George Aranow Jr., BSO musician

May 15, 1994|By Stephen Wigler | Stephen Wigler,Sun Music Critic

George Aranow Jr., whose 44-year association with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra began as a musician and ended as its personnel manager, died Friday night of pancreatic cancer at Johns Hopkins Hospital. He was 64.

"George really loved that orchestra. He had been with it his entire adult life, and it was his whole life," said Ruth Aranow, his wife of 44 years.

"In his last day at work about three weeks ago at a Tiny Tots concert, he arranged for some of the children -- one of them our granddaughter -- to go backstage and meet some musicians. He came home and said, 'It was a really good day.' "

Mr. Aranow joined the orchestra as an English horn player Oct. 30, 1950, his 21st birthday, soon after his graduation from the Juilliard School of Music in New York.

He would have retired after the BSO's Asian tour early in November.

His career encompassed the orchestra's entire modern history. Except for David Zinman, whose tenure began long after Mr. Aranow had retired as a player and joined management as personnel manager, he played under all the BSO's music directors and under such famous guest conductors as Leopold Stokowski, Igor Stravinsky and Sir Thomas Beecham.

When his death was announced to the musicians after Friday night's concert, "I've never heard it so quiet backstage," said Dennis Kain, the BSO's longtime timpanist.

About a month ago, Mr. Aranow thought he had caught the flu. When the symptoms persisted, his doctor told him that he had an infected spleen. Cancer was discovered during an operation to remove his spleen at Johns Hopkins. Mr. Aranow died two weeks after entering the hospital.

At last night's concert in Meyerhoff Hall, conductor Sergiu Comissiona, the orchestra's music director from 1969 to 1984, informed the audience of Mr. Aranow's death and reminisced about him.

It was Mr. Comissiona who persuaded Mr. Aranow to join management. But the activities of the orchestra had become so complicated that the conductor informed Mr. Aranow he would have to choose between being the orchestra's personnel manager or its English horn player.

Mr. Aranow became the BSO's first and only full-time personnel manager in 1967. The job required him to be the point man between the orchestra's musicians and its administration.

He supervised the orchestra's rehearsals, performances and auditions; he was responsible for the hiring and payment of musicians; he had to determine what works during the season would require extra players, and he hired those players.

"What I will remember most about George was his sense of compassion," said George Alexsovich, the orchestra's general manager and Mr. Aranow's supervisor.

Being personnel manager was something Mr. Aranow had unknowingly trained for all his life.

When he joined the orchestra in 1950, the BSO offered only 17 weeks of employment a year. Because he was an expert typist who had taught himself stenography, he worked summers for the old Equitable Trust Co. bank as a secretary.

But when the bank discovered how well he could handle figures, it trained him to help administer the trust department.

Mr. Aranow left that job in 1958 to spend more time with his children so his wife could return to school and get a doctorate in chemistry.

But the experience at the bank gave him a knowledge of contracts that made him a formidable negotiator with management as the chairman of the Orchestra's Players Committee from 1960 to 1967 and helped him when he moved to the other side of the table as personnel manager.

"George was the most scrupulously honest person I have ever known," said Keith Kummer, Mr. Aranow's friend for 32 years, his successor as the BSO's English horn player and the orchestra's union steward. "He was taken from us much too soon."

No services will be held. The family suggests that contributions may be made to the BSO.

Besides his wife, Mr. Aranow is survived by two sons, David and Eric Aranow; a daughter, Jeanne Goodman; and several grandchildren.

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