Impresario who brought many of the Russian Greats to the EIF

Born: March 27, 1923;

Died. March 22, 2019

VICTOR Hochhauser, who has died aged 95, was the intrepid impresario who with his wife Lilian opened up important cultural ties with the Soviet Union. The Cold War was slightly easing at the time and Hochhauser formed close but sometimes fraught relations with the powerful offices in Moscow from 1950.

He was a canny operator and all his promotions were commercial exercises, although he never received government support. In 1961 he brought to the UK the virtuoso pianist Sviatoslav Richter and the cellist Mstislav Rostropovich. They proved a sensation and opened doors that were never thought possible.

His greatest nightmare was bringing the Kirov Ballet – a huge company (orchestra, corps de ballet and soloists) – to London, also in 1961. It became an international incident and Ralph Fiennes has just brought out a film based on the turmoil it created.

One of the Kirov Ballet’s young principal stars, Rudolf Nureyev, had taken Paris by storm. London awaited. The dancer was informed at Le Bourget airport that he had to immediately return to Moscow but amidst much drama he sought asylum. Hochhauser, the anxious promoter, was awaiting the company’s arrival in London. He was astonished to welcome downhearted and unsmiling dancers.

“It was terrible” he later recalled. “We arrived at the airport with armfuls of flowers, very excited, only to see all these terribly long faces, Rudi never came. He jumped in Paris on the way. It was a disaster.”

As was ever the case with Hochhauser, a man of much style who spoke seven languages, the crises came thick and fast, although he always coped magnificently.

His worldwide connections made him invaluable to many leading arts organisations, especially the Edinburgh Festival. The first barrier the Hochhausers overcame was in 1960 when they brought the Leningrad Philharmonic Orchestra to the festival and then on to London.

In 1962 when the artistic director George Harewood planned to feature Russian music at the festival he went to Hochhauser to seek his advice. He proved invaluable and Harewood gained direct access to the hierarchy in Moscow and mounted a memorable festival. “After a surfeit of Georgian brandy,” he wrote in his memoirs, Harewood brought to Edinburgh The Borodin Quartet, Oistrakh, Rostropovich, Galina Vishnevskaya and Dmitri Shostakovich who was made the featured composer.

The 1962 festival was significant: cultural understanding was greatly advanced. In such a spirit Hochhauser arranged a free midnight concert in St Cuthbert’s Church given by Rostropovich.

In 2010 when Hochhauser was awarded a medal by the Russian government for his outstanding contribution to the development of cultural relations between Russia and Britain, one of the items listed was his involvement in creating the Russian-British art project The AniMotion Show in Edinburgh.

Victor Hochhauser was born in what was then Czechoslovakia into an Orthodox Jewish family. The family fled the Nazi invasion, arriving in London in 1938. He showed an early management flair by organising some charity concerts and a sell-out concert at the Royal Albert Hall by the young Yehudi Menuhin. In 1948 he brought the Vienna Philharmonic under Bruno Walter and Wilhelm Furtwängler (controversially because he had remained in Germany during the Second World War).

Stalin’s death in 1952 relaxed cultural relations between the UK and the Soviet Union. Communications and signing contracts were always a laborious process - Hochhauser was followed everywhere by KGB agents whom he nicknamed his sputniks. Scandals and changes of leaders required much renegotiating - Edward Heath cancelled the Red Army Ensemble visit to London for political reasons.

By and large the artists were less of a problem. Hochhauser ensured they had suitable rehearsal time and stayed in good hotels – and with the Hochhausers. The brilliant but unreliable pianist Richter – his wife would phone and tell Hochhauser, “On bolen” (He’s ill) – caused endless upsets and in 1974 Rostropovich decided not to return to the Soviet Union. The Soviets cut off ties with Hochhauser for 15 years – “I became an un-person” he rather proudly stated.

Instead he brought the Chinese ballet and the Spanish Riding School of Vienna to Europe and promoted concerts celebrating Mario Lanza or Gracie Fields.

But it was ballet with which he will always be associated. The Bolshoi and Kirov were frequent visitors to the West and their brilliance staggered audiences at the Royal Opera House. New talent burst forth and recently many Russian artists have joined UK companies as guests. That greater tolerance and understanding must be Hochhauser's enduring legacy.

His star remained Nureyev. For 10 years the Hochhausers mounted six weeks of ballet, Nureyev and Friends, at the London Coliseum. The dancer performed eight shows a week to packed houses. “He never cancelled a single performance and always sold out. Rudi was a great, great artist and an impossible man,” recalled Hochhauser.

He married, in 1949, Lilian Shields, who was an equal powerhouse of energy and drive in the business. She, and their three sons and a daughter, survive him.