Lewis, Daniel

Daniel Lewis (USC Music faculty 1970-1995)

Trained in his younger years as a violinist, Daniel Lewis spent most of his career as a conductor of orchestral groups of various sizes. His principal collegiate studies were at the Claremont Graduate School (now Claremont Graduate University). Awarded a Fulbright Scholarship in 1959 to study in Munich, Germany, where he and his family lived for around 10 months while Lewis studied at the Hochschule fuer Musik. He also played with the Bavarian Radio Symphony. Once he had completed his stint in the U.S. Navy, during World War II, he completed his formal education at San Diego State College. During that tenure he became Concertmaster of the San Diego orchestra, all of this to support six children he and wife Oneta Gwendolyn Belsha had produced over the years. At one time he was Concertmaster of the San Diego Symphony.

During that formative era he taught music at Helix High School in La Mesa, CA, whose band won many awards in various competitions under his leadership. In addition, he taught at Grossmont High School and was director of the San Diego Civic Youth Orchestra, which provided an opportunity for advanced high school musicians to perform with their peers. In order to provide a life for his large family Lewis often worked extra jobs at night in various orchestras such as Starlight Opera and the San Diego Ice Show. From time to time he crammed private students into daytime slots.

Lewis served as Director of the Pasadena Symphony from 1971 to 1982. Under his leadership the orchestra for the first time became fully professional, winning critical acclaim and five ASCAP awards for their adventuresome programming. Within that period he also served as Music Director of the Ojai Festival, the Cabrillo Music Festival and as musical advisor for the Glendale Symphony, positions he eventually had to leave because of his debut as violinist with the Los Angeles Philharmonic.           Clearly, he was on the road to bigger and better things.

And they came.

He joined the University of Southern California Music School in 1970 to be Director of Conducting Studies as well as conductor of the school’s orchestra. (He was never Head of the USC School of music as claimed in his Wikipedia biography.) He eventually became the first member of that faculty to receive the accolade of “University Professor.” Some notable quotes about his teaching deserve attention here:

“He demands a kind of intensity with his orchestra. With Daniel Lewis,

It was an event just to go to rehearsal; He has a genuine love for music and the ability to transfer those feelings in a way that inspires those who are making the sounds.” (Cynthia Phelps, principal violist, New York Philharmonic)

“He instills a discipline in his students. You’re either ready or you’re not.”(Amy Sims, concertmaster, Omaha Symphony)

And Lewis himself once said: “I’m not trying to create a battle or victory over them. I just want them to live up to what their potential is.”

Perhaps Los Angeles Times Music Critic Christine Shade put it best when, in 1995, she said “Lewis’ baton might as well be a magic wand, so deftly does he use it to caress and punctuate the musical line, to turn separate parts into a whole. But it’s not magic that makes the USC Symphony go, it’s talent. Talent fueled by Lewis’ coaxing and cajoling dashed with sternness, mixed with respect.”

In addition to USC Lewis’ teaching career included the New England Conservatory of Music, University of California at San Diego, California State University at Fullerton, the Conductors’ Institute of New York, Aspen School of Music, and many of the American Symphony Orchestra League’s Conducting Workshops, as well as a number of European ensembles. In 1982 he served with Leonard Bernstein as co-director of the first season of the Los Angeles Philharmonic Institute, remaining on that faculty for many seasons following. He retired from USC in 1995.