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In Memoriam 2017
12 March 2017
Laura Flax, Renowned Soloist and Solo Clarinetist in the New York City Opera Orchestra, and Faculty at the Juilliard School and Bard College - In Memoriam
New York City USA
Clarinetist Laura Flax has been praised by the New York Times as
“one of those musicians for whom everything is not only possible, but easy.” She
is recognized as one of New York’s most distinguished and versatile players. Ms.
Flax is currently Principal clarinetist with the New York City Opera Orchestra,
the American Symphony Orchestra and the Bard Festival Orchestra. Formerly, a
member of the San Francisco and San Diego Symphonies, Ms. Flax was been a
frequent guest with the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, The New York Philharmonic,
St. Luke’s, Orpheus, and American Composers Orchestras. Her solo appearances
include performances with the Jerusalem Symphony, Bard Festival Orchestra,
American Symphony Orchestra, and the Puerto Rico Symphony. A member of the
Naumburg award winning Da Capo Chamber Players for twenty years, Ms Flax was
involved in over 100 premieres including works by Joan Tower, Shulamit Ran,
Philip Glass and Elliott Carter. She has given master classes and recitals
throughout the country at institutions and chamber music societies including
Eastman School of Music, Pittsburgh Chamber Music Society, University of
Chicago, Weill Hall, and MIT. As a chamber artist, Ms. Flax has appeared
regularly with Jaime Laredo and Friends series, Suzuki and Friends in
Indianapolis, Da Camera of Houston, and with the Bard Music Festival. As an
active proponent of new music Ms. Flax gave the NY Premiere of the Concerto for
Clarinet, Violin, and Horn by Aarre Merikanto at the Bard Music Festival. She
also gave the United States Premiere of Shulamit Ran’s Clarinet Concerto with
the American Symphony and received this review “Ms. Flax’s performance was
literally breathtaking. Her leaps from low to high, soft to loud, or from coy to
terrified, were spellbinding, as was her virtuosity and musicianship.”.
Ms. Flax is on the faculty of the Bard College Conservatory and The Juilliard Pre-College. Her recording of Joan Tower’s Wings is available on the CRI label and music of Shulamit Ran on Bridge records. Ms. Flax’s twin daughters Amalie and Fanny are music performance majors at the Bard College Conservatory.
Solo and Orchestral Reviews:
“ Another high point of the concert was Joan Tower’s
Wings, a graphic clarinet solo,
dazzlingly played by
Laura Flax …” Andrew Porter, The New Yorker Magazine.
“Ms. Flax had ample opportunity to display her considerable prowess in modulating tonal color, spinning fluid lines, and regulating dynamics.“ Peter G. Davis, New York Times
“ Right from the first, at the opening performance of La Clemenza di Tito, the musical caliber was high. The important solos on clarinet and basset horn were beautifully phrased by Laura Flax.” Paul Griffiths, New York Times
“…and Laura Flax, the principal clarinetist, played brilliantly in exposed solos” Steve Smith, New York Times
“If by the way you hadn’t yet noticed the superb playing of the orchestra’s new principal clarinetist, Laura Flax, just about anything she played in the Serenade would have made a believer out of you.” John Willett, San Diego Magazine
“Laura Flax is one of the few classically trained clarinetists who can match the screechy brilliance of Benny Goodman’s original performance of Bartok’s Contrasts.”
Victor Landau, Poughkeepsie Journal
“….and Laura Flax, with her warmth and long line, made the glorious clarinet rhapsody a song of her own.” Paul Griffiths, New York Times
“A seventh important solo voice came from the orchestra: Laura Flax, who played the prominent clarinet and basset horn solos exquisitely.” Peter G. Davis, New York Magazine
A Tribute to Laura Flax from friend and colleague Alan R Kay
The world lost a beautiful soul
this morning. Laura brought unwavering strength, love and humor to everything
and everyone she touched. She was not only a tremendously gifted musician whose
playing and teaching touched and inspired so many of us: she truly loved and
cherished music and the people who make it. I was so fortunate to have been her
colleague at Juilliard for many years and to have had the privilege of playing
with her on many occasions. She was a fabulous mother to her two wonderful
daughters and had such love and respect for them. I have always loved teaching
Shulamit Ran's "Monologue: For an Actor" and Joan Tower's "Wings" because they
bear Laura Flax's name as the dedicatee. Those pieces will take on an air of
sadness now, but the gift of having known this remarkable woman will last
22 February 2017
Jeffrey Lerner - Solo Clarinetist Emeritus in the Houston Symphony and Professor at the University of Houston - In Memoriam
Houston, Texas USA
Jeffrey Lerner enlisted in the US Army on his eighteenth birthday on January 15, 1946. He desired to serve his country even though WWII had officially ended. The time in the service allowed him to further his musical training towards the goal of becoming a professional musician. He continued his studies with world-renowned Daniel Bonade, took an evening theory course at The Julliard School, and performed acoustic bass with the Jack Moore Trio. Jeffrey holds two degrees from The Julliard School and is well known as a clarinet and saxophone soloist and clinician. Jeffrey performed with the New York City Opera and the Goldman Band. He was the principal clarinetist with the Texas Opera Theater; the Houston Ballet Orchestra; the Houston Symphony Orchestra; and the Houston Grand Opera Orchestra for many years; a founding member of the Winds of Texas. He was a Professor of Music at the University of Houston Moores School of Music for over 50 years, Jeffrey was honored to be named Professor Emeritus of clarinet and saxophone upon his retirement. Jeffrey was beloved and widely recognized as a performer, teacher, mentor, and leader in the music world in Houston, throughout the United States, and abroad.
21 February 2017
Stanislaw Skrowaczewski, Renowned composer and Conductor - Minnesota Orchestra's conductor laureate - In Memoriam
Minnesota Orchestra Conductor Laureate Stanislaw Skrowaczewski has died. He was 93.
Skrowaczewski came to Minnesota decades ago to lead what was then the Minneapolis Symphony Orchestra, and he never left. He changed the face of classical music in Minnesota, and remained a towering presence in the classical music world until the end.
He had fallen in love with music while very young, as a boy in Poland.
"When I was 4 I started to play piano myself," he told MPR in 1997. "Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven. Sonatas, sonatinas, chamber music."
The music touched him in a way probably few of us can understand. He told a story of something that happened to him in the street one day:
"Being 7, I heard something on the street, in an open window, in the summer, from the radio, that completely impressed me so much that I became very sick, physically sick," he recalled. "For three days, with a high temperature. It was Bruckner's Seventh Adagio."
That bolt from the blue began a lifelong love of the composer's work. Skrowaczewski also began composing his own music at that early age. He became well known as a performer, and eventually planned a career as a concert pianist.
That dream ended during World War II, when a bomb sent a wall crashing down on one of his hands.
He turned instead to conducting, which led him to the Warsaw National Orchestra, then to Cleveland, and finally to Minnesota.
In 1960, he took over as music director of the Minneapolis Symphony, a job he held until 1979, when he became the Minnesota Orchestra's conductor laureate.
He conducted the orchestra at least once a year from then on. He also led independent concerts by the orchestra's musicians during the lockout that ended three years ago, and conducted the first two concerts after the contract settlement.
Skrowaczewski championed new music, and it was he who declared the acoustics of Northrop Auditorium, where the Minneapolis Symphony had played for decades, unacceptable. When asked how they could be improved, he had a one-word answer: "Dynamite."
The years-long drive to build and open Orchestra Hall was one highlight of his tenure in Minnesota.
In 1979, he told MPR that it was shock at first to play in the new hall because it sounded so much better.
"The Northrop was only loud and soft," he said. "When it was too soft, no one could hear at all, and when it was loud, what you hear there was only brass and percussions, no strings. In this hall we can have a very fine texture and performances."
Critics welcomed the improvement in the hall and the resulting improvement in the orchestra, too.
The symphony also was renamed the Minnesota Orchestra while Skrowaczewski was at the helm, although he later said that was a board decision, and he was not consulted.
Lea Foli, concertmaster in the late 1970s, said he believed Scrowaczewski knew 20 or 30 symphonies by heart.
"I can't think of another practicing conductor that has a bigger repertoire or greater depth of understanding of what he is doing," Foli said.
When he finally stepped down after 19 years as music director, Skrowaczewski was seen by some as the last of the breed of conductors who led their orchestras for decades. He became the Minnesota Orchestra's conductor laureate, and appeared with the orchestra at least once a year.
After stepping down as music director in Minnesota, he followed a hectic international schedule, conducting all over the world. He was particularly popular in Japan, where fans celebrated his 90th birthday by inviting him to conduct a series of concerts.
"Composing is the heart of who he is, but he spent a lot more time conducting," Skrowaczewski biographer Fred Harris said. "That insight into music by being both a conductor and a composer makes him special."
Three years ago, a German label released a 28-CD collection of Skrowaczewski recordings, including performances of Beethoven, Bruckner, Schumann, Bartok and Berlioz, as well as his own compositions. The set shows the remarkable scope of Skrowaczewski's work, said Harris, who spent more than a decade writing the conductor's biography, "Seeking the Infinite."
In his later years, Skrowaczewski often looked frail as he walked on stage, but said when he stood on the podium he felt rejuvenated, lifted by the music he loved so much. In 2014, at age 90, he said people just kept asking him to come back.
"And they realize that any moment I can just say, 'I have to stop, and this is it,'" he said. "And if it goes well, why not?"
Skrowaczewski played his last concert with the Minnesota Orchestra in October. The program included his beloved Bruckner.
4 February 2017
Gervase de Peyer - World Renowned Clarinet Soloist and Former Solo Clarinetist in the London Symphony - In Memoriam
Gervase de Peyer is one of the great instrumentalists of the second half of the twentieth century. In 1956, maestro Josef Krips selected Gervase de Peyer as his principal clarinetist for the London Symphony Orchestra (LSO). De Peyer held this position for seventeen years, while continuing an active solo and chamber music career, during what was acknowledged to be one of the high points of the LSO's history.
A mark of his eminence is that de Peyer toured as the chosen soloist with both Paul Hindemith and Aaron Copland when those composers conducted their own clarinet concertos. The clarinetist also recorded the Première Rhapsodie for Orchestra avec Clarinet Principale en Sib in the series of Debussy orchestral works conducted by Pierre Boulez, with the Philharmonia Orchestra. Later, in the 1970s, Gervase de Peyer moved to live and work in the USA, first of all in New York.
In May, 2005, I discovered that Gervase de Peyer was once again based in London, though still making American appearances. Eventually, on a sunny spring day, I met the clarinetist at his comfortable apartment beside the River Thames, within sight of London's Tower Bridge, where much of the following interview took place.
Charming and personable, with impeccable manners and courtesy, Gervase received me in his living room. Several opened boxes of clarinet reeds lay on one of the tables, together with sheaves of music and a copy of Richard Morrison's book: Orchestra: The LSO - a Century of Triumph and Turbulence (1). De Peyer had just attended the LSO's one hundred year celebration in London.
During our conversation we were joined by Gervase's charming wife Katia, who provided generous hospitality and refreshment. Together we spent several hours chatting. As a child, Gervase lived in London before the war, with his parents. "There was a co-educational school across Hampstead Heath called King Alfred's," he said. "In a way it was unusual because it was a private school, and a new form of open education. You know, everybody called everyone by their first names - teachers as well. I'd really hardly thought about playing the clarinet, because I was having private piano lessons. I loved music, but was not thinking of another instrument, until the school asked me to take up a wind instrument. Flute, oboe, clarinet or bassoon - I could choose the one I liked best.
"So I thought about that for a bit, and decided it should be the clarinet. I started having lessons with a lady who was a disaster, but I found another teacher with whom I got on well. Years later, when I joined for a short period the Sadler's Wells Opera Orchestra, I again met with this charming and amusing man who sat beside me playing as second and bass clarinetist, Mr. Wilfred Hamilton. For many years he was a member of the Philharmonia Orchestra.
"I had a lovely piano teacher named Mabel Floyd (2). She was a darling and seemed to take to me. So I got on quite well with the piano. By the time I took up the clarinet I had in fact played the piano at the Wigmore Hall. Mabel Floyd had a concert there every year, with her pupils.
"I was also inspired by Ethel Bartlett, who was my mother's older sister, and was half of a team called Bartlett and Robertson (3). They were duo pianists, the first really famous duo piano soloists in the world to make a big career. I don't think it had ever been done.
"Vronsky and Babin followed them along (4), but until 1954 Bartlett and Robertson were the reigning international duo piano team. I remember going to the Wigmore Hall not only to play my own little pieces but also when they gave a recital. They would give first performances of big pieces on two pianos. I was absolutely thrilled."
"They were great friends, and came down to visit us in the summer holidays. But I became fascinated by their playing. I loved it very much." Gervase points to a pencil drawing of Ethel Bartlett by Laura Knight (5), a famous painter of the time who was a friend of the family's.
"The relationship that I had with Laura Knight was first of all through these duo pianists. Laura Knight heard me play in one of the concerts at the Wigmore Hall - so we became friendly. When I had remarried in the late 1960s I was looking for a house. I heard that Laura Knight had died. I knew her lovely house in St John's Wood and was very glad to be able to buy it.
"The contact with the artistic side of London was really wonderful. Both my parents were singers, not particularly successful ones. My mother was very talented, but lost her voice due to bad training. She couldn't talk. As a part of my childhood I can remember her hardly talking. It was pretty grim. She finally got over that.
"At Bedales, after taking school certificate, I won a scholarship for both piano and clarinet to the Royal College of Music. I studied there for a year, having clarinet lessons with Frederick Thurston, piano lessons with Arthur Alexander. One of the deputies who came along to teach me harmony was Ralph Vaughan Williams. He was absolutely charming, an absolutely delightful person, so quiet and humble, and really openly generous-hearted. I brought along a harmony exercise. He was rather slow, and very quiet. He studied this carefully and played a little bit on the piano. Then he said: "I hope you will have the patience. I'm just going to write you something." So he then wrote out an exercise on the same melody. I thought it was absolutely beautiful. I wish I'd kept it, but it got lost."
Another eminent composer who was part of that circle was Arnold Bax. "One couldn't help meeting Bax in one particular spot in London, which was The Glue Pot - the pub just round the corner from the BBC," says de Peyer. "I was extremely young at the time, and quite surprised to find Bax already pretty inebriated!"
De Peyer got into the Royal Marines Band Service (RMBS) at eighteen, without even requiring an audition. This was not so surprising, because they did have their own training scheme. Naturally, they trusted the Royal College of Music's recommendation.
As a wartime measure the RMBS had evacuated to Scarborough in Yorkshire. There it occupied the two best hotels in town, overlooking the North Sea. "Our duties were not arduous," says de Peyer. "Some band rehearsals and concerts in the town, a three-week tour in the fall of 1944 from Hamburg and down the North Sea coast of Germany, which was by then occupied by the Allies. We were playing for the occupation soldiers and any Germans who cared to attend; a rather dejected and miserable group did so. Early in 1945, I learned I was to be sent to the Pacific. The purpose was to join a heavy cruiser needing extra musicians, and we would travel on a troopship. So I was going out to Japan, which is a journey I'll never forget," he says. "The Royal Marine Band Service was to take me half around the world, on an old boat that creaked its way down the Bay of Biscay into the Mediterranean.
"It wasn't the first time I'd been so far. I had already spent several summers in France, on the southern end of the Bay of Biscay, south of Bordeaux, before the war. In fact, we'd almost got stuck in 1939. We'd gone down there by car, and got back just in time to listen to the broadcast declaration of war that weekend. It made a big impression on me; the thing that thrilled me about the place, as a kid, was that there was a professional tennis championship which I watched with much excitement. I kept up my interest in tennis, which I used to play rather well. At Bedales School, they said, 'If he doesn't want to be a musician he can be a tennis player.' "
I asked if Gervase considers there to be any connection between athleticism and playing a musical instrument. "I think there is," he says. "It's a case of physical and mental coordination. It helps if one is physically alert and the muscles are working well."
But the Royal College of Music, and tennis at Bedales, was a long way from life on a heavy old troopship, packed with sailors and soldiers, all going to the Far East as reinforcements for some of the ships who had casualties during the fighting," he explains.
"Our old ship broke down after coming into the Red Sea through Suez, and had to call in for repairs. After this delay, we arrived in the Indian Ocean and the whole ship's company was summoned to muster on deck. The commanding officer told us of the atomic bomb explosion in Japan. That was August 1945. I was absolutely amazed and horrified but I knew that we were not going to fight the Japanese much longer. By the time we got to Trincomalee, in southern Ceylon, about a week later, we disembarked the ship. I hadn't even unpacked when I was called to play in the officer's mess. The Japanese had capitulated.
"There I was with an upright piano, and three musicians who had no music, but we were asked to play anyway. I drank myself out of the Japanese war. I was absolutely plastered. I don't remember the end of the day. I think I was carried back to the barracks. I realized how bad you did feel if you did get properly drunk. I've never done it so much again, ever.
"I stayed for six months in Colombo, as people who had been fighting in the Pacific had preferential passage back to Europe. I gave the first classical music broadcasts from Colombo while I was there."
Gervase de Peyer then came back to the Royal College of Music, to the same teachers as previously. They were the clarinetist Frederick Thurston, and the pianist Arthur Alexander. "Almost immediately I was offered work with Sir Thomas Beecham's Royal Philharmonic, whenever they needed an extra clarinet. The manager of the Orchestra was John Amis. The wind players included Gerald Jackson flute, Leon Goossens or Terence McDonald on oboe, Gwydion Brooke on bassoon, Dennis Brain or Alan Civil on horn, and they had recently appointed Jack Brymer as principal clarinet.
"At that time, William Glock had become music director of the BBC Third Programme and he also ran the Dartington Summer School Festival. This is where I met him, thanks to his assistant John Amis."
"This was all going on while I was at the RCM. After two-and-a half years there I decided to study in Paris with Louis Cahuzac.(6) This widened my horizons a bit.
"The pianist Cyril Preedy had been a fellow student at the RCM. I'd had an offer to go to one of the Oxford colleges to play. I'd heard him, thought he was extremely brilliant, and asked him whether he would be interested to play together. I was quite astonished when I first went to his place for a rehearsal. It was in Notting Hill Gate, and it was one of the conversions down a little alleyway, which had formerly been a garage road. Quite a lot of the garages had been adapted as houses as well. There, to my utter astonishment, one of the upper rooms in these tiny houses was almost totally occupied by a grand piano. Amazing! This was where Cyril used to practice, and where we started to rehearse for that concert in Oxford."
My friend the violist Cecil Aronowitz, who was working in a group called the Wigmore Ensemble, asked me to deputize for [clarinetist] Sydney Fell, to do an audition for the Arts Council of Great Britain.
The audition was successful and proved to be invaluable for me personally, since a month or two later I was phoned up and told that the Arts Council was forming a group called Music in Miniature, which was going to be a concert version of a broadcast which had been going on for years at the BBC. It was half an hour only. During that half hour there was non-stop music, all of it rather short things, not a whole work, but a movement, maybe, of a symphony. This program had been copied by the Arts Council as a Music in Miniature on tour. It consisted of a cellist, Vivian Joseph, a violinist Ivri Gitles, the pianist Margaret Chamberlain, clarinet - I'd been asked for - and a singer, who varied from tour to tour. This was exciting news for me, and I came back from Paris to do an audition with this group.
9 January 2017
George Silfies, Renowned Solo Clarinetist in the St Louis Symphony and many Orchestras including the Cleveland Orchestra under George Szell and the Metropolitan Opera and as a respected Pedagogue - In Memoriam
University City, Missouri
George Silfies was born to make music.
“He really was nuts about music,” said Sue Silfies, his wife of 64 years, “and he listened to it and played it as much as he could.”
Mr. Silfies, principal clarinet of the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra from 1970 until he retired on his 76th birthday in 2004, began piano lessons at the age of 5 but was such a good sight-reader that he didn’t need lessons for long.
At 12, he took up the clarinet, the instrument he was born to play, and never put it down.
Mr. Silfies died Jan. 9 (2017) of a heart attack at his home in University City. He was 88.
Born in Allentown, Pa., Mr. Silfies was accepted at the notoriously choosy Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia and graduated three years later, at 20. He immediately got a job with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra and met his wife, a piano student at the Peabody Conservatory.
Mr. Silfies spent his military service during the Korean War in the U.S. Navy Concert Band, one of the world’s premiere wind ensembles. Soon after his discharge, Mr. Silfies was offered the assistant principal clarinet position in the Cleveland Orchestra, under famed music director George Szell.
After seven years, Sue Silfies said, “he was tired of playing assistant, so we decided to go to New York and freelance.”
Mr. Silfies had a steady gig at New York City Opera, but he often substituted at the Metropolitan Opera.
Both of them worked at the Santa Fe Opera in the summer, as did the then-concertmaster of the SLSO. He told Mr. Silfies that the orchestra needed a principal clarinet and suggested that he audition. The orchestra paid for Mr. Silfies to come and audition, and hired him immediately.
“George was an immense musician. He was a force,” said SLSO associate clarinet Diana Haskell, a friend and colleague. “His piano skills were amazing, his clarinet skills were astounding, his sight-reading was brilliant and he was a very good conductor. He was also hysterically funny.”
Mr. Silfies was featured on many recordings, of both orchestral and chamber music.
“His best recordings were made here,” mostly with Leonard Slatkin and the SLSO, Sue Silfies said. Those included works by Brahms, Mozart and Beethoven, among others, as well as a witty rendition of George Gershwin’s “Walking the Dog.”
Mr. Silfies appeared as a soloist with the Philadelphia Orchestra and the Cleveland Orchestra, as well as with the SLSO, where he was featured in concertos by composers ranging from Mozart to Dominick Argento, whose “Capriccio: Rossini in Paris” for Clarinet and Orchestra was commissioned by the orchestra specifically for Mr. Silfies. As a pianist, he worked with artists including Pablo Casals, Robert Shaw, Alexander Schneider, Richard Lewis and Claudine Carlson.
Mr. Silfies served on music faculties wherever he was, most recently for the former St. Louis Conservatory and School for the Arts (now the Webster University Music School), where he was the artistic director of the Artists Diploma Program. Many of his former students have been principal or assistant principals in orchestras around the country, including the New York Philharmonic, the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra and others.
Said Haskell: “George always said, ‘It’s got to be fun. Playing the clarinet should be fun.’ I think he demonstrated that every day, no matter what instrument he was playing. In the end, that’s really what it’s all about — to share that joy and fun with our audience and with each other.”
4 January 2017
Georges Prêtre - Renowned French Conductor - In Memoriam
The veteran conductor Georges Prêtre has died at his home in the South West of France; he was 92. He is perhaps best known as the conductor of two of Maria Callas’s late recordings, both made for EMI in 1964: her first of Bizet’s Carmen and the remake of Puccini’s Tosca. He also conducted her Paris gala in 1959.
Born in Waziers in the north of France, Prêtre studied at the Paris Conservatoire, harmony with Maurice Duruflé and conducting with André Cluytens. He made his conducting debut at the Opéra de Marseille in 1946, and then at Lyons and Toulouse. His Paris debut followed with Richard Strauss’s Capriccio, a work that remained close to his heart (and which he would recorded many years later with Dame Felicity Lott as the Countess).
He was Music Director of the Opéra-Comique from 1955 to ‘59, and at the Opéra de Paris from 1970 to ‘71. During the 1960s he made his debuts at Covent Garden, the Met and La Scala, with whom he enjoyed a long relationship (in 1992 he conducted filmed versions of Cav & Pag with Domingo at the Milanese house).
He was best known for his advocacy of French music. He conducted the world premiere of Francis Poulenc’s La voix humaine (1959) and the Sept répons de ténèbres (1963). Among his many recordings, made mainly for French EMI, were Bizet’s Les Pêcheurs de perles (with Cotrubas, Vanzo and Sarabia), Gounod’s Faust (with Domingo, Freni and Ghiaurov), Massenet’s Werther (with de los Angeles and Gedda), Poulenc’s Concerto for organ, timpani and strings (with Duruflé playing the organ), his ballet Les Biches, and the Gloria and Stabat mater. For RCA he recorded Verdi’s La traviata with Montserrat Caballé as Violetta and, also with Caballé, a now legendary live performance of Bellini’s Norma, caught live at Orange, as well as Lucia di Lammermoor with Anna Moffo in the title-role.
He conducted the New Year’s Day Concert from Vienna twice – the only Frenchman to do so – in 2008 and 2010.
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Revised: March 14, 2017