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Violinist Joseph Silverstein dies at 83

Though he was a master musician on several fronts - violinist, conductor, and educator - to those who knew Joseph Silverstein, he was simply "Joey."

Though he was a master musician on several fronts - violinist, conductor, and educator - to those who knew Joseph Silverstein, he was simply "Joey."

Mr. Silverstein, 83, who died Sunday, Nov. 22, after suffering a heart attack at his home in Stockbridge, Mass., was concertmaster of the Boston Symphony Orchestra from 1962 to 1983 and music director of the Utah Symphony from 1983 to 1998, and had been the gray eminence of the Curtis Institute violin faculty since 2000. He was revered as a man of gravitas without pretension.

Though some of his chamber music recordings are considered classics, he happily melded into an ensemble. "This is not a sacrifice of creativity," he once said. "It is using your creativity in a slightly different way."

He won awards accorded to soloists - such as the silver medal at the Queen Elisabeth competition in 1959 - but his career was often spent shoring up musical infrastructures. While concertmaster in Boston, he was additionally named assistant conductor in 1971, which meant that then-music director Seiji Ozawa always had a backup. In recent years, he served as adviser or interim director of many orchestras, including the Florida Philharmonic.

But he never neglected his instrument, and had much useful advice about time management.

"Every time I go near my violin case, I asked two questions ... what am I practicing and why," he said during a master class. "If I can't answer those questions, I might as well do something else. You'd be surprised what you can accomplish in five minutes."

Roberto Diaz, now president of Curtis, attended that class and considers the advice almost daily in his own viola practice time. Others talk as much about Mr. Silverstein's warm-up exercises as the fine points of interpretation heard on his recordings with the Boston Symphony Chamber Players, which he cofounded.

His influence extended to those who never met him, including Philadelphia Orchestra concertmaster David Kim. "Many of the things that I try to do in my concert-mastering are passed down from him," Kim wrote on Facebook on Monday.

Though the Detroit native studied with great Old World teachers such as Josef Gingold and, at Curtis, Efrem Zimbalist, Mr. Silverstein's delight in younger talent was obvious - to wit, his 1970 recording of the Debussy Violin Sonata with then-firebrand Michael Tilson Thomas on piano, and his 2007 Philadelphia recital with the iconoclastic Awadagin Pratt.

Only last week at Curtis, Diaz was having a particularly good lesson with student violist Haeji Kim when Mr. Silverstein, who had happened to be passing by, burst in and exclaimed, "Playing like that should be illegal!" It was high praise, and indicative of his less-formal - sometimes parental - approach toward teaching.

"An educational institution has to redefine itself periodically," he once said. "Today ... teachers on the faculty at Curtis take a much more vibrant interest in the totality of their students' lives."

He is survived by his wife, Adrienne; daughters Bunny and Deborah; son Mark; and four grandchildren.

A memorial service will be announced later.