Emanuel Elenescu

Emanuel Elenescu, Conductor, Composer, Teacher  (1911 – 2003)

Inextricably tied to Romanian music and musical performance for an extended period of time – more than six decades –, the work of Emanuel Elenescu is just as closely connected to the history of the Music Ensembles Department of the Romanian Radio: countless concerts, thousands of minutes of recordings for the Radio Archives, tens of Romanian pieces’ first performances, a huge repertoire, and hundreds of young talents artistically growing up under his leadership. Well-known for his wit, he remains for audiences and instrumentalists alike one of the best-loved Romanian conductors in the second half of the 20th century.

Born in Piatra Neamţ on March 8, 1911, Emanuel Elenescu trained at the Iaşi Conservatory of Music with Antonin Ciolan (conducting) and Ion Vasilescu (bassoon). Starting out as a bassoon player with the Radio Orchestra (1933-38 and 1947-50) and teaching bassoon at the Iaşi Conservatory (1938-47), he made his conducting debut in 1938 at the Romanian Athenaeum in Bucharest, leading the Radio Symphony Orchestra in his own Romanian Rhapsody for violin and orchestra.

After a brief stay at the head of the Radio Choir (1950-52), Emanuel Elenescu lived the most substantial chapter of his career as leader of the National Radio Orchestra (1952-77), to which he constantly returned long after his retirement (in March 2001 he led the ensemble for his 90th birthday celebration). He met Dmitri Shostakovich and Aram Khachaturian and worked with such celebrated soloists as Henryk Szeryng, Salvatore Accardo, Aldo Ciccolini, Mstislav Rostropovici, Annie Fischer or Jeanne Loriod. Offered the opportunity to settle in Germany, he chose to stay in Romania, and between 1993 and 1996 he was Principal Conductor and Manager of the Braşov Philharmonic.

Winning first mention (1937) and the third prize (1938) in the George Enescu Composition Competition, Emanuel Elenescu also wrote a set of Symphonic Variations and a Festive Overture, works for violin or piano and orchestra and vocal pieces.

Musicologist Viorel Cosma, one of his closest friends, described him as follows: “Musician with absolute pitch, he was admired and respected for the thorough comprehension of score, exactness and purity of harmonic, polyphonic, orchestral textures, and rigorous rhythms, in Romanian music in particular. Efficient if not spectacular, Elenescu’s gestures captivated instrumentalists and choristers into a natural musical discourse with expressive phrases and a balanced construction. With his pleasure in making music and creating a relaxed working environment (jokes, anecdotes, spontaneous clever replies were on the menu), he ranks as one of the most sought-after conductors who achieved longevity, with an acknowledged penchant, stylistic diversity- and amplitude-wise, for Romanian repertoire (Interpreţi din România [Romanian Performers], lexicon).

Emanuel Elenescu left us on June 17, 2003, aged 92, in his studio at 80 Popa Tatu Street, not far from the Romanian Radio to which he dedicated a great part of his artistic life.

Ştefan Costache