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Adolph Herseth in the Grainger Ballroom, during his final season as the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s principal trumpet (Gregory Morton)

“The Chicago Symphony Orchestra is a group of one hundred and five highly trained and experienced musicians. It is considered to be one of the finest orchestras in the world, and I feel that it is a great privilege to be a member of such an organization. . . . Now, to maintain a high standard of performance with a symphony orchestra requires a great deal of preparation, or rehearsal [and] besides the group practice, we must do a certain amount of individual practicing also. I used to think that if I ever practiced hard enough to get into a symphony, maybe I could ease up a bit. But I found that I practiced even harder after I got the job than I did before. And not entirely because I found it necessary (though I did), but because it gave me an increased incentive and stimulation. And where I had perhaps been over-optimistic about my abilities before, now I saw that I was really just beginning to become proficient. It brought to mind another old saying to the effect that the more you learn, the less you find you really know . . . that one never stops learning a trade or business or profession [and] one is a student, one is always preparing for something new, throughout the whole of a career.”

— Adolph Herseth address to the 1959 graduating class of Bertha High School in Minnesota, June 1959

“I don’t suppose a first trumpet ever came greener, but [my first] two seasons of guest conductors were good luck for me. It was great repertory experience. . . . It takes pure physical strength to play a trumpet. Like an athlete, you try to build up your reserve to the point that in performance you don’t have to dip down too deeply into the reserve, so that you get too fatigued. The longer you play, the more you find you don’t know about your instrument. I suppose it’s the same in any profession — there are some things you have to experience. No one can tell you. Of course, you hope your standards will go up and your understanding will also go on growing. . . . Whenever that downbeat comes, especially at the start of the fall season, when we haven’t played for a month or so, I never cease to get a thrill out of the wonderful sounds around me. I’ve never gotten over loving this.”

— Evanston Symphony Orchestra Keynotes, March 1965

Following his retirement in 2004, Herseth was interviewed by Phil Ponce for WTTW’s Chicago Tonight. The program was rebroadcast in 2013.

“I listened to jazz players as well as to classical players. Obviously, your own concepts develop and are influenced by listening. I’m sure that my style and sound have certainly expanded over the years playing in this orchestra. You spend 49 years playing the type of repertoire that the CSO plays, with the caliber of conductors I’ve worked under, and the style will come out of your ears! . . . Every time I play a piece that I’ve already played a hundred times, it’s still very exciting because I try not to play it the same way twice in a row.

“Let me say that if you hang around long enough you become notorious. Sometimes young players will ask me if I think it’s OK for them to play in a rock band, on dance gigs, or this, or that? I say the broader the experiences you have, the better off you’re going to be. It all comes together at some point or other, you know. And I say, ‘Just be sure that you do your darnedest, whatever kind of gig it is.’ I don’t care what kind of a gig it is, solo gig, orchestra gig, quartet gig, brass ensemble, dance band, do your best. That’s what counts!”

— “Adolph Herseth: In a Class by Himself” by Michael Tunnell, International Trumpet Guild Journal, February 1998

“That [CSO brass] sound was there for a long time before any of us were in the orchestra. They had some good players in this orchestra over the years, and it’s not only a matter of individual concepts of playing but an overall concept that has grown over the years. [There is an] ability and willingness to cope with the great variety of music that goes by on this assembly line. The programs go by each week and you grab what you can before the next batch comes along. Versatility comes from a motivation and a love of music. . . . You have to be motivated to want to get that music to sound the best that it can. Part of motivation is keeping an open mind about musical styles, so you can adapt your own personal style.”

— “The Evolution of the Chicago Symphony Brass Sound” by Harvey Phillips, The Instrumentalist, September 1989

“You know, every instrument is in a sense an attempt by man to imitate the human voice in some way — and basically that’s the ultimate goal that everybody should have in mind when they play an instrument. When you play some of the very disjointed things, especially in some of the avant-garde pieces, it’s rather hard to think in terms of vocal lyricism. But nevertheless it still helps your playing . . . more phrase-wise, with a better sound, a better projection of the idea — grotesque as it might be. I think that every instrumentalist can benefit greatly from listening to fine singers, especially opera or lieder where they are telling a story. And you can learn a lot listening to a great pop singer like Frank Sinatra. The guy really puts across the lyrics of a tune.”

— “‘Man Alive, What a Kick This Is!’: An Interview with Adolph ‘Bud’ Herseth” by Kenneth L. Neidig, The Instrumentalist, April 1977

“Every concert used to be taped for broadcast on WFMT, and in those days, I think about 300 stations around the world used to carry them. And I would listen to them. In fact, I’ve got tape of — I can’t tell you how many of them — audio tapes, and I would listen to them. Of course, a broadcast doesn’t give you the total picture of what it sounds like live in the hall or on a stage as a player, but I would hear certain passages, and I would say to myself, ‘Well, okay, okay, next time I’m going to do that a little different. I’m going to do something else because there’s a better way now. This was okay, but next time I hope I get it a little more this way.’ . . . I would hear a clarinet player playing a lick, and I’d think, ‘My God, if I ever got a lick like that, I wish I could do that.’ Or I’d hear a flute player doing something unbelievable — and this is what really keeps your musical mind open, you know? Hopefully you learn something every time.

“Nobody should try to imitate somebody else. Yeah, of course, I learned a lot hearing [Georges] Mager playing all the time in the Boston Symphony. I heard some nice things from hearing Roger Voisin, who was assistant [principal] then, and also hearing Bill Vacciano with the New York Philharmonic every Sunday. Yeah, you learn from other people, of course, but it’s your own individual expression of musical thought that really counts, and, of course, in a collective sense when it’s with a band, but when you are playing the lead part or a solo or important parts like that, if you try to sound like somebody else, you’re steering the wrong way. I hope I can pass on to others some of the wonderful concepts and ideas I have received from other people over the years. We’re all music lovers.”

— Interview with Adolph Herseth by John Hagstrom, International Trumpet Guild Journal, January 2004

This article also appears here.

On June 15, 2021, Frank Villella, director of the Rosenthal Archives of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra Association, sat down with Principal Trombone Jay Friedman and Second Trumpet John Hagstrom to discuss their friend and colleague, Adolph “Bud” Herseth.

The recording of the conversation is here:

A few edited highlights from the conversation are below.

Villella: There are a lot of really good trumpet players out there and a lot who have enjoyed long careers. For someone experiencing a vintage CSO recording for the first time, how would you explain Herseth’s significance and what made his sound special?

Hagstrom: I was about fifteen years old and I can tell you that what captured my imagination was the immediacy of the sound, the energy and the direction. That he could capture your imagination and hold you and lead you. It’s a powerful sense of confidence of course, that goes into that, a powerful sense of physical mastery, and a certain kind of contextual blend. He wasn’t dominating in a way that didn’t have a perfect balance within the group. While he was really iconic, it wasn’t to the exclusion or without immediate consideration of everything that was going on around him.

Friedman: One of the most amazing things about him, I’ve realized after all these years (because I played with him for forty-two years. I’m the luckiest man in the universe, sitting next to him!) is I was always amazed at the discipline that he had when he played. The whole orchestra would be playing a fortissimo tutti, and there was a huge amount of sound, and he’d be sitting there, playing exactly the dynamic that he needed to be heard and to soar over the orchestra. How do you do that? That’s a God-given talent that’s so rare.

Adolph Herseth performs as principal trumpet with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in the 1970s (Robert M. Lightfoot III)

Villella: Please describe your first impressions of Herseth: the first time you heard a recording, the first time you heard him live and the first time you heard him as a colleague.

Hagstrom: The first time I played with him as a colleague was at Ravinia and it was Bruckner Nine in the summer of 1996. When the big first tutti of the first movement happened, I stopped playing. I couldn’t believe it, in terms of the force of energy, of course, the whole orchestra. It was little surreal because I had studied him so carefully, along with so many other people, so to be alongside of him was a real honor. But you have to play too! Now it was my job to contribute to this.

Friedman: He was the easiest player that I’ve ever sat next to as far as being able to follow and know where the beat was. There was no doubt where the pulse of the orchestra was when you sat next to him, because it was right on the conductor’s beat. He was so rhythmically solid. He was the easiest person I’ve ever played with. He also had one of the greatest ways of articulating notes. It was so exquisite and pristine. My teacher had that, I’ve always tried to get that and all of the principals had that. Dale Clevenger had it, Arnold Jacobs had it, all of the CSO principals had a way of starting notes where the sound literally jumped out of the horn. That’s the secret to the sound of the CSO brass. 

Villella: In the seven recordings of Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition, how do you think Bud was able to achieve a different effect and a different sound for each one of those recordings?

Hagstrom: Herseth would always say that the best conductors were those that met you half way, collaborative conductors, not that we’re just going to re-make you exactly the way they want it. And so, we have to remember that part of his sound on those recordings was his contribution, and so he’s being influenced by Solti, influenced by the various other conductors. He was definitely following and trying to please them, but it wasn’t entirely their construction of what he sounded like. Those recordings vary in tempo, they vary in the clarity or the shape of each of those notes at the beginning of Pictures. Bud was never that exhaustively specific about speaking in regards to some of these things, but we do know is that he always intended to tell a story when he played. 

Friedman: I don’t ever remember any conductor telling him how to play the opening (and I’m on six of those seven recordings!). He played the way he felt it and it was always so good that the conductor was usually happy with the style.

This article also appears here.

During Adolph “Bud” Herseth’s tenure as principal trumpet, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra commercially recorded Maurice Ravel’s orchestration of Modest Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition on seven occasions between 1951 and 1990.

Following are the first tracks from each of those seven recordings, each featuring Herseth performing the work’s opening promenade fanfare.

Recorded in Orchestra Hall in Chicago in April 1951 for Mercury
Rafael Kubelík conductor
Wilma Cozart recording producer
David Hall recording supervisor
C. Robert Fine and George Piros recording engineers

Recorded in Orchestra Hall in Chicago in December 1957 for RCA
Fritz Reiner conductor
Richard Mohr producer
Lewis Layton recording engineer
Mark Donahue mastering engineer

Recorded in Medinah Temple in Chicago in July 1967 for RCA
Seiji Ozawa conductor
Peter Dellheim producer
Bernard Keville and Ernest Oelrich recording engineers

Recorded in Medinah Temple in Chicago in April 1976 for Deutsche Grammophon
Carlo Maria Giulini conductor
Günther Breest producer and recording supervisor
Klaus Scheibe engineer

Recorded in Medinah Temple in Chicago in May 1980 by London
Sir Georg Solti conductor
James Mallinson recording producer
James Lock and John Dunkerley balance engineers

Recorded in Orchestra Hall in Chicago in November 1989 for Chandos 
Neeme Järvi conductor
Brian Couzens recording producer
Mitchell Heller location engineer
Paul Smith assistant engineer
Richard Lee editor

Recorded in Suntory Hall in Tokyo, Japan in April 1990 for Sony
Sir Georg Solti conductor
Humphrey Burton writer and director
Tomoyuki Tashiro and Renato Rezzonico executive producers
Shuji Fujii director
Juro Yokoyama recording director
Tetsuo Baba, Akira Fukada, and Andreas Neubronner recording engineers
Phil Piotrowsky lighting cameraman
Frank Baliello HDVS engineer
Armando Madaffari HDVS technician
Jean Rezzonico producer
John Dunkerley balance engineer
Martin Atkinson technical engineer
Terry Bennell editor

This article also appears here.

Chicago Symphony Orchestra Principal Trumpet Adolph “Bud” Herseth in the 1960s
Adolph Herseth in 1938 (Adolph Herseth collection, Rosenthal Archives of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra Association)
Avis Bottemiller and Adolph Herseth (center) in the 1930s in Bertha, Minnesota (Adolph Herseth collection, Rosenthal Archives of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra Association)
Adolph Herseth in the midst of the CSO’s brass section in 1988 (Jim Steere)
Adolph Herseth with Daniel Barenboim, the CSO’s ninth music director (Jim Steere)
Adolph Herseth in the 1980s (Jim Steere)
Adolph and Avis Herseth at the CSO Alumni Association reunion in the Club at Symphony Center on June 3, 2011 (Dan Rest)
Adolph Herseth and Doc Severinsen perform with the CSO in Orchestra Hall on June 7, 1988 (Jim Steere)
Adolph Herseth demonstrates his warm-up technique at the Ravinia Festival in the late 1970s
Adolph Herseth serving in the U.S. Navy in the 1940s
Adolph Herseth performs Taps at the gravesite of Sir Georg Solti in Budapest, Hungary on April 1, 2005 (Todd Rosenberg)
Adolph Herseth in the early 1990s (Jim Steere)
Adolph Herseth enjoying a round of golf in Lucerne, Switzerland in September 1978 (Adolph Herseth collection, Rosenthal Archives of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra Association)
Adolph Herseth’s first concert with the CSO was at the Ravinia Festival on June 29, 1948, under the baton of Eugene Ormandy.
Proof sheet from photo session featuring Adolph Herseth in the 1970s (Robert M. Lightfoot III)
CSO brass section musicians Adolph Herseth, Rudolph Nashan, Wayne Barrington, Arnold Jacobs, and Frank Crisafulli perform for Chicago schoolchildren in the 1960s
Newlyweds Avis and Adolph Herseth in 1943 (Adolph Herseth collection, Rosenthal Archives of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra Association)
The Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Assistant Conductor Tauno Hannikainen onstage in Orchestra Hall on October 14, 1948, at the beginning of Adolph Herseth’s first downtown season as principal trumpet
CSO trumpets Frank Holz, Renold Schilke, Gerald Huffman, and Adolph Herseth onstage at Orchestra Hall on October 14, 1948, at the beginning of Herseth’s first downtown season as principal trumpet
Gabriel’s Children, the concert celebrating Adolph Herseth’s fiftieth season as the CSO’s principal trumpet, on June 7, 1998
Adolph Herseth in the 1980s (Jim Steere)
The Herseth family’s 1953 Christmas card (Adolph Herseth collection, Rosenthal Archives of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra)
CSO brass section musicians Arnold Jacobs, Frank Crisafulli, Richard Oldberg, Vincent Cichowicz, and Adolph Herseth in the mid-1960s (Terry’s)
Karel Husa, Adolph Herseth, and Sir Georg Solti backstage following the world premiere of the composer’s Concerto for Trumpet and Orchestra on February 11, 1988 (Jim Steere)
Adolph Herseth in the early 1980s (Robert M. Lightfoot III)
Associate Conductor Kenneth Jean leads the CSO brass section in The National Anthem at Soldier Field on September 14, 1987, for the Chicago Bears‘ home opening game
Leonard Bernstein and Adolph Herseth discuss a detail in Shostakovich’s Seventh Symphony during a rehearsal break in Orchestra Hall in June 1988 (Jim Steere)
Adolph Herseth (far right) with fellow Luther College band members in 1940 (Adolph Herseth collection, Rosenthal Archives of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra)
MOZART Horn Concerto No. 3, Bassoon Concerto, and Oboe Concerto, and HAYDN Trumpet Concerto (Deutsche Grammophon, 1981–1984)
Valerie and Georg Solti greet Avis and Adolph Herseth in Orchestra Hall’s ballroom on March 18, 1969 (Terry’s)
Adolph Herseth and Sir Georg Solti rehearsing Husa’s Concerto for Trumpet and Orchestra in Perth, Australia in March 1988 (Jim Steere)
The school band in Bertha, Minnesota in 1929 (Adolph Herseth is pictured near the far right of the second row, second from the end) (Adolph Herseth collection, Rosenthal Archives of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra Association)
Clark Brody, Willard Elliot, Donald Peck, Dale Clevenger, Jean Martinon, Ray Still, Adolph Herseth, Donald Koss, and Jay Friedman backstage before a performance of Martin’s Concerto for Seven Wind Instruments, Timpani, Percussion, and String Orchestra in February 1966 (Terry’s photo)

This article also appears here.

On July 25, 2021, we celebrate the centennial of Adolph “Bud” Herseth, who served the Chicago Symphony Orchestra for fifty-six years as principal trumpet (1948–2001) and principal trumpet emeritus (2001–2004).

Adolph “Bud” Herseth served the Chicago Symphony Orchestra as principal trumpet from 1948 until 2001 and principal trumpet emeritus from 2001 until 2004 (Jim Steere photo)

Born on July 25, 1921, in Lake Park, Minnesota, Herseth attended Luther College in Decorah, Iowa. He originally planned to become a teacher but gravitated to performance as a career while in the armed forces. During World War II, Herseth served as a bandsman at the pre-flight school in Iowa and at the U.S. Navy School of Music. He ended his military service with the Commander of the Philippine Sea Frontier in the South Pacific.

In early 1948 while studying for his master’s degree from the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston, Herseth was appointed by Music Director Artur Rodzinski to the post of principal trumpet of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. He never performed with Rodzinski (whose music directorship ended in April 1948) but would go on to serve under five CSO music directors: Rafael KubelíkFritz ReinerJean MartinonSir Georg Solti, and Daniel Barenboim. Herseth made countless solo appearances and recorded extensively with the Orchestra, including seven recordings of Ravel’s orchestration of Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition (under Kubelík, Reiner, Seiji OzawaCarlo Maria Giulini, Solti (twice), and Neeme Järvi).

Constantly devoted to the development of the next generation of symphony orchestra musicians, Herseth regularly gave seminars, coaching sessions and master classes in Chicago and throughout Europe and worked with the European Community Youth Orchestra, the West-Eastern Divan Workshop for Young Musicians and the Civic Orchestra of Chicago.

Herseth held honorary doctor of music degrees from DePaul University, Luther College, the New England Conservatory of Music, Rosary College, and Valparaiso University. He received the Living Art of Music Symphonic Musician Award in 1994, was named Instrumentalist of the Year by Musical America in 1995 and was an honorary member of the Royal Danish Guild of Trumpeters. In June 2001, Herseth received the American Symphony Orchestra League’s Gold Baton Award, marking the first time in the League’s history that the award was bestowed on an orchestral player, and he also was awarded an honorary membership from London’s Royal Academy of Music at its commencement exercises. He was accorded a singular honor in 1988, when the principal trumpet chair of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, which he continued to occupy until 2001, was named after him.

On June 7, 1998, Herseth’s friends—including Doc Severinsen, Daniel Barenboim, Arnold Jacobs, Frank Crisafulli, Arturo Sandoval, and numerous brass players from around the world—appeared in a tribute performance at Orchestra Hall to celebrate his fiftieth anniversary with the CSO. On January 27, 2000, the CSOA’s Women’s Association recognized Herseth for his “one season plus five decades” as the CSO’s principal trumpet.

After the Ravinia Festival season in the summer of 2001, Herseth relinquished the principal trumpet chair and became principal trumpet emeritus. On February 21, 2004, he retired from the Chicago Symphony Orchestra after fifty-six years and received the Theodore Thomas Medallion for Distinguished Service. Following retirement, Herseth was a longtime member of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra Alumni Association.

Herseth was interviewed by John von Rhein in the Chicago Tribune in April 2001, shortly after the announcement that he would cede the principal trumpet chair. He said, “for years I’ve been telling people I am lucky to get here, fortunate to still be here and to have had all these marvelous experiences.” And when asked how he would like posterity to remember him, Herseth replied, “as a fairly decent guy who gave it his best every time he had the chance.”

Adolph Herseth died at home in Oak Park, Illinois, on April 13, 2013, at the age of ninety-one. He was surrounded by his family, including Avis, his beloved wife of nearly seventy years.

This article also appears here.

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