Mikhail Saulovich ‘Mischa’ Elman was a Jewish, Ukrainian-born, violinist, famed for his passionate style and beautiful tone.
He was born in the small town of Talnoye near Kiev. His grandfather was a klezmer, a Jewish folk musician, who also played the violin. It became apparent when Mischa was very young that he had perfect pitch, but his father hesitated about a career as a musician, since musicians were not very high on the social scale. He finally gave in, and gave Mischa a miniature violin, on which he soon learned several tunes by himself. Soon thereafter, he was taken to Odessa, where he studied at the Imperial Academy of Music. Pablo de Sarasate gave him a recommendation, stating that he could become one of the great talents of Europe. He auditioned for Leopold Auer at the age of 11, playing the Wieniawski Concerto No. 2 and 24th Caprice by Paganini. Auer was so impressed that he had Elman admitted to the St. Petersburg Conservatory.
Elman was still only a boy when Auer arranged for him to play with the famous Colonne Orchestra during
their visit to Pavlovsk. Knowing Édouard Colonne’s hatred of child prodigies, Auer did not tell him Elman’s age when making the arrangements, and not until the famous conductor saw young Mischa waiting to go on the platform did he realize that he had engaged a child. He was furious, and flatly refused to continue with the programme. Frantic attempts were made to assure him that Elman had the recommendation of Auer himself and was well capable of doing justice to the music, but Colonne was adamant, ” I have never yet played with a child, and I refuse to start now,” he retorted. So Elman had to play with piano accompaniment while conductor and orchestra sat listening.