After the Russian Revolution of 1917, Milstein knew real poverty and hard times, but he found a supporter in the composer Alexander Glazunov and formed friendships with his young colleagues Vladimir Horowitz and Gregor Piatigorsky. In 1925 he and Horowitz toured Europe as a duo and in 1926 he received encouragement from the Belgian master Eugène Ysaÿe. Though his early success was built on performances of the Glazunov and Goldmark Concertos, of which he was always the leading exponent, he steadily expanded his repertoire. After his emigration to the United States in 1928, he never looked back, although he always kept one foot in Europe and after World War II was generally based in Paris or in London, where he died on 21 December 1992.
In the concert hall Milstein made a slim, focused, elegant sound in Baroque or Classical music, but was able to warm and broaden his tone for the Romantics. He was inevitably compared with his slightly older contemporary Jascha Heifetz; but in fact there was no comparison, as they were as unalike as two sides of a coin. Perhaps the main difference was that Heifetz’s personality had been damaged in childhood, whereas Milstein’s equanimity was founded on the knowledge that as a boy he had been loved, not exploited. This basic self-assurance and stability did not prevent him from having a delightfully dry and ironic, often self-deprecating, sense of humour. Although he made no claims to be a composer, or even to match Heifetz’s skill in making transcriptions, he did leave us some typically tasteful arrangements for the violin, and he was one of the last eminent players to write his own cadenzas.