Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Alfred Hertz and the San Francisco Symphony

Mr. Hertz at Cloyne Court. May 17th, 1942
image source: Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley, from the Online Archive of California

The San Francisco Symphony in the Library’s Collections
, a display in the Steve Silver Beach Blanket Babylon Room on the Fourth Floor of the Main Library, prominently features material about Alfred Hertz.

Alfred Hertz was the second conductor of the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra, leading the organization from 1915 until 1930. After resigning from the orchestra he continued to live in San Francisco until his death in 1942.

Born in Frankfurt in 1872, Hertz began his conducting career with various orchestral and opera companies in Germany. In 1903 he became the conductor of German language repertoire for the Metropolitan Opera company in New York, and was in San Francisco on tour with the Met during the 1906 earthquake. He was invited to come to San Francisco after conducting at the Panama Exposition held in Los Angeles in 1915. He was introduced to the San Francisco public as the conductor of the Beethoven Festival during the summer of that year.

Being the conductor of its professional orchestra, Hertz was at the center of San Francisco's musical life. He received a great deal of adulation for bringing a high standard of musical performance to San Francisco, but also was at times the focus of controversy (largely owing to being German with a proclivity to play German music during a nationalistic period like World War I).

Hertz should be remembered as the individual who did the most for professionalizing and raising the musical standards of the San Francisco Symphony. When he arrived, the members of the Symphony had been assembled from the various hotel and theatre orchestras around the City. Many of the musicians continued to work in these outside venues limiting their endurance and attention. Hertz persuaded the Symphony’s management to pay competitive wages and made the musicians sign exclusive contracts during the Symphony season.

As conductor of the San Francisco Orchestra he lead the orchestra in recording for the Victor Recording Company. Concurrent with his tenure in San Francisco, he also conducted frequently in Los Angeles. He was the first conductor of the Hollywood Bowl orchestral concerts in 1922 and has been called the "Father of the Bowl."

He and his wife Lilly found California life to their liking. He wrote in his Memoirs (serialized in the San Francisco Chronicle between May 3 and July 26, 1942) about experience on the West coast that "I have worked hard but, invariably, I have found time to play as well. Fascinating motor trips, the balmy weather of the South, the lazy life on the beach -- they have all become an important part of our life. No wonder with deep gratitude in our hearts we have learned to call this playground home."

Alfred Hertz, photograph by Peter Stackpole image source: Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley, from the Online Archive of California

Also be sure to visit Music for a City, Music for the World, an exhibit prepared from the archives of the San Francisco Symphony, on display in the Jewett Gallery in the Library's Lower Level through January 9, 2012

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