Obituary: 'Bud' Herseth - at the heart of the Chicago Symphony's sound for 56 years

Martin Cullingford25th Apr 2013
Bud Herseth, for 56 years at the heart of Chicago's sound (photo: Jim Steere)Bud Herseth, for 56 years at the heart of Chicago's sound (photo: Jim Steere)

Born July 25, 1921; died April 13, 2013

To claim that a single player could define an unmistakable orchestral sound in a large group of distinguished colleagues would defy all odds but Adolph 'Bud' Herseth is about as close as it gets.

Herseth was principal trumpet of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra from 1948 to 2001 (then serving as principal trumpet emeritus until 2004), hired in a New York apartment by Artur Rodzinski who instantly realised that here was a player who had the sound, attitude, temperament and technical durability to lead the brave new world of the prime virtuoso post-war American symphony orchestra. Little did his employers know that this irrepressible but essentially straight-forward and humble man, destined for a teacher's job in the Mid-West, would become – alongside the great LSO's Maurice Murphy – the most celebrated orchestral player of the 20th century. 

The famed Chicago 'brass sound' of impeccably voiced brilliance and precision became a reference point in defining the orchestra’s distinctive identity. Its prolific discography under Rafael Kubelik, Fritz Reiner, Georg Solti and Daniel Barenboim contains a golden thread of assured and uncannily distinguishable focus and 'hue' which is Herseth. Indeed, Sir Michael Tippett's 4th Symphony was commissioned in 1977 to celebrate, amongst many features of the CSO, the emblazoning and epic identity of the brass section led by Herseth. 

The longevity of this gentle but gregarious man was indeed legendary – 56 years at the heart of a superb orchestra. Visiting London to receive an Honorary Fellowship from the Royal Academy of Music, he walked to the ceremony buzzing on a mouthpiece because 'it's the only practice I'll get before the Ravinia Festival next week'. Later in the day a posse of Maurice Murphy, James Watson, John Wallace and 'Bud' established itself at the back of the Academy canteen with a bar bill to be proud of. Herseth had, in the previous March, played Mahler's 5th Symphony for Barenboim at Carnegie Hall – a memorable performance for the flawless work of an 80-year old principal trumpet, made as memorable by the queue of well-wishers which was as long for him as it was for Barenboim.

He died on April 13, 2013, at his home in Oak Park, Illinois, at the age of 91, survived by Avis, his wife of 69 years.

Jonathan Freeman-Attwood

 

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