State of the Art

Farewell to Henry Janiec, a musical pioneer

Henry Janiec led Brevard Music Center for 32 years.
Henry Janiec led Brevard Music Center for 32 years.

While I was away last week, I heard that a man I’d never met had passed away at 85. Although he stopped conducting the Charlotte Symphony Orchestra more than half a century ago, I wanted to say goodbye.

Henry Janiec led the CSO from 1958 through 1963. When he came here in 2006 to conduct a piece in a concert dubbed “The Return of the Maestros,” he recalled days when the CSO rehearsed in “a little junior high school auditorium. It was crowded and cramped, and the acoustics were lousy.”

His biggest accomplishment may have been getting the symphony out of debt. As he told music writer Steven Brown then, “It sounds ludicrous even to mention it, but it was somewhere between $9,000 and $12,000. That was really a lot of money.” So it was during the Eisenhower years, when musicians were paid but couldn’t make a living from their orchestra jobs. The CSO fleshed out its ranks with college and even high-school students.

Janiec was one of the last of the old-time traveling maestros. While leading the CSO, he was music director of Charlotte Opera (now Opera Carolina) from 1956 through 1967, taught at Converse College in Spartanburg – where he put in 42 years, 27 as dean of the music school – conducted the Spartanburg Symphony and Spartanburg High School Orchestra and served as music director of the Spartanburg Little Theatre.

“I was the best customer I-85 ever had,” he correctly told Brown.

But his most lasting fame may be as artistic director of Brevard Music Center for 32 years. A legendary story says Keith Lockhart, current artistic director of the seven-week summer festival – and better known as the conductor of the Boston Pops – used to follow him around as a student, begging for conducting lessons (which Janiec finally gave him).

Janiec, who died Oct. 17 at Spartanburg Regional Hospice Home, devoted his creative life to the South but came down from Passaic, N.J. He got a job at Converse straight out of Oberlin Conservatory of Music and never left the area professionally. The piano-playing son of Polish immigrants made his home in a place where people struggled at first to pronounce his name.

None of the current personnel at the CSO ever worked with him. But without his efforts, would successor Jacques Brourman have been able to create the first full-time paid positions in the orchestra? I wonder. Janiec never became famous; he simply dedicated himself to classical music, light and heavy, for his entire adult life. Without people like him, the art form would have died long ago.

Toppman: 704-358-5232