BSO concertmaster Lowe retires after 35-year career

September 13, 2019 at 11:42 am

By Aaron Keebaugh

Malcom Lowe confers with BSO music director Andris Nelsons .

Malcolm Lowe has announced his retirement as concertmaster of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, bringing an end to a 35-year career with the ensemble.

Lowe, 66, came to the BSO in 1984, when Seiji Ozawa appointed him to the first violin chair. His tenure in that position is the second longest in the orchestra’s 138-year history, trailing only that of Richard Burgin, who served in the post for 42 years beginning in 1920. 

In his time with the orchestra, Lowe participated in more than 25 international tours that took him across Canada, Europe, South America, and Asia. In addition, he served as first violinist and artistic director of the Boston Symphony Chamber Players.

Lowe’s retirement comes in the wake of an extended sick leave that he took last season after he suffered a concussion from a fall while trying to avoid a cyclist in 2018. He was given a clean bill of health this past summer, and returned to his post for the Tanglewood Festival.

In a statement, Lowe said that his recovery and return “has been one of my most satisfying accomplishments—truly a mountain conquered.” But he decided to step down from his post before the new season begins on September 19, and “listen to the voices that are beckoning me to do other things with the rest of my life,” he said.

“From the bottom of my heart, I thank my orchestra colleagues and Andris Nelsons for their dedication and their ability to delve deeply into the music and ask the unanswerable questions—to find the voice that lifts music from the ordinary to an extraordinary living poetry,” he added. “I will cherish forever the shared moments of everyday work, moments striving in our artistic search, practicing, trying to perfect, to contribute, to give meaning to our efforts, the music, our team, and our orchestra.”

“We are deeply indebted and grateful to Malcolm for sharing his countless musical gifts with us these many years,” added Andris Nelsons. “Malcolm has inspired generations of music lovers with his exquisite musicality and beauty of sound, alongside his unerring consistency of performance time and again at the highest levels of his art form.”

With his superb technique and golden tone, Lowe was both a firm and sensitive musical presence in a wide range of repertoire with the BSO. As soloist, he performed concertos of Bruch, Mozart and Brahms. He was also featured in Walton’s Violin Concerto, led by Jeffrey Tate.

Lowe also performed in more than 100 recordings with the orchestra, including a Mahler cycle, Dutilleux’s The Shadow of Time, Strauss’s Elektra, and Bartók’s Concerto for Orchestra, all led by Ozawa. With James Levine, Lowe was part of the Grammy-award winning recording of Ravel’s Daphnis et Chloé and an album dedicated to the music of Charles Wuorinen. He can also be heard in Brahms’s complete symphonies, led by Bernard Haitink; in the Grammy-winning survey of Shostakovich’s symphonies, under Andris Nelsons; and on the album Bernstein: The Final Concert, which featured Bernstein leading Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7.

Born into a musical family on a farm in Hamiota, Manitoba, Lowe studied violin with his father before moving to the Regina Conservatory of Music and, eventually, to the Curtis Institute of Music, where he perfected his playing with Ivan Galamian. He has counted Josef Gingold, Felix Galimir, Alexander Schneider, and Jascha Brodsky as influences.

Before coming to the BSO, Lowe served as concertmaster of the Regina Symphony Orchestra (1975-1976) and Quebec Symphony Orchestra (1977-1983). He was also a laureate in the 1979 Montreal Violin Competition. 

Lowe said that it was an honor to serve as concertmaster of the BSO for so many decades. “It was really an exciting adventure and brought unexpected meaning to a boy from the prairies of Canada,” he added.

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