The world famous viola-player and conductor Rudolf Barshai was born September 28th, 1924 in a small town of Labinsk near Krasnodar, Russia. His teacher in the Moscow Conservatory were Profs. Lev Tseytlin (violin) and Vadim Borisovsky (viola).
In 1945–1953 he was a member of one of the best Russian Quartets later known as Borodin String Quartet. He also was a member of Tchaikovsky String Quartet. Rudolf Barshai often played trio with Leonid Kogan and Mstislav Rostropovich, as well as in ensembles with Sviatoslav Richter, David Oistrakh, Yehudi Menuhin.
The name and the life of Rudolf Barshai is above all associated with the creation and the golden age of the Moscow Chamber Orchestra, the first ever ensemble of the kind in the USSR. In 1956 Barshai founded this orchestra and shortly made it one of the best in the world. Thanks to Barshai and Moscow Chamber Orchestra the tradition of performing baroque and early
classical was born in this country, and the audience got acquainted with many masterpieces by Bach, Vivaldi, Handel, Haydn, Mozart and their contemporaries. Another important part of the Moscow Chamber Orchestra repertoire is the music of the 20th century composers. Among the numerous works performed by the Orchestra under Rudolf Barshai's baton for the first time was Symphony No.14 by Dmitri Shostakovich (written for this outstanding orchestra), as well as the best compositions of Mieczysław Weinberg, Georgy Sviridov, Revol Bunin, Alexander Lokshin and other Russian composers. Maestro Barshai has made many brilliant transcriptions for the chamber orchestra such as “The Art of Fugue” and “Musical Offering” by Johann Sebastian Bach, Chamber Symphony in Memory of Victims of Fascism and War by Dmitri Shostakovich (arrangement of the Quartet No.8), "Visions Fugitives" by Sergei Prokofiev, quartets by Tchaikovsky, Borodin, Shostakovich, Ravel. Since 1967 Rudolf Barshai was successfully active also as a symphony conductor.
In late 1970s he immigrated from Russia. In 1982–1988 he was the Artistic Director and Chief conductor of the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra in UK, in late 1980s he worked with Vancouver S.O., concurrently conducting the Orchestras of Great Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and other countries.
In 1993 after a long time he revisited Russia performing Symphony No.9 by Gustav Mahler with the Tchaikovsky Symphony orchestra and Missa Solemnis by Ludwig van Beethoven with the Russian National Orchestra and choir of the Academy of Choral Art. The last time Maestro conducted in Russia was in October 2007 with "The Moscow Virtuosi" orchestra, the programme consisted of music by Mozart, Tchaikovsky and Alexander Lokshin.
In 2000 Rudolf Barshai completed the instrumentation of the unfinished Symphony No.10 by Gustav Mahler. He considered this work the “task of his lifetime”.
The last quarter of the century Rudolf Barshai lived and worked in Switzerland. For several years he served as the head of the Jury of the International Arturo Toscanini Conductors' Competition in Parma and lead Arturo Toscanini conducting classes.
Rudolf Barshai died 2 November 2010 in Switzerland.