It is with great sadness that we share news of the passing of emeritus faculty member Walter Levin, founding member and first violinist of the LaSalle Quartet and a CCM faculty member from 1953 until 1986. Levin passed away in Chicago on Aug. 4, 2017, at the age of 92. He is survived by his wife of 68 years, Evi, and two sons, David and Tom.
Born in Berlin on December 6, 1924, Levin and his family emigrated to Tel Aviv in 1938. Levin was accepted to Juilliard in 1946, where he studied with Ivan Galamian and Hans Letz. The LaSalle Quartet was formed during this period, taking its name from the nearby LaSalle Street where the Quartet members rehearsed. Upon graduation, the Quartet comprised of Levin, Henry Meyer, Peter Kamnitzer and Jack Kirstein became quartet-in-residence at Colorado College.
In 1953, the LaSalle Quartet came to what was then known as the College of Music in Cincinnati (the College of Music would merge with the Cincinnati Conservatory of Music in 1955 before again merging with UC to become the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music in 1962). The Quartet served as CCM’s string quartet-in-residence for over 30 years, while also touring the world.
After making its European debut in 1954, the LaSalle Quartet won international recognition for its masterful interpretations of the major works in the chamber music repertory. The Quartet’s programs offered a remarkable spectrum of music from all periods, including premieres of major works by 20th century composers.
The Quartet became particularly well regarded as the leading interpreters of “The Second Viennese School,” performing complete cycles of the quartets of Schoenberg, Berg and Webern throughout the United States and Europe. The LaSalle Quartet’s Deutsche Grammophon recording of these complete cycles created a sensation in the music world, winning the Grand Prix du Disque in 1972. TIME Magazine called the album “a landmark in recorded music.” In 1978, the LaSalle again won the Grand Prix du Disque, this time for its recording of the Five Late Quartets by Beethoven. The following year, the Quartet won the Edison Prize for the first recording of Alexander Zemlinsky’s Second String Quartet.
During his 33-year tenure at CCM, Levin greatly enhanced CCM’s reputation on the international stage. He also served on the faculty at Basel’s Musik-Akademie der Stadt and the Musikhochschule Lübeck. His students included the conductor James Levine, violinist Christian Tetzlaff, pianist Stefan Litwin, and members of the Alban Berg Quartet, the Arditti Quartet and the Ariel Quartet.
CCM Professor Emeritus Lee Fiser, the LaSalle Quartet’s cellist from 1975 to 1987, writes: “Walter was the last of my three colleagues who brought me to LaSalle and CCM. His passing is a great loss to the String Quartet world.”
The Strad has published a complete obituary at www.thestrad.com/walter-levin-founder-and-first-violin-of-the-lasalle-quartet-has-died/7006.article. The Chicago Sun-Times has also published an obituary at chicago.suntimes.com/news/renowned-violinist-music-teacher-walter-levin-dead-at-92/.
An upcoming performance by CCM’s current string quartet-in-residence, the Ariel Quartet, will be presented in honor of Walter Levin. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family and friends during this time.