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Vincent deFrank
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Birth: Jun. 18, 1915
Death: Nov. 10, 1998

Vincent de Frank, the conductor whose mane of gray hair, bushy eyebrows and confident air on the podium spelled "Memphis Symphony" to many for decades, died of respiratory failure early Tuesday morning at Baptist Memorial Hospital East. He was 83. The Memphis Symphony Orchestra's founder and conductor emeritus had suffered respiratory problems for several years despite being an active conductor for more than four decades and an avid outdoorsman for many years. Whether it was founding an orchestra in a city where another had collapsed financially several years earlier, performing for thousands of children in school concerts, playing the classics or jazz on the cello, or conducting in China, Mr. de Frank was one of the Mid-South's most visible and influential classical music figures. He was a New York native who studied at The Juilliard School and played the cello in such important orchestras as the St. Louis and Detroit symphonies. But it was in the Memphis area that he persisted in realizing his dream of conducting. With Mr. de Frank's death, the Memphis Symphony has lost, within less than three months, the only two music directors it ever had. Mr. de Frank founded the Memphis Symphony (initially known as the Memphis Sinfonietta) in 1952 and presided over it for 32 years until he retired. His successor, Alan Balter, served 14 years with the Memphis orchestra starting in 1984. He had retired last June in hopes of moving on to new projects, but died in August at a Philadelphia hospital following lung surgery. He was 53. The Memphis Symphony is currently in the midst of searching for a new conductor, but Mr. de Frank was the one who got it all started. Dr. Joseph Parker, a former president of the Memphis Orchestral Society, the symphony's business arm, said, "Vincent was the consummate conductor whom everybody loved and admired. He was a sincere, dedicated, honest, intellectual man with great musical integrity... "I also feel that anytime anyone originated any kind of an adventure, it's of great significance, and that's what he did. He put the orchestra in a position where good things were happening and it could move to a new plateau." Nancy Crosby, another former Orchestral Society president, said Mr. de Frank "had a lifetime vision for what a symphony could bring to this city, and he was willing to make the personal sacrifices to make it happen." She recalled that in the orchestra's early days, Mr. de Frank "would sweep up the floor of the hall at the Goodwyn Institute (a downtown facility where the orchestra once played) because the orchestra couldn't afford a stagehand. If a musician couldn't quite swing it paying for a tuxedo, he would pay for it. People came from afar to play for him and he never forgot it." Marsha Evans, who was the symphony's pianist for 18 years, said it could not be estimated how many young people were attracted to classical music because of Mr. de Frank's school concerts, but she knew he had inspired her to include orchestral performing in her career goals. "When I was in high school (at The Hutchison School), I saw him and heard the orchestra and said to myself, `I want to be a part of that.' " The Auditorium South Hall, the downtown facility where the symphony played from 1960 until about two years ago, is also known as Vincent de Frank Music Hall, in homage to his long musical legacy in this region. Born in Astoria, Long Island, N.Y., he studied at Juilliard during the Depression and played cello with the Detroit Symphony in 1939-40 and the St. Louis Symphony from 1947 to 1950. Mr. de Frank came to Memphis during World War II to conduct the Second Army Headquarters band. Shortly after leaving the Army, he was engaged to conduct an old incarnation of the Memphis Symphony. That orchestra existed from 1938 to 1947. Burnet C. Tuthill conducted it for most of its existence. Mr. de Frank stood in during late 1945 when Tuthill was in the service. As Tuthill returned, Mr. de Frank became assistant conductor and principal cellist. Mr. de Frank became conductor after Tuthill left in April 1946, but the orchestra closed after its 1946-47 season due to financial problems. Following three seasons playing cello in St. Louis and one year as an assistant to the renowned cellist Fritz Maag at Indiana University, Mr. de Frank returned to Memphis. In 1952 he founded the Memphis Sinfonietta, which was renamed the Memphis Symphony in 1960. The first concert, staged on a $600 budget, took place Jan. 25, 1953, at the old Goodwyn Institute, for an audience of 300. The program featured selections by Vivaldi, Schubert and Strauss, and a Mozart concerto played by Alabama pianist David Gibson. In the next day's editions of The Commercial Appeal, critic Ben S. Parker wrote: "If yesterday's debut concert by the Memphis Sinfonietta is any yardstick, this fledgling organization should be around for a long time." Through the decades Mr. de Frank worked with dozens of internationally known soloists. Among them were pianists Lorin Hollander and Gina Bachauer, cellist Leonard Rose and cellist-conductor Pablo Casals, whose composition, El Pessebre, the Memphis Symphony performed in the '60s. "Vincent conducted more from feeling than a technical approach," said Joy Brown Wiener, who was his longtime first-chair violinist. "There were performances where you could sense inspiration. To me, that was the key to why he was so important to us, and kept so many musicians playing for a long time." Mr. de Frank's last performance as the Memphis Symphony's permanent conductor was the Sunset Symphony concert in 1984. He returned to guest conduct a Dvorak symphony in 1989. When Mr. de Frank retired, the first phase of a lifetime dream came into being: a paid core orchestra of 35 symphonic musicians was put to work for 38 weeks a year. In a 1993 interview the conductor said his greatest dream was that the full orchestra could be put on a 52-week contract. That has not yet occurred. Mr. de Frank received many awards. Among them was the 1984 Governor's Awards in the Arts, given by former Gov. Lamar Alexander, who had played piano with the Memphis Symphony. After retiring from the professional orchestra, Mr. de Frank conducted an orchestra at Rhodes College. In 1987 he accepted an invitation to conduct an orchestra in the Shangdong province in the People's Republic of China. "It was really fantastic," recalled Jean de Frank, his wife of 38 years, who had met him after she came down from Nashville to play English horn for him. She and the conductor spent two months in China, and managed to communicate, in spite of the fact that only one musician spoke English. De Frank found the situation challenging yet amusing. In fact, he had a dry and well-developed sense of humor and loved to laugh. His wife recalled that Memphis Symphony musicians used to slip "funny cards into the middle of his scores." One of them advised the conductor to "Stay exactly as you are" and when he opened it up, it said, "Mean. Nasty. Irritable." However, Mr. de Frank impressed his friends in quite a different fashion. Crosby called him "one of the most thoughtful men I've ever known. He was always doing things for people. Most of them, people will never know." Services will be at 10:30 a.m. Saturday at Idlewild Presbyterian Church. Canale Funeral Directors has charge. Burial will be in Memorial Park. Besides his wife, Jean Martin de Frank, the conductor leaves a sister, Catherine Frenz of Lewes, Del.; two sons, Vincent Nicholas de Frank of Germantown and Philip Martin de Frank of Lakeland, and two grandchildren. (Written by Whitney Smith, published in The Commercial Appeal, on November 11, 1998) 
 
Burial:
Memorial Park Cemetery
Memphis
Shelby County
Tennessee, USA
 
Created by: Carole McCaig
Record added: Aug 12, 2011
Find A Grave Memorial# 74798448
Vincent deFrank
Added by: LVRV
 
Vincent deFrank
Added by: Layne Sacharin
 
Vincent deFrank
Cemetery Photo
Added by: Iris
 
 
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