José Iturbi

b. 28 November 1895, Valencia, Spain, d. 28 June 1980, Los Angeles, California, USA. A child prodigy, Iturbi studied piano at the Paris Conservatoire de Musique and later taught at the Music Conservatory in Geneva. In 1929 he made his New York debut and, remaining based in the USA, at first concentrated on classical music, touring as a concert pianist. He made his debut as a conductor in Mexico City in 1933, later working also in this capacity including being principal conductor of the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra from 1936-44. In Hollywood from the mid-40s, he appeared in MGM’s Thousands Cheer (1943). Iturbi not only played classical music but also boogie-woogie, expectedly excelling at the former but faring badly at the latter. In 1944 he was in Adventure In Music and Two Girls And A Sailor, in which June Allyson, Jimmy Durante, Virginia O’Brien and the bands of Xavier Cugat and Harry James also appeared. In the same year’s Music For Millions, with Allyson, Durante and O’Brien, Iturbi took an orchestra through a selection of popular classics unhindered by much of a plot. A little better was Anchors Aweigh (1945), with Kelly, Grayson and Frank Sinatra. Also in 1945 came what many regard, with considerable justification, as the worst-ever Hollywood biopic, A Song To Remember. Saddled with an unintentionally hilarious script, it supposedly portrayed the life of classical composer Frederick Chopin. Iturbi provided the soundtrack piano playing for Cornel Wilde’s on-screen Chopin and on the heels of this, his record of the composer’s ‘Polonaise In A-Flat Major’ sold extremely well. Iturbi was also in Holiday In Mexico (1946, with Ilona Massey, Jane Powell and Cugat and his band) and Three Daring Daughters (1948, which also had Powell and in which Iturbi was called upon to act a leading role opposite the film’s star, Jeanette MacDonald). In 1949 Mario Lanza made his film debut opposite Grayson in MGM’s glossy musical romance, That Midnight Kiss (1949). Although the film’s score was by Bronislaw Kaper, Iturbi not only appeared on-screen but was also music supervisor. He continued to work, chiefly in the classical field, for some years before retiring. The city of his birth honours him with street names and in hosting, since 1976, the biennial José Iturbi Piano Competition.

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