Tributes paid to legendary impresario Victor Hochhauser, who dies aged 95
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Tributes paid to legendary impresario Victor Hochhauser, who dies aged 95

Revered music promoter heralded as 'the only Jew who could make the Red Army dance', as his family pay respects saying they're 'feeling his loss greatly'

Stephen is the Jewish News' Foreign Editor

Lilian and Victor Hochhauser
Lilian and Victor Hochhauser

The family of legendary London impresario Victor Hochhauser this week paid tribute to “the only Jew who could make the Red Army dance,” after he passed away on Friday aged 95.

Speaking to Jewish News on Tuesday, his son Simon – a former president of the United Synagogue and co-chair of Milah UK – said the family was “feeling his loss greatly”.

Born in Slovakia, Victor’s parents were devout Jews and his grandfather was the chief rabbi of Hungary, but it was in England that he grew up after his industrialist father brought the family over in 1938.

After a spell in Gateshead, the young Victor came to London and discovered his calling towards the end of the war, when he put on a musical fundraiser for a local synagogue and secured unexpectedly well-known names.

Fast forward several months, throw in a £200 loan and add a healthy dose of chutzpah, and Victor was hiring the Albert Hall and booking the London Symphony Orchestra. It was just the start. Over the years, there was scarcely a talent in music or dance that he didn’t find an audience for, as he crossed the Iron Curtain in search of the biggest names of all.

“It was a fantastically full and long career,” said Simon. “He brought all of the great names to the UK. Not only that, they became personal family friends, in part because they were cut off from the West. Mstislav Rostropovich [a revered Russian cellist and conductor] even came to live with us when he was thrown out of the Soviet Union.”

Simon Hochhauser

That led to trouble – Victor was subsequently declared persona non grata in the USSR – but in truth the trouble had begun years earlier, when the Soviet authorities discovered that he had been helping Soviet Jews,

“He was in touch with a lot of Soviet Jews, including the Chief Rabbi,” said Simon. “He would take artefacts for them like Haggadot and arrange for matzahs to be sent, but he had to be careful. In the early days, we couldn’t even present [acclaimed Soviet ballet dancer] Rudolf Nureyev in the UK because Nureyev had jumped the wall, so to speak.”

Among the great musicians Simon’s father became close to was violinist Yehudi Menuhin, whose cut-price performance Victor secured after Menuhin’s then-manager underestimated the tenacity of the young impresario in 1947. “He saw me as a novice,” Victor later explained, a glint in his eye. He and Yehudi were friends for decades.

“My father virtually became Yehudi’s rabbinic adviser,” jokes Simon, recalling how Menuhin – a secular Jew who nevertheless took his Jewish identity seriously – would on occasion book concerts on days such as Rosh Hashanah, without realising.

Yehudi Menuhin

Just over a year earlier, Menuhin had gone to Bergen-Belsen with British composer Benjamin Britten to play for survivors, so had seen the horrors of the Holocaust up close and personal, and Simon said his father’s eyes were no less open.

“My father started his business in 1945 and worked out of Rabbi Schonfeld’s office. Dr Schonfeld had been rescuing hundreds of Jews from the remnants of European Jewry so he became very closely involved, and indeed met my mother through that.”

Victor married Lilian in 1949 and the pair worked together for 70 years. “It was a joint career, not just as husband and wife but as impresarios,” says Simon. “My mother is still working, putting on the Bolshoi Ballet this year at the Royal Opera – at the age of 92. It was a tremendous association both of business and of marriage and love.”

“It was a joint career, not just as husband and wife but as impresarios”

While Victor grew up with a strictly Orthodox background, and later had family both in the Charedi community and in modern-day Israel, Simon said his father “had very broad approach to life and was comfortable in the world”.

The family adhere to Orthodoxy and take a keen interest in all Jewish and Israeli matters, “but he was very comfortable in all walks of life, both the Jewish and the non-Jewish world”.

He was sharp, and despite the egos he had to manage, was able to tell people what they needed to hear, but he was also a very kind and warm person. “You’d expect me to say that of course, but he genuinely was,” says Simon. “He was tremendous with children. His great-grandchildren loved listening to his stories about his life in Eastern Europe and he loved telling them.”

He was tremendous with children. His great-grandchildren loved listening to his stories about his life in Eastern Europe and he loved telling them.

He passed on “Jewish values, family values, and a love of learning, because his ancestry was some of the greatest rabbis of the last 300 years,” says Simon, but asked what kind of a person his father was, he doesn’t hesitate.

“He was an extremely humourous man,” he says, smiling with memories. “He had this very Jewish-Yiddish sense of humour, very sardonic, a great wit. He saw humour in everything. He’d be driving along and the car in front would stop at a zebra crossing. He’d say ‘they’re doing a mitzvah at my expense.’ And because he used to bring the Red Army here, he used to boast that he was the only Jew who could make the Red Army dance.”

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