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Wishing a very happy seventy-fifth birthday to legendary American conductor Michael Tilson Thomas! A frequent and favorite visitor to the podium for nearly fifty years, he has led the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Chorus in Orchestra Hall, at the Ravinia Festival, on tour to Australia, and in the recording studio.

Michael Tilson Thomas (Art Streiber photo)

Tilson Thomas made his debut with the Orchestra at the Ravinia Festival, leading two programs:

July 12, 1970, Ravinia Festival
J.C. BACH Sinfonia for Double Orchestra in E-flat Major
HAYDN Symphony No. 60 in C Major
VARÈSE Intégrales
STRAVINSKY Suite from Pulcinella

August 1, 1970, Ravinia Festival
BACH Suite No. 4 in D Major, BWV 1069
MOZART Piano Concerto No. 23 in A Major, K. 488
John Browning, piano
RUGGLES Sun-Treader
WAGNER Siegfried’s Rhine Journey, Siegfried’s Death and Funeral March, and Brünnhilde’s Immolation from Götterdämmerung

In Orchestra Hall, he made his debut with the Orchestra as follows:

May 21, 22, and 24, 1981, Orchestra Hall
BACH/Schoenberg Chorale Preludes (Schmücke dich, O liebe Seele and Komm, Gott Schöpfer, heiliger Geist)
IVES Symphony No. 2

Tilson Thomas and Solti at a press conference in Perth

Tilson Thomas also joined Sir Georg Solti and the Orchestra for the ensemble’s first tour to Australia in 1988. He led one program on four occasions as follows:

March 5, 1988, Perth Concert Hall, Perth
March 10, 1988, Adelaide Festival Center, Adelaide
March 15, 1988, Melbourne Concert Hall, Melbourne
March 18, 1988, Sydney Opera House, Sydney
BEETHOVEN Leonore Overture No. 3, Op. 72b
IVES Symphony No. 3 (The Camp Meeting)
RACHMANINOV Symphony No. 2 in E Minor, Op. 27

Most recently, he led the Orchestra just last year:

December 13, 14, and 15, 2018, Orchestra Hall
STRAVINSKY Concerto in D for String Orchestra
PROKOFIEV Violin Concerto No. 2 in G Minor, Op. 63
Nicola Benedetti, violin
TCHAIKOVSKY Symphony No. 6 in B Minor, Op. 74 (Pathétique)

For CBS and Sony, Tilson Thomas also recorded a number of works (all in Medinah Temple) by Charles Ives with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Chorus:

IVES Central Park in the Dark
Recorded May 12, 1986

IVES New England Holidays Symphony
Fred Spector, Jew’s harp
Chicago Symphony Chorus
Margaret Hillis, director
Recorded May 10 and 12, 1986

IVES Symphony No. 1 in D Minor
Recorded April 15 and 17, 1989

IVES Symphony No. 4
Mary Sauer, piano
Members of the Chicago Symphony Chorus
Margaret Hillis, director
Recorded April 15 and 17, 1989

IVES The Unanswered Question (original version)
IVES The Unanswered Question (revised versoin)
Adolph Herseth, trumpet
Recorded May 10, 1986

Happy, happy birthday!

Fred Spector with his 1733 Bergonzi violin (J.B. Spector photo)

For more than fifty years, Fred Spector—a member of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s violin section from 1956 until 2003—was the proud owner of a Carlo Bergonzi violin that dates from 1733. Bergonzi, of course, is widely considered to be the greatest pupil of the most significant maker of string instruments, Antonio Stradivari. Spector passed away earlier this year at the age of 92, and this past weekend’s concerts were dedicated to his memory.

Those concerts featured John Storgårds in his Chicago Symphony debut, leading the Orchestra in the Suite no. 1 from Grieg’s Peer Gynt, Sibelius’s Symphony no. 1, and Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto with Gil Shaham, a longtime friend of Fred Spector.

Gil Shaham plays Spector’s Bergonzi on November 29 (Ari Spector photo)

A few weeks ago, the Spector family offered Shaham the opportunity to play the Bergonzi while he was in town. He arrived in Chicago early on Wednesday, November 29, in time for his first run-through of Mendelssohn’s concerto with Storgårds and the Orchestra, and just as the rehearsal ended, Fred’s widow Estelle and their son Ari arrived at Symphony Center with the violin in tow. We met Shaham backstage and introduced him to the Bergonzi.

“It’s wonderful, marvelous,” remarked Shaham after playing a little of the Mendelssohn followed by a taste of Korngold’s concerto. “It’s a privilege and so very special to play on this beautiful instrument.” He then switched to his Stradivarius, the Countess Polignac from 1699 (that he’s been playing since he was eighteen), and then went back to the Bergonzi for a section of one of Bach’s partitas. Needless to say, it was remarkable to hear the two instruments—played by a musician of Shaham’s caliber—back-to-back and up close.

Estelle Spector and Shaham during intermission on Sunday, December 3 (Frank Villella photo)

For the Sunday December 3 matinee, several of Spector’s family members were in attendance, including Estelle, their children—Lea, Mia, J.B., Julie, and Ari—grandchildren, former CSO members, and several friends. Following a spectacular performance of Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto, Shaham returned to the stage but holding a different violin. After thanking the audience, he said, “Today is a very special day. This is a beautiful Bergonzi violin, that belonged to Fred Spector, a member of this Orchestra for nearly fifty years. And on it I would like to play for you a brief encore in his memory.” Shaham then performed the Gavotte en rondeau from Bach’s Violin Partita no. 3 in E major, BWV 1006.

During the intermission, Estelle graciously thanked Shaham for his generosity and kindness. “What a wonderful tribute to Fred, the Bergonzi, and the Orchestra. Thank you so much.”

A beautiful gesture from one extraordinary musician—and instrument—to another.

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.

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The opinions expressed here are mine and do not necessarily reflect those of my employer.


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