Alfred Wallenstein


Born: October 7, 1898 Died: February 8, 1983
Cellist and conductor Alfred Wallenstein was a prodigy on his instrument, and later became the principal cellist in two of America's finest orchestras. As a conductor, he made music over the radio on a regular basis, using that "podium of the air" to perform neglected works and those written by contemporary composers.

Wallenstein could boast of a distinguished lineage: his Austrian father was a descendent of Count Wallenstein, who played a crucial role in Europe's seventeenth-century political arena. Soon after his birth, the family moved to Los Angeles. At age eight, Alfred was given a cello by his father and began lessons with the mother of composer Ferde Grofé. Following further studies with Julius Klengel, he made his debut in Los Angeles and swiftly gained a reputation as a child prodigy. After touring the country through the Orpheum theatre network, he returned to California and, at the age of 17, was appointed to the San Francisco Symphony. Subsequently, he was engaged by the famous dancer Anna Pavlova to perform as solo cellist in a South and Central American tour.

In 1919, Wallenstein joined the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra, becoming that ensemble's youngest member. Engaged by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in 1922, Wallenstein traveled back to the city of his birth to perform under Frederick Stock, often as featured soloist, and to take up a teaching position at the Chicago Musical College. In 1929, Arturo Toscanini engaged Wallenstein as principal cellist of the New York Philharmonic, a post he held until the Italian conductor's departure in 1936. There, too, Wallenstein was frequently presented as soloist in many of the most important cello concertos. From Toscanini, he also received the advice that he employ his exceptional musicianship as a conductor rather than remaining an instrumentalist.

In 1931, therefore, Wallenstein entered the conducting phase of his career by directing for a radio broadcast. The year following, he was appointed leading conductor for the Hollywood Bowl and, in 1933, he began conducting his own Sinfonietta on New York's radio station WOR. In 1935, he was made the station's music director.

Wallenstein held to the high road in matters of musical quality with both his Sinfonietta and the Symphony of Strings. Many neglected masterworks were revived and newly composed works were given a hearing, given exposure to audiences numbering in the hundreds of thousands. In addition to his regular orchestral programs, he undertook several special series. One, heard on Sunday evenings, was devoted to the music of Johann Sebastian Bach. Another, heard Saturday evenings, offered the operas of Mozart, some of which were not familiar to American audiences. A third series presented contemporary American choral works and yet another featured pianist Nadia Reisenberg in the piano concertos of Mozart.

Wallenstein's guest appearances included those with the Cleveland, Philadelphia, Los Angeles, and the NBC orchestras. Columbia Records issued several Mozart works with Wallenstein directing his Sinfonietta. In 1943, he returned to the Los Angeles Philharmonic as its music director, a post he held until 1956. In 1968, he joined the faculty at the Juilliard School of Music, becoming head of the orchestral department in 1971.

During the latter part of his conducting career, Wallenstein often accompanied some of the world's most distinguished artists, such as Artur Rubinstein and Jascha Heifetz.

Composer: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

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