The Russian Jew American violinist, conductor and teacher, Richard Burgin, began the study of violin at age 6. After studying with Jakob Winetzki, a member of the Warsaw Philharmonic Society's first violin section, and with the great virtuoso Izydor Lotto in Poland, he moved to Germany to study with Joseph Joachim at the Advanced Academy for Music in Berlin from 1902 to 1904. He made his debut as a soloist with the Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra on December 7, 1903, when he was 11. After touring the USA as a soloist in 1907, he studied with Leopold Auer at the St. Petersburg Conservatory from 1908 to 1912, where he graduated in 1912 with the Large Silver Medal.
Richard Burgin served as concert-master with the Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra, but only in the summers, both while he was a student (1911? 1912?), and possibly in the summer of 1922. He continued to spend his summers in Europe throughout the 1920's and visited both Warsaw and Russia. However, he never served as regular concert-master of the Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra. He was concert-master of the Helsinki Symphony Orchestra from 1912 to 1915, the Christiana Philharmonic (now Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra) from 1916 to 1919, and the Stockholm Concert Society (now Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra) from 1916 to 1919. During those years, he played under under renowned conductors Max Fiedler and Arthur Nikisch, and composers Richard Strauss and Jean Sibelius.
In 1920, Richard Burgin emigrated to the USA. He became an American citizen in 1928 (before that he was a citizen of Russia). In 1922 he was appointed concert-master of the Boston Symphony Orchestra when Pierre Monteux was the Principal Conductor (1919-1924), and in 1934 became officially Assistant Conductor (although he regularly served as a Guest Conductor from 1924) during Serge Koussevitzky's tenure as Principal Conductor (1924-1949). Burgin became Associate Conductor of the Boston Symphony Orchestra in 1942 and remained such until 1967, serving as Associate Conductor for four seasons after his retirement as concert-master. Overall, he conducted the Boston Symphony Orchestra in more than 320 concerts in the USA, Australia and Japan, and was Associate Conductor for seven world premieres and 25 Boston premieres. He continued as concert-master through Charles Munch's tenure as principal conductor (1949-1962), retiring in May 1962 when Charles Munch went back to Europe to conduct until his death in 1968. Burgin's 40 years (1922-1962) are probably the longest tenure by a Boston Symphony Orchestra concert-master. In 1957, Burgin told TIME Magazine, "I know many virtuosos and I do not envy them. They tell me what it's like to play the same few pieces over and over and know they have to go here and then be there. Not for me. I like the orchestra."
As a violin soloist, Richard Burgin played the USA premiere of Sergei Prokofiev's Violin Concerto No. 1, in D major, Op. 19, on April 24, 1925, with the Boston Symphony Orchestra under Serge Koussevitzky. Serge Koussevitzky had conducted the world premiere of that masterpiece in Paris a couple of years earlier in one of his Concerts Koussevitzky, with his concert-master Darrieux playing the solo part after the otherwise great Bronislaw Huberman had spurned it as not virtuosic enough for his taste. Burgin gave also the American premiere of Paul Hindemith's Violin Concerto on April 19, 1940
Within a year of coming to Boston, Richard Burgin founded his own Burgin String Quartet. He also headed the string department of the New England Conservatory, a block away from the home of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, Symphony Hall, teaching both violin and conducting and, in 1953, conducting its student orchestra. Starting in 1959, he also taught at Boston University, where he lectured and conducted its chamber orchestra; and at the Berkshire Music Center, where he taught conducting. He was also the organizer of the academic program at the Berkshire Music Center in 1939-1940 and Director of the Orchestral Program at Tanglewood for many years. He was partiuclarly esteemed as a teacher; his most famous pupil is probably Sarah Caldwell, Boston organizer and director of operas. He also conducted the Portland, Maine Symphony.
After his retirement from the Boston Symphony Orchestra, Richard Burgin moved in 1962 to south Florida, where he was Eminent Professor of Violin at Florida State University (FSU) in Tallahassee from 1963 to 1972. While there, he formed the Florestan Quartet with his wife, violinist Ruth Posselt, as second violin. He also conducted the Florida State Chamber Orchestra from 1967 to 1971.
Among the several violins he owned and played was a 1744 Guarnerius Del Gesu which is unusual in that it is the only known Guarnerius made entirely of beech wood (instead of spruce and maple.) It is now somewhere in Europe. Richard Burgin was a chevalier officer of the French Légion d'honneur, and a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.
Richard Burgin married Ruth Posselt on July 3, 1940. Their son, Richard W. Burgin, is the author of numerous short-story collections and novels. Their daughter, Diana Lewis Burgin, is an author, and Professor of Russian at the University of Massachusetts Amherst; she had published a narrative poem Richard Burgin: A Life in Verse (Slavica Pub, 1989) relating her father's biography.