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Emil Gilels


Emil Gilels and his wife arrive in New York City on January 4, 1958
Emil Gilels and wife arrive in New York City on January 4, 1958

Emil Grigoryevich Gilels was born in Odessa, Russia, on October 19, 1916. He entered the Odessa Institute of Music and Drama in 1922, made his debut as a child prodigy in 1929, and transferred to the Odessa Conservatory in 1931. In 1933 Gilels won the first All Union Musicians' Contests, which has since become the leading musical performance competition in Russia. He remained at Odessa Conservatory until he graduated in 1935, after which he became a graduate student at the Moscow Conservatory.

Gilels first achieved recognition outside of the Soviet Union in 1938, when he won first prize at the Ysa˙e International Festival in Brussels, Belgium. An appearance at the 1939 World's Fair in New York was interrupted by World War II, and he was evacuated to the east when German armies reached the outskirts of Moscow in 1941. He made his first post-war appearance outside of the Soviet Union in 1947, when he visited several European cities.

On October 3, 1955, Gilels became the first prominent Soviet performing artist to play a concert in the United States, when he played Tchaikovsky's First Piano Concerto with the Philadelphia Orchestra, conducted by Eugene Ormandy. He followed that performance with an appearance at Carnegie Hall in New York City, New York, the next day. By the time of his death Gilels made thirteen more U.S. appearance, with the last being in 1983. He was also the soloist for the first visit of a Soviet orchestra to the United States, playing the same Tchaikovksy Concerto on January 3, 1960, with the Moscow State Symphony in Carnegie Hall.

Gilels made numerous recordings, both for the Soviet state recording agencies and on Western labels. He was a two-time recipient the Order of Lenin. He died in Moscow, Russia, on October 14, 1985.


World War II
Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky

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This page was last updated on 06/16/2017.