Diana Halprin, the violinist turned music director of the now-defunct Orange County Chamber Orchestra, has died after a two-year battle with cancer, orchestra founder Micah Levy said. She was 55.
Halprin had been undergoing alternative cancer treatment in Germany for the past year, Levy said, but she had a downturn in May. She died July 30. Funeral services were held Wednesday in New York, where she lived with her husband, violinist Joe Goodman.
"She was very well-loved," Levy said Friday. "I featured her with the orchestra once or twice every year. When she tried out, I was amazed at what a gifted musician she was. She really had quite a following."
Halprin spent eight years as concertmaster for the Costa Mesa-based orchestra before taking over in 1994 as music director, when Levy left to pursue graduate music studies in Baltimore. At the time, that made her the only female music director of a professional orchestra in Orange County.
As she prepared to change roles, she told The Times her wardrobe would reflect her outlook, and she therefore would not wear pants, as some female conductors do: "I feel a conductor must be very powerful. And I believe there is a feminine power that matches in every way a masculine power. Look for me in a simple black gown."
Of her first appearance on the podium for the orchestra in 1994, a reviewer for The Times wrote: "Halprin has some conducting experience under her belt and in her debut directing the OCCO, she looked confident with a baton in her hand, leading in a clear, lyrical, no-nonsense style."
She took over as the group was having money troubles, and during its final seasons often led and played in chamber concerts or recitals while trying to raise enough money to return to full orchestral programs, which cost the group about $10,000 each to present.
"Obviously, the aim is to have the orchestra, not a chamber-music series," Halprin told The Times in 1995. "But the immediate thing is to try to raise funds to get an orchestra. That's what our audience wants."
Despite the financial problems, she remained optimistic about its future, saying, "There's a large potential audience for us. Young people are hitting the age when they're psychologically mature enough to appreciate classical music. I believe that by introducing them more to the language of music, I can give them a hook to hang their minds on."
Levy said that after Halprin learned she had cancer in 1997, "she focused all her attention on that, [and] the orchestra went into a pianissimo."
Most of the time she was with the OCCO, she and Goodman lived Santa Fe, N.M., and they would drive 15 hours to Orange County for the orchestra's three or four concerts each season.
She had spent much of her professional life doing studio session work, playing for commercials, which she said "enabled me to earn a good living and play concerts in Europe and Latin America." She also played in the orchestra that backed Barbra Streisand for her 1994 concerts at the Arrowhead Pond at Anaheim and served as concertmaster for tenor Jose Carreras when he appeared that same year at Radio City Music Hall in New York.
She began playing violin at 3, and by age 7 was the youngest soloist to have performed with the Philadelphia Orchestra. She studied conducting with Leon Barzin from 1970 to 1973 and conducted the New York Kammermusiker from 1968 to 1974 and the Columbia Chamber Orchestra from 1972 to 1975.
She is survived by Goodman.