AFTER RETIRING, HERSETH WILL STILL BE PAYING LIP SERVICE
John von Rhein
April 8, 2001
The legendary brass player who is ceding the coveted first trumpet chair of the Chicago Symphony to Craig Morris wants to make one thing perfectly clear: Although he's leaving the orchestra, he's not retiring from making music.
"I will be three-quarters retired," says Adolph "Bud" Herseth, who last month announced he is stepping down at the end of the coming Ravinia season after an unprecedented 53 years as the golden soprano voice of the CSO brass section. Herseth says he plans to continue coaching young brass players of the CSO's training orchestra, the Civic Orchestra, and he hopes to sit in with his CSO colleagues when an extra trumpet is needed, provided "I'm still able and they're willing to accept me."
Holding down any principal chair with a major orchestra is time-consuming and carries major responsibilities. Herseth, who will turn 80 in July, says the time was right to turn the post over to someone younger, even though he remains in excellent health. "You know the old cliche, `The older I get, the better I used to be,'" he says, laughing. "Once you reach your 70s, your endurance factor is not as it was. That's why I have been, in a sense, semi-retired for the last year or two."
Make no mistake: His leave-taking has been carefully planned. "I have been telling the orchestra management for more than three years they needed to find a replacement," Herseth says. "We have been through three very involved series of auditions before Craig was selected."
Looking back on his half-century-plus with the Chicago Symphony, Herseth says he has enjoyed too many "fantastic experiences" to cite really special moments just now. One suspects he is simply waiting for the right moment to pour all his anecdotes into the book of memoirs his wife has been urging him to write for 20 years. ("Some of the stories I tell are actually true," he cracks.) The prospect is tantalizing: Few first-chair virtuosos have led so full a life in music and are better qualified to pass along the fruits of their experience.
"People ask me why I didn't go after a solo career," says Herseth, who was hired by music director Artur Rodzinski in 1948, when he was 27. "I tell them there isn't a single concerto that's as musically gratifying as sitting in a band like this and playing the big-time repertory. I wish I could trade places with some of these young players so I could do it all over again."
Colleagues and critics have praised Herseth as an institution and inspiration among the elite of orchestral musicians. "Quite possibly the most dazzling player on his instrument in the world today," wrote the New York Times. But, with his plain-folks, Minnesota-bred modesty, he dismisses such tributes as pretentious. "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."
How, then, would he like posterity to remember him?
"As a fairly decent guy who gave it his best every time he had the chance."