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Dale Clevenger dies at 81; French horn master was Chicago Symphony principal for 47 years

Submitted by on Jan 7, 2022 – 7:01 pm

Dale Clevenger with music director Georg Solti at Orchestra Hall, 1974. (Robert M. Lightfoot III)

Report: Distinguished career embraced CSO music directors Jean Martinon, Georg Solti, Daniel Barenboim and Riccardo Muti.
By Lawrence B. Johnson

Dale Clevenger, one of the most accomplished and esteemed French horn players of the last half-century and principal of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra from 1966 until 2013, died Jan. 5 in Italy, He was 81.

Hailed by critics and audiences worldwide, Clevenger also was lionized by French norn players everywhere for his sound, technique, finesse and fearless music-making. He joined the CSO at the invitation of seventh music director Jean Martinon. In a 47-year tenure, Clevenger played under subsequent music directors Sir Georg SoltiDaniel Barenboim and Riccardo Muti, along with titled conductors Pierre BoulezBernard HaitinkCarlo Maria Giulini and Claudio Abbado.

Riccardo Muti and Dale Clevenger in a light-hearted moment on tour. (Todd Rosenberg)

“The loss of Dale Clevenger, one of the best and most famous horn players of our time and one of the glories of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, leaves a very deep void in the music world,”  Muti said in a statement. “Fortunately, we have many audiovisual recordings of him with the Chicago Symphony to show his extraordinary technique and nobility of musical phrasing. I am certain that all his colleagues, former and current, all horn students and myself, as we were personal friends, will mourn this huge loss.”

Dale Clevenger 2010 (Todd Rosenberg)

A versatile musician active in chamber music and jazz, Clevenger also was a featured soloist on several CSO recordings, including works by Martin, Schumann, Britten and Mozart. He also played on the Grammy Award-winning recording “The Antiphonal Music of Gabrieli” with the brass ensembles of the Chicago, Philadelphia and Cleveland orchestras. He recorded horn concertos by Joseph and Michael Haydn with the Franz Liszt Chamber Orchestra of Budapest, as well as Mozart’s horn concertos on two separate releases, each of which was Grammy-nominated.

He performed with Barenboim and colleagues from the CSO and the Berlin Philharmonic on the Grammy-winning CD of quintets for piano and winds by Mozart and Beethoven. With Barenboim and Itzhak Perlman, he recorded Brahms’ Horn Trio for Sony Classical. He performed on the “Tribute to Ellington” release with Barenboim and other members of the CSO, and his recording of Strauss’ First Horn Concerto with Barenboim and the CSO also won a Grammy Award. John Williams wrote a horn concerto for him, which he premiered with the Chicago Symphony under the baton of the composer, in 2003.

Also known widely as  a conductor, Clevenger served as music director of the Elmhurst Symphony Orchestra for 14 years. His conducting career included guest appearances with many orchestras around the world. In 2011, he led the Valladolid (Spain) Symphony Orchestra with Daniel Barenboim as piano soloist.

John Williams and Dale Clevenger at the world premiere of Williams’ Horn Concerto on Nov. 29, 2003.

Clevenger often paid tribute to his mentors, Arnold Jacobs (CSO principal tuba, 1944-88) and Adolph “Bud” Herseth (CSO principal trumpet, 1948-2001 and principal trumpet emeritus, 2001-04), and teaching became an integral part of his life. Horn players who studied and coached with him won positions in some of the world’s most prestigious ensembles.

Over the years, he taught at Northwestern University, Roosevelt University and the Jacobs School of Music at Indiana University. He also gave recitals and master classes throughout the world. In 1985, he received an honorary doctorate from Elmhurst College.

Clevenger was born in Chattanooga, Tenn., on July 2, 1940. Before joining the Chicago Symphony, he was a member of Leopold Stokowski’s American Symphony Orchestra and the Symphony of the Air directed by Alfred Wallenstein.

He is survived by his wife, Giovanna; children Michael, Ami, Mac, and Jesse, and two granddaughters, Cameron and Leia. His late wife of 25 years, Alice, diedin 2011. Details for services are pending.

In February 2013, when he announced plans to retire, Clevenger wrote to his colleagues in the Chicago Symphony: “You are truly some of the finest musicians on the planet. To have had the pleasure and privilege of making music and sharing the stage with you in thousands of concerts is a sweet memory I shall cherish. I encourage you to do everything possible in your power to keep my Chicago Symphony Orchestra ‘the best of the best!’”

Frank Villella, director of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra Association’s Rosenthal Archives, provided historical information for this story. 

Jay Friedman, Dale Clevenger, Arnold Jacobs and Adolph Herseth. (Robert M. Lightfoot III)


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