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The Chicago Symphony Orchestra family notes with sorrow the passing of Fred Spector, a member of the violin section from 1956 until 2003. He died earlier today, June 3, 2017, at his home in Chicago’s Lincoln Park. He was 92.

Fred Spector (J.B. Spector photo)

Solomon E. (Fred) Spector was born on March 11, 1925, on Chicago’s West Side and began violin lessons at the age of five with his uncle J.B. Mazur, concertmaster of the Czar’s Imperial Orchestra in Saint Petersburg. He attended Hyde Park High School and Chicago Musical College, and his teachers included CSO concertmaster John Weicher, Leon Sametini, and Paul Stassevitch for violin, and Henry Sopkin (who founded the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra in 1945) for conducting.

Spector flew as a U.S. Army bombardier and navigator in Japan during World War II and became the first American violinist to concertize there after the war ended. He returned to Chicago and became concertmaster of the Civic Orchestra, studied conducting with Rudolph Ganz, and later was a member of the Lyric Opera of Chicago Orchestra.

Speaking to the Chicago Tribune in 1994, Spector said that he “was actually hired into the CSO twice. The first time was in 1948 when a music director by the name of Artur Rodzinski heard me play some solos and gave me a job. The audition process was different back then, too. But Rodzinski was fired right after that, and the CSO didn’t honor any of his contracts—including mine. So I was hired and fired within a few weeks. Eight years later, the CSO asked me to audition again. I was conducting Broadway shows then—at that time it was Top Banana with Phil Silvers.”

Fred Spector in the early 1970s (Terry’s photo)

Music director Fritz Reiner hired Spector in 1956 and he served the Chicago Symphony Orchestra until his retirement in 2003. A chamber music enthusiast, he also performed with numerous ensembles in the Chicago area and was a member of the Chicago Strings, the Chicago Symphony Quartet, and the Chicago Arts Quartet for many years. Spector also was assistant conductor of the Highland Park Music Theatre.

Among numerous collectibles reflecting his varied interests, Spector was the proud owner of an extensive library of books on violin and bow history. His collection of mutes for string instruments (one of the world’s largest) included some that he found during the Orchestra’s national and international tours. Spector was the proud owner of a Carlo Bergonzi violin that dated from 1733.

Also in 1994 for the Tribune, Spector added: “playing with the CSO—which is one of the best orchestras in the world—is really something. It’s extraordinary. Even after all these years, we play concerts that still excite me. Concerts that leave me saying, ‘That was special. Everything was marvelous.’ ”

Spector is survived by Estelle, his beloved wife of sixty-six years; their children Lea, Mia (Terry), J.B. (Martha), Julie, and Ari (Jeanne); grandchildren Matt (Eve) Temkin, Dan (Kari) Temkin, Erinn Cohen, Ross Cohen, Caitlynn Spector, Adam Spector; and great-grandson Charlie Temkin. He also is survived by his brother David (Carol).

Services will be Tuesday, June 6, 2017, at 11:30 a.m. at Goldman Funeral Group, Skokie Chapel (8851 Skokie Boulevard, Skokie). Interment to follow at Memorial Park Cemetery (9900 Gross Point Road, Skokie).

In lieu of flowers, the family asks to please consider a donation to The Village Chicago or 98.7WFMT.

Just before the opening of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s seventieth season, our sixth music director Fritz Reiner suffered a heart attack on October 7, 1960. He had been scheduled to conduct the first four weeks of concerts, but his recuperation forced the cancellation of his remaining appearances for the calendar year.

Maria Callas with Antonino Votto

Antonino Votto was one of Maria Callas‘s integral collaborators, leading many of her important productions at La Scala in the 1950s. He also was conductor of several of her landmark recordings on EMI including Puccini’s La bohème, Verdi’s Un ballo in maschera, Bellini’s La sonnambula, and Ponchielli’s La Gioconda.

Replacement conductors included CSO associate conductor Walter Hendl, Robert Shaw (leading Beethoven’s Missa solemnis), Erich Leinsdorf (to conduct a special Saturday evening concert on October 15 featuring the U.S. debut of Sviatoslav Richter as soloist in Brahms’s Second Piano Concerto), and Antonino Votto (who would soon become Riccardo Muti‘s conducting teacher).

Votto was in Chicago to make his debut at Lyric Opera of Chicago and (according to their Performance + Cast Archive) he led the season opening performances of Verdi’s Don Carlo on October 14, 21, and 24. The cast included Giulietta Simionato, Margherita Roberti, Richard Tucker, Tito Gobbi, and Boris Christoff. Votto also conducted performances of Verdi’s Aida on October 17, 19, 22, and 28, with a cast that included Leontyne Price, Simionato, Carlo Bergonzi, and Robert Merrill.

Antonino Votto and Guiomar Novaes's program book biographies

Antonino Votto and Guiomar Novaes’s program book biographies

According to an October 16, 1960, CSO press release: “Antonino Votto will conduct the subscription concerts in the third week of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s current season. The concerts of Tuesday afternoon, October 25, and the subscription pair of Thursday-Friday, October 27-28, originally scheduled for music director Fritz Reiner, will be directed by the Italian conductor who is currently in Chicago for his first season with the Lyric Opera. A leading conductor of both opera and symphony concerts at La Scala in Milan, Maestro Votto’s appearance with the Orchestra has been made possible through the courteous cooperation of Miss Carol Fox, General Manager of the Lyric Opera.”

October 25, 1960 - revised program

October 25, 1960 – revised program

October 25, 1960 - original program advertisement

October 25, 1960 – original program advertisement

Both programs were modified (see images right and below) to accommodate conductor and soloist. According to Claudia Cassidy in the Chicago Tribune regarding the first concert on October 25: “From the start of Haydn’s London Symphony thru the Mozart with Guiomar Novaes and Debussy’s Faun to the perfectly planned and executed climax of a stunning Pictures at an Exhibition this was a major concert on the sounder shores of style” (complete review is here). Also according to Cassidy, word traveled fast and the following two concerts on Thursday and Friday quickly sold out: “. . . Votto is a man to respect a score, an orchestra and a soloist. When you add that to knowing your business and you can work with other musicians on a high level remarkable things can happen. Such as orchestral equilibrium, a sense of proportion in displaying a soloist, a mounting excitement on the stage and in the audience. In other words, quite a concert” (complete review is here).

October 27 & 28, 1960 - revised program

October 27 & 28, 1960 – revised program

October 27 & 28, 1960 - original program advertisement

October 27 & 28, 1960 – original program advertisement

According to a newspaper account, Reiner—from his hospital bed at Presbyterian/Saint Luke’s—was able to hear a portion of the Friday afternoon matinee via “telephone from a remote pickup thru a microphone in the concert hall to a loudspeaker in the manager’s office.” Reiner’s statement: “Please convey my warm compliments on the splendid performance of Mme. Novaes and Maestro Votto. I enjoyed very much the finesse and style of the orchestra, which has been inoculated in the years of our association.”

Votto was re-engaged at Lyric the following season for Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor on October 14, 16, and 18, 1961 (with Joan Sutherland, Bergonzi, and Tucker); Giordano’s Andrea Chenier on October 20, and 25, 28 (with Shakeh Vartenissian and Jon Vickers); and the company premiere of Boito’s Mefistofele on October 21, 23, and 27 (with Ilva Ligabue, Christa Ludwig, Christoff, and Bergonzi).

Votto returned to Italy and in November 1962, twenty-one-year-old Riccardo Muti met him during his first year as a student at the Milan Conservatory. Muti remembers: “And then there was Votto, whom I recall so vividly. He was solemn and incredibly strict, and had worked with [Arturo] Toscanini during his years at La Scala. . . . Within a few days, however, I realized that Votto had taken a liking to me, to the point of giving me—as if to prefer me over less talented students, or ones he didn’t like as much—some pieces to conduct for the performances the following year. Not only did I take a class with him, but I also attended some of his rehearsals at La Scala. . . . I was particularly struck when he did Falstaff: he didn’t have the score! Now, it’s one thing to conduct from memory, but to try that with Falstaff is one of those things that just leaves you flabbergasted and makes you think that maybe, with such experts around, you’d best find another job. I asked him something along those lines, and he replied: ‘If you had worked with Him, you would do the same.’ ‘Him,’ of course, meant Toscanini, with whom such work was an intense, special months-long undertaking; after that, going on memory became spontaneous, the natural result of having complete mastery of the score. . . .

“Votto’s approach was based on conductorial efficiency, music for music’s sake, no frills, no bells and whistles, going straight to the heart of opera, only essential gestures, nothing more than was absolutely necessary. In his classes he’d often repeat, ‘Don’t annoy the orchestra.’ To the uninitiated that phrase might seem absurd or misleading, calling into question the orchestra conductor’s usefulness. In reality he just wanted to advise us that, once the orchestra was on an orderly, rhythmic path (the obvious outcome of long rehearsing), the maestro mustn’t disturb that natural gait, and must therefore avoid rash gestures while on the podium, steering clear of any temptation to become a court jester; basically, he mustn’t alter what the nature of the piece itself had established. And such a position was a clear, complete reflection of Arturo Toscanini’s.”

Their friendship continued well beyond the conservatory, and when Muti married Maria Cristina Mazzavillani on June 1, 1969, in Ravenna, Votto was best man (“while Sviatoslav Richter became our ad hoc photographer and took some of the best photos”).

Excerpts from Riccardo Muti, An Autobiography: First the Music, Then the Words.

____________________________________________________

Announcement for the Metropolitan Opera radio broadcast of Wagner's Tannhäuser on December 17, 1960.

On December 17, 1960, Georg Solti made his debut at the Metropolitan Opera in New York, conducting the Paris version of Wagner’s Tannhäuser. The cast included Leonie Rysanek, Irene Dalis, Hans Hopf, Jerome Hines, and the house debut of Hermann Prey. (Twenty-two-year-old Teresa Stratas was scheduled to perform as the Shepherd, but she was replaced by Mildred Allen.)

According to Robert Sabin, reporting for Musical America: “In some ways, Tannhäuser is a severer challenge to the conductor than the Ring operas or Wagner’s other mature masterpieces, but Mr. Solti had solved every one of its ticklish problems of tempo, balance, phrasing and dramatic emphasis. Most notable were the fluidity of his tempos, the transparence of texture he achieved and the emotional vitality of his conception. True, the Bacchanale was pale and certain of the ensembles could have been weightier and more majestic. But this was a price willingly paid for the flow and clarity of Mr. Solti’s conception. He kept the audience absorbed every minute up to the last note and he richly deserved the prolonged ovations he received (in which the orchestra, be it noted, joined).”

The incredible MetOpera Database indicates that Solti conducted a total of thirty-seven performances with the company, including Tristan und Isolde, Otello, Boris Godunov, Aida, and Don Carlo. His final performances were two special concerts on March 27 and 28, 1964, given in memory of John F. Kennedy, that included a scene from Parsifal (with Jess Thomas, Jerome Hines, and Marcia Baldwin) and Verdi’s Requiem (with Leontyne Price, Rosalind Elias, Carlo Bergonzi, Cesare Siepi, and the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra and Chorus).

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