Biographical / Historical
Aaron Avshalomov was born in Nikolaievsk, Siberia on October 31, 1894 to Jewish-Russian parents. His father wanted Aaron to study medicine and sent him to Switzerland for that purpose in 1913. Instead, he enrolled in the Zürich Conservatory, where, for a few months, he received his only formal training in music. After the outbreak of World War I, Avshalomov left Europe, returning to Russia and then moving on to China and the United States, where he married his first wife, Esther Magidson, in 1916. The couple immigrated to China the following year, and Aaron stayed in the country even after they divorced and Esther and their son, Jacob, returned to the United States in 1919. Most of the next thirty years of Avshalomov’s life was spent in China, where he served as head librarian of the Municipal Library of Shanghai (1928-43), helped form the Chinese Music Study Society, and conducted the Shanghai Municipal Orchestra (1943-6).
After living under house arrest during the Japanese occupation of China, Aaron joined his son in the United States in 1947, where he attempted to recreate the success he had found in China. Aaron Avshalomov died in New York City on April 16, 1965.
As a child, Avshalomov had first been exposed to traditional Chinese music, particularly Peking opera, in 1907 when his family lived in Khabarovsk, a town near the Russia-China border. After his semi-permanent relocation to China, the dual influence of Chinese and Western musical cultures became the driving force of his career. His compositions feature the use Western musical instruments to recreate elements of traditional Chinese music and were highly successful with Chinese audiences. These included the First Symphony, the operas Kuan Yin, The Twilight Hour of Yan Kuen Fei, and The Great Wall, and concertos for violin, flute, and piano. The major compositions from his years in the United States are the Second and Third Symphonies and the ballet Dream of Wei Lin.