Timeline of the Kalamazoo Symphony from its founding in 1921 by Leta Snow,
to the guest appearance by Beverly Sills on the Starlight Symphony series in July, 1970.
(click on to enlarge)
In July of 1970, the Kalamazoo Symphony Orchestra founder Leta Snow was 90 years old, living in
her home, giving piano lessons, tending her garden, and still attending KSO concerts.
In July of 1970, the Kalamazoo Symphony was into its 8th year of Starlight Symphony pops concerts
performed in a bandshell atop Gilmore's Auto Park in downtown Kalamazoo.
Postcard of the Kalamazoo Symphony Starlight Concerts, Gregory Millar, Conductor, c. 1963.
(click on to enlarge)
The Starlight Symphony concerts started with a single performance in September of 1962, conducted
by the new Maestro in town, Gregory Millar, who had been hired the year before as KSO Music
Director. That inaugural concert was such a success that the board immediately planned next year's
concerts. That single concert was expanded to four concerts on Wednesday evenings in July.
The Kalamazoo Symphony hired local talent as soloists, as well as big names from the world of jazz
and popular music. That mix of guest artists made it a community affair, infused with an element of
big-city excitement that comes with the presence of famous artists.
Maestro Gregory Millar had great contacts from his years in New York and California, and hired the
best of the best including: Max Roach, Henry Mancini, Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Victor
Borge, Dave Brubeck, Ferrante and Teicher, and Peter Nero, to name a few.
Opera star Beverly Sills had been contacted on numerous occasions to come and sing on the Starlight
Series, but she was always booked up. In fact, Gregory Millar was no longer Music Director when Sills
finally arrived in Kalamazoo in 1970. Pierre Hétu had taken over as Kalamazoo Symphony Music
Director in 1968.
In Zaide Pixley's 1997 book GREAT ENSEMBLE, The Story of the Kalamazoo Symphony Orchestra,
she tells how Beverly Sills finally made it to Kalamazoo, and how the daughter of a Starlight board
member who was living in New York at the time, facilitated in making the arrangements.
"When (Al) Connable's daughter Nancy became the backstage babysitter to the
Sills children (... employed by Miss Sills' manager), while their mother performed
at the New York City Opera, she suggested to her father that he write a long letter
to Miss Sills, all about Kalamazoo, and invite her to perform here. Nancy showed
the famous soprano the letter, and her agent called Mr. Connable the next day to say,
When Sills arrived in Kalamazoo, Irving and Donald Gilmore arranged for a parade
of antique cars from the Gilmore Car Museum to meet her at the airport."
-Postcard of Gilmore Car Museum (Photo: Copyright Robert F. Webber, Perrin, Grand Rapids, MI)
"In this caravan, Miss Sills was driven straight to the Gilmore roof so that
she could see where she would be performing. 'Such a warm and generous
person', Mr. Connable remembered, and a tremendous success with Kalamazoo
audiences." -Pixley, p. 64.
Beverly Sills treated the enthusiastic Kalamazoo audience to arias from Gaetano Donizetti's opera,
Lucia di Lammermoor, and other operas. After Sills' Starlight performance, the Kalamazoo Symphony
threw a party to honor both Miss Sills and Leta Snow. Here is the party invitation.
A year after her Kalamazoo appearance, Beverly Sills sang Lucia in a televised broadcast. Here is the
aria "Spargi d'amaro pianto" ("Sprinkle with bitter tears...") from that 1971 performance, courtesy of
YouTube. It will give you an idea of how she sounded when she performed in Kalamazoo.
PIERRE HETU ~ Bienvenue à Kalamazoo
PIERRE HETU COMES TO KALAMAZOO
Winner of a conducting competition in France, Canadian PIERRE HETU worked as an assistant to
Charles Munch and Zubin Mehta. Prior to his appointment in Kalamazoo, Hétu was Associate Conductor of the Montréal Symphony Orchestra. Hétu became the seventh Music Director of the Kalamazoo Symphony Orchestra from 1968 to 1973.
Hétu worked with the orchestra to improve their technical standards, and introduced more twentieth-century repertoire to Kalamazoo audiences. The orchestra performed the works of Ravel, Webern and Stravinsky. Hétu conducted a fully-staged Tosca, and the Verdi Requiem. In Zaide Pixley's book
GREAT ENSEMBLE, The Story of the Kalamazoo Symphony, Alice recalled a memorable concert with André Watts as featured piano soloist performing the Rachmaninov Third Piano Concerto, Pierre Hétu conducting: "Sparks flew that night". (p. 67) Alice remembered that WMUK broadcaster Garrard
Macleod actually came out of the sound booth at Miller Auditorium to hear the concerto in the concert
hall, and "still remembers that performance vividly decades later." (Pixley, p. 67)
Hétu conducted a memorable Dvorak Eighth Symphony on his audition concert with the KSO in
December of 1968. As Zaide Pixley points out in her book, "Compared with the extroverted Millar,
Hétu projected an intense concentration... His style was meticulous, a search for perfection." (p. 67)
KSO players liked and respected Maestro Hétu. Kalamazoo Gazette music critic Dianne Heintz praised
Hétu for his "high standards, musical integrity and acute sense of pace and proportion". Hétu strove
to continue the ambitious repertory introduced by Millar. "Many patrons of the orchestra thought Hétu
brought out the best in the ensemble, creating the best playing it had ever done". (p. 67)
The Kalamazoo Symphony has had a long history of engaging world-class soloists, and the Hétu years
were no exception. Artists such as Claudio Arrau, Alicia DeLarrocha, Andé Watts, Henryk Szeryng,
Leonard Rose, Christopher Parkening, Jean-Pierre Rampal, Marilyn Horne and James McCracken
were soloists with the Kalamazoo Symphony during Hétu's five seasons as KSO Music Director.
Scholarships for Western Michigan University student string players were established during Hétu's
tenure. The winners were invited to join the ranks of the KSO string section-- an excellent training ground for future orchestral musicians.
Pierre Hétu was Associate Conductor of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra from 1970-73, serving
concurrently for three of his five seasons with the Kalamazoo Symphony.
He maintained two residences: one in Windsor, Ontario, across the river from Detroit, and a roomy
Victorian house on Grand Avenue in Kalamazoo, where he lived with his wife Carollyn Clark-Hétu (of
Kansas City), and their two young daughters.
Below is a review of Pierre's debut performance as DSO Associate Conductor, written by Collins
George, Detroit Free Press Music Critic.
(click on article to enlarge)
For Pierre Hétu, the Kalamazoo Symphony his first orchestra where he was Music Director, having
had associate/assistant conducting positions in Canada previously.
An "escape clause" in his KSO contract allowed him to take another conducting job if it meant a
"step up" to an orchestra with full-time players. Hétu took that option, and became Music Director of
the Edmonton (Alberta) Symphony in his native Canada in 1973. This decision was not without feelings
of regret, and Hétu expressed his gratitude to the Kalamazoo Symphony Board for honoring this career
Review of Hétu's final concert with the Kalamazoo Symphony, The Verdi Requiem.
Suave and handsome, Pierre Hétu looked every inch a maestro. He cut a fine figure in that ubiquitous
article of clothing, the turtleneck sweater, worn by conductors everywhere. Sideburns completed the look.
While living in Kalamazoo, Pierre experienced the bonhomie of his Kalamazoo friends and was the
subject of a skit written and performed by Alice, C.H. and others, to celebrate his birthday one year.
This charming thank you note refers to that evening:
Pierre Hétu returned to Kalamazoo in 1997 to help the Kalamazoo Symphony celebrate its 75th
Anniversary. He shared conducting duties with Maestro Yoshimi Takeda on the January 24th concert.
Maestro Takeda was Héu's successor, beginning his 25 year tenure with the KSO in 1974.
Pierre Hétu and Yoshimi Takeda-- two beloved conductors who brought so much music to Kalamazoo, both succumbed to cancer within two years of each other, Hétu in 1998, and Takeda in 2000... requiem
For another photo taken at the same party, click on over to the companion blog, Alice's Archives 2.
When you get there, scroll down to the posting entitled: "SAY FROMAGE!" (Pierre avec les girls!)
COMING UP ON ALICE'S ARCHIVES...
1971/HETU/ KSO's 50th, FEST '71, and the MICHIGAN ARTrain