Victor Aitay, who performed for 19 years as concertmaster of the
Chicago Symphony Orchestra (CSO), died on 24 July at the age of 91.
He played with the orchestra for 50 seasons, also serving as
assistant and associate concertmaster, and concertmaster emeritus
Born in Budapest in 1921, Aitay studied under Léo Weiner and Imre Waldbauer at the Franz Liszt Royal Academy. He was the concertmaster of the Hungarian Royal Opera and Philharmonic Orchestra before the Second World War, and moved to Vienna with his friend, cellist János Starker, in 1946. He played for two seasons with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra under Fritz Reiner and was associate concertmaster of New York’s Metropolitan Opera Orchestra from 1952 to 1955.
Aitay joined the CSO in 1954, again under Reiner. ‘He could conduct with his eyebrows,’ Aitay recalled in a 1988 interview with The Strad. ‘He could look at someone very energetically. If that person didn’t have self-confidence or stamina, he was better off not staying.’ Aitay also played under CSO music directors Jean Martinon, Irwin Hoffman, Georg Solti and Daniel Barenboim.
He served as professor of violin at DePaul University, and as music director and conductor of the Lake Forest Symphony, and was leader of the Chicago Symphony String Quartet. He played the 1715 ‘Baron von der Leyen’ Stradivari, owned by the CSO, during his tenure as concertmaster, and also owned a Guadagnini and a Vuillaume.