I had never heard of Aaron Avshalomov (spelt Avshalomoff on the three Marco Polo CDs that are the main representation of his music), I seized the opportunity of multiple offers by an eBay seller. Turns out that Avshalomoff was born in Siberia in 1895, which makes him Russian. He fled the Russian Revolution to the USA through North China (fastest way indeed from Siberia, if you look at the map). Didn’t work out for him in the US, so he returned to China and settled in Peking then Shanghai, where he remained until 1947 – “making his living primarily as a bookseller”, say the liner notes of one of those CDs, but also leading the Shangai Symphony Orchestra in his last three years in China. His only formal academic training appears to have been a short spell at the Zürich Conservatory In Switzerland before the Russian Revolution (although he had been sent by his parents to the city to study medecine). It is not told if he met Lenin (who resided in Zürich in 1916 ad the first months of 1917).
Throughout his thirty years’ residence in China, “Avshalomoff worked to evolve a synthesis of Chinese musical elements with Western techniques of composing for symphony orchestra and theatre. (…) He encouraged emerging Chinese composer to cherish and develop their own music heritage. All in all he was a major figure in the cultural life of China. (…) Acclaimed in China, that eminence did not translate into a career in America, even after performances of Avshalomoff’s works by Stokowski [who gave the American premiere of the tone poem “The Hutungs of Peking”, in Philadelphia in 1935] and Monteux and a commission from Koussevitzky [the Second Symphony]”.
In 1947 he moved back to the United States, following his son Jacob (1919-2013) who had emigrated there with his (American) mother ten years earlier and eventually became the longstanding music director of the Portland Youth Symphony Orchestra.
So far I’ve heard vol. 2 of Marco Polo’s three volume survey of Avahalomov’s orchestral works, with : Violin Concerto (Rodion Zamuruev, Moscow SO, David Avshalomov). Soul of the Ch’in, The Hutungs of Peking (Moscow SO, Jacob Avshalomoff). Marco Polo 8.225034 (1999), barcode 636943503423. The music is as announced: Chinese wine in Western bottles, fitting the Western cliché of “Chinese music” (that it is a cliché doesn’t mean it is a false image: the cliché is born from countless Chinese films and recordings), richly orchestrated (if Avshalomov was self-taught as the liner notes by his son claim, there is nothing in the music that sounds amateur, tentative or awkward), superficial perhaps but very atmospheric and hugely entertaining. I look forward to hearing Marco Polo’s two companions, 8.225033 barcode 636943503324, and 8.225035 barcode 636943503522.
More resources on Avshalomoff:
“Avshalomovs’ Winding Way : Composers Out of China – A Chronicle”
Jacob Avshalomov & Aaron Avshalomov
Xlibris Corporation (4 mars 2002), 604 pages
ISBN : 9781401023256