North Texas Daily

A lifetime of achievement behind professors contributions

A lifetime of achievement behind professors contributions

A lifetime of achievement behind professors contributions
August 05
14:06 2016

Adalberto Toledo | Senior Staff Writer


The UNT College of Music’s prestige is rampant throughout different genres within the school. On the symphonic side, a large portion of the success can be attributed to Anshel Brusilow, former orchestra leader for UNT’s Symphony Orchestra.

Brusilow’s memoir, “Shoot the Conductor: Too Close to Monteux, Szell, and Ormandy”, received the Gold award from Foreword Reviews’ 2015 INDIEFAB Book of the Year Awards. The book, co-written with Robin Underdahl, is published by UNT Press, and chronicles his life and relationship with his influential mentors, many of them conductors he admired and learned under.

His storied history with UNT began  with a  committee that selected him almost unanimously — the dissenting vote from George Papich, regents professor of chamber music, who would later become his best friend.

“It was a personal vibe I got off of him, but when he got hired, of course, the first thing he did was come to my office and he wanted to know why I didn’t vote for him,” Papich said. “I told him, and we just laughed about it.”

Their friendship grew after that, mostly from the professional nature of their work at UNT. Papich said he always admired him and feels weird about saying it was a “privilege” to have worked with him, considering their friendship outside of work. He feels the esteem is necessary, though, given his renown.

A musician always

“Shoot the Conductor” tells the story of a five-year-old boy who, in 1933, took up the violin. Having been born in a Russian-Jewish neighborhood in Philadelphia, where the sound of instruments was common, his musical ear developed early.

As a result, he soloed for the Philadelphia Orchestra at age 16, leaving no doubt he would be noticed. Brusilow became the youngest conducting student ever accepted by French conductor Pierre Monteux.

“Oh, [Monteux’] work was beautifully done,” Brusilow said. “He was French and his French music was ideal and personally very fragrant and lovely feeling. Very much like lace underwear.”

Anshel Brusilow. UNT | Courtesy

Anshel Brusilow. UNT | Courtesy

His studies with Monteux brought about slightly turbulent relationships, not only with Monteux himself but with George Szell and Eugene Ormandy as well. As Cleveland Orchestra’s associate concertmaster, Ormandy took a notice to him and made him concertmaster at the Philadelphia Orchestra, where he remained until 1966.

But what became a father-son type relationship between Brusilow and Ormandy began to fade. The problems mainly stemmed from what Brusilow calls “conductoritis.”

“They all wanted me to stay and play the violin, and told me I shouldn’t be a conductor,” Brusilow said. “But I had the conductoritis. In many ways, I hurt them by leaving them. They didn’t want me to put down the violin, but I was never sorry.”

Brusilow substituted his violin for the conductor’s baton and created the Philadelphia Chamber Symphony, until he took up the task of conducting the then-troubled Dallas Symphony Orchestra in 1971. His path to DFW was paved.

UNT years

Brusilow began his tenure about a year after his first position as an adjunct professor with UNT and lasted from 1973 until 1981 – his second tenure from 1989 to 2008. He said he misses UNT every day, especially teaching young generations of musicians.

“I loved the environment,” Brusilow said. “I wanted the opportunity to teach these young people some of the greatest music ever written. Here was an opportunity for me to explain what music is all about, or try to. I had to take it.”

The opportunity did not only yield happiness for Brusilow – it also created a flood of applications to the school of music.

“He was a source for all of us that taught music,” Papich said. “[UNT] went from a place to where the orchestra was fine to all of a sudden a place where all the talented kids, which were hard to get at that time, were all coming here and playing in his orchestra.”

Papich said Brusilow brought the first significant growth in talent at UNT, with the students who came considering the department “first class.”

As a viola teacher at the time, Papich said he would get violin players who weren’t very good and switch them to viola, creating “mediocre” performances. He said he would go to high schools across Texas to find good viola players for his program.

The payout of teaching and conducting fulfilled his life, he said, and  he has no “feelings of bitterness or regret” about his life. Brusilow even said he thanks UNT for “saving his life.”

“North Texas was the best thing that happened, and teaching,” Brusilow said. “I realized how little I knew once I started teaching. I can’t begin to tell you how special it was.”

Featured Image: Anshel Brusilow, conducer of the UNT Symphony Orchestra. Li Fan | Courtesy

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