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Retiring members of the Seattle Symphony pursue new passions
Seattle Times music critic
When four retiring members of the Seattle Symphony Orchestra stepped out on the Benaroya Hall stage last month for a midconcert recognition ceremony, the applause built to a thunderous roar. The audience got to its feet and continued a lengthy ovation, complete with cheers and whistles.
The four musicians — Bernard Shapiro (oboe), Glen Danielson (English horn), Bruce Lawrence (bass) and Martin Friedmann (violin) — hadn't played a note that evening, but the audience was applauding because they knew the quartet's history: decades of service to the orchestra and the community.
All of them (plus two more who couldn't be present that evening, violinists Janet Fisher Baunton and Joan Martin Woodard) were prominent and highly valued players who worked days and evenings on weekends, holidays, birthdays and anniversaries. Another player, percussionist Randolph Baunton (who is not retiring), was cited for his 50 years with the orchestra.
No wonder the applause was loud and long.
But while the applauders knew the players as orchestra members, there's a lot more to the story. Symphony musicians also are bikers, dog trainers, kayakers, contractors, chefs, linguists, writers, professional photographers, jazz players, historians and hang gliders.
And in the case of the 2005 retirees, the personalities and post-retirement plans are just as diverse.
Encouraging diversity; an upbringing in jazz
Bruce Lawrence's departure from the orchestra reduced its African-American membership by 50 percent, a fact that makes him shake his head. This tall, gentle man knows firsthand how hard it can be for black kids to enter the world of classical music — and that's why he is determined to open some doors.
"Student tutors come from Garfield High School, where there's a great orchestra," Lawrence notes, "and they're just incredible. I've been doing this for a couple of months now. These kids are surrounded by hip-hop stuff, but I've been exposed to something great that I can share with them."
Lawrence grew up in lower Harlem, in a musical family: "My dad was a baritone who wanted to be a concert singer; he sang in the Paul Johnson Choir. But in his time, the opportunities just weren't there." The young Lawrence originally studied piano, but was told by a teacher at New York's Music and Art High School that his big hands would make him a natural for the double bass (as the instrument formally is called). He went on to more success on that instrument at the Juilliard School, but afterward Lawrence took up jazz because there were more opportunities there for black players.
In Harlem, he was surrounded by legendary jazz artists such as Duke Ellington and Lena Horne. Lawrence played his bass alongside such legends as Charlie "Bird" Parker, Ella Fitzgerald, Sonny Rollins and Dizzy Gillespie.
"A lot of guys in the neighborhood were learning to hot-wire cars," Lawrence remembers, "but I was just really involved with music, and nobody gave me a bad time about it. People had a lot of respect for good music. Sugar Ray Robinson used to carry my bass from the big double decker bus to my house. I sparred with him at the gym."
Lawrence smiles at the memory.
"He had mercy on me."
Lawrence's heart was in the classical world, however, and in the late 1950s he joined the symphony orchestra of Ottawa, where the racial barriers weren't as confining, and went on to other jobs in Halifax and Syracuse before being recruited by the Seattle Symphony in 1968. "That was the best thing that ever happened to me," he says. Lawrence plays a huge full-sized bass made by Hammond Ashley, and he loves "the big, masculine sound it makes. I love to play Bach suites on that big bass."
His eyes shine when he talks about the youngsters in his fledgling string orchestra.
"You should see the look on their faces when they're playing," Lawrence says. "It's hard for them to get instruments; a lot of them are borrowed. We only have about 12 kids now, but there will be more. I feel so good about it!"
"A beautiful life" with a rich, round sound
It was 1961 when a young Bernard Shapiro joined the Seattle Symphony, where his principal oboe position has made him one of the orchestra's most prominent and indispensable players. He's still playing the oboe (he'll be in the "Ring" orchestra for Seattle Opera in August), but he's also studying Spanish, watercolor painting and printmaking. His collection of self-portraits, a nod to Andy Warhol, will appear in the Licton Springs Review, published by North Seattle Community College.
"I've also started a culinary program, to see what professional cooking is like," says Shapiro, a lifelong gourmet.
"We start every morning at 7:30 a.m., which takes some dedication."
He taught at Pacific Lutheran University for 22 years, and at the University of Washington in the 1960s, but Shapiro is teaching less these days. Partly that's because he feels his brand of oboe playing ("dark, heavy, more macho") isn't what music directors are looking for these days.
"I like a juicy, big sound," he explains, "but it's not in style now. Nathan (Hughes, the Symphony's current principal oboe) plays lighter and has more endurance. It's like a racehorse versus an armor-carrying horse. Most students don't know that heavier sound now, and it's a disservice to teach it."
Audiences who remember Shapiro's big, rich sound might disagree. He learned that sound back in his New York days, when he earned a B.A. and an M.A. from the Manhattan School of Music. He went on to play first oboe with the Eighth Army Band, as well as the Seoul and Korean Broadcasting symphonies.
It was in the Army that Shapiro learned the technique of circular breathing, which allows the player to form a pocket of air in the mouth, pushed out with the tongue, while he breathes in through the nose. Thus, the stream of air through the oboe is continuous.
"It's been a beautiful life," he says, of his years playing the oboe.
"I don't know which direction I'll go now, but they're all interesting. Life's a candy store."
He'll play a final "Ring" then do some traveling
Shapiro's colleague in the oboe section, Glen Danielson, is a specialist on the oboe's glorious alto cousin, the English horn, which he has played here since 1967. He, too, will play this summer's "Ring" — in fact, Danielson has played all 42 "Rings" here.
"It will be my swan song," he says, of next month's Wagnerian performances.
If you're a Magnolia resident, you may have come across Danielson walking speedily backward along the neighborhood boulevards ("It's great for the back"). He also jogs to keep in shape; English horn players need plenty of lung power.
Danielson grew up in West Allis, Wis., home of the flamboyant Liberace, and began his orchestral career with Beethoven's Ninth in his first year at Milton College. He'll be back there this summer for his 50th high-school reunion.
A mild stroke prompted Danielson's decision to retire; he is otherwise healthy, but lingering effects in one tiny area of the eye meant that he had a narrowed visual range. Now he looks forward to doing a little traveling, and hearing some of Europe's great concert halls firsthand.
"Jerry (Schwarz) has been so wonderful to work with. I have so many great memories, and I'll miss it all so much. But I plan to keep in shape, buzzing away on my reed as I drive my car."
A world traveler with a very musical family
Martin Friedmann, a 25-year veteran of the orchestra, is part of one of Seattle's most distinguished musical families (his oboist wife Laila Storch taught at the University of Washington and recently completed a first-rate book on oboe legend Marcel Tabuteau, and their violist daughter Aloysia is the founding director of the Orcas Island Chamber Music Festival with her husband, pianist Jon Kimura Parker).
Friedmann may look mild-mannered and scholarly, but he's an adventurer who spent his pre-Seattle years trekking in Nepal when it was first opened to foreigners back in the 1950s. With a master's degree from Juilliard in his pocket, Friedmann traveled around the world with his violin, soloing in Mozart for the Calcutta Symphony, performing for a music society in Bali. It was in Vienna that he met his wife; they married in Rome, and then lived in Salzburg, where Friedmann was concertmaster of the Vienna Chamber Orchestra and Storch played in the Mozarteum Orchestra.
Then the traveling duo ended up in Puerto Rico, where they played the Casals Festival and the Puerto Rico Symphony. When they moved to Seattle in the late 1960s, Friedmann decided to finish his education with a doctorate (at the University of Washington); he headed the music department at Cornish College in the 1970s.
Joining the Seattle Symphony in 1980 was "one of the best moves I ever made," Friedmann says. "I enjoyed every moment." In his spare time, however, he continued hang-gliding in Australia and "going off the beaten path" to New Guinea, Botswana, Bhutan, Sikkim, Tibet, Pakistan and other exotic destinations.
The most memorable incident? Playing for the King of Nepal, who arrived "with all his uniformed, medaled generals — very glamorous. He listened politely to Bach and Beethoven, then asked me if I knew "Souvenir" (by Frantisek Drdla). Fortunately I was able to play it and please him. He invited me and my pianist to fly anywhere in Nepal; flying was necessary because there were no roads."
Friedmann's post-retirement plans include the restoration of the score of a mass composed by his wife's great-great-great grandfather, Alois Storch, a pharmacist and amateur composer who was a contemporary of Mozart. Just don't be surprised if he also sneaks off to Tasmania or Tajikistan for more traveling.
Janet Fisher Baunton, Joan Martin Woodard
Both were key members of second violin section
The remaining two retirees, both members of the second violin section, have made remarkable contributions to the orchestra and are beloved by their peers. Janet Fisher Baunton, longtime principal second violin, joined the orchestra in 1968, but has been plagued by an injury she sustained in 2000. A strong section leader, she is well known as an advocate for music education and considers the orchestra "one of the most successful amalgams of society in existence."
Violinist Joan Martin Woodard, who joined the Symphony in 1976, is an alumna of the Seattle Youth Symphony Orchestra and has a number of strings to her bow — including classical mandolin and guitar, both of which she has played with the orchestra on several occasions. One particularly memorable concert paired her on the mandolin with famous singer Bobby McFerrin.
"We will miss them all," says Schwarz, of the six retiring players.
"But I hope we'll often see them back, on the stage and in the audience. I'm so proud of their enormous contributions to this orchestra and this city."
Copyright © 2005 The Seattle Times Company