Joseph Wincenc

Joseph Wincenc

BMHOF Class of 2006

Joseph Wincenc was born on October 16, 1915 in Buffalo, New York, of Czech and parents. He began the study of violin at the age of five, and had his first public performance at six. At age of seven he played in three different school orchestras, and became known in the area as child prodigy. His interest in conducting began early in his life, and already in high school he organized and conducted the band for all school activities.

He studied music at the Oberlin College in Ohio (1937), the State Conservatory of Music in Prague (1938), George Enesco Studio in Paris (1938), and Columbia University (1943). World War II interrupted his studies and he served two years in the U.S. Army (1944-1946) as a band leader and machine gunner in Italy. Afterwards, he continued at the University of Buffalo (1946) and finally completed his studies at Columbia University (1947).

During his stay in Prague in 1937-1938, he became the only American invited to be guest member of the famous Czech Philharmonic Orchestra, where he performed under Bruno Walter, Erich Kleiber, Raphael Kubelik and other distinguished European conductors.

With the end of World War II in the spring of 1945, Joseph Wincenc was the guest conductor of the San Carlo Opera Orchestra in Naples, Italy. These two European experiences -- Prague and Italy -- made a life-long impression on the young musician, who continued his ties to land of his ancestors and to the land of classical art and culture for the rest of his life. He speaks fluently five foreing languages: Czech, Italian, German, Hungarian and Slovak.

After returning to the United States, he continued his engagement as a conductor and music instructor for a decade (1946-1958), with 26 appearances as guest conductor at the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra and teaching at Buffalo State College. As very energetic man and a ceaseless worker in all his activities, he was able by his vitality to inspire his students. He had a gift of remembering his past students and keeping their friendship. He was never too busy to greet a student, or listen with full attention. No wonder that his students performed well and his classes were often overloaded, but still he would never refuse a student who wished to study with him. And he still found time to accept individual students who wished to learn to play the violin or viola.

Professor Wincenc was for several years concertmaster, the first violinist and most highly ranked performing musician of the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra. In 1959 he was appointed Associate Conductor of the Philharmonic under the musical direction of Joseph Krips, and served in this capacity for two years. During this period, the Buffalo Philharmonic was noted for providing more concerts for children than any other orchestra in the nation: and Professor Wincenc conducted them all.

And his love of the young people brought him repeatedly to Siena, Italy. Twice, in 1966-67 and 1971-72, he served there as faculty director for the Buffalo State College, supervising the popular program. This included not only the duties overseas, but also the recruitment, screening and advisement of prospective students for this experience, as well as responsibility for dealing with all academic and personal problems. In Siena he became an admired and beloved figure for both the local people and his students, and received the Chancellor's Medal from the University of Siena, a rare honor for a foreigner.

For some over forty years he supervised the organization and served as musical director and conductor of two symphony orchestras, the Amherst Symphony (1946) and the Orchard Park Symphony (1950), a double achievement unequalled by any other orchestra conductor in this century. By a combination of hard work, personality, and unfailing good-humored leadership he has made this extraordinary achievement seem so easy, and so natural, that the ability that had made it possible is often overlooked. He has also organized and directed the orchestral programs of the Clarence Summer Concerts (1959), taking place every since on Sunday evenings in July in the Clarence Town Park, now in the 43rd year.

The unique ability of Joseph Wincenc to learn, prepare and direct so many different programs over a period of forty years, has placed him among the most learned of orchestral conductors in this country. All of this experience he devoted to the service of the Buffalo State College during his tenure there. Originally brought to the College to organize an instrumental program, he established and directed the student band and orchestra. The orchestra became a vital organization on campus; the band was invited to perform at various civic events as well as college functions. During his time, these two musical organizations were superior to any other in Western New York.

To fully understand the life work of this man, we must appreciate the dual character of his accomplishment: tying together his activities at the College and the community. Canisius College awarded him an Honorary Doctorate for service to the community. With him one must forget the ordinary measures of distinguished teaching, research, and publication. Instead, recognizing them in the larger scope of an inspiring educator, whose teaching does not cease with the end of day's classes, but extends throughout many other activities of the college and the community. The research involved in preparing programs for his several orchestras had been monumental. He had made it a policy to avoid repetition whenever possible and therefore his knowledge of the orchestral repertory had steadily increased in depth and breadth. His familiarity with scores and his knowledge of the concert field, of artists and their talents was of great value to all who worked with him, including his students.

His heart is as big as the community he has served over the decades. No one has brought more music to Western New York than he. He has had a warm regard for and understanding of both the professional and the amateur. He has been called many times to direct orchestras at other colleges, and there always was a personal relationship between him and each of his students. Even now, since he has been in retirement for years, his name is a household word throughout the Buffalo area. He used to be a member of the board of several musical organizations and societies, for which his range of experience made him an invaluable advisor. A tireless worker, he always used to maintain an infectious sense of humor. He radiated courtesy and personal affection, and has been widely honored not only for what he has done in his long and eventful life, but above all, for being the special person he has always been.

Although Mr. Wincenc passed away in a Boston suburb at the age of 88 years., the family musical tradition continues on: his youngest daughter Carol Wincenc is an internationally known flutist. Carol, who resides in New York City, has been a soloist with major orchestras worldwide and made a number of recordings. She was inducted into The Buffalo Music Hall of Fame in 1998.

The International Order of Alexander the Great has honored the 85-year old violinist, music conductor and distinguished professor Dr. Joseph Wincenc with the honorary membership of the Order. Dr. Wincenc was honored for a life dedicated to music and for teaching it to the young generations over the past 50 years.

The Alexander Order, dedicated to the promotion of art and culture, has among its past and present members international personalities like Salvador Dali, the French poet Jean Cocteau, writers Roger Peyrefitte and Ernst Jünger, Ronald Reagan, Ruth Zucker from Israel, Sir Peter Ustinov, and the great conductors Herbert von Karajan and Leonard Bernstein.

"You know, I still would like to go to Prague for one more visit," says the old gentleman, recalling the fond memories of his youthful years in the ancient city.

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