Thursday, September 29, 2016


Leo Kucinski was a Juilliard School graduate.  Every school child knew this in Sioux City, but it is unclear how many knew what it meant.  According to a brief history, on the Juilliard website, the school was founded in 1905 as the Institute of Musical Art by Dr. Frank Damrosch, the godson of Franz Liszt.

"Damrosch was convinced," according to the website, "that American musicians should not have to go abroad for advanced study, and created the Institute as an American music academy that would provide an educational experience comparable to that of the established European conservatories.  It was extremely successful.

In 1919, a wealthy textile merchant named Augustus Juilliard died and in his will left the largest single bequest for the advancement of music at that time. The trustees of the bequest founded the Juilliard Graduate School in 1924 to help worthy music students complete their education."

Its mission: "to identify and attract the most talented young performing artists from around the world," and "strive to ensure that financial considerations are not a deterrent to their enrollment."

Juilliard wants to help the best and brightest, regardless of their ability to pay.  

Leo Kucinski studied there, and brought this love of music with him to Morningside College, and its orchestra, conducted by George Hubbard, in 1923.  The orchestra featured the Polish-born violinist, Leo Kucinski (from Juilliard).

“Two years later, according to the Sioux City Symphony, "he returned as conductor of the newly organized Sioux City Community Symphony and soon became a major influence in the musical life of northwest Iowa.  For more than fifty years, Kucinski's name was synonymous with symphonic music in Siouxland.  His vision, drive and dedication to musical excellence guided the development of the orchestra through its formative years.”

The man and his symphony became the city’s crown jewel. Each year, the city’s 4th and 6th graders attended the Concert for Young Audiences.  One student, at a grammar school called "Cooper," was mostly excited about getting out of class.  His teacher may have said something about Kucinski, but the school bus was waiting.  Hurray!

Thus, the musicians were assembled at the auditorium in downtown Sioux City (the concert is now held in the Orpheum Theatre) and when they arrived, hundreds of school children from all over the city disembarked, and were directed up one of the ramps (the same wide, polished ramps that circus animals used) to the main floor in a cavernous room.

Classical music was for “long hairs,” of course.  But for some it wasn’t about the music anyway. The place was a wonder of curtains and cables and rooms and walkways.  In later years, several of the boys waiting for the music in the huge place, would explore every nook and cranny, but for now there was just some guy talking on the stage.

Kucinski was proud of his orchestra, and the city was proud of his accomplishment. The children were there to listen, and the orchestra played snippets from "Peter and the Wolf," and probably the "1812 Overture." And then Kucinski said something about the Lone Ranger.

The Lone Ranger, seen on television in the 1950s, opened with the Lone Ranger, and Tonto, probably, racing across a desert in the southwest on horseback.  The music that accompanied them on their quest to save the world was the "William Tell Overture"— and they were playing that music on stage — just like on television!

A love of classical music for many came from these humble beginnings.  Leo Kucinski died in 1998, but his influence lives on.  The "William Tell Overture," the "1812 Overture" and even Mozart’s "Piano Concerto No. 25" are heard and enjoyed by many Iowans because of Leo.
But there’s more!  Hilary Hahn, and her performance of Mendelssohn's "Violin Concerto in E minor" is remarkable. Did Kucinski perform Mendelssohn when he first played at Morningside College?  

Hilary Hahn is brilliant here, the recording is bold, and reveals a pride that is almost blue collar. It is a performance the kids at Cooper Grammar would have loved.  It's Leo Kucinski's love too. The man who shared classical music with the children of meat cutters and factory workers.

This is classical music at its best.  The full concert has been removed for some reason, but the clip shared below is a treat. Hahn's youthful pride, seen toward the end of this clip — sadly, reedited and shortened — would have been seen big time at the auditorium.

Paavo Järvi conducts the Frankfurt Radio Symphony Orchestra.

(Another video link shared below is complete, but lacks the raw emotion a schoolboy would have loved. Paavo Jarvi conducts Mendelssohn's “Violin Concerto in E Minor, Op 64" a second time.  Hahn is polished and perfect, and it is fun to watch — despite the unreadable commentary.  But "thumbs down" in the auditorium's peanut gallery.)


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