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Remembering Thelma Hunter, a Musician and Woman of Distinction

By Barry Kempton

Many of you reading this blog will know already that a major figure in the Twin Cities music world passed away last week. Thelma Hunter was approaching 91 years of age, but nobody could have guessed it.  She was active as a pianist (a very good one) and a board member, commissioning music and traveling widely to hear music right up to the very end of her life.  She will be missed and remembered fondly by all of us who had the privilege of knowing her.

Before moving to Minnesota in 1947, Thelma’s career as a pianist included a performance at Carnegie Hall at the age of 5, a concert tour of Norway as a child prodigy and concerto performances of Grieg’s Piano Concerto (on Norway Day at the New York World’s Fair in 1939) – and later with the Minneapolis Symphony Orchestra. She will also be remembered for her many solo and chamber music performances here in Minnesota including a Schubert Club recital in 2005 in which she “introduced” the newly acquired 1878 Bechstein piano, which remains a special instrument in our keyboard exhibit. 

Here are some excerpts from an interview she did with The Schubert Club’s Paul Olson three years ago.

Sam and I moved to Minneapolis in 1947, and I didn’t really know much about St. Paul.  That changed when we moved across the river in 1955, as Sam began a surgical practice in St. Paul.  Sam said, “We have to get involved in St. Paul in every way, from shopping, working and everything we do”.  It was then that I became aware of The Schubert Club.  Before I even knew about the selection process for The Schubert Club’s International Artist Series performers, I had the audacity to ask to be considered to perform on the Series.  I was gently told that it was intended for artists of international reputation outside of the Twin Cities.

For years, I was a member of the artistic committee who selected the artists for the recitals.  We were always cautious about presenting “superstar” artists, or opera stars who would tend to prioritize big opera arias over Lieder.  Singers nowadays are so much more versatile, and Lieder and opera arias are both within their grasp.  Also, establishing the Museum was a brilliant decision.  The representation of historic instruments, some with amazing pedigrees of being played by Brahms, Liszt and others, makes it an extraordinary place to visit.

An obituary with fascinating details of Thelma’s full and active life is printed in yesterday’s Star Tribune and readable here.  http://www.startribune.com/obituaries/detail/96750/?fullname=thelma-e-hunter

The Schubert Club, this community and the world of music in general, is a better place because of who she was and what she did.  Thank you, Thelma.

Photo Above: Thelma Hunter chatting with Frederica von Stade backstage after von Stade’s 1979 Schubert Club International Artist Series recital.