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Three Pacific Symphony Veteran Musicians Conclude their Tenures After More Than 80 Cumulative Years Serving the Orchestra and Community
Orange County, Calif. — July 08, 2016
Stepping down are Concertmaster Raymond Kobler, Principal Viola Robert Becker and Fourth Horn Russell Dicey
With its 37th season now behind it, Pacific Symphony bids farewell to three longtime, beloved and distinguished members of the orchestra: Raymond Kobler, concertmaster; Robert Becker, principal viola; and Russell Dicey, fourth horn. When Kobler joined Pacific Symphony in 1999, he arrived with an already-impressive pedigree, having served in titled positions for a number of major American orchestras and performed a number of world premieres for solo violin. He has contributed his expertise and leadership to Pacific Symphony, making a significant impact on the orchestra’s artistic growth and achievements. Similarly, Becker and Dicey have devoted themselves in service to the orchestra and the Orange County community. They are among the longest-tenured members of Paciﬁc Symphony, having provided 32 and 34 seasons in their roles, respectively. As the Symphony reflects on these impressive contributions, it is reassuring to note that Becker and Dicey intend to remain active in music: Becker as director of strings at Chapman University and Dicey as continuing music librarian for the Symphony.
Concluding an illustrious career spanning six decades, Kobler announced his retirement in a letter to Music Director Carl St.Clair that read, “Some time ago I found my first union card, age 18, from New Jersey Symphony days, dated 1963. As it has been on my mind for some years, I have now come to the decision that it is time to say goodbye to Pacific Symphony. To have spent a lifetime in this wonderful calling has made me very fortunate, indeed.”
“Of course we will miss Raymond dearly,” says Pacific Symphony President John Forsyte. “There is nobody who matches Raymond’s passion and leadership. He plays everything like it’s his last concert. That leadership is inspiring to all of his colleagues who are also so committed to excellence. Personally, I will never forget Raymond’s passion for all kinds of music from the great classical repertoire to classic standards. At Pops concerts, you could sometimes see him singing the words to a famous song. He simply lives and breathes music.”
Forsyte adds, “Another memory I treasure were his solos during our 2006 European tour, when the orchestra performed Strauss’ ‘Ein Heldenleben,’ which were so elegant, virtuosic and refined. We were blessed to enjoy his tenure and his wonderful pedigree.”
Kobler came to Orange County from San Francisco Symphony where he served as concertmaster for 18 seasons. In this role, he was featured as the solo violinist in “Ein Heldenleben” and “Zarathustra” in a 13-CD Collector’s Edition of the “Complete Tone Poems and Concertos of Richard Strauss,” in celebration of the 150th anniversary of the composer’s birth. In Stereo Review (August 1994), David Hall wrote of this recording of “Ein Heldenleben”: “The closing ‘Escape from the world and fulfillment’ is as movingly played as I have ever heard it: Compliments not only to Kobler but also to the horn soloist …I haven’t heard the final bars so gloriously executed …since the Mengelberg/New York Philharmonic reading of hallowed memory.”
Before that, Kobler served as associate concertmaster for the Cleveland Orchestra for seven seasons and assistant concertmaster for the Baltimore Symphony for two seasons. While in the United States Marine Corps, he performed for four years in Marine Chamber Orchestra — often called “the president’s orchestra” — at White House ceremonies hosted by Presidents Johnson and Nixon.
Kobler expressed his appreciation for his long tenure at Pacific Symphony: “To Carl, my colleagues, Ellie and Mike Gordon, and John Forsyte, thank you for making these 17 years possible. You are a wonderful orchestra whose abilities are limitless.” Kobler has occupied the Eleanor and Michael Gordon Concertmaster Chair since 1999. His successor will be appointed by St.Clair.
As principal violist, Becker has also spent the last 32 years downstage, to the right of the conductor. Reflecting upon his upcoming departure on July 23, he notes the connection he feels to the Symphony’s audiences: “You cannot begin to know how hard this is for me and how much I will miss making music with this orchestra. I will also miss looking out and seeing familiar audience members, knowing where they sit, interacting with them and sharing the love of great music.”
In his role with Pacific Symphony, Becker has been heard as the solo violist for all visiting ballets at the Segerstrom Performing Arts Center for which the orchestra has performed. Under the baton of Maestro Carl St. Clair, he has appeared on stage over the last few seasons with Pinchas Zukerman, André Watts, Yo-Yo Ma, Lang Lang, Conrad Tao, Sarah Chang and has participated in the recording and release of new works by Philip Glass, William Bolcom, Michael Daugherty, Frank Ticheli and Richard Danielpour.
Internationally known as a pedagogue of the viola and chamber music, Becker is also dedicated to training young violists and string players. His own classical training started at a music academy in his hometown of Nashville, Tenn. When Becker came to California, he began a residency at UC Irvine and his music career took off. He worked for many years in the recording studios, playing on hundreds of scores for film and television. He became director of string studies for Chapman University’s music conservatory in 2006. Other teaching duties include the Viola Workout, an educational retreat he founded in Crested Butte, Colo.
Becker says his 32-year history with Pacific Symphony “dates back to when there were only a few concerts per year and those were played at either Fullerton (Plummer Auditorium) or Santa Ana High School.” He notes the rapid growth of the orchestra as the reason for his long tenure. Becker plans to continue his work at Chapman University and promises he will be found in the audience of the concert hall next season.
Music Director Carl St.Clair states, “With both Raymond and Bob, I was granted illustrious orchestral leaders who inspired me as a conductor and established an extraordinary standard for all of the musicians to emulate. I always felt that they gave meaning to every note and brought tremendous professionalism to their performances and preparation. Their artistic legacy is indelible, and will remain in the character of the musical spirit of Pacific Symphony for generations to come. Above all, they are friends and dear colleagues, and I will miss their regular presence greatly.”
Dicey, whose first and only orchestra appointment has been with Pacific Symphony, recalls that it was in 1987—when Orange County Performing Arts Center (now Segerstrom Center for the Arts) first opened—that he received a contract with tenure as fourth horn for Pacific Symphony, which made him feel “on top of the world!” He also played in the orchestra for Opera Pacific from 1986-2006, and from 1988-2007, he performed with the Long Beach Municipal Band in the parks of Long Beach for eight weeks every summer. Dicey, who has suffered from cancer and the effects of chemotherapy in recent years, is stepping down from the orchestra to focus on his health.
While the rigors of playing fulltime for an orchestra may no longer be in the cards for Dicey, he says, “I am sad about leaving the orchestra as a player, but grateful to keep close, as I continue to work as the music librarian (a position he has held with Pacific Symphony since 1989). I hope to continue to play horn outside of Pacific Symphony, and look forward to playing more piano. Retirement is not a reality for me. I need to keep working another 10 years, at least, Lord willing.”
Carl St.Clair adds, “Russ was always a passionate musician and educator. His wonderful personality, humor and dedication were valued by all the members of the Symphony and the many students and children that he touched. We are delighted he remains an active librarian and artist.”
These three musicians’ extraordinary artistry and dedication to the orchestra and community through their roles as Pacific Symphony artists, educators, ambassadors and friends will be tremendously missed.
“On behalf of the Board of Directors, many thousands of rewarded music lovers and musical colleagues who have enjoyed the collective body of their work,” says Forsyte, “I extend my heartfelt gratitude for their dedication and commitment to Paciﬁc Symphony, and wish for each of them long and happy retirements, ﬁlled with great music and the love and admiration of our community.”
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