Braitberg Takes His Final Bow
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Braitberg Takes His Final Bow

After 42 years with the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, David Braitberg is looking forward to retirement.

After 35 years with the Atlanta newspapers, Marcia currently serves as Retail VP for the Buckhead Business Association, where she delivers news and trends (laced with a little gossip).

Braitberg will retire after 42 years with the ASO, looking back at more than 200 performances a year.
Braitberg will retire after 42 years with the ASO, looking back at more than 200 performances a year.

He’s driven to Colorado on a motorcycle and played violin with Henny Youngman and for Bob Hope, not to mention jamming with Jerry Farber. He has rebuilt a 1959 Maserati 3500 GT. What David Braitberg will walk away from in a few weeks is more than four decades of playing violin in the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra. Born in the Soviet Union, Braitberg’s journey as a child prodigy strums and plucks through France, then Missouri, landing in Atlanta with an incredibly successful audition from a classified ad. Read how he navigated performance anxiety and strikes, and graciously entertained thousands.

Family History

David’s grandfather fought in World War I and had nine children, the youngest of which was David’s father Chaim, also a master violinist.

David’s parents both escaped Poland to land in Stalingrad. Coincidentally, they grew up as neighbors in Poland, but met for the first time in Russia during bombing there. David said, “The irony was that they exited war in Poland to be under the similar circumstances yet again.” In Stalingrad, Chaim was the concertmaster of the Stalingrad Opera/Theatre, and mom Szyfra attended medical school. She recently celebrated her 100th birthday in St Louis, where David filmed her singing and dancing (unaided).

David’s father Chaim taught violin and languages, and conducted the orchestra at the public school in St. Louis that David attended.

Chaim relayed that playing the violin saved his life as he traveled the countryside with gypsy troupes in Kazakhstan, playing folk songs and eating meals from a common pot. Farmers along the way traded eggs and bread for his “renditions.” Chaim was also a master chess player, fisherman, and Talmud scholar. He learned how to hold the bow and manipulate strings from a relative who drew art schematics for him to follow. David said, “Dad wanted me to learn violin as a life saving/ fall back to survive wars and pogroms.”

David was born in Zbarasz, Soviet Union, which was a quaint fiefdom in the 1400s. When he was 5, the family emigrated to Bordeaux, France.

At 6, with the help of HIAS, the family landed in St. Louis, where Chaim led the school orchestra and taught Russian in public schools. Chaim was headed for a spot in the St. Louis Symphony when the union noticed that he “checked the box” on the application that he had been a former member of the Communist Party.

David said, “The St. Louis Jewish community truly embraced us, and Mom found a way to do diabetes research and teach elements of surgery at Wash U, even though she was not a licensed MD here.”

Road to the Pros

When asked when he envisioned his own future as a professional musician, he mused, “Actually I was pre-med at Washington University, but took the path of least resistance. Playing violin at weddings and freelance events, the money was coming in. As I matured, I no longer studied violin under Dad, as one can see that not being a healthy relationship. Not coincidentally, my brother is a professional viola player.”

In the late 1970s, Braitberg rented a duplex and for 18 months, 12 hours a day, he practiced (perfected) the repertoire of eight to 10 pieces needed for orchestra auditions. Looking back, he said, “Think about the odds. There are only about 20 orchestras in the U.S. that pay a living wage. The average musician auditions 20 to 30 times before landing a spot. I saw an ad in a trade newspaper stating that the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra was seeking a violinist (one of 28 spots). I was 23, and they offered me the position starting the next week!”

Braitberg is married to Atlanta native Cheryl Fine, chief financial officer of Piedmont Cancer Institute. They have a daughter attending Georgia State University.

Braitberg’s Short Takes

Performance anxiety: “I can’t lie. After 42 years in the ASO, 200 concerts a year, and 28 Grammys, nervousness never goes away. No alcohol before a performance and breathing exercises help.”

Favorite composers: Mozart, Strauss, Prokofiev.

Favorite contemporary music: The Beatles. Dad said that The Beatles were ‘garbage.’ He was wrong. I like violinists Hilary Hahn and Pinchas Zukerman.
Your violin: A Jean Baptiste Vuillaume, a master innovative French luthier from the early 1800s. He had many of the tools and varnish recipes of Stradivarius. Some say Vuillaume’s craftsmanship was superior {to Stradivarius}.

Surviving a symphony strike: In years past, the management was very rough and had an “us against them” attitude. They would cut out all pay and health insurance for 10 to 12 weeks. Some musicians had to quit. Later they found ways to continue performances during negotiations.

Hobbies: Fishing, rebuilding classic cars and motorcycles. Along the way, I was an expert billiards player

After retirement: No violin. It’s just a fact, without regular practice, it just doesn’t work.

I’ll look forward to taking my boxer/terrier rescue Trap trout fishing.

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