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Ralph Johnson and Lois Schaefer onstage with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in December 1953

If you’ve tuned into CSOtv recently, you may have noticed that in the December 1953 concert, Lois Schaefer is sitting in the first-chair position!

Hired by fifth music director Rafael Kubelík in 1951, Schaefer served the Orchestra as assistant principal flute until 1954. She was the third woman rostered in the flute section, following Caroline Solfronk Vacha (1943-1946) and Peggy Hardin (1945-1951).

Born in Yakima, Washington, on March 10, 1924, Schaefer attended the Interlochen Summer Arts Camp as a teenager, later studying at the New England Conservatory of Music, where she studied with Georges Laurent (principal flute of the Boston Symphony Orchestra), Frank Horsfall, and Sebastian Caratelli. She completed her bachelor’s of music in flute performance in 1946 and an artist diploma the following year.

Lois Schaefer in the 1960s (image courtesy of the Boston Symphony Orchestra Archives)

During her time in Chicago, Schaefer also taught at Chicago Musical College. By 1956, she returned east and was hired as principal flute of the New York City Opera, where she would remain for ten seasons. During this time, she also performed and recorded with the NBC Opera Theatre Orchestra, the RCA Victor Symphony Orchestra, and the Columbia Symphony Orchestra.

In 1965, Schaefer was hired by then–music director Erich Leinsdorf to the position of flute and principal piccolo for the Boston Symphony Orchestra, her “dream job.” During her twenty-five-year tenure, she also served as principal piccolo for the Boston Pops Orchestra. “In more than 2,000 Boston Pops performances of [John Philip Sousa‘s] ‘The Stars and Stripes Forever,’ a moment always arrived when Lois Schaefer was the star of the show,” wrote Bryan Marquard in the Boston Globe. “Though she was a master of the memorable piccolo solo that is the highlight of the song, she didn’t take her eyes off the musical score—not in her first concert, not in her 2,000th. She was determined to never make a mistake on her notoriously difficult instrument, which sometimes waits silently through portions of concerts, only to suddenly be highlighted for all ears to hear.”

Schaefer served on the faculty of the New England Conservatory of Music from 1965 until 1992. She also was a board member of the National Flute Association, receiving their second-ever lifetime achievement award in 1993.

According to her sister Winifred Mayes, a cellist with the BSO from 1954 until 1964, Schaefer was “very, very happy in Boston. . . . She loved the orchestra and the people in it. She always felt very secure and warm towards them, and they towards her. I think it was perfect for her.”

Lois Schaefer in the late 1980s (photo courtesy of the Boston Symphony Orchestra Archives)

In her final season in Boston, Schaefer was soloist in Daniel Pinkham‘s Concerto Piccolo, written especially for her. Upon her retirement in 1990, Globe music critic Richard Dyer wrote, “For her twenty-five years as solo piccolo, Lois Schaefer has been the highest, brightest voice in the Boston Symphony Orchestra. . . . To hear her in a Rossini overture is like watching the sunlight dance on rippling water. She can also break your heart with a perfectly placed high pianissimo in a Mahler or Shostakovich slow movement.”

Lois Schaefer died at the home she shared with her sister in Sequim, Washington, on January 31, 2020, at the age of ninety-five. She was survived by her sister Winifred Mayes until her passing, also in Sequim, on December 15, 2020, at the age of one hundred and one.

Lois Schaefer performs as first-chair flute in a December 9, 1953, Hour of Music telecast, currently available on CSOtv. Guest conductor and former music director Désiré Defauw leads the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in Grétry’s Three Dances from Cephalus and Procris, a suite from Fauré’s Pelleas and Melisande, and Schumann’s Fourth Symphony.

Special thanks to Bridget Carr and the Boston Symphony Orchestra Archives.

Chicago Daily News, November 19, 1931

Chicago audiences were first introduced to music from Bedřich Smetana’s Má vlast by the Chicago Orchestra’s founder and first music director Theodore Thomas: Vltava in January 1894, Šárka in October 1895, and Vyšehrad in April 1896. Thomas and his successor Frederick Stock regularly included these three symphonic poems on their concerts, but it wasn’t until the Orchestra’s forty-first season that Stock programmed the complete cycle, for a special concert on November 18, 1931, honoring Chicago’s rich Czech heritage.

On November 15, Edward Moore, writing for the Chicago Tribune, happily reported that he was able to hear the work a few days before the performance. The headline read, “Records give preview of new musical event: Critic hears Smetana’s music, Má vlast, on phonographic disks.” Moore wrote that courtesy of Dr. J.E.S. Vojan, president of the Bohemian Arts Club of Chicago (which would sponsor the concert), “through the medium of disk and needle, I have been enabled to hear it in advance of the concert audience.”

Title page of the score to Šárka used by Thomas and Stock

Title page of the score to Vyšehrad used by Thomas and Stock

(The recording most likely was the one made by the Czech Philharmonic in 1929, under the baton of its chief conductor Václav Talich, who later taught Karel Ančerl and Charles Mackerras. This not only was the ensemble’s first commercial recording but also the first complete recording of Smetana’s cycle of tone poems. It was released on ten, twelve-inch 78 rpm discs—just under eighty minutes of music—by His Master’s Voice.)

“Through a course of years, Mr. Stock [along with Thomas before him] and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra have made Vltava or the Moldau popular with Chicago audiences,” Moore continued. “They have played Vyšehrad a number of times, and Šárka less frequently. The other three are to come as a first performance next Wednesday.”

Following the November 18 concert, Eugene Stinson in the Daily News wrote, “Through these six works there sweeps the refreshing fragrance of a national spirit. Smetana was not merely the father of a national Bohemian music and the teacher of Dvořák. He was one of the first composers in any land to see the possibilities of such a music, founded on characteristic themes and breathing out the soul of a race.”

Title page of the score to Blaník used by Stock

Title page of the score to Tábor used by Stock

“History, legend, national songs, tonal description of nature, and a poetic imagination to transfigure them all, are in it,” added Moore in his review for the Tribune. “When one considers that Smetana wrote it under the most tragic infliction that may visit a musician, total deafness, it becomes not only one of the masterpieces of the world but the act of one of the world’s great heroes.”

“There is nothing to write but gratitude to the Chicago Bohemians and to Mr. Stock, whose combined efforts acquainted us with this lovely work,” concluded Herman Devries in the American. “What a lesson to the modern school of would-be musical alchemists with their abracadabra of gibberish and geometry, of dissonance and self-conscious abstruseness. Here is pure inspiration. Here is music that wells, untrammeled, from a source of inexhaustible creative talent. Here is melody, melody so simple, so tender, so touching; melody so poetic, so passionate, so spontaneous that one listens happily, without the need of indulgence, excuse, or partiality. But beneath all this simplicity, one hears and senses the mastermind of the great orchestral technician.”

Otto, Edward, and Henri Hyna

Devries also noted that several musicians in the Orchestra that evening were of Bohemian descent, including John Weicher (a member of the violin section from 1923 until 1969; he became concertmaster in 1937), Vaclav Jiskra (principal bass, 1908–1949), Rudolph Fiala (viola, 1922–1952), Joseph Houdek (bass, 1914–1944), and the Hyna brothers: Otto, Edward, and Henri, pictured at right. Natives of Bohemia, the Hyna brothers all served as members of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s string section. Otto (1886–1951) was in the bass section from 1930 until 1950, Edward (1897–1958) served as a violinist from 1929 until 1943, and Henri (1901–1955) also was a violinist from 1928 until 1932.

The Orchestra next performed the complete cycle twenty years later on October 23 and 24, 1952, under the baton of fifth music director—and Czech native—Rafael Kubelík. On December 4 and 5 of that year, the work was recorded in Orchestra Hall by Mercury Records. Returning as a guest conductor, Kubelík led performances of the six symphonic poems on January 23 and 24, 1969, and again on October 27, 28, and 29, 1983.

At the Ravinia Festival, James Levine most recently led the work on June 27, 1987. Jakub Hrůša’s upcoming performances will mark the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s sixth traversal of Smetana’s cycle of symphonic poems.

__________

Boston Symphony Orchestra program from April 24 and 25, 1896

A footnote: Theodore Thomas and the Chicago Orchestra almost were able to claim the U.S. premiere performance of Vyšehrad, the first symphonic poem of Smetana’s Má vlast. However, Emil Paur and the Boston Symphony Orchestra literally were minutes ahead. Both orchestras had 2:30 p.m. matinees on Friday, April 24, 1896, but Boston’s concert was one hour earlier (railway time zones had been standardized in 1883). Also, Vyšehrad was the first work on Paur’s program, while Thomas had programmed the work to follow Tchaikovsky’s Marche slave and Berlioz’s Roman Carnival Overture and selections from The Damnation of Faust.

Boston also claimed the U.S. premiere of Šárka, performing it on January 25, 1895. Thomas led the first Chicago performance exactly nine months later on October 25.

Portions of this article accompany the program notes for the May 18, 19, and 20, 2017, performances. Special thanks to Bridget Carr, archivist for the Boston Symphony Orchestra. Program page image courtesy of HENRY, the Boston Symphony Orchestra Archives’s online performance history search engine.

Silvia Kargl, archivist for the Vienna Philharmonic, gives a tour of the artifacts to Jamie Bernstein

Silvia Kargl, archivist for the Vienna Philharmonic, gives a tour of the artifacts to Jamie Bernstein (Ardon Bar-Hama photo)

On Wednesday, February, 22, the Austrian Cultural Forum in New York City hosted a concert and exhibit opening for Vienna and New York: 175 Years of Two PhilharmonicsFeaturing artifacts highlighting the founding and history of both the New York Philharmonic and the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, the exhibit also included the manuscript score of Richard Strauss’s Symphony no. 2 in F minor from the Theodore Thomas collection in the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s Rosenthal Archives.

Frank Villella, archivist for the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, describes the Strauss manuscript to Matthew VanBesien, president of the New York Philharmonic, and William Josephson

Frank Villella, archivist for the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, describes the Strauss manuscript to Matthew VanBesien, president of the New York Philharmonic, and William Josephson (Ardon Bar-Hama photo)

Musicians from both orchestras—clarinet Daniel Ottensamer and violins Daniel Froschauer and Harald Krumpöck from the Vienna Philharmonic, and viola Cynthia Phelps and cello Carter Brey from the New York Philharmonic—were on hand to perform Mozart’s Clarinet Quintet at the beginning of the program. Remarks were delivered by the presidents of both orchestras, Andreas Großbauer and Matthew VanBesien, along with Sebastian Kurz, Austria’s minister for foreign affairs and integration. And in the entryway to the Forum, COSMIC ROCKET, a temporary art installation by Nives Widauer, utilized tour trunks from both orchestras.

Barbara Haws, archivist for the New York Philharmonic, talks about the case dedicated to Leonard Bernstein

Barbara Haws, archivist for the New York Philharmonic, talks about the case dedicated to Leonard Bernstein (Ardon Bar-Hama photo)

The press release describing the event and exhibit is here, and an article from The New York Times, which includes images of several of the artifacts, is here.

The exhibit will be open to the public until March 10 and then travel on to Vienna (the Strauss score will only be included in the New York leg of the exhibit), opening on March 28 at the Haus der Musik and on display through January 2018.

Archivists and historians representing five institutions were on hand for the opening reception: Gino Fran

Archivists and historians representing five institutions were on hand for the opening reception: Gino Francesconi (Carnegie Hall), Barbara Haws (New York Philharmonic), Silvia Kargl (Vienna Philharmonic), Frank Villella (Chicago Symphony Orchestra), Gabryel Smith (New York Philharmonic), Friedemann Pestel (Vienna Philharmonic), and Bridget Carr (Boston Symphony Orchestra) (Ardon Bar-Hama photo)

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