Violinist Lynn Blakeslee, Professor Emerita at the Eastman School of Music of the University of Rochester, died Monday, Aug. 10, while teaching at a chamber music festival and violin workshop at Schloss Raabs in Austria. Having played a concert at the conclusion of the festival, she died of an anaphylactic reaction to a hornet sting, surrounded by her friends. She was 75 years old and had taught at Eastman from 1987 until she retired in 2013.
An internationally acclaimed soloist, Professor Blakeslee also was a chamber musician, festival and workshop founder, and teacher. She was born in Los Angeles and began violin studies at the age of four. In 1957, she was profiled on the KHJ-TV Los Angeles series Spotlight on Youth. After receiving her Bachelor of Music degree from the Curtis Institute of Music, she studied on a Fulbright grant at the Akademie für Musik und Darstellende Kunst in Vienna, where she earned a Concert Diploma with Distinction.
Professor Blakeslee spent 23 years abroad, performing in many of the major cities of Europe, including London, Vienna, Munich, and Berlin. During the Cold War, the U.S. State Department presented her in recitals in Budapest, Hungary, and Bucharest, Romania.
“Lynn Blakeslee was a much revered teacher, performer, and colleague,” said James VanDemark, professor of double bass and chair of Eastman’s strings, harp, and guitar department. “She was a terrific violinist who exemplified a phenomenal standard of artistry, technique, and musical insight that left all of us breathless. She was a devoted and demanding teacher, a colleague of wit and wisdom, and equally renowned for hosting wonderful faculty parties at her lovely home.”
Professor Blakeslee was a soloist with many orchestras, among them the Philadelphia Orchestra, the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the Wiener Ton-Künstler, and the Wiener Kammerorchester. A member of Die Wiener Solisten for many years, Professor Blakeslee was also concertmaster at Theater an der Wien and a member of the Wiener Kontrapunkte and the Deutsche Bach Solisten. While heading Chamber Music at the Mozarteum in Salzburg, she was also concertmaster of the chamber orchestra Cis.
For 15 years, Professor Blakeslee was first violinist of the Streichquintet Mozarteum, and together with ensemble members ran a chamber music festival and violin workshop during the summer at Schloss Raabs in Austria. The Quintet recorded for the Stuttgart Radio and produced a CD including works by Turina, Dvořák, and an unpublished work by Eugene Ysaye. Professor Blakeslee also recorded for the radio in France, Germany, Holland, and Austria, as well as for the Lyrinx label.
“Lynn was an extraordinary musician of the violin. As a teacher, she was extremely demanding and caring about her students, and was loved and respected by all of them,” said Professor of Violin Federico Agostini, former concertmaster of the Italian ensemble I Musici. “I will always remember our conversations about music, about the time she spent in Europe, the important musical personalities she met and the violin playing of these days.”
Professor Blakeslee’s teaching credits include the Mozarteum in Salzburg and its Summer Akademie, the Bruckner Konservatorium in Linz, Bowdoin Summer Music Festival, the Euro Music Academy Leipzig, the Casals Festival in Prades, France, the Sulzach-Rosenberg International Music Festival, and master classes at the Papageno School in Villarica, Chile.
“It’s impossible for me to overstate Lynn’s impact on my professional life,” said Zeneba Bowers, assistant principal second violin with the Nashville Symphony and artistic director of the Grammy-winning ALIAS Chamber Ensemble. Bowers received her bachelor’s and master’s degrees at Eastman in 1994 and 1996, respectively. “I learned so much from her about teaching, and being her graduate assistant remains one of the most important things I’ve ever done,” she noted. “I credit her with completely changing my technique, helping me diagnose technical problems in myself and others so I can solve problems on my own, and giving me the thick skin I needed to make it in this tough business. A compliment from her was something to treasure — you knew you earned it.”
Said William Knuth, “It is not common to find someone so wholly devoted to their students and to the greater concept of higher education. She had a creative clarity in her teaching style that broke down the complexity of the violin into a detailed map, easy to examine as a student and to use as a means of teaching yourself and others.” A soloist, chamber musician, and member of Duo Sonidos, Knuth received his bachelor’s degree at Eastman in 2004. “She always held her students to what she believed to be their highest potential, accepting nothing less while at the same time building a warm studio family. I have never worked so hard for or appreciated a compliment more than those from Lynn. She pushed me to achieve goals that I wasn’t aware I was capable of. I am deeply sorry to have lost an amazing teacher, mentor and friend.”
In addition to the Fulbright Grant, Professor Blakeslee was the recipient of a Martha Baird Rockefeller Grant and the Philadelphia Orchestra Award, and was a prizewinner at the International Musikwettbewerb, Vienna.
“Lynn Blakeslee was a dear, cherished colleague,” said Professor of German and Chair of the humanities department Reinhild Steingröver. “As a former Fulbright scholar herself, she was an early ambassador for international cultural exchange, through her many years as a facilitator of a summer violin institute in Austria, and her generous work on the Eastman Fulbright Committee. We will miss her indomitable spirit, warmth, and sense of humor.”
Professor Blakeslee is survived by her children, Elizabeth and Curtiss Calleo, as well as her grandchildren Zoë and Aidan Calleo.
There will be a memorial for her at Eastman School of Music on October 24 at 3 p.m. in Hatch Recital Hall. For more information, please visit the Eastman website.
Contributions may be made to the Lynn Blakeslee Scholarship at the Eastman School of Music and sent to the Office of Advancement, Eastman School of Music, 26 Gibbs St., Rochester, NY 14604
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