Monday, May 2, 2011

Max Bendix

Max Bendix was an American violinist, conductor, teacher, and composer born (in Detroit, USA) on March 28, 1866 (Brahms was 33 years old and would live an additional 34.)  He is mostly remembered for his long-term professional ties to Theodore Thomas, one of the founders (and first conductor) of the Chicago Symphony.  His most important, and perhaps his only teacher was Simon E. Jacobsohn, a very significant (but now forgotten) violinist and teacher of the late Nineteenth and early Twentieth Century.  (Jacobsohn began his American career in New York but later established himself in Cincinnati then in Chicago in 1887.  Bendix may have studied with him from 1874 until about 1878.  Bendix himself later said that the total sum of formal training he had was about four years. According to Bendix, Jacobsohn kicked him out of his class for being undisciplined. Among Jacobsohn's other pupils was Nahan Franko.)  Seemingly without bothering with a lot of formal training and its attending rituals (such as a formal debut and subsequent concert tours), Bendix first played with the Theodore Thomas Orchestra in May of 1878, when the orchestra was playing in Cincinnati.  In 1880, he became concertmaster of the Cincinnati Orchestra, the precursor of the Cincinnati Symphony.  He was 14 years old.  Bendix went on to play in other orchestras as concertmaster or in the first violin section, including the Germania Orchestra (in Philadelphia, 1883-1884), the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra (New York, 1885-1886), and the Arion Society of New York.  Bendix told an interviewer in 1898 that he also played in small theatre orchestras and in circus bands as well simply to make a living (probably during the off season.)  By the Spring of 1886, he was concertmaster of the Theodore Thomas Orchestra, which would much later (some sources say 1895) become the Chicago Symphony. It is important to say here that the Theodore Thomas Orchestra and the Chicago Symphony were, for a time, two distinct groups, even though they shared many of the same players. The Chicago Symphony has actually played under three names: The Chicago Orchestra (1891-1905), the Theodore Thomas Orchestra (1905-1912), and finally, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra (1912.)   (Similarly, in 1882, Benjamin Bilse's Band became the Berlin Philharmonic.)  Bendix went to Europe for about 7 months in 1889 but rejoined the Thomas group in 1890, again as concertmaster.  (It is probable that he studied with Emile Sauret while in Europe.)  In October of 1891, Bendix played the U.S. premiere of the Dvorak violin concerto in Chicago with Thomas conducting. Maud Powell claimed to have given the concerto's premiere but that is incorrect - Bendix gave the first U.S. performance of the Dvorak concerto and that performance is well-documented. Bendix remained with the orchestra until about 1896, actually leading the orchestra as conductor for a time in 1892 and 1893, filling in for Thomas when the latter left suddenly after some political battles which he (apparently) lost.  It is well-known that Thomas was not pleased by this and a rift between the two started to develop.  After Thomas decided not to renew his contract, Bendix said “One thing is true: either I have conducted the concerts too well or not well enough.”  In 1897, Bendix toured the U.S with none other than Eugene Ysaye (whom he had met in Europe) and a small group of other (less well-known) musicians.  In 1899, the Musical Courier pronounced Max Bendix the “finest American violinist.”  He conducted regularly as well, wherever such opportunities arose, including St Louis, Seattle, New York, and Chicago.  In 1904, he was concertmaster of the Metropolitan Opera and, in addition, began conducting there beginning in 1905.  1907 found him serving as concertmaster and assistant conductor of a now forgotten organization called the Manhattan Opera Company – he had taken over for Sam Franko, another violinist who had played with Theodore Thomas.  He also formed the Bendix String Quartet, about which little is known.  He briefly conducted a group called the People’s Philharmonic Orchestra (in 1919 in San Francisco) formed out of a break-away group of musicians from the San Francisco Symphony.  His best-known pupil was (violinist) Arthur Judson, the famous (some would say infamous) manager of classical music artists and orchestras.  Bendix also taught someone named Marion Carpenter, whom he praised.  Bendix died in Chicago, almost forgotten, on December 6, 1945, at age 79.  Heifetz, Milstein, and Ricci were in their prime.  However, Bendix’ association with Theodore Thomas, the Chicago Symphony, and Arthur Judson ensures that his name will be in the history books forever. 

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