Funeral Service and Interment for June Lebell

May 7th, 2017Posted by admin

June LeBell Alley, 73, of Sarasota, FL, formerly of New York, New York, died on April 30, 2017.

Services will be held at 2:00 PM on May 8, 2017 at Church of the Palms, 3224 Bee Ridge Road, Sarasota, FL.
The event will be livestreamed.

PDF for the Celebration of Life

Interment will be held at 11:00 AM Thursday May 11, 2017 at Sarasota National Cemetery, 9810 State Rd. 72, Sarasota, FL 34241.

Instead of flowers, contributions may be made to Sarasota Orchestra, Sarasota Opera or Tidewell Hospice.


June LeBell–The Loss of a Treasured Friend

May 6th, 2017Posted by admin

Article written by Rose Levy Beranbaum found on

June died yesterday with the same grace with which she lived. Her last words to her many friends, fans, and family were to comfort all of us: I am calm and at peace. Her last words sent to me were: I cherish our friendship. Music, food and just plain love. Thank you my friend.

June died the day after her birthday and the day before her 8th wedding anniversary to Ed Alley. I’ll always remember the day I was on a help line for my computer, waiting for a response from the slow typist on the other end, when I chanced to see an email from June saying: Big News! Then, with great joy, I saw the rest: I got married! This was June’s first marriage and she had waited almost a lifetime to find the love of her life. I was so happy for her I ‘screamed’ onto the computer: June LeBell is married! The tech on the other end responded with: That’s wonderful! To this day I’m not sure if he even knew who she was but very likely he did, based on his response and also on June’s ‘visibility.’ June was the first female announcer on WQXR–a career which spanned almost 30 years. Her exquisite voice, knowledge of music, and sense of humor delighted millions of listeners. I’m surprised that there is no obit in The New York Times (WQXR was the radio station of The New York Times.) Maybe it will come. (It did–3-2-17!)

Here is the introduction to her first and only book, The Kitchen Classics. June had asked me to write the intro to the dessert chapter, saying that Julia Child was writing the intro to the savory one. But when Julia heard I was writing the one for the dessert chapter she said: “Rose knows you so much better; let her do the whole thing.” Thank you Julia! Until I wrote it I had no idea how very much I had to say–how deep was my music background, and my friendship with June.

Introduction to The Kitchen Classics by June LeBell

I was born with music in my ears, in my heart, and in my soul. I am sure this is because my mother, who as a young girl studied with Nadia Reisenberg, played womb concerts (the ultimate chamber music) on the piano when she was pregnant with me. She was convinced that even though I had not yet been born, I would still hear something, if only vibrations, and would grow up familiar with and open to music–one of life’s greatest joys. Her theory apparently worked, because as soon as I could walk I approached the piano and picked out tunes by ear.

If I had been offered the choice of any talent in the world (if I couldn’t have been Mozart) it would have been to have a glorious voice and be an opera singer. But since I did not have even a passable singing voice, my instrument became the violin.

One summer, when I was at music camp near Tanglewood, studying with the second violinist of the Boston Symphony orchestra, my great uncle, who had engineered this arrangement, came to visit me and posed the dreaded question: “exactly what kind of talent do you possess; concert or drawing room?” The only possible answer was the disappointing truth: neither. As it turned out, despite the fact that I graduated from Carnegie Hall (the High School of Music and Art held all its graduations there) I was an extremely mediocre violin player who preferred listening to performing; but then, the music world does need some appreciative listeners. Our family had its share of them. Legend has it that my great aunt Beck was so moved by a concert at Lewisohn stadium she got up in the middle and started to dance, explaining afterwards that she couldn’t help herself. My mother’s theory was that since she had grown up in Russia she had the passionate Russian soul. We also had two bonafide performers: Aunt Beck’s husband, appropriately named Fiddler and Uncle Tibor (Kozma), who conducted at the Met under Rudolph Bing and then went on to become head of the music department at the University of Indiana. It is thanks to him that my first “grownup” birthday party, when I was twelve, was at a Met production of the Fledermaus. The kids were all very bored (including me–the Fledermaus has never been one of my favorites), but their parents were quite impressed. And it was never really a surprise to run into one of the great aunts during intermission at the opera.

This generation had my cousin Andrew Schenck (pronounced Skenk), also a gifted conductor, and perhaps the next generation will have my little nephew Alexander who, when he first started to sing had that surprised look, bordering on awe, which clearly said: can these bell like sounds be coming from me?

Ravi Shankar once said that for him music is the bridge between the personal and the infinite. It is my feeling that all acts of creativity, approached with the same reverence of total devotion, offer that possibility. Somehow, though, music soars above all others. My soul has been transported by a bite of still warm from the oven Chocolate Domingo Cake, but no food has given me the total corporal and spiritual orgasm music is capable of inspiring.

My mother, whose profession was dentistry, held dear a theory that senses located in the region of the head are the most exquisite and also the ones most intimately connected. As a “food person,” I see more and more how true this is. Taste, smell, vision, and hearing have a profound effect on each other’s perception. As a very young child, I would not let my mother play the song Ramona because it reminded me of chocolate pudding (which I detested). I suppose I must have experienced it as equally thick and sodden with sentimentality.

The connection between food and music is found even in the words used to describe them. In the food industry, the most common word used to analyze flavor is note. Texture is another word food and music have in common. One of my favorite musical memories is of the time I met Isaac Stern at a party celebrating the birth of Jenifer Lang’s book Tastings. I had provided the Chocolate Oblivion Cake that was featured in the book. When George Lang introduced me to Isaac Stern, he rose up, took my hand, and bowed deeply from the waist saying: “Your cake was like velvet.” My response: “That is the very word I used to describe your playing the first time I heard you play the Tchaikovsky violin concerto when I was sixteen!” (If any breath had been left I would have added that it was at Tanglewood.)

When June LeBell and I were classmates at Music and Art, what seems like only a few years ago, it seemed inevitable that her future would be in music. My fate was far less certain. When we met again, it was when I came to WQXR to advertise my cooking school on the radio. I brought with me my then favorite cake: Grand Marnier et Chocolat. I must admit, I felt that I was entering into a musical temple with something, though quite delicious, perhaps not quite worthy. But June did not seem at all surprised or condescending regarding my transition from violin to cake. In fact, to my relief, it seemed that as far as she was concerned, I was still in the “arts.” Several years later, when she started “The Kitchen Classics,” featuring recipes accompanied by “appropriate” music, I became a frequent guest on the show, which gave us a chance to renew our friendship–often on the air. In fact, we had so much fun catching up and reminiscing, we often forgot that we were on the air! The best part was that we share a similar sense of humor, which is most likely to happen between people whose frame of reference is so similar. Often we felt like we would make a great vaudeville team. I would read my favorite buttermilk cake recipe, to which June would play a recording of what she referred to (with a gleam in her eye) as “Madama Buttermilk”! We laughed almost the whole show through and got lots of delightful “feedback” from the audience. When June told me about her plans for this book, it seemed like the perfect joyful extension of her show.

The book turned out to be so multi dimensional and entertaining, it’s difficult to do full justice to its depth and breadth.

On a personal note, it’s great fun for me to find old childhood friends, now famous musicians, between these covers: the guy who teased me at Music camp (Paul Dunkel), the high-school friend who accompanied me home after ice-skating in Central Park, walking his bike alongside (Stephen Kates), the tall dark and brilliant harpsichordist who dated my cousin and whose father was my English teacher (Kenneth Cooper).
The humor, intelligence, generosity, and charm June possesses make this book unique. She serves up each “personality” in the most personal of all possible ways: in his or her own voice. These delightful anecdotes, peppered throughout the book, have as their counterpoint favorite recipes contributed by each performer. We know their music but now we know another side of them, and they become friends.
And as the proverbial icing on the cake, this book is graced with the incomparable caricatures of our beloved Hirschfeld.

It is a great honor to participate in the 150th celebration of the Philharmonic by being a part of this special book. For me, it is a deeply sentimental and personal book and I think in its own way it will be for everyone who reads it and, most of all, for anyone who cooks from it.


June LeBell, Groundbreaking Advocate For Classical Music, Dies

May 3rd, 2017Posted by admin

Article written by Steve Newborn on

June LeBell, a longtime advocate for classical music both nationally and in the Tampa Bay area, died Sunday in Sarasota.

Her husband, Ed Alley, posted on her Facebook page that after a five-year battle with cancer, June passed away peacefully at her home at about 7 p.m.

LeBell was the first female announcer on a major commercial classical music radio station in the U.S., remaining behind the microphone at WQXR for almost 30 years. In that time, she earned 17 important awards for outstanding broadcasts, interviewed hundreds of music celebrities, wrote a cookbook with illustrations by Al Hirschfeld, and had articles published in Opera News, Gourmet, Stagebill, The New York Times and – most recently – the Observer Group in Sarasota, where she was the music critic and a contributing columnist.

She hosted June LeBell’s Musical Conversations on WSMR, which is operated by WUSF Public Media. She was also the host of Sarasota Institute of Lifetime Learning’s Music Monday Lecture Series.

Today – May 1 – would have been June and Ed’s 8th wedding anniversary.

Here is an interview with LeBell by WXQR from last year, called Catching Up With June LeBell.


June LeBell, Pioneering Radio Announcer, Dies at 73

May 3rd, 2017Posted by admin

WQXR Archive Collections

Obituary written by Sam Roberts found on

June LeBell, a professional concert soprano who became one of the first women to be hired as a staff announcer and interviewer in the male-dominated realm of commercial classical music radio broadcasting, died on Sunday in Sarasota, Fla. She was 73.

The cause was ovarian cancer, her husband, Edward L. Alley, said.

Ms. LeBell produced, wrote and hosted programs on WQXR in New York for nearly three decades beginning in 1973 after she learned from the station manager that he was looking to hire a minority announcer. She recommended a black friend, who tried out for the job and then rejected it.

Ms. LeBell contacted the program manager again and asked, “What do you have against a nice white girl?” she told The Bradenton Herald in Florida in 2012. He replied that she had misunderstood, and that his meaning of minority included women.

“He said, ‘I offered it to you but you turned me down,’ ” Ms. LeBell recalled.

This time, she accepted.

She became a familiar voice on the station, hosting “IBM’s Salute to the Arts” and “Kitchen Classics,” which coupled her favorite subjects, music and food.

“She changed the face of classical music radio in this country from its former somewhat stodgy and patrician sound and format to a warmer, friendly and more conversational medium,” Mr. Alley said in an email. “The ‘smile in her voice’ was verbal honey for her millions of listeners.”

Ms. LeBell was 29 when she joined WQXR, an FM station then owned by The New York Times Company, becoming what the station described as its first full-time female host and the first woman on the staff of any major commercial classical radio station.

She built on the work of trailblazers like Gertrude Mittelmann, who was hired by WQXR in 1940 to adapt her interpretive “Come Dance Through the Ages” programs for radio.

June Wendie LeBell was born on April 29, 1944, in Manhattan to Irving LeBell, a pediatrician, and the former Harriet Adler, a painter.

She graduated from the High School of Music and Art (now Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts) and the Mannes College of Music in New York and attended the Hartt College of Music (now the Hartt School of the University of Hartford).

After performing professionally as a soprano, she was also the host of a lecture series, “The Sound of Broadway,” at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and compiled a book of recipes from musicians titled “Kitchen Classics From the Philharmonic: A Culinary & Musical Celebration of the 150th Anniversary of the New York Philharmonic” (1992), which was illustrated by Al Hirschfeld.

After the 2001 attack on the World Trade Center, a few blocks from where she lived, she retired to Florida, where she hosted a regular public radio program and a series on music at the Sarasota Institute of Lifetime Learning.

Her marriage, in 2009, to Mr. Alley, who met Ms. LeBell when he was orchestra manager of the New York Philharmonic, was her first. When she was 27, she was engaged to the violinist Michael Rabin, who suffered from a neurological condition and whom she found dead in his apartment at age 35 after he had slipped on his freshly waxed floor and struck his head.

In addition to Mr. Alley, she is survived by her sister, Barbara Joseph.


June LeBell, Iconic WQXR Host and ‘Quintessential New Yorker,’ Dies at 73

May 3rd, 2017Posted by admin

Article written by James Bennett,II on

June LeBell, a longtime host for WQXR and the first woman to announce for a major commercial classical radio station, died of ovarian cancer on Sunday, April 30. She was 73 years old.

For nearly 30 years, LeBell graced WQXR with her friendly personality and deep knowledge of its musical subject matter. During her time with the station, she interviewed many notable musicians, composers and critics. Recognitions for her on-air legacy and accomplishments were many, among them a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Broadcasters Club of Florida and a Gabriel Award for outstanding broadcasts. She was also named a “Quintessential New York Woman” by Town and Country Magazine.

LeBell was born in New York City in 1944, and her early years and education revolved around music. She attended the High School of Music and Art and continued her education at the Mannes College of Music (now Mannes School of Music), and graduated from the Hartt School of music. She built a career as a professional singer; her teachers were Adele Addison and Martial Singher. LeBelle performed recitals in Tanglewood and Aspen, and also toured Europe.

in 1973, the 29-year-old LeBell joined WQXR as not only its first woman host, but that of any major commercial classical radio station. Every Wednesday evening, listeners were treated to the sound of her voice on “IBM’s Salute to the Arts,” an award-winning musical documentary program.

One of her shows, “Kitchen Classics,” was a spirited focus on the intersection of two of LeBell’s great loves: music and food. Her guests — who included Julia Child, Itzhak Perlman, Marilyn Horne and many others — would engage in discussions about their favorite foods, while LeBell shared appropriately curated musical selections. A natural outgrowth of this program was a cookbook, Kitchen Classics from the Philharmonic (Doubleday, 1992), which paired close looks of various personalities from a century and a half of New York Philharmonic history with a recipe to match.

LeBell is remembered fondly by her colleagues. Nimet Habachy, a fellow WQXR host and a close friend, considers herself extremely fortunate to have known LeBell over the years. As the only two women at WQXR for a time, she noted how LeBell “just took her in” and described a blossoming professional and personal friendship. “She was a good lady and exciting to be around,” said Habachy. LeBell was active, ready to play a part in the larger community. “She was always vibrant, and I loved her.”

Morning show host Jeff Spurgeon also had the pleasure of working with LeBell. “I think she loved her life and was grateful for all the opportunities she’d known. She was supportive of her colleagues and remained interested in us and in WQXR even after she left New York and began the new chapter of her life in Florida,” said Spurgeon. “It’s no surprise that she became a part of the cultural scene in Sarasota — he loved celebrating the arts and knew how to do it well.”

In addition to her work with WQXR, LeBell served on the advisory boards of the Bloomingdale School of Music and the High School of Music and Art, as well as the auxiliary board of the New York Philharmonic. She also shared her vast knowledge with others in lectures across the city. She hosted the lecture series “The Sound of Broadway” at the Metropolitan Museum of Art; and other cultural institutions she spoke at included the Guggenheim and the Whitney Museums.

In her later home of Sarasota, Florida, LeBell hosted Music Mondays at the Sarasota Institute of Lifelong Learning.


Life Lessons From June LeBell

May 3rd, 2017Posted by admin

Article written by Fred Plotkin on

June LeBell, WQXR’s first female announcer and a beloved member of the station’s family, died in Sarasota, Fla. on April 30, a day after her 73rd birthday and one day before her eighth wedding anniversary with Edward Alley, a musician and arts manager whom she “treasured and adored,” as she told me.

She was a proud New Yorker, born in 1944 at Knickerbocker Hospital in Harlem and raised in the city. She graduated from the High School of Music and Art in 1961 and had a full career in broadcasting, writing and performing in New York before moving to Sarasota after 9/11.

She (and Ed) fought the good fight after she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 2012. They continued to live life meaningfully, full of music, good food and friends. June, through her example but also through her speaking and writing, taught many of us to savor the beauty life has to offer for whatever time we have.

June was very open about her illness. She asked me to share it in an article I wrote about her on Feb. 23, 2016. Last December she wrote, “I’ve learned a lot from this surgery and all the side effects: I adore and cherish my husband. He does so much for me and I’m so grateful. Pain really interferes with life and changes personality (I’m trying to overcome that) … When I get my strength back, I’ll be grateful to have a body, no matter the shape. Ed and I married just 7 years ago … We traveled, swam with dolphins and adored each other, thinking we were fine. Know what? We were. Be careful what you pray and wish for. Sometimes we have everything and don’t stop to appreciate it!”

In June’s three decades at WQXR and then during her years in Sarasota, she lived a life of speaking, teaching, broadcasting and sharing everything she loved. If you know me and my work, you realize that June and I had many overlapping passions. Some people might have behaved competitively but June was remarkably encouraging to younger people who shared her interests, showed talent, and were willing to work very hard. For many years she worked 14 hours a day, 7 days a week. She was an example of the dictum that there are no short cuts if you want to do superb work. I do my best to honor her example.

June was a remarkable interviewer whose preparation as a musician and researcher enabled her to ask questions that elicited responses both sincere and original. If she caught you off guard, it was not to make you uncomfortable but to have you say things you might not have realized you knew.

She respected all of her guests and only claimed to have been starstruck twice — with George Balanchine and Walter Cronkite. I know public figures who were starstruck upon meeting her, but she always put them at ease. Being interviewed by June meant having a conversation in which you learned from her while she let her audience learn from you.

June also understood that the arts can teach us things, through example and emotion, that more literal study might fail to reveal. On March 5, she published a review in the Observer of Sarasota Opera’s production of Poulenc’s Dialogues of the Carmelites. In the opera, the Old Prioress dies a visibly painful death, very likely of cancer. It is very difficult to watch even if you are not battling this illness, so I read June’s description with care: “Played with a startling terror of death by Lisa Chavez, her cry for Mother Marie of the Incarnation is a sure sign this is not going to be an easy death for this otherwise kind and wise Prioress who’s led the order for about a dozen years.” This was June: passionate and dispassionate at the same time.

On April 24, she posted on Facebook: “We called in Hospice. They’re coming to us and they seem wonderful. Bringing a hospital bed today. They’re here for both life and transition. It’s time. I’ll try to stay in touch and update you as much as I can. You’ve all been great supporters and the love and prayers have helped tremendously. I can’t thank you enough! I’m hanging around a bit. Maybe. Not scared. Very calm and at peace. Love you.”

When the Empire State Building was lit in blue last Dec. 3 to celebrate WQXR’s 80th anniversary. June wrote “It was an honor to work for this great station for 30 years and to be its very first female staff announcer. When you’re doing it, you don’t think of it as historic or anything but being very fortunate to be making a career at the nation’s best and best-known commercial classical station. Looking back, I’m bowled over by the memories and colleagues. I worked with the best of the best and they taught me! Duncan Pirnie, Matt Thomas, Peter Allen, George Edwards, Hugh Morgan, Mel Elliot, wow! And our engineering staff, Doc, Herb, Phil, Al, Maurice. What a legacy. And, of course Bob Sherman and George Jellinek. And then Nimet and Clayelle, Candice, and Midge, who came after me. Was I ever blessed. Shine proudly blue Empire State Building for WQXR at 80.”

Our light is momentarily dimmed but our memories of June LeBell will continue to burn bright. To remember June, I will listen to this performance of Brahms Lieder by Christa Ludwig and Leonard Bernstein. Her favorite, she said, was “Mainacht” (“May Night”) which comes at 13:10.


Remembering June LeBell, the voice of Sarasota’s music community

May 2nd, 2017Posted by admin

Known for her warmth and expertise, the singer, music critic, radio personality and lecturer died Sunday, April 30.


Originally published in The Observer
Date: May 1, 2017
by: Nick Friedman | Managing Editor of Arts and Culture

One didn’t need to meet June LeBell to feel like she was a friend. In fact, many felt a connection to the music writer, radio personality and lecturer through her voice alone.

June LeBell died Sunday, April 30, after a five-year battle with ovarian cancer. She was 73.

For those who knew her —and for many who didn’t — LeBell’s voice is the first thing to come to mind.

For 30 years, it rang out across the airwaves in New York City to greet WQXR’s evening listeners. As the first female announcer on a major commercial classical music radio station, she interviewed some of the biggest names in the arts — composer Aaron Copland, former artistic director of the New York City Ballet George Balanchine — and countless others. She earned 17 awards for her broadcasts, as well as the Florida Broadcasters Association Lifetime Achievement Award in 2016.

A graduate of the High School of Music and Art and the Mannes College of Music in New York City, and the Hartt College of Music in Connecticut, she lent her voice to both creating music and sharing her love for the art. In addition to being a radio host, she was also a professional concert singer, as well as a lecturer, leading her long-running Metropolitan Museum of Art series, “The Sound of Broadway” and Sarasota Institute of Lifetime Learning’s Musical Conversations.

No matter the outlet, she loved connecting musicians and music lovers.

“Through those live interviews and performances, thousands of people got to know her,” says Joseph Holt, artistic director of Choral Artists of Sarasota, who shared hosting duties at Musical Conversations’ Venice sessions. “In the same way you see actors onscreen and they resonate with you, watching June, you felt like friends. A lot of people felt very close to her — not only through her experience on the radio in New York City, but also down here. You could look up at a room of 800 to 1,000 people, and all of them feel like they’re best friends with the commentator. She had a unique gift for making that happen.”

Following 9/11, LeBell left New York City and moved to Sarasota, where she wrote for The Observer as music critic. Observer Group Vice President Lisa Walsh recalls the first time they spoke.

“She called me out of the blue and said she wanted to write reviews for The Observer,” says Walsh. “Of course, I knew who she was; I was taken back at first. She had such a beautiful voice — as smooth as velvet. She had me at hello. She brought such a wealth of knowledge, which along with her great personality, added so much to our artistic community.”

LeBell wrote weekly music reviews and other columns for The Observer, where she fostered the growth of local musicians with both a critical ear and gracious writing. She especially loved opera.

Richard Russell, executive director of the Sarasota Opera, first met LeBell in 2005, when she was directing the performing arts center at The Glenridge and he was starting a position as the opera’s marketing director.

As he reached out to Sarasota’s journalists, LeBell was one of the first on his list.

“I had known June’s voice for many years,” says Russell. “I grew up in the New York City area, listening to WQXR, so I was familiar with her voice, and I was excited to meet her in person after having listened to her for so long. For someone with such an incredible career and so much knowledge and experience, she was such a warm person. She made me feel so welcome, like I was talking to an old friend. I had scheduled an hour for our lunch, but we stayed and talked for much longer. Anyone who went to one of her SILL lectures recognized her warmth. I hope she’s remembered for that.”

LeBell went on hospice care Tuesday, April 24, updating friends and family on Facebook.

“We called in hospice. They’re coming to us, and they seem wonderful. Bringing a hospital bed today. They’re here for both life and transition. It’s time. I’ll try to stay in touch and update you as much as I can. You’ve all been great supporters and the love and prayers have helped tremendously. I can’t thank you enough! I’m hanging around a bit. Maybe. Not scared. Very calm and at peace. Love you!”

LeBell’s husband Edward Alley says her sparkling personality — and trademark grace — shone through until the end.

“June was a truly remarkable human being,” he wrote online in a statement Sunday. “Talented, loving and gifted beyond belief in so many ways. We will all miss her very much. Yesterday was her 73rd birthday, and tomorrow is our eighth wedding anniversary. Elegant timing as always. My thoughts go out to all of you who will also miss her so very much.”

Alley says a funeral service and reception will be announced soon in Sarasota and a memorial service and reception will be held at Marble Collegiate church in New York City. In lieu of flowers, contributions should be made to Tidewell Hospice, Sarasota Orchestra or Sarasota Opera.


June LeBell, a pioneering classical music radio host and interviewer, dies at 73

May 2nd, 2017Posted by admin

Herald-Tribune photo/ Thomas Bender

June LeBell with Marvin Hamlisch

June LeBell with Marvin Hamlisch

June LeBell with Jacques d'Amboise

June LeBell with Jacques d’Amboise

Article from

SARASOTA — Even in “retirement” in Sarasota, June LeBell never stepped far away from a microphone.

After an early start as a professional singer, she turned her love for classical music into a groundbreaking career on WQXR in New York, where she became the first female announcer for a commercial classical music station in the country. And she carried on as the host of lecture series and radio shows and as an arts leader after she moved to Sarasota in 2002.

Before her death Sunday after a long battle with ovarian cancer, LeBell built up a popular conversation series, “Music Mondays,” for the Sarasota Institute for Lifetime Learning that outgrew its longtime home in Holley Hall, and regularly attracted more than 900 people each week after moving to Church of the Palms. She wrote music reviews for The Observer newspaper group, and hosted “June LeBell’s Musical Conversation” for two years on the classical radio station WSMR.

“She had a way of burrowing into a community,” said her husband, Edward Alley, who first met LeBell in the early 1980s during a radiothon fundraiser for the New York Philharmonic, where he was the manager. “She did so much for so many. She changed the complexion of classical music radio from being stodgy to being friendly and open and warm.”

LeBell’s passing came one day after her 73rd birthday and a day before the couple’s eighth wedding anniversary.

A graduate of the High School of Music and Art in New York and the Hartt College of Music, LeBell was offered a job at WQXR, the classical station owned for many years by The New York Times, in 1972.

“I thought I can use everything I’ve ever learned about the voice and classical music and languages and make money at it, and really have a career,” she told the Herald-Tribune in 2014.

During her nearly 30 years there, she interviewed thousands of artists, celebrities and politicians, from Beverly Sills and Luciano Pavarotti to Rudolph Giuliani, Jacques d’Amboise and Marvin Hamlisch. She even got many of them to share recipes for her 1992 book “Kitchen Classics from the Philharmonic.”

She also brought an intense curiosity and personality to her work.

“She was such a sparkling character. She had such a great love of life and a love of people and music and art in general,” said Joseph Holt, who became artistic director of Gloria Musicae in 2008 while LeBell was serving as executive director.

The 9/11 attacks triggered her move to Sarasota. She recalled being thrown from her bed by the force of the planes slamming into World Trade Center just a few blocks from her Manhattan apartment. She was forced out of her home for more than three months and decided it was time to leave the city.

Her retirement was brief. Not long after arriving in Sarasota, she became the programming director at the Glenridge retirement center and sang with Gloria Musicae. She also served on the boards of directors of numerous organizations.

Making time for friends

Despite a busy schedule, she also made time for friends.

“She never seemed to give less than 1,000 percent to everything she did, whether a friendship, a lecture, or a review or a dinner party,” said Joan Golub, a close friend. “She was fiercely loyal in her friendships as she was in her determination to live her life to the fullest. And she never quit until she no longer had the energy to do it and that’s just been in the last couple of weeks. She was the kind of friend that you knew if you needed her, she was there, and those friendships are hard to come by.”

D’Amboise — the former New York City Ballet star, a decade her senior — first came to know LeBell when she was a child. Her father, Irving LeBell, was pediatrician for the dancer’s children and frequently asked his daughter to perform during social gatherings in their home.

“Irving and his wife, Harriette, swelled and pulsated with pride every time they spoke of June,” d’Amboise recalled in an email. “She was not yet a teenager, but she already had the stage presence and aplomb of an opera star. Music was always center to their family and music was the sea that June felt most comfortable in.”

D’Amboise was among the many celebrities who appeared in LeBell’s lecture programs.

Alley and LeBell reconnected not long after he moved to Sarasota with his wife, the singer Nancy Williams. A few years after Williams’ death, he had his first date with LeBell at a party on the stage of the Sarasota Opera House.

“June and I were blessed with eight years of what everybody hopes to have,” Alley said. “In every sort of way, it was an absolutely wonderful relationship. We were best friends. We had a wonderful time working together. It was almost a fairy tale romance. We just loved being together.”

Alley said LeBell believed “that the more you give, the more you get. Her legacy is the good will and love that she gave to so many people and that was returned I think.” Her Facebook page has been filled with hundreds of tributes since news of her death was posted there Sunday evening.

She inspired many in recent years with her open and frank Facebook postings about the ups and downs of her cancer treatments, through a long period of remission to a reoccurrance within the last six months.

Last week, she sent a note to friends that her chemotherapy treatments were no longer working and that Hospice had been called to her Sarasota home.

“I’ve been very blessed and lucky through all this. I was able to work through 10 of 12 SILL lectures and write reviews most of the winter season,” she wrote. “But this is no quality of life.” She had already completed planning for another season of SILL lectures, Alley said.

In addition to Alley, she is survived by an older sister, Barbara of Simi Valley, two nephews, Andrew and Robin Joseph, a cousin Paige Farr of Sarasota, and many other cousins and her beloved toy poodle, Rosy.

A funeral service will be held at 2 p.m. May 8 at Church of the Palms, 3224 Bee Ridge Road, Sarasota. Instead of flowers, contributions may be made to Sarasota Orchestra, Sarasota Opera or Tidewell Hospice.

Staff writer Carrie Seidman contributed to this report.


Music review: Verdi’s ‘Requiem’

April 25th, 2017Posted by admin

Choral Artists of Sarasota offer energetic, musically sensitive performance.


Originally published in The Observer
Date: April 23, 2017
by: Edward Alley | Contributor

The Verdi Requiem and Mount Everest have something in common: each is monumental and each is “There!” I don’t know of any performer alive who has not wanted to sing, conduct, or play this great work at some time or another, and like Everest, it is not for the faint of heart. Each is packed with challenges and dangers that lie in wait for the unsuspecting or unprepared.

On Sunday afternoon at the Sarasota Opera House, the Choral Artists of Sarasota (nee Gloria Musicae), the Master Chorale of Tampa, four able soloists and the Sarasota Orchestra, all prepared and conducted by Joseph Holt, were set and ready to scale the heights of this great masterpiece.

And scale it they did, with energy to spare. These some 200 performers, onstage and in the pit, took advantage of the great karma of performing in “Verdi’s American Home,” the Sarasota Opera House, to absolutely raise the roof at least a foot or so, with both the performance and then the applause from the sold-out house.

Combining the professional singers of the Choral Artists of Sarasota with the semi-professional/community choral singers of the Master Chorale of Tampa, Joseph Holt presented a Verdi Requiem with singers with excellent pitch and diction, combined with immense musicality from all. After a somewhat tentative start, the “Introit and Kyrie” came together and one could hear these musical forces join and blend in what became a most moving performance. English text was shown above the stage so we were able to comprehend both emotion and understanding as the sections of the Requiem unfolded.

The massive “Dies Irae” or Day of Wrath landed with all the force and violence of Judgement Day in what seems to be a preview of the storm scene in the opening of Verdi’s “Otello,” written some years later, and it was reprised again in the Requiem’s final section. While in the louder passages the chorus oversang just a bit (who wouldn’t with all that drama going on), the soft passages gave us that wonderful, lovely depth of sound that can only be accomplished by a large chorus singing well.

Most all of the pitfalls for chorus in this massive work were surmounted, especially with the steady rhythm and quick tempo in the notorious double fugue of the “Sanctus,” and the final ”Libera me” where many performances have foundered in its fugal passages.

The four soloists for the occasion were Danielle Talamantes, soprano, Robyn Rocklein, mezzo-soprano, Blake Friedman, tenor, and Kerry Wilkerson, bass. Verdi certainly favored the two female voices in his Requiem, giving them most of the vocal gems, with few exceptions. Both soprano Talamantes and mezzo Rocklein were up to the task, commanding in all their solos and ensembles. Talamantes’ lovely sound soared above the orchestra in the musical climaxes, and Rocklein was quite impressive throughout. Although their blend at the beginning of the “Agnus Dei” could have been warmer, these are two fine singers. Friedman gave his best in his “Ingemisco” solo, with a slightly stretched sound, but he more than held his own in the trios and quartets. Wilkerson, more of a bass-baritone than bass, as called for by Verdi, seemed challenged by the lower range of his part, with a somewhat dry sound, but still sang with great drama.

In the pit, the full Sarasota Orchestra again showed all the quality and versatility of this fine group. Its members had just played three pops concerts in two days, then massively switched gears to play the Verdi Requiem. Joseph Holt, in his six years as Artistic Director with Gloria Musicae/Choral Artists of Sarasota, has grown musically, both as interpreter and conductor, providing us with an energetic and musically sensitive performance, in which the orchestra never over balanced the singers and coalesced into an afternoon of excellent music making. More kudos for the arts in Sarasota.


Music review: La Musica

April 17th, 2017Posted by admin

Last-minute substitutions bring pleasant surprises at La Musica.


Originally published in The Observer
Date: April 14, 2017
by: Edward Alley | Contributor

The third La Musica concert April 9 featured a last-minute substitution: a somewhat well-known Mendelssohn quintet, and for me, a welcome musical surprise from Smetana.

Violist Hsin-Yun Huang’s flights from Atlanta were cancelled, making it impossible to arrive in time for rehearsals, so the Schubert Piano Trio in E flat Major (Nocturne) was substituted for the originally programmed String Trio, Op. 797. Dedicated to the memory of the late John Hunter, long a friend of La Musica, the Nocturne is in one movement and presents us with a lovely lyrical composition. Even with the minimum rehearsal available, the performance by Claudio Cruz, violin, Derek Han, piano and Antonio Meneses, cello, was nicely nuanced and began the evening in a tranquil, lovely mood.

Mendelssohn’s String Quintet in A major featured a double substitution, with Claudio Cruz switching to viola and joining Cecilia Ziano and Frederico Agostini, violins, Bruno Giuranna, viola, and Antonio Meneses, cello. The first movement began with a few miscues, but the musicians soon settled into a good performance. A lovely elegy-like second movement was followed by a typical Mendelssohn scherzo, introduced by a quick fugal theme that scampered through all five voices like fireflies on a still night. The strong finale showed good balance and dynamic range, but the first violin was occasionally overbalanced in the soft passages. Truly Mendelssohn at his best, with his spare but effective writing and natural scoring.

For me, the big surprise of the evening was the final work, the Piano Trio in G Minor, by Smetana. No wonder it was championed by Franz Liszt, who must have had a special fondness for the piano writing, here well played by Derek Han. Even though the work was written in memory of and in tribute to Smetana’s musically talented daughter, who died an untimely death at the age of 4, this work is hardly a lament. The first movement opens with its very angular theme, stated by solo violin, soon joined by the cello in a musical dialogue that adds the piano and progresses through modulations and development to a recap of the solo violin, leading to a thrilling finale.

The second movement is a loving musical tribute to the daughter, from the springing lightness of the first theme through moments of drama and beauty, leading us to the finale, opening with a furious presto with its challenging juxtaposition of duple against triple rhythms, which suddenly stops to give forth a lovely elegiac cello solo, brilliantly played by JeongHyoun Lee with a soaringly beautiful sound. The opening theme returns and alternates with the cantabile themes, which develop and finally emerge into a deceptive, then explosive finish to an exquisite performance of this monumental work.

La Musica has been bringing outstanding chamber music to Sarasota for over 30 years now, but in many ways, the repertoire has grown a bit stagnant and predictable with some variable performances and smaller audiences. With the addition of fresher performers, such as JeongHyoun Lee and works like the Smetana Trio, La Musica could very well enjoy another 30 years of bringing chamber music to larger Sarasota audiences.