TACOMA (The News Tribune)–Edward Seferian–the legendary free spirit behind what became the Tacoma Symphony Orchestra–and its conductor from 1959 to 1994–died Saturday of cancer.
Seferian–72–was a Juilliard-educated violinist who taught three generations of University of Puget Sound fiddlers.
The day he died–the 30-some rose bushes he devotedly tended at his North End home were in bloom.
"Our house was full of flowers," remembered his daughter Linda.
Also mourning the loss are his other beloved children–Susan and Mark–and his wife of 48 years–Jan. To Jan–Seferian was rambunctious and stubborn–gentle and strong–with a great sense of humor.
The often-joking–cigar-smoking–sports-car-speeding–heavy-jowled–teddy-bearish Armenian American left more of a mark on Tacoma as a whole than perhaps any musician in its history.
Seferian was born in Cleveland in 1931. His father was an Oriental rug repairman–his mother a disciplinarian who asked her son every day until he was 60 if he had practiced his violin.
He had three sisters and was a child prodigy at violin–which he took up at 4. His teacher and mentor was Josef Gingold–concertmaster of the nationally acclaimed Cleveland Orchestra.
Violin king Fritz Kreisler dubbed Seferian the best among the youth in Cleveland–and in a competition awarded him a violin. Around that time–Seferian also earned a full ride to the Juilliard School in New York.
But the Korean War began–so Seferian joined the White House Symphony Orchestra–a component of the US Marine Band. For three years–he played at the White House–including for Presidents Dwight Eisenhower and Harry Truman.
Eisenhower wasn’t much interested in the orchestra–as Seferian recalled. Seferian wasn’t much interested in the rules–always getting grounded for having dusty shoes or needing a haircut.
He returned to Juilliard and by 1958 had earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees. There he met Jan–a gifted soprano who was performing off-Broadway by the time Seferian got the job offer in Tacoma–a city neither of them had ever heard of.
For an interview–Seferian played a hairy Paganini caprice and one of Bach’s partitas–but the then-UPS president was unmoved.
"Do you know any folk music?" the president asked.
Seferian played "The Flight of the Bumblebee" as fast as he could–and got the job. He planned to stay a year – the school year of 1959-60.
Why not pursue a career in orchestras?
"Oh–Jim," Seferian once told his close friend and later UPS dean of music–Jim Sorensen. "Can you think of anything more boring?"
When Sorensen’s staff meetings ran long–Seferian tapped his big fingers loudly on the desk. He hated meetings.
At UPS–he taught eight to 10 students each semester. He inherited the UPS/Tacoma Symphony–a combination of college kids and townspeople–and turned it into an independent nonprofit with a board of directors and business donors.
He brought his friends–such as the violin great Pinchas Zukerman–to perform–and often made admission free.
He retired in 1994–when Harvey Felder became conductor. Dozens of players remained fiercely loyal to him.
Marian West–a double bass player–praised Felder for his professionalism–but said–"On the other hand–it was fun playing for Ed."
In the early 1960s–Seferian was associate concertmaster for the Seattle Symphony. When the group christened the new Opera Hall at Seattle Center–its home after the 1962 World’s Fair–Seferian was the featured soloist.
He built what is now the 75-member UPS University Symphony Orchestra–recruiting players and increasing and improving the department along the way.
When he retired from UPS in 1999–he said he would miss the students the most. Kids loved him for his warmth–his charm and being demanding–and so did adult players.
"He cared about the (players) personally," said violist Jon Speck.
The orchestra didn’t always sound perfect–but it wasn’t about that. Players got to try fascinating–classic pieces other conductors might have considered too challenging–Speck said. His daughter Linda thinks of him as "a musical social worker."
Seferian told jokes and stories between movemen’s–keeping rehearsals from being "straight–serious business," said violinist Ann Tremaine.
Off the podium–Seferian simply enjoyed life–said one of his best friends–Tacoma attorney Allan Overland.
On one occasion–Seferian was speeding on the highway when a car rear-ended his red convertible MG two-seater. His Kreisler violin–the one he was using teaching private lessons days before he died–was in the trunk.
He ran to the trunk–pulled it out and played it to see if it had lost its tone.
"The state trooper came by to see this guy playing the violin by the side of the road," Overland said. "He said–’Excuse me–officer–I’m listening.’"