Flutist  Donald  Peck

A Conversation with Bruce Duffie


Born on January 26, 1930, in Yakima, Washington, Donald Peck received his early musical training in Seattle, where he played in the Seattle Youth Symphony Orchestra and the Seattle Philharmonic Orchestra. As a teenager, he performed with his first teacher, Frank Horsfall, in the Seattle Symphony. He was a scholarship student at the Curtis Institute in Philadelphia, where he studied with William Kincaid. Peck performed with the National Symphony Orchestra in Washington, D.C., and spent three years in the U.S. Marine Band. He was Principal flute of the Kansas City Philharmonic Orchestra for two years before Fritz Reiner invited him to join the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in 1957 as Assistant Principal flute. The following year, Reiner promoted Peck to Principal flute, a chair he would hold for over forty years until his retirement in 1999.

Peck first appeared as soloist with the Orchestra at the Ravinia Festival in August 1959, in Bach's Fifth Brandenburg Concerto, and on subscription concerts in Orchestra Hall in November 1960, in Bach's Second Orchestral Suite, both with Walter Hendl conducting. During his tenure, he appeared as soloist on more than 120 concerts directed by twenty-five conductors — including music directors Reiner, Jean Martinon, Sir Georg Solti, and Daniel Barenboim — in Orchestra Hall, at the Ravinia Festival, and on tour.

On April 18, 1985, Solti led the Orchestra in the world premiere of Morton Gould’s Flute Concerto, commissioned for Peck. [The flutist speaks about this work during the interview.  His performance was issued on one of the Radiothon CDs, and is shown below.  Also see my interviews with Alex Klein, Christoph Eschenbach, Larry Combs, Mariss Jansons, Miklós Rózsa, Victor Aitay, and Pierre Boulez.]


Also for Peck, William Ferris wrote his Flute Sonata [recording shown farther down on this webpage] and Lee Hoiby dedicated his Pastorale Dances for Flute and Orchestra. He regularly performed as a guest artist with other orchestras, including appearances at the Pablo Casals Festival with concerts in Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, and in Carnegie Hall. In Australia, Peck recorded Mozart's flute concertos for the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, and he regularly appeared at the Carmel Bach Festival in California, the Victoria International Festival in Canada, the Grand Teton Music Festival in Wyoming, and the Tanglewood Music Festival in Massachusetts, along with numerous other orchestras from coast to coast.

As Principal flute of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Peck performed on over three hundred recordings under twenty-two conductors for twelve labels. In his retirement, he recorded works for flute and piano with Melody Lord for the Boston label. Peck also was a longtime member of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra Alumni Association.

Peck served on the faculties of DePaul and Roosevelt universities, where he taught flute and woodwind ensemble. A frequent lecturer and guest teacher, he gave master classes at the Juilliard School and the Manhattan School of Music in New York, at the Rotterdam Conservatory in Holland, for the Osaka Flute Club in Japan, at the Sydney Flute Association in Australia, and at over thirty universities and music groups throughout the United States and Canada. For many years, Peck played a flute — fashioned in platinum-iridium — handmade for him by Powell Flutes of Boston.

In 1997, the National Flute Association honored Peck with a lifetime achievement award. Indiana University Press published Peck's memoir, The Right Place, The Right Time! Tales of Chicago Symphony Days in 2007, and the Chicago Flute Club's biennial international flute competition is named in his honor.  Peck died on April 29, 2022 at his home in Chicago.

==  From a tribute article by Frank Villella, posted on the CSO website.  
==  Names which are links in this box and below refer to my interviews elsewhere on my website.  BD  

Having known my work on WNIB, Classical 97, Peck agreed to do an interview in August of 2003, and invited me to his home for the encounter.  The photo above (taken by someone else about a year previous) accurately reflects the experience.
The hour we spent together was filled with deep insights as well as much laughter.

Here is that conversation . . . . .

Bruce Duffie:   You mentioned that you were recently in Seattle, and spent a whole week listening to the flute.  Have there been times in your career that you wanted to listen to anything but the flute?

Donald Peck:   Well, I was never really a flutist.  I was a violinist that played the flute!  I never wanted to sound fluty, or birdie, or chirpy.  I always wanted to play music, and some people don’t associate that with the flute.  So I always try to get a darker sound with some depth, and change the tone instead of always being the same.  Sometimes I hear a lot of the flute, such as when I give masterclasses, and they’re all very fluty.  [Laughs]  I’m always happy to go on to the violins, or the cellos.  I like some depth in the sound, anybody’s sound, but that’s not always the style.  I love soprano voices, but probably I like most the Wagnerian soprano voices.

BD:   So, you’re a Flagstad and Nilsson fan?

Peck:   Right.  They have a little more heft, as does Deborah Voigt now.

BD:   You were born in Seattle?  [Vis-à-vis the recording shown at right, see my interviews with Leon Stein, and Vittorio Rieti.]

Peck:   I was born in Yakima.  It’s 150 miles east of Seattle.  Then we moved to Seattle when I was maybe twelve.

BD:   So, you grew up in Yakima?

Peck:   That’s where Lois Schaefer was, and that’s where my sister had the trio.  [More about this later in the interview.]  We had apples and cherries.  Now they have wine.  Wonderful wine comes from Yakima and the Columbia Valley.

BD:   Where did you go to college?

Peck:   I went one year to Seattle University, and then I went to the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia.

BD:   You got a Performer’s Diploma there?

Peck:   Yes, and that’s all I ever got.  In my third year at Curtis, my teacher came in one day in October and asked if I would want to go down to Washington DC to finish the season on second flute, because the flute player there was coming to Philadelphia as piccolo.  So, for my third year at school, I went to Washington DC.

BD:   Was Mitchell the conductor at that time?

Peck:   Yes, Howard Mitchell.  They asked me to stay as Assistant Principal, but I was going to be drafted.  So, I got in the US Marine Band in Washington, which was wonderful because we had fine wonderful players.  We played in the White House, and we had a concert every week all winter.  I learned a lot of repertoire, and then I went for two years to the Kansas City Philharmonic.

BD:   Who was the conductor there?

Peck:   Hans Schwieger.  [To see some material about Schwieger, click HERE.]  Then I came here.  It’s interesting how things turned out, and if we let them happen, it’s best.  In 1964, I was offered Principal flute in Philadelphia.  I desperately wanted to go because my teacher had played in that orchestra, and I grew up musically hearing that sound.  That was the orchestra at the time.  Well, they didn’t want to release me from my contract here, and the Union was threatening, so even though I had signed a two-year contract with the Philadelphia, and I had to send it back.  I was devastated for two years.  But then Solti came here, and this orchestra just continued to get bigger, and higher, and more wonderful, and not to put the Philadelphia down, but it slightly sagged for a few years.  I don’t mind mentioning, in my opinion, it was Riccardo Muti who did that, while this orchestra was going bigger.  So, it turned out to be fabulous.

BD:   You stayed in the right place.

Peck:   Absolutely right!  I was a lucky boy.

BD:   Did you also play the alto flute and the bass flute, or just the single concert flute?

Peck:   I have played the alto flute, but not really.  I usually only played the regular flute, and the little piccolo now and then.  Mahler’s Fifth Symphony, for example, has four piccolos so I had to play a few notes.  I don’t know why he wrote it like that.  Nobody could hear them.

BD:   [Surprised]  I would think the piccolos would cut through everything.

Peck:   That
s true, but the brass section’s playing!  [Both laugh]

*     *     *     *     *

BD:   [Making an incorrect assumption, based on his first answer above]  You started on the violin.  Why did you go to the flute?

Peck:   No, I didn’t start on the violin.  I wanted to, but I actually started on the piano, and one thing led to another.  I really thought I’d go to the clarinet, but my sister had a trio.  She played the piano with a flute and a violin.  The flutist was Lois Schaefer who later went to study on the East Coast, and ended up as piccolo player in the Boston Symphony. 
So, I grew up hearing that flute playing.  Its just that I tried to approach it from the idea of a violin.

Born in Yakima, Washington, on March 10, 1924, Lois Schaefer attended the Interlochen Summer Arts Camp as a teenager, later attending at the New England Conservatory of Music, where she studied with Georges Laurent (Principal flute of the Boston Symphony Orchestra), Frank Horsfall, and Sebastian Caratelli. She completed her bachelor of music in flute performance in 1946, and received an artist diploma the following year.

schaefer Hired by Chicago Symphony Orchestra music director Rafael Kubelík in 1951, Schaefer served the Orchestra as Assistant Principal flute until 1954. During her time in Chicago, Schaefer also taught at Chicago Musical College. By 1956, she returned east and was hired as Principal flute of the New York City Opera, where she would remain for ten seasons. She also performed and recorded with the NBC Opera Theatre Orchestra, the RCA Victor Symphony Orchestra, and the Columbia Symphony Orchestra.

In 1965, Schaefer was hired by then–music director Erich Leinsdorf to the position of flute and Principal piccolo for the Boston Symphony Orchestra, her “dream job.” During her twenty-five-year tenure, she also served as Principal piccolo for the Boston Pops Orchestra. “In more than 2,000 Boston Pops performances of [John Philip Sousa‘s] ‘The Stars and Stripes Forever,’ a moment always arrived when Lois Schaefer was the star of the show,” wrote Bryan Marquard in the Boston Globe. “Though she was a master of the memorable piccolo solo that is the highlight of the song, she didn’t take her eyes off the musical score—not in her first concert, not in her 2,000th. She was determined to never make a mistake on her notoriously difficult instrument, which sometimes waits silently through portions of concerts, only to suddenly be highlighted for all ears to hear.”

Schaefer served on the faculty of the New England Conservatory of Music from 1965 until 1992. She also was a board member of the National Flute Association, receiving their second-ever lifetime achievement award in 1993.

According to her sister Winifred Mayes, a cellist with the BSO from 1954 until 1964, Schaefer was “very, very happy in Boston. . . . She loved the orchestra and the people in it. She always felt very secure and warm towards them, and they towards her. I think it was perfect for her.”

In her final season in Boston, Schaefer was soloist in Daniel Pinkham‘s Concerto Piccolo, written especially for her. Upon her retirement in 1990, Globe music critic Richard Dyer wrote, “For her twenty-five years as solo piccolo, Lois Schaefer has been the highest, brightest voice in the Boston Symphony Orchestra. . . . To hear her in a Rossini overture is like watching the sunlight dance on rippling water. She can also break your heart with a perfectly placed high pianissimo in a Mahler or Shostakovich slow movement.”  

Schaefer died on January 31, 2020.  

[Slightly edited from the CSO website]  


BD:   Is this what you try to instill in your studentsto approach the flute not as a flute, but as a musical instrument?

Peck:   That’s a very good way to put it, but some people are offended by that.  I just try to tell them to get into the music.  The notes and the tone, and the intonation, and the dynamics are just the start.  Then you get into the interesting part, the good part, the music.  I try to do that.

BD:   I assume you became more of a musician every day of your life?

Peck:   [Smiles]  Well, I was very lucky.  I always loved music.  I wasn’t just in it for the show, or to show off technique.  I wanted to play the music.  We’re all different, and that was my approach.

BD:   You were Principal Flute with the Chicago Symphony for over forty years, and besides playing solos and concertos, you also taught flute and gave Master Classes.  How did you find time for all of that?

Peck:   In addition to that, I did concerts with solo dates with other orchestras, and I did chamber music.  But I’m not the only one.  We all just did that.  We didn’t even think about it.  We did it because we wanted to do it.  I’m looking back on those schedules lately because I’ve been writing a book, and I can’t believe we did all that.  We would go on tour with the orchestra, and we’d come back and have a couple of concerts, and then our chamber group would run off to Florida for a concert, and we’d come back to Milwaukee for a concert, and then on Tuesday morning there was another rehearsal in Chicago.  It was great, and we never thought about it.  That’s what we did.  If we didn’t have anything, we’d think something was wrong.

BD:   There are not a lot of concertos for flute.  Can we assume that you play most, or even all of them?

Peck:   We don’t have a big repertoire, and with the recitals we get a bit  more range.  For example, the Franck Sonata for Violin and Piano is now also for flute and piano, and that we all play.  [Laughs]  There are also some pieces, such as the Poulenc Sonata for Flute and Piano, which Lennox Berkeley in London arranged for orchestra.  So, that way we did get another concerto, and we try to keep up with new pieces.  In 1984, we did the first performance here of a concerto by Morton Gould.  I played at the Carmel Bach Festival for three summers, and met a wonderful lady who commissioned it for me.  There’s always a new piece to be played, and sometimes the conductors bring a new piece.  Giulini brought in a concerto by Ghedini, which has not become famous, but it was good.

BD:   So, that was thrown at you, and you didn’t have any choice?

Peck:   [Smiles]  Actually, they handled it very well.  They asked me to take a look at it [laughs], but I’m not going to say no to Carlo Maria Giulini.  It was a fine piece.  [Sonata da Concerto for Flute, Strings and Percussion (1958), performed in January, 1972.  Giulini had previously led the work with the Boston Symphony and Doriot Anthony Dwyer in March of 1962.]


Giorgio Federico Ghedini (July 11, 1892 - March 25, 1965) began studying piano and organ in Cuneo, where he was born. He moved to Torino in 1905, where he studied cello, harmony and counterpoint at the local high school of music. He went on to study privately with Maestro Giovanni Cravero, and later under Marco Enrico Bossi at the high school of music in Bologna, where he received his diploma in 1911. 

He worked as a conductor and mixed with the leading exponents of Torino’s music world. He taught at the public school for choir singing in Torino, and at the conservatories of Parma and Milano.

He worked as a teacher of composition in Turin (1918–1937), Parma (1937–1941), and finally Milan, where he directed the local Conservatory (1951–1962). Among his pupils, the most eminent were Marcello and Claudio Abbado, Luciano Berio, Guido Cantelli, Niccolò Castiglioni, Carlo Pinelli, and Fiorenzo Carpi.

He did not begin publishing his own compositions until 1920. In 1921 he composed the spiritual cantata Il pianto della Madonna and Doppio quintetto, inspired by Baroque concertante. In 1926 he wrote Partita, and declared his rejection of 19th-century symphonic music. 

Ghedini also composed many religious works, taking his cue from the Bible, the Roman Catholic liturgy and medieval poetry. Examples include Missa monodica in honorem S. Gregori Magni (1932), Concerto spirituale “De l’incarnazione del verbo divino” (1943) and Credo di Perugia (1962). Ghedini’s first opera was Maria d’Alessandria, which premiered on September 9, 1937, at the Teatro delle Novità in Bergamo. Architetture (1940) gained him worldwide fame. Its modernist approach was inspired by Stravinsky and Bartòk, as was his Concerto dell’albatro (1945).

Giorgio Federico Ghedini was promoted by Casa Ricordi and Rai, and was a central figure in Italian music. The postwar period proved fecund for him, when he composed concerti like Il Belprato (1947), L’Alderina (1950), Il Rosero (1950) and L’Olmeneta (1951). In his latter compositions, a dialogue with 19th-century symphony culture ensues, as in Concerto per orchestra (1955). In 1952 Ghedini received the Rai’s Premio Italia award for his radio opera Lord Inferno, with libretto by Franco Antonicelli.

BD:   Thinking about new works, I assume you want to expand the repertoire for the flute.  What advice would you have for composers who want to write for your instrument?

Peck:   It’s very difficult because they want to only write in their venue.  We don’t always want to play that, and some people are very much into the modern trend, which some people call organized noise.  It goes too far, and it’s not music anymore.  Once at Ravinia, Seiji Ozawa brought in a piece by Luciano Berio, Serenata for Flute and Fourteen Instruments!  It was programmed (July 31, 1966), so I brought it home and I looked at it.  I thought to myself,
“You idiot, look at this like it’s music, not just going up and down the flute and making weird noises.  So, I looked at it as a piece of music, and it turned out to be a lyrical, rather sad piece.

BD:   You found the music that was hidden there?

Peck:   Well, if it wasn’t hidden there, at least I put it there.  It was quite beautiful.

BD:   Is it your job to find the music in every score that is put in front of you?

Peck:   I probably have made it my job, and I needn’t have done that because I enjoy it.  We talked a minute ago about music, and I always wanted it to be music, and not just notes and flourishes and fast tonguing.

BD:   Then what for you is music?

Peck:   Would you like a cute story?

BD:   Yes, of course!

Peck:   Good.  I’ve given masterclasses all over, and often on tour.  We were in Osaka, and they asked me to do a masterclass, and the young people played their instruments extremely well.

BD:   Technically?

Peck:   Technically, and with lovely tone, and that was all.  Finally, I told one very nice girl (through a translator),
“That was simply wonderful.  You have a beautiful tone and good fingers, but people really want to hear the emotion.  If you’re in an opera, or a symphonic poem, it’s easy because there is a story.  But if there’s no story, you have to make up one.  This is a tragic piece you just played, and you have to imagine that you went to a restaurant, and you ordered sushi, and when it came to your table, it had been cooked!  [Both laugh]  So, after the translation the audience just broke up, and I have to tell you that young lady really put some feeling into it.  Apparently, she likes sushi!  [More laughter]  But that’s what I mean.  You have to make up something.  You have to think.

BD:   But you have to make up something that goes with the music, not against the music.

Peck:   You have to try and realize what the music might be about, and then you add a story to it if there’s no story.  Some conductors are simply wonderful in opera and symphonic poems, but give them a Beethoven or a Brahms symphony, and it is cut and dried, just no music.  I could mention names but I shouldn’t.  [Laughs]

BD:   No, no, that’s perfectly all right.  Perhaps you should put out your own edition of the stories you have conjured up to go along with all the concertos.

Peck:   It’s interesting in a way, but the story changes.  We don’t play the Brahms Symphony No. Four the same way every time.

BD:   I would hope not.

Peck:   I would, too.  Wouldn’t it terrible?  Each different conductor brings a different light to it, or different aura, and we pick that up.  So it varies, and I couldn’t really pinpoint anything to say,
“This is the way this must go.  The music story has to be changeable.  Also, I don’t want to play Beethoven like I play Mahler or Mozart like I play Wagner.  It has to be in the style of a composer.

BD:   What about the big concerto, The Pied Piper?

Peck:   [Laughs]  Well, that is a story.  At that time, John Corigliano was our composer-in-residence.  He was very nice, and we were very friendly.  When we went on tour to Australia, we’d go out and have dinner.  This topic came up, and they called me into the office and asked if I wanted to play his flute concerto.  I asked to let me take a look at it, so I took it home.  It has some beautiful, beautiful music in it, but I didn’t want to put on a pink cape and walk down the aisle followed by seventy-two little children, and then get up on the stage.  That was not me.  So, I told John, “Your piece is so beautiful, with many wonderful moments and I would love to play it.  Would you consider arranging it without the play-acting?”  John said he would think about it, and soon came back and said, “No, I just feel I can’t.”  So I suggested that we get Jimmy Galway to do it, because it was written for him and he had played it a lot.  That’s the first time Galway came and played with the CSO [April, 1989].  He was a very nice fellow, and he and I are friends.  We got along well.

BD:   Can we assume that you are on good terms with most of the other principal flutes of the various orchestras?

Peck:   Yes, and it’s not only the principal players.  The flutists have a gang.  There are all kinds of buddies.  The last big convention we had was in Las Vegas.  Two years ago it was in Washington DC, and there were 3,500.  In the year we had it in Chicago, there were 5,000 flutists.  You walked down the hall and everybody came rushing over and was talking.  These are people you don’t see all year, so it’s really nice.

*     *     *     *     *

BD:   Many people want to play in orchestras.  What do they need to know before they get to the audition?

Peck:   I don’t want to repeat everything I just said, but at an audition they first of all have to play the right notes with the right rhythm.  That rhythm is so important in an orchestra.  If you have a hundred people playing the same rhythm, it has to be together.  Then the dynamics are absolutely crucial.  After that, you have to put some essence to it, and give it some life, and some spark.  That’s difficult in an audition because one minute you’re playing The Afternoon of a Faun, and the next minute it will be The Midsummer Night Dream’s Scherzo, and they are entirely different.  At least in a concert, you have a minute to adjust to the next piece.  So, a lot of people just have gotten into playing notes, and it is very commendable and impressive, but it’s also very boring, and they don’t pass the audition.

BD:   I would also assume that an orchestral player would have to be extremely flexible, because they have the conductor deciding tempo and phrasing, rather than the instrumentalist.

Peck:   A lot of people might take offense at that, but in a way, that
s what makes it interesting.  There are times you don’t like what the conductor’s doing.  OK, fine!  So, you sit there, and remind yourself that next week he’ll be gone, and I’ll still be here.  [Both laugh]  You do your job, and then the next week you might get more involved.
BD:   Did you find that when youre playing a concerto, you can do a lot of more with it, and bring your own ideas to it?

Peck:   Yes, very much so.  I have to say that many conductors with whom I’ve done concertos have been wonderful.  They’re wonderful conductors because they have been so adjustable.

BD:   They don’t get the opportunity to conduct a flute concerto very often, so do they look to you, having experienced and performed it a few times, to really teach them a bit about it?

Peck:   That’s the funny part of it.  If they’re going to learn a Mozart flute concerto, they’re going to play it once or twice in their life, so they don’t really want to study it.

BD:   They just want to get through it?

Peck:   They want to get through it, and get onto their Brahms symphony!  [Much laughter]  So, that can be difficult.  Nevertheless, I can’t say I’ve had a problem.

BD:   But if you’re playing a Mozart flute concerto, that, for you, is the meat of the evening, even if there is a Mahler symphony afterwards.

Peck:   You try to take off the rest of the program, and, of course, if you’re a guest artist with another orchestra, that’s all you play.  So that’s fine.  When we did that Morton Gould concerto, the second half was Beethoven’s Fifth, and I didn’t have to play that because I had this big concerto.  The Gould is big and difficult, and we did it four times here.  Then Solti called me in and said, “My dear Don,” ... he called everybody ‘my dear’... “My dear Don,” he said, “we’re doing Beethoven’s Fifth in New York next week.  Won’t you please play the Beethoven at the Tuesday concert?”  I said, “Of course!”  That was the last time for the Gould anyway.

BD:   As Principal, did you decide who would play what pieces, and what nights, and what weeks the others were on and off?

Peck:   I only had to deal with the Assistant Principal who took over from me.  The other parts are very clearly delineated.  Second flute was second flute, and, of course, you discuss this with your assistant player.  If he has a week he needs off, then you definitely play, and vice versa.  Otherwise, it is up to the Principal.

BD:   So there really has to be a camaraderie throughout the section?

Peck:   There should be, but don’t forget, the conductor also can stick his two cents in.

BD:   Then, as you looked at the following season, you would see the conductors that you knew wanted you, or the conductors you knew you wanted to avoid?

Peck:   Yes!  [Gales of laughter]

BD:   Is it satisfying playing a large orchestral work where there’s a wonderful flute solo in the middle?

Peck:   Yes.  The musicians around you can be so wonderful.  They’re always listening, and they hear you do something different.  Afterwards there’s always a little shuffle of feet if they liked it.  That’s the applause from the orchestra.  Daphnis and Chloé has that big solo in it, and there is The Afternoon of a Faun, and so many others.  They always listened... at least the Chicago players listened, and tried to accommodate you.  They were even so fine as to perhaps ignore what the conductor might be doing.  That’s very smart because if they’re not with the solo, no matter what the conductor’s doing, it’ll sound like nobody’s together.  It’s a good attitude, I think.

BD:   Is listening the mark of a great orchestra?

Peck:   I would think so, absolutely, and not just playing your part.

BD:   What about when you did a concerto with another orchestra?

Peck:   When I went to a smaller town, the orchestra was always very nice because they were happy that I was there.  I’m not bragging, but only saying that it was just very rewarding.  They did what they could, and the conductor did, too.

BD:   Did you find yourself on trial each week to maintain that standard?

Peck:   You mean here in the orchestra?

BD:   Here or elsewhere.

Peck:   Absolutely, but I don’t think it’s something we thought about.  It’s something we just always wanted to do.  We always wanted to do it right.  We wanted to be together, and we wanted to be in tune, and we wanted to make some musical phrasing.  We wanted to do it wonderfully.  Does that sound weird?

BD:   That’s not weird at all!  I think that’s commendable!

Peck:   I’m not giving us credit.  I’m just saying that’s what we did.  That was in our genes.

BD:   Collectively it became that special sound?

Peck:   That’s exactly right.

BD:   Were you ever the guest Principal in another orchestra?

Peck:   There are many festivals, and one year I went to the Casals Festival.  It was an incredible orchestra, and another year I did the Grand Teton Festival in Wyoming.  It was first oboe from the Cleveland Orchestra, the first clarinet from the Philadelphia Orchestra, and the first bassoon from the Pittsburgh Symphony.  It was simply great, and everybody was listening to each other so much.  In a way we were all trying to find something... maybe... well, let’s see about him!  [Both laugh]  There’s a tricky little part in the Shostakovich First Symphony at the end of the slow movement for the flute and oboe to play rhythmically correct.  It’s usually played wrong.  I always subdivided the count to make it [counts out the complicated rhythm].  When we finished, he leaned over and said, “I’ve never had anybody play that so well with me!”

BD:   But that orchestra was made up of all-stars from various parts of the country and the world.  Did it come together as a unit?

Peck:   Oh, very much so.  It was that same feeling as always.  Naturally, if we’d played together more often, we would know each other better, and be able to do it even better.  But those two I mentioned were great.

*     *     *     *     *
BD:   You played the downtown season in Orchestra Hall, and then you played the Ravinia season in the outdoor pavilion.  Is there much difference playing outdoors?

Peck:   It is different.  Ravinia has a stage surrounding the orchestra, so it’s not like you’re really outdoors.

BD:   It’s a good compromise?

Peck:   I think it’s good, yes.  I have played concerts at Wolf Trap, and it’s very open.  The sides of the theater are open, so you think you’re outside, and the sound dissipates.  It goes, and is gone.  

BD:   You’ve also made some recordings.  Do you play the same when you’re doing a concert as when you are making a recording?

Peck:   If you mean solo, there are five CDs I made with piano, and those were taped at recitals.  We had to do a few retakes because once in a while a fire engine would go by, or something like that.  [Laughs]  But those were from recitals.  The orchestra used to have recording sessions, but for the last few years they record at concerts, and again they have a makeover session if they need to.  [Vis-à-vis the recording shown at left, see my interview with Kent Kennan.]

BD:   But if you have three or four or five shots at it, then usually you can cut and paste out of all of that, and I assume you don’t have to have retakes?

Peck:   If there are four concerts, and they do all absolutely right, then there is no need for retakes.

BD:   Is there a better feeling in the recording from a live concert as opposed to something that you sit down in the studio, and cut and paste?

Peck:   Theoretically there is but there are some wonderful recordings that we made in the studio.  I think of Reiner’s Song of the Earth, and the Don Juan, which was made practically in one take at a session, and some of the Solti things were really wonderful, as well as things with Abbado.  There may be more care at a concert, but there are some good studio recordings made.

BD:   Are you generally pleased with those orchestral recordings?

Peck:   Yes, but there are over 300 issues that I played on with the orchestra, and I haven’t sat around playing those all these years.  But since I’ve left the orchestra, I put a few on every so often.  I’m absolutely astonished!

BD:   At how good you played?

Peck:   Not me, the recordings.  The orchestra was wonderful.

BD:   Everyone played well?

Peck:   I thought so, yes.

BD:   Are there a couple of orchestral recordings where you are featured the best, that really show you off?

Peck:   [Thinks a moment]  The second recording of The Afternoon of a Faun with Solti, which has also the Nocturnes, and La Mer.  I think that is very good.  The pick-up is good, and they got all the right splices together.  We did Daphnis and Chloé with Martinon, and Solti, and the Barenboim one is pretty good...  I’m talking about me right now.  I don’t mean to brag, but I think that turned out pretty well.  I like that very much, but it’s hard to remember because there are so many recordings.  Many times we did things with Reiner and with Solti.  There are five recordings of the Mahler First.  Everyone wants to record with the orchestra, to have that sound and their ideas.

BD:   Were there some orchestral works that you wished had gotten recorded and just never did?

Peck:   [Thinks again]  The Hindemith Symphonic Metamorphoses.  We never recorded that.  [The CSO had recorded it under Rafael Kubelik in 1953, about four years before Peck joined the orchestra.]  We played it, of course, but it’s a wonderful, wonderful piece.  I can’t think of anything we didn’t play!  [Both laugh]  There must have been something...

BD:   Did you get around to all of the concertos that you wanted to play?

Peck:   I did, and some maybe two or three times.

BD:   Were there times when you would be asked to do a concerto, and you’d let them know you’d rather do a different concerto?

Peck:   No.  For example, Solti only wanted to use the Mozart Concerto in D major [October, 1979, and March, 1991].  Then another year, Mark Wigglesworth wanted to do something, so they picked the Mozart Concerto in G major [June, 1994].  Another time, Leonard Slatkin came in, and they gave him a flute concerto to play, so they asked me and I suggested the Telemann Suite in A minor [May, 1983].  It’s a wonderful piece, and brilliant for flute.  I’d done it here and there, but it had never been played with the orchestra.  They usually asked what I wanted to do, and it varied.  There was nothing cut and dried.
BD:   Your five solo recordings were made at DePaul?
Peck:   Right.

BD:   Are you still teaching there?

Peck:   No, I left there too.  I am still doing a bit of private teaching, and I go here and there with masterclasses, usually with a recital.

BD:   You mentioned earlier that the technical quality of the students is good.  Are you able to push the musical quality of the flutists just a little bit more?

Peck:   It’s wonderful to be always learning.  Being in any orchestra does put you in a straight-jacket because you’re not just doing it yourself.  You have to worry about everybody else.  Will so-and-so be there if I do this?  A fine colleague was the new bassoon player in the orchestra, David McGill.  The Prokofiev Fifth has a big duet, and I was doing all sorts of things.  But even the first time we did it, we were absolutely perfectly together.  We had just the same feeling for the music.  But when you get out of the orchestra, you don’t have to be quite so concerned with everybody else, particularly in a solo piece such as a sonata or a concerto with piano.  All you have to worry about is the pianist, and you can be freer.  I become less regiment-orientated.

BD:   More phrase-oriented?

Peck:   Absolutely, with a bit of giving on the rhythm here and there.  I don’t know if that’s good, but it wouldn’t work in the orchestra.

BD:   Have you done any conducting yourself?

Peck:   [Sighs]  Years ago I always had the wind ensemble here and there, but not really, no.

BD:   There’s a recording of you with a wind ensemble...

Peck:   Yes, that is the DePaul Wind Ensemble.  They wanted to do the Badings Concerto, so I said okay, and we did it.  [Vis-à-vis the recording of this concerto which is shown at right, see my interview with Mary Stolper.]

*     *     *     *     *

BD:   Let me ask a real easy question.  What is the purpose of music?

Peck:   [Thinks a moment]  A very interesting question.  Somehow those of us that are in it
and I include youdon’t have a choice, do we?

BD:   I never had a thought about doing anything else.

Peck:   I don’t think it’s a choice.  It’s the way we are, and I’m grateful for it.  Maybe other people think we’re crazy, but that’s the way we are.  It’s nice to have an appreciation of something that is not common.  I remember when I told my parents that I wanted to learn music, they started me on the piano and the flute, and they were horrified when they discovered that I wanted to make a career out of it.  [Both laugh]  They never stood in my way, but they looked at me in a strange way.  One year after I’d been here five or ten years, they came to Chicago from Seattle and went to the concert.  We went out afterwards for a bite to eat, and they sat there staring at me.  I said, “What’s the matter?” and they said, “We’re trying to decide if you’re really our son!”  [Laughter]  I asked what they meant and they said, “We didn’t have this music.”  But then my dad said, “Maybe we did.  It
s just that we were never exposed to it, and then we passed it on.”

BD:   About this music that you played for forty-two years with the orchestra, is it for everyone?

Peck:   I don’t think so.

BD:   Should it be?

Peck:   I don’t know.  Rock
n’ Roll is not for me, so why do they have to like Beethoven?  I don’t mind if they don’t.

BD:   As long as there are enough people who do?

Peck:   It’s just that I’m sorry that the young generation doesn’t have a bit more training in it earlier in life.  Music has sort of gone down the drain in schools, and that’s where the audiences used to come from.  Maybe the young people wouldn’t go into music, but they would go to concerts, and we’re lacking that now.

BD:   [Somewhat concerned]  Are you not optimistic about the future of concert music?

Peck:   I’m not terribly optimistic.  It’s had a good run, hasn’t it?  I was a lucky person coming here when I did, and being in music when I was because it was at its peak then.  It couldn’t have been better.  Maybe I’m being unrealistic, but I’m not optimistic.

BD:   I assume, though, that you hope it will last?

Peck:   Oh, absolutely.  I don’t think it will go away, but I don’t know what’s going to bring it back.  Some people who went to a lot of concerts are tired of the old stuff, and yet they don’t want to hear anything too rash, and I don’t blame them.  At $100 a ticket, they don’t want to hear half the concert.  On the other hand, for the new people coming up, Beethoven and Mozart sound dull and boring, and old-hat.  I don’t know... I don’t have any answers.

BD:   You don’t need to be specific, but were there are few times in your forty-two years that a new score was put in front of you, and you really got excited about it, and thought, “Oh, boy! This is something really good that will stay in the repertoire”?


Peck:   I’m sure there were, but I can’t think of one!  They pushed non-music for so many years, and there was a whole period of time when the composers that were writing music (as we know music) were put down, and criticized, and poo-pooed.  The only things that were heard got harsher, and were not music as we know music.  I do think it’s coming back a little bit.  The composing is getting a little bit more musical again.  I just hope we haven’t lost the audience.  They see a name they don’t know, and they’re afraid of it.  We had a very funny thing happen... I won’t mention any names, but a composer came to conduct his work, and it was really terrible.  In fact, it’s an insult to the Chicago Symphony to think that those of us who spent all our lives trying to get a beautiful tone, and play in tune, and play the right notes with some emotion should be asked to play this, because it didn’t matter what note you played, or when you played it, or how loud, or how soft.  It didn’t matter.  Nothing mattered.

BD:   They could get a grade-school band and it would be the same?

Peck:   It might sound better!  [Laughs]  So, finally, one of the very well-known people in the orchestra raised his hand and said, “Maestro, would you tell me where the music ends and noise begins?”

BD:   Did the composer have an answer for that?

Peck:   Oh, he was furious, as you can imagine.  He flustered, and turned bright red, and everybody in the orchestra shuffled their feet.  [Smiles]  That was very naughty, wasn’t that?  It was very naughty but we loved it!  [Much laughter throughout the story]

BD:   [Wryly]  He could have said,
The music continues through my work, and then ends.

Peck:   Oh, that would have been too clever!  If he was that clever, he would have written better music!  [More laughter from both]  When I wanted to commission a concerto for the flute, John Edwards and I discussed many composers.  [Edwards was the General Manager of the CSO 1967-84, and there is a photo of him with Sir Georg and Lady Solti HERE.]  Morton Gould had been here many times as a guest conductor, and I came to know him as a person.  He was a very nice genuine man, whose career somewhat got put down because he went into pop music in New York in the early days when he had to make money.  He became known as a semi-pop conductor and composer, but he was really very deep.  So, Edwards said, “Fine, let’s ask Morton Gould.”  We were in New York on a tour, and Morton said, “I’ve started the concerto.  I’m going to write six little movements for flute and strings.”  I said, “No way!”  He looked shocked, and I said, “I want an important piece from you.  I want a piece with depth and emotion, and I want you to put everything in this piece that you never put in any other piece.  I want it to be your expression of your musicianship.”
BD:   You were giving him the opportunity really to speak?

Peck:   Exactly!  He was very happy about that, and he wrote this concerto which is very, very difficult.  Sometimes it
s not the easiest piece to listen to, but underneath all of that, there is music.  I played it with him a few times when he conducted here and there, in Kansas City and a couple of orchestras in California.

BD:   He was an interesting man.  I interviewed him a couple of times, and then when I won the ASCAP/Deems Taylor Award for my broadcasts, he was the one that presented the award to me.

Peck:   Oh, how wonderful!  He was a very nice human being.  We made a couple of good recordings with him
Rimsky-Korsakoffs Antar Symphony, and Myaskovskys Symphony No. 21 [LP cover shown at right].

BD:   [Smiling]  Oddities that he pulled out, and they turned out to be really lovely pieces.

Peck:   That’s right.

*     *     *     *     *

BD:   What advice do you have for young flute players coming along?

Peck:   The field is very crowded now.

BD:   Too crowded?

Peck:   Perhaps.  I hope that they can play the flute, or music, and enjoy doing it.  Don’t be shattered if the right job doesn’t turn up, because there are many, many, too many flute players out there now, and not enough jobs.  Also, it’s hard to get a job when you have a committee of nine people.  You have to please nine people plus the conductor.

BD:   What about pleasing yourself, or is that idea just lost?

Peck:   You want to do it right, and you’re not worried about pleasing yourself so much as pleasing everybody else.  You really want the job.  It’s very difficult now, and what’s good for one orchestra may not be good for another, or for a conductor, or for a committee.  So finally the only thing you can do is play as you feel it should be, and if they like you you’ll be very convincing, and they’ll take you.  If you’re not their style, then there’s nothing you can do.

BD:   You hope you find the right slot that you will fit into?

Peck:   That’s right exactly, and it’s very difficult.

BD:   You can dodge this next question if you want.  Are you pleased with your successor [Mathieu Dufour]?

Peck:   I haven’t been to many concerts, to tell you the truth.  I haven’t found it so interesting, but I did go to hear him play the Mozart Flute and Harp Concerto.  He plays the flute extremely well, and I admire him.  He has been experimenting with different instruments, and to my ears his tone over these three years has deepened and become more expressive, instead of just remaining a flute tone.  I admire his change.  I hope he meant it, and that it wasn’t an accident.

BD:   Even when one is Principal, you look for growth?

Peck:   Oh my goodness, absolutely, always.  I still look for growth.  I’ve been practicing and getting ready for a concert in Atlanta in September, and it would be awful just do it the same old way.

BD:   In the end, is it all worth it?

Peck:   Oh, absolutely.  There are downer years.  Everybody has times when bad things happen, but it was great overall.  I think about all the cities in the world that I came to know.  I can step out of the hotel and know where I am, and which way to go to get where I want to go.  Even Tokyo, for example.  I wouldn’t have had that, and all the great concerts we gave, the audiences, and the experiences of meeting people.  It was great!  Plus, I love music!

BD:   Thank you for giving us so much music for so many years.

Peck:   My pleasure!  Thank you for listening.


See my interviews with Ray Still, Jay Friedman, Gunther Schuller, and Dale Clevenger



© 2003 Bruce Duffie

This conversation was recorded in the home of Donald Peck on August 13, 2003.  Portions were broadcast on WNUR the following year, and again in 2012, and 2019.  This transcription was made in 2022, and posted on this website at that time.  My thanks to British soprano Una Barry for her help in preparing this website presentation.

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.