It was with great sadness that I learned today of the death of the Oregon Symphony’s Laureate Assistant Conductor Norman Leyden at the age of 96. Norman initiated the Oregon Symphony’s pops series in 1970, and led it successfully for the next 34 years. Many credit Norman with keeping the Oregon Symphony afloat during many lean years through the success of his pops concerts, and it’s hard to argue with that assertion. I don’t know what I can really say about this huge loss to the musical world, but I can reprint what I wrote back in 2012:
I have more than one hero in my life – some are heroes of the personal order, some professional. And some are both. Perhaps nearest to my heart is a man who began his upward trajectory in his career after being discovered playing with a band in Atlantic City in 1942 by none other than the great Glen Miller, who said “For a Yale man you don’t play bad tenor [sax]“. That Yale man was (and is) Norman Leyden. Norm is 94 years old this year (and will turn 95 in October), and still practices the clarinet pretty much every day. Last night, he did a show in Eugene with Pink Martini, and pretty much stole the show after being received with an incredibly warm standing ovation by the crowd. If there is a warmer or more generous soul in the music business, I don’t know of one. If there is a more thoroughly professional and disciplined musician, I don’t know of one. Norman just lives his life the way all of us want to, but few of us are able to accomplish. Bravo, Norman!
Here’s a photo snapped by OSO principal violist Joël Belgique at that same Pink Martini show:
And here’s Norman in July 2013 with Pink Martini at the Hollywood Bowl: