Alan Balter

I've been thinking about previous teachers recently. I was practicing some excerpts when I turned to a xerox of Till Eulenspiegel and saw the signature of Alan Balter at the top.

I took a few lessons with Alan during the 80's while I still lived in Washington, DC. Though I had graduated from Northwestern U in 1982, having studied with Marcellus and Brody there, Balter taught me some things I never got from any other teacher.

When I played a note perfect Mendelssohn Scherzo for him, he commented how well I had played it, and then said it was missing one key element of the music, its dance like quality.

He encouraged me to learn to "spin the air" as I played, which freed up my air for more expressive subtlety, and also for a touch of vibrato when I desired it.

He helped me focus on the quality of motion of my right hand index finger, the weakest link in my finger technique.

I still apply these ideas and others to my playing and teaching to this day. I will always be thankful for what he taught me.

Unfortunately, I cannot thank him personally. Alan Balter passed away in 1998 from complications caused by some disease he had battled for over a decade.

He played 8 seasons as principal clarinet of the Atlanta Symphony and then went on to conduct after winning the MIN-ON International Concours for Conductors in 1976.

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8 comments for “Alan Balter

  1. David
    November 23, 2010 at

    David, thanks for writing this. I sang for Alan Balter in the Akron Symphony Chorus (he was MD at the ASO for many years).

    I vividly recall him rehearsing the Polovtsian Dances, asking his clarinetist to “shape it like this,” as he drew a perfect hourglass figure in the air. He got it, too.

    On their 50th anniversary the Akron Symphony released a CD set with a recording of him playing the Mozart clarinet concerto. He had a fine, liquid tone.

    Damn fine musicianship. I miss him too.

    • December 1, 2010 at

      Hi David. Thanks for your comment. Nice to connect with another person touched by Alan’s artistry.

  2. June 3, 2009 at

    @patty: Thank you for this conversation. It reminds me how lucky I am, and to be humble in that good fortune. Here’s to Alan and Niki.

  3. June 2, 2009 at

    He wasn’t one to ever talk about his cancer. I just knew he had had it. His wife (?), Niki, also played horn in SJS and she, too, had had cancer. I see, having looked Niki up, that she also has died. I was sorry to read that. I appreciate their music making as well as their kindness.

  4. June 2, 2009 at

    @patty: So you got to play with him as well as have him conduct. I really knew so little about him. Other than our lessons, I didn’t inquire much about his life. I did know that he had been sick and was in remission. That was it. He didn’t broadcast it.

  5. June 2, 2009 at

    Hi Patty- How cool that you knew him, perhaps better than I did.

    I still miss his artful approach to music making.

    • June 2, 2009 at

      He was in San Jose Symphony. He wasn’t here all that long, but I enjoyed his company a bit, and I just found him to be extremely gracious. He then returned years later to conduct us.

  6. June 2, 2009 at

    I knew Alan when he played with San Jose Symphony many years ago. When he arrived here he had just completely treatments for cancer. What a lovely player and person.

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