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Jackson Hole, Wyo.-With a simple phrase as his guiding light, Maestro Ling Tung brought Grand Teton Music Festival from its humble beginnings in the late 1960s to the expansive seven-week summer classical music event it is today: “The music comes first,” he once told the festival’s executive director Tracy Jacobson.
GTMF staff announced last week that Tung died of complications related to brain cancer on May 14. He was 78 years old.
With Tung scheduled to conduct Berlioz’s Roman Carnival Overture at the festival’s 50th Anniversary Gala on July 2, music director Donald Runnicles will lead the Festival Orchestra in Ling’s honor. Attendees will receive a recording of the Roman Carnival with Tung behind the stand, so they can still hear his work during the festival’s commemorative year.
Grand Teton Music Festival will also present a memorial concert dedicated to Tung on August 14. And Tung’s family will hold a private ceremony in Philadelphia.
Because the festival has been preparing for its 50th for about four years, Jacobson said, Tung had been in touch often, providing notes on music for the season, and submitting to interviews about the festival’s history. Jacobson’s husband, Tim, even travelled to Tung’s home in Philly to bring back the conductor’s collection of festival memorabilia, much of which will appear in a 50th anniversary book, due in October or November.
After a 1967 visit to guest conduct, Tung took the stand on a permanent basis from 1968 to 1996. At that time, the orchestra didn’t have a permanent venue, let alone a concert hall. With his wife, singer Margot Walk, Tung raised the money to build a concert hall in Teton Village on land donated by the Jackson Hole Ski Area. Walk Festival Hall opened in 1974.
Previous to joining the festival, Tung sat in the first violin section of the Philadelphia Orchestra for six seasons, beginning in 1958. He left the orchestra in 1964 to establish the Philharmonia Orchestra of Philadelphia.
A violin prodigy in China, he came to the U.S. in 1947 to attend the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston.
Jacobson still remembers the day 25 years ago when she began as a finance manager at the festival and Tung took her out for a drink to discuss the organization’s future. They walked around Teton Village, finally taking a seat on the steps outside the concert hall, where he advised Jacobson that whatever she did in her role at the festival, she should always think about how it serves the music. It’s an edict, she said, that she still follows today as the administrative head of the organization.
Tung was a mentor and friend who will be missed dearly by all, Jacobson said, including the greater community of Jackson Hole, where he kept a second home even after leaving his post with the festival. Grand Teton Music Festival, as it is known today, is Tung’s legacy.
In addition to his passion for the music, Tung will be remembered for setting a tone of friendship among the musicians. “You can hear it in the orchestra,” she said. “They’re a group of people who love each other. What did he say? Friends making music with friends.”