I was talking to my mother-in-law Lidia Grigoryevna Mysina-Bratus a couple of days ago. My wife Oksana, as usual, was doing her damndest to be the last living thing to leave the theater where she had just played a new show. I sometimes wonder if she sits in dark corners with the mice and dares them to leave before she does. But I digress. The point is that Lidia Grigoryevna and I were left sitting alone in a large, open dressing room for several hours. And we talked. Now, to be honest, Lidia Grigoryevna talked and I listened. She is currently working on her third book and one of the ways she writes is to talk and talk about what she wants to write, and when she hones the stories down to where they sound really nice and good, she then sits down and puts pen to paper. So one might say I was on the receiving end of a first draft of Lidia Grigoryevna’s next book, her first reader, so to speak.
What the hell does this have to do with David Oistrakh, you ask? Everything.
Let me turn the story over to Lidia Grigoryevna.
“When Tolya and I got married we had nothing at all. We never lived like that. Never worried about it. We didn’t have furniture and things and we didn’t care. That’s not what our family cares about. I brought my girls up to be like that, too. We didn’t buy them fancy dresses and nice shoes. Oksana went to school in Marina’s hand-me-downs. We had a nice, big house, but we had nothing in it. Except Oistrakh, of course. We had Oistrakh and we listened to him.”
Now, you see, when I first met my future wife Oksana Mysina, one of the first things I heard about was David Oistrakh. (And please pronounce it “dah-VEED OI-strakh,” or it will sound all wrong.) Oksana and her older sister Marina grew up in Donbass, Ukraine, listening to Oistrakh and they learned to play the viola (Marina) and the violin (Oksana) by playing along with Oistrakh records. You might say it was the Russian version of Bob Dylan playing along with Little Richard records in Hibbing, MN.
Oistrakh is a god in the Mysina household.
One of the great family events occurred when Oksana and Marina’s parents travelled to Moscow on business and came home with an album of David and his son Igor performing concertos for two violins by Bach and Vivaldi. That record had its grooves worn out by the Mysina girls as they learned to play those pieces. Oksana said the beauty of the music would make the whole family weep and laugh with joy.
A nice little addendum to that story is that when I took my future wife to meet my Uncle John Freedman in Torrington, CT, in the summer of 1989, they got to talking music, because Uncle John played violin all his adult life. Better than talk, John pulled out two violins and he and Oksana began having at it, a kind of battle of the violins, if you will, as they worked their way through Vivaldi’s Concerto for Two Violins and Orchestra – a piece Oksana learned by listening to David and Igor Oistrakh play it…
When Marina, an accomplished viola player who has her own quartet in Madrid, Spain, these days, comes home to visit, not a single evening can pass without someone bringing up Oistrakh and how the girls cut their teeth on his genius. I love hearing anyone in the family pronounce the name – Oi-strakh! There is wonder and reverence and a deep tribal closeness in the way they toss it off – Oi-strakh!
And how about this for an incongruous story of how deeply David Oistrakh reaches into the fabric of Russian society: When in the early 1980s the KGB was chasing me around Washington, D.C., the agent whose job it was to befriend me often talked of hearing and even once meeting Oistrakh. These were important markers in his life. He spoke of the violinist with that same reverence I would later hear from my wife and her family.
David Oistrakh (1908-1974) lived in this building at 14 Zemlyanoi Val Street from 1941 until his death. Attentive readers will recall from yesterday’s post that Sergei Prokofiev lived at this same address, but moved out just as Oistrakh moved in.