Concert Violinist Robert Gerle Dies

Monday, October 31, 2005

Robert Gerle, 81, a concert violinist acclaimed for his technique who also had a long career as a conductor and teacher, died Oct. 29 at his home in Hyattsville. He had Parkinson's disease.

After training in Hungary, Mr. Gerle was warmly received for his diverse and expertly handled repertoire at concert engagements from New York to London in the late 1950s and early 1960s. He once rendered without accompaniment Bach's Chaconne -- a formidable task that impressed a New York Times reviewer.

Times classical music critic Harold C. Schonberg admired his 1958 concert at New York's Town Hall on a program ranging from Bach to Stravinsky: "As a violinist pure and simple, Mr. Gerle has all the answers. He had some of the steadiest bow arms this listener has heard, and his intonation is flawless."

In 1970, Mr. Gerle and concert pianist Marilyn Neeley, who became his second wife, recorded the complete Beethoven violin and piano sonatas for the Westminster label. They shared an Emmy Award for the video presentation of the recording.

After holding teaching assignments at the Peabody Institute in Baltimore and the Mannes College of Music in New York, Mr. Gerle accepted an offer in 1972 to start the orchestra program at the University of Maryland Baltimore County.

He spent two decades at UMBC while also teaching at Catholic University, conducting the Friday Morning Music Club Orchestra in Washington and serving as musical director of the Washington Sinfonia.

Mr. Gerle was born April 1, 1924, to Hungarian parents in Abbazia, Italy, which is now Opatija, Croatia. He was raised in Budapest, where he was a graduate of the Franz Liszt Academy of Music and studied at the National Conservatory of Music. In 1942, he won the Hubay prize for violin performance.

He spent much of World War II in a labor camp in Budapest but toward the end of the war, with the Soviet advance, he escaped and hid in a crawlspace for weeks at a music professor's apartment.

In January 1945, Soviet soldiers found him and 26 other Hungarian Jews in the apartment. They took them before a firing squad as suspected snipers. According to an account years later in the New York Times, as Mr. Gerle walked to his death with his instrument case, the Russian in charge ordered him to play a piece by Tchaikovsky.

When he finished the selection, the officer was convinced that he was a musician and not a sniper and let all the men go, according to the Times article.

He wrote two books on violin technique, "The Art of Practicing the Violin" (1983) and "The Art of Bowing Practice" (1991), as well as a memoir, "Playing It by Heart: Wonderful Things Can Happen Any Day" (2005).

He collected Hungarian oil paintings.

His marriage to Louella Hobbs Gerle ended in divorce.

Survivors include his wife of 35 years, of Hyattsville, and their son, Andrew Gerle of New York.

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