ROCHESTER, N.Y. -- Frederick Fennell, a classical music conductor and teacher acclaimed for creating an innovative wind ensemble at the Eastman School of Music, has died. He was 90.
Mr. Fennell died in his sleep early Tuesday at his home in Siesta Key, Fla., his family said.
While bedridden with hepatitis for six weeks in 1952, Mr. Fennell dreamed up the notion of redefining the typical wind-and-brass band by whittling down its numbers and emphasizing its musical dexterity and virtuosity.
His Eastman Wind Ensemble, signed by Mercury Records in the 1950s, went on to record 22 albums.
The band has had only four conductors during its 52-year history: Mr. Fennell (1952-61), Clyde Holler (1962-64), Donald Hunsberger (1965-2002), and Mark Davis Scatterday.
Mr. Fennell's creation revamped the way music students learn to play wind instruments. The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians credited him with bringing about a complete "reconsideration of the wind medium, establishing a model for the 20,000 wind ensembles subsequently established in American schools."
"He's one of those rare people that can say they created something that lasts 52 years and has caught on all over the world," Scatterday said in Wednesday's Rochester Democrat and Chronicle.
In an interview with the newspaper in October, Mr. Fennell said he believed that "the most important thing about the Eastman Wind Ensemble is that it forced composers to take wind music more seriously. Because of us, they started to write a whole new repertory for wind ensembles."
A native of Cleveland, Mr. Fennell came to the Eastman School of Music as a student in 1933 and joined the faculty six years later. After retiring in 1965, he enjoyed a globe-trotting career as a maestro. He was a guest conductor of the Boston Pops Orchestra and the Dallas Wind Symphony and conductor-in-residence of the University of Miami School of Music.
In 2001, Mr. Fennell was inducted into the American Classical Hall of Fame in Cincinnati along with pianist Van Cliburn and violinist Itzhak Perlman.
He leaves his wife, Elizabeth, and a daughter, Cathy Fennell Martensen.