“Bravura: The Life and Death of David Hochstein” will have nine performances between Nov. 8 and Nov. 18 at the Multi-use Community Cultural Center, 142 Atlantic Ave., Rochester, to mark the 100th anniversary of David Hochstein’s death.
Hochstein was born in 1892 to Jewish immigrants living on Rochester’s Joseph Avenue and graduated from East High School. Hailed as a violin prodigy, Hochstein studied with teachers in Europe through the patronage of Emily Sibley Watson and George Eastman. He played with what would later become the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra, taught at what later would become Eastman School of Music, and made his Carnegie Hall debut with a Stradivarius violin provided by Eastman.
A brilliant career in music seemed assured, but the U.S. entry into World War I in 1917 changed everything. Inspired by the “bravura” of the great composers he loved, 25-year-old Hochstein traded his violin for a rifle. He was killed a year later in the Argonne forest campaign and his remains were never found.
This is the true story that inspired Rochester playwright Stuart Loeb to write “Bravura: The Life and Death of David Hochstein.” He was in the midst of penning “Ashcakes,” his play about Frederick Douglass, when Grace Kraut — author of the Hochstein biography, “Unfinished Symphony” — asked him to consider writing a play about David. He soon became fascinated with Hochstein’s story, his family — including his aunt, Emma Goldman, the American anarchist — and the friends, teachers and soldiers who surrounded him. Loeb’s play is a fictionalized retelling of this time in Rochester’s history.
“Most of all, I wanted to probe the question, ‘Why did he enlist?’ David had a deferment to support his mother and his music career was really taking off. Then, when he was assigned to conduct the Army band, he requested officer training to become a second lieutenant so that he could fight instead. Why was he determined to be on the front lines?” Loeb said. “With the help of Tchaikovsky’s and Paganini’s music, the play brings David to life and explains how this great Rochester hero left his ‘bravura’ legacy as a performer, teacher and soldier.”
After years of research and rewrites, Loeb asked local director Donald Bartalo to take on the play’s premiere.
“I’m proud to dedicate this production to all Rochester military veterans, especially to the families of WWI soldiers who fought so bravely in the trenches of Europe,” said Bartalo, whose hummingbird theatre co. is a co-presenter with the MuCCC and artistic director John Borek. “I’m also proud of our wonderful, committed cast.”
That cast includes James Heath (David Hochstein), Denise Bartalo (Helena Hochstein), Stephanie Roosa (Emma Goldman), Richard Kendrick (Maj. Baldwin), Kate Osher (Ernestine), David Byrne (Leopold Auer/George Eastman), Reece Gurell (Boy), Rachel Brill (Lily), Larry Ploscowe (Pvt. Crawford/Sgt. Hopkins) and Jahaka Mindstorm (Pvt. Esposito).
The Hochstein School, which was founded in Hochstein’s honor two years after he died, will receive proceeds from the production.
“We are excited about Stuart’s play and the fact that it leads into our 100th anniversary in 2020,” said Margaret Quackenbush, executive director, who was able to arrange for Hochstein’s great-nephew, John Hochstein, to attend one of the performances. “It’s time for a new generation of Rochesterians to learn about David and his amazing legacy.”
“The story behind ‘Bravura’ is haunting and tragic, the music is beautiful, and it’s Rochester’s own history,” Loeb said. “I hope that audiences will discover another great local hero.”
The show will run at 7:30 p.m. on Nov. 8-10 and Nov. 14-17, as well as noon on Nov. 11 and 18. Tickets cost $15 in advance or $20 at the door. Group discounts are available.
Call (585) 450-9933 or visit bravuratheplay.com for information.