The Coast News Group
Michael and Irina Tseitlin, founders of the California Institute of Music. Since opening in 1990, the Institute has become the preeminent center for pre-college professional education in music. Photo by Lillian Cox
Arts Featured

Violin instruction is a family affair

FAIRBANKS RANCH — Violin intonations filter through the trees in this quiet pocket of the north coast where students throughout the region come to learn from the best. Since Michael and Irina Tseitlin founded the California Institute of Music in 1990, it has become the pre-eminent center for pre-college professional education in music. Alumni include David Chan (violist, Metropolitan Opera Orchestra; professor, The Juilliard School), Igor Gruppman (concertmaster, San Diego Symphony, London Symphony Orchestra, Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra), Erik Ulman (composer and lecturer, Stanford University) and Francesca Dego (violinist, Milan Conservatory Philharmonic).

Six-year-old Nathan Gendler represents the next wave of virtuosos and will be performing the music of Tchaikovsky, Paganini, Bouch and Ravel with his contemporaries at a Rising Stars Concert at 2:30 p.m. Dec. 22. The performance takes place in the Encinitas Library Community Room and is free.

Six-year-old Nathan Gendler is among the young virtuosos performing the music of Tchaikovsky, Paganini, Bouch and Ravel at a Rising Stars Concert at 2:30 p.m., Dec. 22 in the Encinitas Library Community Room. The performance is free. Photo courtesy of Nathan Gendler

Nathan’s mom, Rica Gendler, explains that it was her husband who wanted Nathan to learn the violin after experiencing what he described as a prophetic dream while she was pregnant. Nathan began instruction at the age of 3 1/2 but left his teacher when his parents felt he wasn’t progressing enough.

“My husband is Russian, and Michael and Irina were recommended by someone in the community,” she recalled. The only drawback was that they live in Los Angeles and Tseitlin was in North County.

“All the driving has been worth it,” she said. “Nathan has grown so fast under Michael’s instruction. I would never imagine that this would be possible.”

The Tseitlins have two sons, both in Los Angeles. Alexander is a violinist, conductor and composer. Paul “Pasha” is a concert violinist who performs throughout the world.

Michael Tseitlin recruited Pasha as part of Team Nathan.

“Michael decides how Nathan is going to play a new piece and Pasha executes what his father says needs to be done by working on intonation,” Rica Gendler explained. “It’s a group effort.”

Nathan describes Michael as “a pretty good teacher” because he’s made it fun to learn despite the “super long songs” and detail that can be hard on his nerves.

Michael and Irina Tseitlin are familiar with the pressures of being a child prodigy.

Michael Tseitlin was born into a musical family. His father Alexander Tseitlin was a composer and conductor at the Bolshoi Theater in Moscow and his mother, Valentina Abokumova, was a ballerina with the Bolshoi.

Since the age of 12, Irina Tseitlin established herself as one of Russia’s most promising young violinists, studying with Yuri Yankelevich at the Moscow Conservatory.

The two met at what Irina Tseitlin describes as a “gig” at the school.

“There was a quartet at the theater and I was supposed to play the first chair,” Michael Tseitlin remembered. “But Irina was already sitting there. I thought, ‘Well, I won’t make an issue out of it.’” He seated himself in the second chair.

A year later they were married. Afterwards, they left Russia, forced to leave behind their violins and everything else of value. They boarded a plane with only the clothes on their backs and flew to Vienna where friends waited to provide assistance. Subsequently, they moved to Rome and, in 1975, to Los Angeles.

“We arrived in L.A. with $50,” Michael Tseitlin said. “We had no money but we had great jobs lined up. Irina played with the Los Angeles Philharmonic. I taught at California State University Los Angeles.”

Around 1979, Michael Tseitlin’s mother was recruited as a choreographer with the San Diego Ballet.

“We drove down here to San Diego and liked what we saw,” Michael Tseitlin said smiling.

In addition to teaching master classes and chamber orchestra, Michael Tseitlin is a celebrated visual and multimedia artist. Irina teaches, and performs and records music as well.

“We also write children’s books together,” she said. “It’s very much the story of our family.”

After risking it all to leave their Russian homeland, Michael Tseitlin says he would do it again.

“We always believed in ourselves, but we didn’t know how successful we would be,” he said.

“When I visit Russia today, people ask me if I could live there again. I honestly say ‘no.’ It’s not because of economic reasons, but this is our home here and we are very grateful to this country.”

For more information visit or