Remembering Dale Clevenger

The Chicago Symphony Orchestra family mourns the loss of Dale Clevenger, who served as principal horn from 1966 until 2013. He died Wednesday, Jan. 5, 2022, in Italy, at the age of 81.

Mr. Clevenger was born in Chattanooga, Tennessee, on July 2, 1940. A legend in the world of French horn for his sound, technique, finesse and fearless music-making, he joined the CSO at the invitation of seventh music director Jean Martinon. Throughout his 47-year tenure, he performed under subsequent music directors Sir Georg SoltiDaniel Barenboim and Riccardo Muti, along with titled conductors Pierre BoulezBernard HaitinkCarlo Maria Giulini and Claudio Abbado, among countless guest conductors.

“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,” Maestro 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.”

A versatile musician in many areas, including chamber music, jazz, commercial recordings and as soloist, Mr. Clevenger frequently credited his mentors Arnold Jacobs (CSO principal tuba, 1944-88) and Adolph “Bud” Herseth (CSO principal trumpet, 1948-2001 and principal trumpet emeritus, 2001-04).

Mr. Clevenger 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 also 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 Orchestra, 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 CSO under the baton of the composer, in 2003.

Also a conductor, Mr. Clevenger served as music director of the Elmhurst Symphony Orchestra for 14 years. His conducting career included guest appearances with the New Japan Philharmonic, Shanghai Symphony Orchestra, Civic Orchestra of Chicago, Roosevelt University Symphony Orchestra, Toronto Conservatory Orchestra, Northwestern University Summer Symphony, Western Australia Symphony Orchestra, Osaka Philharmonic, National Philharmonic of Slovakia in Bratislava, Sinfonia Crakovia and the Opole Philharmonic in Poland, and the Bartlesville (Oklahoma) Symphony Orchestra. In 2011, he conducted the Valladolid (Spain) Symphony Orchestra with Daniel Barenboim as soloist.

Teaching was an integral part of Mr. Clevenger’s life, and 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 Italy, Spain, Germany, Belgium, Austria, Switzerland, Finland, Norway, Sweden, Japan, China, Australia, Mexico, Canada and Israel. In 1985, he received an honorary doctorate from Elmhurst College.

Before joining the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Mr. Clevenger was a member of Leopold Stokowski’s American Symphony Orchestra and the Symphony of the Air, directed by Alfred Wallenstein; he also was principal horn of the Kansas City Philharmonic. He appeared as soloist with orchestras worldwide, including the Berlin Philharmonic. Mr. Clevenger participated in numerous music festivals, including the Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival; Florida Music Festival in Sarasota; Marrowstone Music Festival in Bellingham, Washington; Affinis Music Festival in Japan, and the Jerusalem International Chamber Music Festival. Additionally, he worked with the European Community Youth Orchestra under Claudio Abbado and participated in countless International Horn Society workshops.

In February 2013, when he announced plans to retire, Mr. Clevenger wrote to his colleagues in the Chicago Symphony Orchestra: “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!’”

In Orchestra Hall on June 10, 2013, members of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra — under the batons of Clevenger and Riccardo Muti — performed an appreciation concert for their longtime colleague. As part of the program, several musicians put together a tribute, and that video is below.

Clevenger married Nancy Sutherland in 1966; they divorced in 1987. Alice Render, also a horn player, became his wife later that year; she died in 2011. He married Giovanna Grassi in 2012, and she survives him, along with a son and a daughter, Michael and Ami, from his first marriage; two sons Mac and Jesse, from his second marriage; a sister, Alice Clevenger Cooper; and two granddaughters, Cameron and Leia. Details for services — to be held at Christ Church in Winnetka, Illinois in the late spring — are pending.

Numerous tributes have been posted online, including the Chicago Sun-Times, Chicago on the Aisle, Chicago Classical Review, New York Times, and Gramophone, among others.

This article also appears here.