Frederick Fennell

Innovative conductor of wind ensembles

Decades before his death this Tuesday at the age of 90, Frederick Fennell had become an iconic figure in the symphonic wind-ensemble movement, a genial figure of near- biblical authority respected and loved not only in his native United States but the world around.

Frederick Fennell, conductor and teacher: born Cleveland, Ohio 2 July 1914; three times married (one daughter); died Siesta Key, Florida 7 December 2004.

Decades before his death this Tuesday at the age of 90, Frederick Fennell had become an iconic figure in the symphonic wind-ensemble movement, a genial figure of near- biblical authority respected and loved not only in his native United States but the world around.

The international wind-band community owes a good deal of its youthful vigour to his example, and his involvement with youth orchestras saw several generations of musician benefit from his experience and guidance. For his fellow conductor Jonathan Sternberg, Fennell was

an extraordinary individual and conductor whose enthusiasm for music, and particularly the wind ensemble, was overwhelming. His transcriptions of many masterworks of the symphonic repertoire made available to millions of amateur wind-players musical experiences they would otherwise be deprived of. His activity and influence will remain a lasting memory.

Fennell was conducting before he was out of his teens, spending the summer of 1931-33 at the National Music Camp at Interlochen, Michigan. He then went on to study at the Eastman School of Music at the University of Rochester in upstate New York, taking his Bachelor of Music degree in 1937 and his Master's in 1939.

He was to be associated with Eastman for most of his career. He joined the conducting faculty there in 1939 and regularly conducted a number of ensembles until 1965. But it was his foundation of the Eastman Wind Ensemble in 1952 that brought him international acclaim: his recordings with the ensemble first astonished their listeners - wind-playing of this standard was something new - and then became classics. Their recording of Percy Grainger's Lincolnshire Posy, for example, was selected by the magazine Stereo Review as one of the "Fifty Best Recordings in the Centenary of the Phonograph, 1877-1977". Eastman paid homage with an honorary degree in 1988.

After his lengthy spell at Eastman, in 1965 Fennell took up a position as conductor-in-residence at the School of Music of the University of Florida at Coral Gables, remaining there until 1980. Four years later, at the age of 70, he was named conductor of the Kosei Wind Orchestra in Tokyo, becoming their conductor emeritus in 1989.

Fennell's recording career proceeded apace. With the Eastman Wind Ensemble he made 22 recordings for Mercury Classics, among them two albums of British Band Classics which included music by Grainger, Holst, Jacob, Vaughan Williams and Walton. He was a pioneer of new technologies, being among the first to make stereo and high-fidelity recordings, and in 1978, with the Cleveland Symphonic Winds, for Telarc, he made the first American symphonic digital recording. And with the Dallas Wind Symphony, whose principal guest conductor he remained even as a nonagenarian, he recorded using high definition compatible digital (HDCD) technology.

But Fennell's conducting appearances were not limited to wind groups. He conducted symphonic concerts, light music and opera, with orchestras as prestigious as the London Symphony, St Louis Symphony and the Boston Pops. And for over half a century he was a prominent feature of younger American musical life, conducting at summer festivals across the continent, and sometimes touring Europe at the head of the School Orchestra of America.

A grateful music community responded with a slew of honours, their sheer variety itself a tribute to the number of lives he touched: they included an honorary doctorate of music from Oklahoma City University, membership in the Society of the Sons of the American Revolution, honorary-chief status in the Kiowa tribe, fellowship in the Company of Military Historians, a citation and a medal from the Congressional Committee for the Centennial of the Civil War, the Columbia University Ditson Conductor's Award, the Interlochen Medal of Honor, the Midwest International Band and Orchestra Clinic Medal of Honor, the Star of the Order from the John Philip Sousa Memorial Foundation, the Symphonic Wind Ensemble Citation of the New England Conservatory, the Medal of the International Percy Grainger Society, the Mercury Record Corporation Gold Record, and the National Academy of Wind and Percussion Arts Oscar for outstanding service as a conductor.

In 1994 he received the Theodore Thomas Award from the Conductors' Guild in recognition of "unparalleled leadership and service to wind-band performance throughout the world" - the previous two recipients of the award having been Sir Georg Solti and Leonard Bernstein. And the town of Kofu, Japan, boasts a Frederick Fennell Hall, inaugurated in 1992.

Fennell was active also as a writer, producing Time and the Winds in 1954 and The Drummer's Heritage in 1956. He penned the ongoing series "The Basic Band Repertory Study/Performance Essays". And he edited contemporary editions of classic military, circus and concert marches for a number of prominent publishers.

Although his diary was full right to the end of his life, when the end approached he was determined to return to his home in Siesta Key, Florida, to watch the sun set over the sea one last time. Having been granted a spectacular display of colour, shortly before midnight he complained to his daughter that he was "frustrated and disappointed":

When I asked him, "Why?", he replied, "There's no drummer here yet. I can't die without a drummer!" I told him that I loved him, and that "Heaven's best drummer was on the way". Moments later he said, "I hear him! I hear him! I'm OK now."

Martin Anderson

News
peopleHowards' Way actress, and former mistress of Jeffrey Archer, was 60
Sport
Romelu Lukaku puts pen to paper
sport
News
Robyn Lawley
people
Arts and Entertainment
Unhappy days: Resistance spy turned Nobel prize winner Samuel Beckett
books
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
News
people
Life and Style
Troy Baker and Ashley Johnson voice the show’s heroes
gamingOnce stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover
News
i100
Life and Style
Phones will be able to monitor your health, from blood pressure to heart rate, and even book a doctor’s appointment for you
techCould our smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases via Health Kit and Google Fit?
News
people
Extras
indybest
Travel
Ryan taming: the Celtic Tiger carrier has been trying to improve its image
travelRyanair has turned on the 'charm offensive' but can we learn to love the cut-price carrier again?
Sport
Usain Bolt confirms he will run in both the heats and the finals of the men's relay at the Commonwealth Games
commonwealth games
Life and Style
Slim pickings: Spanx premium denim collection
fashionBillionaire founder of Spanx launches range of jeans that offers 'thigh-trimming construction'
News
Sabina Altynbekova has said she wants to be famous for playing volleyball, not her looks
people
News
i100
Life and Style
tech'World's first man-made leaves' could use photosynthesis to help astronauts breathe
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SAP Project Manager

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: SAP PROJECT MANAGER - 3 MONTHS - BERKSHI...

SAP Project Manager

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: SAP PROJECT MANAGER - 3 MONTHS - BERKSHI...

Senior Investment Accounting Change Manager

£600 - £700 per day + competitive: Orgtel: Senior Investment Accounting Change...

Microsoft Dynamics AX Functional Consultant

£65000 - £75000 per annum + benefits: Progressive Recruitment: A rare opportun...

Day In a Page

Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

We will remember them

Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

Acting in video games gets a makeover

David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices
Could our smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases via Health Kit and Google Fit?

Could smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases?

Health Kit and Google Fit have been described as "the beginning of a health revolution"
Ryanair has turned on the 'charm offensive' but can we learn to love the cut-price carrier again?

Can we learn to love Ryanair again?

Four recent travellers give their verdicts on the carrier's improved customer service
Billionaire founder of Spanx launches range of jeans that offers

Spanx launches range of jeans

The jeans come in two styles, multiple cuts and three washes and will go on sale in the UK in October
10 best over-ear headphones

Aural pleasure: 10 best over-ear headphones

Listen to your favourite tracks with this selection, offering everything from lambskin earmuffs to stainless steel
Commonwealth Games 2014: David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end

Commonwealth Games

David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end
UCI Mountain Bike World Cup 2014: Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings

UCI Mountain Bike World Cup

Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings
Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
Chris Pratt: From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

He was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star