About Life in Flow:Flow in Life

Friday, June 14, 2013

Tribute Concert for Dale Clevenger

Dale Clevenger has retired from the Chicago Symphony; his last concert was Tuesday. The send-off at the tribute concert on Monday from the CSO, colleagues, students, and friends was awe-inspiring.

As a former Clevenger student I was thrilled to receive an invitation, not just to the concert, but to play in a large horn choir made up of his students, former students, and colleagues. My daughter Jamie was invited, too, as a current Clevenger student. Our piece was the Adagietto from Mahler's 5th Symphony, a work strongly connected with Dale. If you have never listened to the Chicago Symphony recording of Mahler's 5th with Georg Solti conducting, go do that right now! Here is the horn obbligato from the 3rd movement, with Daniel Barenboim conducting:

We all arrived at Buntrock Hall at Symphony Center for the rehearsal on Monday morning. Nearly 70 horn players had come from all over the country, Europe, and Japan to play in this concert. Buntrock Hall was filled with horn playing and conversation as we all reconnected with our colleagues. I talked with people I hadn't seen in 30 years, horn players I knew when I was in the Civic Orchestra, and friends of Jamie, people I had never met before -- all horn players!

After the warm-up time, we went onto the stage of Orchestra Hall and rehearsed the Adagietto with Dale conducting. It was exciting and a bit nerve-wracking to be playing on the stage with hornists like Norm Schweikert, Eric Ruske, Jeff Nelsen, Gail Williams, and the CSO horn section! In addition to being a great horn player, Dale is also a fine conductor and used our short rehearsal time to the best advantage.

After the rehearsal, while most of us went out to find some lunch, Sarah Willis (4th horn in the Berlin Philharmonic) held a special Horn Hangout via the Internet as part of the tribute. (I watched it later on youtube.) Many people in Chicago, Italy, and other places came on to offer congratulations, memories, and thanks to Dale. His son Jesse Clevenger, a fine horn player himself, talks near the end of the session; his thoughtful and deeply felt remarks go to the heart of why Dale is such a great musician. The entire video is well worth watching:

Cut to the concert! The horn choir, all dressed in black, were all given seats in the terrace (behind the stage). The CSO Brass opened the concert with a Gabrieli Canzon. Dale conducted the entire program except for the Mozart Symphony #25. He brought a box of tissues with him, which he showed to the audience. The CSO Brass were superb, as always. Next, the other five members of the horn section -- Dan Gingrich, Jim Smelser, Dave Griffin, Oto Carrillo, and Susanna Gaunt --  played the Mozart 3rd horn concerto arranged for 5 horns and strings by Dan Gingrich. This was such an inventive arrangement, with the solo phrases moving through the section and the horns taking the woodwind parts as well. A standing ovation followed. The CSO Brass came back on to perform parts of Der Rosenkavalier. Beautiful and impressive. Another standing ovation. During the applause, the brass gave Dale a tusch, an improvised fanfare given by brass (and sometimes percussion). It is a sign of the highest respect and is only rarely given. I have only seen a couple of tusches, one was for Carlo Maria Giulini when he stepped down as Principal Guest Conductor of the Chicago Symphony, and one for Georg Solti when he retired.

The chair for the tribute video.
A video tribute, with interviews with a number of CSO players followed. Before beginning the video, the stage crew brought out a large, comfy chair for Dale. The video was both moving and funny. It has been circulated on Facebook, but here is the link:  http://cso.org/ListenAndWatch/Details.aspx?id=24191    

The concert continued with two movements of Mozart Symphony #25. This is the piece that opens the movie Amadeus.   Ricardo Muti conducted this piece, which features some high, acrobatic horn parts. The last piece on the program was the Adagietto. Ian Harwood, who was in charge of us horn players and did an awesome job with that, had told us that we needed to leave the terrace quickly, pick up our horns and music, and get on the stage as soon as possible. So at the close of the Mozart, most of the terrace stood up and left. We did move quickly, though most of us wanted to play a few notes before playing on stage! I ended up toward the back of the crowd and the sight of 70 musicians all carrying horns, streaming down the circular stairs of the rotunda and into the backstage area was a striking spectacle. I wish someone had been there with a camera. We crowded onto the stage and Dale gave the downbeat. Someone else will have to comment on how well we did. It was an intense experience that seemed to go by in an instant. Lovely arrangement for horn choir by John Schreckengost. Dale and the choir received a standing ovation.

Maestro Muti watching the horn choir
Afterwards there were greetings and farewells in the rotunda, and then about half of the 70 horn players went across Wabash to the Exchequer for pizza and more chatting. The next morning I said good-bye to my friend Henry, who drove 11 hours from Knoxville to attend and play in this concert.  

I know from talking with other horn players and friends in the audience that this was a truly special occasion for people. I think it's because of Dale's stature as a musician, a horn player  and a teacher. When I play horn, it's his sound that's in my ear and his voice in my head. But it's also because of the kind of person he is. He is a very generous, "people" person, always ready to include new people in his life.

Two nights after the tribute I was at a rehearsal with a young horn player, still in college, who had also played in the concert. We both agreed that we were still buzzing from the whole experience. We're not alone.  To echo my friend Henry, "It was a night I shall never forget."      

Joe Fournier, Joe Fournier Studios