Retired CSO violist William Schoen dead at 94

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 William Schoen, CSO violist

William Schoen, a longtime member of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra's viola section, died July 20, 2014. (Chicago Symphony Orchestra / July 22, 2014)

William Schoen had the resume of a life lived in music: 31 years as the Chicago Symphony Orchestra's assistant principal violist and assistant principal emeritus, decades performing in the Chicago Arts Quartet and, before that, the Claremont String Quartet in New York, and 64 years married to Mona Reisman Schoen, herself a first violinist with the Lyric Opera for 23 years.

Mr. Schoen, 94, died Sunday in Chicago weeks after suffering a stroke, Mona Schoen said.

"Bill was a very special person in our lives," said retired CSO cellist Don Moline, who also played with him in the Chicago Arts Quartet. "Bill was a very compassionate human being in the sense that he always cared about his colleagues and his wife especially."

"I owe my job to him," said CSO violist Max Raimi, recalling how Schoen stood up for him during a fraught two-week trial period. "He was a really old-fashioned guy. He had a pretty good sense of humor, a lot of integrity. He would practice the parts assiduously. He was a very active teacher and loved music passionately."

Born to Hungarian parents in Czechoslovakia and raised in Cleveland, Mr. Schoen received a bachelor's degree in music from the Eastman School of Music and served as a member of the United States Marine Band and Orchestra during World War II, according to biographical information on the CSO's website. Mona Schoen said she met her husband after the war in New York, when they were both playing in the National Orchestral Association under conductor Leon Barzin.

William Schoen became the principal violist of the Columbia Broadcasting System's symphony orchestra and played in the Guilet and Claremont String Quartets, the latter of which not only performed all over the world but also delivered a complete cycle of Beethoven's 17 string quartets over one weekend at Harvard University, Mona Schoen said.

He was principal violist with the Philadelphia Orchestra for a year before the CSO hired him as assistant principal violist in 1964 under music director Jean Martinon. Mona Schoen said her husband appreciated playing with the CSO under "the greatest conductors in the world" — including former music directors Georg Solti and Daniel Barenboim and the CSO's Ravinia conductor James Levine — "but chamber music was really his great love. He was a great chamber music player."

"He was exactly 20 years older than me, and from the moment I got into the orchestra he and I bonded, and we played chamber music together in (the Chicago Arts Quartet) for almost 30 years," Moline said.

The Chicago Arts Quartet toured Europe and performed in Japan as well as the Bruckner Festival in Linz, Austria, Moline said, but the group also played hundreds of concerts in Chicago Public Schools and retirement homes.

Said Tom Hall, a former CSO violinist who also played with Schoen in the Chicago Arts Quartet: "Bill always played with technical security, a lovely sound, and with refined taste. He was a wonderful orchestra colleague and an excellent chamber music player."

Schoen also regularly performed duet recitals with his life's partner. "Bill and I played many concerts together," Mona Schoen recalled, adding: "We were very devoted. We had no children. It was just the two of us."

Schoen, who served as a Roosevelt University professor for eight years, retired from the CSO in 1996 and received a lifetime achievement award from the Chicago Viola Society in 1998.

"He was always very energetic and had a great deal of enthusiasm and optimism about things, and that served him well," Moline said. "He lived a good long life, and I'm sure he will be missed by many people in the orchestra and friends in his community."

Funeral services will take place Thursday at noon at Anshe Emet Synagogue (3751 N. Broadway), with interment to follow at Memorial Park Cemetery (9900 Gross Point Rd., Skokie).

mcaro@tribune.com Twitter @MarkCaro

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