In Memoriam

It’s always humbling to write the annual In Memoriam feature for Polyphonic, but never more so than this year. The number of highly accomplished people associated with our field who were also remarkable human beings will be daunting for anyone who’s considered what their own obituary might look like.

Many of those who left us in 2013 lived to the Biblical threescore years and ten, if not beyond. And many of those were musicians with long and productive careers as members of their orchestras. Most of those who lived into their eighties had lives significantly altered by World War II, whether because of military service (and, in one case, time spent as a prisoner of war) or escaping the Holocaust – one musician, David Zauder of Cleveland, spent 5 years in a concentration camp, while another, Hans Landesmann, was sheltered by Hungarian monks. One musician, Rubin Sher, was a chaplain’s assistant who accepted the surrender of 100 German soldiers after ending up in a foxhole with two German officers who had decided the war was over for them, and then went on to play 30 years in the Louisville Orchestra, founding two youth orchestras in his spare time.

There were three deaths by accident; two on our list fell into Russian orchestra pits and one was killed in an automobile accident. There were three deaths in harness; one oboist and two singers who suffered catastrophic medical events while on stage. There was one murder, also in Russia. And there were several particularly heartbreaking cases; Frances Andrade, an English violinist, committed suicide after testifying against a music teacher who abused her, while Drew Thompson, the new contrabassoonist of the St. Louis Symphony, died of natural causes at the age of 27.

There were a fair number of people on the list I knew personally. Several I knew from AFM Conventions; John Grimes was an active Boston freelance timpanist as well as an officer of his local. Evelyn Robitaille was president of ROPA when I became ICSOM chair, and I very much enjoyed working with her before she retired from that position. David Schwarz was someone I knew solely in his capacity as RMA activist and trustee of the AFM-EP Fund; it was only after I got to know him that I learned just what a remarkable career he’d had as a violist. There were, in total, four on the list who’d served in official capacities within the AFM; a testament to how the AFM has changed over the decades to accept symphonic musicians as participants in the union’s governance.

There are two people I’d like to single out simply because they had a special impact on my life. The first is Richard Hackman. Richard was a Harvard professor with a deep interest in organizational dynamics. He came into the orchestra world through curiosity about the entrance of minority groups into formerly homogeneous bodies, picking as his particular subject the entrance of women into orchestras. He came to ICSOM in 1993, at the invitation of then-chairman Brad Buckley, to talk about a study he’d done about orchestras with two other researchers, and what else he learned about orchestras in the process. I found it absolutely fascinating, and raised a couple of questions in the ensuing discussion, after which he said “you wouldn’t happened to have trained as a sociologist by any chance?” – the kind of remark it’s hard to resist.  I saw him fairly often over the years since then, and profoundly enjoyed (and benefited from) every conversation I had with him. He made a unique contribution to our understanding of orchestras.

The second is Ambrose Yeung. When I was invited to sub in Hong Kong on almost impossibly short notice (replacing someone whose father had just been in a serious accident), Ambrose was, as personnel manager, the staffer I dealt with while I was there. It would be impossible to find, within the orchestral world or anywhere else, a warmer and more generous person. He took me to lunch at several of his favorite restaurants, none of which I would have discovered had I spent a year there, answered all my questions, handled much of my paperwork, and showed up at the hotel the morning I left to make sure everything was OK.

I had asked him for ideas for something local I could get as a gift for my wife, and he made several suggestions. When he asked, the day before I left, if I’d found something and I told him I hadn’t, he went and got it himself and brought it to me as I was leaving; a gesture of pure generosity of spirit. It’s not surprising that the management cancelled the orchestra’s performance the day of his death. I don’t think I could have gone on and played either.

About the author

Robert Levine
Robert Levine

Robert Levine has been the Principal Violist of the Milwaukee Symphony since September 1987. Before coming to Milwaukee Mr. Levine had been a member of the Orford String Quartet, Quartet-in-Residence at the University of Toronto, with whom he toured extensively throughout Canada, the United States, and South America. Prior to joining the Orford Quartet, Mr. Levine had served as Principal Violist of The Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra for six years. He has also performed with the San Francisco Symphony, the London Symphony of Canada, and the Oklahoma City Symphony, as well as serving as guest principal with the orchestras of Indianapolis and Hong Kong.

He has performed as soloist with the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra, The Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra, the Oklahoma City Symphony, the London Symphony of Canada, the Midsummer Mozart Festival (San Francisco), and numerous community orchestras in Northern California and Minnesota. He has also been featured on American Public Radio's nationally broadcast show "St. Paul Sunday Morning" on several occasions.

Mr. Levine has been an active chamber musician, having performed at the Festival Rolandseck in Germany, the Grand Teton Music Festival, the Palm Beach Festival, the "Strings in the Mountains" Festival in Colorado, and numerous concerts in the Twin Cities and Milwaukee. He has also been active in the field of new music, having commissioned and premiered works for viola and orchestra from Minnesota composers Janika Vandervelde and Libby Larsen.

Mr. Levine was chairman of the International Conference of Symphony and Opera Musicians from 1996 to 2002 and currently serves as President of the Milwaukee Musicians Association, Local 8 of the American Federation of Musicians, and as a member of the Board of Directors of the League of American Orchestras. He has written extensively about issues concerning orchestra musicians for publications of ICSOM, the AFM, the Symphony Orchestra Institute, and the League of American Orchestras.

Mr. Levine attended Stanford University and the Institute for Advanced Musical Studies in Switzerland. His primary teachers were Aaron Sten and Pamela Goldsmith. He also studied with Paul Doctor, Walter Trampler, Bruno Giuranna, and David Abel.

He lives with his wife Emily and his son Sam in Glendale.

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