Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Raymond Gniewek

Raymond Gniewek is an American violinist born (in East Meadow, Long Island, New York) on November 13, 1931 (Heifetz was 30 years old.)  He is best known as the long-time concertmaster (43 years) of the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, to which he was first appointed in 1957.  His longevity is unlikely to ever be surpassed.  He was 25 years old and the youngest concertmaster ever to hold the post as well as the youngest member of the orchestra.  Someone who must have actually done the counting has stated that Gniewek performed 115 different opera scores during his tenure.  At least one source states that he was the first American concertmaster of the orchestra; however, that’s not true – Nahan Franko was the first American concertmaster of the Met orchestra.  Gniewek began his violin studies with his father (a violinist who became a barber) at age 5.  At a later age, he studied at the Eastman School of Music (Rochester, New York.)  It has been written that he studied with Canadian violinist Albert Pratz (who also taught Steven Staryk, Lenny Solomon, and Jack Benny) though I could not find out when or where that would have been.  In 1949, conductor Erich Leinsdorf appointed him, at age 18, associate concertmaster of the Rochester Philharmonic.  He soloed with this orchestra at age 19.  One source has it that Max Rudolf was the person who told Gniewek about the Met Orchestra’s concertmaster job opening.  It helps immensely to know someone who knows something like this.  At that time, the job paid about $9,500 a year.  By 1975, it was paying $60,000.  As Gniewek himself put it, the reward of playing in an opera (pit) orchestra, practically unseen (and unnoticed) by the audience, lies simply in being part of an extravaganza unlike anything else in the performing arts - an amalgamation of voice, orchestra, acting, set design, lighting, costumes, and effects as dazzling in their way as anything Hollywood can do, all performed in large halls peopled with emotional audiences.  After retiring from the Met in May of 2000, Gniewek has led or worked with opera or festival orchestras in Switzerland, Japan, and the U.S.  James Levine, the chief conductor and General Manager of the Met for many years stated that "The single luckiest thing that happened to me since I have been at the Met is that Ray Gniewek was the concertmaster." 


  1. I played in the Hempstead High School orchestra in 1948 or 49, pretty sure I sat next to Ray when he was first chair. I think our conductor was Boris Guydebouroff. I pretty much gave up violin after high school but am thinking about taking it up again now to play in a senior citizens' group. Priscilla Miller, formerly of Hempstead NY, now Anacortes WA and Ajo AZ

  2. It was Eugene Guydebouroff, he was my Great Uncle.

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