Cellist Oliver Edel, 99, Dies; Taught Music to Generations

Oliver Edel is shown in 1992 instructing Lisa Zugschwerdt at Washington's Levine School of Music. Edel, who played in quartets and orchestras, joined the Levine faculty in 1976.
Oliver Edel is shown in 1992 instructing Lisa Zugschwerdt at Washington's Levine School of Music. Edel, who played in quartets and orchestras, joined the Levine faculty in 1976. (By James A. Parcell -- The Washington Post)
By Patricia Sullivan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, July 29, 2005

Oliver Albert Swift Edel, 99, a concert cellist who taught at the University of Michigan, the famous Interlochen Center for the Arts and Washington's Levine School of Music, died June 29 after a heart attack at his summer home in Traverse City, Mich. He was a Silver Spring resident.

Mr. Edel taught generations of students the discipline, craft and beauty of the cello, inspiring many to pursue careers in music. Scores of his students are professional musicians with solo careers, positions in major orchestras or posts on university faculties.

He was a teacher who "could be blunt and grandfatherly at the same time, and who . . . remembered the conflicting pull of baseball and music from his own childhood," newspaper editor William Freivogel, whose children studied under Mr. Edel in Washington, wrote in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch in 1993.

"Oliver was a wonderful, wonderful man and teacher -- probably the main reason three of our kids are now pursuing chamber music as a career," Margie Freivogel added. She said she watched most of the lessons, arriving harried from her newspaper job but "always leaving with the feeling that all was right with the world. He always had just the right story or a quiet chuckle that put things in perspective and smoothed over the inevitable clashes that occur among musicians and families, and especially among families of musicians."

Born in Yonkers, N.Y., Mr. Edel attended the choir school of St. Thomas Church in New York City. He began his cello studies with May Muckle while attending Carteret Academy in Orange, N.J., and earned degrees from the Neighborhood Music School, now part of the Manhattan School of Music, and the Conservatoire Americain in Fontainebleau, France, with additional studies at Ecole Normale de Musique in Paris under the tutelage of Diran Alexanian.

Mr. Edel became a faculty member at the Manhattan School in 1925 and the next year made his solo debut at Steinway Hall, across the street from Carnegie Hall. He was a founding member of the original Manhattan Quartet, which formally debuted at Town Hall in 1928.

Mr. Edel enjoyed a colorful concert career during the 1930s and 1940s with the Manhattan Quartet and, later, the Roth String Quartet. In 1948, he was appointed to the faculty at the University of Michigan School of Music in Ann Arbor. His concert career again flourished when, in 1949, he and three colleagues formed the Stanley Quartet, an ensemble that became an institution. He left the University of Michigan in 1975 after reaching its mandatory retirement age.

In 1976, Mr. Edel joined the faculty at the newly formed Levine School of Music. During these later years, he remained active as a cellist with the Handel Festival Orchestra, playing many seasons at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts and several European tours. He continued teaching cello and coaching chamber music in the Washington area well into his nineties.

He won the Undergraduate Teaching Award from the University of Michigan and outstanding service awards from national organizations including Chamber Music America and the American String Teachers Association. He directed the Adult Chamber Music Conference in Interlochen, Mich., for many years.

His marriages to Doria Burton and Eleanor Lynn ended in divorce. His third wife, Lucille Edel, preceded him in death.

Survivors include his wife, Evelyn Elsing of Silver Spring; three children from his third marriage, Christopher Edel of Eureka, Calif., Ellen Greenfield of Miami and Aaron Edel of Traverse City; a brother; and four grandchildren.

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