In memoriam: Adolph 'Bud' Herseth, 91

Renowned CSO principal trumpet, longtime Oak Parker


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Adolph "Bud" Herseth, principal trumpet for the Chicago Symphony Orchestra for 53 years and considered the greatest orchestral trumpet player, died at his Oak Park home on April 13, 2013.

Herseth was born in Minnesota in 1921. He graduated from Luther College in Decorah, Iowa, and planned to teach, but during World War II, he performed as a bandsman at a flight school in Iowa, then at the U.S. Navy School of Music and finally with the commander of the Philippine Sea Frontier in the South Pacific.

While studying for a master's degree at the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston in 1948, he auditioned for CSO Music Director Artur Rodzinski and named principal trumpet. Though he never performed for Rodzinski, he played for five CSO music directors — Rafael Kubelík, Fritz Reiner, Jean Martinon, Sir Georg Solti, and Daniel Barenboim — plus many renowned guest conductors.

He was a dedicated teacher of young musicians and held honorary doctorates from DePaul University, Luther College, the New England Conservatory of Music, Rosary College (now Dominican University), and Valparaiso University. In 1994, he received the Living Art of Music Symphonic Musician Award, was named Instrumentalist of the Year by Musical America in 1995 and an honorary member of the Royal Danish Guild of Trumpeters. He received the American Symphony Orchestra League's Gold Baton Award in 2001, the first time the award was bestowed on an orchestral player, and became an honorary member of London's Royal Academy of Music. In 1988, the principal trumpet chair of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra was named after him. He continued to occupy that chair until 2001, when he retired as principal trumpet, then played for three years seasons more as emeritus before retiring completely in 2004 after 56 years with the CSO. He received the Theodore Thomas Medallion for Distinguished Service and was a longtime member of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra Alumni Association.

Jay Friedman, principal trombone of the CSO and longtime music director of the Symphony of Oak Park-River Forest, said, "I had the honor and privilege to sit next to Bud Herseth for over 35 years. To say he was a great musician is a gross understatement. He was not of this world when it came to perfection in playing and dedication. Sitting close to him was an even more amazing experience than sitting out in front. There will never be another like him."

In his tribute on April 14, the Chicago Tribune's John von Rhein wrote, "He was by general consent the most respected and influential orchestral trumpeter of the last half-century, and very probably the greatest. … Adolph Herseth's distinctive sound and playing style were the bulwark of a brass section whose fabled power and brilliance have long been the sonic hallmark of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. He was a legend, in the finest sense of that much-abused word."

When asked by von Rhein, in April 2001, how he would like to be remembered, Herseth said, "As a fairly decent guy who gave it his best every time he had the chance."

Bud Herseth is survived by Avis, his wife of 69 years; their two children, Christine Hoefer and Stephen (Mary Jo); six grandchildren and five great-grandchildren. His son Charles (Judith) preceded him in death in 1996.

Services will be private and details regarding a memorial will be announced at a later date.

In lieu of flowers, the family has requested donations to the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Luther College, or the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra.

Information provided by CSO archivist Frank Villella.


Reader Comments

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Ron Milco from Pamdale, CA  

Posted: October 14th, 2013 7:19 AM

Wow, what can one say, the greatest of the greats. He should have been a household The trumpet is such a great instrument, it needs to be elevated to the highest lever along with, the Mona Lisa, and Mr. or Dr. Herseth should be our leader, thank you God for letting him come to earth.

Douglas A. Huey from Mason City, IA.  

Posted: April 18th, 2013 12:08 PM

My sincerest condolences to the Herseth family. Bud's artistry changed not only my Trumpet playing, but my life as well, and continues to do so with every recording of his that I revisit. I have always held him up to all of my Trumpet students, BOTH Classical and Jazz, as the pinnacle of the Art of Trumpet performance and THE model of beauty and elegance in Music. Thank God for his legacy and his spirit!! May God bless you in your time of sorrow. DH

Jerry Hudson from Phoenix  

Posted: April 18th, 2013 12:37 AM

Condolences to the Herseth family. I know Steve from his days on Roy Gummerson's cross country team at OPRF.

Robert from Vancouver  

Posted: April 17th, 2013 2:08 PM

I play trumpet today because i heard him play Mahler. I sad day.

Georgia Donovan  

Posted: April 17th, 2013 9:11 AM

Mr. Herseth was a great inspiration to me through my years of trumpet study and performance. He was an amazing performer of course, but I also found, when I met him in Oak Park, a very kind man. I'm very sorry for his family's loss.

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