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Doriot Anthony Dwyer, 1922 – 2020

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“Become a musician only if you have to” was a half-serious quip from Doriot Anthony Dwyer, who died yesterday in Kansas age 98.

Born in Illinois in 1922 and a distant relative of suffragette Susan B. Anthony, Dwyer served as principal flute in the Boston Symphony Orchestra for almost 40 years. Having learned flute from her mother — “she used the instrument to sing, and had a huge, beautiful sound,” Dwyer attended Eastman, earning a bachelor’s degree and performer certificate. (Color details herein are drawn from online accounts by former Boston Globe critic Richard Dyer, local musician and music historian Susan Fleet, British music commentator and blogger Norman Lebrecht and his readers, scholar K.E Kean, and more.) Precocious at 12, Doriot began studying with Ernest Liegl, traveling five hours to Chicago twice each month for five years. At his recommendation Dwyer applied to Curtis, but she was rejected. At Interlochen that summer, Eastman head Howard Hanson offered her a scholarship. At Eastman she developed sufficient skills to win second flute with the National Symphony. After two years with the National Symphony, Doriot studied with William Kincaid, principal flute of the Philadelphia Orchestra. In 1945 she moved to New York to freelance, among other gigs playing in a jazz band behind Frank Sinatra. “Sinatra was really an artist,” she said. “Good jazz singers are true artists: they never do the same thing twice.” The next year she played in an orchestra for a ballet troupe, but the tour folded in Dallas. She took a train to Los Angeles. Six months later she was playing lucrative jobs in recording studios, being a fine sightreader. She auditioned for second flute in the LA Philharmonic and held the position from 1946 until 1952. Bruno Walter named her principal of the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra, a radio orchestra similar to the NBC Symphony, whose repertoire was difficult and schedule demanding.

In 1952 the BSO announced auditions to replace retiring principal flutist George Laurent. To avoid any confusion about her gender Doriot signed her application “Miss” Doriot Anthony. BSO conductor Charles Munch decided to hold a “ladies’ day” audition. Doriot described her invitation to audition for the BSO as “the greatest thrill of my life.” She went into heavy training. The audition lasted more than three hours. Arthur Fiedler asked for the flute solo from Grieg’s Piano Concerto. Doriot played it from memory. After a while, she played everything from memory. “What do you want to hear?” she asked, “I’ll just play it. …  They were knocked out by that,” she later said.

They asked if she planned to have children. She did, but told them it was none of their business. When they asked her to come back in two weeks and audition again, she said no. Two months later the offer came, but it said nothing about money. Told she would get the usual sum, Doriot asked for more and got it. “It’s a lot of money for a little girl,” said the BSO manager. To which Doriot replied: “It’s a big job.”

She was only the second woman to win a principal chair in a major US orchestra.

 “I encountered more prejudice in the press than I did in the orchestra.” Local newspapers in 1952 reacted to the appointment: “Woman Crashes Boston Symphony: Eyebrows Lifted as Miss Anthony sat at Famous Flutist’s Desk”; “Flutist, 30 and Pretty, Here with Boston Symphony.” One noted that she dressed unobtrusively, in a long-sleeved floor-length black dress; another said she “dressed well without aiming at spectacular effect, and her lipstick, though generously applied, is the right shade for her coloring.” Approached by a reporter in 1952, she said: ‘Gradually, during my life, I’ve got used to the idea that I’m a woman.’

And here is how she sounded in a private recording in 1955 at Harvard Musical Association, when she played Busoni’s Albumblatt with pianist Gregory Tucker:

Dwyer had nothing but praise for colleagues cellist Samuel Mayes, violist Joseph di Pasquale, French hornist James Stagliano, principal oboe Ralph Gomberg, principal bassoon Sherman Walt.

During her 38 years with the BSO, Doriot won critical acclaim for performances under Munch, Erich Leinsdorf, William Steinberg, Seiji Ozawa, and guest conductors Georg Solti and Pierre Boulez, many of them preserved on recordings.

In 1963 the Boston Symphony established the BSO Chamber Players, principal players of the string, woodwind, brass, and percussion sections. Doriot was the only woman. During the late 1980s Doriot toyed with the idea of retiring, but said: “ … I fell in love with our [woodwind] quartet … that’s why I couldn’t leave the Symphony.” When she did retire, she went out in style. The BSO commissioned Ellen Taafe Zwilich to compose a Concerto for Flute and Orchestra for her, which she premiered in April 1990.

Doriot left a legendary imprint on the Boston sound. Commenters yesterday wrote, “Not every flutist was a fan of hers — that vibrato, OMG — but like all great artists, there was never a moment when you could mistake her for anyone else.” … “I rushed backstage and introduced myself and asked her about flute performance as a career. She cautioned me strongly that it was no place for women. That was probably 1967 or 1968.” … “Like a lot of really talented people, she could also be absentminded. She once forgot her flute in the security area of Frankfurt airport and flew to her next destination without it. She never gave up trying to retrieve her instrument. Years later, … in the Tanglewood parking lot she rushed out of the car … I was horrified to see that she must have neglected to put the gear in Park and as she was talking to me, her car slowly picked up speed and glided serenely into the woods.”

And for those who desire to test their memories, we append the complete history of Dwyer as BSO soloist HERE.

Susan Fleet’s page on the flautist is HERE.

11 Comments »

11 Comments [leave a civil comment (others will be removed) and please disclose relevant affiliations]

  1. Requiescat in pace.

    Comment by Bill Blake — March 16, 2020 at 7:45 pm

  2. I will always remember Mrs. Dwyer (I never referred to her by any other name) as the superb principal flutist of the Boston Symphony. I never heard a better one. (I was told that at the time, the position had first been offered to James Pappoutsakis, who declined it, preferring to remain in the second chair; that was a durable partnership for many years.) I heard Mrs. Dwyer in many live performances and recordings, even memorably in Daphnis et Chloé, a favorite of everybody when she played it. I treasure a CD of Walter Piston’s Quintet for flute and string quartet (1942) performed by her and the Portland Quartet (Northeastern MR 9002, out of print).

    That video of Debussy’s Faune certainly shows Mrs. Dwyer at her usual best, with wonderful tone and full strength. Not to diminish my appreciation of her long and peerless career, I will also take this moment to appreciate Bernstein’s really excellent performance here, even though he chose to conduct Mrs. Dwyer’s opening solo. I have long derided Lennie’s theatricality in his conducting, and there’s some of that here, but his technique is also brilliantly precise and completely communicative in this video, and the resulting performance is beautiful. (I never before heard the bassoon trills at m. 28.)

    Comment by Mark DeVoto — March 17, 2020 at 5:49 pm

  3. Jacques Zoon penned this in response to an entreaty from our esteemed emerita editor Bettina Norton:

    The first time I had met Doriot was in 1985 when I played with the Chamber Orchestra of Europe, conducted by Abbado, on its first US tour. I actually didn’t meet her in person, but after our concert in Symphony Hall, she left me a very enthusiastic message in the hotel!

    Then I started listening to some BSO recordings and couldn’t believe my ears when I heard Doriot’s playing: she sounded so fresh, like a sparkling mountain creek! In 1996, hearing that I was teaching in Indiana, she had told the board to invite me for a trial.

    Once I was living in Boston and playing with the BSO, Doriot invited me to a restaurant and then to the Arnold Arboretum. I discovered such a charming, sharp and lively lady, she could have been Mary Poppins!

    Also in Tanglewood we had few chances to meet and I visited her masterclass and recital; although her playing might have already become more frail, her eternal youth was the thing which charmed everyone!

    It is very seldom that our Creator unites unique physical disposition with an ultimate artistic and creative spirit: Doriot was such blessed one!

    She has been of great inspiration for hundreds of flutists, all over the world!

    Jacques Zoon,
    Former principal flute of the BSO.
    Flute Professor in Geneva and Madrid

    Comment by Jacques Zoon — March 17, 2020 at 6:50 pm

  4. Doriot Anthony Dwyer has rightly earned her legacy as one of the great instrumentalists to have ever played in the BSO. From those who heard her on a regular basis, I’ve only heard amazing things.

    I have to say I GREATLY miss Jacques Zoon’s presence in the orchestra. Jacques, I hope you are thriving and happy wherever you are. The years you spent with the BSO were frankly magical. Thank you for your superb artistry. Be well!

    Comment by Mogulmeister — March 18, 2020 at 8:40 am

  5. Mogulmeister,
    I sent along your kind comment to Jacques Zoon.
    As for Doriot Anthony, as she was then, I first heard her at a concert at a Radcliffe dorm in the Fall of 1953, just after she had been appointed. A high-schooler at the time, I went as the guest of a long-time friend, Nancy Arkeylan, student there, who became Mrs. Sam Huntington. Do I remember what DAD played? No, but I remember being astonished, not only at her gorgeous playing but at the enormoty of the meaning of it…

    Comment by Bettina A Norton — March 22, 2020 at 10:04 pm

  6. Dwyer was one of the two or three best flutists in symphony orchestras in the nation. But in no way was she the second principal player to be a woman. How you can print such an egregious error (which has been copied by the AP, NY Times and others), is beyond comprehension. Way back in the 1930s, Florence Wightman was Principal Harp with the Cleveland Orchestra, which she left for the Roxy Theater in New York, she was succeeded by Alice Chalifoux, who remained for many decades. Meanwhile, Edna Phillips was the first Principal Harp to remain permanently, in the Philadelphia Orchestra. And Lucile Lawrence was Principal Harp in the Radio City Music Hall Symphony Orchestra.
    And don’t you dare say that harpists don’t count,as the NY Times did in a letter refusing to print a correction.

    Comment by Saul Davis — March 24, 2020 at 7:27 pm

  7. Thanks. Our writeup contains zero original research and (hopefully!) has been copied by no one, but for the historical record I urge you to post this, https://harpcolumn.com/forums/topic/new-harpist-14-year-old/page/2/ , presumably from you, to the Fleet, Lebrecht, and wikipedia pages if you have not already done so.

    Comment by David Moran — March 24, 2020 at 11:18 pm

  8. I submitted corrections to Slippedisc three times, and as far as I know, none were published. The New York Times decided it was not worthy of their attention, and declined to print a correction. You were mentioned by them as a source, along with the Associated Press, so I think you were copied from. Mary Sue Welsh published a very fine biography of Edna Phillips called One Woman in a Hundred, published by a major academic press. By 1952, I’m sure Carlos Salzedo had placed several more (women) students in orchestras all over the country. Such people as Lynne Palmer (Seattle), Elyse Ilku (Detroit), and others. His life is well documented in Pentacle, a biography by Marietta Bitter, which I helped edit, published by the American Harp Society’s Salzedo Fund, available on Amazon; and From Aeolian to Thunder, by Dewey Owens, published by Lyon & Healy, available on their site, which reflects Lucile Lawrence’s view on her former husband/mentor/teacher’s life. And, by the way, Lucile Lawrence taught at Boston University and Tanglewood for many years, teaching many of the major harpists in New England, including Susan Miron, as well as Elizabeth Morse Feldman, Stephanie Curcio, Emily Halpern Lewis, Franziska Huhn, and numerous others. I studied with her at Tanglewood and Manhattan School of Music.

    Comment by Saul Davis — March 26, 2020 at 2:46 pm

  9. P.S., I cannot make changes on Wikipedia entries, as I was blocked for trying numerous times to restore my carefully written entry on Carlos Salzedo, after it was butchered by a BYU employee.

    Comment by Saul Davis — March 26, 2020 at 2:47 pm

  10. This recitation from you is distressing to read, and I am glad (and thank you) for posting the details as you have. They will appear in searches, eventually.

    Wikipedia editorial regs and enforcement are very troubling sometimes, not to say capricious, not to say obnoxious, I too know firsthand.

    Everything I wrote above was from the sources I listed except for (I failed to make clear) the opening DAD quote, which I heard her say at a dinner party long ago (and which it turns out she was fond of saying anyway).

    Comment by David Moran — March 26, 2020 at 5:00 pm

  11. More reminiscences on Ms. Dwyer from Andy Pincus:

    https://www.berkshireeagle.com/stories/andrew-pincus-critics-notebook-remembering-forgetful-doriot,600316?

    Comment by Bill Blake — March 30, 2020 at 11:57 am

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