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Conversation with Alfred Wallenstein. This is another in a continuing series of programs each of which offers the listener a rare opportunity to hear an eminent musician informally discussing his own career and expressing his thoughts about a variety of topics related to the art of music. The regular participants in these discussions are Aaron Parsons professor of music theory at Northwestern University's School of Music and program annotator for the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. And George Stone program director for Zenith radio corporation's serious music station WEAA FM in Chicago. Mr. Parsons and Mr. Stone Evans their guest on today's program the noted American conductor Alfred Wallenstein. Now here is Aaron Parsons. Mr. Wallenstein you are here in Chicago appearing as guest conductor with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra orchestra of which you were once a member as a cellist. And in a sense this is a kind of
double homecoming since we know that you were born here in Chicago. We welcome you back. Thank you very much nice to be back. Oh I just wonder really Mr. Wong this time if the references to you as a Chicago in are similar to those two rebel as a Basque because didn't you leave Chicago at a very early age didn't your family with us when we were. My family moved my father moved to California when I was the age of eight. And I didn't come back to Chicago until the year of joining the earth which was twenty three I think going to 23 something like that. So great very red room time was spent in the West Coast in Europe and so was yours a musical family. No not at all my my. They both played and my father was an amateur flute does now much which I left my mother was an amateur chemist but there were no professionals at all but it was a love of music and they saw both my sister and myself practiced on the piano and you know like the
thing you studied it in Los Angeles. I didn't wasn't as well as I started actually I started in Chicago and I can't remember the name. Of the teacher I'm terribly sorry but it because it was of such short duration that I. Wouldn't remember who it was but when I was that piano study or cello nor I was my I studied piano. We're going mother she was she taught us and. And then the cellist. I remember the reason getting the cello was that my father promised me a bicycle if I made two grades in one year I was going to I think the name of the grammar school here was the Agassi of that means anything I mean now maybe doesn't exist anymore but I think that was in the school and he promised that I would have a. I think I would go if I made two grades in the air and which somehow I did. So we were looking for a bicycle and I couldn't find any with a course to break they had and that was what I wanted desperately so. Passing by line and he leaves one day
looking in the window he said Wouldn't you like would you like a cello. Not really good at that either as I'm sure thinking process is going to get the bicycle. So he bought a cello and the reason I can't remember the name of the teacher because somebody around the near north side too taught everything at that time you know. Guitar flute cello and bass you name it. And as he came over to the cello myself which everybody seemed to think was remarkable I didn't but many cases like I only had about three or four lessons of the solo and then we went to California where I studied with the mother of Ferdie groceries and we see as for the growth his grandfather first and his mother the family was involved in music I was writing that I mean the belay family the grocery family with Billy was the name of the family you know I'm Mrs. Wonderful was the daughter of Billy and
Freddie as her son. And I stay with her for quite a while until there was a. Flood in Los Angeles the time I was in high school that time. On the Orpheum circuit in those days they had the playbook they call today a mother with a groove indeed that he she can and that nothing like what it was now and the marriage of the Orpheum Theater there called me one day because I've been playing around quite a bit in Southern California as so-called wunderkind and I asked if I would do a week at the Orpheum Theater because the acts coming out from some Cisco couldn't get through and they'd already held them over another week. Never having done anything like this as I'm sure so bored me so that started a cycle of a whole one year and nine months of voting for the country with you know those as a rather amusing because some of the headliners will work and
organ others so I'm a cow they say. I remember Will Rogers when I first met him was in Kansas City and he was he wasn't even headlining a show and it was but I was a little interest. We did it work of a single such things as climbing as she did and what did you play. I probably know in Melbourne as well the pianist myself. We played things like that younger and Rhapsody and spendings on my things that kind of you know one slow piece whatever it was take up 15 20. It was after this period of traveling around that which must really have been a tremendous experience for a young fellow for you I had limited teams you know your first symphonic experience was with the San Francisco is that's right actually once I got the I was going to go by me. Please no assumptions gorged Hertz was then the conductor and I played in the US and I was 1916 it was Michael and I think I found a
reference to this in one of the books I have. Been reading in the last couple of days. And the author told me whether this is apocryphal the author said that Alfred Hertz was very eager to engage you because you were a. Very fine cellist but he exacted a promise from you that you would wear long trousers. Yes that's right. Yes I think so. I was told that they it so happened that that particular season the season before that I have played for Pablo. When she came through. I'm playing the song for her and and the following are rather the end of that season. What 16 15 16 or 16 whatever the six it's another must be just 15 16 and perhaps only there was a concert in Marseilles in the early series rather than some so it was I was a scorecard and the last day of the concert
the last concert rather was a pop concert and I had received a telegram from Pablo asking if I would go to South America with her and if I would and agreed to it would I meet her in San Juan Puerto Rico which gave me three days to get there from south. There were no planes above them so the hardened heads didn't want to let me out of this last concert because he thought I was coming back and I had no intention of going back to the orchestra. So I made this to a pub over and that was a year and months also all South American. Finally went back and played arrange a tour of 90 concerts with the ones I love through Chile and Argentina. You wouldn't take that many times that there were. And then came back to Mexico and then to Southern California and I was in Southern California I
think for now. I then joined the Los Angeles orchestra that was something this all goes back several years 1999 and in 1999 I played. With the orchestra for also for one season and then I had another offer to go to South America too. To use all this which I also did. And then I after that tour. Unfortunately having had music in South America for a long time and many of these places because of the war and then I went to my mom I was had the idea I wanted to go to study in Germany with Michael who was there I was jealous of him as a teacher and that's how the trip to Germany began and my studies in Germany that this was a move in life to compose watches Yes I was very different all that time to get the amount of travel time as the war was just over and we were represented and Germany at that time by the Swedish embassy so I had to go through the Swedish embassy to from Chile Swiss Embassy to get into the into Germany and I
believe that that particular time I was probably the only American in Leipsic and also if you missed one of the dictionaries says that the rock to Leipzig to study music and to take have the cello lessons with Judy is clear though that you also studied medicine as I did this quest right. But 24 hours a day. And. Both are fascinating. Both take an awful lot of time so you have make up your mind at the end you can do one of the other you can do both. How long did you pursue the medical center and I have you know. But he would go so deeply almost totally involved in music up until that time completely and still am I just know this must really have been a swift rise of one of the switches and something I've always wanted to do when I if I had to live to live I would still like to do that because it's not the practice of messing with the research and lessons that I believe Well how then did you happen to
be. After your your stay in life to wind up here in Chicago. Well like I have a sister living here at the time and. There was a union proviso you know I don't know whether it exists now that you had to be a certain length of time before you could be a full member. We would not accept that he gave me. And my sister was here. She wrote me and said that I should come to Chicago because if she thought the position of first jealous would be open so I. Had to take a. I took a job in one of the movie houses where I forgot which one it was now playing until this time when over time elapsed and then played for stock and that was it. When you became the principal cellist and you were about 24 years old I don't remember the exact day because I had something like that you were quite a young man you know during that
period and you were quite active as a soloist and it is I would have remembered every year I played once or twice. Different works on the tour and also taught as you called Musical College and my fights last year I was here stuck dedicated his cello concerto to me which is a beautiful work on the left unplayed sense but it should be played as a great piece I think explains the challenge in every way. A simple matter we tend to forget because with changing times and changing musical tastes and whatnot I think the works of stock are not so frequently performed anymore. I think one of the main reasons that they aren't is because they were on the manuscript and I I really don't know who has those manuscripts no one of the family had them whether they belong to the orchestra I really don't know but I'm sure if they were available or published let's
say that they would. I wouldn't say they'd be played in free because they are there. They're not modern inventions today but but they're well made stuff. We've made a couple visions during those years which were modern in that they don't I think perform possibly more than any other conductor I know. New music old music and as most conflict the conflict tends to almost any conductor are known of and his knowledge of the orchestra no knowledge of the repertoire was staggering. Well he pretty well covered the repertory so I did a basic that it was that classics that I just am not which was not enough the timing of the Stravinsky is the performance right there I remember I remember performance here once I think of the first time they did LE sock and at which time doing three different movements they had cards that they held up telling what the next guy. He thought he heard what was written in response to the audience that I think that was about like 24 and I don't remember the year but it was it was the kind of response that you would.
Would expect if you know what I mean. You know there were several. It was probably not vociferous as audiences were tended to be reported to be in Europe. But when I met him in Europe I remember performs a lot in Europe where audiences really went well not while but I mean hated you know fought reform with much other new music too. But yes they just of in scale of course there's a very famous story about a riot. But there there was a tradition here in Chicago which had been established by Theodore Thomas and carried forward by stock I was performing the music of that day and I think perhaps Chicago audiences might have been more receptive than you know audiences in other areas just because they had heard a great deal of new music. Well stock was very fortuitous program maker he didn't load the audience down with a completely complete programs of work that was one major work
and then the other standard works. So the audience gradually came into this. I'm into guns like music for its sake and whether they like it or not I mean they they they took it my they stayed there were very few late the exception of Friday afternoons which I can understand people having to leave town to go to the country something that very few people left. Even when the music was played it was part of that is to place the new piece in the middle of the program as well as before it was enough to get outside which is another way to yours and other ways of coming educate educate the public keep them in their seats. What sort of a repertory did you play as a soloist understocked everything. Everything new oh everything. I think there were thirty nine different concerti I played during the period I was here with them. Incidentally do you still play there so. Oh yes I won most beautiful stretch of the world and I'm. And right now I am sitting here and I'm at this moment but the
few days I've been a lot because there wasn't a cello or two to play No I don't. It's great fun to play and it's wonderful it's really it's just a fabulous talent. Oh after Chicago you were here what. Several years I was in love with these three. I was God 23 29 years from 20 to 29 seven years as a nun. My my life cycles are at more or less been in the 70s and you know I was really you know your father Mike with us going to India for seven years and then double that in radio that was 14 years and then California 13 north 13 and then California was 13 and I did as he looked after me. How did you happen to go from Chicago to New York too. Well I mean. I have this invitation from America in New York
to if I would get to play for Toscanini and that really I was. I remember right well because MS 1927 made a trip to Europe and it was just a fun trip. And the last performance in Scott I was the only on Barbara to come and it was going it was. And I think I remember many years before that in 19 20 20 I think it was with negation lychee saying that not to me but to the orchestra as a whole if you would give up he said if you he died he'd just come back from Italy that if you. Have a chance and you go to Milan or you have a chance of hearing talks going in you don't think a looser because you are never heard anything like this and they happen to do happen to be doing us a treat I think. So I had a name stuck with me and because otherwise the mean too much so in the scholarly Fortunately I got the last two
seats that were available and say in front of us was governor which one I didn't even recognize a short haircut and I told him I was that we did that with his creditors I'm sorry but this performance I mean in my mind before I knew that I was not going to watch him I was going to. What stays on the up because I didn't know the opera and. I found it but didn't have my go I just concentrated on this man I was a survivalist. That was the first time so I knew then that I wanted to play with this man and there was a friend of ours Papi who conducted the next river in a parking lot in the opera. And I one day I was asking was it. Tommy or Tommy but I don't always want to know more about him. He said always that I don't think you like these are very difficult to play with things that I don't care how deeply as a player you know. So this is a range and I went and played for him mean me me to be offered the
position which I told him I couldn't accept until I had spoken to stop in Chicago because my Although I didn't have an extending contract contract or if there was only courtesy to let him know that I wasn't coming back and shouted like this too much but many case I did go. And never regretted it for one moment. He was the easiest man I've ever played with in my life. And probably most rewarding in every way. That's interesting Mr. Wallenstein you're saying the easiest In what sense. Because you never asked for anything that wasn't printed never and it was just a custom music making I mean that was the question. Play this loud playlist make a retard here make a decision to make all these all these nonsense that goes on. None of this was him it was just so easy. But what's on the paper. That's of course this presupposes the ability to play it I imagine now that's really when you say the easiest man. Well there
were some who didn't find the light so easy. Isn't this true now I don't think so I think I think without. Malice I don't think of any I can't think of one good musician I mean if you didn't if you weren't qualified only in slavery couldn't get around the way I think the profession you might have ended up with years ago. Was he. Oh business at all times. He was a great idea the concentration of the kind they knew him when he came on the stand or they left but I think you have to realize that one had to realize at that time that he was giving his all and the rehearsals the singing of the performance and his complete concentration and coordination was such that anything could disturb and did some time with noises and things of this kind which are things that he wouldn't tolerate. He wouldn't mind it once or if a mistake happened. I say this with no problem at all this happens all the
time we go over. He may have gone over twice but not the third time. Then he was never well because inefficiency of some players and you know years ago this is a great great experience. You know who I think were involved in one of those instances in which just anybody who from what we have read of him and so on. Enjoyed parties and jokes and fun about as much as anyone I thought but there was a celebrated event a benefit wasn't it where you and a number of other it it reads like a who's who with a roster of performers. John and I were referring to the Chatham school concert. Yeah. Now you had a great deal of humor I actually love stories. He didn't like gossip but he liked stories and and he was asked by a mutual friend Sam shouts enough who later became music music director of NBC to if he would be good enough to do a
concert I mean he would get all the artists and so forth that he could possibly muster together and it was a benefit concert certainly. So the orchestra consisted I was Heifetz a Milstein Bush machine cough and fire mind. Primrose and myself. When I met may have been the more BUT I WAS THE BIG are two very smart but very choices need to be big with a group of very bright trust fund and lies to remember dressed as stories go that Schubert with a long cutaway and now this is a fun evening and I think a great deal of money was raised but I was the prime purpose of it but it was really fun but he did this many times for other groups but he was all he was when it came to music that was serious it was his life.
Had you done any conducting prior to your tenure with the Philharmonic under Toscanini had yes he had you know yeah I guess yes. Small groups all over the place and then and. And I would bowl I think was the first major one which is 30 that he won I believe it was. And. And then you see young conductors I mean they have today they have a much more difficult time than than they did in the days of radio when they have orchestras which unfortunately not here anymore because there you have the chance of getting a wealth of experience in my particular case it was it was wonderful because all the music I played all my life I didn't have the chance to play because the orchestra wasn't that big as a radio they were all in the contract it was to be sure 40 men but which gave me a whole scope of about rock music old music and many many contemporary played over 3000 new first performance of the time I
was on the I was missing off a lot of this. This was concurrent with yours. I did that when I was looking for some I guess I don't have sometimes where the money goes when it was going to resign and 36 that I knew that I was I was going to resign because he told me I was going to assault. I left then and then I get my full time to do with conducting all over the place. Haven't you elected to remain with the Philharmonic simply because of him. It wasn't because of him as I thought he was like a father to me actually and then to my wife as well and more than the night I didn't go by that. Calls wouldn't come from him. He liked this or he didn't like that and he told me what he liked and why he didn't like certain things. Well this is invaluable I mean to the young person at that time referring not to the boss because like I said you know. Those really were remarkable for the time when one considers what we think of early radio and the kinds of things which were offered
as being representative of serious music and they they are now what obviously would be classified as pop concert material if even that. But what you were doing at the time would be a credit to the industry today perhaps even a greater credit to the industry today than then because. Great Scott you did what. A whole cycle of black untitled. 87 Bach and taught us. All the Mozart Concerti for piano all from final 14 of the operas. Oh I mention all of the symphonies the kind of sanctions that he meant the all of the hundred for a Haydn. The first American opera festival I was on the air. I can't even begin Plus my friends there are so many of my string program things and to first of all you never hear that I mean you couldn't hear it because first they wouldn't fit on a program on a symphonic program because of the length let's say duration I mean I would be very
difficult to make programs around the desk something within those days we were involved with audiences I mean we I played what I wanted to play and had a wonderful orchestra. There must have been a little more generous rehearsal schedule in those days than we have. No no I wasn't actually no you just had to allocate your time to fetch. I mean you knew exactly what you were going to play and how many a program because there were other programs on the air at the time I remember having gone in there insisting that for every popular program they had on there with a live orchestra they had to have a serious program. And there's a little difficult for Russia because the bottom time is you wouldn't be here either. This was a w r r us where those local programs are there oh no they were not but they want to they want to do it I remember right from the outset and well let me ask this they won and Stein Sinfonietta which even to those nowadays who are too young to remember it is a familiar name. Was this the wor there's a staff orchestra there's a little bit of us definitely have
and then there was a string program which had another name and I've forgotten all the names but I mean the symphony of course and the best known of the group. And what did we do all kinds of repertoire but fast and to answer your question for those two rehearsals you knew exactly how much time you had I think the time average is about two hours for a program that has very little on new music. So you wouldn't attempt to play a new piece of it was very difficult in two hours but you over a period of projected weeks you see would rehearse a little bit on there's a little of that and finally it all went on Leon. Things are wrinkled ironed out then you and then you put together the two hours with a broadcast concerts somewhere now and I have somewhere now or somewhere how far you know Lester it was I would be interested to know how you got into conduct in the first
place. What sort of training led up to this. Well I had had this when I started and Germany had not for you have only theory and composition. The rest composing of God knows what and I think this question has often been asked in the orchestra seating too is a little different than it used to be the Charlie used to be in the middle of a first violin on your left and you have Charlie. Then you have the viewers then you have the second violence on us and so on. If you sat in an orchestra you would find that you heard the same as a conductor you heard it from all angles on the sides and actually played this music so much and you know from memory I want to say all of that I was going to remember you know exactly where the mistakes were going to happen with every orchestra not alone here in Europe in the east in the Western mains where same mistake may still happen in the same places today. So my experience is a great teacher. You had them as a result of this experience
and decided that The conducting was something you really wished to produce I don't I don't we would have been as even as a very young boy he was very young but is what I always want to do and I prepared myself from studying scores long before I ever conducted I mean you're not alone in this thing with him being able to write them out from memory in this kind of thing so that preparation was not wasted. All of these concerts that you give them during that period of 10 14 years old or that will lead eventually to that to your being awarded the George Peabody radio. Yes I was the first first Peabody Award.
A conversation with
Episode Number
#6 (Reel 1)
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University of Maryland (College Park, Maryland)
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Identifier: 69-12-6 (National Association of Educational Broadcasters)
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Chicago: “A conversation with; #6 (Reel 1),” 1969-01-23, University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed February 27, 2024,
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