Antal Dorati, The Conductor Who Revived the Dallas Symphony Orchestra — 1945-1949

by Paula Bosse

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Antal Dorati, 1946 — on top of the world

 by Paula Bosse

The news this week that the Dallas Symphony Orchestra’s music director, Jaap van Zweden, was leaving town to pursue a glitzier gig was seen as an inevitable move to many of his disappointed fans. The DSO has been something of a springboard for conductors working their way up the conductor career ladder. Another celebrated conductor who spent a few years in Big D before rising to the heights of international acclaim was Hungarian-born Antal Dorati (1906-1988).

Dallas had classical music concerts in the 19th century, but the roots of what we now know as the Dallas Symphony Orchestra reach back to about 1900, under the direction of Hans Kreissig, who had settled in Dallas in 1887.

kreissig_dmn_011387Dallas Morning News, Jan. 13, 1897

For various reasons (lack of community interest, lack of financial support, etc.), some of these early seasons were truncated or suspended — there was a gap of several years after Kreissig’s tenure, for instance, and there were no performances during most of 1936 and 1937 because of activities surrounding the Texas Centennial and renovations to the Music Hall (the DSO performed at the Music Hall in Fair Park). The most noteworthy suspension of performances was during World War II — the financial state of the organization was not good at this time — a situation which would have been reason enough to consider sitting out a season or two — but the main reason the DSO shut down completely in 1942 was because conductor Jacques Singer and several of the musicians had enlisted or were drafted. John Rosenfield, the arts editor of The Dallas Morning News and an ardent classical music lover, wrote often during this time how the loss of the DSO was a crushing cultural blow to the city. (Click article for larger image.)

dso_rosenfield_dmn_092342DMN, Sept. 23, 1942

The Dallas Symphony Orchestra was “temporarily dissolved” for the duration. After the war had ended, Dallas’ music-lovers (and musicians) were clamoring for the return of the DSO. A search began for a conductor who was not only a superior music director but who would be able to build an orchestra from scratch; they found that man in 39-year-old Antal Dorati, a former student of Zoltan Kodaly and Bela Bartok who had made a name for himself as a music director for ballet companies such as the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo and the Ballet Theater — his DSO appointment was announced in Oct., 1945.

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DMN, Oct. 7, 1945

Somehow, in only two months, Dorati managed to put an orchestra together, prepare the season’s schedule, rehearse the musicians, and present the first performance of the “reborn” Dallas Symphony Orchestra on December 9, 1945.

ad_dso_dmn_120545-detDMN, Dec. 5, 1945

The response to that first concert was rapturous (read John Rosenfield’s Dallas Morning News review here). During the intermission of this debut performance, Dorati was interviewed on the radio and had nice things to say about Dallas:

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dso_dmn_121045-photo Above three clippings: DMN, Dec. 10, 1945

One little thing the Maestro was unable to accomplish, though, was to find a place for his family to live. The severe lack of postwar housing affected even the wealthy cultural elite!

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DMN, Dec. 13, 1945

And, with that, the DSO was back. It toured. A LOT. And made recordings. And appeared on national radio broadcasts. With Dorati at the helm, the Dallas Symphony Orchestra was making a name for itself and garnering a very positive national reputation.

A typical article about the young, photogenic Dorati went something like the one below, in which Dorati was described as “the wonderboy of Southwest symphonic circles.”

dorati_dso_texas-week-mag_081746Texas Week, Aug. 17, 1946

After a fairly short but incredibly productive time in Dallas, Antal Dorati accepted the position of conductor of the Minneapolis Symphony Orchestra. His personally-written announcement appeared in The Dallas Morning News on Jan. 6, 1949.

dorati-statement_dmn_010649DMN, Jan. 6, 1949

His successor, Walter Hendl (a startlingly “honest” obituary of Hendl is here), was appointed a few short weeks later, and Dorati’s final concert was April 3, 1949.

dorati_farewell_dmn_040349DMN, April 3, 1949

John Rosenfield’s melancholy review/farewell appeared the next day, and one imagines it tooks weeks for his tears to dry.

dorati_farewell_dmn_040449DMN, April 4, 1949

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Waco News Tribune, Dec. 6, 1946

dorati_waco-news-tribune_121346Waco News Tribune, Dec. 13, 1946

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Top photo and article from the Aug. 17, 1946 issue of Texas Week, the short-lived magazine that was sort of a Texas version of Life, via the Portal to Texas History, here. Photo is credited to The Dallas Morning News; text may have been written by Paul Crume of The News.

Linksapalooza:

  • The Dallas Symphony Orchestra Wikipedia entry is here; the official DSO site is here; the Handbook of Texas entry is here.
  • The Antal Dorati Wikipedia entry is here; his official site is here.

Listen to pianist William Kapell perform Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto No. 3 in C major, Op. 26 with the Dallas Symphony Orchestra under the direction of Antal Dorati (recorded at the Fair Park Auditorium the same week he made his “Adios, Dallas!” announcement in Jan., 1949), here.

Here’s what was used to record the above performance:

dorati_dmn_010549DMN, Jan. 5, 1949

Read John Rosenfield’s excited report that, yes!, Dorati might be coming to Dallas to revive the Dallas Symphony Orchestra (DMN, Sept. 13, 1945), here.

For a collection of random bits and pieces about Dorati in Dallas, including the program schedule of his first season with the DSO, some background on his pre-Dallas career (which included a missed opportunity to join the DSO in the late ’30s), and a grainy reproduction of the portrait of him painted by Dallas artist Ed Bearden, see here.

More on Dorati and his close friend Yehudi Menuhin in my post “Yehudi Menuhin and Antal Dorati: A Collaborative Friendship,” here.

And, yes, the correct spelling should be “Antal Doráti.”

Most pictures larger when clicked.

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Copyright © 2016 Paula Bosse. All Rights Reserved.

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