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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.

Orchestra Hall, January 19, 1958

On January 19, 1958, fifteen-year-old Daniel Barenboim made his piano recital debut at Orchestra Hall, with the following program:

BACH/Liszt Prelude and Fugue in A Minor, BWV 543
BEETHOVEN Sonata No. 23 in F Minor, Op. 57 (Appassionata)
BRAHMS Sonata No. 1 in C Major, Op. 1
BEN-HAIM Intermezzo and Toccata, Op. 34

The next day in the American, Roger Dettmer wrote, “Only very occasionally some youngster will happen along who seems to have been born adult . . . The prodigy turned out yesterday afternoon to be Daniel Barenboim, born fifteen years ago in Argentina. The talent is huge, the technique already formidable and he applied both to a virtuoso program [with] secure musical training and uncommon sensitivity of touch.”

He returned in November of that year and again every couple of years after that for more solo piano recitals, including—over the course of a month between February 26 and March 27, 1986—a series of eight concerts, traversing Beethoven’s complete cycle of piano sonatas.

After becoming the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s ninth music director in September 1991, Barenboim made regular appearances as piano recitalist and chamber musician, collaborating with an extraordinary roster of instrumentalists and singers. He performed a dizzying array of repertoire, including Albéniz’s Iberia; Bach’s Goldberg Variations; Bartók’s Sonata for Two Pianos and Percussion; Beethoven’s Diabelli Variations; Berg’s Chamber Concerto for Piano, Violin, and Thirteen Wind Instruments (with Pierre Boulez conducting); Brahms’s cello sonatas; Mahler’s Des Knaben Wunderhorn, Songs of a Wayfarer, and Rückert Lieder; Messiaen’s Quartet for the End of Time; Mozart’s complete violin sonatas; Schubert’s Winterreise; Schumann’s Frauenliebe und -leben; Wagner’s Siegfried Idyll and Wesendonk Lieder; and Wolf’s Italian Songbook; along with other piano works by Chopin, Debussy, Liszt, Schoenberg, and Schubert, among others.

Barenboim’s collaborators included instrumentalists Héctor Console, Lang Lang, Radu Lupu, Yo-Yo Ma, Rodolfo Mederos, Itzhak Perlman, András Schiff, Deborah Sobol, Maxim Vengerov, and Pinchas Zukerman, along with singers Kathleen BattleCecilia Bartoli, Angela Denoke, Plácido Domingo, Thomas Hampson, Robert Holl, Waltraud Meier, Thomas Quasthoff, Peter Schreier, and Bo Skovhus. He also invited countless members of the Orchestra to join him, including Stephen Balderston, Li-Kuo Chang, Robert Chen, Dale Clevenger, Larry Combs, Louise Dixon, Edward Druzinsky, Jay Friedman, Rubén González, Richard Graef, Joseph Guastafeste, John Hagstrom, Adolph Herseth, Richard Hirschl, Alex Klein, Donald Koss, Burl Lane, Samuel Magad, David McGill, Michael Mulcahy, Lawrence Neuman, Bradley Opland, Nancy Park, Donald Peck, Gene Pokorny, Mark Ridenour, James Ross, Norman Schweikert, John Sharp, Gregory Smith, Charles Vernon, Gail Williams, and members of the Chicago Symphony Chorus (prepared by Duain Wolfe), among many others.

June 4 and 11, 2006

During the final residency of his tenure as music director, Barenboim presented Bach’s The Well-Tempered Clavier in two piano recitals: the first book on June 4, 2006; and the second book a week later, on June 11.

Reviewing the June 4 concert, John von Rhein in the Chicago Tribune wrote that Barenboim, “brought the full color resources of a modern concert grand to bear on Bach’s pristinely ordered sound-world . . . Bach never intended for musicians to perform all the preludes and fugues in one gulp, but when they are executed at so exalted a level of thought, feeling, and spirituality, who’s to say they shouldn’t?”

Following the second installment, Wynne Delacoma in the Chicago Sun-Times added, “One of Barenboim’s gifts as a pianist is his ability to etch clear, long-lined, richly colored phrases with seemingly no effort [and in Bach’s music] we heard the foundation on which the rest of his music-making has been built. . . . The applause that brought Barenboim back for extra bows was fervent and heartfelt. Barenboim’s annual piano recitals have been high points of Chicago’s musical life for the past fifteen years. They are appreciated and will be deeply missed.”

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Theodore Thomas

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


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