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Remembering David Hochstein

David Hochstein in uniform.
Courtesy of The Hochstein School
David Hochstein in uniform.

The Hochstein School is named for musician David Hochstein, whose legacy continues to live on more than a century after his death.

This musically inclined young man from Rochester was on his way to a successful international career, thanks to a chance encounter that changed his life.

David Hochstein was born in 1892, and grew up on Joseph Avenue. His father, Jacob, was a highly educated Russian-Jewish immigrant who spoke six languages and ran a print shop out of their house. Jacob was David’s first violin teacher, but soon passed him on to other more knowledgeable musicians from Rochester’s European immigrant community.

David played in the orchestra at East High, which is where he met his friend John Warner from the other side of town.

David Hochstein and his mother, Helena
Credit Courtesy of The Hochstein School
David Hochstein and his mother, Helena

"The story goes that David was really good friends with John Warner, who was a fine young pianist, and they would often play together, and the Warners lived on Prince Street, near Mrs. Sibley Watson," relates Gary Palmer, Dean and Assistant Director of The Hochstein School, who wrote his dissertation on the school's history; "They were playing one day, and the living room window was open, and Mrs. Watson heard the playing, and they said she wanted to know who this person was, and of course the rest is history."  

Emily Sibley Watson was a wealthy patron of the arts, and she threw her full support behind David: funding his musical education, including his studies in Vienna, where he garnered prizes in several musical competitions, and started to perform throughout Europe.  

Hochstein went abroad again to study in St. Petersburg, Russia, this time with the help of Watson’s good friend and fellow philanthropist  - George Eastman, who also obtained two instruments for David to play on: one by 18th-century violin maker Carlo Ferdinando Landolfi, the other a Stradivarius. Hochstein also wrote several compositions, which have just recently been recorded.  

Hochstein’s musical star continued to rise: he performed as a soloist with the New York Philharmonic and Metropolitan Opera, and played a recital at Carnegie Hall. We can also actually hear David Hochstein’s violin playing in a couple of crackly recordings that he made with the Emerson Record Company in 1916. 

And then, the war came. David was granted an exemption from serving, because he was his mother's sole support at the time, since his father had passed away. But he changed his mind. 

"After he had gotten his exemption, I think he had buyers' remorse is not the right way...but you understand what I mean," says Gary Palmer, "He decided that he really wanted to serve his country. And it was right around the same time that his aunt, Emma Goldman, who was a really well-known anti-war activist, had been put in jail. So I don't know if the family dynamic was there that he felt as if he had to somehow do something different than what she was doing, so he felt the call to go and serve his country in 1917."
David Hochstein found ways to continue with music during his time in the military. At first, he was stationed downstate, at Camp Upton in Long Island.  

According to Palmer, "He really loved the camaraderie with his colleagues, and he played in the military band at one point, and had actually arranged a transcription of one of his pieces - the "Minuet in Olden Style," that he must have played with the band. And at some point he had actually created a 21-piece orchestra while he was there. 

He then went to fight on the front in Argonne, France, and was killed in action in October 1918, though the news wasn't confirmed until months later.

Along with David’s mother - and his patron Emily Sibley Watson - the whole Rochester community mourned the loss of this young musician and hero. 

The community then rallied for a concert in his memory. On April 5, 1919, a crowd gathered at the Convention Center — the building that we know as Geva Theatre today — to hear a benefit concert played by Rochester's leading musicians. The proceeds from that concert were used to help start a music school in David Hochstein’s family home - which we now know as The Hochstein School.