Valeriy Vladimirovich Polekh was one of the leading Soviet horn players and teachers of his generation. He sang on his instrument, playing with lightness and mastery of technique. He led in the development of Soviet orchestral and solo wind playing and wrote magnificent pieces and exercises for the horn. He was known as an interpreter of the horn miniature.
Polekh was born in Moscow in 1918. Music was an important part of his family's life; he attended the Bolshoi as a child and played a balalaika at home. Polekh studied at the October Revolution Musical Technical School with Vasily Nickolaevich Solodyev and Anton Aleksandrovich Shetnikov, both members of the Bolshoi. In 1936 he played in the chamber theatre and gave his solo debut; the next year he studied at the Moscow Conservatory with Ferdinand Eckert, a Czech who had studied at the Prague Conservatory and settled in Moscow after a tour with an Austrian orchestra. The following year Polekh auditioned for the radio orchestra and became assistant principal. However, being drawn to opera, the next year he auditioned for the Bolshoi Theater and was accepted. The following year (1939), he began his compulsory service in the Red Army, playing in the Moscow army headquarters orchestra.
Polekh won the All-Soviet Union wind instrument solo competition in 1941 (while still in the army and on a borrowed horn), and in 1949 he won first prize at an international solo competition in Budapest when at a Festival of Youth and Students in Hungary with a Youth Symphonic Orchestra from Moscow.
Polekh was the inspiration for Gliere to write his concerto for horn, and Polekh gave the first performance in Leningrad in 1951 with Gliere conducting the Leningrad Radio Symphony Orchestra. The concerto is dedicated to Polekh, and Polekh wrote a cadenza that is in the style of the concerto and most often performed today.
Polekh toured with the Bolshoi to Covent Garden in London. He made the acquaintance of the horn players of the theater, who presented him with the music for the Britten Serenade. Polekh gave the first Russian performance of the Serenade in 1965 at the Moscow Conservatory.
Polekh played principal horn at the Bolshoi Theater in Moscow for 34 years and taught at the Moscow Conservatory beginning in 1981. He published a horn method and edited the Mozart horn concertos.
Polekh was elected an Honorary Member in 2002. Through the intercession of James Decker, his detailed autobiography (Your Valeriy Polekh, translated by David Gladen) is serialized in The Horn Call beginning in the February 2007 issue.