Jo Simons has written a memoir titled, My Father Wakes Up Laughing. Here’s why:
My father, Edward Simons, at 99 years young, is (we believe) the oldest active orchestra conductor in the country. He continues to be the powerful musical force in Rockland County, NY that he always was. The symphony he founded in 1952 which started out as eight friends getting together to play music once a week, quickly mushroomed to 65 plus players under Dad’s baton, and is still going strong as the Rockland Symphony Orchestra. My violist and pianist mother, the late Janet Kelley Simons, his life-long musical cohort, was responsible for the two of them ending up in the New York City area. Together, starting in 1950, when we moved from Manhattan to Rockland County, they unleashed a dual musical mission: first reinstating strings instruction in the schools that had vanished 10 years earlier, then in 1956, opening the Community Music School in Spring Valley, NY, starting the symphony, affiliating the music school with Rockland Community College and so much more.
Amongst Dad’s musical doings over time, he conducted 8 Broadway shows starting with Where’s Charley? in 1948, and ending in 1964 when he took Camelot on the road. He was dubbed “the best conductor of jazz,” in a New York Times review in the early 50’s. He also became a teacher of Music Appreciation at Rockland Community College in 1965 and retired from that in the early 80’s but continued to teach an extension music class for seniors until he was 97.
Dad has taught in colleges most of his life, yet he does not have a college degree. He tried going to college to study music after high school in Pittsburgh, PA but soon realized he knew more about the music being taught than the instructors did!
Today, my father has slowed down somewhat — he no longer drives, but he continues to conduct, teach and play his violin. This month, on two occasions, he played viola in a quartet for fund-raisers for his symphony and is scheduled to conduct a Young People’s concert in October. Every Wednesday, he plays folk songs with lots of schmaltz at Fountain View, a Jewish nursing home. On Fridays, he goes to the Steiner Fellowship in Chestnut Ridge, NY where my mother ended up before she died in 1998. Dad goes there for lunch and then plays his violin, accompanied by a pianist for the crowd. In the recent past, he would also play his violin in strange “concert halls” such as the gas station where he would take his car to be serviced, or the library where retired accountants help people do their taxes, or a rehab center where he once went to help his painful right knee. Everybody loved being serenaded by that fun-loving old guy with the violin.
Dad is not a pianist, but he sits at his piano regularly and plays Bach and Beethoven. He is eternally fascinated by how composers put together their pieces and finds a great deal of satisfaction in continuing to explore the great masters’ works. He has learned all of the Beethoven sonatas and the preludes and fugues of Bach too. He also still teaches violin and occasionally has a conducting student as well.
Every September since 2002, Dad has been conducting the “Concert for Remembrance, 9/11.” An adult violin student of his lost her 24-year old son, Welles Crowther, after he bravely led over 25 people to safety before losing his life in the tragedy. Top notch professional musicians donate their services every September to honor Welles, also known as “the man in the red bandanna.”
Dad also sings bass in an informal choir every Thursday nights conducted by a local singer, Sheila Schonbrun. He’s not a bass, but when the notes get too low for him, he sings them an octave higher. Sheila tells the other basses, “If you can’t find your notes, listen to Ed.” The most remarkable thing about my father, to me, is not his musical expertise, but his attitude about living. He is the most delightful, positive person I have ever known and I’m thrilled to be his daughter!
Jo’s book will be published in July.
The Ministry of Culture has issued its annual list of arts millionaires, based on public salaries and tax returns for official positions.
There are four conductors among the top ten:
1. Igor Pogrebinsky, deputy director of the Pushkin Museum – 229,804,330 rubles ($3.5 million)
*2. Valery Gergiev, artistic director of the Mariinsky Theatre – 130,216,902 rubles ($1.96 million)
*3. Yuri Temirkanov, artistic director of St. Petersburg Philharmonic – 74,491,119 rubles ($1.1m)
4. Oleg Tabakov, artistic director of the Chekhov Moscow Art Theater – 70,114,277 rubles.
*5. Vladimir Spivakov, president “House of Music” – 65,367,548 rubles ($1m)
6. Zadorozhnyy Vadim, director of Museum-Estate Arkhangelsk – 37,677,906 rubles.
7. Sergei Filin, deputy director of Rossiya state folk dance ensemble – 30,407,530 rubles.
*8. Vladimir Jurowski, artistic director of Svetlanov Symphony Orchestra – 29,116,182 rubles ($450,000)
9. Svetlana Melnikova, CEO of Suzdal museum – 26,178,674 rubles.
10. Lev Dodin, artistic director of the Maly Drama Theatre – – 26,499,621 rubles.
The best fun I’ve had all week is trying to identify the composers of six 18th century concertos that have turned up in the vaults of the Saxon State University library in Dresden. Five of the concertos are for flute, which suggest a possible Frederick the Great connection, the sixth is for cembalo. All are entertaining, accomplished, professional – top-drawer music for a courtly dinner party. But who wrote them?
Students are sharing news of the death last night of Gustav Meier, possibly the most sought-after conducting teacher in the US.
Gustav, who was 86 and suffering from cancer, retired three years ago as head of conducting at the Peabody Institute in Baltimore, handing over to one of his past pupils, Marin Alsop.
His alumni include the late Yakov Kreizberg, Antonio Pappano, John Mauceri, Carl St. Clair, Rico Saccani, Alexander Mickelthwaite and Bobby McFerrin. Summers, he taught at Tanglewood.
Aside from his teaching career, Gustav was music director for forty years of the Greater Bridgeport Symphony Orchestra, Connecticut, 1972–2013.
UPDATE: WE have received this message from Peabody Dean, Fred Bronstein:
“All of us at Peabody are saddened to hear of the passing of Gustav Meier, a great musician, pedagogue and colleague who for 18 years made Peabody’s conducting program one of the best of its kind. Gustav Meier provided a daily example of the intellect, artistry, and mastery he worked to cultivate in his students, always delivered with a gentleness, charm, and grace that is rare. His influence shaped the careers of countless professional conductors and musicians working today. Through them, and through the graduate conducting program he built up at Peabody, his impact will live on. We are honored to have known and worked with Gustav and send our deepest condolences to his family.”