Alan Earl Neilson
Alan Earl Neilson, Flutist & Conductor (1930-2011)
March 3, 2011, Raleigh, NC: Alan Earl Neilson, Founding Music Director of the Raleigh Symphony Orchestra and long-time Music Director of the Durham Symphony Orchestra, died, following a brief period of declining heath. He was 80.
The son of Dorothy and W. Earl Neilson was born in Philadelphia on November 24, 1930. He demonstrated outstanding music talent early in his life. He attended the University of Tulsa, and upon obtaining his undergraduate degree, began a professional career in music with the opera and symphony orchestra there; he also spent considerable time touring with Boris Goldovsky's opera company. While in Tulsa, in 1958, he completed a master's degree.
It was from there that he was in 1970-71 invited by NC Symphony Music Director and Conductor Benjamin Swalin to serve as the state orchestra's principal flutist. He remained devoted to that Maestro and his wife, Maxine, to the end of their days, and they reciprocated his admiration, following his subsequent work in North Carolina with keen interest.
Fairly early in the tenure of John Gosling at the NCS, carpal tunnel problems and other issues forced Neilson to abandon professional engagements as a flutist. With encouragement from colleagues, he took up work as a conductor, leading ensembles for numerous area dance companies and theatres.
After several years invested in making a new career in the Triangle, Neilson was engaged to conduct the orchestra then based at NC State University. In 1979, Neilson was asked to form a community orchestra. Consequently, the Raleigh Symphony was established. This became the Maestro's first major musical undertaking as a conductor. He remained as Music Director until the appointment of Jim Waddelow, his successor, this past September.
Meanwhile, relatively early in the life of the Durham Symphony Orchestra, its founding conductor, Vincent Simonetti, a former colleague of Neilson in the NCS, elected to leave the DSO in order to devote more time to his blossoming tuba and brass instrument business. In 1984, after a season of conductor auditions, Neilson was appointed the DSO's second Music Director, a position he retained until February 2008; following a search, William Henry Curry was appointed as his successor in 2009.
During the intervening years, Neilson led the Arts Festival Orchestra, formed in 1989 by musicians from the RSO and the DSO. As a result of his musical leadership, many musicians participated in both orchestras.
Neilson also served for a year as conductor of the UNC Symphony Orchestra, during the absence of its music director, giving rise to hope that he might eventually obtain a college or university post, but this was not to be.
While the wages of his work in the musical trenches were often small, Neilson was the recipient of numerous honors and awards over the years, and virtually every area critic from Nell Hirschberg and Peregrine White sang his praises in frequent reviews.
As the artistic head of two of our region's most important community orchestras, Neilson's work was of immense cultural and educational value. He truly devoted his life to music, living on the modest incomes from his two appointments and occasional freelance gigs. He lived simply, and was dedicated to making the most out of his musical vision. He resided in Durham until relocating to a retirement community in Wake Forest near his friend Irene Burke, who is also the Executive Director of the RSO.
Neilson was predeceased by a brother Warren. He is survived by a daughter, Leslie Scheffers, and a grandson, Aaron Stafford, both of Michigan.
Visitation will be from 7 to 9PM on Monday at Brown-Wynne Funeral Home at 300 St Mary’s Street in Raleigh with a church service at 1PM on Tuesday, March 8th at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Raleigh at 3313 Wade Ave, Raleigh. It is requested that flowers be omitted. Gifts in Neilson's memory may be made to the RSO, the DSO, or a musical organization of the one’s choice.
Memorial concerts will be given; details will be announced in area arts calendars.
Condolences may be sent to www.brownwynne.com
- Visitation Monday, March 7, 2011
- Celebration of Life Tuesday, March 8, 2011
Alan Earl Neilson
March 7, 2011
To the Family of Maestro Neilson,
Thank you for sharing your loved one with us. We are forever enriched by his gifts and they will live on in our memories. You are in my prayers. Eternal rest grant unto Maestro Neilson, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon him. May he rest in peace.
Deborah A. Blount
Former, City or Raleigh Arts Commission Board Member
March 7, 2011
As a former member of both the Raleigh and Durham Symphonies, Alan was not only my conductor, but my friend. I will miss him greatly. Pam Halverson
March 6, 2011
Rest in Peace Alan. Job well done.
Mrs. Charles L. Wheeler
Former RSO Board Member
March 5, 2011
I played classical music from the high tech ICU hospital bed. Before the music started-he was very anxious, involuntary movements & high blood pressure. When I pushed play-he became completely calm, relaxed, not moving, & his B/P decreased by 30 points. Human connections during vulnerable states are indescribable and puts me in awe. HOLISTIC nursing is so fulfilling & rewarding. It was a pleasure caring for Mr. Neilson.