(1925 - 2002)
Gregory Millar, swarthy and handsome, with a barrel chest built for opera, was what the show biz
world calls a "triple threat". When hired by the Kalamazoo Symphony as Conductor and Music
Director in 1961, he was already known in California and New York music circles as a conductor,
an operatic tenor, and a violinist.
He had been a musical polyglot all his life, taking up the violin at age 5. Gregory supported himself
through school and college by playing sax, clarinet, trumpet and bass in various bands.
Born and raised in Prince Albert, Saskatchewan, Canada, Gregory was the son of a Greek immigrant
father, and a French-Canadian mother who was a pianist, and Millar's first teacher.
His father, a land developer, wanted Gregory to be a doctor, but after a land mine incident ended
Gregory's World War II service in the Canadian army, he returned to school, and his first love-- music.
He enrolled in the University of British Columbia in Vancouver. Enterprising Millar organized the university's first symphony orchestra.
"I didn't know anything about [conducting]", he recalls. "I just got up and conducted."
- Kalamazoo Gazette interview with Hayden Bradford,
Gazette staff writer, October 15, 1961
It was in 1945 that conducting superstar Leonard Bernstein was in Vancouver and saw him conduct.
He encourage Millar to go into music as a career. Bernstein later remarked in a TIME Magazine
article in 1960, that he could "smell a conductor" when asked about his meeting Millar for the first time.
This would not be the last time the two men would meet...
After a post as assistant conductor in St. Louis for three seasons, he went to San Francisco in the early-
1950s, and started the San Francisco Little Symphony, and conducted operas in the Bay Area for nine
years. He also played and sang in clubs with headliners Mort Sahl and Dave Brubeck, and earned
money to study music in U.C. Berkeley. After conducting a concert one evening, he met the beautiful
and talent pianist Roslyn Frantz backstage, and fell in love. They were married in 1954.
Gregory Millar's next career move was to New York City to become one of three assistant conductors to
Leonard Bernstein and the New York Philharmonic in 1960. Millar was in the audience in Carnegie Hall one evening when Maestro Bernstein became ill. Millar was summoned backstage to be handed the baton from Bernstein, requesting that he conduct Schumann's Symphony No. 4, the final piece on the program.
Millar had been on the job five days, and had never before stood in front of the New York Philharmonic. He went on to conduct the Schumann the next evening. The other assistant conductors, Russell Stanger and Elyakum Shapira, were given the other pieces on the program to conduct. This incident made the papers, and was the subject of an article in TIME Magazine, October 17, 1960.
* * * *
After Herman Felber Jr. retired from 25 seasons as Conductor and Music Director of the Kalamazoo
Symphony in 1959, the orchestra began the new decade with a search for a new conductor, who would
be the sixth music director since the establishment of the KSO in 1921.
In 1960, a Conductor Selection Committee was formed, comprised of Kalamazoo Symphony board
members, musicians, educators and business leaders. Gregory Millar learned of the opening through
the American Symphony Orchestra League, and met the selection committee at the ASOL convention.
~ 1960 KSO CONDUCTOR SELECTION COMMITTEE ~
Front row, left to right: C.H. Mullen, Love Upjohn, Al Connable II (chairman), Mary Virginia Felske,
Holon Matthews, Ola Krudener.
Back row, left to right: Voldemars Rushevics, Alice Mullen, Willis Dunbar, William Race, Dan Ryan,
Fritz Curtenius, Jim Shumaker, Dan Kyser.
Gregory Millar emerged as one of six finalists from a slate of thirty-plus applicants. Each finalist was
required to conduct a subscription concert with the Kalamazoo Symphony. His audition concert was
on November 14, 1960. Millar conducted a long and difficult program that included Igor Stravinsky's
Firebird Suite, and the Kalamazoo première of Aaron Copland's Concerto for Clarinet, Strings and
Harp, with jazz legend Benny Goodman as soloist. The concert was a triumph. Millar won the
respect of musicians and board members, and the hearts of the concert-going public. Scroll down
this page to read reviews and articles about his audition concert.
Gregory Millar was offered the position in May, 1961, and began his first season in October of that year.
At the first subscription concert as KSO Conductor and Music Director, Gregory Millar was lauded by
reviewer Dr. Henry Overley in his special to the Kalamazoo Gazette:
"Music-minded Kalamazoo is deeply indebted to Gregory Millar and the members of the Kalamazoo
Symphony Orchestra for an evening of unsurpassed music making."
-Dr. Henry Overley, Special to the Kalamazoo Gazette,
Friday, October 13, 1961
~ GREGORY MILLAR, BENNY GOODMAN AND THE KSO ~
-Gazette photo 9/7/60
When GREGORY MILLAR auditioned for the Kalamazoo Symphony Orchestra
on November 14, 1960, he conducted the following works:
Symphony No. 8 Franz Schubert
Concertino for Clarinet Carl Maria von Weber
Concerto for Clarinet, Strings Aaron Copland
-Benny Goodman, Solo Clarinet
Overture to Colas Breugnon Dmitri Kabalevsky
Firebird Suite Igor Stravinsky
Goodman commissioned Copland to write the concerto, and premiered it with the NBC
Symphony, conducted by Fritz Reiner, for an NBC Radio broadcast on November
Posted here are two VERY different Gazette reviews of Gregory Millar's audition concert
with the Kalamazoo Symphony. Were these critics at the same concert?
(Click on articles to enlarge them)
Millar's heroics and musicality won the hearts of concert-goers, musicians and board
members and he got the job. He was KSO Music Director from 1961-68.
Gregory re-auditioned all the players, and demanded higher standards of technical
proficiency and depth of expression. The KSO was all-union by the mid-1960s.
Millar expanded the scope of orchestral repertoire, and introduced Gustav Mahler to
In 1962, the Starlight Symphony Summer Pops concert series was created and lasted a
decade. People still talk about what a great time they had listening to the Kalamazoo
Symphony and all the great soloists from the world of jazz and popular music on the top
deck of the Gilmore Brothers department store parking lot. Former Kalamazoo Mayor
Caroline Ham recalls being involved in these concerts: "They were such fun, whether
it was setting the tables or diving under them when it rained... Those were great nights."
(Zaide Pixley, GREAT ENSEMBLE, The Story of the Kalamazoo Symphony, p. 66.)
Ms. Pixley also relates an interesting fact about the music of Aaron Copland. During
the Felber years, Copland's music was, for the most part, considered too difficult for
the KSO to perform: "... he 'didn't have players up to it', Felber said." (Pixley, p. 54).
They played only certain compositions of Copland, such as Rodeo and Billy the Kid,
but Appalachian Spring was beyond their capabilities at that time. In a few short years,
however, they would tackle the Clarinet Concerto of that same composer, and under
the circumstances! A new decade in the history of the KSO had begun...
CHECK OUT ALICE'S ARCHIVES 2 FOR MORE GREGORY MILLAR...
ALICE'S ARCHIVES 2: 50 Years of Kalamazoo Symphony Memorabilia
"The Miscellaneous Files"