Bidding farewell to a master musician
Upon returning home from a recent trip I was saddened to read of the death of master violinist Gene Campione, a dear friend to me and to many others in the music world.
Gene and his wife Gloria, an exceptionally talented clarinet player, came to this area from New York not long after my family located here, and I had the pleasure of meeting the Campiones shortly after their move. Both of them soon graced our region with outstanding musical abilities, along with a mutual passion for exposing audiences of all ages to quality instrumental performances. Certainly, Gene will be missed by his family. But the loss is indeed felt by many in the artistic community. I am but one.
For 31 years Gene served as assistant concert master of the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, a demanding and coveted position. Retiring to Myrtle Beach and enjoying time for golf did not mean packing away his beloved violin, of course. Indeed, I well remember the Campiones' enthusiasm as they eagerly joined in the extensive efforts that gave birth to The Longbay Symphony. When then-director Won Mo Kim, also a violinist, had to miss a rehearsal to conduct or perform elsewhere, it was Gene (or Gloria) who ably took the baton. When, as a performer in the duo A La Carte, I sang Longbay's Pops Concerts, I found it necessary to compose our vocal scores from the orchestral conductor's scores, it was Gene who recognized the effort and expressed appreciation.
Good musicians can be perfectionists, (Did I say that?) and Gene was no exception. He practiced until he felt his performances were worthy of an audience. He held himself to high standards, and in return he expected the same from his fellow players. By his own admission, Gene would not “play for just anybody”, meaning he only performed for certain directors. Because of this I was ever grateful for his talents and certainly his affirmations of praise during the decade of performances by The Coastal Chorale, the 65-voice chorus I founded and directed.
Every conductor should have such a respected cheerleader. Gene and Gloria were always at the top of my list as I assembled the Chorale Orchestra each season. (My late aunt used to travel several hours for these concerts, always arriving early enough to plant herself directly in sight-line of “that wonderful Mr. Campione”.) How he would make that violin sing.
I represent many, I am sure, in expressing sincere gratitude for the magnificent melodies Gene played in countless weddings, church services and concerts. Personal memories will remain for lots of musicians, for Gene touched many lives. One could not help but be awed by his talent. But I shall always treasure the occasions, especially as I accompanied him from my own piano, when he cradled his violin and bow, gave me the subtle but serious nod, and allowed me into his own very private musical space.
Certainly, Massenet's “Meditation from Thais” shall ever evoke thoughts of Gene Campione... artist, performer, teacher and friend. We have been richly blessed to know him.