Larry Rachleff, 1955-2022

Fri Aug 12, 2022 at 11:04 am

Larry Rachleff, a fiery conductor who was the founding music director of the Chicago Philharmonic, and who taught at Rice University’s Shepherd School of Music for three decades, died Monday in Houston after a long battle with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. He was 67.

In 1991, Rachleff conducted the debut concert of Symphony II at Pick-Staiger Hall in Evanston, launching its inaugural three-concert series. Formerly known as the Orchestra of Illinois, the ensemble was founded by musicians of the Lyric Opera Orchestra who wanted to perform symphonic concert repertoire outside of their opera schedule. Rachleff served as music director of the orchestra—renamed Chicago Philharmonic in 2004—for 23 seasons through 2013. 

Among the memorable performances of his final seasons with the Chicago Philharmonic was a combustible Brahms First in 2011 and his final concert as music director.

Rachleff also served as music director of the Rhode Island Philharmonic Orchestra for 21 years from 1996-2017. His farewell concert in 2017 also featured his wife, mezzo-soprano Susan Lorette Dunn. (Rachleff’s passing comes less than a month after the death of Bramwell Tovey, the RI Philharmonic’s current music director.)

“Larry brought an intensity and vision that raised the Orchestra to new heights,” said David Beauchesne, executive director of the Rhode Island Philharmonic in a released statement. “His tireless focus on artistic quality, dedication to excellence, and advocacy for music education was embraced by [the] Orchestra, audience, and the greater Rhode Island community.”

But Rachleff’s greatest legacy will likely be as a dedicated educator, who taught at the Shepherd School of Music for more than three decades.

“Larry was unique, unlike any colleague I’ve ever known,” said Leone Buyse, professor of flute at the Shepherd School, and a longtime colleague. “His influence on students and fellow professionals alike was enormous, life-changing and utterly incalculable. He was a superb musician, an extraordinary conductor and an educator who cared deeply for all of the young talents whom he mentored at the Shepherd School, at top music festivals across the country and in masterclasses abroad. 

“For all of us at the Shepherd School this loss is indescribable, but we’re comforted to know that his spirit will always remain with us and his legacy will live on through generations.”

“Those of us lucky enough to have followed his baton from the stage will remember Larry as a once-in-a-generation musician and educator of the highest caliber,” said Matthew Loden, dean of music at the Shepherd School. “On the podium, he was a clear and inspired conductor who routinely expected his ensembles to collectively outperform individual talent and ability. Teamwork, disciplined listening and joint responsibility for bringing the best possible music to an audience are just a few of the legacies of excellence that Larry leaves behind.”

“Larry’s musical genius was obvious to anyone that saw him conduct or met him off the podium,” said conductor Cristian Macelaru, a former student of Rachleff who received master’s degrees from the Shepherd School and is currently music director of the Orchestre National de France in Paris. “He was passionate, funny, knowledgeable, sensitive, caring and supportive, but most of all he had a unique gift of bringing people together and making them feel valued and appreciated. He had the ability to build an atmosphere for success where everyone was able to contribute their personal best. The impact of his passionate mentoring continues to be an inspiration for all those choosing to leave behind a better world.”

Larry Rachleff is survived by his wife, Susan; their son, Sam, who will attend the Shepherd School this fall; his mother, Naomi; and a brother, Peter Rachleff.

Services will be held 1 p.m. Monday at Rice University’s Hirsch Orchestra Rehearsal Hall. Following the funeral, there will be a graveside service at 3 p.m. at Emanu El Memorial Park, Bissonnet, Texas

The Shepherd School of Music will honor their former colleague at the opening performance of the Shepherd School Symphony Orchestra September 30.

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