Violinist  Adrian  Da Prato
-- and --
Bassoonist  Wilbur  Simpson

Senior Members of the
Chicago Symphony Orchestra
during its Centennial Season,

A Conversation with Bruce Duffie

Adrian Da Prato, long-serving CSO musician, dies at 94

 | MAR 18, 2015 AT 7:52 PM

 Adrian Da Prato, a member of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra's violin section from 1946 until his retirement from the CSO in 1996, died on Tuesday in Chicago, according to a statement released by the orchestra on Wednesday. He was 94.

daprato The Italian-born, Chicago-bred Da Prato was one of the longest-serving members of the orchestra, logging 49 years of service under seven music directors, from Desire Defauw to Daniel Barenboim.

He was a violinist in the Illinois Symphony Orchestra and Civic Orchestra of Chicago in 1946 when Defauw hired him.

Da Prato particularly cherished his friendship with Carlo Maria Giulini, the orchestra's revered principal guest conductor from 1969 to 1972. Their friendship dated from 1955 when the Italian maestro arrived in Chicago for his American debut.

Giulini spoke little English, and Da Prato was asked to help translate for him. As the violinist recalled, "There was no real problem, because the rapport between the orchestra and maestro Giulini was such that words really were not necessary."

Born in 1920 in the Tuscan region of Barga, Italy, Da Prato became fascinated with the sound of the violin while attending silent movies as a boy. The films were accompanied by piano and violin, and invariably his attention was drawn from the screen to the violinist in the pit, he later recalled.

Da Prato began violin lessons at age nine after his family arrived in America. In Chicago he attended Lane Technical High School and the American Conservatory of Music, whose teachers he remembered for encouraging talented students to exchange ideas. His violin teachers included John Weicher, then concertmaster of the CSO.

After being inducted in the 33rd Infantry Division in World War II, Da Prato later was assigned to special services in Hawaii, where he performed for the troops. He also was a member of the Chicago Strings, which toured throughout the U.S. and Europe, and performed in various chamber ensembles in the Chicago area.

His violin was a Peter Guarnerius of Mantua, Italy, dated 1710.

In a 1970s interview, Da Prato reflected warmly on his career with the CSO, likening its "unity of purpose" to that of a great string quartet whose members play together on a daily basis, live together on tours and thus become attuned to one another, as persons and musicians.

"Like an old bottle of wine, (an orchestra) has to have a good vintage to start out with, then it reaches a point where its fullness is realized,"
he said. "When an orchestra works together, it grows; that is the beautiful experience. It is magic."

Da Prato is survived by his niece, Paula Bertolozzi, and several grand-nieces, great-grand-nieces and great-grand-nephews.

*     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *

Wilbur H. Simpson, 79, Bassoonist for Symphony

simpson Jerry Thomas, Tribune Staff Writer CHICAGO TRIBUNE

Wilbur H. Simpson (December 6. 1917 - June 17, 1997) a former bassoonist for the Chicago Symphony Orchestra who also taught bassoon at Chicago area universities, died Tuesday at his summer home in Platte Lake, Mich. 

Mr. Simpson, a resident of Evanston, was the orchestra's second bassoonist for 45 years, retiring in 1991.

He started playing the bassoon in high school in Angola, Ind., and later continued his studies at Northwestern University. After graduating with a degree in music education, Mr. Simpson taught instrumental music in Forest Park before serving in the U.S. Navy during World War II. After being involved in seven naval battles in the South Pacific, he was one of 30 band members to play at the formal Japanese surrender ceremony aboard the battleship Missouri in 1945.

Mr. Simpson then returned to Northwestern and received a master's degree before joining the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and the Chicago Symphony Woodwind Quintet.

Mr. Simpson taught bassoon at Northwestern, DePaul University and the Chicago Conservatory of Music before retiring from teaching in the mid-1980s.

He is survived by his wife, Margaret; three children, Michael, Jeffrey and Joan Andler and four grandchildren.

A memorial service will be held at 11 a.m. Monday in the Alice Millar Chapel on Northwestern's Evanston campus.

==  Text of both items is from the Chicago Tribune.  Photos are from other sources.  

During the 1990-91 season, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra was celebrating its centennial.  Working at WNIB, Classical 97, I did a once-a-month series devoted to the orchestra.  Each program focussed on a different aspect, and included interviews with conductors, soloists, etc.  The programs in the summer featured the CSO at the Ravinia Festival.
I had grown up in Evanston (the first suburb north of Chicago), and going to both the Chicago Symphony and Lyric Opera was standard fare.  In high school, and later while doing my graduate work at Northwestern, I studied with Wilbur Simpson, long-time second bassoonist with the CSO.  When putting together the radio series, I wanted to include him in some way, and fortuitously for me, he (and violinist Adrian Da Prato) were the senior members of the orchestra, both having started in 1946!  There was my hook, so the problem was solved!

The three of us met in an upstairs office at Orchestra Hall in mid-December of 1990, for the program to air in mid-January.  It was a wonderful hour.  There was much serious discussion as well as a lot of laughter all around.  I had stayed in touch with Wilbur over the years, and Adrian had often heard me on the radio, so it was truly a gathering of friends just chatting about work, and art, and the occasional extraneous idea.  But when they got to reminiscing or advising back-and-forth, I did not interrupt their train of thought!

Portions of the encounter were edited and used with recordings of their involvement with chamber groups from within the Orchestra.  Wilbur had been in the Woodwind Quintet, and Adrian was part of the Chicago Strings.

Here is what transpired that lovely afternoon . . . . .

Bruce Duffie:   It is an honor to get together with you both.

Adrian Da Prato:   It’s a pleasure.

Wilbur Simpson:   I should say!

BD:   When you started, did you think that you would wind up being the senior members of this great orchestra?

Simpson:   I never expected it.

Da Prato:   You never really think of these things.  It was just to enjoy music, and do your job, and that’s it.

BD:   When you started, did you think that this would be a permanent position for you?

Simpson:   It’s odd in my case.  I wanted to play for ten years, and then get into a college town where I’d get a good pension after twenty years... but I just never left the Orchestra.  It was so enjoyable, even with all the work.

Da Prato:   Rudi Fiala was a violist [1917-20, 1922-52], and I remember in my first few years in the Orchestra, he had been in there for twenty-five years, and he used to say he never thought this was a steady job!  [Laughter all around]  He was a wonderful, wonderful gentleman.


Photo taken in March, 1959, with (standing in front l-r) Chorus Founder/Director Margaret Hillis,
Music Director Fritz Reiner, and Associate Conductor Walter Hendl

Simpson:   In those years, at the time when we came in, they had A and B contracts.  The A, as I remember, had the most work, and the B contracts were less work.

BD:   The A players would play all of the concerts, and the B players would just play when needed?

Simpson:   Yes.  I may be wrong about that, but there were definitely A and B contracts.  I don’t know how many years that lasted, probably not too many years. 

Da Prato:   I know that there was some extra work...

Simpson:   It was usually seniority that took over.

Da Prato:   It wasn’t really done by everybody like it is today.

BD:   This is interesting... we have a wind player and a string player.  At the time you joined the Orchestra, was there a difference in contract for winds and strings?

Da Prato:   The winds were over-scale players.  [To Simpson]  You probably were an over-scale player.

Simpson:   [With a big grin]  Five dollars over scale on my first contract!  [Much laughter]  

Da Prato:   Think how much five dollars bought at that time!  [More laughter]  I was a scale player, being a violinist.

Simpson:   I came in on contra, so I had an over-scale contract right from the beginning.  But I don’t know what the other winds were getting at that time.  [Simpson would continue on contrabassoon until 1951, when he switched to second, which he played until he retired in 1991.  Da Prato remained in the Orchestra through 1996, thus being the
last man standing for five seasons.]


BD:   You both came in at the beginning of the 1946 season?

Da Prato:    We came in the same year, right.

Simpson:   Sherman Walt came in with us as assistant first bassoon.  [Walt was assistant first 1946-49, and principal 1949-51, after which he went to the Boston Symphony as principal from 1953-89.]

BD:   Now you two are still playing, and the whole Orchestra has changed around you.  What are the biggest differences between starting in 1946 and starting in 1990?

Simpson:   For me it’s the longer season.

Da Prato:   Yes, it’s a longer season.

Simpson:   We had twenty-eight weeks, and six weeks in the summer at that time.

BD:   That’s thirty-four weeks.  Was that enough, or did you have to supplement it with other work?

Simpson:   Oh, you had to work outside.

Da Prato:   Yes.  You had to get another job to make it the whole season.

BD:   Other jobs playing, or other jobs teaching, or both?

Da Prato:    Whatever you could do.  But conditions have improved tremendously for the musicians.  We didn’t have a committee at that time.  All the orchestras have committees now.  A conductor could literally fire somebody on the spot.  Now it’s more formalized, and this is one of the great things.

BD:   In 1946, were musicians mistreated, or are they just simply treated better today?

Da Prato:   I don’t think they were mistreated, though they were mistreated in the sense that your job possibly was more on the line from day to day.  But there was always a respect, a sense of decorum.

BD:   A responsibility to the music?

Da Prato:   Yes, of course, always.

Simpson:   And the conductor was always the final judge...

Da Prato:   Yes, very much so.

Simpson:    ...on everything as far as the musicians were concerned.  Now, of course, you have arbitration, or you have union representation.

BD:    I assume, though, that the conductor still could force someone out who’s simply not playing up to par.

Simpson:   Oh, yes.

Da Prato:   Yes, but not just on a whim.  Sometimes a conductor doesn’t like someone because he wore glasses, or he parted his hair on the wrong way!  [They laugh]  I’m exaggerating now, but it could be trivial, and not related to your playing.

BD:   Perhaps if he was having an off-week and was playing badly, he could be tossed out even if he really was still a good player?

Da Prato:   Oh, yes.

Simpson:   Yes.  Very definitely.  I remember when [Artur] Rodzinski came in [1947].  It was in the early weeks, and he turned at the cellos in a rehearsal and said,
You must all audition again for next year.  You’re all out.  As it happened, he was fired during the year, so that took care of that.  But very seldom can you fire a whole section and have a better section the following year.  That seemed rather strange.

*     *     *     *     *

BD:   Over the years, and through the various conductors, the Symphony has been accorded a whole lot of accolades.  From the position of playing week after week, is this the best orchestra in the world?

Simpson:   It’s hard to say, isn’t it?


See my interviews with Yvonne Minton, and Sir Georg Solti

Da Prato:   Yes, it’s very, very difficult for me to say what is the best.  But as a violinist, which I can talk about more freely, Jascha Heifetz was great, and so was Joseph Szigeti, and so was Fritz Kreisler, but they all had different styles.  They were all great in their own ways.  One night you heard Heifetz play the Sibelius or the Brahms, and you’d say,
My God!  Then, on another night, you would hear Fritz Kreisler in a completely different style.

BD:   Is each one valid?

Da Prato:   Yes, that’s right.  So the same thing applies with an orchestra.  No doubt, this is a great, great orchestra.

BD:   How much different is it in terms of what we’re talking about, namely the greatness from 1946 to 1990?  Has it improved that much, or is it more just recognition and circulation of recordings and performances?

Da Prato:   Perhaps both.  Sir Georg [Solti] [1969-91] has done a great deal to put the Orchestra on the map world-wide, shall we say.  Before that, the Orchestra did not tour internationally.  I think our first international tour was with Solti, wasn’t it?

Simpson:   In 1971, yes.  [While they were in Vienna, the Orchestra recorded the Mahler Symphony #8, as shown in the photo of the record cover below-left.  Upon their return to Chicago, the Orchestra was given a parade, as shown directly below.]


Da Prato:    Although there was a talk of a tour with [Fritz] Reiner [1953-63], he turned it down.  But the Orchestra has grown, and has become more known world-wide than before, so for that reason, perhaps, it has changed.  It has gone through periods of ups and down.  I remember after Rodzinski we had two years of guest conductors, and the Orchestra was without a musical director.

wilbur BD:   So it was not so stable?

Da Prato:   It’s nice to have a musical director, but it was always a fine orchestra.

Simpson:    That’s right.

Da Prato:   Always a great orchestra.

Simpson:   Yes, it was.  [Vis-à-vis the recording shown at left, see my interviews with Arleen Augér, John Shirley-Quirk, and Martti Talvela.]

Da Prato:   I never played with [Frederick] Stock [1905-42] because I came in a few years after he had died, but I used to hear it under Stock’s direction, and it was a great orchestra then.

Simpson:   It was a more spontaneous orchestra then, I think.  They would have music on the stand for four different concerts.

Da Prato:   He used to have the pop concerts...

Simpson:   ...and they just did highlights at the rehearsals.

Da Prato:   Yes, or with no rehearsals!

Simpson:   But those concerts were fantastic.

Da Prato:   We played some pop concerts in our first years, didn’t we?

Simpson:   Yes, we did.

Da Prato:   It seems to me that we did, although it was soon phased out.

BD:   Did they just assume that pretty much all of the orchestra had played these things before, so the new guys wouldn’t get a chance to rehearse those pieces?

Simpson:   Not only that, but of course you knew what the program was to be, and you had to be prepared for that program.

BD:   So you would take your parts home and work on them?

Simpson:   And how!  [Laughs]  And it would come out in the concerts.

Da Prato:    A lot of the things that were played
like Scheherazade, and Capriccio Espagnolwere things that the musicians knew pretty well.  It wasn’t new pieces, but we played a lot of music without really rehearsing!  [Both laugh]

Simpson:   That’s right, and you were very much on your toes.  [Da Prato laughs, knowingly]  Absolutely, and it was challenging.  You got a big kick out of it.  It was fun to do.

Da Prato:   I used to listen religiously to the pop concerts.  They used to be broadcast on Saturday night, and I always looked forward to that as a young kid.  Stock always used to play an encore, and I was always looking forward to Perpetual Motion of Paganini.  The entire fiddle section would play that.

BD:   Lots of wild finger movement, and you’ve got to keep the whole section exactly together, otherwise it sounds smeared.

wilbur Da Prato:   Yes, and when Jean Martinon was our musical director [1963-68], he also did Moto Perpetuo.

Simpson:   We had some very good concerts with Rafael Kubelik in those early years, too [1950-53].

Da Prato:   Yes.

BD:   Thinking about some of these pieces now, everyone was supposed to know them.  Do you find that you still have interest in them when you rehearse them laboriously this season?

Da Prato:   We don’t play those things much anymore, but you still remember them, because how can you forget these things?

BD:   [Gently pressing the issue]  But perhaps a Beethoven symphony, or a Tchaikovsky piece, or a concerto that has been done every two or three years for your whole career.  How do you keep it fresh?  How do you keep the interest alive in it?

Simpson:   You’re always striving for a perfect performance.  [Vis-à-vis the photo on the record cover at right, the performers are Williard Elliot (also the transcriber of the Grieg) at far right, immediately left of him is Wilbur Simpson, and behind Wilbur is oboist Ray Still.  Others shown (l-r) are Grover Schiltz, oboe, John Bruce Yeh, clarinet, Norman Schweikert (top), horn, Larry Combs, clarinet, and Daniel Gingrich, horn.]

Da Prato:   In my case, I think it’s a love and enthusiasm of the music itself.  When you play it, it is not just a dry thing we have to do again.  You still have to rekindle it, and then it comes alive.  It is just like seeing a beautiful painting that you’ve seen five hundred times, and then seeing it again gives you another thrill.  This is vital in music.

Simpson:   The Tchaikovsky symphonies that we’ve played so much, you still get a real charge when playing them again.

Da Prato:   Yes, of course.  Otherwise it dies, and then the young people would take over!  [Laughter all around]

Simpson:   I think we’d get out if we didn’t enjoy it.

Da Prato:   Yes, that’s true, very, very, very true.

Simpson:   Yes, because that’s something that is really great
to enjoy what you’re doing.

Da Prato:   Yes.

Simpson:   And that has never failed.  It might get a little bit tedious, or maybe you get bored a little bit with some rehearsals, but you always look forward to the concert.

BD:   What about the conductor?  Can he make it more or less boring?

Simpson:   Oh, I think so, don’t you?

Da Prato:   Oh yes, absolutely.  A lot of it comes from the respect that one has for a conductor.  The personality is very important.  Toscanini had wonderful expressions.  These are important, but it’s the musicianship which comes through.  You cannot really fool professional musicians who have played with many conductors.... at least you cannot fool them for any length of time.

BD:   [Surprised]  Have there been some conductors who have tried to fool you?  You don’t need to mention names...

Simpson:   [In all seriousness]  I can’t recall.

Da Prato:   No, I don’t know right now.  There are conductors who you respect, who you always will remember if you have worked with them, and there are others that you don’t even remember at all.  There have been many, many, many conductors whom we’ve played with.

BD:   So rather than not like someone, you’ll just put them out of your memory?

Da Prato:   It’s not a conscious effort.  It’s just that you remember the great things, just like remembering a great baseball game, or a great football game.

Simpson:   You remember those.  In rehearsal, Bruno Walter would go through a movement, and he’d stop, and put his stick down, and say,
Gentlemen, I am not happy.  Back to the beginning!

Da Prato:   Yes, and this was an interesting thing.  I’m glad you brought this up because you said
tedious.  His method of rehearsing was, as you say, very repetitious.  He would go through a movement, and go back to the beginning, and do it again, and although you had great respect for this man, it would become a little tiresome.  But the concerts!  Those concerts took on an excitement.  This man was a giant up there.  I remember him on the podium.  He’s not physically a big huge man, but he was a giant, and this is what I always remember of Bruno Walter.

Simpson:   Yes.

BD:   Are there conductors who try to get everything done in rehearsal, or do the good ones leave something for the performance?  [Both think a moment]

Simpson:   Boy!  I don’t know.  You’ll have some conductors that will touch the main spots, and not laboriously go through the whole program in order to save an edge for the evening.  I’m thinking of a rehearsal on Thursday, the day of the concert, and I respect a man like that.  He gives you credit for coming through, and it probably leaves an edge for the evening concert.  Others might go through the whole program laboriously, just to go through it, and not touch spots that might need it.

Da Prato:   Yes, there is a type of conductor who, on Thursday morning, the day of the concert, will have us doing a dress rehearsal, and we’ll not meticulously correct things.  But the dress rehearsal will go practically like a concert, more or less.  Don’t you agree?

wilbur Simpson:   Yes.

Da Prato:   Then there are others that will do the same thing as they did the day before.

BD:   Another laborious rehearsal?

Da Prato:   Practically.  I prefer the dress rehearsal, because this way he sees what we can do.  But I suppose everything has its place, and every conductor has his or her own way of rehearsing.

Simpson:   They have their own technique of working it out.

BD:   Do you have any advice for conductors?  What would you say to make them either better rehearsal technicians, or just better musicians?  [This question provokes much laughter]

Da Prato:   Having to comment to a conductor, I would say to work on how to be nice, be patient with every musician.  Have respect for the musicians because they know a lot.  They know their instruments, they know their work, although conductors today are very much more understanding than earlier years.

Simpson:   When William Steinberg first came to the Orchestra, at least from my perception, he had a marvelous beat.

Da Prato:   Yes!

Simpson:   It was very clear with everything he did.  Then ten or fifteen years later...

Da Prato: changed!

Simpson:   It got kind of vague.

Da Prato:   Yes.  I wonder what happened there?  Maybe it’s a form of experimenting, but I agree with you.

Simpson:   It’s hard to say.

BD:   Is it safe to assume that the orchestra will basically do anything the conductor asks?

Da Prato:   A good orchestra will!

Simpson:   Yes, I think so.

Da Prato:   If it’s a good orchestra, or if it’s a fine orchestra, a disciplined orchestra, then they would respond very quickly.  I know that conductors say this about the Chicago Symphony, that they can’t understand how can we do this so quickly.  This has been said by many conductors about a new work, or a big work that hasn’t been done very frequently.  They marvel at how the orchestra responds so quickly.  It’s a question of professionalism, of discipline, and really of ability of one’s instrument individually.  That’s it.

BD:   In general, how do the members of the Orchestra respond to a new work, either a premiere or the first time the do a piece?  Is it something they look forward to, or is this something they approach with trepidation?

Simpson:   I can’t speak for anybody else, but I welcome a new work.  As Ralph Johnson used to say that every new work deserves to be heard once.  [Ralph Johnson was a flutist with the Orchestra from 1934-72, and librarian 1972-83.  One of his students was eight-year-old Doriot Anthony Dwyer, who would be Principal Flute with the Boston Symphony from 1952-90.]

Da Prato:    Yes, yes, absolutely.

Simpson:   Some of the modern works I care very little about, but after all, some of them are very good, pleasing myself anyway.

BD:   Do you have to play them all to find the ones that should be around a while?

Simpson:   Yes.


Da Prato:   This is the lifeblood of music, because as great, as monumental as Beethoven symphonies are, it’s always the new work that’s being explored, new music, new ways of expressing oneself.  It’s not healthy just to remain with the same repertoire.  A man like Stokowski [shown above making a recording with the Chicago Symphony] used to encourage new works very much.

simpson Simpson:   He also used to do a lot of changes in seating, too, and that was interesting.

Da Prato:   He was experimenting, yes.  But if composers don’t have the means, the way of having their works heard, then they will stop writing.  No matter how amateurish or how great, it has to be encouraged and nurtured.  It has to be helped along just like a student.

*     *     *     *     *

BD:    Let me ask the big philosophical question.  What is the purpose of music?  [Both pause to think for a moment]

Simpson:   That’s a big one!  To me it’s pleasure.  To me it’s like what you were mentioning before about the paintings.  You enjoy it, you see what the artist is trying to bring forth in the painting, as well as just enjoyment.  For me, sound does that.

Da Prato:   I don’t mean to sound snobby, and we’re all human beings for sure, but what would we do without music?  I don’t know.  What would the world be without music?  I don’t know if I can answer your question.  I know that I love music, and maybe to answer it we should ask ourselves what would the world be, if we can imagine the world without music, without sound, without seeing flowers, pictures, without the perfume...  How would it be if we did not have a great Mozart symphony, or a great Beethoven symphony, or a Bach organ work, or a great opera, or chamber music?

BD:   Then thinking about this kind of music that you’re involved with every day, is it for everyone, or is it just for some?

Da Prato:   Serious music?  We call it classical music.  Is it for some?  It’s for everyone, I think.  Don’t you think so?

Simpson:   Yes, but look how many of the modern folks enjoy the Rock ’n Roll, and so forth.  In other words, we all enjoy music but in different forms.  I think it takes all kinds of music to please everybody.

Da Prato:   Oh, absolutely.

Simpson:   Whether symphonic music is just for a few, I don’t know.

Da Prato:   [He hesitates]  It sometimes is difficult to come to it.  You have to develop a taste for something.  Sometimes it’s difficult to acquire a taste.  It takes some effort, really.  I remember when I was a kid of eleven years old, I was a student of the violin for about three or four years, and the greatest thing for me to hear in music was Paganini.  I understood the genius of Paganini, but I did not appreciate the Beethoven Violin Concerto.  I was just a child, but I thought it was all scales.  I later learned what Beethoven does to a scale [sings the opening scale].  It changes... two quarter notes, three quarter notes, and then two eighth notes and another eighth note, going up the scale.  I had made up mind, but I said I had to listen to Beethoven because Beethoven is such a great composer.  [Laughs]  I was a kid, just eleven years old.

BD:   You were told that Beethoven was great?

Da Prato:   Yes, but it takes some work.  One has to make an effort.  It has to be nurtured.  It has to be taught in the schools, in the family of music, as music of a more serious nature than music just for fun, or screaming at a rock concert in conjunction with the music going on.  There are all sorts of weird costumes up there, which is not music as absolute music, or music for the sake of music.

Simpson:   As you were saying, when you were a kid, some of the most interesting things that I can remember real early were when Walter Damrosch was piped into school.  We used to listen to those programs.  
They were very interesting for me.  My mother was a voice teacher, so that helped the music to get started.


Walter Johannes Damrosch
(January 30, 1862 – December 22, 1950) was a German-born American conductor and composer. He is best remembered today as long-time director of the New York Symphony Orchestra and for conducting the world premiere performances of George Gershwin's Piano Concerto in F (1925) and An American in Paris (1928). Damrosch was also instrumental in the founding of Carnegie Hall. He also conducted the first performance of Rachmaninov's third piano concerto with Rachmaninov himself as a soloist.

Damrosch was the National Broadcasting Company's music director under David Sarnoff, and from 1928 to 1942, he hosted the network's Music Appreciation Hour, a popular series of radio lectures on classic music aimed at students. (The show was broadcast during school hours, and teachers were provided with textbooks and worksheets by the network.) According to former New York Times critic Harold C. Schonberg in his collection Facing the Music, Damrosch was notorious for making up silly lyrics for the music he discussed in order to "help" young people appreciate it, rather than letting the music speak for itself.


Da Prato:   There has to be a seed from which everything begins.

BD:   Are we losing the seeds for the next generations in todays society?

Da Prato:   I really don’t know.

BD:   Let me change the question, then.  Are you optimistic about the future of concert music?

Simpson:   Oh, I think so.  I don’t think it’ll die.  It’ll outlast the present trend.

Da Prato:   Music will even outlast the other form of greatness of our civilization, namely architecture.  Literature and music will never be lost because, as I was saying before, if we can only think of how the world would be without music, then we go back to that.  How can we?  Once we know what music is, how can we lose it?

Simpson:   It probably all started with the voice.

Da Prato:   And with drums, with the simple rhythmic percussion instruments.  [All laugh]  We cannot lose it!  We have to have it!

*     *     *     *     *

BD:   Being members of a great orchestra, thinking about performing night after night, what would be perhaps the most interesting or surprising thing that you could tell Joe Concertgoer out in the audience that he wouldn’t think about?

wilbur Simpson:   That’s a difficult one.  I keep thinking that it has to be in the training of a professional musician, the dedication of working for it, and being a part of the whole orchestra.  You’re satisfying yourself, and you’re satisfying those around you.  You’re satisfying the orchestra first, and then it gets to the public.  You’re trying to get a great production.  It’s a hard question to answer.  How about you?

Da Prato:   It’s, as you said, we all try to make it the best we can.  We play music, we recreate something at that moment, and we hope that it turns out well.

Simpson:   It all has to fit in the right place at the right time, and with expression from the performer.

Da Prato:   This is probably why we also feel it’s such great enjoyment.  It’s never guaranteed that it’s going to be good all the time, or it’s going to be the same level all the time.  It has some very great moments, and maybe some not very great moments, but this is the human factor.  It’s not a machine...

BD:   Do you guys ever feel you’re machines or robots back there?

Da Prato:   I don’t.

Simpson:   No, I don’t think so.

BD:   That’s good!

Da Prato:   No, no, you can’t.  Sometimes you are tired, and you feel as though you’re working like a machine, but not that way.

Simpson:   No, I don’t think so.

BD:   I asked you about advice to conductors.  What advice do you have for a young player who wants to be a regular orchestral musician?  You both have students...  [Both laugh and attempt to let the other speak about this]

Da Prato:   Are you speaking specifically of being in an orchestra, or a soloist?

BD:   I would think there would be a big difference between being a touring soloist, and being a regular orchestral musician who plays every day in the same orchestra.

Da Prato:   Yes, because, when a violinist starts out, he doesn’t know if he’s going to be in an orchestra, or whether he’s going to be a soloist.  I suppose the main dream of a violin student is to become another Heifetz.  Then, as he grows, he realizes that he’s not going to be a Heifetz, although you can be a very good violinist.  But to be a concert artist is one thing, and there are so many factors involved.  I would advise a student to practice, to love the instrument, and to have all these experiences that come in music, such as ensemble playing, chamber music, orchestral playing, and solo playing.  Then, time will take care of what he or she will do in the future.

Simpson:   Yes, I agree.

Da Prato:   If you think that because you cannot be a Heifetz, you’re going to have a nervous breakdown, that is ridiculous.

Simpson:   Many people that don’t achieve professional ranking are still very fine players, and enjoy civic work along with another job.

Da Prato:   There are some very fine doctors who also play in community orchestras.

BD:   Look at the Business Men’s Orchestra here in Chicago.  [In my interview with Shmuel Ashkenasi, first violinist and founder of the Vermeer Quartet, he mentioned that when doctors and lawyers asked him to play with them, he always played viola!]


Founded in 1921 by State Street businessman and bass player George Lytton [shown in photo at left] as the Chicago Business Men's Orchestra, membership was drawn from the business and professional men who worked in the downtown area. These men were not only successful businessmen but also accomplished musicians.

The Orchestra had an excellent reputation, giving local amateur players an opportunity to perform a varied repertoire of classical music. By 1941, when the orchestra consisted of 115 Chicagoans, 25 of its players were presidents or vice presidents of local businesses. However, through the first twenty years the membership included accountants, doctors, engineers, a farmer, a postman; in fact, anyone who could be chosen from the waiting list of 200 hopefuls.

Concerts were played in Orchestra Hall under the direction of such noteworthy conductors as Frederick Stock, Rafael Kubelik, and Igor Stravinsky. Eventually, the Chicago Business Men's Orchestra became known as the Chicago Metropolitan Symphony Orchestra.

Da Prato:   They decided, of course, they would go into something more lucrative [all laugh] like being a lawyer or a doctor, but sure, you’re right.

Simpson:   And they still enjoy playing.  It’s difficult to get a student who doesn’t think he can make the big-time to enjoy it, and to stay with it for the rest of his life.  But it’s very difficult to try to make a choice, or to try to guide a student.  I remember I had one early student in high school who just was not applying himself at all.  Then he went away to college, and he just set the world on fire.  He really enjoyed it.

wilbur Da Prato:   In music?

Simpson:   In music, yes, in bassoon playing.  He really took off.

Da Prato:   At what age was that?  [Vis-à-vis the photo at right, see my interviews with John Browning, and Yehudi Menuhin.]

Simpson:   He had to be in college, so that’s what, sixteen to twenty?

Da Prato:   Yes, that is a crucial age.  You arrive at the crossroads, and one road goes this way, one road goes that way, and you need to decide what you are going to do.

Simpson:   But you’ve got to tell that student that if he wants to attain the level of professional playing, then it’s going to be many, many hours of work daily.  You can’t lay it aside.

Da Prato:   But if he applies himself, and if he really loves music, the rewards for that person are great.

Simpson:   I agree.

BD:   When you started with the Orchestra, as you said you had to do a few other things in order to make sure you had food on the table every day.  Now those who join don’t have to take those outside things unless they want to.  Are some of the young musicians perhaps missing something by not having to go out and teach a little bit, or play a little bit, or do something extra?

Da Prato:   It’s a wonderful thing that orchestras now work the full year.  For a musician who wants to do this work, who loves to do this work, who has practiced many hours, it would be unfair for that person to have to sell shoes on the side, or do something else because there isn’t enough money in it.  All the major orchestras are working the full year, and this is the way to encourage musicians.

Simpson:   Right.

Da Prato:   Today, if the young person doesn’t have the monetary reward to make a living at it, he’ll go elsewhere.  The young person today is much more savvy in a way.

BD:   Now we’ve got all of these music schools, with a lot of students.  Is there any chance we’re getting too many gifted and talented musicians coming along who want the jobs in the orchestras?

Da Prato:   I don’t know what the numbers are, but I doubt it.

Simpson:   That’s one of the problems over the last fifteen or twenty years, that the universities are turning out great players, terrific young players, and it’s hard for them to find work.  It’s very difficult, and a lot of them have gone overseas to find work.  They are very capable players.

Da Prato:   The violinists that have come into the Orchestra in the last few years are very talented and very productive.  We have quite a few women who are really wonderful players.

Simpson:   Absolutely.

BD:   Has the technical standard of the first-year player gone up the entire time you’ve been with the Orchestra?

Da Prato:   I think so.  Absolutely.  The technical standard has progressed very, very much, but that’s a technical thing, and perhaps maybe technical things are readily attained in a mechanical way.

BD:   I look at it like the four-minute mile.  For years, no one ran a four-minute mile.  Now, since that mark has been attained, if you don’t run the four-minute mile, you’re not in the race!

Simpson:   That’s right.

Da Prato:   For instance, again talking about Jascha Heifetz, when I was a student, the Sibelius concerto was considered too difficult.  It’s a very difficult concerto, and few violinists played it.  Heifetz, of course, set a standard with it, and now you find very good students playing it very well.  Not like Heifetz did, but playing it very, very, very well.  So, from a technical standpoint, as you say, it is like the four-minute mile.

Simpson:   I go along with that.  The new people coming into the orchestra are excellent, very fine.

BD:   Does that help some of the senior members of the orchestra play even better and better, year after year?

Simpson:   Sure.  The people around you in the Orchestra know what you’re producing very easily, and you’ve got to stay up there to be accepted, to make it worthwhile, and to contribute.

Da Prato:   Absolutely.  In the violin sections we sit two at a stand, and of course my partner hears what I do, and this good playing is infectious.  It’s catching, and so you try.  [Much laughter]  You always reach for the best technique.

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BD:   Do you play any differently when you’re making a record than you do when you’re playing a concert?

Da Prato:   There is the continuity of a concert that you don’t stop and start.  Making a record allows for splicing, and taking a little bit of this and a little bit of that, and putting it together.  A concert, musically speaking, is the way to play.  It’s the way to present music, because you play the way you think it should be, and you do your best to present it as best you can.  In a recording, it’s a mechanical thing.  You play a movement of a symphony, and then the conductor may decide to do four measures here, and then six measures of another section.

BD:   Then the engineers link it all together.  Does it become a fraud?

Da Prato:   Oh, I don’t think so.  When we buy a recording and we listen to a recording, we have to realize that it’s not a live performance.  It’s a mechanical reproduction.  But the ideal way to hear music is a live performance.  You know that things can go wrong, and you cannot splice it.  You cannot reproduce it.  You cannot go back and say
We’ll do it again, and this time it will be better.  Once you play a note, that note is gone.

BD:   [Gently protesting]  But it’s not really gone... it’s in your memory.

Da Prato:   Yes, in your being, in your memory, and this is the way it’s supposed to be.

BD:   Once you’ve made a record, and it’s all been spliced together, when you come back to that piece of music again in a later concert, do you ever feel you’re competing with plastic?

Simpson:   I’ve never felt that.

Da Prato:   No.  Personally, I remember more some of the outstanding live performances of the past than records.  I have many recordings at home, but I remember more, a Bruno Walter performance, or a Solti performance, or a Reiner performance, or a Giulini performance.  Those are things that will always be with me.  I’m speaking only for myself, of course.  I don’t mean to be arrogant, but that’s just my own feeling.

BD:   Hopefully it’s also the feeling of a hundred people on stage, and 2,800 in the audience.

Da Prato:   Yes.

BD:   Nevertheless, are you pleased with the records that you’ve made?

Da Prato:   Oh, I think so.  There have been such wonderful, wonderful recordings.

Simpson:   Yes, there have been.


See my interviews with Licia Albanese, Antal Doráti, and Robert Shaw
BD:   We’re featuring some chamber performances on this program, including things that you two were involved in.  Do you get enough time to play chamber music?

Da Prato:   A lot of the people in the Orchestra have formed chamber music ensembles which go to schools.  I did that at one time, and I remember it being a great deal of fun.

Simpson:   That’s part of the whole deal.  You must have ensemble work.  The hard thing about it nowadays is the time to get it in as far as I’m concerned.  If you have a quartet, or a quintet, or an octet, you have all those people
s schedules to work around, and it is not easy.   It used to be easier when our season was shorter.

Da Prato:   Yes, that
s true.

Simpson:   It’s ideal, and I miss it, I really do.  I used to do much more than I do now.

Da Prato:   I remember playing chamber music as a youngster, specifically piano trios.  We would go out and have something to eat, and then play trios until two or three o’clock in the morning.  It was amazing, but that was youthful enthusiasm.  The enthusiasm is still there.  It’s just that you had this exuberance and energy that never quit.  You would go on and on and on...  [Laughter all around]

BD:   I want to thank you both for being with the Orchestra so long, and for being part of this huge tradition.

Simpson:   It’s been a great forty-four years.

BD:   Thank you for sharing your time with me today.

Da Prato:   Absolutely, it was a pleasure to be with you.  Thank you very much. 

© 1990 Bruce Duffie

This conversation was recorded in Chicago on December 13, 1990.  Portions were broadcast on WNIB the following month.  This transcription was made in 2021, 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.