REMEMBERING KENNETH SCHERMERHORN
by Jerry Pollack, August, 2006
When I arrived at Patch Barracks in April 1954, Jim Dixon was within a few months of finishing his tour of duty and auditions were being prepared to fill orchestra vacancies from the large group that, along with me, had just come from the States. I remember both Ken and Jim with great affection because, at my audition, they found a way for me to stay with the orchestra, despite my complete torture, dismemberment, and utter annihilation of the cello part of the Hebrides Overture. Other, no doubt more accomplished, musicians were consigned to military bands at posts elsewhere in the U. S. Zone. (Music has been an avocation for me, not a profession and, to take a charitable view, my cello playing was somewhat lacking.) But Jim and Ken were well disposed toward me, and my ability to speak German and type tipped the balance in my favor. I became the new clerk, replacing Ed Murray, whose term was up. Shortly afterward, at the auditions to choose a successor for Jim, Ken was the compelling choice.
From my privileged position as clerk, I saw a lot of him both as a person and a musician. Vitality is the overarching quality that comes to my mind when I think of him. Musically, he was extremely gifted, as is evident from his success with our orchestra and his later achievements. Enthusiastic and energetic, he was a quick study in mastering musical scores. He quickly learned conducting technique. His vitality also served him well in his off-duty hours when, helped also by his good looks, he enjoyed enviable success with music lovers of the female persuasion.
In the years after I left the 7th ASO, I saw Ken only a few times. Once I encountered him at Tanglewood, where he was working with Leonard Bernstein. Ken had earlier also studied with Herbert von Karajan, whom he referred to as a great man. I remember seeing him on another occasion, when Ken was conductor of the American Ballet Theater. I recall his telling me with enthusiasm how he was enthralled by the beautiful dancing of the prima ballerina, whom he subsequently married. As our career paths diverged I became an economist we lost touch with each other. I saw him only once again, years later, among the audience at a concert.
If my life could be drawn as a picture analogous to Steinbergs famous cover for the New Yorker the one that showed how a typical New Yorker, looking west across the Hudson River, sees the world my ten months in the 7th ASO would loom disproportionately large. To this experience I owe a number of close friendships and warm associations among them my friendship with Ken Schermerhorn.