad Philharmonic Orchestra (LPO) and longtime autocrat of the city's classical music scene - prompted his downfall. (Mravinsky was Shostakovich's personal choice to premiere the 7th, but he and the LPO were sent to the Far East during the siege and missed out on the most significant Soviet musical event of the war. On his return he had to reclaim his top spot from Eliasberg, who had the advantage of having stayed and toughed things out). The fact that Eliasberg was Jewish may also have played a role, as the last years of Josef Stalin's rule were marked by increasing anti-Semitism. On January 27, 1964, Eliasberg and the 16 surviving musicians of the 1942 concert were reunited in Leningrad for a commemorative performance of the Shostakovich 7th, accompanied by the LPO's reserve orchestra. The composer was in attendance, and instruments resting on empty chairs stood in for the players no longer living. He performed in his home city on only two other occasions, in 1961 and 1975 - both times conducting the 7th, and both with the Philharmonic's understudies (not Mravinsky's orchestra). Eliasberg died poor and neglected and his ashes were interred at the Piskariovskoye Memorial Cemetery, in a newer section for common burials. In 1992, a campaign launched by the Mayor of St. Petersburg led to his reinterment in an honor grave at Volkovskoye Cemetery. A quotation of the Shostakovich 7th score is etched on his tombstone. (bio by: Bobb Edwards) 
Family links: 
  Nadezhda Dmitrievna Bronnikova (1903 - 1981)
Literatorskie Mostki
Saint Petersburg
Saint Petersburg Federal City, Russia
Maintained by: Find A Grave
Originally Created by: julia&keld
Record added: Aug 17, 2008
Find A Grave Memorial# 29093592
Karl Ilyich Eliasberg
Added by: julia&keld
Karl Ilyich Eliasberg
Added by: julia&keld
Karl Ilyich Eliasberg
Added by: julia&keld
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What a beautiful story of a great musician who was not given his due!
- Kim McCowen
 Added: Aug. 21, 2017

- Tracey Reid
 Added: Jun. 10, 2017

- Bobb Edwards
 Added: Jun. 1, 2017
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