Monthly Archives: August 2017

Frieda Belinfante: Cellist, Conductor, Outwitter of Nazis

In light of recent events in America, here’s an unplanned entry on Nazi-fighting cellist Frieda Belinfante.

frieda

Heroine.

I’ve never mentioned her on the blog before; her story is so extraordinary that I wanted to save it for a big project. I still want to come back to it someday. But I thought her story – and more specifically, her own words – could bring some much-needed comfort, perspective, and inspiration in this particular moment.

Frieda Belinfante was a cellist and conductor who was born in Amsterdam on May 10, 1904. The Concertgebouw hired her to found the Het Klein Orkest in 1937, which, in the words of Wikipedia, “made her the first woman in Europe to be artistic director and conductor of an ongoing professional orchestral ensemble.” Frieda was a lesbian, and her father Jewish (although she insisted adamantly that neither her heritage nor her sexuality defined her). After barely escaping the Nazis, she emigrated to the United States in 1947 and founded the Orange County Philharmonic Orchestra. She died in the spring of 1995 in New Mexico.

The following excerpts are transcriptions from an oral history testimony she gave to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in May of 1994. You can read all 86 pages of it here, and I recommend that when you have time, you do.

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Frédérique Petrides: Music Director, Newsletter-Writer, Orchestrette-Maker

Industrialist Joseph Heinrich Mayer met Seraphine Sebrechts when he hired her to be his invalid first wife’s musical companion. After the first Mrs. Mayer died, Seraphine became the second, and in 1903, the newlyweds had a daughter named Frédérique Mayer.

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“Be glamorous AND trailblazing AND aristocratic AND badass? I believe I can do that.” – Frédérique Mayer Petrides, probably

Riki (as she was nicknamed) seized every privilege of her upbringing, throwing herself into her studies with aplomb and enrolling at the Royal Conservatory in Brussels. (She had seen how her pianist / composer / painter / photographer mother’s talents had been suppressed, and she was determined not to let her own go to waste.) In 1923 Frédérique emigrated to the United States, where she began pursuing her penchant for conducting at New York University.

A decade later, in 1933, she and her journalist husband Peter Petrides decided to found a women’s chamber orchestra: the Orchestrette Classique. Peter was named the Orchestrette’s manager and publicist, while Frédérique became its music director.

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Filed under Women In Music, Women Violinists