Alexander Siloti with Franz Liszt
Siloti had been at one time Franz Liszt’s favorite student. He had studied composition with Tchaikovsky and orchestration with Rimsky-Korsakov, and had been the teacher of Sergei Rachmaninoff, who was his cousin. He was also the brother-in-law of the painter Leon Bakst and had married the daughter of Paul Tretyakov, the famous patron and art collector. Born in 1863, he had had a brilliant career as a pianist, spending ten years concertizing throughout Europe and touring the United States in 1898. Siloti later devoted his time to conducting. In 1903, he created the Siloti Concerts in St. Petersburg, thanks to his wife’s considerable fortune. Until 1917, the programming was a permanent festival, attracting the most prestigious soloists and conductors of that time: Ysaÿe, Casals, Chaliapin, Rachmaninoff, Auer, Enesco, Hofmann, Nikisch, Mengelberg, Weingartner… Contemporary music was well-represented with works by Debussy, Elgar, Sibelius, Mahler, Richard Strauss, Rimsky-Korsakov, Prokofiev, and Stravinsky. The Siloti Salon was the favorite meeting place for high society and the artistic avant-garde of musicians, painters, writers and theatre people.
After the Revolution, the Bolsheviks offered Siloti various responsibilities, including the direction of the Mariinsky Theatre, but the rampant instability, violence and misery made him decide to flee the country in 1919. After a disappointing move to England, he decided to go to the United States in 1922. He had given up conducting and resumed his career as pianist, but after a few tours, he played less and less often in public. One of his last concerts was with the New York Philharmonic under Toscanini in November 1930. He was still at the peak of his artistry and performed two works by Liszt (the Danse Macabre and the arrangement of Schubert’s Wanderer Fantasy). He gave another recital at Carnegie Hall the next year but from then on, devoted himself mainly to teaching. He accepted a position at the Juilliard School in 1924, and held it until 1942, three years before his death. He also taught private students in his apartment at the Ansonia Hotel where – just as in the old days – he continued to receive all the artists of the Russian diaspora, including Rachmaninoff, Stravinsky, Koussevitsky, and the daughter of Leon Tolstoy.