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Gail Niwa makes her subscription concert debut with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in Schumann’s Piano Concerto on February 9, 1995 (Jim Steere photo)

The Chicago Symphony Orchestra family mourns the loss of pianist Gail Niwa, who passed away on February 9, 2021, at home in New York City, following a long illness. She was sixty-one.

Born in Chicago in 1959, Gail was the daughter of two professional musicians. Her mother (and first teacher) Eloise was an accomplished pianist and pedagogue, and her father Raymond was a member of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s violin section from 1951 until 1997. David Niwa, Gail’s brother, also is a skilled violinist with degrees from the Curtis Institute and the Juilliard School, and he currently serves as asistant concertmaster of the Columbus Symphony Orchestra. Together, the Niwa family claims a singular distinction: all four have been soloists with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.

At the age of eight, Gail Niwa was a second-place winner (tying with cellist Gary Hoffman) in the CSO’s youth auditions on December 11, 1967, and she subsequently made her debut with the Orchestra on youth concerts on February 19 and April 8, 1968, performing the third movement of Haydn’s Piano Concerto no. 11 in D major with Irwin Hoffman conducting. She later appeared with the Orchestra on special Music is the Message concerts for high school students, performing Bartók’s Third Piano Concerto on March 7, 1972, and Poulenc’s Concerto for Two Pianos in D minor (along with David Lackland) on April 8, 1975, both under the baton of Henry Mazer. A graduate of William Howard Taft High School, Niwa was a two-time Chicago City Parks tennis champion.

Gail Niwa and Gary Hoffman receive their youth soloist awards from Louis Sudler, president of the Orchestral Association, and Irwin Hoffman, associate conductor on December 11, 1967

On scholarship to the Juilliard School, Niwa earned bachelor and master’s degrees as a student of Adele Marcus. She was awarded first prize at the 1987 Washington International Competition, which led to her recital debut at the Kennedy Center. In 1991, She became the first woman to win the top prize at the Gina Bachauer International Piano Competition, receiving not only the gold medal but also the audience and chamber music prizes. This led to her debut at New York’s Alice Tully Hall in October of that year. Recognized as an excellent chamber musician, she received the award for best accompanist at the 1986 Tchaikovsky Competition for violinists in Moscow.

She gave recitals in Athens, Miami, Montreal, Seoul, Toronto, and at the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam, and she also performed as soloist with the Augusta, Memphis, San Luis Obispo, Utah, Reno, and Grant Park symphony orchestras, and performed Beethoven’s Emperor Concerto with the California Philharmonic. Niwa also appeared with the Highland Park Strings, Kammergild Chamber Players in Saint Louis, the Ocean State Chamber Players, and the Banff Festival Chamber Orchestra, and she was a member of the Partita and Chelsea chamber ensembles in New York. With violinist David Kim, she made recordings for the Musical Heritage Society and Teldec labels, and with CSO bassoon Bruce Grainger on the Centaur label.

On April 4, 1993, Niwa made her Orchestra Hall recital debut on the Allied Arts series, performing the following program:

BACH/Busoni Chaconne from Unaccompanied Violin Partita No. 2 in D Minor, BWV 1004
CHOPIN Sonata No. 3 in B Minor, Op. 58
SZYMANOWSKI Shéhérazade and Sérénade de Don Juan from Masques, Op. 34
LYAPUNOV Lezghinka, Transcendental Etude, Op. 11, No. 10

“It was easy to hear why the young Chicago pianist already has racked up so many competition victories,” wrote John von Rhein in the Chicago Tribune. “She plays with the kind of confident fluency that makes competition juries take notice. . . . Taste, elegance, and musical intelligence were the hallmarks of Niwa’s Chopin sonata [and] the afternoon’s finest playing came in two of Szymanowski’s Masques [that] emerged here in all their exotic coloration, with plenty of intensity and atmosphere.”

On April 25, 1994, Niwa, along with Philip Sabransky—a former student of Eloise Niwa and the son of CSO violin Jerry and founding Chorus member Martha Sabransky—joined the Orchestra at Medinah Temple for recording sessions for Disney’s Fantasia 2000. Together they recorded the finale from Saint-Saëns’s The Carnival of the Animals with James Levine conducting.

Niwa was back in Orchestra Hall for her subscription concert debut on February 9, 11, and 14, 1995, with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, as soloist in Schumann’s Piano Concerto with Sir Georg Solti on the podium. “She reveled in Schumann’s lyricism, especially in the concerto’s first movement, lingering over the expressive opening theme, stretching its rhythmic outlines to the limit,” commented Wynne Delacoma in the Chicago Sun-Times. “The CSO, in turn, provided unusually sumptuous accompaniment [and] the second movement was a relaxed, expansive conversation between soloist and sections of the Orchestra.”

At the University of Southern California, she served as assistant professor of piano and was founder and artistic director of Chamber Music at Great Gorge in northwest New Jersey.

Niwa is survived by her partner Glenn Powell, son Matthew, and brother David (Mariko). There are no immediate plans for services. In lieu of flowers, the family has requested donations to the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in her memory.

Wishing Donald Peck—a member of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra from 1957 until 1999 and principal flute for over forty years—a very happy ninetieth birthday!

Donald Peck in 1994 (Jim Steere photo)

Peck received his early musical training in Seattle, where he played in the Seattle Youth Symphony Orchestra and the Seattle Philharmonic Orchestra. As a teenager, he performed with his first teacher, Frank Horsfall, in the Seattle Symphony. He was a scholarship student at the Curtis Institute in Philadelphia, where he studied with William Kincaid. Peck performed with the National Symphony Orchestra in Washington, D.C., and spent three years in the U.S. Marine Band. He was principal flute of the Kansas City Philharmonic Orchestra for two years before Fritz Reiner invited him to join the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in 1957 as assistant principal flute. The following year, Reiner promoted Peck to principal flute, a chair he would hold for over forty years until his retirement in 1999.

Peck first appeared as soloist with the Orchestra at the Ravinia Festival in August 1959, in Bach’s Fifth Brandenburg Concerto, and on subscription concerts in Orchestra Hall in November 1960, in Bach’s Second Orchestral Suite, both with Walter Hendl conducting. During his tenure, he appeared as soloist on more than 120 concerts directed by twenty-five conductors—including music directors Reiner, Jean Martinon, Sir Georg Solti, and Daniel Barenboim—in Orchestra Hall, at the Ravinia Festival, and on tour.

On April 18, 1985, Solti led the Orchestra in the world premiere of Morton Gould’s Flute Concerto, commissioned for Peck. In a preview article in the Chicago Tribune, John von Rhein described his playing as, “Lustrous and penetrating, tender and lyrical, charming and sensual, its hues would put a chameleon to shame. It is one of the most distinctive voices in the orchestral choir, blending well with any ensemble even as it serves a key role within the woodwind section. . . . as principal flutist of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Peck has carried out that role with a combination of technical skill and musical understanding that has earned him widespread admiration. Within the fraternity of the flute he is considered to be without peer. No less a judge than Julius Baker, the longtime principal flutist of the New York Philharmonic [and principal flute of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra from 1951 until 1953], pronounces Peck ‘the greatest flutist I’ve ever heard.'”

Donald Peck in 1966 (Dorothy Siegel Druzinsky photo)

Also for Peck, William Ferris wrote his Flute Sonata and Lee Hoiby dedicated his Pastorale Dances for Flute and Orchestra. He regularly performed as a guest artist with other orchestras, including appearances at the Pablo Casals Festival with concerts in Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, and in Carnegie Hall. In Australia, Peck recorded Mozart’s flute concertos for the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, and he regularly appeared at the Carmel Bach Festival in California, the Victoria International Festival in Canada, the Grand Teton Music Festival in Wyoming, and the Tanglewood Music Festival in Massachusetts, along with numerous other orchestras from coast to coast.

As principal flute of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Peck performed on over three hundred recordings under twenty-two conductors for twelve labels. In his retirement, he has recorded works for flute and piano with Melody Lord for the Boston label.

Peck has served on the faculties of DePaul and Roosevelt universities, where he taught flute and woodwind ensemble. A frequent lecturer and guest teacher, he has given master classes at the Juilliard School and the Manhattan School of Music in New York, at the Rotterdam Conservatory in Holland, for the Osaka Flute Club in Japan, at the Sydney Flute Association in Australia, and at over thirty universities and music groups throughout the United States and Canada. For many years, Peck played a flute—fashioned in platinum-iridium—handmade for him by Powell Flutes of Boston.

In 1997, the National Flute Association honored Peck with a lifetime achievement award. Indiana University Press published Peck’s memoir, The Right Place, The Right Time! Tales of Chicago Symphony Days in 2007, and the Chicago Flute Club’s biennial international flute competition is named in his honor.

Near the end of his tenure as principal flute, Peck spoke again with von Rhein for the Chicago Tribune. “The flute has the potential for more color and brilliance [and] the woodwind section can be most exquisite, like glittering jewels. . . . I have been a very lucky person, having performed with wonderful musicians and done so much. What more could I want?”

Happy, happy birthday!

On June 11, 2015, we celebrate the centennial of Arnold Jacobs, former longtime principal tuba of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.

Arnold Jacobs

Jacobs was born in Philadelphia and was raised in California. The product of a musical family, he credited his mother, a keyboard artist, for his original inspiration in music and spent a good part of his youth progressing from bugle to trumpet to trombone and finally to tuba. Jacobs entered Philadelphia’s Curtis Institute of Music as a fifteen-year-old on scholarship, where he studied with Philip Donatelli and Fritz Reiner.

After his graduation from Curtis in 1936, Jacobs played two seasons in the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra under Fabien Sevitsky. From 1939 to 1944 he was the tubist of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra under Reiner. In 1941 Jacobs toured the country with Leopold Stokowski and the All-American Youth Orchestra.

At the invitation of music director Désiré Defauw, he joined the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in 1944 and remained a member until his retirement in 1988. He appeared as soloist with the Orchestra on numerous occasions, recording Vaughan Williams’s Tuba Concerto in 1977 for Deutsche Grammophon with Daniel Barenboim conducting (re-released in 2003 on The Chicago Principal). Jacobs also was a founding member of the Chicago Symphony Brass Quintet, and along with his CSO colleagues, was part of the famous 1968 recording of The Antiphonal Music of Gabrieli with members of the Philadelphia and Cleveland orchestras.

Sir Georg Solti congratulates Jacobs following his retirement ceremony on September 29, 1988

Sir Georg Solti congratulates Jacobs following his retirement ceremony on September 29, 1988

Internationally recognized as an educator, Jacobs taught tuba at Northwestern University for more than twenty years and gave master classes and lectured at clinics all over the world. He was especially known for his ability to motivate and inspire not only brass but also woodwind players and singers by teaching new breathing techniques, and many considered him the greatest tubist in the world.

Arnold Jacobs: The Legacy of a Master, a series of writings collected by M. Dee Stewart, was published in 1987 by The Instrumentalist Publishing Company, and Arnold Jacobs: Song and Wind, by his assistant Brian Frederiksen, was published in 1996 by WindSong Press.

Jacobs’s honors included the highest award from the second International Brass Congress in 1984 and honorary doctor of music degrees from VanderCook College of Music and DePaul University. In 1994 the Chicago Federation of Musicians awarded him for Lifetime Achievement at the first Living Art of Music Award Ceremony. Mayor Richard M. Daley proclaimed June 25, 1995, “Arnold Jacobs Day in Chicago” as part of the celebration of his eightieth birthday. Along with Gizella, his wife of over sixty years, he was an active member of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra Alumni Association. Jacobs last appeared onstage at Orchestra Hall on June 7, 1998, appearing with members of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and guests, at a special concert celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of principal trumpet Adolph Herseth.

Jacobs died on October 7, 1998, at the age of 83, and on December 17, a special memorial program was given at Orchestra Hall. Performers included current and former members of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra along with brass players from the Lyric Opera of Chicago Orchestra, Northwestern University, DePaul University, Roosevelt University, and the VanderCook College of Music, all led by Daniel Barenboim.

In May 2001, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra Association announced that its principal tuba chair had been generously endowed in honor of Jacobs. The Arnold Jacobs Chair, endowed by Christine Querfeld, currently is occupied by Gene Pokorny.

Richard Kanter headshot

Richard Kanter, a member of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s oboe section from 1961 until 2002, passed away on Friday evening, October 10. He was 79.

A native Chicagoan, Kanter was born in 1935 and began studying the oboe at the age of fourteen with CSO oboe and english horn Robert Mayer. After graduating from high school, he received a scholarship to the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia, where his teachers included Marcel Tabuteau and John de Lancie; he also studied with CSO principal oboe Ray Still and Robert Bloom. While a student, Kanter played principal oboe for the Lyric Opera of Chicago Orchestra for one season and english horn with the Grant Park Symphony for several summers.

After graduation from Curtis, he served as first oboe for the U.S. Navy Band in Washington, D.C. for four years, traveling to every state in the continental United States. Following his military service, Kanter joined the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s oboe section at the invitation of Fritz Reiner in 1961, where he served for forty-one years—under music directors Reiner, Jean Martinon, Sir Georg Solti, and Daniel Barenboim—before retiring in 2002. In his retirement, Kanter was an active member of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra Alumni Association, serving several years a member and officer of the board of directors. He also was an oboe and english horn coach with the Asian Youth Orchestra, based in Hong Kong.

Ray Still and Richard Kanter onstage at Orchestra Hall in the 1970s

Ray Still and Richard Kanter onstage at Orchestra Hall in the 1970s

Richard is survived by his beloved wife of forty-six years, Janet; his children David (Rebecca) Kanter and Rachel (Eric) Hoglund; and grandchildren. There will be a chapel service Tuesday, October 14, at 12:15 p.m. at Shalom Memorial Funeral Home, 1700 West Rand Road in Arlington Heights. Interment will follow at Shalom Memorial Park. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to Magen David Adom. For information and to leave tributes and condolences, please call 847.255.3520 or visit

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