Posted by: Bonnie Phelps | July 23, 2010

Mountain Weekender played for SD Symphony 44 years

Many of you knew weekender Peter Swanson.  Thanks to Rick Kneeshaw for sharing such a nice UT article about Peter’s life.

Peter Swanson: Clarinetist played for S.D. Symphony from 1960 to 2004


Aptitude tests nudged Peter Swanson toward studying accounting but Igor Stravinsky’s “Rite of Spring” pulled him into a career as a classical musician.

Mr. Swanson had played the clarinet since childhood and loved music but he started college with the goal of becoming an accountant. Just two classes into his major, he switched to music. After hearing Stravinsky’s music that caused a riot at its 1913 Paris premiere, he was hooked on classical music.

He went on to perform for nearly half a century with the San Diego Symphony, both witnessing and playing a role in the growth and development of the group into a leading professional orchestra. Over the years, he was also a member of the San Diego Opera orchestra, the San Diego Chamber Orchestra, the La Jolla Chamber Orchestra and the Firenze Woodwind Quintet.

Mr. Swanson died of cancer July 12 in San Diego. He was 78.

He and his wife, Anthony, were both part of the symphony for several decades. She joined as a violinist in 1955 when it was a part-time ensemble and he was hired in 1960 after playing with the Boston Pops Orchestra, the North Carolina Symphony and the Birmingham Symphony in Alabama.

Both retired in 2004.

In addition to Stravinsky’s piece, Mr. Swanson counted Beethoven’s “Eroica” and anything by Mozart among his favorite music.

Anthony Swanson said her husband was a quiet person who felt he expressed himself best through his music. Throughout his career, he served on committees that did contract negotiations between the musicians and both the symphony and San Diego Opera orchestra. It was a thankless job that was difficult at times, Anthony Swanson said.

Colleague Glen Campbell, who also worked on the committees, said it was time-consuming work. “Serving on the committees was one of those things that helps an orchestra grow professionally. Peter and Anthony were among those who had the vision of growing (the San Diego Symphony) into a professional orchestra,” Campbell said. “It grew both financially and artistically.”

In addition to performing, Mr. Swanson also served as a substitute teacher in San Diego City schools and did private tutoring. “He was one of my heroes,” former student Cory Homnick said of Mr. Swanson. “I was a kid playing the clarinet (in the 1970s) when I started taking lessons from him. I always loved his sound when he was the clarinetist in the symphony. He was very humble, very unassuming.”

Peter Gordon Swanson was born Jan. 22, 1932 in Jamestown, N.Y., to Walter Lyle and Gladys Viola Swanson. The family moved to Santa Barbara and Mr. Swanson earned a bachelor’s degree in 1954 from the University of California Santa Barbara, where he met the former Anthony Byrd Hardin of San Diego. The couple married at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in San Diego in 1954. He continued his studies at the University of Southern California, where he earned a master’s degree of music in 1956.

Mr. Swanson also enjoyed photography and running and participated in many marathons. Friend Bob Minnich said he encouraged Mr. Swanson to start running about 30 years ago. The two were in a group that met weekly to run in the De Anza Cove area in Mission Bay. After their run, the men would sit and discuss politics and other topics over a thermos of coffee. “One day, instead of coffee, we had beer. It was a stroke of genius (from Mr. Swanson),” Minnich said. “Pretty soon we had a beer-tasting group. We made a science out of it. I don’t know if we drank beer to learn more about it or we learned about beer so we could drink more of it. We eventually tasted over 1,000 different beers.”

In addition to his wife, he is survived by two sons, David and Erik of San Diego; a daughter, Sarah of San Diego; and three grandchildren.

A memorial will be held at 4 p.m. Sunday at the Junipero Serra Museum in Presidio Park.

In lieu of flowers, the family suggests donations to San Diego Hospice or San Diego Symphony.

Blanca Gonzalez: (619) 542-4559;

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