Founder of two US orchestras dies at 98

Founder of two US orchestras dies at 98


norman lebrecht

June 06, 2018

The Hungarian-born conductor and composer Frederic Balazs has passed away in Arizona.

Concertmaster of the Budapest Symphony at the age of 17, he saw wartime service in the US Army and went on to develop two orchestras – the Wichita Falls Symphony and the Tucson Symphony – from small beginnings into full-scale ensembles.



  • Nurhan Arman says:

    I am saddened to hear this. Frederick Balasz was my stand partner for a season in my former life as a violinist at Florida Symphony. He was also the assistant conductor of the orchestra. Fred was a wonderful musician and an excellent violinist with an amazing ability to sight-read anything. He was a fantastic raconteur and had a great sense of humour. I enjoyed so much his friendship. Rest in peace Fred! Thanks Mr. Lebrecht for posting this.

  • Cubs Fan says:

    Balasz did some amazing things in Tucson – then a real cowtown. Brought Stokowski in for a concert, Miklos Rozsa, Marian Anderson…and left us the excellent Tucson Symphony – a jewel in the desert. RIP.

    • Ruben Greenberg says:

      Among his accomplishments in Tucson: conducting the music of two African-American composers. There was Ulysses Kay-whom I believe came from Tucspn-and William Grant Still. I will always remember Benny Goodman performing the Mozart Clarinet Concerto conducted by Mr. Balazs. At the end of the concert, Benny played several jazz pieces with musicians from the Tucson Symphony, who actually had more experience playing jazz than symphonic music. The tenor player was the Tucson-based Sam Musiker; who played jazz, klezmer, Classical music and composed.

  • Ruben Greenberg says:

    I remember Mr. Balasz from my youth, when he was the conductor of a youth orchestra I was in. He was funny, acerbic at times, and gave you the feeling that you were tapping into Classical Music by getting it from the horse’s mouth; from the great central Europe tradition. The music he composed deserves playing and listening to. Violinist, teacher conductor and above all, composer. A long, worthwile existence.

  • Cathalena E. Burch says:

    FYI, Fred didn’t found either of these orchestras, although he surely made them a whole lot better.

    • Ruben Greenberg says:

      Cathalena: I seem to recall that the conductor he took over from was Henry Johnson, who had a long and distinguished career as director of the University of Arizona orchestra. Mr. Johnson was a fine conductor-I daresay superior to Mr. Balazs-but was totally lacking in “flash”. He also needed and demanded many rehearsals, and the Tucson Symphony was in no financial position to grant him this.

  • Michael Crino says:

    I write this with a “heavy heart” as Fred would say.
    Rest in Peace, my friend.
    Fredrick Balazs will be well remembered for the development, not the founder, of the Tucson Symphony. I had the privilege of playing string bass in the orchestra while we had guests, such as Leopold Stokowski, Van Kliebourne, and other musical celebrities. I had fun playing in Benny Goodman’s jazz group playing “How high the Moon” “Lady be good”, and other Benny’s favorites, as an anchor after he performed the Mozart Clarinet concerto.
    The other highlight of that October 16, 1960 concert, was the performance of the Beethoven 9th Chorale Symphony. Maestro Balazs conducted the orchestra and chorus from memory, without a score.

    • Ruben Greenberg says:

      Benny was very happy with that make-shift little band, and he was not an easy man to please. “I could take this band on the road,” he said. Actually, Sam Musiker had already often played with Benny.

  • Jaime Herrera says:

    It’s a small world. One of my teachers knew Balazs and told me a story about him that I cannot share – many readers might be offended.

  • Edgar Self says:

    In 1949 Frederic Balazs played Bach’s chaconne and the adagio of Mendelssohn’s concerto in the Baptist church in my hometown. Inspired by him, I joined the horn section of his Wichita Falls Symphony Orchestra and polayed thejr next season whie at Hardin Junior College. Erno Danie l and Erno von Dohnanyi were among soloists and isitors, sent on by pianist Edward Kilenyi from Florida. Hungarians stick together.

    En route to rehearsals, I’d pick up flutist Jervis Underwood in Eletra, home of pianist Ivan Davis. Music was in the air, oil, and water. I had reports of Balazs’s good work in Tucson from friends there and musical backpackers in the Sierra Nevada. It’s indeed a small world, enriched by men like Frederic Balazs.