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Wallenstein, Alfred

Wallenstein, Alfred

Wallenstein, Alfred, American cellist and conductor; b. Chicago, Oct. 7,1898; d. N.Y., Feb. 8,1983. His parents were of German and Austrian extraction, and Wallenstein believed that he was a direct descendant of Albrecht von Wallenstein, the illustrious leader of the Thirty Years’ War. The family moved to Los Angeles in 1905, where Wallenstein took cello lessons with the mother of Ferde Grofé. As a young boy, Wallenstein played in hotels and movie theaters; he also gave public recitals advertised as “the wonder-boy cellist.” He played with the San Francisco Sym. Orch. (1916-17), and subsequently toured in South America with the troupe of Anna Pavlova, being featured as cello soloist to accompany her famous portrayal of the dying swan. In 1919 he became a member of the Los Angeles Phil. In 1920 he studied cello with Julius Klengel in Leipzig. He was a cellist in the Chicago Sym. Orch. (1922-29) and also appeared with it as a soloist; from 1927 to 1929 he was head of the cello dept. of the Chicago Musical Coll. In 1929 Toscanini engaged him as 1st cellist with the N.Y. Phil.; it was Toscanini who urged Wallenstein to try his hand at conducting. Wallenstein began his conducting career by leading classical programs over the radio. In 1933 he formed the Wallenstein Sinfonietta, giving regular Sunday broadcasts; an important feature was a series of performances of Bach’s cantatas. He also programmed numerous premieres of works by contemporary composers. After Toscanini resigned as music director of the N.Y. Phil. in 1936, Wallenstein also left his job as first cellist of the orch. and devoted himself exclusively to radio performances and guest conducting. In 1943 he was named conductor of the Los Angeles Phil.; he was also director of the Hollywood Bowl (1952-56). In 1956 he made a tour of the Orient with the Los Angeles Phil. under the auspices of the State Dept.; after this tour he resigned as its conductor and subsequently made appearances as a guest conductor. In 1968 he joined the faculty of the Juilliard School of Music in N.Y. as instructor in conducting. In 1979, at the age of 81, he made his last public appearance as a conductor, leading the Juilliard School Orch. in N.Y. Wallenstein never pretended to be a glamorous virtuoso of the baton, but he was a master builder of orch. organizations. More in praise than in dispraise, he was described as a “vertical” conductor who offered dispassionate rather than impassionate interpretations, but no one doubted his selfless devotion to music and musicians.

—Nicolas Slonimsky/Laura Kuhn/Dennis McIntire

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