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Music pioneer with fond memories of Alaska dies

Violinist Roman Totenberg died of kidney failure on Tuesday at his home in Newton, Mass. The Polish-born virtuoso, a contemporary of classical music giants like Rachmaninoff, Toscanini and Heifetz, performed before kings and presidents -- and Alaskans.

Totenberg began performing at age 7 and made his American debut in 1935.

In 1950, he joined pianist Maxim Schapiro in a tour of Alaska. He arrived by ship with his family, including 4-year-old Nina, later a well known National Public Radio reporter.

On Oct. 10 of that year, in the Anchorage High School gym as part of Shapiro's "Alaska Music Trails" series, he gave the first concert sponsored by the new Anchorage Concert Association. The recital included music by Beethoven, Paganini and Bartok.

In 1994, he told the Daily News he had no thought of retiring.

"I'm still playing concerts and enjoying my life," he said. "You know, there are two kinds of prodigies, child prodigies and old man prodigies, and now I'm the latter kind."

The Music Trails tour included Seward, Cordova and Fairbanks.

"We flew everywhere in a very small bush plane," Totenberg recalled. "I had a wonderful time. One of the nicest experiences came the day after our Anchorage concert. A railroad worker came and said she enjoyed the concert so much that she wanted to buy me breakfast. So we had breakfast together."

The AP wrote that Totenberg was attended by one of his three daughters and other relatives at the time of his death. A memorial service is planned in the fall.

Reach Mike Dunham at or 257-4332.