Sym­phony Fu­eled Cel­list’s Pas­sion For Mu­sic

Hartford Courant (Sunday) - - Passages - By ANNE M. HAMIL­TON

Eric Dahlin grew up sur­rounded by mu­sic — though his par­ents, both mu­si­cians, never pres­sured him to fol­low in their foot­steps. By the age of 16, he had com­mit­ted him­self to the cello, and he was in­vited to join the Hart­ford Sym­phony when he was only 19.

He died sud­denly on Oct. 12, stun­ning his fam­ily, friends, stu­dents and au­di­ences, who knew him as a gen­tle, tal­ented cel­list who found a spe­cial plea­sure in per­form­ing cham­ber mu­sic and play­ing in string quar­tets.

“His pas­sion for mu­sic is the first thing that moved ev­ery­one and in­spired ev­ery­one,” said Carolyn Kuan, the mu­sic di­rec­tor of the sym­phony. “When he made mu­sic, he was pas­sion­ate and en­gaged. He loved mu­sic. Eric was very beloved, and [the sym­phony] will cer­tainly not be the same for me.”

Eric Dahlin was 57 when he died at his home in Sims­bury af­ter a morn­ing jog. The cause has still not been de­ter­mined.

“It was a tragic loss of a very gen­tle soul,” said John Van Kouwen­hoven, a Hart­ford luthier who makes and re­pairs stringed in­stru­ments.

Like many pro­fes­sional mu­si­cians, Dahlin had a hec­tic sched­ule. In ad­di­tion to per­form­ing with the Hart­ford Sym­phony at the Bush­nell Cen­ter for the Per­form­ing Arts in Hart­ford, he played at school pro­grams, taught in the Com­mu­nity Di­vi­sion of The Hartt School, was an oc­ca­sional pit player for Broad­way shows like “The Lion King,” and con­ducted the Con­necti­cut Doc­tors Or­ches­tra. He played for the bal­let and CONCORA, a lo­cal cho­rus, and was avail­able as backup for church mu­si­cians at Easter or Christ­mas. One year, he toured with An­drea Bo­celli, the pop­u­lar tenor. “No gig was too hum­drum,” said his mother.

He was the founder of Mu­sic Ad­ven­ture; each year, he and his part­ner, Katie Kennedy, ran a pro­gram for 15 or so teenagers at Tenuta di Span­noc­chia, an idyl­lic coun­try es­tate in Tus­cany, where the stu­dents prac­ticed, per­formed, toured the area and con­sumed the meals grown on the or­ganic farm.

Dahlin, who was born on July 27, 1961, grew up in Min­neapo­lis, where his father, Don­ald Dahlin, taught mu­sic the­ory and com­po­si­tion at a Min­nesota com­mu­nity col­lege, and his mother, In­ger Dahlin, taught the vi­o­lin and per­formed. As a young boy, he tried out the fam­ily’s Stein­way grand pi­ano, but showed more in­ter­est in the cello. When he was 8, he be­gan study­ing with a well-known Min­neapo­lis cel­list, and dur­ing high school, his fam­ily spent a year out­side Lon­don, where he took pri­vate lessons with Derek Simp­son, a well-known English cel­list. He joined a youth or­ches­tra com­posed of col­lege-age stu­dents who were tak­ing mu­sic more se­ri­ously than his Min­nesota class­mates.

By the time the fam­ily re­turned to the U.S., noth­ing about Eric’s fu­ture in mu­sic was ex­plicit, but “it was in the air,” In­ger Dahlin said. Eric quit the swim team and joined a newly formed Twin Cities Youth Or­ches­tra. “The first thing he said was, ‘We are go­ing on tour to Eng­land,’ ” his mother said. In his se­nior year, Eric trav­eled alone to New York to au­di­tion for mu­sic schools, and The Hartt School ac­cepted him; the fact that it was in a small city made it es­pe­cially ap­peal­ing. Af­ter grad­u­at­ing from Hartt with a bach­e­lor’s de­gree in mu­sic, he got his mas­ter’s from the Yale School of Mu­sic.

Dur­ing his sec­ond year at Hartt, he de­cided to get au­di­tion ex­pe­ri­ence by try­ing out for the HSO. The au­di­tions are blind: The com­mit­tee is not told the age, gen­der or back­ground of the can­di­dates, and they can­not speak dur­ing the au­di­tion. He was in­vited to join in 1981.

“He must have been ex­cep­tional,” said Kuan, who was not the mu­sic di­rec­tor at that time. Dahlin had had a sum­mer job that in­volved dirt and grease that ru­ined a cov­eted new pair of boots, and he told his fam­ily that he was against “work.” Mu­sic was dif­fer­ent, he told them. “He didn’t con­sider play­ing the cello work,” said his mother, and de­spite the some­times fren­zied sched­ule and un­pre­dictable in­come, he never wa­vered. Mu­sic was his pas­sion.

Among the 82 or­ches­tra mem­bers, he was known as a car­ing per­son. “He was al­ways re­spect­ful of other mu­si­cians and never had an un­kind word to say,” said Ca­role Olef­sky, who also per­forms in the nine-per­son cello sec­tion. His lead­er­ship abil­i­ties and skill in com­mu­ni­cat­ing what was needed to im­prove a piece were fac­tors in his pro­mo­tion to as­sis­tant prin­ci­pal cel­list in 2004, said Leonid Si­gal, the con­cert­mas­ter of the or­ches­tra. “He was an ab­so­lute back­bone of the sec­tion, very soft-spo­ken but he com­manded this in­cred­i­bly calm au­thor­ity that was uni­fy­ing for the en­tire string sec­tion.”

At the sym­phony’s open­ing con­cert last month, Dahlin per­formed as the prin­ci­pal cel­list, play­ing in the Con­certo for Or­ches­tra by Béla Bartók — “one of the great­est pieces of mu­sic,” said his mother.

“His play­ing was warm and sunny and mag­nan­i­mous,” said Aaron West­man, a vi­o­lin­ist who taught in the sum­mer pro­gram. “He had that gift of be­ing open and easy as a player and as a per­son.”

When he wasn’t prac­tic­ing or teach­ing or per­form­ing, Dahlin fre­quently built elab­o­rate imag­i­nary ar­chi­tec­tural struc­tures out of Le­gos with his two young sons or cooked for his fam­ily. Both boys are in­ter­ested in mu­sic, but Dahlin “would never be a high-pres­sure par­ent,” said Van Kouwen­hoven, who knew Dahlin well. “He was a nur­turer who was very good at what he did but was not driven to a ma­ni­a­cal de­gree; he was well rounded and emo­tion­ally sta­ble.”

Eric Dahlin is sur­vived by his long­time part­ner, Katie Kennedy; his sons Martin and Elias; his younger brother Kai, a vet­eri­nar­ian; and his par­ents, Don­ald and In­ger Dahlin. Two ear­lier mar­riages ended in di­vorce.

The Hart­ford Sym­phony plans to show­case some of its best play­ers as it cel­e­brates its 75th an­niver­sary this year, and Dahlin was sched­uled to be a soloist in Beethoven’s “Triple Con­certo” in the sea­son’s fi­nal con­cert next spring. Though Dahlin had played the piece be­fore, it would have re­quired a lot of work, but he was look­ing for­ward to it. “He loved play­ing mu­sic that was dif­fi­cult,” said Kuan. “He’s go­ing to be very much missed.”

The sum­mer pro­gram will con­tinue, Kennedy said. “It’s a lot of work, but when we’re there with those teenagers, some of whom have never been out of the coun­try, and they are mak­ing mu­sic and play­ing to­gether, you feel like it’s worth it. Eric was al­ways up for an ad­ven­ture. I need to keep do­ing it in his spirit.

A memo­rial ser­vice will be held at 1 p.m. on Nov. 17 at the Asy­lum Hill Con­gre­ga­tional Church, 814 Asy­lum Ave., Hart­ford.


ERIC DAHLIN, a cel­list, was in­vited to join the Hart­ford Sym­phony Or­ches­tra when he was 19. He and his part­ner, Katie Kennedy, lived in Sims­bury.

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