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THE HUMAN SIDE OF CONDUCTOR JOSEF KRIPS

The book, a tome weighing more than a pound, arrived in a brown package with an Austrian return address. I had not ordered it, but as soon as I saw the cover photograph and title I knew who had sent it to me.

There, beaming at the musicians in one of the last concerts he conducted, was the radiant, expressive face of the man who taught me to love symphonic music.

Twenty years after he died in 1974 at age 72, the Viennese conductor Josef Krips was the subject of a memoir. It had been put together by his third wife, Harrietta, and published in Vienna under the generic title "Josef Krips."

Krips, who in this country had been the conductor and music director of the Buffalo Philharmonic and the San Francisco Symphony, was also my godfather, and this copy of the book was a gift to my family from Harrietta.

The family ties ran deep.

My father, Hans, had been associate manager of the Buffalo Philharmonic when Krips arrived in 1954. They struck up a warm friendship, both personal and musical, which eventually led to annual Good Friday performances of Haydn's "The Seven Last Words of Christ" at Westminster Presbyterian Church, where my father was organist and choirmaster. And as I browsed through the newly arrived book, sure enough, there was a photograph of my father at the organ and Krips conducting one of those Haydn performances.

It was the closeness of their friendship that had led to the christening of my brother, Nils, my sister, Astrid, and me with Krips and his second wife, Mitzi, as our godparents.

Josef -- he preferred that we call him just Josef -- used to arrive with Mitzi each fall for the music season, and the drive to the airport became an annual event for my family.

Josef could draw off almost an entire cigarette with one enormous inhalation, then drink a whole glass of beer in one huge swallow. His musical appetites were grand as well, though they tended to fall into distinct and fairly conservative categories. Josef looked upon almost any 20th century composer as being modern, and his tastes were decidedly traditional, with a particular love for Mozart and Beethoven.

Mozart was a god, the closest friend a musician can have, a guide to all that was beautiful in life. One of Josef's last recording projects for Philips was the complete Mozart symphonies with the Concertgebouw Orchestra.

There was a local connection in his recording of the five Beethoven piano concertos with Artur Rubinstein as soloist. My father arranged for Josef and Rubinstein to listen to tapes of those recording sessions in the parish hall of Westminster Church while Rubinstein was in Buffalo for an appearance with the Philharmonic.

The two men sat for an entire Saturday afternoon, listening to their recorded performances, nodding to one another over an especially fine moment.

Occasionally I would tag along with my father to a rehearsal, and that is when I first tasted backstage life. I loved being with him behind the scenes, parading through the auditorium after the lights had dimmed and everyone in the audience had taken their seats.

As I became bold enough to do this myself, intermissions were a favorite time to go backstage, where I would knock on the door of Josef's dressing room. Eugene Bishop, who served as both personnel manager and fourth trumpet, was also my trumpet teacher. He would peer out over his wire-rimmed glasses and cigarette, and let me in.

"Ah, my Carl," was Josef's greeting as he changed his shirt, studying the score for the next piece he was conducting as he fastened his cuff links.

When I first started going backstage on my own, I had the habit of asking Josef for an autograph. It was an absurd request, given my relationship with him, but I thought it was a sophisticated thing to do. He always granted my wish, sometimes signing that afternoon's program, occasionally giving me a copy of a new recording, the jacket inscribed with my name and a greeting of affection.

Though my father left his associate manager's post to teach and continue playing the organ, he remained on the orchestra's board and still performed with Josef, in Buffalo and elsewhere.

They were genuine friends. After my father died in 1982, I discovered in his papers an exchange of letters between him and Josef when my father resigned as the orchestra's associate manager of the orchestra.

"Hansie," Josef begged my father, "please reconsider." To my knowledge, he was the only adult who ever used this name of endearment.

This is the intimate, little-known side of Josef Krips, the man on the podium, whose skyrocketing career had been cut short in 1938 by the Austrian Anschluss and World War II. Josef had gone from conducting the Vienna State Opera to working in a pickle factory in order to escape persecution from the Nazis.

I last saw Josef shortly before his death in 1974, when he conducted the Boston Symphony Orchestra at the Tanglewood Festival.

Tanglewood was very familiar to me. As a young man my father had been a member of Tanglewood's first summer conducting class, whose most famous graduate was Leonard Bernstein. We came regularly for concerts when I was a boy, sometimes renting a cottage in the Berkshires, and we were always present when Josef appeared as a guest conductor.

Even in Tanglewood there was always a connection with Josef.

When Josef's 1974 Tanglewood appearance was announced, I was living in Providence, R.I., just a few hours away, and had only recently been married. There was no question. We would go to the concert.

For his last Tanglewood performance he had chosen to close with Schubert's "Unfinished" Symphony. As his guests, my wife and I were seated in a box with Harrietta Krips. Now, almost half my lifetime later, I remember few details of the performance, but I distinctly recall that upon its conclusion I walked backstage with my wife to greet my godfather, just as I had during those countless Sunday afternoons as a boy.

I had not seen him since he left Buffalo for San Francisco. Of course, he looked older, and he seemed a little frail, but my sense of being with him was otherwise unchanged. He embraced me and made a big fuss about meeting my wife, Bonnie. I talked briefly about my first post-college job, as a schoolteacher. And I told Josef that we had seen his Buffalo predecessor, William Steinberg, conduct the BSO in Providence.

I knew better than to stay long in Josef's dressing room that summer Sunday afternoon. Of course, there was nothing I could say about the Schubert that Josef did not already know. And with Harrietta present, it would have been inappropriate to inquire about Mitzi, who had died in 1971. She remained in my memory a mysterious presence, a petite blond woman who always produced chocolates for us during our visits to their hotel suite.

We left for our car after just a few minutes with Josef. Already the cavernous Tanglewood shed was nearly empty, with birds darting in and out at the sides, where there were no walls and you could see tall pine trees guarding the enormous lawn.

Somehow, my memory flashed back to one of Josef's last Buffalo concerts when he conducted a favorite work, Beethoven's Sixth Symphony, the "Pastoral." In spite of my ongoing adolescent rebellion against anything associated with my parents, I was deeply affected by the performance. That night at home I found a recording of the symphony, which I played in my bedroom.

We lived in an old house at 135 Hodge Ave., and the sounds traveled easily from room to room. Even from my upstairs-rear location, the sound of Beethoven must have traveled downstairs to the dining room, where my mother and father had remained for one of their chats. Leaving my room after listening to the recording, I overheard my father saying, "There's hope for him yet."

Yes, thanks to a conductor who had gone from the Vienna State Opera to ignominy in a pickle factory, then later to Buffalo and into our hearts.

Carl Vigeland, a native of Buffalo, is a writer now living in Amherst, Mass.

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