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Longtime Anchorage cellist and teacher Beth Leffingwell dies

Mike Dunham
Beth Leffingwell, right, performs with the Anchorage Symphony in 2007. Anchorage Symphony Orchestra

Longtime Anchorage cellist and music teacher Beth Leffingwell died Wednesday afternoon at home. She was 90.​​

Leffingwell had played in the cello section, usually in the principal first-chair position, with the Anchorage Symphony Orchestra for 50 years. She was often assigned solo parts in orchestral works. A number of other cellists associated with the symphony collaborated in a concert in her honor, “Cellobration,” presented in March.

Elizabeth Stiles was born in Denver, Colorado on March 17, 1924. She studied music in her hometown and then at the prestigious Eastman School of Music in Rochester, New York, from which she graduated with a performer’s certificate, the equivalent of a masters degree. 

She played with the Denver Symphony in the 1950s and 1960s. She described the squabbles and intrigue inside that troubled organization with delightfully salacious detail in “As One Twig is Bent: True Stories of Parenting and Childhood in the Great Depression,” the first of three volumes of memoirs she published from the trove of journals she kept over the years.

After moving to Alaska in the 1960s, she taught at several Anchorage schools, including Chugiak Elementary, Mears Junior High and Dimond High. She was credited with developing the orchestra program at West High School, where she taught for 14 years. She was active in teacher development in Anchorage and elsewhere in Alaska and remained active as a private instructor after retiring from the Anchorage School District. 

She received the Outstanding Alaskan Music Educator Award from the Alaska Music Educators Association during the All-State Honor Concert in Fairbanks in November 1993. 

Her final performance with the Anchorage Symphony took place on April 26. When conductor Randall Craig Fleischer announced that the all-Wagner concert was dedicated to her for her half-century with the orchestra, the audience in Atwood Concert Hall gave her a standing ovation.

She contributed columns, reviews and letters to the editor on a variety of topics to local newspapers. In addition to writing, she was also a painter, working mainly in watercolors. 

“She had a wide range of interests, but music was her life,” said her daughter, Jeanne Leffingwell. 

Beth Leffingwell was preceded in death by her husband, Myron. She is survived by daughter Jeanne and son Brian, both of Moscow, Idaho, and grandchildren Paige and Solomon Reid. 

A memorial with reception to follow will be held at 2 p.m. July 29 at First Congregational Church, 2610 E. Northern Lights Blvd. Her family suggests that in lieu of flowers, a donation in her name to the Anchorage Symphony would be appropriate. 

Reach Mike Dunham at mdunham@adn.com or 257-4332.