"He was called the greatest living orchestral cellist, and no one who followed Frank Miller's long and distinguished career in American symphonic music would question the legitimacy of the claim." With these words, the Chicago Tribune's John von Rhein celebrated the life of a great artist. And we at Fritz Reuter and Sons join in mourning Mr. Miller's recent death (January 6) at the age of 73.
2. Mr. Miller's life and career were remarkable. When only 18, he became a member of Leopold Stokowski's Philadelphia Symphony. Then, only a few years later (1935) he joined Eugene Ormandy's Minneapolis Symphony as principal cellist. Following this, Mr. Miller entered upon his two longest-term engagements -- those in which he achieved exceptional prominence. For 15 years, under the baton of Arturo Toscanini, he served as principal of the NBC Symphony's cello section. And for 26 years -- first under Fritz Reiner and, subsequently, Sir George Solti -- he distinguished himself as principal cellist of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. It is no wonder that Sir George described Mr. Miller as "that rarest of jewels among orchestral musicians" and, also, as "a legend in his own time."
3. That time spanned more than half our century; and for 50 years, with only the briefest interruption following Toscanini's death, Mr. Miller sat as principal cellist in major American symphonies. Reflecting on this illustrious record, one recalls especially his powerful and captivating solo performances with the full Chicago Symphony. Yet Mr. Miller, though renowned for his commanding solo performances and creative leadership of Chicago's cello section, was truly a musician's musician. He demonstrated enormous versatility: as a member of the Chicago Symphony String Quartet, as conductor (for 23 years) of the Evanston Symphony, and as co-founder and music director of the North Shore's Gilbert and Sullivan group, the Savoy-Aires. Without question, Frank Miller left an indelible impression upon all who were fortunate enough to work with him in various and varied endeavors.
4. However, one facet of his career remains unknown to many. Mr. Miller was a loyal supporter of those who, as violin makers and restorers. provided his instruments and kept them in optimum condition. He was generous in his appreciation. And he was a forthright advocate for the master instrument makers whose own art helped to create (again citing von Rhein) the "dark Niagara of tone that poured from" his cello. Moreover, throughout the larger part of his career and, indeed, until his retirement, we at Fritz Reuter and Sons had the pleasure and privilege of serving the maestro's professional and artistic needs.
5. From the very beginning of our relationship, Mr. Miller distinguished himself from numerous other musicians -- even those of undoubted stature. He did not share their need -- a need which might best be termed psychoacoustical -- to perform on the antique instruments so highly prized (and highly priced!) by collectors and investors. Rather, he put an absolute value on quality of sound. When he came to Chicago, he brought with him his 1941 Paul Pilat cello -- made in New York City and modeled after an instrument crafted by Matteo Goffriller of Venice. Even though briefly persuaded to play the "Braga" (this, one of the world's most treasured celli, was created by Antonius Stradivarius in 1731 and is often thought of as the "piece de resistance" in the Symphony's valuable collection of rare instruments) Mr. Miller chose the vitality, dependability, and brilliance of a contemporary master-made cello. True, his own natural curiosity and the friendly coaxing by his fellow cellists pressed him toward acquiring a more famous instrument. He should have, some seemingly thought, an overwhelmingly prestigious cello -- one commensurate in "celebrity" with his own prominence. The Chicago Symphony's Orchestral Association gave him a virtual carte blanche to possess such a cello. In truth, though, none of the vintage celli for sale throughout the world satisfied his creative demands.
6. Mr. Miller's intuition and musical judgment turned him back to the satisfying concept of selecting a modern, master-made instrument rather than an aged, fatigued museum piece. He recognized that Stradivarius himself was a maker of new violins, violas, and celli. In this spirit, therefore, he honored us by purchasing a modern-day equivalent: GŁnther Reuter's Opus 162 from 1972, a cello modeled after an instrument by Stradivarius. Somewhat later, in 1978, Frank Miller added yet another Reuter cello to his collection. This time his choice was a cello modeled after the Goffriller owned by George Sopkin of the Fine Arts Quartet; Mr. Miller purchased GŁnther Reuter's Opus 251.
7. By acquisitions such as these, Mr. Frank Miller expressed his support and enthusiasm for the work of contemporary makers. His expression is remembered, and will continue to be remembered, with deepest gratitude. For all of us trained in this rewarding art and profession, Mr. Miller's choices represent a discerning advocacy. For us, they are positively and profoundly meaningful.
8. Frank Miller was a man of character. His life and professional aspirations sought the best, but were undistorted by posturing and false pretense. Inevitably, he will be remembered for many things -- certainly for his superb musicianship. But may he also be remembered and honored for debunking the mythology that old, rare instruments are a musician's only road to success. Since he was himself a musician of exceptional range, sensitivity, and power, his preference for fine modern instruments should hearten all those who -- lacking the sort of instrument which collectors value for rarity and antiquity -- feel unfairly deprived of any chance for a career.
9. The life and work of Frank Miller have enriched us all. We at Fritz Reuter and Sons will remember him as an outstanding cellist and musician. Even more, we will recall his presence as a gentleman and friend. We shall miss him.
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Reuter and Sons, Inc. 1986, 1996, 1997 All rights
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