Past Music Directors
A native of Holland, Joseph Otten became the director of the St. Louis Choral Society and later the St. Louis Choral-Symphony Society at the age of 28. A student at the Liege Royal Conservatory of Music in Holland and with Albert Becker in Berlin, Joseph Otten came to St. Louis to direct a small choir which disbanded after six weeks. In an attempt to form a group he could conduct, Otten gathered a group of interested citizens and established the St. Louis Choral Society in 1880. In the 1881/82 season the chorus of 80 was joined by an orchestra of 31 members. A later merger with members of the disbanded Musical Union orchestra brought about the unofficial creation of the St. Louis Choral-Symphony Society. In 1893 the St. Louis Choral-Symphony Society was formally incorporated, still emphasizing the choral aspects of their season which, at the time, were more popular. During Maestro Otten's tenure the seasons reached a height of nine subscription concerts. With an accumulating deficit in their fourteenth season the board of directors cut the subscription season to just seven concerts. Disgruntled with these cuts, Joseph Otten resigned at the end of the 1893/94 season.
German-born pianist Alfred Ernst became the second conductor of the St. Louis Choral-Symphony Society in 1894. Then 26, Ernst had limited experience as a conductor with the Court Opera at Gotha. Having been trained in Leipzig, Alfred Ernst was principally a pianist. A talented musician, he quickly settled into his new post in St. Louis and in five years the concert season increased from six to twelve concerts. The 1904 world's fair in St. Louis brought an increased focus to the orchestra as well as the appearance of guest conductors and some popular music programs. The orchestra performed most days throughout the fair. After the fair, the orchestra began performances in its first home the Odeon Theater at Grand and Finney Avenues.
Wishing to return to his native Germany, Alfred Ernst stepped down in 1907. During his tenure the orchestra reached a strength of 55 members and the chorus close to 200. Alfred Ernst continued his career, mostly as a conductor of opera, in Germany. He died in 1916 as the result of injuries sustained during World War I.
1907 brought two important changes, Max Zach was named as the third conductor of the newly christened St. Louis Symphony Orchestra. The new conductor and the new name were both an attempt by the board of directors to solidify the place and quality of the orchestra in the American musical scene. Zach, former principal viola of the Boston Symphony, had ten years experience as a conductor. He brought to the orchestra a strong conviction for the classical repertoire, more professional rehearsals and their first regular seasonal paychecks. He was also a recruiter of new and noteworthy musicians for his orchestra and thus performance quality vastly improved.
An exacting conductor, Zach began his tenure with a total of eight symphony concerts and eighteen popular. Slowly, he increased the musical level of the audience and a more balanced schedule of fifteen to twenty pairs of orchestral concerts and around twenty popular concerts emerged. This period also saw the introduction to St. Louis of world renowned guest soloists. Much of the standard orchestral repertoire was introduced to the symphony's programming in this period. Max Zach died at age 56, February 3, 1921, from an infection acquired after the extraction of a tooth.
Born in Zurich in 1877, Rudolph Ganz was named permanent conductor of the St. Louis Symphony in 1921 upon the death of Max Zach. A child prodigy on both piano and 'cello, Ganz had made his debut with the Berlin Philharmonic in 1899. From 1910 to 1915 he was head of the piano department at the Chicago Musical College. He toured extensively as a soloist and was most noted for his performance of contemporary composers. Rudolph Ganz was not a conductor by trade, but what he brought to the orchestra was superb musicianship, a noted name, and a personality which allowed him to connect with his audience.
A champion of both children's concerts and touring, the orchestra and Ganz traveled extensively performing to audiences young and old. He was noted for his style of shaking the hand of every member of the audience. Ultimately, Ganz's love for contemporary music was his downfall. Audience distaste for the works of Stravinsky, Mahler, Respighi, Schoenberg and others lead to a community movement to remove the conductor. Although Ganz encouraged the audience to hiss at works they disliked, a petition was circulated calling for his removal. Before it could be served to the symphony board, the board called for the maestro's resignation and his tenure ended with the 1926/27 season.
After four years of guest conductors and no permanent leader, the symphony board was looking for a conductor who could reinvigorate the orchestra and the St. Louis musical community. They found their answer in French conductor Vladimir Golschmann. Golschmann and his wife, Odette, took St. Louis by storm. They brought with them a sense of French high style and immediately took to St. Louis' social circles and established themselves as a glamorous and watched couple in the press. Golschmann made friends with the orchestra quickly and their collaboration pushed the quality of performance to new heights. The seasons were set at eighteen pairs of orchestral concerts and four popular concerts, Golschmann had little interest in the pops. As a recruiter, Golschmann brought to St. Louis several principal players of great importance and formed a strong base of new musicians in the orchestra.
Golschmann's conducting was never technically impressive, but his musical style was quite elegant and had a French flair which provided great contrast to the many German-dominated orchestras of the day. His tenure of 27 years is one of the longest for a major American orchestra. Maestro Golschmann's international reputation brought to St. Louis the highest caliber soloist of the day and moved St. Louis into the upper tier of American orchestras. Vladimir Golschmann became Conductor Emeritus in 1955, initiating a search for his successor, and finally retired in 1958.
Eduard van Remoortel
Eduard van Remoortel was appointed music director of the St. Louis Symphony in 1958. Considered a public relations coup in its day, the appointment of the young and dashing Belgian was greeted as the start of a new era in popularity for the orchestra. Van Remoortel was trained as both a conductor and 'cellist at the Conservatory of Brussels. He was awarded the Order of King Leopold II of Belgium in 1960. Although his directorship was highly anticipated and his preliminary appearances with the orchestra were favorable, van Remoortel's fanatical dedication to memorization of the score, musical inexperience at such a major post, and personal inability to get along with a majority of the orchestra led to a turbulent four seasons. Frequent conflicts and threats of terminating members of the orchestra led to a public image of constant disputes. Once, in his first season, the orchestra even voted not to play for van Remoortel to protest of his attempted firing of 42 musicians. Still, this period saw a rise in the orchestra's overall quality and visits by the premier artists and guest conductors of the day. Van Remoortel's tenure fizzled to an end in the 1961/62 season as he was only engaged to conduct a less-than-customary seven concerts.
Eleazar De Carvalho
Appointed Music Director in 1963, Brazilian conductor Eleazar De Carvalho brought a fiery musical style and intense commitment to contemporary music to St. Louis. One of the leading exponents of contemporary and modern composition, De Carvalho considered it his mission to establish the St. Louis Symphony as the premier cultural institution dedicated to promoting an understanding of contemporary arts in this country. His programming was unorthodox and designed to educate and inform his audience of a particular work's place in musical history, often by comparing it to similar earlier and later works on the same program. Unfortunately, much of this was not appreciated by the audiences of the time, who did not understand the programming, but their support of De Carvalho was strong.
Under De Carvalho's guidance the orchestra grew to over ninety members and the quality of the new members was very high. His music directorship also saw the orchestra's move to Powell Hall in 1968, the orchestra's first permanent home and one of the premier concert halls in the United States. The St. Louis Symphony's catalogue of world and U.S. premieres and performances of recent compositions from this period is staggering. Indeed, the orchestra of this period must be viewed as one of the foremost ensembles in the championing of new works, a tradition which is strong to this day.
In 1968 Eleazar De Carvalho announced he was moving on to the Pro Arte Symphony at Hofstra University. Maestro De Carvalho had taken degrees at both the Music School of the University of Brazil and the Institute Rio Branca. He was awarded a doctorate from the University of Brazil in both composition and conducting. Upon moving to the United States he was assistant to Koussevitsky in the training class for conductors at Tangelwood. After leaving St. Louis Eleazar De Carvalho would continue as a noted educator of conductors and musicians with a specialty in contemporary composition for the rest of his life.
When, in 1968, Walter Susskind was named Music Director of the St. Louis Symphony, he was the most accomplished conductor yet to assume the post. Formerly Music Director of the Toronto Symphony and Director of the Aspen Music Festival, Walter Susskind appeared regularly with the major orchestras of Europe, the United Kingdom, and North America. An accomplished composer, pianist, and conductor, Susskind brought a new musical standard to St. Louis. As a friendly and articulate speaker, Susskind immediately appealed to St. Louis audiences. He enjoyed the most civil relationship with the orchestra of any conductor up to that time and continued to build the ensemble in both numbers and quality. It was under his direction that the Saint Louis Symphony came together as a leading American orchestra. A return to the "classics" pleased the audience and the number of subscription concerts began to grow. In addition, several summer festivals were added to the orchestra's schedule, including the Mississippi River Festival at the campus of Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville.
Susskind was also known as a great mentor of young conductors. Two of these, Leonard Slatkin and Gerhardt Zimmermann, both assistant conductors brought on by Susskind, went on to notable careers. A restless person always seeking new challenges, Walter Susskind left the Saint Louis Symphony in 1975. His departure was a blow to the orchestra and community, both of which enjoyed the tremendous growth and artistic accomplishments of their seven years together.
Polish conductor Jerzy Semkow was named to replace Walter Susskind as Music Director in 1975. As musicians and individuals the two maestros were quite opposite. While Susskind was congenial and talkative, Semkow was focused and all about discipline. He demanded perfection from himself and his orchestra. Semkow was obsessive in his preparation, strict and exacting in rehearsal, polished in performance, and even instigated post concert reviews with the musicians of their performance. His programming was considered conservative, but he made up for this in his exacting musical standards.
Trained in Russia under Mravinsky, Semkow had held positions in Russia with the Leningrad Philharmonic, State Opera, and the Bolshoi Theater. In his native Poland he served as Director and Conductor of the National Opera of Warsaw. Jerzy Semkow's Music Directorship saw the addition of a new summer pops series at Queeny Park in west St. Louis county and the appointment of Thomas Peck as Chorus Director and founding of the Saint Louis Symphony Chorus. The Queeny Pops were a highlight of St. Louis summers for over 25 years and Thomas Peck brought the St. Louis Symphony Chorus to the level of the premier orchestral choral ensemble in the country.
Ultimately, Jerzy Semkow was never comfortable with the role of Music Director of a major American orchestra and felt more at home in Europe. In 1978 he announced he would be leaving St. Louis to take a position with the Radio Orchestra of Rome.
Internationally recognized American conductor Leonard Slatkin is Music Director of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, Principal Guest Conductor of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra & Principal Guest Conductor of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. He is the former Music Director of the National Symphony Orchestra. His performances throughout North America, Europe, and the Far East have been distinguished by imaginative programming and highly praised interpretations of both the standard and contemporary symphonic repertoire. Additionally, he is well known for his arts advocacy work on behalf of music education.
Following a successful tenure as Music Director of the St. Louis Symphony from 1979 until 1996, Mr. Slatkin was named Conductor Laureate. Mr. Slatkin also recently accepted the position of Music Advisor to the Nashville Symphony. He has served as Festival Director of the Cleveland Orchestra's Blossom Festival (1990-99), Principal Guest Conductor of the Philharmonia Orchestra (1997-2000), Chief Conductor of the BBC Symphony Orchestra (2000-04), and in September 2008, Mr. Slatkin began his appointment as Principal Guest Conductor of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra.
Throughout his career, Mr. Slatkin has demonstrated a continuing commitment to arts education and to reaching diverse audiences. He is the founder and director of the National Conducting Institute, an advanced career development program for rising conductors. Additionally, Mr. Slatkin founded the St. Louis Symphony Youth Orchestra and has also worked with student orchestras across the U.S., including those at the Curtis Institute of Music, the Juilliard School, Manhattan School of Music, and the Eastman School of Music. He works frequently with youth orchestras across America and abroad, including the DC Youth Orchestra, Midwest Youth Symphony Orchestra, American-Soviet Youth Orchestra, European Community Youth Orchestra, and American Youth Philharmonic. He also reaches out to younger musicians and music teachers through the NSO American Residencies program. Mr. Slatkin is the Arthur R. Metz Foundation Conductor at Indiana University's Jacobs School of Music, and beginning with the 2007/08 season, the Distinguished Artist in Residence at the American University.
Born in Los Angeles to a distinguished musical family, his parents were the conductor-violinist Felix Slatkin and cellist Eleanor Aller, founding members of the famed Hollywood String Quartet. Mr. Slatkin began his musical studies on the violin and studied conducting with his father, followed by Walter Susskind at the Aspen Music Festival and School and Jean Morel at the Juilliard School.
The distinguished Dutch conductor Hans Vonk assumed the post of Music Director and Conductor in September 1996. A sought-after guest conductor as well, he appeared with many of the world's most prestigious orchestras and led performances at major opera houses in Europe and North America, while also remaining active in the musical life of his native Holland.
Born in Amsterdam, Hans Vonk studied piano at the Amsterdam Conservatory and conducting with Franco Ferrara and Hermann Scherchen. He also studied law at the University of Amsterdam. Vonk's first conducting appointment was with the Netherlands Ballet from 1966 to 1969. He then became Assistant Conductor of the Concertgebouw Orchestra. He was Chief Conductor of the Netherlands Opera from 1976 to 1985, during which time he was also Conductor of the Netherlands Radio Philharmonic (1973 to 1979) and Associate Conductor of London's Royal Philharmonic Orchestra (1976 to 1979). For eleven years, from 1980 to 1991, Vonk was Chief Conductor of the Hague's Residentie Orchestra and toured extensively with that ensemble throughout Europe and the United States. His operatic career also advanced with his debut at La Scala, Milan, in 1980. No stranger to managing multiple appointments, he soon had two more when, in 1985, he became Chief Conductor of both the celebrated Dresden Staatskapelle and the Dresden State Opera. The five years he spent in Dresden were ones of great historical importance and change for the city and included the opening of the new Semper Opera House and the reunification of Germany. He also undertook several major tours, including concerts at the Salzburg and Lucerne Festivals. In 1990 the Netherlands Radio Philharmonic once again sought out Vonk, securing him as Principal Guest Conductor. The following year, he took on yet another title, this time as Chief Conductor of the Cologne Radio Symphony, a capacity in which he served through the end of the 1996/97 season.
In addition to his position with the SLSO and the Netherlands Radio Philharmonic, Vonk has appeared with numerous American ensembles, including the Philadelphia and Cleveland Orchestras, the Boston Symphony, and the Los Angeles and New York Philharmonic Orchestras. Maestro Vonk also appeared with l'Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France, the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra, the Seattle Symphony Orchestra, the Rotterdam Philharmonic, the NHK Symphony of Japan, and l'Orchestre Philharmonique de Monte-Carlo. During the 2001/02 season, Vonk's engagements included performances with the Montreal Symphony Orchestra, the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the Atlanta Symphony, the Minnesota Orchestra, l'Orchestre National de Lyon, and the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra. He returned to the Netherlands Opera to lead performances of Don Giovanni.
On April 17, 2002, Maestro Hans Vonk volunteered to leave his post as Music Director of the St. Louis Symphony after conducting the final performances of the season in May. After six seasons in the position, and 36 years as a conductor who has distinguished himself in concert halls all over the world, the Maestro reduced his schedule in St. Louis to deal with health concerns. Hans Vonk passed away at his home in Amsterdam, Aug, 29, 2004. Maestro Vonk served six seasons as the Orchestra's Music Director, from 1996-2002.
America's favorite "Pops" conductor, Richard Hayman was Principal Pops Conductor of the St. Louis Symphony and the Grand Rapids Symphony Orchestras, a post he has also held with the Detroit and Hartford Symphony Orchestras, the Calgary Philharmonic, and Orchestra London Canada. His original compositions are standards in the repertoire of these ensembles, as well as frequently-performed selections for many bands and orchestras throughout the world. For over thirty years, Mr. Hayman served as chief arranger for the Boston Pops Orchestra during Arthur Fielder's tenure, providing special arrangements for dozens of their hit albums and famous singles. Under John Williams' direction, the orchestra continues to program his award-winning arrangements and orchestrations.
After his tenure with the STL Symphony, Richard Hayman concentrated most of his time on guest-conducting special Pops concerts. Season after season he was invited to return by leading orchestras across the continent to conduct popular entertainments during their orchestra seasons, as well as for their summer festivals. Richard Hayman was closely affiliated with the St. Louis Symphony since his appointment as Principal Pops Conductor in 1976. He was named the McDonnell Douglas Principal Pops Conductor in 1979. Each season he led both the Pops at Powell and Queeny concerts.