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Posted by Bob Sherman, May 3, 2012

A little over a year ago, we reached Clara Rockmore’s centennial with high hopes for several major celebrations over the following 12 months. Happy to say, they indeed were forthcoming.


  • As reported last November, a talk about Clara by her nephew and grand-nephew (a.k.a. Peter and Bob Sherman) at the Musical Instrument Museum in Phoenix sparked high interest amongst the curators there. As a result, a major exhibition opened March 29th in the Museum’s Artists Gallery, including Clara’s original RCA theremin (on loan from Peter), a robe she wore at the New York Film Festival’s gala screening of Steve M. Martin’s “Theremin – An Electronic Odyssey” at Lincoln Center, a short performance video, and other materials relating to Clara’s life and career. 

We are deeply grateful to theremin experts Andrew Baron and Mike Buffington, who came to the Museum to help with the installation, make some repairs, and document the precise measurements of the diamond speaker. To their surprise (and ours — Clara had never told us about this), there were sufficient modifications made by Léon Théremin himself to consider this a custom instrument. Mike and Andy even found some old tube labels, with penciled inscriptions of test results, that they have verified are in the inventor’s own handwriting.


  • The most personally satisfying highlight of Clara’s centennial year was the release of “Music In and on the Air,” a CD derived from a historic 1979 live WQXR radio broadcast, also featuring Nadia, the violinist Erick Friedman, and eight members of the Violincello Society. The CD is available from Roméo Records or via a minimum $50 (tax-deductible) contribution to the Foundation. Please make checks payable to the Nadia Reisenberg / Clara Rockmore Foundation, and mail to 5 Tavano Road, Ossining NY 10562.

Several glowing reviews have been posted, but the most gratifying comments came in personal e-mails. Morey Ritt, head of the piano department at Queens College, wrote “It was all I could do to keep my car on the road when I heard The Swan, and the repertoire that followed; Clara’s and Nadia’s music-making is amazing”; Glenn Dicterow, concertmaster of the New York Philharmonic, and his wife, the distinguished violist Karen Dreyfus, wrote “We were bowled over by Clara Rockmore’s playing. What an artist!”; and from Albert Glinsky (author of “Theremin – Ether Music and Espionage”), a request for details of further Foundation activities: “I’m interested in all things Clara,” he said.

And from thereminist Charles Richard Lester, an extended and insightful reaction, excerpts form which, with his permission, we proudly share with you here:


“I literally sat here transfixed. Then I listened to it (the CD) again, and it’s playing a third time as I am writing this email to you. Oh my goodness, what a priceless gem is this recording! It’s truly wonderful, as you pointed out toward the end of the broadcast, to hear Clara playing in a live performance. It’s pure musical magic.

Her virtuoso musicality and refined musicianship shine on this CD, and it’s just an absolute thrill to hear her playing in ensemble with the string players. The Bach “Air on a G String” and the Villa-Lobos “Bachianas Brasileiras” were especially thrilling and inspiring. And, of course, it is wonderful to hear her playing with Nadia Reisenberg. What a treasure and inspiration she has been to us all! Their rendition of Cassado’s ‘Requiebros’ is nothing short of stunning. I’ve heard a couple of different recordings of them playing this, which are all beyond reproach, but in this recording they are at their finest, with an absolutely spine-tingling performance.

Thank you SO MUCH for making this recording possible. I certainly shall cherish it.”


And indeed, we highly cherish Charles’ heartfelt and heartwarming words.



Speaking of Nadia,


    • The fourth biennial Nadia Reisenberg Recital Award auditions, sponsored by the Foundation, were held this past January at the Mannes College of Music. German pianist Magdalena Muellerperth received a cash award, while the top laureate, Minnesota-born Reed Tetzloff, will make his New York debut at Merkin Hall in the fall. Both artists will also be featured on the long-running “McGraw-Hill Companies’ Young Artists Showcase” series on New York Public Radio’s WQXR.


  • The fifth annual Nadia Reisenberg Young Artists Series at the Ossining Public Library is in the planning stages, in collaboration with the Stecher and Horowitz Foundation. Three winners of the New York Piano Competition (to be held in June) will be featured at these Sunday afternoon concerts next fall.
  • Two new NR CDs are in the works, both taken from live recitals and planned for release later this year. One derives from a 1977 recital at the 92nd Street Y, the violinist Erick Friedman and Nadia playing Sonatas of Mozart, Brahms and Franck, plus an Elegie by Alexander Tcherepnin (in tribute to the composer, who had died a few weeks earlier). The other documents a 1979 faculty concert at the Juilliard School, when Nadia was partnered by members of the celebrated Juilliard String Quartet — Robert Mann, Earl Carlyss, Samuel Rhodes and Joel Krosnick — in the Mendelssohn D Minor Trio, Rachmaninoff’s G minor Cello Sonata, and the Faure C Minor Piano Quartet. That will be a two CD set, possibly filled with Nadia’s solo recording (originally released on Westminster) of Moussorgsky’s “Pictures at an Exhibition,” or maybe the Tchaikovsky Sonata. More news of these pending releases in future newsletters, including confirmation that the Juilliard set, and possibly both albums, will be issued on the Roméo label.



Two new websites should be of interest theremin, but most especially CR fans:


    • From Russia, Peter Theremin (the inventor’s grandson), announced the launching of Theremin Times, “opened for the centenary of Clara Rockmore, but a site that will continue to be dedicated to her life and work. I think she would be pleased to know of our love and memories of this wonderful person,” he says, noting further that “Additions to the site are welcome, since it will eventually contain a special commentary section called ‘Modern Thereminists Speak About Clara.'” You can reach Peter via Email



  • Back on this side of the pond, the aforementioned Messrs. Baron and Buffington announced the official public launch of RCATheremin.com, a site, as its title suggests, designed specifically for devotees of the instruments manufactured by RCA. “It was time,” they wrote us, “to convey what we’ve learned during our combined years of study of these unique and fascinating instruments. Others have done a great job covering deeper technical matters and playing techniques. What always seemed to be missing, however, was practical knowledge on setting up, operating and caring for RCA theremins. In short, this is exactly the kind of information we would love to have seen when we first got into these fabulous instruments.”A special “Lev Built” section of their site is devoted to Théremin’s custom-made instruments, including Clara’s 1938 theremin, much of which has never before been presented or published. Go to the Home Page; going on to /38 rockmore.php will yield the additional information on her custom-made instrument.



And in the Don’t Count Your Chickens Department:


    • Anna Giulia Volpato, a young electronic musician in Venice is writing a book about women in electronic music and, she says, “of course a chapter will be dedicated to Miss Rockmore.” If all goes well, it will be published this summer by Auditorium Edizioni.


  • Prize-winning Belgian film-maker Pieter Dirkx is in the pre-production phase of a movie, set in the 1930’s, whose plot revolves around a mesmerizing theremin performance. It may involve an actress portraying Clara herself, or a different character inspired by her. If nothing else, Mr. Dirkx says, “we can film a scene where Clara Rockmore’s name is printed on a concert poster.”


Nadia Reisenberg

Clara Rockmore