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Primarily known as a chamber music player, Balsam studied at the Conservatory in Łodź and then at the Hochschule in Berlin. In 1930 he won first prize at the International Piano Competition in Berlin, and the following year the Mendelssohn Prize for chamber music with violinist Roman Totenberg in Munich. He had made his solo debut at the age of twelve, but went on to forge a career as a chamber music player and accompanist to many of the greatest musicians of the time. In 1932 he toured the USA with the fourteen-year-old Yehudi Menuhin, settling there when the Nazis took power in Germany. Balsam toured Europe and North America and in 1933 married Ruth Miller (1906–1999) who was also a pianist from Łodź. During the late 1930s he toured as the partner of violinist Nathan Milstein, and other notable musicians with whom he collaborated were Szymon Goldberg, Erica Morini, Joseph Fuchs, Joseph Szigeti, David Oistrakh, Leonid Kogan, Mstislav Rostropovich, Zino Francescatti, and the Budapest and Kroll Quartets.

During the 1950s Balsam appeared as soloist with many world-famous orchestras, working often in London with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, the London Symphony Orchestra and the Philharmonia. He played many times for the BBC in London, and in Mozart’s bicentenary year of 1956 he performed a series of six of the piano concertos, for which he composed some cadenzas. At this time he worked frequently with the Juilliard and Budapest String Quartets. From 1958 to 1960 Balsam performed on television eighty-six major sonatas for violin and piano with Joseph Fuchs. In 1960 he became pianist of the Albeneri Trio and taught at the Eastman School of Music, Manhattan School of Music, Philadelphia Academy of Music, and Boston University. He also gave regular summer courses at Kneisel Hall, Blue Hill in Maine, and was in great demand at many other festivals such as Aldeburgh, Banff, Music Mountain and Orono. Well-known pianists who have benefited from his teaching are Murray Perahia and Emanuel Ax. Balsam’s last public appearance was at Carnegie Recital Hall in 1993 at the age of eighty-seven.

Balsam recorded a great deal of music, close to 250 works. These include performances of the complete solo works of Haydn (on fifteen LPs) and Mozart (on sixteen LPs) for the Musical Heritage Society, Hummel’s sonatas, thirteen early piano concertos by Mozart, all Mozart’s violin sonatas with Oscar Shumsky, all Beethoven’s violin sonatas with Joseph Fuchs, and Beethoven’s cello sonatas with Zara Nelsova. Balsam also recorded twelve LPs of solo piano music by Mozart and Haydn for L’Oiseau-Lyre in the early 1960s. Chamber music recordings of unusual repertoire include compositions by Virgil Thomson, Walter Piston, Respighi and Milhaud, as well as the Concerto for Piano, Violin and String Quartet by Chausson. The Bridge label in the USA has released live recordings of many concerts from the Library of Congress recitals that were broadcast between 1951 and 1975, one of the best being a 1952 broadcast of Rachmaninov’s Trio élégiaque Op. 9 with members of the Budapest Quartet.

A performance given for the BBC in 1959 was perhaps one of Balsam’s most surprising, in that he played a transcription of a nineteenth-century symphonic work: Liszt’s arrangement of Berlioz’s Symphonie Fantastique Op. 14.

© Naxos Rights International Ltd. — Jonathan Summers (A–Z of Pianists, Naxos 8.558107–10).

Role: Classical Artist 
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