Doriot Anthony Dwyer, Flutist and Orchestral Pathbreaker, Dies at 98


Doriot Anthony Dwyer, a renowned flutist who broke down gender barriers with her appointment as principal flute of the Boston Symphony Orchestra in 1952, a post she held for nearly four decades, died on Saturday in Lawrence, Kan., where she lived near her daughter. She was 98.

Her death was announced by the Boston Symphony.

Ms. Dwyer was only the second woman to win a principal chair with a major American orchestra, after Helen Kotas, the principal horn of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra from 1941 until 1948.

Ms. Dwyer was 30 when the vacancy in Boston was announced. After thorough training, she had accumulated extensive experience ranging from freelancing in an orchestra that went on tour with Frank Sinatra to playing with the National Symphony Orchestra in Washington as second flute.

At the time, she was second flute with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, and during the summers played principal with the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra, directed by Bruno Walter, who had chosen her.

Orchestras were dominated by men in those days, from the podium on through the string, wind and brass sections, and most orchestras had only a handful of women in their ranks.

Charles Munch, the conductor of the Boston Symphony in 1952, was dissatisfied with the flutists who had tried out and asked the departing principal, Georges Laurent, if he had a student to suggest. Laurent mentioned Lois Schaefer, who was playing with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.

Ms. Dwyer had also come to Munch’s attention, recommended by Walter as well as by Isaac Stern. So Munch proposed a “ladies’ day,” and invited both women to audition.

Ms. Dwyer practiced for two solid months, learning famous flute solos from orchestral scores by memory. To protect her job, she told the Los Angeles Philharmonic that she needed a week off for elective surgery. She then traveled to New York, and then to the Boston Symphony’s summer home at Tanglewood for the audition.

Ms. Dwyer felt determined yet surprisingly free. As she told Kristen Elizabeth Kean, who wrote a 2007 dissertation about Ms. Dwyer’s career, “I had nothing to worry about, because I wasn’t going to get the job anyway.”

The two women competed in a joint session for an hour. Then Ms. Dwyer was asked to play for two more hours. Munch and Laurent, among others hearing the audition, were impressed by her glowing sound (which became a Dwyer hallmark), elegant phrasing and technical skill.

When they asked if she could return in two weeks for a follow-up audition, she told them no. She assumed that Munch had other men he wanted to hear first and did not want to make another trip for what seemed like a long shot.

When the call came weeks later that she had been accepted, she asked for a salary that exceeded what she was receiving in Los Angeles. Though nonplused, the orchestra agreed. (Ms. Schaefer, who died in January, eventually became the orchestra’s piccolo player.)

The Boston Symphony’s own news release about the appointment was rife with the casual sexism of the day. The orchestra had acquired a “superb first flute” it read, who was, “incidentally, young, with a dimpled chin, careful coiffure, smallish stature, and an absence of Domineering Female suggestion.”

Ms. Dwyer’s first appearances with the orchestra — she was known as Doriot Anthony then — were heralded by local newspapers with sensationalized headlines. “Woman Crashes Boston Symphony: Eyebrows Lifted as Miss Anthony Sat at Famous Flutist’s Desk,” The Boston Globe reported.

Looking back in a Globe interview, Ms. Dwyer said that during her early years she encountered more prejudice in the press than she did in the orchestra. “I was never harassed,” she said, “though of course the men played jokes on me.” One involved turning a live lobster free in her dressing room.

Doriot Anthony was born on March 6, 1922, in Streator, Ill., the third of four children of William C. and Edith M. Anthony. Her mother was a gifted flutist who played with local ensembles. Her father, a descendant of the suffragist Susan B. Anthony, was a mechanical engineer. He was also a music-lover who encouraged his children’s musical interests, though his attitude was patriarchal, Ms. Dwyer recalled. She was “always a woman, something different,” she said.

In her mother she found both a role model and her first teacher, from whom Ms. Dwyer learned the essentials of rich sound and flexible technique.

Listening to the radio broadcasts of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, she was inspired by the principal flutist Ernest Liegl. She began studying with him at age 12, taking a four-hour train ride to Chicago every other week. The lessons continued for five years.

She was accepted by the Eastman School of Music in 1939 and auditioned four times to be principal of its orchestra, facing rejection each time. After graduating in 1943, in the midst of World War II, when various positions at orchestras had been left temporarily vacant by men who had been called into military service, Ms. Dwyer moved to Washington to play with the National Symphony. She took lessons with William Kincaid, principal flute of the Philadelphia Orchestra.

She moved to New York in 1945, becoming a busy freelancer and playing in several ensembles that embraced new music. She joined the Los Angeles Philharmonic a year later.

Many classic Boston Symphony recordings made during the tenures of Munch, Erich Leinsdorf, William Steinberg and Seiji Ozawa, the music directors under whom Ms. Dwyer served, featured her luminous solo playing. She took part in concerts by the BSO Chamber Players, and for many years she was the only woman among the group of core artists.

She introduced works large and small that were written for her by composers like Walter Piston, William Bergsma, Leonard Bernstein and Ellen Taaffe Zwilich, who was commissioned by the Boston Symphony to write a concerto in honor of Ms. Dwyer’s retirement in 1990.

Ms. Dwyer married Dr. Thomas Dwyer in 1954, and they divorced in 1964. She is survived by their daughter, Adrienne Dwyer, and a granddaughter.

Though praised by critics for her playing, and especially for her beautiful sound, Ms. Dwyer said she was gratified to have played a pioneering role in the advancement of women in classical music

“Women never had much chance to play in principal positions,” she said in an interview with The New York Times in 1979. “This has changed, but it could change even more. I think it will.”

Nowadays, women make up roughly half of most orchestra musicians, but it remains the case that relatively few are principals. Women make up about one third of the Boston Symphony, but along with the harpist and acting concertmaster, it has only one other female principal: Elizabeth Rowe, the principal flute.

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