Cincinnati has lost a musician who contributed much to the cultural life of our city. Richard “Dick” Waller passed away yesterday. His daughter, Margy Waller, said that he died while listening to a recording of Dvorak’s “Romance” in F Minor. It was days after celebrating his 93rd birthday with cake and Graeter’s Ice Cream.
“I’m grateful. And told him many times over the past few days that he has an incredible legacy of music, art, and community, and a beautiful family,” she said. “He showed us how to see the miracles, to be thankful and optimistic, and always to see the best in everything and everyone. That’s a high bar—and he inspires us to aim for it.”
Waller, former principal clarinetist of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, was the founder of the Linton Music Series. From its start in 1978, his mantra was “music making among friends.” It began with a small chamber music concert of “friends” in the historic church, First Unitarian Church on Linton Street in Avondale, and continued to grow. The gem of a sanctuary, with stained glass windows, turned out to have wonderful acoustics.
That first concert evolved into a second. Then Mr. Waller had an epiphany. World-renowned soloists appeared each week with the Cincinnati Symphony, where he worked. Why not ask the orchestra’s then-general manager, Judith Arron, whether the artists could stay in town for an extra day to play chamber music? Arron agreed.
His first artists in the new arrangement were concert pianist Andre-Michel Schub and Peter Wiley, then principal cellist of the CSO.
“In the old days, there was a pay phone at Music Hall and during intermission, I’d run to the pay phone to make calls about Linton,” he told me a few years ago.
It was a formula that continues with the CSO to this day. Mr. Waller paid his soloists little — but was a wonderful host and they loved coming to Cincinnati. There are legendary stories of dinners at the Maisonette, followed by poker games.
Born in Philadelphia in 1929, Mr. Waller grew up in Long Beach, CA, and attended the Marlboro Music Festival and the Juilliard School. However, his Juilliard education was cut short when his brother joined the armed forces and Mr. Waller had to return home to California to run his brother’s business. In the 1950s, the clarinetist became concertmaster of the United States Navy Band, a stint he said he undertook in order to avoid the draft.
During that time, a job opening was posted for the clarinet section of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, and he decided to apply. Then-music director Max Rudolf hired him on the spot. He served as co-principal clarinet starting in 1960. From 1961 until his retirement in 1994, he was the orchestra’s principal clarinetist.
During his later years, Mr. Waller took up painting, and had a gallery downtown.
Many of you will have stories to tell. Here’s mine: When I was classical music critic for the Cincinnati Enquirer, Mr. Waller would do anything to get an article in the newspaper about his beloved Linton Series. He called me frequently. I told him that I needed to discuss it with my editor. But he beat me to it. He called my editor and serenaded her on his clarinet over the phone. I believe he got that story…
Mr. Waller’s family and Linton Music Series leaders are planning a celebration of his contributions and community to take place next year.