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Park Ridge maestro Edgar Muenzer wields baton for the last time

Park Ridge Civic Orchestra conductor Edgar Muenzer leads the group for the final time in concert March 12.
Park Ridge Civic Orchestra conductor Edgar Muenzer leads the group for the final time in concert March 12.

After 20 years as founder and conductor the Park Ridge Civic Orchestra, Maestro Edgar Muenzer is stepping down from the podium. “It’s hard to believe that it’s been 20 years since we started,” said the acclaimed violinist, 86, who played with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra from 1956 to 2003. “But this will be absolutely, truly, the last time I conduct.”

The program includes two large works by Richard Strauss: Don Juan and the suite from his opera “Der Rosenkavalier.” It also reflects Muenzer’s affection for the classical repertoire of Spain, opening with Manuel de Falla’s “The Three-Cornered Hat.” “We played that piece in our first season in 1994 and this will be the only time we’ve played it since,” Muenzer explained.

Spanish composer Joaquin Rodrigo’s popular Concierto d’Aranjuez will follow the da Falla, with Ann Waller of the Waller and Maxwell Guitar Duo as soloist. “The funny thing about this iconic piece, which everyone loves,” said Waller, “is that Rodrigo did not play the guitar. He was a pianist.”

Guitar music has been a part of Waller’s life for as long as she can remember. “My mother played the guitar,” she said. “As a girl she had been ill for a time and her father gave her a guitar. She learned to play it and in 1948 when Andre Segovia made his first tour of the United States after World War II her dad took her to see him.

“I took guitar lessons as a child and a friend told my mother that is she really wanted me to learn properly, I should study with John Maveras at the Music Institute of Chicago. It was called the Music Center of the North Shore in those days. That was the beginning.”

Waller is on the faculty at Northwestern University School of Music and in addition to giving guitar lessons, she teaches a class on the history of lute and guitar music.

She has organized the Segovia Classical Guitar series given at NU’s Evanston campus, now in its 21st year. “In addition to being a great artist, Segovia’s commissioned many contemporary composers to write works for the instrument and even advised and showed them how to do it,” she said. Segovia also expanded the guitar repertoire by making arrangements of music written for other instruments.

It was at Northwestern that she met Edgar Muenzer, who taught at its Bienen School of Music for 18 years. “I was very pleased when he called and asked me to play on his final concert,” she said.

Muenzer’s successor on the podium is his son Victor Muenzer, who plays the trumpet. Victor has conducted the Park Ridge Civic Orchestra in the past and is a Grammy Award-winning music producer.

Music has deep roots in the family. Edgar’s father was a violinist and his mother a concert pianist. He attended Lane Tech High School in Chicago and was a member of its outstanding orchestra. “Aaron Copland once conducted us,” he said, cherishing the memory of working with that great American composer and conductor at such a young age.

Like most young men of his era, Muenzer served in the military. “I was a member of the new Air Force Orchestra,” he said. “We were based in Washington, D. C., but we went to Colorado to play at the dedication of the new Air Force Academy.” After his service, he studied at Peabody Conservatory in Boston under the GI Bill.

Fast forward to 1994, when he and his wife Nancy were viewing a film at the Pickwick Theatre in Park Ridge, where they had made their home. “I looked around and said to Nancy, ‘This would be a great place for an orchestra concert,’” he recalled. They were members of the Park Ridge Country Club and spoke to fellow members about the possibility of forming a civic orchestra.

“About a dozen of us kicked in a thousand dollars each,” he said. “I said that I would conduct for the first year without pay if the players would agree to play free that year also.”

The group’s first meeting was at the Park Ridge home of Marilyn Goll, a devoted orchestra supporter. “We had no trouble finding musicians,” Muenzer declared. “We had 60 players right away. Our first concert was Dec. 7 and we filled the entire theater, which has 1,400 seats. We had Klieg lights — it was a big hullabaloo.”

Though Muenzer will no longer wield the baton, he plans to keep his connection with the orchestra. “I’m going to make a list of all the music we’ve done and do an inventory of all that we have in our library,” he said. “I’ll work with Beverly Schiltz, our librarian. There’s still a lot of work to do.”

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