Head Usher’s “Early” Retirement Ends a Musical Era

Janos Gereben on November 29, 2016
Horacio, in his usual informal elegance | Courtesy of the San Francisco Symphony

In Davies Hall Wednesday night, San Francisco Symphony ushers and many audience members had a shock in the intermission of the Berlin Philharmonic's grand conclusion of the orchestra's North American tour:

They found out that this was the last night of service by head usher Horacio Rodriguez, retiring as he is about to turn 85, even if looking and acting half of that age. There were tears in the eyes among those who never worked for another head usher in Davies Hall and Opera House history, and who had nothing but warmth and support from him even during the occasional problems that beset any large operation involving thousands of people.

It just didn’t make sense that he would retire — something that would hardly be a surprise in case of any other octogenarian. But then, the man known to everybody as Horacio is not like anybody else. Consider: this is the 58th year that the ever-present, ever-helpful, ever-cheerful major-domo has graced events at the Symphony.

That, of course, goes back long before the architect Pietro Belluschi completed Davies Hall in 1980, way back in time to when Symphony, Opera, and Ballet all shared the War Memorial. Horacio had just arrived from Argentina, and immediately went to work in the Opera House as a volunteer usher in 1958. There, even more importantly, he says, he met and then married Angela Quigley from Cork, Ireland.

Mr. Rodriguez on the job | Courtesy of the San Francisco Symphony

How long ago was that? Enrique Jordá was SFS music director; under Lew Christensen’s direction, S.F. Ballet followed an 11-nation tour of Asia the year before with a four-month tour of Latin America; and S.F. Opera General Director Kurt Herbert Adler presented a dozen productions, including Cherubini's Médée, with Eileen Farrell and Carl Orff's Die Kluge, with Leontyne Price.

Horacio's greatest passion is opera, but he is completely devoted to pianists, from Martha Argerich to Yuja Wang, big orchestral pieces, and chamber music, art, films, literature — you name it, and he is there.

Horacio's long-time colleague Jeff Coyne (formerly head usher at the Opera) is the replacement for the man Coyne will be the first to say “cannot be replaced.”