Beryl Minnie Alexander was born in Coonamble, New South Wales during 1905, the only child of Joseph A and Henrietta F Alexander (née Maerker). Her parents had been married in Sydney in 1904. Joseph Alexander was a chemist and optician who operated his business in Castlereagh Street, Coonamble.
As a child Beryl Alexander attended St Brigid's Convent School. From an early age she showed great ability as a singer, dancer, pianist and elocutionist. The earliest review of one of her performances pasted into her scrapbook was from 'The Australian Bystander' of 3 December 1914 and read, "A tremendous hit was made at an entertainment at Coonamble recently, by Beryl Alexander. The child, who is 9, is very pretty, with long curly hair and sings, dances and recites beautifully." At the pupil's concert held at the Coonamble School of Arts on 27 November 1917 in aid of the War Chest Fund she was one of the stars of the show, singing two songs, 'I Don't Seem to Want You when You're with Me' and 'I'll Telephone to Santa Claus', and playing the main character, the Fairy Queen, in the play 'Fairy Play'. On 25 October 1920 at the 'Grand Concert' given by the children of the convent schools in St Patrick's Hall, Coonamble, she gave a recitation during the first part of the concert and then played the role of Biddy, "a faithful retainer who takes a special interest in the captain's welfare, but is deaf, and therefore unintentionally causes much distress" in the farcical comedy 'Pranks'.
About this time it appears Beryl Alexander was sent by her parents to Sydney to study music, singing, acting and elocution with various leading teachers. Over the next two or three years she studied pianoforte, harmony and counterpoint with S. Gordon Lavers, acting with Walter Bentley and Nellie Stewart, and singing with Nathalie Rosenwax. Her voice was described as a mezzo-soprano. She also studied elocution with Frank Down and Lucy M Bruntnell, and French conversation with Mademoiselle Chautard. At the time she was living at Santa Paula, 10 Lennox Street, Woollahra.
Press clippings of reviews pasted in her scrapbook show that she was performing on a regular basis in student recitals or amateur theatrical productions in Sydney. On 17 March 1921 at St James' Hall she played the role of Lilian in the comedy 'The Baby Farm' and also delivered a monologue entitled 'A Moment of Doubt' which the reviewer said was delivered with "cleverness and vivacity". In 'The Bulletin' of 8 September 1921 she was described as a "charming flapper with the fizzy hair and bright eyes". As a student of Frank Down, she performed at the King's Hall on Wednesday 11 May 1921 and was recalled four times after her rendition of 'Air de Mignon No. 3: Knowest Thou that Dear Land'. At an 'Invitation Pianoforte Recital' on Tuesday 26 July 1921 at the King's Hall by students of S. Gordon Lavers she played a duet with her music teacher. The review in 'The Daily Telegraph' described her as "a young lady who gives great promise. Her association with Mr Gordon Lavers (who played the orchestral part) in Mendelsshon's Concerto No. 1 G minor, was quite the feature of the evening." On 1 August 1921 Beryl Alexander appeared at the King's Hall in a 'Grand Concert' under the auspices of The Jewish Literary and Debating Society of Sydney in aid of the Jewish Memorial Hall and Institute and played three items at the piano, 'Plumstones', 'Mighty lak' a Rose' and 'Chestnuts'. Any reviews of her performances in Sydney were duly reported in the 'Coonamble Times' and one item stated that "Coonamble is indeed proud of this exceptionally clever young artist."
It appears at this early stage that Beryl Alexander was considering a career on the stage. She appeared in a number of amateur productions with the Walter Bentley Players including a performance of 'The Merchant of Venice' at Her Majesty's Theatre on Sunday 29 September 1921 in which she played the role of Balthazar, one of Portia's servants, and also sang a song called 'Tell me where fancy is bred'. The performance by the Walter Bentley Players was in aid of the Shakespeare Tercentenary Memorial Fund (New South Wales). She also appeared in amateur productions such as those put on by the Sydney Grammar School Amateur Dramatic Society. A letter from a friend pasted in her scrapbook also urges her to call on a member of the Tait family who it appears were aware of her work.
Music though remained her main interest. In 1922 Beryl Alexander sat for the local examination in music (advanced grade) for pianoforte and received a mark of 123 out of a possible 159. This placed her second in the order of merit and she was awarded the Sir William Vicars Exhibition of 15 pounds (advanced grade) by the Associated Board of the Royal Academy of Music and the Royal College of Music of London, England. The first placegetter was awarded the E M Woolley Scholarship which entitled the recipient to three years tuition at the Royal College of Music in London. When this woman declined the scholarship, it was awarded to Beryl Alexander. Presumably her intention at the time was to eventually take up the scholarship and in the meantime she continued studying and performing. On Friday 7 September 1923 at a grand concert at Coonamble to raise money for the Church of England she was one of the main attractions and the prospect of hearing her play the piano, sing and recite drew a large audience.
Sometime during 1923 Beryl Alexander met a Russian-born violinist named Mischa Dobrinski. He was the son of Leo and Chaya Bluma Dobrinski of Kremenchoug, Russia, and had studied at the Petrograd (St Petersburg) Conservatory under its director, Alexander Glazunov, and the renowned Austrian violinist, Leopold Auer. The Russian civil war ended his studies and he travelled the country as an itinerant musician playing with a folk singer. Sometimes Dobrinski would find himself in territory controlled by the Red Army; at other times he would be in an area controlled by the White Army. He finally reached Siberia and crossed the border into China, remaining in Harbin for 18 months as the conductor of a symphony orchestra. He then spent some years in Peking conducting and playing with a private orchestra before touring the Far East. He was first mentioned in the Sydney press in August 1923. Beryl Alexander and Mischa Dobrinski became engaged in January 1924. Around this time Beryl Alexander's family also decided to move back to Sydney and her father sold his business in Coonamble and opened a pharmacy on Oxford Street at Woollahra. The family began living at Birriga Road, Bellevue Hill. From this point on Beryl Alexander's musical career would be linked closely with that of Mischa Dobrinski. During a violin recital he gave at the King's Hall on 24 April 1924 Beryl was described as being "a careful and capable accompanist". Apart from his public performances, Mischa Dobrinski also taught violin through the music store Palings. He occupied Studio 43 on the third floor of the building. In advertisements he was described as a 'Professor of Violin', or a 'Teacher of Violin'.
On 21 December 1924 Beryl Alexander and Mischa Dobrinski were married at the Grand Synagogue in Sydney. They lived with the Alexander family in Birriga Road, Bellevue Hill. Mischa Dobrinski maintained an active concert program, often accompanied by his wife who was billed as Madame Dobrinski. He also continued to teach violin at Palings with his pupils prepared for concert performance, orchestral work, and examinations. Beryl Alexander also taught pianoforte. Concerts featuring Mischa Dobrinski's students were held on a regular basis with one of his star pupils, Harry Klass, moving to New York in 1925 to continue his musical studies. By 1927 Mischa Dobrinski had signed an exclusive recording contract with the Columbia Graphophone Company and his wife continued to accompany him during concerts and on his records. During 1928 Mischa Dobrinski took out Australian citizenship, interestingly at a time when there were claims in some newspapers that Australian musicians were being displaced by "foreign musicians".
In the late 1920s Mischa Dobrinski began to establish a name for himself on radio, especially on Sydney radio station 2FC. In August 1929, spurred by the example set by his fellow Russian émigré, the pianist Alexander Sverjensky, he began a series of one-hour lunch-time concerts with an ensemble that included his wife. In early 1930 he formed the Steck Instrumental Trio consisting of Mischa Dobrinski on violin, Gabriel Joffe on piano and Neil Marsh on cello for a similar series of concerts. In July 1930 he established the Steck Quartet String Quartet and in August of that year a string quintette which played a series of daily one hour chamber music recitals in the Grace Building, Sydney. During 1931 the Dobrinskis played a number of concerts in association with choral groups such as the Sydney Welsh Male Voice Choir, the Continental Choir and the Sydney Orpheus Society Male Choir.
Apart from their concert, recording and radio careers, during the 1930s the Dobrinskis also appeared in what was described as "a series of colourful stage presentations" at the Plaza, St James and Prince Edward theatres in Sydney and at the Capitol Theatre in Melbourne. Beryl appeared under either her maiden or married names. By 1935 the Dobrinskis were living at 9 Bellevue Park Road, Woollahra.
In mid 1938 Mischa Dobrinski formed Mischa Dobrinski and his Gypsy Serenaders. Their first engagement was at the Capitol Theatre in Melbourne as supporting entertainment for the Paramount movie, 'Her Jungle Love', which starred Dorothy Lamour and Ray Milland. It was during this season that the visiting international artists Richard Tauber and Percy Kahn heard Beryl sing and encouraged her to pursue a professional career as a singer. As a result she assumed the stage name, Beryl Brent. In the 'Wireless Weekly' of 23 December 1938 she was described as "a new artist in Australian radio" and an "unusually versatile artist, capable of singing from opera to musical comedy." Mischa Dobrinski and his Gypsy Serenaders brought their act to the Prince Edward Theatre, Sydney during October and November 1938 for a presentation entitled, 'On the Banks of the Volga'. A poster advertised the show as 'A Scintillating Music Song and Dance Presentation of "Old Russia"'. Beryl Alexander, or Beryl Brent as she was listed on the poster, played the piano as a member of the ensemble.
By 1939 the Dobrinskis had moved to Flat 5, 31 Nelson Street, Woollahra. During the war years they continued their recording, broadcasting and performing careers with Beryl Alexander performing either as a singer or as a pianist. Not a great deal is know about their work during the early years of the war but in 1940 Mischa Dobrinski formed a string ensemble to record a radio musical production called 'Live, Love and Laugh' for the National Broadcasting Corporation of New Zealand. This was later claimed to be the first time in Australia that a string ensemble was recorded for a series of radio programs.
From 1944 onward the Dobrinskis seem to have become more professionally active, probably mirroring the improved war situation. On Sunday 28 May 1944 as the Dobrinski Trio with Mischa Dobrinski playing violin, Beryl Alexander playing the piano and Jules van der Klei playing the cello, they participated in the first of a series of Sunday afternoon concerts for allied servicemen and their guests presented by the American Red Cross at the Sydney Town Hall. Mischa Dobrinski also developed a radio program for radio station 2CH called 'Melody Mosaic' which was broadcast every Monday and Wednesday evening from 9:15pm to 9:30pm between Monday 29 May 1944 and Monday 9 October 1944. It featured Mischa Dobrinski on violin, Beryl Alexander's singing, and the Dobrinski Ensemble and was sponsored by Sydney Snow Pty Ltd "as a gesture of goodwill and in appreciation of your gallant endurance through difficult times." In September 1944 Mischa Dobrinski and Beryl Alexander also began a radio program on radio station 2UE on Sunday evenings at 6pm called 'Violin and Solo' with Mischa Dobrinski on violin and Beryl Alexander singing. Engagement forms within the Alexander/Bobrinski archive also show that they were appearing regularly on radio station 2BL.
One of Mischa Dobrinski's most ambitious projects took place during the mid 1940s when he was commissioned by The Major Broadcasting Network - owner of 2FC and radio stations in other capital cities and major centres - to develop a series of 26 fifteen minute programs. The series was recorded in the studios of the Amalgamated Wireless (Australasia) Limited and contained a mix of musical styles and included what was described as "masters of yesterday", "modern composers" and "Gypsy, Russian, Scottish and Irish music."
In 1947 Mischa Dobrinski and Beryl Alexander took a voyage to Europe aboard the P&O liner 'Stratheden'. Beryl Alexander had at least one professional engagement during this trip at the Folkestone Marina in Folkestone, Kent, England on Sunday 21 September 1947 where she performed as part of a 'Celebrity Concert'. She was billed as "The famous Australian broadcasting artiste - Star of 'Melody Mosaic'"and as "The internationally famous Australian broadcasting artiste".
Nothing is known of Beryl Alexander's later musical career. For some years Mischa Dobrinski was the leader of the string section of George Trevare's Sydney State Theatre Orchestra. He retired from the music profession to work with a firm of clothing manufacturers. He died suddenly on 15 October 1969. Beryl Alexander/Dobrinski later married Frank Kirk. She died on 27 May 1987. Frank Kirk donated the Alexander/Dobrinski archive to the Powerhouse Museum in February 1995. He died on 7 September 2000.
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