Abravanel transformed the orchestra into a world-renowned ensemble. He secured recording contracts, booked international tours and lobbied for what would eventually become Abravanel Hall.
“He brought in soloists to die for. He did programs to die for. It was a thrilling experience,” she said.
The walls of Darger’s basement walls are adorned with dolls from around the world — South America, Germany, Norway — mementos of her travels with Abravanel and the symphony.
Leafing through scrapbooks, she beams while talking about their performance during the first tour at the base of the Acropolis in Athens in 1966.
“That whole tour, you were just kind of in a dream world.”
It was also on that tour when her violin was run over by a bus on the tarmac of the Stuttgart, Germany, airport. The violin was destroyed.
Luckily, violin maker Peter Prier was with the group and had a spare instrument, which Darger bought from Prier.
She recalls the time she broke her arm skiing and returned home to an answering machine message from the conductor.
“Frances,” she mimics with an Abravanel European accent. "We don’t go skiing, we don’t get pregnant, we don’t take sick leave. Why did you go skiing?”
Darger did get married and got pregnant, but she kept her job and kept on playing. Conductors and musicians came and went, but Darger stayed on for one simple reason — the music.
“I just loved it. I loved it. I loved all that pretty music,” she said. “It’s more fun to play it than to just sit in the audience.”
This season, five other symphony members — string players Jack Ashton, Carolee Baron, Don Kramer and Lois Swint, and trumpeter Edward Gornik — have retired or will retire. Each has decades of service, but none has performed quite as long as Frances Darger, who played her last regular season concert May 26 and officially retires after the Deer Valley Music Festival this summer.
“It’s just been a wonderful, wonderful ride, so to speak,” she said.
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