Adolph “Bud” Herseth, legendary CSO trumpet player, dies at 91

Sun Apr 14, 2013 at 8:15 pm

By Lawrence A. Johnson

Adolph “Bud” Herseth (1921-2013) Photo: Jim Steere

The brilliant, majestic trumpet timbre that meant the Chicago Symphony Orchestra around the world for over half a century has been silenced.

Adolph “Bud” Herseth, who served as the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s principal trumpet for 52 seasons (1948-2001) and four seasons as principal trumpet emeritus died Saturday at his home in Oak Park at the age of 91 after a brief illness.

“His life was long, well lived and magnificently filled with extraordinary music,” said Deborah F. Rutter, president of the CSO Association in a statement released by the orchestra. “The contributions he made—as a performer, a teacher, a mentor and colleague—to classical music, trumpet playing, and certainly to the CSO, are incalculable.”

Legendary for his remarkable technique, robust yet refined and individual tone, and the various shades of purple he would often turn while performing, Herseth served under five CSO music directors (Rafael Kubelik, Fritz Reiner, Jean Martinon, Sir Georg Solti and Daniel Barenboim). In one of those anomalies of musical history, Herseth was appointed CSO principal by Artur Rodzinski in 1948 yet never played under him since Rodzinski was sacked later that same year.

Herseth soloed with the orchestra on numerous occasions over five decades and, in a feat unlikely to ever be broken, played first trumpet on seven different recordings of Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition with the CSO (under Kubelik, Reiner, Seiji Ozawa, Carlo Maria Giulini, Solti (twice) and Neeme Jarvi).

Adolph Herseth was born in 1921 in Minnesota. He attended Luther College in Decorah, Iowa, intending to become a teacher. While serving in the armed forces during World War II, he became interested in a musical career, performing as a bandsman at an Iowa preflight school and later at the U.S. Navy School of Music.

In the dream of most young musicians, Herseth was appointed CSO principal trumpet by then-music director Rodzinski while still studying for his master’s degree at the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston.

The celebrated trumpet player regularly gave seminars, master classes and coaching sessions to help train the next generation of trumpet players. Herseth received numerous awards and honors over his long career including honorary doctor of music degrees from DePaul University, Luther College, New England Conservatory, Rosary College and Valparaiso University. The principal trumpet chair of the CSO was named after him in 2001.

Herseth is survived by Avis, his wife of sixty-nine years, their two children Christine Hoefer and Stephen (Mary Jo), and six grandchildren and five great-grandchildren. Another son Charles (Judith) preceded him in death in 1996. Services will be private and details regarding a memorial will be announced at a later date.

In lieu of flowers, the family has requested donations to the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Luther College, or the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra.

In 2001, after announcing that he would cede the principal trumpet chair, Herseth was interviewed by John von Rhein of the Chicago Tribune. He said, “for years I’ve been telling people I am lucky to get here, fortunate to still be here and to have had all these marvelous experiences.”

When asked how he would like posterity to remember him, Herseth replied, “as a fairly decent guy who gave it his best every time he had the chance.”

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6 Responses to “Adolph “Bud” Herseth, legendary CSO trumpet player, dies at 91”

  1. Posted Apr 14, 2013 at 9:15 pm by Bliss Michelson

    Played in the CSO’s training ensemble…the Civic Orchestra in the 1960’s and well remember his brilliance in the Hummel Concerto. Then music critic of the Chicago Daily News was astounded by his played and thought he did it all with mirrors. In truth, it was talent and unequaled brilliance. There will never be another like him.

  2. Posted Apr 14, 2013 at 10:13 pm by Paul Cohan

    From a 1994 profile in Smithsonian:

    Although he is not well known to the general public, to the cognoscenti of symphonic music the world over Bud is the premier orchestral trumpeter of his time, and perhaps of all time. Fellow musicians hail him as “a legend,” “a phenomenon” and “the prototype.” Critics knock themselves out singing his praise. He is a hero to brass students at music schools. Wherever the Chicago goes on tour, young players mob him.

    It’s unusual for an orchestral musician to receive such adulation, but Bud is special. To do what he does on the concert stage, finishing off grace notes with extraordinary finesse, handling bravura solos and lyrical melodies with equal aplomb, consistently setting a virtuoso standard that inspires his colleagues–to do the big things and the little things superbly night after night, week after week–takes the concentration of a surgeon, the panache of a showman and the nerves of a fighter pilot.

    Bud is more than a great instrumentalist. He’s a walking history book. He has played under Bruno Walter, who was a close personal friend and associate of the Austrian composer Gustav Mahler; Fritz Reiner, who knew Richard Strauss; Pierre Monteux, who knew Stravinsky; and even Stravinsky himself.

    Just as Bud knows conductors–Leopold Stokowski, George Szell, Eugene Ormandy, Erich Leinsdorf and Leonard Bernstein top a short list of other celebrated maestros who have taken guest turns in Chicago–conductors know Bud. “Some musicians of great stature become, in effect, the artistic consciences of their orchestras,” Daniel Barenboim, the Chicago’s current music director, told me not long ago. “Bud Herseth has been the artistic conscience of this orchestra for many years.”

  3. Posted Apr 15, 2013 at 9:01 am by Ken Fitzgerald

    As a student at the University of Michigan in 1982-1983, I drove with friends to hear the CSO play Mahler 3, and the sound of Bud Herseth leading the brass section gave me a special memory that has lasted throughout my life. Then Executive Director of the CSO John Edwards described Bud Herseth as “more than a superstar. He is a supernova. He’s the musical leader of the orchestra.” Bud Herseth set the standard for brass playing and musicianship in the greatest orchestra in the world. The world is a more brilliant, beautiful place with the music he made for us. God bless Bud Herseth, his family, and his colleagues past and present in the great Chicago Symphony Orchestra.

  4. Posted Apr 15, 2013 at 6:58 pm by M Zarudny

    As the daughter of a trumpeter (87) now retired from the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, I love listening to the trumpet and Mr. Herseth shows the brilliant and talented artist he is.

  5. Posted Apr 15, 2013 at 7:28 pm by Roger Simak

    I had the good fortune to grow up as a brass player (horn) in Chicago during the 50s and early 60s. Those were glorious years for the CSO—Reiner, Herseth, Phil Farkas, and Arnold Jacobs. Not to mention the non-brass superstars like Ray Still, Frank Miller, etc. Even as a musically inexperienced teenager I had the feeling that I was listening to something very special. And although I was a horn player, it was Bud Herseth who most often left me in awe. With his passing, I feel as if I’ve lost a member of the family.

  6. Posted Apr 27, 2013 at 4:57 pm by John

    My favorite live concert was Giulini conducting Pictures at an Exhibition. Herseth on the trumpet and Arnold Jacobs on tuba. When the music started I was sitting in the first row of the concert hall. By the end of the music they had blown me back three rows with their glorious, full sound. Only after travelling to Europe and listening to its great orchestras did I fully appreciate Herseth’s talent. Nobody could play trumpet like he did.

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