Obituary: Former Metropolitan Opera Concertmaster Raymond Gniewek Dies at 89

By Francisco Salazar
(Credit: Jonathan Tichler / Met Opera)

On. Oct. 1, 2021, former Metropolitan Opera Orchestra concertmaster Raymond Gniewek died at the age of 89.

Born in East Meadow, New York on Nov. 13, 1931,  he began his musical education in New York City. He would later study at Eastman School of Music under Andre de Ribaupierre and Joseph Knitzer. He became the concertmaster of the Eastman Rochester Orchestra and associate concertmaster of Rochester Philharmonic under Erich Leinsdorf.

In 1957, he became concertmaster of the Metropolitan Opera, becoming the youngest person to ever hold the post. He would hold the position for 43 years. His final performance as concertmaster with the orchestra was a concert performance in Carnegie Hall of Béla Bartók’s “Bluebeard’s Castle” in 2000.

The Metropolitan Opera Orchestra paid tribute to the concertmaster stating, “He was a kind, humble, witty, and cherished member of our orchestra, who was loved by us all.”

Additionally, retired principal associate concertmaster Laura Hamilton wrote, “Yesterday we lost a dear friend and treasured colleague. Raymond Gniewek (1931-2021) was concertmaster of the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra for 43 years. Our careers there overlapped by 13 years. It was my great good fortune to sit next to him for innumerable hours, benefiting from the wealth of his experience and learning all the major repertoire at his elbow.”

She added, “We played so many masterpieces together: ‘Rosenkavalier,’ ‘Ariadne,’ ‘the Ring,’ ‘Lohengrin,’ ‘Tannhauser,’ ‘Parsifal,’ ‘Don Carlo,’ ‘Aida,’ ‘Onegin,’ ‘Figaro,’ ‘Don Giovanni,’ all the Puccini operas and on and on and on. We played ‘Otello’ and ‘Falstaff’ on a double Saturday once. His mentorship and our close friendship were incredibly meaningful and important to me; he was like a musical father to me. His stamina was legendary and he loved his job, but he also knew how to relax in the off-season and pursue other interests. He was an artist with a formidable technique and a sweetly singing solo sound that I will never forget. He was an amazing and inspiring leader, both in the heat of the action and as our section leader and concertmaster. He appreciated the skills of his section and often told us that he knew how much we contributed to the success of each performance. Rest In Peace, Ray”

He is survived by his wife soprano Judith Blegen.