The Ridgefield Symphony Orchestra’s February 5, 2011 concert featured Mr. Rob Schwimmer, a professional theremin player. Few people have heard of the theremin, the very unique instrument that is played without ever touching it!
The theremin consists of a small electronic box with two antennas attached to it. The movement of the musician’s left hand controls the volume of the music, while the movement of the right hand creates the pitch. The theremin has been used in multiple ways over the years, whether it is as an eerie sound effect in Alfred Hitchcock movies, or as a melodic instrument in the Beach Boy’s “Good Vibrations”.
Perhaps the most amazing thing about the theremin is that Leon Theremin invented this electronic instrument way back in 1928 before either radio or television were in use.
The story of Leon Theremin is as interesting as the instrument itself. He was born in Russia, but lived in the United States as a young adult. He introduced New Yorkers to the theremin and played the instrument in Carnegie Hall and with the New York Philharmonic. He was allegedly captured one day by the KGB and disappeared without a trace for nearly 50 years. While hidden away in the Soviet Union, he worked on spy equipment for the Cold War among other things. When he was released, he was placed in the Moscow Conservatory where he continued to produce theremins, electronic cellos and other electronic devices. He was eventually fired from the Conservatory after an American journalist recognized him and an article about his whereabouts was published in the New York Times. The Russian government destroyed all the instruments and devices he created at the Conservatory. Theremin eventually returned to the United States and died in 1993.
The theremin underwent a rise in popularity after a documentary was released in 1993 about the life of Leon Theremin. The instrument is now widely available on the Internet.
Mr. Schwimmer is one of only a few professional theremin players.