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Robert Gerle, 81; Violinist Wrote Books on Technique for Music Programs

November 04, 2005|Mary Rourke | Times Staff Writer

Robert Gerle, a concert violinist, teacher and author of books on violin technique, died Saturday, according to his son Andrew. He was 81.

Gerle, who helped found the orchestra program at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, in the early 1970s, died of complications from Parkinson's disease at his home in Hyattsville, Md. He continued to tutor students until several weeks before his death.

Born in Abbazia, Italy (now Opatija, Croatia), to Hungarian parents, Gerle -- pronounced GAIR-leh -- earned a master's degree at the Franz Liszt Academy of Music in Budapest, Hungary, and studied at the National Conservatory of Music there before he began a career as a performer.

During World War II, he was imprisoned in a labor camp because he was Jewish but escaped and hid in his teacher's apartment in Budapest. He was one of about 20 people hiding in the apartment's crawl spaces when Soviet soldiers raided it in 1945.

Suspected of being Nazi snipers, the group was ordered to stand before a firing squad, and, according to stories told of this incident, Gerle carried his violin with him.

Seeing the instrument, an officer told him to play a piece by Tchaikovsky, which Gerle did. It convinced the officer that he and the others were not Nazis, and all of them were set free.

Gerle moved to Paris, then to Luxembourg, where he was staff soloist with Radio Luxembourg for a brief time.

He moved to the U.S. in 1950 to accept a fellowship at the University of Illinois. During the '50s, he was concertmaster of the student orchestra at the Tanglewood Music Festival in Massachusetts one summer and concertmaster of the San Diego Symphony another summer.

In 1956, a group of his admirers in San Diego bought Gerle the $45,000 Stradivarius violin that he had borrowed from a New York dealer for his appearance in San Diego.

Of Gerle's performance in a concert at New York's Town Hall in 1958, a New York Times reviewer wrote: "He had some of the steadiest bow arms this listener has ever heard, and his intonation is flawless."

Through the 1960s, the violinist performed with orchestras in the U.S. and Europe and had a lively career as a recording artist of works by Beethoven, Samuel Barber and others.

In 1970, Gerle and pianist Marilyn Neeley won an Emmy Award for a series of televised performances of the complete Beethoven violin and piano sonatas. The couple married that same year.

Gerle taught music at several schools, including the Peabody Conservatory of Music in Baltimore, before he joined the faculty of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, in 1972.

He was also on the faculty of the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., and took part in chamber music series at the Library of Congress and elsewhere.

His memoir, "Playing It By Heart," was published this fall, and his books on musical technique, "The Art of Practicing the Violin" (1983) and "The Art of Bowing Practice: Expressive Bow Technique" (1991), continue to be used in music programs.

Besides his son, who is a composer and musician in New York City, Gerle is survived by his wife, a USC graduate who was raised in Glendale and taught music at her alma mater for some years.

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