Death of an American music director, 83

Death of an American music director, 83


norman lebrecht

April 15, 2016

From the Fort Wayne Philharmonic:

Ronald Ondrejka, former conductor of the Fort Wayne Philharmonic, died suddenly early in the morning of April 7, 2016 at his home in Carpinteria, California where he lived with his wife, Elise Unruh.

Ondrejka was born into a musical family in 1932 in Manhattan. His Italian-American mother was a pianist; his Czech father was a concert violinist. … After military service in Europe with the Seventh Army Symphony, he was a prize winner in the Royal Liverpool International Conducting Competition in 1961. … He became assistant to Richard Lert, at the annual Association of Symphony Orchestra League conducting workshops, then to Josef Krips at the Buffalo Philharmonic and William Steinberg in Pittsburgh.

As music director of the Santa Barbara Symphony (1967-1979), Ondrejka taught in the Music Department at the University of California, Santa Barbara. His final post was as Music Director of the Fort Wayne Philharmonic (1978-1993). Under his artistic leadership the Philharmonic more than tripled its budget, increased the number of full-time core orchestra musicians and expanded its programming to include chamber music, pops and chamber orchestra series.

ronald ondrejka



  • Andrew Constantine says:

    As the current music director of the Fort Wayne Philharmonic I can truly say how grateful I am to Ron Ondrejka for the way he grew the orchestra both in its quality and amazing breadth of repertoire. Even more than twenty years after he left the orchestra there is still an enormous warmth in the community towards him. There is no more fitting tribute that we as conductors can ever hope to leave. RIP Ron Ondrejka.

    • David Crowe says:

      Well said, Andrew. Those of us who worked with Ron – I was his assistant/associate conductor during his last eight seasons in Fort Wayne – all benefitted from his vast musicianship and passionate advocacy of American composers. I learned so much from him, a gentle warm teacher, mentor and friend.

      • Anita Hursh Cast says:

        I met Ron in 1977 when I was on the search committee that chose him to be music director of the Fort Wayne Philharmonic. That started a long and meaningful friendship. Every music lover in the Fort Wayne area is deeply indebted to this talented musician and devoted friend. Anita Hursh Cast

  • Marshall White says:

    I had the pleasure of working with Ron Ondrejka in 1984 when together we brought Gospel Night At The Pops to the stage of the Embassy Theatre in Fort Wayne, IN. The Fort Wayne Philharmonic and the United Voices of True Love Baptist Church joined their forces together to present to the city of Fort Wayne the first historic gospel and classical concert. The concert came during a time when there was racial unrest in the community because of a tragic crime. The power of the music brought the community together as people from various backgrounds, ages and musical taste packed out the auditorium. I will never forget the passion and energy that Ron demonstrated while conducting that concert. His expressions and movements electrified the audience. We connected in a special way, that developed a special relationship. God Bless The Life of Ron Ondrejka. Marshall White

  • Michael O'Daniel says:

    Amazing that his tenure as assistant conductor of the Cincinnati Symphony from 1961-65 is not mentioned. He conducted a number of concerts while music director Max Rudolf was sidelined with hepatitis.