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Jorja Fleezanis in 1975 (Terry’s Photography)

The Chicago Symphony Orchestra family mourns the passing of Jorja Fleezanis, a member of the Orchestra’s violin section during the 1975-76 season and a passionate, lifelong educator. She passed away at her home in Lake Leelanau, Michigan on September 10, 2022, at the age of seventy.

Born on March 19, 1952, in Detroit, Michigan, Fleezanis began violin instruction at the age of eight, and as a teenager, attended the Interlochen Center for the Arts on scholarship and performed with the Detroit Youth Orchestra. She furthered her studies at the Cleveland Institute of Music and Cincinnati Conservatory of Music. Fleezanis’s teachers included Mischa Mischakoff (CSO concertmaster from 1930 until 1937) in Chicago; Donald Weilerstein and David Cerone in Cleveland; and Walter Levin in Cincinnati. She was assistant concertmaster of the Cleveland Concert Associates Orchestra, concertmaster of the Cincinnati Chamber Orchestra, and concerto soloist with the University of Cincinnati Philharmonia Orchestra.

According to a 1975 program book biography, “Of Greek descent and the only musician in her family, Detroit-born Jorja decided to shoot for the Chicago post as the test of her talent. She made it to the finals on three separate occasion, each time told by Maestro Solti personally that he would like her to audition again. Even after her third audition, Solti still wavered, calling for some further test. So she sat in with the Orchestra for a week—comfortable, exhilarated, totally in her element. At last Sir Georg was convinced and hired her on the spot.”

Following her season in Chicago, she later served as associate concertmaster with the San Francisco Symphony. In 1989, she won the audition as concertmaster of the Minnesota Orchestra, becoming (at the time) only the second woman in the United States to hold that title in a major orchestra when appointed. Fleezanis remained in that position for twenty years until her retirement in 2009, as the longest-tenured concertmaster in the Minnesota Orchestra’s history. During her time as concertmaster, two works were commissioned for her: John Adams’s Violin Concerto and John Tavener’s Ikon of Eros.

Jorja Fleezanis (Indiana University photo)

A passionate educator, Fleezanis was professor of orchestral studies at Indiana University’s Jacobs School of Music from 2009 until her retirement last year. She also served as an adjunct faculty member at the University of Minnesota’s School of Music from 1990 until 2009; at the Round Top International Festival Institute in Texas from 1990 until 2007; artist-in-residence at the University of California, Davis; guest artist and teacher at the San Francisco Conservatory from 1981 to 1989; and artist and mentor at the Music@Menlo Festival from 2003 until 2010. Fleezanis had been teacher and coach with the New World Symphony since 1988 as well as on the faculty of the Music Academy of the West since 2016. She was a visiting teacher at the Boston Conservatory, the Juilliard School, the Shepherd School of Music, and the Interlochen Academy and Summer Camp, along with serving as a frequent guest and clinician at the Britten Pears Centre at Snape Maltings in England.

A longtime member of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra Alumni Association, Jorja Fleezanis was preceded in death by her husband, American music critic and author Michael Steinberg.

This article also appears here.

Gina DiBello

Gina DiBello

The Chicago Symphony Orchestra recently announced Riccardo Muti‘s appointment of Gina DiBello to the Orchestra’s first violin section. She previously had served as principal second violin of the Minnesota Orchestra and as section first violin with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, following studies at the Cleveland Institute of Music and The Juilliard School in New York.

Joseph DiBello (© Todd Rosenberg Photography 2010)

Joseph DiBello (©Todd Rosenberg Photography)

Gina is a Chicago native and has a deep connection to the Orchestra, as she also is the daughter of CSO bass Joseph DiBello (and Lyric Opera of Chicago violin Bonita DiBello), marking only the second father-daughter combination in our history.

Joseph originally studied the bass but initially pursued a career as a pharmacist. He later resumed his musical studies and from 1969 until 1973, he served as principal bass of Philadelphia Lyric Opera and the Delaware Symphony Orchestra. In 1973, he was appointed to the bass section of the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra, and in 1976 Sir Georg Solti invited him to join the bass section of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.

Lynne Turner (©Todd Rosenberg Photography 2010)

Lynne Turner (©Todd Rosenberg Photography)

Lynne Turner—currently in her fifty-first season as second harp—also is a CSO legacy, as she is the daughter of former CSO violin Sol Turner (1905–1979). At the age of twenty-one, Lynne was appointed in 1962 by then-music director Fritz Reiner, following her studies with Alberto Salvi in Chicago and with Pierre Jamet at the Paris Conservatory.

Sol Turner

Sol Turner

Sol Turner, a native of Russia, began his career as a violinist with the Civic Orchestra of Chicago from 1927 until 1931 (serving as concertmaster in 1928 and 1929), followed by twelve years in the Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra. Désiré Defauw appointed him to the CSO’s first violin section in 1943 and he served until 1949, when he left to perform with Chicago’s NBC studio orchestra. Sol returned to the CSO in 1963 and was rostered until his death in 1979.

Joseph Vito

Joseph Vito

But we also have to mention the father-daughter combination of Joseph Vito (1887–1970) and Geraldine Vito Weicher (1915–2006). Joseph served as principal harp from 1927 until 1957, and Geraldine was second harp from 1940 until 1957. However, during that time the position of second harp was hired only on an as-needed basis and was not a fully rostered position until the beginning of the 1957-58 season.

Joseph began his career as a harpist at the age of nine, and at twenty, debuted with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra under Emil Paur. He regularly performed with both the San Francisco and Cincinnati symphony orchestras before Frederick Stock hired him as principal harp for the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in 1927.

Geraldine Vito Weicher

Geraldine Vito Weicher

Geraldine studied with her father, and she was a member of the Civic Orchestra from 1935 until 1938. She was also married to John Weicher (1904–1969), who spent forty-six years with the Orchestra from 1923 until 1969, serving as concertmaster, assistant concertmaster, principal second violin, personnel manager, and conductor of the Civic Orchestra.

Fathers and sons? Sisters? Brothers? Stay tuned . . .

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