US orchestras mourn a pioneering principal

US orchestras mourn a pioneering principal


norman lebrecht

March 15, 2020

Doriot Anthony Dwyer, principal flute of the Boston Symphony Orchestra from 1952 to 1990, died yesterday in Kansas at the age of 98.

She was only the second woman to win a principal chair in a major US orchestra, beind Helen Kotas, who became principal horn of the Chicago Symphony in 1941.

Doriot was a legend among US orchestral musicians, leaving a lasting imprint on the Boston sound. Her application for the position was supported by no less than Bruno Walter, who heard her play in the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra. Boston had no changing room for women. Her first appearance was greeted with the headline: Woman Crashes Boston Symphony: Eyebrows Lifted as Miss Anthony sat at Famous Flutist’s Desk. Approached by a reporter in 1952, she said: ‘Gradually, during my life, I’ve got used to the idea that I’m a woman.’

mong many recordings, she gave a fine performance of Bernstein’s Halil. On her retirement, the orchestra commissioned a flute concerto for her to play by Ellen Taaffe Zwilich.



  • In her prime, Doriot was one-of-a-kind wonderful. Among many exceptional performances, I won’t forget her Daphnis & Chloe and the Zwilich Concerto. I had the privilege to play in the Zwilich premiere; even in her later years Doriot’s luminous sound and command of line remain memorable. R.I.P. to a great musician.

    • Old Man in the Midwest says:

      I never met her but admire her long career (back in the Old Days when conductors could fire at will) and her music making with other great BSO principal wind players.

      She must have been special.

    • Greg Bottini says:

      Lucky, lucky you, JMW, to have been a part of that Zwilich premiere!
      And you’re right: she WAS “one-of-a-kind wonderful”. A gorgeous sound, beautiful phrasing, total commitment in her playing. An all-time great, no question.
      Thank you for many, many years of musical pleasure, Ms. Dwyer. You were a huge part of making The Boston Symphony THE BOSTON SYMPHONY.

  • Costa Pilavachi says:

    Doriot was a wonderful artist and a charming, intelligent person. Like a lot of really talented people, she could also be absent-minded. She once forgot her flute in the security area of Frankfurt airport and flew to her next destination without it. She never gave up trying to retrieve her instrument. Years later, she saw me in the Tanglewood parking lot and rushed out of the car to ask me something about this…I was horrified to see that she must have neglected to put the gear in Park and as she was talking to me, her car slowly picked up speed and glided serenely into the woods….
    Her contribution to the Boston Symphony was enormous. RIP.

  • NYMike says:

    She replaced Georges Laurent, also a wonderful player who came to Boston from the French Garde Republicaine band along with other woodwinds and brass during Monteux’s tenure.

  • Michael G Hartman says:

    Don’t forget Dorothy Ziegler, principal trombone of the St. Louis Symphony from 1944-1958

  • Paulie says:

    I got to meet her when I was in college and she came out to the Ojai Festival here in California. I cannot remember which piece she played, but it was a stunning performance. I rushed back stage and introduced myself and asked her about flute performance as a career. She cautioned me strongly that it was no place for women. That was probably 1967 or 1968. May she rest in peace.

  • Amos says:

    It should be acknowledged that Charles Munch was a supporter of her’s from the beginning of her BSO tenure. There is a video of Munch asking Ms. Dwyer to take a solo bow after a performance of Daphnis. Also, Alice Chalifoux was Principal Harpist of the Cleveland Orchestra from 1931-1974.

  • Bruce says:

    One of the great orchestral players of the 20th century. Not every flutist was a fan of hers — that vibrato, OMG — but like all great artists, there was never a moment when you could mistake her for anyone else.

    I remember reading that the standard practice back then was, if a woman sent a letter applying for a vacancy in any of the big orchestras, the management would simply not respond. But with an unusual name like Doriot, they couldn’t tell the person’s sex, so they accidentally let her apply; and the rest, as they say, is history.

    • David K. Nelson says:

      There was a time when many first desk players in the major American orchestras had distinctive, perhaps even controversial, sounds, and the BSO had its share — Dwyer to be sure, but think of Roger Voisin on trumpet, Manuel Valerio on clarinet; Richard Burgin had his own sound and tone, as did his stand partner Alfred Krips. Other (non-BSO) names I can think of off the top of my head are Harry Glantz and Robert Bloom. One can wonder how these fine, but so distinctive, musicians would fare on today’s audition trail.

      • Bruce says:

        There’s still a Szell/Cleveland recording out there of the Brahms B-Flat piano concerto with Lynn Harrell as principal cello… (pretty sure the pianist is Graffman or Fleisher but I forget which)

        I remember a discussion panel at a music festival in the 80s with a group of old pros. Julius Baker, who had just retired from the NY Phil, acknowledged he would never be able to win his job now — not because of his distinctive sound, but because audition lists were so much harder than they’d used to be. “I could never get all that music ready at the same time!”

        It’s true we are a pretty interchangeable bunch these days; a style that a musician I know characterizes as “extremely okay.”

        • Amos says:

          The Brahms 2nd was with Leon Fleisher and the Principal Cello solo in the 3rd movement was played by Jules Eskin. Mr. Harrell didn’t become the Principal until JE left in 1964 for the BSO.

        • Structure&Emotion says:

          Serkin Szell Cleveland Brahms 2nd concerto ❤️ Harrell in his first big orchestral solo

      • Sir David Geffen-Hall says:

        That is the tragedy.

        Principal orchestra players these days tend to sound uniform and do not help in establishing a unique sound as created by a patient and often quirky music director (Stokowski, Szell, Reiner, Munch, Leinsdorf).

        Globalization has created technical wizards with musical styles that tend to be middle of the road and that appeal to audition committees rather than a single music director.

        The past is a dim memory. Unless you own vinyl.

        Vinyl? What’s that?

        • Amos says:

          As it applies to Szell the unique sound was always within the context of the composer in question. I forget which piece was being rehearsed but supposedly Principal clarinet Robert Marcellus played an extended solo after which Szell stopped everyone and said “that was lovely but we are not going to use the house sauce on this one”.

        • Saxon Broken says:

          The musical styles developed pretty much because the music directors had very long tenures, and guest conducting was less of the “thing” in those days. Nowadays, the conductor flies in, meets the orchestra (which he rarely knows much about), and has to get a competent performance in a couple of rehearsals. Hence you get something safe and middle-of-the-road.

          However, in the past, much of the ensemble playing was outright bad. The standard of orchestra playing is much better these days: even the second-tier orchestras can play the difficult pieces to a high standard.

  • Enrique Sanchez says:


  • Joel Levine says:

    I’m also remembering cellist Elsa Hilger, invited by Stokowski to join the Philadelphia Orchestra. Her Wikipedia entry says she was the first woman (other than harpists) to be a member of a major orchestra. Ormandy moved her to the first desk – inside and kept her there (she resented not ever being promoted) She had a remarkable life and career.

  • Robert Rÿker says:

    For many years the only woman in America’s big five orchestras, she was a splendid artist, a wonderful human being, and always a gracious lady.

  • Jimmie says:

    I inquired about lessons with her. I still have her rejection letter and have always admired her for the kind letter she sent. I’ve always admired her artistry.

  • Thalia says:

    A remarkable pioneer! All of us owe a debt to her trailblazing career. 20 years ago, I purchased a home in Oakland from Doriot Anthony Dwyer’s brother, Mark. I think that one of the reasons he accepted our offer (even though it wasn’t the highest offer) was that we are also professional musicians. He said, “there has been a lot of music in this house. I’m happy to know that this tradition will continue with you as the new owners”. So, we owe gratitude to Doriot Anthony Dwyer for enabling us to purchase our house.