Curtis is saddened to learn of the passing of those in our alumni family. We offer our sincerest condolences to both loved ones and colleagues.
The tributes below, to alumni who have passed since the fall of 2021, barely scratch the surface of the accomplishments, relationships, and influence that made each person unique. We invite you to join us in celebrating their memories through pictures and obituaries.
Please send any additions or corrections to email@example.com for inclusion here, as well as possible publication in Overtones magazine.
CECILIA BRAUER (Piano ’40), who played the celeste, piano, and glass armonica with the Metropolitan Opera, died on October 16, 2021, in Teaneck, N.J. She was 97. Ms. Brauer was a noted champion of the glass armonica, the instrument invented by Benjamin Franklin, which produces an ethereal sound when a player rubs their fingers on glasses of many sizes. At the Met, Ms. Brauer introduced it in Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor, first in 1992 and again in the 2000s. She also performed the instrument on PBS specials, film scores for Interview with the Vampire and Frida, and at the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia. Ms. Brauer studied piano at Curtis under Isabelle Vengerova and maintained close ties to the school ever since. She was an associate member of the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, where her brother, Raymond Gniewek (1931–2021), was concertmaster.
ROBERT H. SAYRE (Cello ’48) died on December 15, 2021, in Rocklin, Calif. He was 94. Born in Pittsburgh in 1927, Mr. Sayre entered Curtis at age 14 to study with Gregor Piatigorsky. After graduation he performed for three seasons with the Cleveland Orchestra and later held posts with the Cincinnati Symphony, San Antonio Symphony, and Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestras. Most notably, he served as principal cello of the San Francisco Symphony from 1964 to 1976. Mr. Sayre was a longtime cello professor at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music and founded and conducted the San Francisco Young Professionals Orchestra. An active recitalist, Mr. Sayre was once called “one of the top half-dozen cellists in the world today” by the Cincinnati Enquirer.
01 - 01 Cecilia Brauer (Piano ’40)
Cellist LESLIE PARNAS (Cello ’51), who was a member of the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra and a teacher at Boston University, died on February 1, 2022, in Venice, Fla., at age 90. The cause was heart failure. Mr. Parnas was born into a musical family in St. Louis on November 11, 1931, and began studies on the piano at age five. Three years later he switched to the cello, and at age 14, he made his solo debut with the St. Louis Symphony. He served as the orchestra’s principal cellist from 1954 to 1962. After studies with Gregor Piatigorsky at Curtis, Mr. Parnas won the Pablo Casals Prize at the International Cello Competition in Paris (1957) and took second prize in the International Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow (1962). Mr. Parnas was a founding member of the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, for which he frequently recorded. He made numerous international tours, including to the Soviet Union, where he saw the potential for bridge-building during the Cold War.
DONALD PECK (Flute ’51), principal flute of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra from 1958 to 1999, died on April 29, 2022, in Chicago. He was 92. A native of Yakima, Wash., Mr. Peck studied at Curtis with William Kincaid, the celebrated principal flute of the Philadelphia Orchestra. “Kincaid wanted me to make the flute sound like an instrument, instead of tootily-flutily,” he told the Chicago Tribune in 1985. “I would go to hear the Philadelphia Orchestra every week, and he would be playing, and I’d see what he was talking about.” Beginning in 1952, Mr. Peck worked his way up the orchestral ladder, performing with the National Symphony Orchestra and the U.S. Marine Band, followed by two years as principal flute in the Kansas City Philharmonic. In 1957, Fritz Reiner appointed him assistant principal flute of the CSO, before promoting him to principal less than a year later. In addition to Reiner, Mr. Peck performed under music directors Jean Martinon, Georg Solti, and Daniel Barenboim. He appeared on more than 300 recordings in Chicago. In 1985, he gave the premiere of Morton Gould’s Flute Concerto with the CSO under Georg Solti. Mr. Peck served on the faculties of DePaul and Roosevelt universities, where he taught flute and woodwind ensemble, and was a frequent guest lecturer and teacher at universities and conservatories around the world. Mr. Peck told his life story in a 2007 memoir, The Right Place, the Right Time! Tales of Chicago Symphony Days, published by Indiana University Press.
HENRY CHARLES SMITH III (Trombone ’55) passed away September 8, 2021. A one-time member of the Curtis faculty, he enjoyed a varied career as instrumentalist, conductor, and educator. He served as principal trombone of the Philadelphia Orchestra before leading the South Dakota Symphony Orchestra, Minnesota Orchestra, St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, and Detroit Symphony Orchestra from the podium.
Opera director PLATO KARAYANIS (Voice ’56), who served as general director of the Dallas Opera for nearly a quarter-century, died on April 29, 2022, in Santa Fe, N.M., at age 93. Born in Pittsburgh, the son of Greek immigrants, Mr. Karayanis studied music at Carnegie Mellon University, followed by voice at Curtis, where he earned an Artist Diploma. His student days at Curtis were pivotal in at least two respects: There, he met mezzo-soprano Dorothy Krebill, whom he married in 1956. Additionally, Herbert Graf, then the director of Curtis’s opera department, encouraged Mr. Karayanis to expand his horizons to include management and stage directing. Mr. Karayanis later spent six years in Europe studying opera administration and production at the Hamburg State Opera, while also directing and singing baritone roles. After returning to the U.S. in 1964, he held administrative positions with the San Francisco Opera, the Metropolitan Opera National company, and Affiliate Artists, a New York nonprofit organization. Named general director of the Dallas Opera in 1977, Mr. Karayanis was recognized for his collaborative work ethic. He oversaw an expansion in the company’s repertory, the creation of a separate Dallas Opera Orchestra, and the 1994 hiring of Graeme Jenkins as the company’s music director and conductor. After retiring from the company in 2000, he held interim directorships with Opera San Antonio and Palm Beach Opera. Mr. Karayanis is survived by his wife, Dorothy, and extended family.
01 - 03 Leslie Parnas (Cello '51)
02 - 03 Donald Peck (Flute ’51)
03 - 03 Plato Karayanis (Voice ’56)
JAY SAMUELS (Bassoon ’63), died on December 13, 2021, in Hilton Head, S.C. He was 83. Born December 18, 1937, in Albany, N.Y., he studied bassoon at Curtis with Sol Schoenbach. He went on to have a six-decade career in music, often performing as a pi¬anist in jazz and popular styles.
DR. RICHARD A. DARNE (Organ ’64) passed away on October 7, 2021. His widow shared that “the Curtis Institute and the organ in Curtis Hall were the great loves of his life.” He served as the music director and organist at Cedar Lane Unitarian-Universalist Church in Bethesda, Md. for over 40 years. In addition to studies at Curtis, he earned his Master of Church Music at the College of Church Musicians at Washington Cathedral and attended the Catholic University of America, where he was granted the first Doctor of Musical Arts degree awarded by the university.
CHRISTOPHER REX (Cello ’72), the long-serving principal cellist of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, died March 22, 2022, in Atlanta, Ga. Mr. Rex studied at Curtis with Orlando Cole and after graduation, won a cello position in the Philadelphia Orchestra. After seven seasons in Philadelphia, he joined the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra in 1979 as its principal cellist. Mr. Rex was an active presence in Georgia, leading the cello department at the McDuffie Center for Strings at Mercer University and serving as the founding artistic director of two festivals: the Amelia Island Chamber Music Festival and the Madison Chamber Music Festival. His brother Charles posted on social media, “It is with great sadness and sense of extreme loss that not only have I lost my dear brother, but the world of music has lost a true artist and devotee to the love of beauty.” The brothers were the subject of the 2016 documentary Concerto for Two Brothers, which examined the siblings’ troubled Florida childhood living under a domineering father.
01 - 01 Christopher Rex ('72)