BPO Music Director: 1936-1945
Born in Naples in 1903, as a teenager Franco Autori helped support his family by working at theaters in Venice, Naples, Catania, and Genoa, during which time he studied conducting under Mascagni and Zandonai.
After emigrating to the United States in 1928, Autori served as assistant conductor for various American opera companies before being "bitten by the symphony bug." An early break came when he was appointed to conduct the summer seasons of the Dallas Symphony Orchestra from 1932 to 1934. On a personal note, his romance with a young American opera singer was the basis of the 1934 movie One Night of Love, starring Grace Moore and Tullio Carminati, which set attendance records, won two Oscars and provided a major boost to Columbia Pictures at a critical time.
From 1929 through 1932 Autori was the Music Director of the Chicago Civic Opera Company. He then signed on with the Federal Music Project, which ultimately dispatched him to Buffalo in 1936, where he worked with the burgeoning Buffalo Philharmonic. After the musicians of the orchestra signed a petition of support, Autori was named as the BPO's first Music Director, a post he held for eight seasons. In 1940 he directed the gala debut concert for Kleinhans Music Hall which opened its doors to the public on October 12. The program began with Autori's own orchestral adaptation of Bach's celebrated Toccata and Fugue in D minor and continued with Beethoven's Violin Concerto featuring Eudice Shapiro as soloist, and concluded with Brahms' epic Symphony No.1 in C minor.
With regard to his very first days in Buffalo the gregarious Autori was fond to relate one of his many anecdotes: "When I first arrived in Buffalo I was met by many photographers, many reporters. I was tired and unshaven but had to face many questions like 'Who was my favorite composer?' But when I said my favorite music is whatever I am playing at any given time it was not enough. The reporters pressed me for some examples - so I said, 'Well, music like Bach, Beethoven, Mozart and Wagner.' The next day I opened one of the newspapers and there were four pictures of me on the front page - I was so unshaven I looked like a murderer. And the caption under the pictures said 'Italian-born conductor prefers German music.' All at once more than 90,000 Italian-American residents of Buffalo were mad at me."
Autori's contribution to the rapid artistic and financial growth of the BPO could hardly be overestimated. By the time he turned his baton over to his successor William Steinberg, who was a protégé of Toscanini, the Philharmonic was well ready to assume major status among orchestras in the United States. In addition to attracting and selecting many fine musicians for the orchestra he took care to emphasize the greatest classical works in the repertoire, and to begin the long BPO tradition of attracting world-renowned soloists to the Kleinhans stage. But throughout his career Autori was also very conscious of the need to program new music, and did not hesitate to perform works by composers like Paul Hindemith and Lukas Foss
In the course of his developing career Autori became an assistant to Autori Toscanini in New York with the renowned NBC Symphony. Among many other orchestras on the international scene Autori also directed the State Radio Symphony in Buenos Aires and the National Philharmonic in Warsaw, Poland.
After his very successful tenure in Buffalo Mr. Autori became the Music Director of the Chautauqua Symphony, where he remained until 1961. Returning to New York City, Autori became the Associate Conductor of the New York Philharmonic from 1954 to 1959. In 1961, he moved to Tulsa, Oklahoma, where he served as Music Director of the Tulsa Philharmonic until 1971.
At Autori's last appearance as the Music Director of the Philharmonic on March 20, 1945, he conducted the Buffalo premiere of Copland's Lincoln Portrait with American poet Carl Sandburg as narrator.
Autori returned twice to the podium at Kleinhans as a guest conductor of the Buffalo Philharmonic, first in 1970 and again in 1985 during the gala celebration of the Orchestra's 50th anniversary during which he directed the last movement of Falla's Three Cornered Hat.