Interviu cu ing. chimist Ioana Hoisescu, fostă elevă a pianistului Dan Mizrahy

Ioana Hoisescu, împreună cu maestrul Dan Mizrahy, la pianul din casa din str. Turbinei nr.1

Miss Ioana Hoisescu, you often were a guest in the house of your teacher, maestro Dan Mizrahy, on 1 Turbinei Street.

This address is one controversial topic. The house was built in 1923 by the Communal Society for Cheap Housing, which operated in Bucharest between 1908 and 1948 and which erected many of Bucharest’s neighbourhoods. It built similar houses after the plans designed by Dimitrie Mohor, Ioan D. Trajanescu and Constantin Pomponiul, some of the best architects of their day.

In the 1920s, the site of Professor Mizrahy’s house in Floreasca was a very big undeveloped stretch of land owned by the Cornescu family (the lot on which the neighbourhood was developed was known as the Cornescu lot). To the west of this lot was Floreasca Avenue, then called Prelungirea Polonă, to the east and south was the Floreasca sandpit, over which a velodrome was later set up, and to the north was a greenfield that had been divided into parts but yet not built upon, property of the National Society for Improving Horse Breeds. This is the “landscape” on which began the construction of the neighbourhood which Professor Mizrahy’s house is a part of.

The house itself was a “type E”, as its architecture was known at the time. Back then the streets had no name, instead they were identified by letters, from A to F. The current Turbinei Street was Street A, and Professor Mizrahy’s first address was Prelungirea Polonă, 42 Floreasca lot (“42” wasn’t the number of the house, as we might think, but the number of the lot). The same address would become Cornescu Park, 32 Street A, then Breslau (in December 1940, when the Street Naming Commission changed the names), then again Street A, number 1 this time. Finally, much later, in the 1950s, it was given its current, “angelic” name, as Professor Mizrahy says in his memoires, of Turbinei (Turbine). It’s perhaps interesting to mention that sometime in 2017 Mrs Mizrahy made formal applications to change the name of the street in memory of her husband, but they were left unresolved, so it’s still Turbinei.

That’s some precious information, thank you so much! How did you come by it?

It comes from several sources. I of course read maestro Mizrahy’s autobiography, Așa a fost – exerciții de memorie [This Is How It Was – Memory Exercises], where he details the story of the house, how it was built, how it evolved… But I also studied and avidly read a more recent book, Idealul locuirii bucureștene – familia cu casă și grădină [The Ideal of Bucharest Living – House- and Garden-Owning Family], historian Andrei Răzvan Voinea’s PhD thesis.

So how would you describe the house on 1 Turbinei Street?

The initial plan, that “type E” as it was known in 1923 when building began, was of a two-storey house. The ground floor had an entrance hall, a study, a living room and, of course, a kitchen, a half bath, some pantries and some storerooms. On the upper floor there were two bedrooms, a hall and a small room which separated the hall from the bathroom. There was also a hallway which took you to the interior stairs, which in their turn took you to the upper floor.

In 1923, when Professor Mizrahy’s parents contracted this house through the Communal Society for Cheap Housing, they were still recently married and they had a little daughter, the Professor’s sister Mira, born that year. The house was large enough for the three of them, but in 1926 Dan Mizrahy, the Professor, was born, and when the children were older the Professor’s father, an accountant and a very organised man, decided they should each have their own room. The Mizrahys were also very welcoming people, they always had guests, and so sometime in 1934 Moshe Mizrahy, the father, contacted a famous architect of the time, Ștefan Ciocârlan, who made a new plan, which included the addition of a rather important extension to the original building. It was thus that the house acquired another room on the upper floor, that is, a third bedroom, and that the hall downstairs was extended and turned into a generous space, something we would today call a living room. As well, the two rooms that had initially been the study and the living room were united into one single room, which would for many years be Professor Mizrahy’s study and music room. I myself spent a lot of time there, playing, taking lessons, meeting very interesting people as a guest at some party… Mrs Lory Wallfisch once gave me there a 4-hour class! In that space a whole life happened, so to say.

The house was severely damaged by the 1940 earthquake, and the upper floor essentially became unfit for habitation. The fixing of the house was time-consuming for the family, and as history took a terribly wrong turn not only for Romania, but for the entire continent, the house was requisitioned by the state and turned into a police station. That was in November of 1941. The family was evacuated and only got the house back in 1948, when it was retroceded. It was however requisitioned again shortly after, to become the head office of the State Department for Housing Rental. The family was allowed to keep a part of the house, but they were forced to take in tenants. Many, many people lodged there for years, and the Mizrahys lived in a small space. True, between March of 1941 and the end of 1945 maestro Mizrahy, who was very young at the time, in fact lived in Palestine, which at the time was much bigger than it is today, the State of Israel didn’t exist, and Palestine was a British Dominion. It was with the racial laws, the Antonescian laws [after General Ion Antonescu], as they were known in Romania, that the Professor, who in 1940 was 14 years old, had to try to leave the country. He was the only one in his family to be given the permit (la carte blanche) and he left alone, his parents and his sister stayed behind. This is why he didn’t know what was happening with his family, with his house, during that period, from 1941 to 1945. He was of course shocked to find, upon returning to Romania at the end of 1945, the conditions I described earlier.

Maestro Mizrahy’s parents and his sister then continued to live on Turbinei Street.

They lived, the three of them, in one room, they were “tolerated”, so to say. The Professor didn’t tell me about it personally, but I read this in his book. He was describing, without going into detail of course, how his family survived during that period. They had a very difficult time, because both parents, who were state employees, lost their jobs, and suffered a lot because of the changes with the house, then the Professor’s sister could no longer go to school… it was all terribly difficult for them. We must not forget that there was the war going on and that the Jews were persecuted. There were those racial laws that basically annihilated them, they wouldn’t let them breathe, let alone work. It was an abominable time for the whole world, but particularly so for the Jews.

You were saying that maestro Mizrahy came back in 1945.

Yes, at the end of that year he returned to Romania. He had completed his musical studies at the Jerusalem Conservatory, he had taken the British baccalaureate, he had bright perspectives career-wise as well as in his private life. But for him it was more important to be reunited with his family, it had been a very hard time for him as a teenager. He was very attached to his homeland, he loved Romania with all his heart.

And your own collaboration with maestro Mizrahy, when did it begin?

I met the Professor in the fall of 1981 when, after finishing the 8th grade, I enrolled at the I. L. Caragiale High School, mathematics-physics section. But I didn’t want to interrupt my musical studies, and so I also took the exam for the Popular School of the Arts, where the Professor was teaching piano. Our thus collaboration began in the fall of 1981 and ended when he passed away, in February 2010.

What do you remember about the ambiance of maestro Mizrahy’s house?

I knew this house on a variety of occasions. From my first years I recall how the Professor and his wife, Mrs Cecilia Mizrahy, took pleasure in inviting us, his students, to a musical gathering to close out the school year. We would get to know each other better, talk, play the piano for the others, dance. They were very agreeable parties – Professor Mizrahy would put the entire house at our disposal, there were so many of us – lasting long into the night, I think I would arrive home at around two or three o’clock. This was from the time that I was his student at the Popular School of Arts, until to 1985. I didn’t want to interrupt my musical studies, because music was something that was always on my mind, even more so than my profession. I thus continued to take weekly private lessons with Professor Mizrahy, to visit him on some occasion or other, such as when he wanted to organise a recital or when I myself had to prepare for a recital. I was therefore able to know the house, as I said, in a variety of circumstances – and know the family too, of course. And I cannot say that I was ever disappointed, it was always a very welcoming house, with many guests, many interesting people, elevated conversations, music, of course – it was all very pleasant.

There was a group of three of the Professor’s students that he appreciated and particularly loved I think, and that he recommended to the Engineers’ Orchestra, we eventually played at the Engineers’ Association Hall. I met Mr Ghenghea [professor and engineer, the Orchestra’s founder], I rehearsed with them, I had even began practicing Mozart’s Piano concerto no. 11 for a collaborative event, but then I left the country and the project was dropped. Professor Mizrahy mentioned us in a book on the Engineers’ Orchestra, Inginerii și muzica [Engineers and Music] by Virgil George Dumitriu, which Mrs Mizrahy later offered me. There’s a chapter on us, the pianists: myself, architect Anca Selejean, who was the sister of pop singer Dorin Anastasiu, and to Mr Vasile Chiriță, who was also an engineer, a lot older than us, who played successfully with them, for a long time, Beethoven’s Emperor concerto. Other engineers were mentioned too, pianists that worked with the ensemble but that weren’t the Professor’s students.

Professor Mizrahy was a very friendly, outgoing and communicative man. Very cultivated and refined, he made a lot of friends. He made no difference between people, he became friends with everyone, no matter their ethnic or social origins or their profession. Among his most notable friends I can mention composer Mihail Jora, whose student he had been at the Conservatory. His closest friend was Radu Tudoran, whose all novels but the last, published after the writer’s death, were autographed to him. The Professor was also good friends with writer Geo Bogza, conductors Constantin Silvestri, Nicolae Licareț, Mihai Brediceanu, Cristian Mandeal, then Dinu Lipatti’s brother Valentin, pianist Lory Wallfisch, conductor Sergiu Comissiona (I made the acquaintance of these two myself at the Professor’s house), tenor Valentin Teodorian, pianist Valentin Gheorghiu. The list is longer, these are just some examples to show that it wasn’t only musicians that he was friends with.

Professor Mizrahy was a very complex man, both musically and as an individual. Musically, we must see him three-fold: he was a pianist, first and foremost, a teacher, and last but not least an equally good composer. His didn’t write classical music but pop music, lieder and romances in particular. In this latter field he was quite successful, a 9-time recipient of the first prize in the Crizantema de aur [Golden Chrysanthemum] Competition in Târgoviște, which at the time, in the 1980s and the 1990s, was one of the greatest musical events in Romania. And if I call him “Professor” Mizrahy, it’s because he was my teacher for almost three decades, but you must know that I was happy to call him my friend too, I can even say he was like a father to me after my father died.

What kind of music did the Mizrahys listen to?

All kinds of music. From classical to modern to dance and jazz. The Professor was very open-minded. As proved by the fact that he was the first to play Gershwin, who is at the border between classical music and jazz, in Romania.

Of course, by the nature of his job, especially the Professor, but Mrs Mizrahy too, she was a singing teacher and trained great names – Mariana Colpoș, Elena Stancu, Gianina Munteanu, worked to build a record library. During the time that Romania was a Communist country the possibilities to do this were very scarce, but the Professor did everything he could, and so had an impressive LP and tape collection. When these mediums were replaced by cassette tapes, his collection grew accordingly, but when the CD and later the DVD appeared, what with the technology developing very fast, the Professor could no longer keep up.

I also recalled something that is little known, one of the Professor’s wishes, that was left unfulfilled: he very much wanted that his house become the Mizrahy House. He told me about this dream of his sometime in 2004, I think. I was living in Prague then, but each time I came to Romania, that is, three times a year, I visited him, and we also kept in touch by phone, so I know that he took some steps in this direction. But he ran into immense obstacles, later he became ill, then his illness advanced and caused him more and more troubles, and he had to abandon the project. I too believe that house should be the Dan and Cecilia Mizrahy House. It’s quite well taken care of, Mrs Mizrahy left it to a relative of hers and I think that they moved there right after she died, in May 2019. But people aren’t aware that it was Mizrahys’, it cannot be visited, and I don’t know if the original arrangement is still preserved – it had indeed been set up like a musician’s house. At least there’s that memorial plaque on the front, at the entrance, which was put up sometime in 2016, if I’m not mistaken, on the initiative of the Bucharest 2nd District Town Hall.

You offered us a photo with you and the Professor. What’s its story?

We took this photo at the end of a class, in September 1996 if my recollection is good. I gave him a copy and he put it up in his living room so that it would be looked at. He was very happy with it. The featured Steinway piano, which his father Moshe Mizrahy had bought in 1950, had become our best friend.

Interview by Petre Fugaciu

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