US orchestra mourns former music director, 90

US orchestra mourns former music director, 90


norman lebrecht

September 13, 2021

The death has been made known of Henry Charles Smith III, music director of the South Dakota Symphony Orchestra from 1989 to 2001.

A Curtis graduate, Smith started out as the Grammy winning principal trombone of the Philadelphia Orchestra and the Philadelphia Brass Quintet. He moved on to the conducting staff of the Minnesota Orchestra and went on to guest-conduct numerous front-rank orchestras.

He also served as music director at Interlochen Arts Camp for the World Youth Symphony Orchestra.

South Dakota SO says: ‘His artistic legacy, funny stories, and contagious enthusiasm for classical music inspired all who had the privilege of making music with him.’


  • Wow! I’m surprised to hear he was still alive.

    I recall going to a trombone clinic he gave in the 1970s

  • James Scott says:

    A giant of the trombone community. His solo recordings from the 1960’s stand up to current standards, and his orchestral playing with Philadelphia and Ormandy has set the highest standard for those who came after him. I wish I had a chance to play under his baton – he was a guest with my orchestra a year or two before I arrived. My best wishes to his family, friends and former students – Rest in Peace.

  • Henry was a true gentleman and mentor to so many. I loved chatting with him not only for the wonderful stories and memories he shared, but his ability to give advice in a caring manner. He will be missed.

  • David J. Hyslop says:

    Was fortunate to work with Henry in Minnesota and Oregon.
    We also kept contact up after his retirement. He was a fine musician and even finer person.

  • David K. Nelson says:

    Veteran record collectors will remember the Philadelphia Orchestra’s series of first chair encores, with some of interesting repertoire, marvelously performed, with Ormandy conducting.

    Henry Charles Smith is heard on one of those LPs in Félix-Alexandre Guilmant’s Morceau Symphonique For Trombone And Orchestra, Op. 88. A must-have for trombone enthusiasts.

  • Mark Powell says:

    He was, in every way, a phenomenal teacher. His inspirational music making at Interlochen was part of my early ensemble experience that I still draw on, to this day.

  • I was very sad to read of the passing of Maestro Smith. In 1989 when he was the in-coming new Music Director of the SDSO, he listened to me play orchestral excerpts I was preparing for an audition for the Toronto Symphony Orchestra. When I won the audition and was offered the position of Principal Bassoon, he granted me a leave-of-absence from the SDSO. The coaching that I received from him was extremely valuable for this audition and once I was on the job with the TSO. Maestro Smith was a true gentleman, an excellent musician, and a wonderful coach.
    Michael Sweeney
    Toronto Symphony Orchestra, Principal Bassoon (1989-present)
    South Dakota Symphony Orchestra, Principal Bassoon (1987-1989)

  • Craig in LA says:

    Mr. Smith is responsible for what may be the greatest bit of understatement I’ve ever heard.

    I met him after a radio interview in the mid-90s and told him how much I had learned as young brass player listening to the Philadelphia Brass Ensemble records. He smiled almost bashfully and said, “I guess we wounded okay.”

  • Larry W says:

    Henry Charles Smith was a fine conductor and one of the greatest principal trombonists. Even to a young string player he was an inspiration. He came to speak to my high school orchestra, where he went to school. He said each time he performed in the great Philadelphia Orchestra he wanted to sound like the best trombone player in the world. This he did, consistently. He later became an assistant conductor in Minnesota, where I worked with him many times. He was always upbeat and positive, showing enthusiasm for the music and the musicians.

  • Stuart Laughton says:

    In 1967 I was fortunate to play 2nd trumpet in a makeshift “faculty brass quintet” concert that included Henry C. Smith on trombone, at IMC Music Camp near Parry Sound, Ontario. I was only 15 and didn’t know anything, but he was kind and very generous. A few years later I was at Curtis and listening to the Philadelphia Orchestra every week, though he’d left by that time. I’ve often thought of him and am sorry to hear news of his passing. (I’ve just found a lovely interview:

  • Shmulik says:

    I have such great memories from my summer with him in Interlochen. I won concerto competition and he was the conductor. He made me feel so comfortable and lose any sense of nerves that I had. I also studied conducting that summer with him. Wonderful man. RIP

  • Manny Laureano says:

    Henry was a friend, a conductor for whom I played myriad concerts as a member of the Minnesota Orchestra, a mentor, a vessel of knowledge that was humbling, musical and otherwise. He was one of my son’s trombone teachers.

    Henry was a gentleman and that guided everything he did. I used to say that he would forget more than most people would learn about music. I saw him step in and conduct “Taras Bulba” when Edo deWaart was indisposed. He didn’t drop a single beat and the performance was immaculate. His concerts for children were done with commitment to teaching and learning.

    I never saw him “phone it in”. Everything he did or conducted was done with a joy too many of us will never know, as his knowledge was immense. And yet, he was a tremendous listener when you spoke to him. He was secure enough in his knowledge and wisdom to never interrupt you when you had something to say. He was quick to compliment you and I never heard him put anyone down.

    I will miss this fine gentleman and my chats with him. May God bless his memory and his soul.

  • Henry Renie says:

    I remember him conducting Belshazzar’s Feast by William Walton. It was memorable. He taught a summer conducting class for high school students in the late 1970s, which gave us the incomparable opportunity to actually conduct the Minnesota Orchestra in rehearsal in excerpts from the repertoire. We also were able to enjoy the transition from being the Minneapolis Symphony Orchestra in Northrup Auditorium to being the Minnesota Orchestra in brand-new Orchestra Hall, where we heard the acoustician talk as his work was being done. It was all very eye-opening and ear-opening, and the orchestra musicians were very good sports about our hanging around and eating lunch.

  • DRehurek says:

    A warm and resourceful educator and definitely a musician’s musican.

  • Zachary Binx says:

    He was a gentleman. I remember his conducting class at Umn. He was kind, thoughtful, and a first rate musician.