Istomin greatly admired William Steinberg, a great musician in the lineage of Toscanini and the young Klemperer, with an equal respect of the score and an exemplary clarity of expression. He placed him on the same level as Ormandy or Szell. Born in 1899, William Steinberg did not have the outstanding career that seemed promised to him, despite having been given a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. In 1962, he was the favorite to succeed to Charles Munch as music director of the Boston Symphony Boston, but was overtaken by Erich Leinsdorf, thanks to the support of RCA which thought that Leinsdorf would sell more records. Steinberg was appointed as Senior Guest Conductor of the New York Philharmonic in 1964, but was considered too old to replace Bernstein. After Leinsdorf’s failure, Boston finally called Steinberg in 1969, but his declining health forced him to cancel many concerts and eventually to resign in 1972.
Steinberg was a great friend of Mrs. Leventritt and was also a member of the jury of the Leventritt Competition which launched Istomin’s career in 1943. A few years later, she had to remind him of his promise to hire the young pianist. In response, Steinberg invited Istomin to play Beethoven’s Fourth Concerto in Buffalo in December 1950. Steinberg immediately wrote to Mrs Leventritt: “How can I express to you my gratitude for this extraordinary experience!” He said that making music with Istomin had been a “real and pure joy” and that he could “well understand Casals’ flattering prognosis for his future.” Steinberg also added that Istomin’s choice of demanding repertoire and absence of showmanship would delay his rise: “It will cost him ten years more to hold on to his energy and perseverance, to reach the top. His friends must help him because he is no type for managers.” It was a very lucid analysis, which the future would corroborate. Mrs Leventritt later gave that letter to Istomin, who kept it all his life.
Istomin played with him many times, especially in Pittsburgh where Steinberg was musical director from 1952 to 1976. Their last collaboration was in Seattle, in March 1978, a few weeks before Steinberg’s death.
A few concerts
1950, December 17 & 19. Buffalo. Beethoven, Concerto No. 4. Buffalo Philharmonic.
1952, February 17 & 19. Buffalo. Brahms, Concerto No. 2. Buffalo Philharmonic.
1965, November 5 & 7. Pittsburgh, Syriah Mosque. Mozart, Concerto No. 24. Pittsburgh Symphony.
1965 November. Tour with the Pittsburgh Symphony. (alternatively Beethoven, Concerto No. 4 and Mozart, Concerto No. 24 )
1971, May 14 & 16. Pittsburgh, Syriah Mosque. Beethoven, Concerto No. 3. Pittsburgh Symphony.
1977, May 5, 6 & 8. Pittsburgh, Syriah Mosque. Beethoven, Concerto No. 4. Pittsburgh Symphony.
1978, March 27, 28 & 29. Seattle, Opera House. Beethoven, Concerto No. 5. Seattle Symphony.
Beethoven, Seventh Symphony, finale. Boston Symphony, William Steinberg (1970)