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Former DPO Music Director and WDPR Radio Host to be memorialized by DPO musicians, friends, and colleagues

Dayton, Ohio (May 8, 2009) – Dayton Philharmonic Orchestra Music Director Neal Gittleman and WDPR Classical 88.1 General Manager Georgie Woessner today announced plans for a memorial service for Charles Wendelken-Wilson (1938 - 2009), former DPO Music Director and former WDPR Radio Host who passed away on May 3.
A memorial service for Charles Wendelken-Wilson will be held on Tuesday, May 12 at 5:30 pm, in the Mead Theater of the Schuster Center (Entrance through the Stage Door on the Ludlow Street side). Musicians (both from the DPO and the Miami Valley Symphony Orchestra) have volunteered to perform. Current DPO Music Director Neal Gittleman will share the podium with MYSO Conductor and Music Director Dr. Kenneth Kohlenberg.  
After 42 years of dedicated service to the DPO, the Orchestra he founded, at the end of the 1974-75 season Paul Katz retired. Charles Wendelken-Wilson, conductor of the New York City Opera Company, took over the reigns of the DPO at the beginning of the 1975-1976 season.

Wendelken-Wilson was an accomplished keyboard player and graduate of the Mannes College of Music in New York City where he studied under conducting pedagogue Carl Bamberger. After completing his studies at Mannes, a young Wendelken-Wilson received an introduction from an influential teacher to Julius Rudel of the New York City Opera Company, which hired Wendelken-Wilson as an organist and pianist. In time, the young conductor, who had also been chorusmaster of the Philadelphia Lyric Opera, caught the attention of Erich Leinsdorf. This led to Wendelken-Wilson’s appointment as assistant conductor of the Boston Symphony Orchestra.

Success brought Wendelken-Wilson to guest-conduct throughout the U.S. and eventually took him back to New York, where he teamed up with friend Beverly Sills at both the New York City Opera and for productions at the newly established Wolf Trap Festival outside Washington, D.C. But it was the position in Dayton that he “…simply couldn’t refuse.”

In the 1978-1979 season, Charles initiated what is today the DPO’s SuperPops Concert Series. 1985 saw the birth of WDPR-FM, the Dayton-based fine arts radio station. Charles Wendelken-Wilson served as WDPR’s Music Advisor. Having announced the end of his tenure with the DPO, the transition was a natural one for Charles, and he hosted an afternoon radio program for more than 10 years. In 1990, Charles became Artistic Director and Conductor of the Miami Valley Symphony Orchestra.

DPO Musicians Remember Charles Wendelken-Wilson

Retiring DPO Principal Hornist Richard Chenoweth remembers Charles Wendelken-Wilson fondly. “With his robust personality and high degree of musical sophistication, Charles had a great impact on the arts in the Miami Valley. He had extremely high musical and artistic expectations and both expected and required a high quality of performance from the Dayton Philharmonic Orchestra musicians. His innovative programming always created great excitement throughout the community, and his flair for the dramatic aspects of that programming made every concert a very special event.

“He was a fascinating speaker,” Chenoweth remarks, “because he knew so many stories about musicians and the music business. Charles had a very strong artistic personality and invariably created a sense of drama and anticipation about his appearances. He enabled the musicians to improve their working conditions, by developing numerous performance opportunities: he added many community outreach concerts and helped with the early development of the award-winning DPO educational program. Charles was always concerned about the welfare of the musicians.

“I last had the chance to work with Charles recently,” Chenoweth remembers, “when he graciously agreed to narrate the text on my recording about operatic horn audition excerpts. With his resonant voice and encyclopedic knowledge of opera, he was a natural choice for the project: in breaks between recording takes, he kept us in constant laughter, regaling us with stories about the operas, conductors, and singers. With his accepting personality and gracious nature, he was a true friend of the musicians here in Dayton and he will be sorely missed by all."  

“As for me,” Jane Varella, former DPO Principal Percussionist and current DPO Orchestra Personnel Manager, states, “I remember Charles as a very amazing person. As a conductor, he was one of the best. You could get a cue from his elbow at the far end of the pit, while he was conducting a chorus on stage plus an orchestra in the pit. 

“His first year was my first year as personnel manager,” Varella recalls. “Of course, there is no handbook for personnel managers, and I was quite "green." Charles was very understanding and never got upset. I had agreed to take the job for just one year, but working with Charles was very rewarding, so I continued and continued and continued. The Dayton community is very lucky that Charles decided to call Dayton his home!!! 

Deborah Taylor, DPO Principal Bassist, has thought of all the many things Charles used to say. Perhaps the most memorable quotes involved explaining musical terms by using everyday sayings. When asked if a note should be long or short, his famous reply was "play it medium rare!" If he wanted a passage extremely soft, he would say "Mail it in from Xenia!" And when all the rehearsing was finished at the end of each dress rehearsal, he would say "Well, it's in the hands of the Gods!"

On an personal note - I remember thinking many times that, when Charles had a baton in his hand and an opera score in front of him, he was truly a formidable image. He was one of the finest opera conductors I have ever worked with - his beat was never in question, and quite simply a musician couldn't play the part incorrectly with Charles in charge. He was so fond of saying "Just watch my elbow - I'll give that upbeat in my elbow" – and he always did! He could always be counted on from the first note to the last - a true maestro!

Roger Miller, DPO Oboist, remembers Wendelken-Wilson as “a superb musician, who, with a few words (or sometimes not so few!) could transform a particular passage from the mundane to some wondrous effect, which was not directly indicated in the music.  I do remember one occasion, when – in the opera pit – he asked the basses to play a particular Verdi passage ‘oily.’ Goofy as it may sound, they did it, and to great effect. He was such a great person...heart and soul. I am sorry that he is gone, but we are all much better having had him in our lives.”  

“I am sad to hear of the news,” William Awsumb, former DPO Percussionist, states. “It was an honor to serve under Charles. I even played a game of billiards with him once; he beat me quite easily. I remember a guest appearance Charles did in about 1990. We played a British Symphony, Ralph Vaughan Williams’s Symphony No. 2. I always will remember he said to the basses ‘Make it sound like you're playing at the bottom of the Thames. It starts with the basses.’ I am saddened by the loss.”

“We played for CWW throughout his entire tenure with the DPO,” Laurel and Russell Hinkle, former DPO Principal Hornist and DPO Principal Bassoonist, respectively, remember. “That time includes some of our happiest musical memories. Charles was a technically superb conductor - his great success as an opera conductor was in large part due to his crystal-clear beat. In addition, he was a great musician, who wielded his art with exuberant passion. Beyond conducting, we remember with pleasure his performance as organ soloist with the orchestra. He was a mensch who enjoyed an ongoing backstage game of  poker with the stagehands. He was one of those unique individuals whom we will always remember with a smile.”
For photographs of Neal Gittleman or any of the various series’ guest artists, go to:

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About the Dayton Philharmonic Orchestra

The Dayton Philharmonic Orchestra is the largest and oldest performing arts organization in the community. Dayton Philharmonic Orchestra performances are made possible in part by Montgomery County and Culture Works, the single largest source of community funds for the arts and culture in the Miami Valley. Dayton Philharmonic Orchestra receives partial funding from the National Endowment for the Arts and from the Ohio Arts Council, a state agency created to foster and encourage the development of the arts and to preserve Ohio's cultural heritage. Funding from the Ohio Arts Council is an investment of state tax dollars that promotes economic growth, educational excellence, and cultural enrichment for all Ohio residents.

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