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Jonathan Pegis in 2010 (© Todd Rosenberg Photography)

The Chicago Symphony Orchestra family mourns the loss of Jonathan Pegis, who served as a member of the cello section from 1986 until 2018. He died yesterday of natural causes, at home in Waterloo, Iowa. Pegis was sixty-one.

“I am deeply saddened to learn of the passing of Jon Pegis, a very kind person and a wonderful player,” commented Riccardo Muti. “I will remember him and his wonderful contribution to the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.”

Born in Rochester, New York on May 7, 1960, Jonathan Pegis gave new meaning to the phrase “born into a musical family.” He was one of seven children, all whom played string instruments. Pegis began his studies at the Eastman School of Music’s Preparatory Department, where his first teacher was Alan Harris; he also studied with Lee Fiser, Paul Katz, and Lynn Harrell. Pegis completed undergraduate studies at the Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music. While there, he joined the LaSalle Quartet and viola Donald McInnes on chamber music tours of the United States and Germany. Their 1982 recording of Schoenberg’s string sextet Transfigured Night for Deutsche Grammophon later received Japan’s Tokyo Record Academy prize.

Pegis returned to Rochester in 1984 to become a member of the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra and to attend Eastman, where he earned a master’s degree and a performer’s certificate. In 1986, he was invited by Sir Georg Solti to join the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s cello section, a post he held until his retirement in 2018. During his tenure, he frequently performed in chamber music, including concerts on the Chicago Symphony Orchestra Chamber Music Series and the Northwestern University Winter Chamber Music Festival. He also appeared as soloist at Chicago Cello Society concerts, with the Texas Chamber Orchestra, Highland Park Strings, and the Signature Symphony in Tulsa. In 1993, Pegis joined the faculty at Northwestern University, where taught cello orchestral studies until 2012. He also was a regular contributor to the cellobello.org blog.

Schoenberg’s Transfigured Night was recorded in 1982 for Deutsche Grammophon by the LaSalle Quartet along with viola Donald McInnes and cello Jonathan Pegis.

When he announced his retirement, Pegis expressed, “What a pleasure and memorable journey it has been to be a part of this tremendous organization for over thirty years. A dream come true! These few words are inadequate to express the privilege it has been to share with such an outstanding organization, exceptional colleagues—musicians and staff. I am most grateful for the lifetime of experiences and memories that we made throughout the world!”

Pegis is survived by his wife Dawn, along with sons Michael and Jason from his previous marriage to Lisa Rensberger. Services are pending, and in lieu of flowers, the family has requested memorial gifts to the Tunnel to Towers Foundation and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.

This article also appears here.

Francis Akos

The Chicago Symphony Orchestra family notes with sorrow the passing of Francis Akos, a member of the violin section from 1955 until 2003. He died earlier today in Minneapolis following a brief illness at the age of 93.

Akos was hired by Fritz Reiner in 1955 as assistant principal second violin and moved to principal second in 1956. In 1959, he became assistant concertmaster and remained in that chair until 1997, when he was named assistant concertmaster emeritus, a title he retained until his retirement in 2003.

A native of Budapest, Hungary, Akos, studied at the Franz Liszt Academy of Music with Béla Bartók, Zoltán Kodály, Leó Weiner, Imre Waldbauer, and Ede Zathureczky. He received his artist’s diploma in performance as well as a teacher’s diploma. As best of his class, Akos won both the Jenő Hubay prize and the Reményi Prize (a violin made especially for the winner of the competition) in the same year. Just before World War II, he formed a trio with cellist János Starker and pianist György Sebök (forty years later in December 1980, the three performed a reunion concert in Chicago).

After surviving the Holocaust (a brief interview from 1990 in which he describes his immediate postwar months is available here), Akos served as concertmaster of the Budapest Symphony Orchestra and later of the Hungarian Royal Opera and Philharmonic orchestras, the youngest person ever to hold these posts. After leaving Hungary, he was concertmaster of the Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra in Sweden and then of the Städtishce Oper (now the Deutsche Oper Berlin).

In 1954, Akos immigrated to the United States, where he performed at the Aspen Music Festival and with the Minneapolis Symphony (now the Minnesota Orchestra) under Antal Doráti before joining the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in 1955. He appeared as soloist with the Orchestra on numerous occasions, under music directors Reiner, Sir Georg Solti, and Daniel Barenboim, as well as with Carlo Maria Giulini, Gennady Rozhdestvensky, and János Ferencsik, among others.

Francis Akos in 2003 (Gregory Morton photo)

Francis Akos in 2003 (Gregory Morton photo)

Akos founded and led the Chicago Strings, a chamber ensemble comprised of CSO musicians; was leader of the Old Town Chamber Music Series; served as music director of the Fox River Valley Symphony in Aurora; and was conductor of the Chicago Heights Symphony Orchestra. As founding music director of the Highland Park Strings, he led that ensemble for twenty-eight years.

Akos is survived by two daughters, Kate Akos (Harry Jacobs) of San Francisco, California, and Judy Akos Berkowitz (Dennis Berkowitz) of Edina, Minnesota, and beloved grandchildren Justin and Melissa. Services will be private and plans for a public memorial will be announced at a later date. The family asks that any gifts of remembrance be made to the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, the Highland Park Strings, or the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.

At the time of his retirement in 2003, Akos reflected on his years with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra: “For more than half my life, I have lived in Chicago as a member of the world’s greatest orchestra. The music, the composers, the conductors, and the soloists have inspired me. I am especially grateful to have been blessed with the inspiration I have received from my CSO colleagues during my professional life.”

An obituary was posted by the Chicago Tribune on January 29, 2016.

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