By Alan Prendergast
By Michael Roberts
By Michael Roberts
By Amber Taufen
By Patricia Calhoun
By William Breathes
By Michael Roberts
By Melanie Asmar
By training, experience and sheer talent, "Brico was far better qualified than Caston," says Ann Papp, who reviewed Brico's first concerts in Denver for the Rocky Mountain News. "But personality was a factor, too. She was extremely intelligent and had a wonderful sense of humor, but she was abrasive and--well, let's say, dictatorial in some ways. She forgot to be deferential and conciliatory."
"Antonia wasn't very tactful, and that got her into a lot of difficulties," agrees Violette McCarthy, a singer who became one of Brico's first Denver pupils. Now ninety, McCarthy remembers trying to drill some fashion sense into the maestro (away from the podium, Brico might wear anything from a Tyrolean hiking outfit to a gaudy, rhinestone-studded gown), as well as the patience not to push her cause too aggressively.
In her later years, Brico's version of her rejection by the DSO was that the town fathers didn't want a conductor who couldn't be admitted to the Cactus Club, an all-male bastion of closed-door deal-making; besides, Saul Caston "looked good in a tux." But her longtime friends say that while sexism was certainly a factor, Brico's own imperious attitude probably did her more damage--particularly with the women she expected to champion her cause.
"Her worst enemies were women," says Harry Heskett. "She told me that the reason she didn't get the job was that it was women who sat on the board, and the women wanted to see a man up there."
Shortly after her arrival in Denver, Brico apparently alienated Florence Lamont Hinman, founder of the University of Denver's Lamont School of Music. Hinman greeted her warmly at first, Brico claimed in an unpublished interview, but came to regard the conductor as a threat to her position as Denver's first lady of music after Brico passed over one of Hinman's singers for a concert. Although Margaret Davis remained loyal to her, Brico soon lost the support of Margaret Phipps and others, too.
"She was her own worst enemy," Donna Ellis insists. "She turned people off by demanding so much. She had to have this, had to have that. Margaret Phipps just quit her. And Margaret Phipps ran the symphony."
Having gambled everything on the move to Denver, losing the symphony appointment was a devastating blow to Brico, financially and professionally. "She told me it was the greatest disappointment in her life," says violinist Pauline Dallenbach.
"I think she was bitter about it till she died," adds Jans. "She knew it wasn't because of her music."
But Brico wasn't about to give up. "She always told you not to say, `I could have'--if you could have, you would have," recalls Billie Hopkins Furuichi, one of Donna Ellis's daughters. "I don't think she held resentments for long; she just wanted to get on with it."
In 1946 Brico persuaded the building manager to let her rent Carnegie Hall for $25 for a two-hour rehearsal. She hired sixty musicians and convinced Arthur Rubinstein, Bruno Walter and a few other heavyweights to come to her "command performance" of Brahms's Second Symphony-- all in order to secure a few endorsements from musicians who'd never seen her conduct. The odd session earned her a few more guest-conducting opportunities, but before long she was back in Denver, where she earned a pittance directing a black Baptist choir and the choir at Trinity Methodist Church downtown.
Her life in music might have ended at that point except for two developments. Her growing reputation as a piano teacher and voice coach attracted a trickle, and eventually a flood, of students, some as young as six. And, at her most desperate, she accepted an invitation to assume the helm of a new community orchestra consisting entirely of volunteers.
Founded in 1948, the Denver Businessmen's Orchestra was probably the only amateur ensemble to kick off its first concert not only with a packed auditorium but with a telegram from Sibelius, wishing them good luck. The group, later renamed the Brico Symphony, became Brico's extended family for the next 36 years. At the debut, she prepared a statement stressing the need for "an outlet for [those] who have music as their avocation."
The statement had its personal side, too. "Many of these people are of symphonic stature," she wrote, "with no place to play."
end of part 1