Death of an American saxophone virtuoso, 83

The family have announced the death of Frederick L. Hemke, a formidable saxophonist and influential professor for half a century at Northwestern University’s Bienen School of Music.

Among the works he premiered was Allan Pettersson’s 16th symphony and a Hemke Concerto by Augusta Read Thomas.

He is possibly best known as the inventor of a line of reeds trademarked as the Frederick L. Hemke Reeds.

UPDATE:

Obit from the Bienen School:

Hemke was born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, on July 11, 1935. In 1956 he became the first American to receive the Premier Prix du Saxophone from the Conservatoire National de Musique in Paris. Hemke earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, a master’s in music education from the Eastman School of Music, and a doctor of music degree from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Hemke joined the Northwestern faculty in 1962 and was named the Louis and Elsie Snydacker Eckstein Professor of Music. He chaired the Department of Music Performance Studies until 1994 and served as senior associate dean for administration. After 50 years of teaching, Hemke retired from the Bienen School of Music in 2012 and was named professor emeritus. His career was celebrated in June 2012 with a Saxophone Orchestra Monster Concert at Pick-Staiger Concert Hall, featuring some of the world’s premier saxophonists, many of them his former students. Most recently, Hemke presented a master class for the Northwestern University Saxophone Studio in November 2018.

An internationally recognized saxophonist, Hemke performed and presented master classes and lectures throughout North America, Europe, and Asia. He appeared as a soloist with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, St. Louis Symphony Orchestra, Minnesota Orchestra, Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra, Tokyo Metropolitan Symphony Orchestra, New Zealand Philharmonic Orchestra, and Korea Philharmonic Orchestra. Having appeared on many occasions as an invited soloist for the World Saxophone Congress, he also coordinated the event when it was held at Northwestern in 1979. He served as an adjudicator for numerous national and international competitions and as a visiting professor at the Conservatoire National de Musique in Paris, the Sweelinck Conservatory of Music in Amsterdam, the Basel Conservatory of Music in Switzerland, and several U.S. universities.

His recordings include solo albums, chamber music, and six recordings with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, including Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition. As editor for the Southern Music Company, he serves as a consultant for the Selmer Company and the La Voz Corporation, which manufactures the Frederick Hemke Premium Reed.

Hemke received many honors during his distinguished career. In 2004 he was named a Northwestern University Charles Deering McCormick Professor of Teaching Excellence. Other honors include the Northwestern Alumni Association’s Excellence in Teaching Award, the Bienen School’s Professor of the Year award (1987, 1989, and 2002), and the Kappa Kappa Psi Distinguished Service to Music Award.

Taimur Sullivan, Bienen School associate professor of saxophone, said Hemke’s boundless knowledge, energy, and wit was infectious.

“There is quite literally no aspect of our profession, in any corner of the globe, that has not been profoundly shaped by his artistry, pedagogy, vision, and leadership over the past 60 years. He was an inspiration to not only countless students over his long and distinguished teaching career, but to his Northwestern family in particular and the classical music community as a whole. Our world is emptier without him, but incredibly richer because of him,” Sullivan said.

Hemke is survived by his wife Junita Borg Hemke, daughter Elizabeth Hemke Shapiro (Nicholas), son Frederic John Borg Hemke (Rachel), and grandchildren Daniel, Martin, Charlotte, and Peter. A Celebration of Life will be held on Sunday, June 2, 2019, from 1:30-2:30 p.m. at Alice Millar Chapel, 1870 Sheridan Rd., Evanston, IL 60208.

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  • Ruben Greenberg says:

    The Classical saxophone-a French tradition that was embodied by the great Marcel Mule-never seems to have caught on. Mr. Hemke was about as good as a Classical saxophonist can get-amazing technique and artistry. Rest in peace: great memories of playing in a wind band that accompanied him when I was a kid.

  • Larry says:

    I wouldn’t agree that he was “best known” for his reeds. He was best know for being an outstanding teacher and performer.

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