Remembering Charles Ansbacher

Mon, Sep 13, 2010


Charles Ansbacher, who conducted the Colorado Springs Symphony for many years, and who so brilliantly led the community effort that culminated in the construction of the Pikes Peak Center thirty years ago, died yesterday evening at his home in Cambridge, aged 67.

His was a brilliant and accomplished career, a life that burned brightly and ended too soon.

I had the great privilege of knowing him before he left Colorado Springs in the late 1980s, and became a principal actor on a far larger stage.

Diagnosed 13 months ago with an incurable brain tumor, Charles faced death with the same humility, grace, and optimism with which he had always faced life.

In a last letter to friends posted three weeks ago, he spoke of calm acceptance of his impending death, while gently discouraging his friends from writing or calling.

That was Charles at his most self-effacing. He wanted us to remember him fondly, to know how much we meant to him individually and severally, but he didn’t want to inconvenience anyone, or make any of us feel guilty for ignoring him.

In common with many of his friends, I ignored his last wishes and sent him a last note. Here it is.

My dear old friend,

I read your letter with sorrow, with love, and with admiration. As you prepare to cross into that “undiscovered land from whose bourn no traveler returns,” you do so with grace, good humor, and, as a good teacher should, with lessons for all of us.

It has often seemed to me that our lives are as those of passengers on a riverboat descending the Mississippi in the 19th century. There are the ship’s officers, the captain, the passengers, the dancing girls, the gamblers, the pick-pockets, and everyone else.  We play our roles, whatever they may be. We seek to comfort, to entertain, and to learn from our fellow passengers, because we know that all of us must disembark, usually unexpectedly and often against our will, when the boat reaches its destination.

Yours has been a superb life.  You have illuminated our lives. Your legacy remains vividly present in Colorado Springs.

For me, the memories are legion.  The laughter, good times, and evenings at the symphony and at your house on Tejon Street.

And here’s one that you’ve forgotten!

Do you remember one concert, which featured a Bruckner symphony that lasted almost as long as…well, as long as an evening of speeches by particularly dreary politicians?  At the post-concert reception, I thought to make a joke: “So Charles, why did you cut so many passages from that magnificent work?”

You, knowing my ignorance of music generally and of Bruckner specifically, looked at me with astonishment (whether real or feigned).

“John, how did you know?”

I didn’t, of course- I faked it.

You never faked it.  You put your heart into everything you did-your family, your work,your friends.

A great symphony begins well, builds upon theme after theme, and just when you think that it can’t possibly end, that nothing could surpass what has come before, the final notes recapitulate, amplify, and summarize the greatness that you have experienced.  I listened as you conducted so many great works, and I am not surprised that your final act is worthy of you, Maestro, and leaves the hall echoing with remembered greatness.

Farewell, dear friend.  I grieve for you and for your family, and I will remember you with joy.

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1 Comments For This Post

  1. susan cronin rice Says:

    Thank you, John

    Your words are those that all of us would like to be able to express. I knew Charles for a long time while he and Kathleen were raising their sons on Tejon. I remember with pleasure the day that Charles took me in my hard hat to his construction site. The roof was on, the building in its final phase and i had a class in acoustics, multi functional halls, potential future expansion. So interesting and he gave the tour and comments as if he were discussing a a beloved child and this child’s future.

    Kata sent your spice and I appreciated your thoughts.

    Susan Cronin Rice