Last evening we received word that William Schoen, a longtime member of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s viola section from 1964 until 1996, passed away yesterday, July 21, following a brief illness. He was 94.
Before coming to Chicago, Schoen served as principal viola of the Philadelphia Orchestra and was soloist with that ensemble under the baton of Eugene Ormandy. In 1964 he was invited by CSO music director Jean Martinon to be the Orchestra’s assistant principal viola, a post he held for twenty-four years. In 1988, he became assistant principal emeritus and served in that capacity until his retirement in 1996. Schoen made his debut as soloist with the CSO under Antonio Janigro, and also made solo appearances with maestros Martinon and James Levine.
Born in Czechoslovakia of Hungarian parents and raised in Cleveland, William Schoen received his bachelor of music degree from the Eastman School of Music. He was chosen by Leopold Stokowski to tour with the All-American Youth Orchestra and during the Second World War he served as a member of the United States Marine Band and Orchestra, was featured as a concerto soloist, and appeared numerous times with ensembles for Presidents Roosevelt and Truman at The White House. After the war he was solo viola of the Columbia Broadcasting System in New York for eight years. While in New York, Schoen was a member of the Guilet and Claremont string quartets, with which he toured and made many recordings.
Schoen received his master of music degree from Chicago Musical College of Roosevelt University and later also served as a member of the faculty and a member of the Roosevelt Trio. In 1991, he was invited to be a recitalist and lecturer at the International Viola Congress in Ithaca, New York.
An active chamber musician, he performed with many of his CSO colleagues, frequently as a member of the Chicago Symphony String Trio. Schoen was a founding member of the Chicago Arts Quartet, which in addition to performances at the Bruckner Festival in Linz, Austria and at the Tokyo School of Music, the quartet gave many college concerts, appeared on the CSO’s Chamber Music Series, and was featured on WFMT radio broadcasts. As a member of Indiana University’s Berkshire Quartet, he performed at Music Mountain in Falls Village, Connecticut for several summers, and he also was a participant at the Marlboro Festival in Vermont.
Schoen and his wife Mona Reisman Schoen, a former member of the Lyric Opera Orchestra, performed in duo concerts, as soloists with orchestra, at university concerts, and at the Frank Lloyd Wright estates in Wisconsin and Arizona. In their retirement, the Schoens were active members of the CSO Alumni Association, and in 1998, the Chicago Viola Society awarded William Schoen their lifetime achievement award.
He is survived by his beloved wife Mona. Funeral services will be held this Thursday, July 24, at noon at Anshe Emet Synagogue, 3751 North Broadway in Chicago. Interment will be at Memorial Park Cemetery, 9900 Gross Point Road in Skokie immediately following.