Dutch violinist Theo Olof, who was co-leader of the Hague Philharmonic and later concertmaster of the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra under Bernard Haitink, has died at the age of 88.
Born Theodor Olof Schmuckler in 1924 in Bonn, Olof and his parents, who were Jewish, fled Nazi Germany in 1933 and settled in the Netherlands. There the young musician studied with Oskar Back, making his solo debut with the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra in 1935 under Bruno Walter. In 1951, he won fourth prize in the Queen Elisabeth Competition, the only Dutch violinist to reach the finals in the history of the competition. That same year, he was appointed co-leader of the Hague Philharmonic alongside Herman Krebbers, another pupil of Back. In 1974 Olof became leader of the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, a post he held until 1985. He retired from professional performing in 1994.
Olof relished the life of a concertmaster, but he was also an exceptional soloist, combining his orchestral career with solo dates in Europe and further afield. During his career, Olof had several offers to take up posts leading other orchestras – including the Philharmonia under Otto Klemperer, and the Philadelphia Orchestra under Eugene Ormandy – but chose to remain in the Netherlands. He had several works dedicated to him and his musical partner Krebbers, as well as to him alone, including Bruno Maderna’s 1969 Violin Concerto.
During the 1970s, after wondering what the direction ‘piano luthéal’ signified on the score of Ravel’s Tzigane, Olof initiated important research into rediscovering and restoring the world’s last remaining luthéal – a device used for preparing a piano to sound like a cimbalom, lute, or dulcimer. He subsequently recorded the work for EMI with pianist Daniel Wayenberg. Outside the orchestra, Olof was also a teacher and broadcaster – he was head of violin at the Royal Conservatorium in The Hague until 1982, and in 1975 was one of the original founders of the Dutch classical radio station Hilversum 4. He wrote a memoir, Daar sta je dan (‘There you are’), which was published in 1958.