Conductor  Dieter  Kober

A Conversation with Bruce Duffie


Dieter Kober (January 2, 1920 - October 1, 2015) was a U.S. Army veteran who did vital work in military intelligence during WWII.  He was the Founder and for sixty-one years Music Director and Conductor of the Chicago Chamber Orchestra which performed concerts in Chicago, many of them free and open to the public.  They toured Europe and recorded to widespread critical acclaim.

Kober received a B.M. from the University of Nebraska, M.M. and D.F.A. from Chicago Musical College of Roosevelt University, and a conducting certificate from the Mozarteum, Salzburg while studying under Igor Markevitch.  He taught at the City Colleges of Chicago from 1950-1989.

kober Kober did a monthly program on WNIB which introduced his programs, and played recordings of the music, so I knew him both as a conductor and as a radio personality.  For my own series, I wanted to get his ideas about the considerations which go into running the orchestra, as well as probing the musician behind the baton.

In September of 1987, we met in his apartment and had a long and intricate conversation.  Portions were used on the air soon thereafter to promote an upcoming benefit concert, and now I am pleased to be able to present the entire encounter.

As we were setting up to record, he was speaking about other activities which had occupied him earlier that day . . . . .

Dieter Kober:   On a typical day, I teach Instruments of the Orchestra, which is a Humanities course.  After that I grade papers, and do a few other things connected with the college.  Then today I went to the library to straighten out a problem that had occurred.  We had just given a concert in the library
.  One of the pleasant difficulties that occurs now is that we have more people that want to go to the concert than we have space for, and the crowd becomes a fire hazard.

Bruce Duffie:   Sounds like you should have tickets and assigned seating.

Kober:   We couldn’t do that.  It’s just first-come first-served.  The difficulty was that they lock the front doors at 3:00 o’clock if the place is full, and people can’t come in.  I think that is very unfair, because some people come from miles away, from out of town or the suburbs.  They get there at 3:00 o’clock, and my staff thought they could at least come in and hear it from downstairs.  By sitting on the stairs, you can hear quite well there at the library.  [Chicago later built a new library, but retained the old one as the Cultural Center.  To get an idea of the performing space and the stairs that Kober is talking about, see these photos.]  So, we hashed that out and got things pretty well straightened out.  I also left programs to help attract the audience.  Then, I went to the office and wrote some personal letters for the certain VIPs, and people who should be solicited to come to our benefit concert on the 17th.  This will be our first admission-concert we had in ages, but it’s doing quite well.  Meanwhile, the typewriter in the office broke down, and I’m the only one that’s authorized to spend a thousand dollars on a new typewriter.  After that, I get on the train to get home, and on the train I pretty well mastered a movement of the third Beethoven piano concerto, which we’re doing on Sunday.  After I got home, I took a quick shower and dressed up, and went to the Auditorium of the Grand Army of the Republic at the library, where there was a new ballet company, and I was one of the guest speakers.  I had to say something about ballet and music.  After that, it’s 7:00 o’clock, and I went over at the Italian Consulate General, where they had the reception for the choir from Genoa, with which we cooperated last night at a concert, from which I didn’t get home until 11:00 o’clock.  After making some tentative promises, and hopes that the orchestra will go to Genoa in ’92, five years from now for the big Columbus centenary, we kissed all the girls good-bye.

BD:   [Coming around to the interview]  Let’s talk about the Chicago Chamber Orchestra, which is now thirty-five years old.  Was it your idea originally, and how did it come about?

Kober:   Yes.  In any orchestra, you find at least 50% of its personnel think they can do a better job than the maestro.  Deep in their heart they want to be the conductor.  I wasn’t any different, except I shaped the opportunity to try it out.  I did and it worked, although I certainly needed to do some work to achieve a certain degree of technical competence which I did not have.  I just liked music, and I had a great deal of experience.  I have played in the Lincoln, Nebraska symphony, besides the university orchestras and here in Chicago.

BD:   What did you play?

Kober:   I was principal cello of the University of Chicago Symphony Orchestra.  When the conductor went on leave, I saw an opportunity to try.  That was in 1952, and the idea came from Robert Shaw the Collegiate Chorale.  I thought we should have a Collegiate Sinfonietta, and that’s the way we started.  There weren’t more than four first violins, four seconds, two violas, two cellos, and one bass and a continuo.  We were affiliated as a student organization.  That’s how we started.

BD:   When did it become a separate entity?

Kober:   About ten years later.  We were at the University of Chicago when the administration discovered that the majority of the small orchestra were actually not enrolled as students.  In spite of the fact that I personally took a course in Philosophy
which I hardly understoodin order to legitimize my musical presence, it didn’t work, and we were evicted.  The policy of the University, and of many other academic institutions at the time, was that this was a facility for students and faculty, since they were paying for it.  Now this has radically changed.  The academic institution is part of the community.  The same university which kicked me out solicits people from all over Chicago, and it has a pretty good symphony orchestra.  But at the time I could see no alternative but to find greener pastures, which I did.  The first step was to unionize.  We joined the union, and started with somewhat of a bang.  There was pretty good newspaper coverage at first, with all these students who would fill up in the hall.  They charged admission, and we had some very fine soloists, including Ray Still [Principal Oboe] and Leonard Sharrow [Principal Bassoon] from the symphony, and a young pianist from New York, whom I knew, who came and played for very little.  I don’t dare say how little this artist played for, but I can tell you that the musicians in those days got $18 for two or three rehearsals and the performance.  This was in 1954.


Known as the best bassoonist of his generation, Leonard Sharrow had a distinguished career as symphony musician and teacher.

Born August 4, 1915 in New York, he was a member of the country's top symphony orchestras from 1935 until 1987, including the NBC (together with his violinist father, Saul Sharrow, under Toscanini), Detroit, Chicago (principal bassoon 1951-64 under Kubelik and Reiner) and Pittsburgh Symphonies. During World War II, he was a member of the all-soldier orchestra for ''This is the Army,'' Irving Berlin's Broadway musical, subsequently made into a film with Ronald Reagan. His 1948 RCA recording of Mozart's Bassoon Concerto stands as the definitive performance of the piece and continues to inspire young bassoonists. He made other solo recordings, in addition to recording with the NBC, Chicago and Pittsburgh orchestras.

Highly sought after as a teacher, Mr. Sharrow sent many students on to orchestras and teaching positions around the world. From 1964 until 1977 he taught full-time at Indiana University. He also taught at Juilliard, New England Conservatory, Carnegie Mellon, Pennsylvania State, and numerous summer music festivals in the U.S., Canada, Australia and Japan. Following his retirement, he returned to Indiana, moving to Cincinnati in 1999, and continued teaching until his death on August 9, 2004.

Then the orchestra became the house orchestra of the Art Institute, which was a happy time for a few.  We performed a series of admission-concerts in Fullerton Hall with guest artists like Richard Dyer-Bennett (1913-1991) who sang with us, and Dorothy Lane played harpsichord.  We had people who were willing to play for very little money and exposure, and they put up with my inexperience but love for the art.  In the interim, I did go to Salzburg to learn something about conducting.  My instructors notably were Igor Markevitch and Wolfgang Sawallisch.  Here in Chicago, quite generously, Rudolph Ganz helped out.  He became honorary patron of the orchestra.  The Art Institute had a music board, on which Ganz was a member, but his contribution was simply to let me come up to his studio, without charge, and he would go through scores and give me ideas on how to conduct.  He was a man with considerable experience, whom I respected greatly.

Rudolph Ganz (February 24, 1877 – August 2, 1972) was born in Zurich, Switzerland. He received his initial musical training at the Zurich Conservatory, and in 1899 traveled to Berlin to study piano with Ferruccio Busoni and composition with Heinrich Urban. Although Ganz had made public appearances as pianist and cellist as a child, his debut as a mature artist took place at a concert of the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra in December 1899, when he performed the Beethoven Emperor Concerto and the Chopin E minor concerto. The following year he conducted the Berliners in his own First Symphony.

In 1900, Ganz came to America, and from 1901 to 1905 taught piano at the Chicago Musical College, where he would return as director from 1929 to 1954. After 1905, he made concert tours in Europe and the United States. In 1921 he became music director of the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra, where he remained until 1927, having led its first recordings for the Victor label.

From 1938 to 1949 Ganz conducted the New York Philharmonic’s Young People’s Concerts, and led the orchestra at Lewsohn Stadium during the summer season. He also presided over the San Francisco Young People’s Concerts at this time, and guest -conducted the symphony orchestras of Chicago (where he also frequently appeared as piano soloist), Los Angeles, and Denver.

Throughout this remarkably diverse and fruitful career, Ganz remained a tireless champion of contemporary music, which in his case meant anything from Saint-Saens, Busoni, or Griffes in the early decades, to Bartók, Webern, and Cage later on. Ravel dedicated his most difficult piano piece to Ganz, the “Scarbo” movement from Gaspard de la nuit. Griffes did the same with his most popular work, The White Peacock. Rudolph Ganz’s own musical idiom is cosmopolitan, conservative, and uncommonly witty, as was the man himself.


BD:   This was just baton technique?

Kober:   Yes.

BD:   You already knew what you wanted to get from the score?

Kober:   Yes.  In fact, any number of times I felt that he wasn’t really familiar with the music which is the nature of the chamber orchestra.  There is an enormous list of compositions that we have done in 35 years, and if you go page to page, the vast majority of compositions are simply not known, and not recorded.  The reason we started that was not only because of my musicological background, but I looked rather awkward at the podium.  I had little or no experience, and people very readily threw barbs.  Word got around that all Dieter did was stand in front of the gramophone and practice with records.  This idea was well-founded because Ganz had students that learned conducting with a phonograph.  That was his way of doing it, and there’s something to be said for it, but it’s much better with a piano because you have to follow a score.  But anyway, to counter such rumors, I just played music which was not recorded.  That’s how we got started.

BD:   When did the Orchestra become independent?

Kober:   Later, another controversy occurred similar to the one with the University of Chicago.  This one was simply within the management of the Art Institute.  There was enough opposition toward allocating funds for music, that the trustees were convinced it would be better to concentrate their economics towards visual arts, and they threw the music out.  I thereby lost my position as Music Director of the Art Institute, which was a paid position.  Then, the Chicago Chamber Orchestra Association, comprised of music-loving citizens with a board of directors, was formed, and you could say that the orchestra was independent since that time.

*     *     *     *     *

BD:   As Music Director and conductor, how do you decide which literature you will conduct, and which literature you will put off until next year, or not play at all?

Kober:   It’s very difficult, because there are any number of considerations.  It’s not just my consideration.  My biggest plus in this whole system is that I don’t have to worry about the audience.  They just come.  For example, we started one program with a symphony by Frederick the Great, which nobody’s ever heard.  Then, we followed that with a piece from East Germany by Kurt Schwaen for trombone and strings, which surely nobody has heard because the parts were not available.  We had a photostatic copy of the score, and simply extracted the parts.  So, that was heard here for the first time.

schwaen Kurt Schwaen (June 21, 1909 - October 9, 2007) studied piano, organ and composition under Fritz Lubrich. From 1929 to 1933 he studied at the universities of Berlin and Breslau, where his teachers included Curt Sachs and Arnold Schering. In 1930 he met Hanns Eisler who had a profound impact on his compositional style. After becoming active in an anti-fascist student group, he joined the Communist Party of Germany, and from 1935 to 1938 he was imprisoned because of his political views.

After the war he returned to Berlin and spent much of his time working to rebuild the musical culture of that city by writing compositions for amateur music groups, choirs, music schools and chamber ensembles, publishing and serving as a musical advisor. Between 1953 and 1956 he worked with Bertolt Brecht who had a profound impact on his future compositions. He also worked with Ernst Busch. He composed in several genres, producing a cantata for children entitled King Midas.

In 1961 he became a member of the DDR Akademie der Künste, where he was head of the music department from 1965 to 1970. From 1962 to 1978 he was president of the East German National Folk Music committee. Between 1973 and 1981 he directed the children’s musical theatre in Leipzig. His awards include an honorary doctorate from Leipzig University (1983) and several state awards. Schwaen’s extensive oeuvre comprises over 620 titles. A number of works, such as the Piano Concerto no.2 (1987), show the influence of his several visits to Vietnam. Later works include the collaborative musical poem Potsdamer Platz (1998). Some of his works were published by the Friedrich Hofmeister Musikverlag.

Schwaen later settled in Berlin-Mahlsdorf, where he died at the age of 98. His widow, Ina Iske-Schwaen, maintains an archive dedicated to his works in his Mahlsdorf home.

Then, after that, we did something that is known, the Pachelbel Canon, and we ended up with one of the Hindemith Gebrauchsmusik [
music for use; the leading exponent of the Gebrauchsmusik movement was Paul Hindemith, who probably coined the term but later disavowed it.]  It’s a German folk song for chamber orchestra in which Hindemith shows his technique.  In a way, two of movements sound a little bit like Mathis der Maler.  In fact, it has a very contrapuntal involvement, and is very short.  The whole thing only last about six minutes.  Then, after intermission we did the Overture To a Comedy by Hanns Eisler, which certainly was the first performance in the United States.  I got that music also in East Berlin.  [Breaking off the topic of this specific concert to relate a story]  I took fifteen or twenty minutes to read a biography of Hanns Eisler, which a friend had given me as a present.  I was very much fascinated with Eisler.  The thought occurred to me Eisler, like so many others, left Germany because of Hitler.  Then, he left the United States because of the US Congressional Investigations Committee on Un-American Activities.  He undertook a voluntary deportation rather than carry on these activities.  What I read in this book that was so fascinating was that the biggest people in the countrysuch as Aaron Copland and Leonard Bernsteinfought on his behalf.  Virgil Thomson arranged a concert on behalf of Hanns Eisler.  What makes it really interesting is that while he had personal views on human pursuits, he was really not political.  He actually was apolitical.  His was not the only career that was ruined at that time.  East Berlin took him in with open arms, and let him compose their new National Anthem.  [Coming back to the story of the concert]  Then finally, we did a work I’m convinced has never been done here, the E-Flat Piano Concerto by Johann Christian Bach, which George Tenegal, a Chicago pianist, had learned and memorized just for that occasion.  We had worked very hard, and had two meetings to go through all the phrasings.  He put great effort into this.  There must be at least twelve piano concertos, and six of them are published, so we picked the one that I thought was the best.  That’s kind of unconventional programming I do.  The following program had the Beethoven Third and Fourth Piano Concertos, preceded by the Congratulations Minuet, which is also unconventional, but at least it’s known-music.  This just gives you an idea how far the spectrum reaches out.

BD:   You say you don’t have to worry about the audience, but I assume you don’t ignore the audience.

Kober:   I don’t ignore the audience, but they will take anything.  We’ve probably been more packed, and had more people turned away for the Beethoven, but I do like to please the audience.  I know I can’t do all twelve-tone programs.  There has to be something else in between.  I never really formulated this before, but besides the audience, one of the very strong considerations is all is how I satisfy those people or those organizations or those sources that are good for money.  Doing a lot of modern music, and a lot of first performances, we make sure that these first performances are made up of music that is composed after 1945.  This gives us a chance to win an ASCAP Award for adventurous programming, as we did in 1986.  So, the poor contemporary composer who has composed something in 1944 is disqualified automatically, but something from ’45 is fine.  [Both laugh]  That’s the way the chips fall.  Now, if something is really so good that I want to do it, and we’re doing enough material from after ’45 to probably still make it, I will program it, but there’s less of a chance.  When I speak about what source of support we can obtain, another consideration might include this practical example.  [Pointing to an open door behind him]  
You can see a whole shelf of scores in the other room.  I have enough to keep a lifetime for another conductor.  These are new scores that should be played.  Well, next season, we shall do a composition by a man named Thomas Clark, who is a professor of music at the University of North Texas.  He sent me a score years ago.  I was going to do his piece called Hidden Moon.  I informed him that I was going to do that, and said, “Please, can you commission something?”  I asked him how, and he said he would apply to the Texas Arts Council.  I told him to go ahead, and he obtained $2,500 for that composition, which includes him coming here and consulting with me.  So, here we have a commission of a work, Aurora, and all I know about this composer is that I liked one of his compositions.  I never played it, but whatever he writes that’s going to be done.  It will be a challenge...

clark Thomas Clark (1949 -  ) began composing in the 1960s, writing mostly for brass, piano, his school band, and the Michigan Youth Symphony. He earned a Doctor of Musical Arts degree from The University of Michigan in 1976, where he studied composition with Pulitzer Prize winner Leslie Bassett. Other composition teachers included Eugene Kurtz and George Balch Wilson. Clark was trombonist for Contemporary Directions, Michigan’s Rockefeller Foundation supported new music repertory ensemble. He has also studied trombone with virtuoso trombonist Stuart Dempster.

His compositions have been performed at festivals throughout the U.S.A., in Canada, Japan, New Zealand, Australia, three times at “Moravian Autumn” the Brno International Music Festival in the Czech Republic, and at the Festival Internacional Alfonso Reyes in Monterrey, Mexico. Several of his works, affiliated with BMI, are published by Borik Press (based in North Carolina) and recorded on Centaur Records. His writing has appeared in Perspectives of New Music, In Theory Only, Computer Music Journal, New Grove Dictionary of American Music, and Contemporary Composers published by St. James Press. Co-author with Larry Austin of the landmark book, Learning to Compose (1989), Clark also wrote an aural development textbook, ARRAYS, published in 1992. His most recent book, Larry Austin: Life and Works of an Experimental Composer, was published by Borik Press in 2013.

After teaching at The University of Michigan, Indiana University, Pacific Lutheran University, and for 10 summers at the National Music Camp in Interlochen, Michigan, in 1976 Dr. Clark joined the music faculty of the University of North Texas. There he developed the New Music Performance Lab and served as Chair of the Doctor of Musical Arts program and Director of the Center for Experimental Music and Intermedia.

He went on to serve eight years as Associate Dean for Academic Affairs and one year as Interim Dean of the UNT College of Music. In those administrative roles, he helped found the Texas Center for Music and Medicine, the Center for Shenkerian Studies, the Artist Certificate in Music Performance program, and the “ASPIRE” programs promoting academic success and student retention. He retired from UNT in 2004 and holds the title Professor Emeritus at that institution.

From 2004 through 2008, Clark served as Dean of the School of Music at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts, an affiliated campus of the University of North Carolina system. He also served there as Executive Director of the A.J. Fletcher Opera Institute, an exciting professional training program.

Serving 2008-2020, Clark led the vibrant School of Music at Texas State University as Director and Professor of Composition. The years since 2016 have been unusually productive for him as a composer, completing more than 30 new pieces.


Besides support, another process of selection is affiliation.  We are affiliated with New Music Chicago, having played a concert with them every season opening their New Music Chicago Festival.  Whatever fits into the scheme of that week, I have to do, and that
s another consideration.  [The April 1987 Festival had works by forty one composers, including Donald Erb, William Neil, and Ralph Shapey.]  Another thing, which is very important is the soloist.  One who comes for very little money played a year ago with us, and he just loves to come here.  I can afford his fee, so I have to consider what is in his repertoire, and what wants to do.  So, that goes into the programming.  One of the functions of our orchestra is to give opportunities to artists of the orchestra, and artists who live in the city, as well as young artists.  St. Paul Federal Savings give us little money for doing this.  Once in a while, we bring one of the top winners on an instrument that suits us.  It might not necessarily be a pianist, but it might flutist who somehow fits into my scheme, along with a very limited repertoire that these young people have.  So, I have to consider that, too.  [Pondering all this for a moment]  I should write this down because I’ve never thought about this.  No one has ever asked me how I select things.  I’m sure there are more angles if I think about it.

*     *     *     *     *

BD:   In the thirty-five years you have led the Chicago Chamber Orchestra, what is perhaps the most surprising development that you’ve noticed over that time?

Drawing on over 60 years of tradition as the second oldest professional orchestra in America’s Second City, the New Chicago Chamber Orchestra brings great music to people of Illinois and music lovers around the world. In addition to regular admission-free concerts at the Chicago Cultural Center, the Chicago Chamber Orchestra has performed throughout the United States, Europe and Asia, for radio and television broadcasts and on commercial recordings. 

The Orchestra, under its now retired founder, Maestro Dieter Kober, was among the first of Illinois’ cultural service organizations to reach across cultural and economic lines, bringing the heritage of great classical music to people from all walks of life, backgrounds and ages. Its “Music for Young Listeners” programs throughout Illinois, have introduced thousands of youth to classical music. The massive repertoire of 5000 compositions from the Baroque to the present, through countless performances featuring internationally renowned soloists, have drawn universal praise, including multiple ASCAP awards and the Orchestra of the Year award from the Illinois Council of Orchestras. Throughout its history, the Orchestra has received kudos from Illinois Governors (famous and infamous), Chicago Mayors, the American Federation of Musicians, and many others:

“One of the most notable success stories in Chicago music.”
---Chicago Tribune

“Winning prestige for Chicago abroad.”
---Chicago Sun-Times

“The entire performance has style, pure intonation, accuracy and a good sense of proportion”
---Grammophone, London

 “The orchestra displayed a brilliant musical technique, transparency, flexibility, expressiveness and passion.”
---Speyer Tagesspiegel

“An impressive orchestra with virtuosity and temperament.”
---Ruch Musicny, Warsaw

“The sound of the Chicago Chamber Orchestra is beautiful, refined and always in accurate rhythm and intonation.”
---Korea Times, Seoul

Now sponsored by Southern Illinois University Carbondale, the New Chicago Chamber Orchestra operates under the musical and administrative direction of Professor Edward Benyas, who was named Music Director Designate in 2002.

Kober:   That’s a good question.  [Thinks a moment]  First of all, in this kind of business life is full of surprises.  In fact, I have many surprises due to the nature of the orchestra.  I’m so used to surprises in the personnel that it’s actually a source of stress.  The orchestra has an average size between thirty and thirty-five musicians per concert.  Sometimes there are less when the repertoire doesn’t require them all, but the actual number of musicians that we use in a period of a year is about one hundred and twenty.  This is because it’s a constant revolving door due to the nature of being single-engagement at the lowest possible scale.  That makes it harder to hold the orchestra together.  So, looking at the different personnel, every concert is a constant surprise.  Another surprise is that frequently the music I like least, and that I’m forced to do for some reason or other, I do the best.  That’s a surprise.  As I grow older and get more mature with the organization, there appear to be fewer surprises.  All this comes from experience.

BD:   Does this also hold true for guest artists who might be more or less experienced?

Kober:   Invariably, the more famous, or the more-established the artist is, the easier they are to work with.  That was a surprise.  When you are in awe of somebody who will play with you, then you see how easy it is to make music with them.  You can then compare that with some other people who are not as established, and are much more difficult to work with.  That was a surprise to learn.

BD:   Do you feel that the orchestra has gotten better over the years?

bowings Kober:   The orchestra has got better in the past three years.  One reason is because I have better players who demand more from me as a conductor.  I’m much more aware that I have a responsibility toward the people who put in a great deal of effort and time and love for the art.  So, I have to be better-prepared.  It doesn’t mean that I have to learn the music better, but it means, for example, that I spend an enormous amount of time now checking the bowings.  I’m very grateful to Charlie Pikler [Concertmaster of the Chicago Chamber Orchestra, and Principal Violist of the Chicago Symphony] for helping me to learn more about violin bowings.  Frank Miller [Principal cellist of the Chicago Symphony, who also conducts the Evanston Symphony] feels that if everybody else in the orchestra starts a piece with an up bow, and in his opinion it is smart, or cellistically-correct that the cellists do it the other way, the cellists will do it that other way.  We don’t do this anymore.  I check every part, and I mark every part so that the bowings are uniform.  That has helped us to achieve a certain degree of
homogenous performance that has improved.  Another reason is that I tolerate less loyalty in lieu of competency than I did in the past.  Having a stable pool of some one hundred and twenty musicians, if a good violinist drops out because he can make more money playing four nights at the Chicago Theater than playing one afternoon with me, there are others who can come in.  I have auditioned everybody.  There was a time when I was just happy to get people to play.  Now, I have a reservoir of auditioned people, which helps make the orchestra better.  Fundamentally, of course, we still fight the financial shortcomings and insufficient rehearsals, and in my lifetime I hope to overcome it.  But, that means more money...

BD:   [laughs]  Are you basically pleased with the performances that you’ve heard of your orchestra?

Kober:   No, I’m never pleased.  There sometimes are certain things that I think came off well, and every conductor would feel that way.  The reason you cannot feel completely satisfied now is that everything is taped, so it is impossible to get complete satisfaction.  I would say the thing that I was probably most pleased with in all my experience was about two years ago, when we did Siegfried Idyll in St. James Cathedral.  I thought that was out of this world, and I was happy.  About fifteen years ago, again at St. James, we did a Bach D Major Suite, and I was quite pleased.  Most recently I was extremely pleased with a very fine performance which was inspired by the soloist, our friend, Marc Johnson from the Vermeer Quartet.  He played the Tchaikovsky Rococo Variations and that was fun.  Listening to the tape, I was quite pleased.  However, when I listened to the tape the first time after Beethoven’s Fourth Symphony, I was pleased, but the more I listened to it, the more things I find wrong with it.

BD:   [Gently protesting]  But that was the performance, and you would have been pleased with it at the time.

Kober:   There’s a general feeling of exhilaration among the musicians that you cannot escape when things work, just like there’s a feeling of being let-down when things don’t quite work out the way you would like them to.

*     *     *     *     *
BD:   What advice do you have for an aspiring young conductor?

Kober:   The first thing is that he must really understand and love the literature.  When I talk to my fellow musicians, I find that a great many of them do not know the literature.  This is not just the aspiring conductors, but people who come out of music schools.  I should guide them to your radio station, because they can get a wonderful education if they just make up their mind to listen many hours every day to your programming.  That way they would get to know the literature.  I talk to young musicians who learn how to practice, and play their instruments quite competently, but when you ask them about fundamental things, such as whether they know any Haydn Symphonies, I was surprised that they don’t.  That’s the first thing.  If you are an interpreter, you must be able to base your ideas of the work that you want to perform on some sort of comparison.  That’s my approach.  If you really want to be a conductor, it’s just like anything else.  You have to have some goal of what you want to do, and you have to pursue that the best way you can.  You also have to have some inspiration.  If you want to be like Solti, go after it.  The next thing is that you have to acquire the technical competency to be able to do it.

BD:   Are there enough opportunities to acquire this skill and knowledge?

Kober:   Make them!  You can do it.  I started out being a cellist in various orchestras, and wanting to be on the podium.  The first opportunity that I had teaching at college was not to conduct the school orchestra, but it afforded an opportunity to form a madrigal group.  Anybody can do that.  You can find five people with good voices, learn the literature and know what you’re doing with it.  You also learn how to interpret.  You can show the five singers how to make beautiful music with Orlando di Lasso, and Thomas Weelkes.  They’ll love you.  They would love to do it, and then it’s terrifically easy to go out and play for PTAs.  People will love to have you embellish a speaker’s appearance.  That’s where I really started learning.  Primarily at that time I was interested in making music, and applying the ideas from the score to the sound.  But at the same time, you get to hear those five voices and know who is signing wrong, or what notes are wrong.  At the same time, you also learn how to give cues.  This is what I did.  I also got a group of people together and coached them on one of the Beethoven Symphonies.  Those were young musicians that just became acquainted with the work, and I knew the work quite well because I had played it in school in Nebraska both on bassoon and cello.  It gave me a chance to practice conducting, and I would suggest to the aspiring conductor, similarly, to find a quintet or and a chamber group for brass or for strings.  Then, acquaint himself thoroughly with the score, so that he can actually be of help to chamber musicians.  These would not be professionals, but amateurs who will be happy to have somebody there to give them the cues, to tell them when they play wrong notes, and work with a small ensemble.  So, that would be the second thing.  The third thing is eventually to go through the routine of the workshops of the American Symphony Orchestra League.  It’s a wonderful experience.  From then on, opportunities may arise.  There are many small orchestras in the United States, as well as church choirs, school choirs, community choirs.  If you’re really inspired, you can make opportunities, as I did when I founded my own orchestra.  With a certain amount of endurance and luck and good friends, you can make it.  The most important thing is for the aspiring young conductor is that he just knows for sure he is there to help the musicians get the most out of their potential, and in this process maintain their respect.  If they don’t respect him, then the whole thing is no good.  You find in some professional orchestras the musicians just don’t like the conductor for some reason.  Even if he’s competent, he just somehow doesn’t have the human aspect to gain their respect.  Usually, the musicians make up their mind in the first few seconds whether they like you and want to work with you or not.  I’ve done some guest conducting, and I know when you don’t hit it off right away, or when you have a divided orchestra.  It’s difficult, especially in a foreign country when they don’t understand your language.  Some of them might think you’re crazy, while others think you’re great.  If you can just develop a universally accepted personality, people who play under you will have confidence that you’re going to guide them correctly.  If you work with professionals, it’s not so difficult, but that’s my advice to the aspiring conductors.

BD:   Considering all of this, is conducting fun?

kober Kober:   It’s my life.  Once you’re in, then you get the bug.  It’s just like blood.  Is blood fun?  You can’t live without it.  If you come to my rehearsals, you would think it is fun, because in spite of the fact that it’s strenuous work, it’s a very human thing, and if you like people and if you love music, of course it’s fun.  Performance, though, is something quite different from rehearsal.  It’s a different kind of strain depending on how well you feel a piece is ready for performance.  I’m sure this applies to Solti, as well as to the conductor of the smallest provincial orchestra.  When Solti does Moses und Aron of Schoenberg, I’m sure he’s more apprehensive about it than when he does the Coriolan overture of Beethoven, which he can do in his sleep.

BD:   Is all your work done during the rehearsal?

Kober:   We have one rehearsal and that’s it.  For some concerts we have more.  This upcoming concert is an Anniversary Concert on October 17th, where we charge admission, and I have a moral responsibility to have two rehearsals.  This is possible to do because the musicians are donating their services, so we can afford to pay for an extra rehearsal.  But the preparation also includes not only the conductor’s marking of parts, but many of the players do that.  They also take their parts home and practice them, which is also rehearsal.  It also depends on the repertoire.  On this benefit concert, for example, there is no musician in this orchestra who has not played the Handel Overture, the Schubert Fifth Symphony, the Mozart Piano Concerto, or the Beethoven Fourth Symphony.  They have all played that repertoire before.  Some of the people have played it any number of times, and they have played it in other orchestras.  We played it safe, so to speak, doing that repertoire at the admission benefit concert.  On the other hand, an average program always has a new work, and many musicians voluntarily take their parts home to practice.

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BD:   Tell me the secret of conducting Mozart.

Kober:   Let me think about that because the question is very difficult.  [Thinks a moment]  You have to have a very strong love for something that you do, and even the worst conductors love Mozart, so it makes no sense.  What it requires is a real understanding of the style, and the way I see it, there was a uniformity of style for both young and old Mozart.  For example, I believe Mozart always wants short upbeats.  Then, when you have a phrase, or a motif that ends with a phrase, you cannot just chop it off.  It must ease out.  I can give you all kinds of details when I see the score, but a universal answer of what’s the secret, I’m sorry, I don’t know.  I really do not know the answer. I can only speak for myself.  It may be a very arrogant conviction, but I can do Mozart just as well as anybody, Bruno Walter being one of the very fine examples.  Josef Krips is another example, as is Solti.  His Così fan tutte is superb, but I think I can do as well as they can.  I’m thoroughly convinced of that, and many of my players are.  Actually, most of my players are, and some of them think I even do it better.  Many of my audience feel that way, and that helps, but it really doesn’t count.  For myself, the secret is to have a total conviction.  This is the way Mozart has got to be played.  When I do it wrong, then I know I need more rehearsal, or some rethinking, but I’m totally convinced I know how it should sound.  That’s my secret.


BD:   Let me ask another big philosophical question.  What is the ultimate purpose of music in society?

Kober:   To make us all better people.  Music brings the best out of people in their emotional state, and it’s very important to have a healthy emotional state.  That’s my philosophy, and it makes people feel good.  It might make you want to go to sleep, and that’s good, too.  But music certainly doesn’t incite riots anymore.

BD:   [With a gentle nudge]  Or does it?  [Both laugh]

Kober:   At least not my music.  When your music does incite riots, then its purpose is ill-conceived.  When people get killed at rock concerts, something is wrong.

BD:   Is
rock music?

Kober:   Of course.  Of course,
rock is music.  Isn’t exactly my kind of music, but my purpose is to be all embracing and not many people know that.  Somewhere around 1965 or so, I actually commissioned a concerto for rock group and chamber orchestra.

BD:   Did it come off?

Kober:   We performed it.  It was by a group called Frannie and Zoey, who performed on one of my wild evenings.  I became acquainted with them, and Zoey suggested it.  It was actually underwritten by the city at the time.  Those were the days when the Chicago Chamber Orchestra was helped quite a bit by Mayor Richard J. Daley (1902-1976).  We did that rock concert with two performances outdoors.  I must admit, however, that I really had a hard time.  I needed some coaching on how you conduct that style, because I was absolutely too stiff.  I didn’t fit.  It wasn’t really a home base for me, but we did it, and there is a certain legitimacy in any kind of serious endeavor to project your emotions through music.

I started out in my home town of Chicago in the early 70s, first by going to any and all open mics, piano bars, and hanging out at music clubs, absorbing everything and anything. Chicago was a melting pot of jazz, blues, R&B, folk and rock and roll and had great FM radio stations that became the soundtrack to my young life.

While working at a piano bar on Rush Street, I met another young aspiring singer-songwriter, Tony Zito. We formed a band aptly named Frannie and Zoey. Tony and I both wrote songs for the band, but also mixed it up with outside material. I liked learning other people’s songs and being inspired by their chords, melodies and lyrics. We spent two years working together and built a huge following that brought us to the attention of many record companies and several high-profile producers. Unfortunately, the band split up, but it was a great training ground – we played six shows a night, five nights a week, the highlight, performing Tony’s rock opera with the Chicago Chamber Orchestra conducted by Dieter Kober.

==  From an interview of Franne Golde published April 13, 2013 in Kickin' it Old School blog  

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Tony Zito, 48, a composer, lyricist and performer, was a mainstay of the Chicago theater scene for more than 20 years. A resident of the Wrigleyville neighborhood, he died Friday in Illinois Masonic Medical Center after a yearlong illness.

During the last 10 years, Mr. Zito was a frequent performer at Yvette on North State Parkway, where he played the piano and sang. He also made appearances at Yvette Wintergarden on South Wacker Drive.

In the early 1970s, he toured the city`s club circuit with two bands: Frannie and Zoey, and Streetdreams. From 1976 until 1980, he was the musical director at Columbia College Theatre.

''He was quite beloved by everyone,'' said June Pyskacek, a Chicago director with whom Mr. Zito collaborated on several shows. ''He had a lot of grace and style. A very original sound as a composer and he had a great voice. ''Musically, he could have a bit of funk in his music that nobody else could do. You could always hear a Tony Zito melody. Everybody pretty much uses the adjective `brilliant.` ''

A native of Bellwood, Mr. Zito attended Immaculate Conception High School in Elmhurst. He studied composition at St. Ambrose University in Davenport, Iowa, for two years and graduated from St. Procopius College in Lisle.

Mr. Zito spent two years as an Army medic in Vietnam. He is survived by a brother and two sisters.

==  From an obituary in the Chicago Tribune, December 20, 1992, by Andrew Gottesman  

BD:   Tell me the particular joys and sorrows of conducting outdoors.

Kober:   The best thing, of course, is when there is good weather.  The sorrow of conducting is when you knock yourself out, and the wind blows the music on the music stands, which has happened any number of times.  I would have extra chairs next to the musicians’ chairs, and ask people from the audience to join the orchestra to get through the music.  Those were the sorrows of outdoors.  As to the joys, what I really enjoy more than any outdoor music is the recent new set up we have underneath the portico at the Museum of Science and Industry.  On a nice day, you get a wonderful acoustic sound with a thirteen-piece group doing the Mozart Serenade for 13 Winds.  It’s a real joy to do that out there.  Another joy I recall of music outdoors is the combination of nature and music.  We did the Toy Symphony of Haydn outdoors in the Rookery at Lincoln Park, and they have all kinds of animals which actually chimed into the music!  [Both laugh]  I remember another case that was almost comical.  The orchestra not only plays in these established places, but also wherever we are hired.  We played in the Village Courtyard in Palos Park one time, and the only place that would fit the orchestra and conductor was where I had to stand on a fence of a fenced-in tree.  I had to have one foot on the fence to be stable, otherwise I would fall into a hole.  That was a little bit uncomfortable, but it was a very picturesque setting for outdoor music.

BD:   And it worked?

Kober:   It worked.

BD:   [Noting that we had been together for over an hour]  Thank you for all the music, and for the conversation.

Kober:   No problem.


See my interviews with M. William Karlins, Robert Lombardo, Ross Beacraft, and David Pituch


See my interviews with John Bruce Yeh, Mary Stolper, and Kent Kennan

© 1987 Bruce Duffie

This conversation was recorded in the apartment of Dieter Kober in Chicago on September 20, 1987.  Portions were broadcast on WNIB a couple of weeks later.  This transcription was made at the end of 2021, and posted on this website at the beginning of 2022.

To see a full list (with links) of interviews which have been transcribed and posted on this website, click here.  To read my thoughts on editing these interviews for print, as well as a few other interesting observations, click here.

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Award - winning broadcaster Bruce Duffie was with WNIB, Classical 97 in Chicago from 1975 until its final moment as a classical station in February of 2001.  His interviews have also appeared in various magazines and journals since 1980, and he now continues his broadcast series on WNUR-FM, as well as on Contemporary Classical Internet Radio.

You are invited to visit his website for more information about his work, including selected transcripts of other interviews, plus a full list of his guests.  He would also like to call your attention to the photos and information about his grandfather, who was a pioneer in the automotive field more than a century ago.  You may also send him E-Mail with comments, questions and suggestions.