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, was a professional violinist, music educator, and conductor who founded the East Texas Symphony Orchestra; his mother, Gertrude Morris Kirshbaum, was a harpist. Ralph started cello lessons with his father at age six; he continued with Dallas teachers Roberta Guastafeste at 11 and Lev Aronson at 14. He 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 and is the founder and Artistic Director of the Manchester International Cello Festival, which was held at the Royal Northern College of Music, where he currently teaches.
In the fall of 2008, he assumed the "Gregor Piatigorsky Endowed Chair in Violoncello" at the University of Southern California's Thornton School of Music in Los Angeles. He becomes only the fourth person to hold the position after Piatigorsky himself; the other three are Lynn Harrell (1986–1993), 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.
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)