Dallas Symphony Artistic Administrator Victor Marshall is happy to stay in the background, even as he celebrates his 25th anniversary with the DSO in October. Most concertgoers know his voice better than his face — it's his sonorous baritone that urges us to turn off our cell phones on the prerecorded announcement preceding each DSO concert. Marshall has also earned the honorary title of "Voice of the Dallas Symphony" for producing and hosting the orchestra's concert broadcasts on WRR for more than 20 years.
But if Marshall isn't well-known by DSO audiences, he is highly regarded by conductors, pianists, violinists, and singers all over the world as their primary link to the Dallas Symphony. "He's the ultimate musical ambassador for Dallas," says DSO Conductor Emeritus Andrew Litton. "His friendly, outgoing charm ingratiates him to all soloists and conductors who come through town. I can't remember a guest appearance I have made since being associated with the DSO when a performer or manager didn't say to me, 'Oh, you're from Dallas — please give Victor my best wishes.'"
Since coming to the DSO in 1981 from the announcing staff at WRR, Marshall's chief responsibilities have included helping the DSO's artistic leadership (conductors and administrators) devise programs and hire guest artists. He also looks after the guests when they are in town, which isn't always easy. Austin businessman Steven Aechternacht, former artistic administrator of the Houston Symphony and a longtime friend, says Marshall is perfectly suited to the job. "He's the world's nicest guy — he knows how to be attentive to the artists' needs without being obsequious."
Given that reputation, it's not surprising to learn that when Marshall graduated from North Texas State University (now the University of North Texas) with a degree in political science, he had hopes for a career as a diplomat. He went to work full-time for WRR after several years there on a part-time basis and soon became a fixture on the airwaves. When Eduardo Mata arrived as the DSO's music director in 1977, Marshall built a solid relationship with the maestro. In the fall of 1981 Mata asked Marshall to come assist him full-time as a member of the DSO staff.
Marshall has enjoyed his quarter-century in artistic administration and has felt privileged to work with such legendary artists as violinists Yehudi Menuhin and Henryk Szeryng, pianist Claudio Arrau, flutists Jean-Pierre Rampal and Sir James Galway, and conductors Robert Shaw and Rafael Frühbeck de Burgos (who conducts the DSO November 2, 3, and 4 at the Meyerson). "These were all very cultured, refined men with a special old-world quality about them," Marshall says. "Those are qualities that are missing in many of today's leading classical artists."
But with many of these larger-than-life musicians came some wonderful stories. Marshall remembers a European conductor who was ultra-particular about hotels. One time, the maestro checked into a hotel and invited Marshall up to his room. After a few seconds, the maestro, with a pained look on his face, said, "Ach! I cannot stay here! The lights are humming in E-flat, and my symphony is in D!" Szeryng, who was Polish by birth but adopted Mexico as his home, used to insist on being addressed as "Ambassador Szeryng." Whenever he would come to town, Szeryng's wife would hand out his official bio to all members of the hotel staff so they would treat him with appropriate care and deference.
Then there was the time Marshall had to find a brassiere for a soprano soloist. She showed up, unfettered for comfort's sake, in a sheer gown that proved a bit too transparent. With just moments until the concert was to start, Marshall organized a committee of Dallas Symphony chorus ladies who, among them, found just the right size bra for the soprano to borrow for the evening. Another soprano — very famous — refused to go on stage and kept the audience waiting until Marshall could find someone to run to the store for a certain kind of mint tea — the tea Marshall had provided just wouldn't do.
Marshall's tenure has not been without some embarrassing moments. In the mid-80s he was talked into appearing onstage at an outdoor July 4 concert wearing a skin-tight Uncle Sam costume that he remembers as "about five sizes too small." Not only did he have to move on and off stage gingerly so nothing would rip, but his artificial beard kept falling off. Former music director Litton remembers another Marshall moment from the concert at Amsterdam's famed Concertgebouw during the DSO's 1997 European tour. "Victor was making an archival recording of the concert and was told to set up his gear in a small adjacent chamber music hall," Litton says. "At the end of the evening, after nearly everyone had left the building except me, I was walking out of the backstage area when all of a sudden I heard Victor's stentorian baritone yelling, 'Help! Is anyone there? I'm locked in — let me out.' Someone had locked him in and shut off the lights. The sight of a pale, shaken Victor emerging from a darkened room, loaded down with recording equipment, was enough to keep me smiling for years to come!"
Marshall has established some of his strongest professional bonds with the dozens of artists' agents throughout the world who speak to him regularly. Richard Corrado, senior vice president of ICM Artists in New York, was a recipient of Marshall's thoughtfulness a few years ago when he came to town for a conference. Marshall picked him up at DFW and immediately headed towards Fort Worth. "Where are you going?" Corrado asked. "My hotel is in Dallas!" Marshall asked Corrado to trust him, and soon pulled up in the driveway of a spacious home. Knowing Corrado was an avid golfer, Marshall said, "We're here to visit my uncle, Byron Nelson." The legendary golfer was indeed the brother of Marshall's mother, and the visit was one Corrado will never forget.
"Victor has become one of my closest personal friends in the industry, and there aren't many of those," Corrado says. "He is one of the most polite human beings I've ever known. He answers our phone calls, e-mails, and faxes — that's rare. And he knows how to tell you yes and how to tell you no, and he gives you a reason. This sets him apart."
Aechternacht puts it more succinctly. "He's a straight shooter — gracious, reliable, and dependable."