Top Ear

Obituaries: Sir Colin Davis and Bud Herseth


In just two days, two great stars have fallen:  Sir Colin Davis (25 September 1927 – 14 April 2013), president of the London Symphony Orchestra, and Adolph “Bud” Herseth (July 25, 1921 – April 13, 2013), long-standing principal trumpet of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.

Colin Davis

Sir Colin Davis is probably most well known for his long-standing relationship with the London Symphony Orchestra, having conducted his debut with the orchestra in 1959.  He was appointed principal conductor in 1995, and stepped down from the post in 2007 to be its second ever president after Leonard Bernstein in 1990.  A clarinettist by training, Davis was overshadowed by his fellow student Gervase de Peyer (who became the principal clarinet of the LSO from 1956 to 1973), but his conducting career was stellar.  Among his specialties were the music of Mozart, Dvorak, Sibelius and especially Berlioz, whose works he championed throughout his life.  Top Ear particularly appreciates his Boston Sibelius cycle and Dvorak last three symphonies, both on Philips.

Sir Davis left us in the evening of 14 April following a short illness, according to the LSO.  He was 85.

Adolph “Bud” Herseth is possibly the most well-known orchestral trumpeter to the general public, having led the fabled brass section of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra for 53 years, from 1948 to 2001.  His tenure in the orchestra spanned the time of six music directors:  Artur Rodzinski (1947-1948), Rafael Kubelik (1950-1953), Fritz Reiner (1953-1962), Jean Martinon (1963-1968), Sir Georg Solti (1969-1991), and Daniel Barenboim (1991-2006), although he never performed under Rodzinski who had left before Herseth joined.  The powerful, full-bodied and precise brass sound that the Chicago Symphony became renowned for traced back to the time when Reiner was music director, and the brass sound reached their peak when Solti took the helm.  The results are there to hear:  Reiner’s Respighi, Solti’s Mahler and Brahms, Abbado’s Mahler and Giulini’s Dvorak are just a few recordings where the brilliant brass sound can be heard to be much more prominent than most other performances with different orchestras.

Herseth himself, as leader of the brass section, can be heard assuming his authority in many CSO recordings, whether the forceful, doom-laden trumpet solo in the first movement of Solti’s 1970 Mahler Fifth (nobody has played it better in my opinion), or the grand melody Ravel assigned to the first trumpet in his orchestration of Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition under Giulini.  Incidentally, he can be heard playing the solo of Pictures in seven different recordings, under Kubelík, Reiner, Seiji Ozawa, Carlo Maria Giulini, Solti (twice), and Neeme Järvi.

Herseth passed away on 13 April, at home in Oak Park.  He was 91.  Heaven has gotten a new principal trumpet.

Top Ear extends its condolences to the families of Sir Davis and Herseth.  They will be sorely missed.

Goodnight, maestri.


Author: Top Ear

Musical hooligans.

4 thoughts on “Obituaries: Sir Colin Davis and Bud Herseth

  1. I heard Mr. Herseth as soloist in the Haydn trumpet concerto at a concert in Rockford, IL. in the early 1980’s. What a consummate artist he was!

  2. Nice post, but that is NOT Bud Herseth.

    • Post amended. Thank you for your correction.

      • Thank you! Now, who was the mystery trumpeter?

        I worked and studied with Bud over a period of five years, and he was an astounding human being, one of the few secure people I’ve ever met in my life. He was willing to give everyone a chance and there was not an iota of prejudice in his body. He was an ineffably alive person, and he possessed an absolutely remarkable characteristic that is missing in so many of us humans (many of us musicians, too)–humor. His humor was as keen as could be, and it helped to make him the complete human being and musician that he was.

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