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Jorja Fleezanis in 1975 (Terry’s Photography)

The Chicago Symphony Orchestra family mourns the passing of Jorja Fleezanis, a member of the Orchestra’s violin section during the 1975-76 season and a passionate, lifelong educator. She passed away at her home in Lake Leelanau, Michigan on September 10, 2022, at the age of seventy.

Born on March 19, 1952, in Detroit, Michigan, Fleezanis began violin instruction at the age of eight, and as a teenager, attended the Interlochen Center for the Arts on scholarship and performed with the Detroit Youth Orchestra. She furthered her studies at the Cleveland Institute of Music and Cincinnati Conservatory of Music. Fleezanis’s teachers included Mischa Mischakoff (CSO concertmaster from 1930 until 1937) in Chicago; Donald Weilerstein and David Cerone in Cleveland; and Walter Levin in Cincinnati. She was assistant concertmaster of the Cleveland Concert Associates Orchestra, concertmaster of the Cincinnati Chamber Orchestra, and concerto soloist with the University of Cincinnati Philharmonia Orchestra.

According to a 1975 program book biography, “Of Greek descent and the only musician in her family, Detroit-born Jorja decided to shoot for the Chicago post as the test of her talent. She made it to the finals on three separate occasion, each time told by Maestro Solti personally that he would like her to audition again. Even after her third audition, Solti still wavered, calling for some further test. So she sat in with the Orchestra for a week—comfortable, exhilarated, totally in her element. At last Sir Georg was convinced and hired her on the spot.”

Following her season in Chicago, she later served as associate concertmaster with the San Francisco Symphony. In 1989, she won the audition as concertmaster of the Minnesota Orchestra, becoming (at the time) only the second woman in the United States to hold that title in a major orchestra when appointed. Fleezanis remained in that position for twenty years until her retirement in 2009, as the longest-tenured concertmaster in the Minnesota Orchestra’s history. During her time as concertmaster, two works were commissioned for her: John Adams’s Violin Concerto and John Tavener’s Ikon of Eros.

Jorja Fleezanis (Indiana University photo)

A passionate educator, Fleezanis was professor of orchestral studies at Indiana University’s Jacobs School of Music from 2009 until her retirement last year. She also served as an adjunct faculty member at the University of Minnesota’s School of Music from 1990 until 2009; at the Round Top International Festival Institute in Texas from 1990 until 2007; artist-in-residence at the University of California, Davis; guest artist and teacher at the San Francisco Conservatory from 1981 to 1989; and artist and mentor at the Music@Menlo Festival from 2003 until 2010. Fleezanis had been teacher and coach with the New World Symphony since 1988 as well as on the faculty of the Music Academy of the West since 2016. She was a visiting teacher at the Boston Conservatory, the Juilliard School, the Shepherd School of Music, and the Interlochen Academy and Summer Camp, along with serving as a frequent guest and clinician at the Britten Pears Centre at Snape Maltings in England.

A longtime member of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra Alumni Association, Jorja Fleezanis was preceded in death by her husband, American music critic and author Michael Steinberg.

This article also appears here.

Ralph Johnson and Lois Schaefer onstage with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in December 1953

If you’ve tuned into CSOtv recently, you may have noticed that in the December 1953 concert, Lois Schaefer is sitting in the first-chair position!

Hired by fifth music director Rafael Kubelík in 1951, Schaefer served the Orchestra as assistant principal flute until 1954. She was the third woman rostered in the flute section, following Caroline Solfronk Vacha (1943-1946) and Peggy Hardin (1945-1951).

Born in Yakima, Washington, on March 10, 1924, Schaefer attended the Interlochen Summer Arts Camp as a teenager, later studying at the New England Conservatory of Music, where she studied with Georges Laurent (principal flute of the Boston Symphony Orchestra), Frank Horsfall, and Sebastian Caratelli. She completed her bachelor’s of music in flute performance in 1946 and an artist diploma the following year.

Lois Schaefer in the 1960s (image courtesy of the Boston Symphony Orchestra Archives)

During her time in Chicago, Schaefer also taught at Chicago Musical College. By 1956, she returned east and was hired as principal flute of the New York City Opera, where she would remain for ten seasons. During this time, she also performed and recorded with the NBC Opera Theatre Orchestra, the RCA Victor Symphony Orchestra, and the Columbia Symphony Orchestra.

In 1965, Schaefer was hired by then–music director Erich Leinsdorf to the position of flute and principal piccolo for the Boston Symphony Orchestra, her “dream job.” During her twenty-five-year tenure, she also served as principal piccolo for the Boston Pops Orchestra. “In more than 2,000 Boston Pops performances of [John Philip Sousa‘s] ‘The Stars and Stripes Forever,’ a moment always arrived when Lois Schaefer was the star of the show,” wrote Bryan Marquard in the Boston Globe. “Though she was a master of the memorable piccolo solo that is the highlight of the song, she didn’t take her eyes off the musical score—not in her first concert, not in her 2,000th. She was determined to never make a mistake on her notoriously difficult instrument, which sometimes waits silently through portions of concerts, only to suddenly be highlighted for all ears to hear.”

Schaefer served on the faculty of the New England Conservatory of Music from 1965 until 1992. She also was a board member of the National Flute Association, receiving their second-ever lifetime achievement award in 1993.

According to her sister Winifred Mayes, a cellist with the BSO from 1954 until 1964, Schaefer was “very, very happy in Boston. . . . She loved the orchestra and the people in it. She always felt very secure and warm towards them, and they towards her. I think it was perfect for her.”

Lois Schaefer in the late 1980s (photo courtesy of the Boston Symphony Orchestra Archives)

In her final season in Boston, Schaefer was soloist in Daniel Pinkham‘s Concerto Piccolo, written especially for her. Upon her retirement in 1990, Globe music critic Richard Dyer wrote, “For her twenty-five years as solo piccolo, Lois Schaefer has been the highest, brightest voice in the Boston Symphony Orchestra. . . . To hear her in a Rossini overture is like watching the sunlight dance on rippling water. She can also break your heart with a perfectly placed high pianissimo in a Mahler or Shostakovich slow movement.”

Lois Schaefer died at the home she shared with her sister in Sequim, Washington, on January 31, 2020, at the age of ninety-five. She was survived by her sister Winifred Mayes until her passing, also in Sequim, on December 15, 2020, at the age of one hundred and one.

Lois Schaefer performs as first-chair flute in a December 9, 1953, Hour of Music telecast, currently available on CSOtv. Guest conductor and former music director Désiré Defauw leads the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in Grétry’s Three Dances from Cephalus and Procris, a suite from Fauré’s Pelleas and Melisande, and Schumann’s Fourth Symphony.

Special thanks to Bridget Carr and the Boston Symphony Orchestra Archives.

Norman Schweikert in 1988 (Jim Steere photo)

It is with great sadness that we share news of the passing of Norman Schweikert, a member of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s horn section from 1971 until 1997, who passed away at his home on Washington Island, Wisconsin on December 31, 2018, after a brief illness. He was 81.

A native of Los Angeles, Schweikert began piano lessons at the age of six, added violin soon after, and turned to the horn at age thirteen. His first horn teachers were Odolindo Perissi and Sinclair Lott, both members of the Los Angeles Philharmonic. During high school, Schweikert won a scholarship to the Aspen Music Festival, where he studied with Joseph Eger. In 1955, he auditioned for Erich Leinsdorf, then music director of the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra, and won his first professional post as fourth horn there. He was its youngest member and in succeeding years played second and third horn.

While in Rochester, Schweikert attended the Eastman School of Music and performed and recorded with the Eastman Wind Ensemble under Frederick Fennell. Studying with Morris Secon and Verne Reynolds, he graduated in 1961 with a bachelor’s degree and a performer’s certificate in horn. During his eleven-year tenure in Rochester, Schweikert served three years with the United States Military Academy Band at West Point as well as five years on the faculty of the Interlochen Arts Academy as instructor of horn and a member of the Interlochen Arts Quintet.

In June 1971—at the invitation of music director Georg Solti—Schweikert joined the Chicago Symphony as assistant principal horn, just in time for the Orchestra’s first tour to Europe. In 1975, he was named second horn, the position he held until his retirement in 1997 (he continued to play as a substitute or extra until June 2006). Schweikert appeared as a soloist with the Orchestra on a number of occasions, and in March 1977 he—along with colleagues Dale Clevenger, Richard Oldberg, and Thomas Howell—was soloist in the recording of Schumann’s Konzertstück for Four Horns under the baton of Daniel Barenboim for Deutsche Grammophon.

In 1970, Schweikert chaired the International Horn Society’s organizing committee and served as its first secretary and treasurer. He continued on the advisory council, contributed many articles to The Horn Call, and was elected an honorary member in 1996. From 1973 until 1998, Schweikert served as associate professor of horn on the faculty of Northwestern University.

In his retirement, Schweikert and his wife Sally—a thirty-year veteran of the Chicago Symphony Chorus—made their home on Washington Island in Wisconsin, where he performed with the Washington Island Music Festival. They were longtime members of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra Alumni Association, regularly attending annual reunions. Schweikert also continued his research into the lives of U.S. orchestra members, a project that he started while studying at Eastman, and his collection of material on the subject is likely the largest private collection of its kind in the world. In 2012, Schweikert’s book The Horns of Valhalla—the story of horn players Josef and Xaver Reiter—was published by WindSong Press Limited.

Schweikert is survived by Sally, his beloved wife of fifty-seven years; and their son Eric, principal timpani of the Fort Wayne Philharmonic. Details for a memorial service are pending.

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