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Passages: Christopher Leuba, renowned orchestral instrumentalist, former longtime UW faculty member

Submitted by Joanne De Pue on October 2, 2023 - 12:28pm
Chris Leuba, former French horn professor

Obituary by Roger Kaza 

Julian Christopher Leuba, 90, University of Washington French horn faculty from 1967 to 1979, passed away on December 31, 2019. An icon in the horn world, Chris held several leading orchestral positions before joining the UW, including the principal horn positions with the Chicago Symphony, the Minneapolis Symphony (now Minnesota Orchestra), Philharmonia Hungarica, the Aspen Festival, and the Casals Festival in Puerto Rico.

Chris’s rigorous regimen for his students at UW included daily repertoire classes, solo classes, and horn ensemble. His weekly private lessons were intense. He was known as an old-school, “tough” teacher, holding his students to the highest possible musical standards and frequently referencing his own method books, including Phrasing Concepts, A Study of Musical Intonation, The Daily Warm-Ups, Rules of the Game, and others. An out-of-the-box contrarian, Leuba had little use for conventional wisdom when it came to horn pedagogy. Yet he relished the camaraderie of the professional horn world and was a frequent presence at the International Horn Society’s annual conferences.

In addition to his teaching duties at UW, Chris was a longtime member of the Soni Ventorum Woodwind Quintet, artists-in-residence at UW, touring with them to Europe and South America, as well as appearing on their many recordings. In later years, many brass players sought his guidance, and he was recognized as a guru of brass musicianship, coaching seasoned pros in master classes and lessons.

Chris was born in Pittsburgh, Penn., to Walter Leuba and Mildred Wallach. He attended Allegheny High School, where he was editor of the school newspaper. While studying at Carnegie Mellon University, he joined the Pittsburgh Symphony on fourth horn at age seventeen. After a summer at the Tanglewood Music Festival, he served two terms in the United States Army (West Point and the English Midlands). While in England, he studied with Aubrey Brain, father of the legendary horn virtuoso Dennis Brain.

Chris succeeded his teacher, Philip Farkas, in the principal horn chair of the Chicago Symphony, playing the last years and recordings of the legendary Fritz Reiner era. Chris’s stories of that time were frequently hair-raising and undoubtedly contributed to his stern and uncompromising standards as a teacher.

Chris’s solo work is documented on several albums with Crystal Records. He can be heard on YouTube recordings of The Lyric Horn and on Horn Quartets: An Omnibus, featuring members of the Chicago Symphony. He occasionally ventured into popular music and appeared with Sarah Vaughn, Stan Kenton, Quincy Jones, and the Bill Russo big band. His other work in Seattle included fourteen complete Wagner Ring Cycles with the Seattle Opera. His last playing position was as principal horn of the Portland Opera, a post he held for more than 20 years, commuting countless I-5 freeway miles in his trademark VW Beetle. 

Chris’s influence at UW has been far-reaching, with students in major orchestras worldwide. Richard Sebring, BM ’79, now principal horn of the Boston Symphony, recalls: “Christopher Leuba's total commitment to teaching the horn was unparalleled. His theories and concepts continue to echo today as we prepare our own students to succeed us in this art form.”