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Eric Rosenblith, 90, violinist of acclaim, tireless teacher

Eric Rosenblith taught at Longy School of Music after serving as director of the New England Conservatory’s string program. Eric Rosenblith taught at Longy School of Music after serving as director of the New England Conservatory’s string program. (Carol Rosenblith)
By Jeremy Eichler
Globe Staff / December 21, 2010

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Eric Rosenblith, a respected violinist and a widely admired teacher who sought to impart not only technique but also a broader approach toward building a life in music, died Thursday morning at Mount Auburn Hospital in Cambridge. The cause was complications of prostate cancer, according to his wife, Carol Rosenblith. He was 90.

Most recently Mr. Rosenblith taught at Longy School of Music in Cambridge, but his local career began at New England Conservatory, where he arrived in 1968 and later directed its string program for 25 years.

“I was thrilled to have him on the faculty,’’ said Gunther Schuller, who was president of NEC for much of that period. “He was an indefatigable teacher who just worked and worked and worked.’’

When at his best as a performer, Mr. Rosenblith played with a warm, honeyed tone and an Old World elegance of statement. At the same time, beneath the music’s surface often pulsed an uncommon sense of inner life and expressive intensity.

“What makes something artistic,’’ he once told the Globe, “is a melding of what is in the work of art with the psychology and life experience of the performer.’’

Mr. Rosenblith was born in Vienna and moved at an early age with his family to Berlin and later, as the political picture darkened, to Paris. A child prodigy, he played violin with some of the continent’s most distinguished performers, including Jacques Thibaud at Paris’s Ecole Normale de Musique and later with the eminent pedagogue Carl Flesch in London.

In 1939, just weeks before the outbreak of war, Mr. Rosenblith and his family fled Paris for New York, where he continued his studies with Bronislaw Huberman, making his debut in New York’s Town Hall in 1941. Soon afterward, Mr. Rosenblith was drafted into the US Army and was stationed at a base in Virginia. He returned to concert performance in New York and abroad in the late 1940s, earning praise from one New York Times critic for his Mozart, “finely detailed and replete with charm,’’ and his solo Bach, which was described as “soulful, poetic.’’

“When he put the violin on his shoulder, the music just came pouring out of his life experience,’’ recalled Sebastian Ruth, artistic director of Community MusicWorks in Providence and a longtime Rosenblith student. “And yet it was never overindulgent playing; there was always a balance.’’

Mr. Rosenblith eventually accepted a position as concertmaster of the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra, where he played for 13 seasons. In 1956, a car accident in Indiana took the life of his mother and his first wife, Margaret Sear, a dancer.

Not long before moving to Boston, Mr. Rosenblith met Carol Child, a singer, who became his second wife. In 1997, they cofounded the International Musical Arts Institute, a summer music school and festival in Fryeburg, Maine, that became an annual site of reunion for Mr. Rosenblith’s students dispersed across the United States and Europe.

As a teacher, Mr. Rosenblith was known for his boundless reserves of energy, often giving lessons well into the evening hours.

“One got the impression that this man was not only running the string department, but the entire universe,’’ recalled the violinist Ben Sayevich in a published recollection.

In his teaching studio, Mr. Rosenblith adopted a holistic approach, equipping students with the necessary technical tools but also encouraging the cultivation of an independent interpretive voice.

“He took the long view of where people would grow as musicians,’’ said Ruth. “He would just keep influencing them, sometimes over the course of an entire lifetime. For him, teaching was not an activity; it was a way of being in the world.’’

In the last decades of his life, Mr. Rosenblith took a fervid interest in transmitting the musical approach of his teacher Flesch, translating and editing Flesch’s landmark “Art of Violin Playing.’’ Earlier this fall he distilled his own pedagogic approach into a volume entitled “Ah, You Play the Violin . . .’’ published by Carl Fischer Music.

Having lived through an era in which interpretive fashions at times favored a reverential treatment of the score, Mr. Rosenblith took a contrasting view that emphasized the player’s own animating contribution.

“To give a convincing performance,’’ he wrote, “one needs to find within one’s inner self some real connection with the composer’s creation.’’

He also stressed the importance of a “global technique’’ that lay far beyond physical mastery. His book ends with the statement: “We truly need to be thinkers, poets, painters, engineers, and philosophers.’’

In addition to his wife, Carol, of Newton, he leaves his son, Alan Bernard of Portland, Ore. Funeral services will be private. A public memorial program will take place next year.

In Flesch’s memoirs, the violinist described an intergenerational perspective on teaching that Mr. Rosenblith’s career seemed to both embody and carry forward. “Not until much later,’’ wrote Flesch, “did I begin to realize what a noble mission — a spiritual propagation — is the transmission of one’s knowledge and experience to the younger generation: one can live again not only in one’s children but also in one’s pupils.’’

Jeremy Eichler can be reached at jeichler@globe.com.