Ray Still 1920-2014

Thu Mar 13, 2014 at 12:23 pm

By Lawrence A. Johnson

Ray Still
Ray Still

Ray Still, the longtime principal oboe of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, died Wednesday on his 94th birthday, at his home in Woodstock, Vermont.

“The CSO deeply mourns the loss of Ray Still, one of the world’s great oboists,” said CSO president Deborah Rutter in a statement released by the orchestra. “As a musician with the CSO for 40 years, he was an essential contributor to its reputation as one of the best orchestras in the world.  Mr. Still’s virtuosity lives on in the many recordings he made, the students he taught, and the fellow musicians he inspired in Chicago and around the world.”

Still was acknowledged internationally as a master of his instrument, and one of the finest orchestra wind principals of the 20th century.

His sound was inimitable, a clear, plangent almost vocal quality that was instantly recognizable. For many, his solos in the slow movement of the Heifetz/Reiner/CSO recording of Brahms’ Violin Concerto and Strauss’s Oboe Concerto are inseparable from the music.

After stints in Buffalo and Baltimore, Still was hired by Fritz Reiner and joined the CSO as assistant principal oboe in 1953, Reiner’s debut season as music director. He became principal the following year, a position he held for 39 seasons.

While acknowledged as a first-class musician, Still was a prickly, outspoken personality who sometimes alienated CSO management and his colleagues. His vocal support of union actions and caustic comments about management, led to music director Jean Martinon’s failed attempt to fire Still on musical grounds in the 1960s. While sitting next to each other and playing gloriously together Still and principal flute Donald Peck didn’t speak for decades.

Personality apart, Still’s legacy is clear, as a musician on decades of remarkable CSO recordings, as well as a dedicated teacher. He taught at Roosevelt University from 1954-57 and for five decades at Northwestern from 1953 to 2003.

Still is survived by daughters Mimi Dixon and Susan Still, son Thomas Still, and numerous grandchildren and great-grandchildren.  He died Wednesday surrounded by family, with Bach’s St Matthew Passion playing in the background.

In a 1988 Chicago Tribune article, Still was asked why he thought the Chicago Symphony Orchestra was the world’s greatest.

“It’s like a great baseball team, he said. “We have a blend of youth and experience, and they work very well together. A lot of orchestras have this. The thing that makes the Chicago Symphony Orchestra very unusual is the tremendous—I hate to use the word—discipline.

“There is a certain pride, and I think it goes back to the days of Theodore Thomas, the founder. There is something about the tradition of this orchestra and the level the main body of musicians has come to expect of itself.”


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One Response to “Ray Still 1920-2014”

  1. Posted Jan 22, 2017 at 7:04 am by Juan Jose Abellan Ballester

    I will love knowledge someone disciple of oboe of mister Ray Still Tanks.

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