Behind the podium: David Ogden Stiers was an orchestra conductor outside of M*A*S*H

A great actor, and a passionate patron of the arts.

Actors get to live different lives with each project. One moment, an actor might be a firefighter, the next an ambassador to France. An actor might wake up on Monday as a high-degree thief, and then be the heavyweight champion of the world by Friday. Even the medium might change; a stage actor one week might be on TV the next.

David Ogden Stiers, it needs to be noted, was able to live in a way that overshadowed even his most interesting roles. That’s really saying something, too; the guy was a Korean War army surgeon, a district attorney, and an anthropomorphic clock! But in real life, he was more than that. David Ogden Stiers was a full human being, and his experiences could never be whittled down to fit into a feature presentation.

Take, for instance, Stiers’ interest in the orchestra. While his roles as both M*A*S*H‘s Major Winchester and Beauty and the Beast‘s Cogsworth had an air of sophistication, neither could point towards the real-life passion Stiers felt about music. The aristocratic stuffy characters he played had only an appreciation of the arts in common with the man behind the roles. And he wasn’t just a fan. Stiers’ passion brought him out of his seat and all the way up to the stage.


In 1989, Stiers was profiled by The Salt Lake Tribune ahead of a performance where he’d guest conduct the Utah Symphony. Stiers was an old pro at that point; he’d already guest-conducted many major American symphony ensembles, including orchestras in Portland, San Francisco, San Diego, Honolulu, and Los Angeles. It might surprise you, then, to learn that Stiers had very little in the way of musical education. Aside from a few childhood piano lessons, and a penchant for singing, David Ogden Stiers was just a fan. Although he struggled to read music, Stiers boasted “I have a very accomplished ear, however.”

So, what were ticket-holders in for with Stiers conducting business? “I really don’t know,” Stiers told the Tribune. “Nothing is planned. You can probably expect a little dancing, maybe a little audience participation, certainly some patter…” he said.

One thing you could count on, though: The entire affair would be carried out with the utmost respect. “The thing I try never to do is overshadow the orchestra – and that would certainly be hard in the case of the Utah Symphony – it is one of the finest.”

“I have a great deal of fun with orchestras and talking directly to audiences: perhaps talking about orchestras in ways audiences don’t think of.”

So why, exactly, would Stiers, an actor, take the stage with an orchestra? “You know, it’s my deepest hope,” he remarked, “that people who don’t ordinarily go to concert halls will come to hear this concert. I’d like for them to hear, in a much less pressured situation, the live sound of an orchestra, because it changes your life!”

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