Dale Clevenger 1940-2022

Fri Jan 07, 2022 at 9:59 am

By Lawrence A. Johnson

Dale Clevenger, longtime principal horn of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, passed away Wednesday at age 81. Photo: Todd Rosenberg

Dale Clevenger, principal horn of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra for nearly a half-century, passed away Wednesday in Italy at age 81. In a statement released late Thursday, his family said the cause was Waldenstrom’s disease, a form of cancer.

“The loss of Dale Clevenger, one of the best and most famous horn players of our time and one of the glories of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, leaves a very deep void in the music world,” said music director Riccardo Muti in a statement. “Fortunately, we have many audiovisual recordings of him with the Chicago Symphony to show his extraordinary technique and nobility of musical phrasing. I am certain that all his colleagues, former and current, all horn students and myself, as we were personal friends, will mourn this huge loss.”

Hired by Jean Martinon in 1966, Michael Dale Clevenger was a crucial component of the vaunted CSO brass during the eras of four music directors—Martinon, Sir Georg Solti, Daniel Barenboim, and Riccardo Muti—as well as concerts under Bernard Haitink, Pierre Boulez and countless others.

Few would deny that Clevenger stayed on too long in his high-profile position, even when CSO concerts made it regularly clear that his once-fabled technique was no longer on a par with that of his colleagues.

But at his peak, which lasted two generations, the Chattanooga native was among the finest horn players in the world. His tone was polished and his technique unassailable, with a timbre that was strikingly varied—muscular and occasionally brawny yet also elegant and nimble.

Among the scores of celebrated CSO recordings. Clevenger was at his finest in Solti’s set of Mahler symphonies and the DG Bruckner cycle under Barenboim. Among his many solo recordings, top of the list are his rendition of Richard Strauss’s  Horn Concerto No. 1 under Barenboim with the CSO, his set of Mozart Horn Concertos with the Franz Liszt Chamber Orchestra of Budapest, and his disc of Gabrieli canzone with CSO colleagues and brass players from the Cleveland Orchestra and Philadelphia Orchestra.

He is survived by his wife, Giovanna, four children, Michael, Ami, Mac, and Jesse, and two granddaughters, Cameron and Leia. (His late wife and stand partner of 25 years, Alice, passed away in 2011.) There will be a memorial concert in Winnetka in the late spring.

Clevenger’s family asked those who wish to express sympathy, to consider donations to the musicians of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra by calling 312-294-3100.

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