Born: May 1, 1913 - Czech Republic
Died: March 25, 1980 - Berkeley, California, USA
The distinguished Czech-born English conductor, Walter Susskind (originally, Jan Süsskind), studied composition with Suk and Karel Hába and piano with Hoffmeister at the Prague Conservatory. He also studied conducting with Szell at the German Academy of Music in Prague.
Walter Susskind made his debut as a conductor in 1934 with La Traviata at the German Opera in Prague. He was also pianist with the Czech Trio from 1933 to 1938. After the German occupation in 1938, he went to London, where he continued to serve as pianist with the exiled Czech Trio until 1942. He became a naturalized British subject in 1946. He was music director of the Carl Rosa Opera Company in London from 1943 to 1945. Then he went to Glasgow in that capacity with the Scottish Orchestra in 1946, remaining with it after it became the Scottish National Orchestra in 1950. After serving as music director of the Victoria Symphony Orchestra in Melbourne from 1953 to 1955, he was music director of Toronto Symphony Orchestra (1956-1965), the Aspen (Colorado) Music Festival (1962-1968), Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra (1968-1975), and the Mississippi River Festival in Edwardsville, Illinois (1969-1975). It was under his direction that Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra came together as a leading American orchestra. He also appeared regularly as guest conductor with the major orchestras of Europe, the UK, and North America. His last position was that of music advisor and principal guest conductor of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra from 1978 until his death.
Walter Susskind also taught at the University of Southern Illinois (1968-1975). Susskind was also known as a great mentor of young conductors. Two of these, Leonard Slatkin and Gerhardt Zimmermann, both assistant conductors brought on by Susskind, went on to notable careers.
Walter Susskind was a highly accomplished conductor, being a technically secure and polished musician. He also composed. Among his works are 4 songs for Voice and String Quartet (1935), 9 Slovak Sketches for Orchestra, Passacaglia for Timpani and Chamber Orchestra (1977).