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Harry Taub, associate concertmaster of the BPO, violinist, composer; served orchestra for 51 years May 18, 1924 -- Oct. 15, 2008

Violinist and composer Harry Taub, longtime associate concertmaster of the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra, died Wednesday after a long decline in health.

Mr. Taub, widely respected as a gentleman as well as a consummate musician, was 84.

He had been under hospice care in his Buffalo home, his son Michael said.

A Buffalo native, Mr. Taub played in the Bennett High School orchestra and won a scholarship to the Oberlin Conservatory. His studies were interrupted by World War II, when he served two years in the European Theater, including nine months in a combat unit with the Second Infantry Division. Mr. Taub was awarded the Bronze Star for valor in the Battle of the Bulge. He also earned two Purple Hearts and four battle stars.

He was a senior at Oberlin in 1947 when he was hired as first violinist for the Cleveland Orchestra by its famed music director, George Szell. He played with Szell until 1952, when William Steinberg, the BPO's music director, offered him the position of associate concertmaster.

Mr. Taub held that job until 1996. He then continued as associate concertmaster emeritus until 2003, when he retired after 51 years with the BPO.

"He had the most difficult job in the orchestra," said BPO violinist Clementina Fleshler, a close friend. "As associate concertmaster, you're in the hot seat all the time."

Once, Fleshler recalled, Mr. Taub did a stunning last-minute job with the challenging violin solo in Richard Strauss' "Also Sprach Zarathustra."

"The concertmaster decided someone had had a heart attack playing 'Zarathustra,' and he didn't want to play it," she recalled. "Harry had to play it without any notice."

Mr. Taub was playing with the BPO when he met his wife, the former Suzanne Swanekamp. He often spoke of the day he first saw the pretty blond woman sitting in a front row. They married in 1957.

"He was a straight shooter," said his son Michael. "He always told me to judge an individual on his own merits."

An only child, Nr. Taub studied with Joseph Wincenc, then the BPO's concertmaster. At 16, he debuted with the BPO at Beaver Island State Park, playing Saint-Saens' "Rondo Capriccioso."

After joining the BPO, he played many summers with the Chautauqua Symphony and also made solo and chamber music appearances throughout the Buffalo area. For years, he played "Kol Nidre" on Yom Kippur at Temple Beth Zion.

Mr. Taub had a low-key sense of humor. He owned a patent for the Presto-Shelf, which attaches to a music stand and holds bows and reeds.

His compositions, graceful and melodic, are widely esteemed. A year before he died, violist Patricia McCarty performed a solo viola piece of his in Manhattan for a New York Viola Society recital.

In addition to his wife and son, Mr. Taub is survived by another son, Samuel, and a daughter, Sharon Valente.

A service will be at 1 p.m. Friday in Congregation Havurah, 6320 Main St., Amherst.

-- Mary Kunz Goldman

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