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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Gopinko, Jascha (1891–1980)

by Helga M. Griffin

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 14, (MUP), 1996

Jascha Gopinko (1891-1980), violin teacher and orchestra conductor, was born on 15 December 1891 near Mogilev, Ukraine, Russia, son of Jewish parents Hirsch Gopinko, cloth manufacturer, and his wife Sarah, née Litvin. Probably tutored at home, at 16 Jascha won a violin competition in Moscow. He was a student of Pawel Kochanski's virtuoso classes at the Conservatory, Warsaw. To avoid being drafted into the Russian army, he went to sea and reached Melbourne in the Orvieto in August 1914. Although he was fluent in Russian, German and French, Gopinko spoke no English. In Sydney a Russian stranger befriended him and housed him with his family. Gopinko washed bottles in a factory before moving to Kurri Kurri. He was 'a terrible miner' and often poor, but his violin playing prompted fellow workers to ask him to teach their children.

Gopinko's enthusiasm for chamber music led him to found and conduct the Kurri Kurri mandolin orchestra, composed of miners. He began to instruct students in other instruments. Having founded the Cessnock Symphony Orchestra, he toured the region as its conductor. A varied classical repertoire gave players the opportunity to perform with visiting professional soloists like Joseph Post or to play solo themselves. At the Eastern Suburbs Central Synagogue, Sydney, on 16 June 1929 Gopinko married 23-year-old Rebecca Snidermann; he taught her to play the cello and she became his devoted helper. He was naturalized in 1930. In time his students began to win prizes locally and at the City of Sydney Eisteddfod; many were to occupy leading positions in orchestras and ensembles at home and abroad. Ernest Llewellyn (later director of the Canberra School of Music) was his most notable early success; other students included Leslie Chester, Ronald Ryder, Donald Blair and Nelson Cooke.

In 1936 the Gopinkos moved to Sydney where Jascha rented a studio at W. H. Paling & Co.'s buildings in Ash Street and taught unusually long hours. Twice a week he taught at Maitland. For many years Rebecca nursed him for an undiagnosed chronic ailment with the diet she daily brought by public transport. Consciously Jewish and liberal in outlook, the Gopinkos seldom attended the synagogue and lived in relative isolation, but the weekly ensemble rehearsals in their Double Bay home attracted uninvited footpath audiences. Gopinko gave advice freely to teachers who sought it, but had no time for the networks, the gossip and the envy which, he believed, characterized the musical profession. A dark-haired, attractive man of middle height, with a high forehead, fine hands and the eyes of a dreamer, he had a sense of humour and enjoyed being a tease. He built his tuition around a student's temperament and physique. Regardless of timetables, a lesson only finished when a specific goal was reached. His wife cooked meals for pupils (who frequently boarded free of charge) because 'You don't play well unless you feel good'.

Possessing perfect pitch, Gopinko avoided excessive vibrato and sentimentality, played with controlled passion and warmth, and sought to match style to a composer's 'intentions'. His student orchestra's 'clean attack and dignity of style' won praise. Its players learned to sight-read one another's scores, and took turns in performing solos at concerts which he arranged, sometimes for causes such as the Food for Britain Appeal (1948). Despite increasing deafness, Gopinko retained a few students in his eighties. Llewellyn placed him beside Leopold Auer, one of the greatest string teachers in the world. Survived by his wife, Gopinko died on 4 July 1980 at Rose Bay and was buried in Rookwood cemetery.

Select Bibliography

  • Australian Musical News, Sept 1935, Feb 1937, Oct 1939, Oct 1945, Feb, Nov, Dec 1947, Jan 1948
  • J. Gopinko naturalisation file, A1/1, item 1930/2121 (National Archives of Australia)
  • private information.

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Helga M. Griffin, 'Gopinko, Jascha (1891–1980)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1996, accessed online 23 September 2020.

This article has been amended since its original publication. View Original

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 14, (MUP), 1996

View the front pages for Volume 14

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