In Memoriam | Playbill

Classic Arts Features In Memoriam
Members of the Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra pay homage to Maestro Hans Vonk, who died on August 29.

The concerts of November 12-14, the Berlioz Requiem, are performed in tribute to Maestro Hans Vonk and in honor of his wife Jessie and their family. After a long struggle with a rare neurological condition similar to ALS, Vonk died at his home in Amsterdam on August 29. Vonk was the SLSO Music Director from 1996 to 2002. As part of this month's tribute, a number of musicians offer their thoughts and reminiscences of their former conductor.

"He was one of the most honest musicians I've ever known."‹Morris Jacob, Viola

"One of my favorite things would be during a concert, when we were all playing our hearts out and Pete Bowman would have a line or the first violins would be playing‹he would get this particular little smile and I knew he was in heaven. There should be a new word for the look he would give you after you stopped playing."‹Alison Harney, Principal Second Violin

"He hired me. During an audition you have to play three rounds behind the screen. Then after you've passed through that‹there's Hans Vonk! He always had an imposing aura to me at the time. It was frightening. I realized later he was such a gentle human being. I'll never forget the first concert we did with him in which I was really active. It was the Tchaikovsky Four. He was able to contain the orchestra until the very end. Then it was like he opened the gates. And he did this all with very subtle movements. He knew how to sculpt."‹Stephen Lange, Assistant Principal Trombone

"My first real personal experience with him, and it was the basis of our personal relationship, was when he and Bruce Coppock, who was executive director at the time, had this idea that the two of them would give a concert for donors, with Hans on piano and Bruce on cello. They were both great musicians but neither had played for an audience in many years. Eventually they asked David Halen and me to play with them. It was at Jack Rainwater's house. We were just about to go out and play and Hans and Bruce were pacing. They were so nervous. So to try and calm them down I told them I was nervous too. Hans just shot back at me, 'What are you nervous about?' I said, 'If you mess up, we can all have a good laugh. If I mess up, you can fire me.' Oh, how he laughed. And then we were able to give the concert."‹ Morris Jacob

"In our first season with Hans, when we did Bruckner Seven in St. Louis and at Carnegie Hall, I had the feeling that I was playing in a different orchestra. His insistence on precision, blend, balance, and clarity made a lasting mark on the way our orchestra plays."‹Timothy Myers, Principal Trombone

"If you made an attempt to speak with him backstage you found out how open and sweet he was. He was actually kind of warm and fuzzy. Seeing him with Jessie was a great indicator of that. They were so much in love. Just seeing them together was heart rending."‹Anne Fagerburg, Cello

"Jessie and Hans were very close, and I can still hear him call her lieve schatje, 'little darling.'"‹Dana Edson Myers, First Violin

"I remember going to King Louie's with Hans on a number of occasions, my wife and I sitting with him and laughing. His interest in our lives and our family was beyond just courtesy. He told me the fried calamari was deadly and he loved the bouillabaisse."‹Mark Sparks, Principal Flute

"The first thing I noticed that he was so particular about was finishing a phrase before you went on to the next. All of our scores are marked with these little arrows. He couldn't stand it if things were glossed over or rushed through. He wanted it to be clear, to finish a phrase before you went on to the next. And he was absolutely right! He was incredible. Clearly, he was incredible. I think I am a better musician for having the experience of making music under Hans's baton."‹Dana Edson Myers

"He was demanding. He wanted certain intangible things to happen and got frustrated when they didn't. He wanted things his way, perfectly, and he pushed for those things. Rehearsals were difficult, challenging, but that is how it should be with a great conductor."‹Mark Sparks

"His standards were always higher than what he heard. When I'd mention that he could lighten up a little on the musicians, he would remark that he realized how good a performance was only in distant hindsight, sometimes years later."‹David Halen, Concertmaster

"He really made us listen to each other. He vehemently made us listen to each other. That is what has stuck with us."‹Alison Harney

"The memorial service itself was at a church around the corner from the Concertgebouw and it was packed. The Netherlands Radio Philharmonic began playing the Brahms Tragic Overture with Eri Klas conducting. It was a great testimony to a great man. If someone could design their own funeral‹it was, as Hans felt, all that had to be said was in the music. There was not an excess of talking. Hans's sister spoke. David Halen said he imagined Hans with Schubert and Beethoven, with Hans asking them if they were happy with what he did. And they smile and say, 'You did your best.' A few of us quickly got on a bus to go to the cemetery. There was no talking. Everyone filed into this room. And without further ado they played a recording of the last thing Hans conducted here, the last movement of the Mahler Fourth. The room just shook with the sound."‹Dana Edson Myers

Eddie Silva is the publications manager for the Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra.

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