The outstanding Russian violinist and pedagogue, Leonid Borisovich Kogan, was the son of a photographer who was an amateur violinist. After showing an early interest and ability for violin playing, his family moved to Moscow, where he was able to further his studies. When he was 10 years old, the family moved to Moscow, where he became pupil of the noted violin pedagogue Abram Yampolsky, first at the Central Music School in (1934-1943), then at the Moscow Conservatory (1943-1948), Subsequently he pursued postgraduate studies with him (1948-1951).
In 1934, Jascha Heifetz played concerts in Moscow. "I attended every one," Leonid Kogan later said, "and can remember until now every note he played. He was the ideal artist for me." When Kogan was 12, Jacques Thibaud was in Moscow and heard him play. The French virtuoso predicted a great future for Kogan. His official debut was in 1941, playing Johannes Brahms' Violin Concerto with the Moscow Philharmonic Orchestra in the Great Hall of the Moscow Conservatory. At the age of 17, and while still a student, he performed throughout the USSR.
In 1947, Leonid Kogan was co-winner of the first prize at the World Festival of Democratic Youth in Prague. In 1951 he won first prize at the Queen Elizabeth Competition in Brussels with a dazzling performance of Paganini's first concerto that included an outstanding interpretation of Sauret's cadenza. His career vwas instantly assured. Hae pl,ayed in Europe to unanimous acclaim. His international solo tours took him to Paris and London in 1955, and then South America and the USA. He made an auspicious American debut playing J. Brahms' Violin Concerto with Pierre Monteux and the Boston Symphony Orchestra on January 10, 1958. Kogan had a repertoire of over 18 concerti and a number of concerti by modern composers were dedicated to him.
In 1952, Leonid Kogan began teaching at the Moscow Conservatory; was named Professor in 1953 and head of the violin department in 1969. Among his pupils there were Andrew Korsakov and Viktoria Mullova. In 1980 he was invited to teach at the Accademia Musicale Chigiana in Siena, Italy. He was made an Honoured Artist in 1955 and a People's Artist of the USSR in 1964. He received the Lenin Prize in 1965.
Leonid Kogan is considered to have been one of the greatest representatives of the Soviet School of violin playing, an emotionally romantic elan and melodious filigree of thechnical detail. A brilliant and compelling violinist, he shunned publicity. His career was always overshadowed by that of David Oistrakh, who was strongly promoted by the Soviet authorities.
Leonid Kogan married Elizabeth Gilels (sister of pianist Emil Gilels), also a concert violinist. His son, Pavel Kogan (b 1952) became a famous violinist and conductor. His daughter, Nina Kogan (b 1954), is a concert pianist and became the accompanist and sonata partner of her father at an early age. Kogan was Jewish. He died of a heart attack in the city of Mytishchi, while travelling by train between Moscow and Yaroslavl to a concert he was to perform with his son. Two days before, he had played the L.v. Beethoven's Violin Concerto in Vienna.
Many speculate that Leonid Kogan played on all steel strings, though there is not an outright confirmation. While his close associates indicate he played on gut strings with a steel 'e', it is most likely that he used different combinations over the course of his career. Kogan used two Guarneri del Gesù violins: the 1726 ex-Colin and the 1733 ex-Burmester. He used French bows by Dominique Peccatte. Kogan never actually owned these instruments; they were provided on loan from the Soviet government. Today they are worth more than $4 million USD.
Leonid Kogan formed a Trio with pianist Emil Gilels and cellist Rostropovich. Their recordings include L.v. Beethoven's Archduke Trio, Robert Schumann D minor Trio, Tchaikovsky's Trio, Camille Saint-Saëns' Trio, J. Brahms' Horn Trio with Yakov Shapiro (horn), and Gabriel Fauré C minor Quartet with Rudolf Barshai (viola). Kogan later formed another Trio with the conductor Svetlanov on piano and cellist Luzanov. Among hisd other chamberr music partners werre the pianists Sequeira Costa and Boris Petrushansky
Leonid Kogan was the first Soviet violinist to play and record Alban Berg's Violin Concerto ("To the memory of an angel"). He also made a famous recording of Khachaturian's Violin Concerto on RCA (his America debut recording), a version still considered the most exciting reading of the work. Kogan recorded violin concerti by other Soviet composers, including the two by Tikhon Khrennikov. With Karl Richter he recorded J.S. Bach's 6 Violin Sonatas (BWV 1014-1019) in 1972. There are more than 30 albums of his performances on the Arlecchino label. In 2006, EMI France issued a 4-CD box set ("Les Introuvables de Leonid Kogan") containing his concerto recordings for that label, all digitally remastered the same year. The EMI Kogan recordings from 1950's and 1960's used to belong to Columbia, who released about five stereo recordings of Kogan in the vinyl period: L.v. Beethoven's Violin Concerto, J. Brahms' Violin Concerto, Tchaikovskys Violin Concerto, Lalo's Symphonie espagnole and Leclar/Georg Philipp Telemann/Ysaye Sonatas for duo Violins. Nowadays, these Kogan records are among the most sought-after records for classical vinyl collectors. For example, the price of L.v. Beethoven's Violin Concerto record soars up to 10,000 dollars in eBay auctions.