Not-So-Ancient History
26 Apr 2011
Inside the Classics

A few weeks ago, our orchestra librarians, in an effort to rid their cramped space on the third floor of Orchestra Hall of some needless clutter, decided to get rid of several stacks of old program books from decades past. (Don’t worry, they’ve still got copies of everything carefully archived – these were duplicates of duplicates of duplicates.) Rather than just dump them in the recycling bins, they carted the whole lot down to the musicians’ lounge, and dumped them on a table for our perusal. And ZOMG, as the kids say, did this turn out to be a treasure trove of orchestra history!

There's just no way that kid was in the orchestra.

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The old Showcase books are a random assortment from the years 1976 to 1983, spanning the end of Stanislaw Skrowaczewski’s music directorship, the beginning of Neville Marriner’s tenure, and the launch of what was then known as Viennese Sommerfest under the direction of one Leonard Slatkin. The earliest book I found was the one above, from February 1976, one month before I was born. And naturally, the first thing I did was turn to the orchestra roster page. (at left)

When I joined the Minnesota Orchestra on February 15, 2000, 23 of the musicians on that page were still on the roster. (25 if you count stage manager Tim Eickholt and good old Stan Skrowaczewski, who still holds the title of conductor laureate.) As of today, there are eight left. Which is a remarkable tribute to musical longevity, but it also makes we wonder: in 2024, will there be 23 of us left from 2000? Will there be eight left from the turn of the millenium by 2035? Will I be one of them?

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This particular program page (at right) is from what I believe was the very first year of Viennese Sommerfest, and you’ll notice that our neighbor across 11th Street, WCCO-TV, was a prominent sponsor of the entire festival, right down to having their on-air personalities serve as on-stage hosts for nearly every program that summer. (Other program pages show concerts hosted by, among other familiar ‘CCO names, news anchor Pat Miles and meteorologist Mike Fairbourne, who’s still with the station!)

Also notable is that the narrator that night was none other than Werner Klemperer, who was best known for playing the bumbling Colonel Klink on Hogan’s Heroes, but was also a professional violinist, pianist, and baritone (quite the trifecta!) who sang both in opera houses and on Broadway before becoming known to millions as an incompetent Nazi commandant. (Interesting tidbit: Klemperer, who was Jewish and the son of famed German conductor Otto Klemperer, only agreed to play Klink at all after being assured that the show would never present the character as anything better than an idiot and a loser.)

Even the ads in these old program books are fun. There’s an array of glossy come-ons from fancy restaurants of the day (mainly old Midwest supper clubs, the kind that barely exist these days, but Rudolph’s Barbecue does make several appearances as well,) car dealerships, and local stalwarts like Dayton’s. And then, hiding in the corner of a 1980 Showcase, this gem:

Yep, that’s Sony, touting the compact size and sleekness of its latest home stereo system, which still looks bigger than your average oven to me! Keep in mind that this was the same year Sony rolled out the first Walkman to the US market, and having recently unearthed my own ancient mid-80s model of that little technological wonder, I can personally attest that things I thought were pretty tiny and portable in 1985 look almost unmanageably bulky to me in 2011. Ain’t technology fun?

The real treasure in these old books for those of us in the orchestra, of course, is all the photos. Pictures of old friends and current ones, conductors who terrorized and entertained us across the decades, soloists we admired from afar and others we pounded beers with after concerts. In those pages are photos of colleagues I consider to be the very model of straight-laced suburbia looking like long-haired hippies. There are pictures of friends I know only as graying eminences from the days when they looked like teen idols.

I’m not putting up most of those pictures here out of a combination of politeness and fear of (ahem) retribution down the line. But I couldn’t resist including this “meet the musicians” feature from a 1979 issue, featuring three glamorous young string players, every one of whom still sits onstage with me today.

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Those are three awfully good-looking young people, and at the risk of embarrassing anyone, I just have to say: My gracious, Marcia! Did the orchestra hire you directly off the set of Falcon Crest? That is a Hollywood-caliber smile right there. I hope you remind Dave every morning of just how far up the ladder he was reaching while courting you…

I sometimes struggle to explain what working in an orchestra is like. It’s nothing like an office, and despite what some overly sentimental observers would have you believe, it’s not really like a family, either. But maybe these old pages tell the story better than I can. It’s the story of an institution breathed into life by a community of generous souls, and cared for by an ever-changing, ever-vigilant, and ever-motley crew of musicians.

I don’t know if I’ll make it to 2035 or not. But if I do, I’ll tell you this: there isn’t going to be a single copy of a 2000-era Showcase with my photo in it to be found. I’ll make good and sure of that.

<October 2019>

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