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Remembering a Great Musician

Member of the Reisman Trio dies

By Eric Shumsky Created: November 15, 2012 Last Updated: March 29, 2013
Related articles: Arts & Entertainment » Music
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Shirley Reisman (Courtesy of Mona Reisman Schoen)

Shirley Reisman (Courtesy of Mona Reisman Schoen)

Shirley Reisman-Klebanoff, a member of the famed Reisman Trio, came from an era that still had an undeniable link to an earlier time—a time when the horse and buggy vied with the motorcar and when the railroad still reigned supreme. 

For classical music in America, it was a golden romantic age—but it is one that is passing. Sadly, I lost my beautiful friend Shirley Reisman on Oct. 10. She died of respiratory ailments and other complications. 

The Reisman Trio were three sisters: Shirley, pianist; Mona, violinist; and Barbara, cellist. My father, violinist Oscar Shumsky coached the Reisman Trio for years and they were welcomed at our home as extended family.

As famous for their striking physical beauty as their exceptional musical abilities (In fact, the youngest of the three, Barbara, was chosen as Miss New Newark in the beauty pageant preliminaries to Miss America in the early 1950s), the sisters became one of the first all-female trios to tour.

In their heyday, Columbia Concert Artists Management Inc. (CAMI) sent the trio touring around the country to help establish networks for Community Concerts in America. Community Concerts were a feature of CAMI to develop concerts in smaller communities and were often used as a platform for up and coming young artists in whom they saw potential.

This was a time when the big bands raged and, I might add, racism did as well. The three sisters often put themselves in harms way playing in areas of the South where anti-Semitism thrived. The Reismans educated many American audiences at a time when performances in smaller communities rarely featured a Brahms trio or a Smetana trio.

Shirley’s father was a highly sensitive, gifted, and charismatic actor renowned for his extemporaneous soliloquies performed for enthusiastic audiences and often in imaginatively improvised settings for the Yiddish Theater. 

His performances surely offered a tonic to the weary immigrants whose pasts were so often horrifically tainted by brutality—a past in which monstrous bands of killers in pogroms raged. 

Shirley herself was a remarkable musician and studied piano with many legends of the time, including Wanda Landowska, one of the greatest interpreters of Bach, who incidentally greatly influenced Glen Gould. Shirley also worked with Robert Casadesus, Webster Aitken, Rudolf Firkusny, Myeczyslaw Horszowski, in addition to my father.

She played the way her father performed: She put her personal stamp on the music. 

Many formidable pianists today play Beethoven sonata cycles while touring—a feat as difficult as memorizing the New York telephone book (although certainly far more enjoyable). Yet pianists of today are not as likely as those from the great golden age of piano playing to put a personal stamp on the music they play. 

Shirley had a marvelous ear. I played for her many times, and although she was very hard to please, I knew her comments were spot on—she really cared about the beauty of the sound emerging.

To be able to shape a phrase is to be able to dance a form with no rough edges, to write poetry which rolls off the tongue. Shirley touched the keyboard in such a manner and one knew, just from listening, that she was no ordinary personality. 

Her touch was magnificent and her articulation uncanny. There exist very few of her recordings, and yet I own a live recording in which she plays a Mendelssohn piano Trio in D Minor from a Reisman Trio performance of the late 1950s.

Shirley Reisman was very happily married for a decade to Joseph Klebanoff, a well-known New Jersey businessman and a great lover of music. Joe was a pillar of support and really came to life when he heard a phrase turned perfectly by his highly gifted and beautiful wife. 

Mona Reisman Schoen is the only living member of the Reisman Trio. She and her husband William Schoen, a concert violist, are among Shirley’s survivors, as are her many fans and admirers, including this writer.

Eric Shumsky is a concert violist. For more information, see www.shumskymusic.com/eric-shumsky.html

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