The American musician was principal bass of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra for almost 50 years
US double bassist Joseph Guastafeste died on 22 September 2023 at the age of 93. The former principal double bass of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra (CSO) had been suffering from cancer.
Born in 1930 in Brooklyn, Guastafeste originally studied the violin but switched to double bass at the age of 15. After studying at the Juilliard School with Frederick Zimmermann, he joined the New Orleans Symphony in 1949, moving a year later to the Dallas Symphony Orchestra, where he became principal bass. He was personally recommended to CSO music director Fritz Reiner by conductor Walter Hendl who had moved from Dallas to become its associate conductor, and Guastafeste took up the CSO position in 1961. He went on to serve under five more music directors: Jean Martinon, Georg Solti, Daniel Barenboim, Bernard Haitink and Riccardo Muti. He continued in the position for 49 years until his retirement in 2010.
Guastafeste was a respected double bass tutor and served on the faculty of Northwestern University. He also coached weekly sectional rehearsals for the bass section of the Civic Orchestra of Chicago and gave masterclasses around the world. As a chamber musician he performed with ensembles including Chicago Pro Musica, Emerson Quartet, Juilliard Quartet, Ravinia Institute Players, Music of the Baroque and the Vermeer Quartet.
After his retirement, Guastafeste moved to Minnesota where he created ‘Basshenge’ a garden of metal sculptures of double basses in the style of Stonehenge, situated in Birchdale, Minnesota.
Watch Joseph Guastafeste perform in Schubert’s Piano Quintet at the 1984 Ravinia Festival:
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Photo: courtesy International Society of Bassists