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

April 15, 2013

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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