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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.

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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.

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Theodore Thomas

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Last week, Symphony Center welcomed more than 17,500 audience members, including many Chicago Public Schools students who received free tickets and busing in celebration of the 100th season of the Orchestra’s concert series for children. Share your stories of the CSO School and Family concerts through the link in our description. Guest actors from The Second City joined the CSO to guide the audience in understanding the inner workings of the orchestra. Edwin Outwater led the orchestra in selections from Britten’s Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra, Bernstein’s Overture to Candide, Dvořák’s Symphony No. 9, and Grieg’s Suite No. 1 from Peer Gynt. Photos from Saturday’s Family Matinee concerts by @toddrphoto.
CSO Concertmaster Robert Chen leads his fellow orchestra members in an all-Mozart program. The program is bookended with familiar works, opening with Eine kleine Nachtmusik and closing with Symphony No. 25. Chen is soloist in Violin Concerto No. 3 (Strassburg), and CSO Principal Flute Stefán Ragnar Höskuldsson makes his CSO solo debut with Flute Concerto No. 2. Link to tickets is in our bio. 📸: @toddrphoto
Curated by Mead Composer-in-Residence Missy Mazzoli, the 2018/19 season of MusicNOW continues with a program titled “Chicago’s Own,” featuring works from four composers with Chicago roots—Suzanne Farrin, Morgan Krauss, Drew Baker and Sky Macklay—as well as Icelandic composer Daníel Bjarnason. CSO Viola Weijing Wang is soloist in Suzanne Farrin’s Uscirmi di braccia, and CSO Cello Katinka Kleijn is soloist in Daníel Bjarnason’s three movement piece Bow to String. Conductor Alan Pierson leads an ensemble of musicians from the CSO and guest musicians. 📸: @toddrphoto

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