Saturday, July 18, 2009

Remembering Walter Cronkite - posted by James Baker

Like so many, I came of age watching newscasts of Walter Cronkite. I still recall rising early in the morning to watch Mr. Cronkite give his live coverage of the more often aborted than launched space flights of the early Mercury, then Gemini and Apollo manned missions. Like the rest of America, I trusted Walter Cronkite.

My fondest personal memory of Walter Cronkite was based here in San Antonio. I was in my first year as a member of the San Antonio Symphony. This turned out to be the last year for the Music Director Victor Alessandro and perhaps the beginning of the end of the parade of top tier soloists through the Alamo City. But the 1975-76 season of the SA Symphony saw violinist Henryk Szeryng, cellist Leonard Rose and Los Romeros on stage at what was then known as the Theater for the Performing Arts. The likes of Beverly Sills, Norman Treigle, Grace Bumbry and Carol Neblett sang regularly with the orchestra's fully staged opera. Yet with all the illuminati to whom the orchestra was accustomed, we were genuinely excited by the announcement of a special concert which would feature Walter Cronkite and Aaron Copland's "A Lincoln Portrait."

I don't recall the particulars of this Walter Cronkite special event, but surely it had not only the orchestra, but also the community, anticipating the wise Mr. Cronkite's recitation of Lincoln's words. The afternoon of the concert was stormy, with enough wild weather between Dallas and San Antonio that flights were being cancelled. Alessandro chain-smoked nervously as word came that first one and then another flight was cancelled. But the rehearsal went on, sans the words of Lincoln, for in true show business spirit it was believed the show must go on. After yet another flight was scrubbed a hurried meeting of Alessandro and the orchestra's management was held. The piccolo player, a licensed pilot, was called from the ranks of the orchestra. Would it be possible, she was asked, to fly to Dallas and retrieve Mr. Cronkite? Everyone was grasping at straws, desperate to get the valued soloist to San Antonio safe and sound; and then the phone rang. It was Cronkite's management. He was in the air and would make it for the concert, but not the rehearsal.

The commentators today are speaking of Walter Cronkite as the most trusted man in America. On that evening in San Antonio he was the most trusted soloist. The orchestra rose out of respect for Mr. Cronkite as he and Alessandro entered from the wings. The audience applauded respectfully and the words of Lincoln, "Fellow citizens, we cannot escape history," resonated from the voice of Walter Cronkite. Yes, Walter Cronkite proved he could be trusted that evening. I am sure the audience never knew the circumstances of this spontaneous, unrehearsed performance, but they had no reason to doubt that what they heard that evening came from the hearts of a trio of great Americans: Lincoln, Copland and Walter Cronkite.

1 comment:

Nathan said...

Wow, how I would have loved to have been at that concert. I enjoy the Henry Fonda performance of the Lincoln Portrait, but I think Cronkite would have toppped it.