The Spirit of the Oregon Symphony

by John Richards (former Principal Tuba)

Since the founding of the Orchestra in 1896, there have been ten music directors, each with his own unique gifts, whose tenures have culminated in an orchestra of unusual quality. Surprisingly, there have been players in the Orchestra who have played under eight of these ten conductors. This continuity of musicians contributes significantly to the personality of the Orchestra's sound and spirit.

During the course of the Orchestra's development, it has been — as it still is — blessed with musical giants. We remember the superb musicianship of flutists Robert Millard and John May, the great oboists Fred Starke, John Baldwin and Felix Kraus. The legacy of clarinetist Owen Sanders lives on in the Orchestra, as he was the teacher of no less than seven musicians who have occupied clarinet positions in the Orchestra. Richard (Dick) Webb will long be remembered for his artistry as bass clarinetist and solo saxophonist; his versatility included doubling on the bass trumpet when needed. Great bassoonists have included Roland Small, Marjorie Williams and Gordon Solie. Gordon’s scholarship made him a recognized authority on the music of Latin America.

Charles Dietz, who joined the Orchestra in 1935, lived to see no fewer than five of his students join the horn section of the Orchestra. As for former trumpeters, who will ever forget the superb playing of Marvin Nelson — later with the San Francisco, Oakland and Boston Pops orchestras — or Jim Smith, who is still active as a professional on the West Coast? Trombonists who come to mind include the great bass trombonist George Phillips, whose jazz recordings are now collectors’ items; and John Trudeau, former principal trombonist, respected conductor and teacher.

Nationally acclaimed, timpanist Joe Amato and percussionist Billy Weber were always admired by conductors and musicians throughout their long tenure starting in 1920 — as was the harp playing of Marion Fouse, who also played in the viola section.

Space permits naming but a few of those who have provided leadership to string sections, such as violinists Abe Berkovitz, Leo Skipton and Frank Potter; violist (and guitarist as needed) Glenn Reeves; cellists Ferdinand Sorenson and Roman Dukson; and bassists Charles Hase, Stephen Mala, and Herman Jobelmann.

In short, the present outstanding Orchestra — a collection of eighty-plus musicians, each selected by national auditions from among literally hundreds of applicants from America and foreign countries — is indebted to former great orchestra musicians who contributed high standards, leadership and inspiration.

Not to be forgotten are those fond memories of playing under each of our former conductors, including guests such as Mitropolous, Sevitsky, Otto Klemperer and Igor Stravinsky, to name just a few. We were made proud by the remarks of some of those distinguished guests, such as Mitropolous, who, after a first rehearsal, said, “This Orchestra plays a first reading equal to any orchestra and better than most.” A testament to the creative mind of many musicians was our experience while playing for Stravinsky when, in the middle of rehearsing Petrouchka, he stopped the Orchestra. Despite the fact that he had conducted the composition thousands of times, he said, “You played what is on the music, but did I really write that? I must revise! I must revise!”

Of all the remarks made to the Orchestra by a guest conductor, my favorite was made by one who will remain nameless. After hearing a particularly well played solo line, he said, “Oh! if only I could have played my instrument so beautifully, I would not have had to become a conductor.”

The process continues, and 40 years from now those who will then constitute the Orchestra will recall the contributions of Pops conductor/arranger Norman Leyden and Music Director James “Jimmy” DePreist, as well as our corrent Pops conductor Jeff Tyzik and Music Director and Conductor Carlos Kalmar.

The influence of present playing musicians will be remembered in the same way because of their musicianship and teaching. Through their influence will be forged the character of the orchestras of the future.

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