October 26, 2006
Leonid Hambro, 86, Pianist With an Astounding Memory, Dies
By DANIEL J. WAKIN
New York Times
Leonid Hambro, a concert pianist noted for his prodigious memory,
improvising genius and humorous musical desecrations as Victor
Borge's straight man, died on Monday in Manhattan. He was 86.
The cause was complications of head and vertebrae injuries suffered
in a fall six weeks ago, said his wife, Barbara Hambro.
As a pianist, Mr. Hambro had a huge repertory of pieces, most
committed to memory. He used his storehouse in impressive displays
called "Command Performances," in which he gave a list of a
hundred works to audience members and had them pick the program.
In a near-legendary episode, Mr. Hambro substituted for an ill
pianist in a concert of music by Paul Hindemith, conducted by
the composer, at Town Hall in 1952. The part was complex and
difficult, but Mr. Hambro had learned it in just 24 hours.
Hindemith told people in the audience that they had heard a
"kind of miracle."
Mr. Hambro had a distinguished conventional career, making more
than 100 recordings and touring worldwide. He played as a soloist
with the orchestras of Boston, Philadelphia, Chicago and London,
among many others. He was known especially as a sensitive and
skilled chamber musician, collaborating with soloists like Fritz
Kreisler, Jascha Heifetz, Isaac Stern, Leonard Rose and Pierre
For 17 years, he was a pianist for WQXR, the radio station owned
by The New York Times Company, playing live recitals and chamber
music on the air. He and another WQXR pianist, Jascha Zayde,
formed a duo that played throughout the 1960's.
But it was another partnership for which Mr. Hambro was best
known. The entertainer Victor Borge was looking for a foil for
his piano comedy act, and his producer recommended Mr. Hambro
in 1961. Mr. Hambro resisted, Mrs. Hambro said, but finally
gave in, although he made it clear he would continuing playing
serious concerts. ...