Former Moscow Philharmonic Symphony Orchestra Violinist Yuri Sheykhet Dies at 85

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The late Yuri Sheyket practices his violin.

Courtesy / Robert Michaelson

The late Yuri Sheyket practices his violin.

Accomplished violinist Yuri Sheykhet has died at the age of 85. He was known for his love of classical music, his quirky sense of humor, and intellectual curiosity.

Sheykhet died Friday in hospice in San Antonio due to complications from heart disease.

Sheykhet was born into a family of professional musicians in Moscow in 1933. His father was the conductor of a jazz band in Moscow, and for Sheykhet, the violin was love at first sight. He started music school at the age of 5 and didn’t put down his violin until just a few days before his death. The joke in his family was that his parents had to come up with special treats to have him stop practicing.

He met his wife Zina Khiger, a fellow violinist, while both were studying at The Riga Conservatory. It took a lot of convincing, but eventually she agreed to marry him. In 1961 daughter, Anya, was born. They decided to make her a pianist, as two professional violinists needed a free accompanist in the family. Son Mark was born in 1973 and it was decided, even before his birth, that he would be a concert violinist.

Sheykhet’s dream came true when he got a violin position in the Moscow Philharmonic Symphony Orchestra in 1958, where he worked for over 40 years. Among the most memorable moments were the premier of the Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 13 under the baton of Kirill Kondrashin, and accompanying Van Cliburn when he won the International Tchaikovsky Competition.

His job took him all over the world when the Soviet Union was a closed country and very few others had same the opportunity. Sheykhet’s jokes were soul food for his orchestra colleagues and, over the years, became a part of the orchestra’s culture.

Sheykhet immigrated to the United States after retiring from his orchestra position in 2001 and was active as a musician in San Antonio as a part of the San Antonio Virtuosos piano quartet and through teaching numerous students.

In later years, despite developing health issues, he would still practice every day for hours and took his violin with him, even when he was hospitalized. The staff of Main Methodist remember the unforgettable picture of Sheykhet walking down the cardiology floor practicing his violin, his hospital gown not properly tied in the back.

Sheykhet infused the love and art of music in his children and grandchildren. His daughter is a concert pianist with a doctorate in music and the founder and artistic director of the performing arts nonprofit Musical Bridges Around the World. His son is a concert violinist and a talented visual artist. His grandson plays jazz piano for fun, and his granddaughters take piano lessons. His granddaughters stole his heart in later years and took a rightful place next to his love for violin.

He is survived by his wife Zina Khiger; sister Frida Dukarskaia and her husband Boris Dukarski; daughter Anya Grokhovski and her husband Dr. Robert Michaelson; son Mark Cheikhet, and three grandchildren: Arseni Grokhovski, Alice Cheikhet, and Eleanor Cheikhet.

He will be greatly missed.

Sheykhet’s burial will take place on Tuesday, June 11 at 11:30 a.m. at Rodfei Sholom Seminary, 703 Division Ave. Donations in his name can be sent to the San Antonio Symphony and Musical Bridges Around the World.

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