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Spotlight on Harold Byers


Spotlight on Harold Byers

Mr. Byers will retire from the Orchestra at the end of the 2014–15 season. Harold joined the Orchestra on June 24, 1974 and he currently holds the Ida Ringling North Chair.

Growing up in Portland, Oregon, Harold started playing violin at the age of 9. In the eighth grade, he began studying with the teacher whom he now recognizes as having influenced him the most, Rex Underwood, a retired professor of the University of Portland. Most of Mr. Underwood’s training came from late 19th-century Europe, and he passed those methods and values on to Harold. Mr. Byers then continued his studies at Oberlin Conservatory with David Cerone and also Stuart Canin, who served as occasional guest concertmaster with the CSO.

Before his musical career took off, Mr. Canin took his violin to Europe when he was drafted during World War II. His occasional performances for fellow troops landed him a gig performing for Stalin, Truman and Churchill at the Potsdam Conference, after which President Truman sent him a complimentary letter. Mr. Canin later performed solo violin for film scores such as Titanic and Forrest Gump, and had the opportunity to recreate his Potsdam recital at the age of 88. “I feel very privileged to have had that association and gain some insight from a truly remarkable person,” said Mr. Byers.

After Oberlin, Harold studied at Juilliard with Ivan Galamian and Paul Makanowitzky. Harold held various positions in orchestras and in chamber ensembles in Philadelphia, Syracuse, Atlanta and Columbus before landing with the CSO.

His countless performances with the CSO during his tenure make it difficult to choose favorites, but he looks back at many very good concerts with former CSO Music Director Thomas Schippers in particular. “I thought he was so immensely gifted,” said Harold. An incredible performance of Bach’s B Minor Mass under Michael Gielen also stands out. “He had an amazing sense of architecture and time that was so important to him and to the piece.” He also looks back fondly at concerts under Jesús López-Cobos, especially for his humanity and caring demeanor.

In addition to his schedule with the CSO and Pops, Harold has performed with many chamber ensembles, with a special emphasis on Baroque and early music. He has taught extensively, including eight years at Miami University (during which he was also part of the Oxford String Quartet), as well as the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music Preparatory Department.

In his spare time, he enjoys photography and listening to music. He has been introduced to much new music through his son who plays cello in the Calder Quartet—an ensemble based out of Los Angeles that performs with the likes of Thomas Adès, Christopher Rouse and Terry Riley. Harold also spends time traveling. His wife works at Khalifa University in Abu Dhabi; from there they travel to places like Jordan, India, Oman and Turkey.

In his retirement, Harold plans to spend more time in Abu Dhabi, and to visit his two sons (both of whom work in LA in the music industry) and his granddaughter who turns one on July 4. There are also plans to build a house on a property near Lake Michigan, due west of Traverse City. Also important for Harold as Chair of the Music Committee at Christ Church Cathedral is his involvement acquiring an organ, harpsichord and other instruments. “All those things were only a dream just five years ago, and now there will be world-class instruments for a world-class space. It’s a wonderful addition to our city that is already drawing people from as far away as Italy to perform and attend concerts there,” he said.

Finally, Mr. Byers’ tenure has been marked by his position on the CSO’s Board of Directors. “It’s been a privilege for me to be involved in that way and get to know the other Directors. There are very few if any orchestras that have such a good relationship of collaboration and respect between the Board and the Players. That collaboration has enabled us to excel, and listening to each other and respecting one another’s opinions will be critical to the future,” he said.