Adam Han-Gorski’s amazing journey


In the latest chapter of his peripatetic musical career, Adam Han-Gorski is back home in Minnesota. 

The classical violinist was born in Lvov, Ukraine, in 1940, and had a childhood marred by World War II. His mother, a concert pianist, was touring the Far East with a Ukrainian ensemble, and was caught during the Nazi attack on the Soviet Union, in June 1941. Until the end of the war she had no knowledge of the whereabouts of her son and family members.

The musician’s father, who took the name “Gorski” while hiding from the Nazis, crossed the front line to the east in search of his wife, but was caught by Soviet troops and put into a Gulag labor camp. Young Han-Gorski (né Arno Haan) found shelter with his grandparents in the shtetl of Yavorov; but his grandfather was taken away by the Germans and never seen again. Then he was placed with his maternal grandparents in Cracow, Poland, but they were interned in the ghetto and then sent to the death camp at Belzec, where they were killed. But before the liquidation of the ghetto, they left Han-Gorski with a Christian woman, who risked her life for three years by sheltering a Jewish child.

In one of the mundane miracles of the Shoah, Han-Gorski was reunited with his mother after the Nazis left Lvov. She happened to run into the child’s guardian on the street. In another quirk of fate, Han-Gorski’s father escaped from the Gulag and the family was reunited.

The family moved to Poland, which was liberated in 1945, and Han-Gorski began his acclaimed musical career by performing solo with the Silesian Philharmonic in March 1948. Polish Newsreel filmed the performance by the musical prodigy and it was shown nationwide for weeks in movie theaters. Han-Gorski was a celebrity at the age of seven.


Adam Han-Gorski: The technical level of today's playing is absolutely awesome, stunning. (Photo: Courtesy of Adam Han-Gorski)Adam Han-Gorski: The technical level of today’s playing is absolutely awesome, stunning. (Photo: Courtesy of Adam Han-Gorski)

Han-Gorski’s career as a musician and concertmaster has taken him around the world – to Israel, and back to Europe, and to America. In 1971, after stints with the Metropolitan Opera, the Cleveland Orchestra under the baton of the legendary George Szell, and the Syracuse Symphony Orchestra, Han-Gorski became the associate concertmaster of the Minnesota Orchestra.

(The ensemble was then known as the Minneapolis Symphony Orchestra, and was conducted by Stanislaw Skrowaczewski. The composer and conductor, who is now the Minnesota Orchestra’s conductor laureate, returns to Orchestra Hall for concerts Feb. 4-6, which will feature the U.S. premiere of Skrowaczewski’s “Music for Winds.”)

During a conversation with the Jewish World last week, Han-Gorski commented that his journey to America was the fourth time he “changed continents” during his career.

Local music lovers will have the chance to hear Han-Gorski, with his Continental Sound Ensemble, on Saturday, Jan. 30 at Beth El Synagogue. The evening of music, titled “Café Europa,” is presented by the Beth El Music and Arts (BEMA) Coffeehouse Series.

Han-Gorski explains that his small ensemble of European musicians will play “a very light classical program. I can say, classical hits… There will be charming little pieces,” by Fritz Kreisler, “Hungarian Rhapsody,” “Romanian Rhapsody,” also “potpourri from operettas” – generally, a selection of “romantic-type classical music.”

Han-Gorski qualifies that the selection of music that he and the Continental Sound Ensemble will perform at Beth El is often presented in “a very poor execution.” He explains that competent musicians who could really perform these kind of pieces shied away, for fear that they “would be called Liberace or André Rieu.”

The current crop of young classical musicians “strive for technical perfection,” says Han-Gorski, who early on was under the tutelage of the great violinist Jascha Heifetz. “The technical level of today’s playing is absolutely awesome, stunning.”

At the same time, he finds that “development of the personality” is lacking. On this topic, he remarks that classical artists are averse to putting emotion into their playing, at the risk of sacrificing some slight element of technical brilliance.

“Forty years ago, when you heard some of the most famous artists, you could with a pretty big percentage of assurance say who was playing,” he recalls. Now, classical musicians “play like carbon copies of perfection.”

Han-Gorski, who doesn’t want “to gripe” like an old man, points out that “the element of personality… is not being taught.” He still conducts master classes and offers private lessons on a selective basis.

“My educational background, within two generations, goes 150 years back,” Han-Gorski explains, regarding some of the teachers of his teachers, who lived in the latter part of the 19th century.

The voluble classical violinist – who also spent 25 years as concertmaster of the Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra – admits to a fascination with computers, his iPhone and other digital gizmos. At the same time, he says about his musical lineage, “I am very closely related to a very distant past.”


The BEMA Coffeehouse Series will present “Café Europa,” featuring Adam Han-Gorski and his Continental Sound Ensemble, 8 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 30 at Beth El Synagogue, 5224 W. 26th St., St. Louis Park. Tickets are $20 in advance, $25 at the door, $18 for students; $300 for a reserved front-row table of 10. For tickets, call 952-920-3512 or go to: