The Musical Holdings

We spoke yesterday of Claude Holding, the accomplished musician who then became an accomplished hotelier, building the Wellington Hotel on State Street. His story, and his father’s, tell a tale of times long gone.

William Holding, Claude’s father, was often called Professor Holding and was one of Albany’s most well-known orchestra leaders. He led an outfit called the Albania Orchestra in the 1890s, and later had the orchestra that played on the Albany Day Line and then performed each evening in the grill room of the Ten Eyck Hotel. This all comes from various Around The Town columns by Edgar Van Olinda over the years.

“How did the scions of the families, engaged in the lumber, cattle and stove businesses spend their evenings in the early decades of the century? There were no television, ratio, nor compact cars, and few night spots. Following a play at the Empire or Harmanus Bleecker Hall theatres, the young bloods would assemble in the grill room of the Ten Eyck Hotel, now the Town Room, to quaff a few and listen to the infectious music of William Holding’s salon orchestra.”

In one of the columns in the Times-Union, in 1942, Van Olinda showed a painting that Frank Hutchens made in 1906, which then hung in the Wellington Hotel office of Claude Holding.

“Here is a picture that should bring a lump in the throat of some of the older Albanians, for it shows the beloved music master of the Ten Eyck hotel, Prof. William Holding, leading his fine orchestra in the grill room of the State street inn during the period prior to the first World war.” The painting, unfortunately too poor in the scanning to bother presenting here, shows a group of eight musicians playing. The members of the group were: William Blakeslee, clarinet; Neil Wilde, cornet; Prof. William Holding, violinist-leader; Morris Borodkin, flute; Neils Jacobsen, bass viol; Claude Holding, violin; Gabrielle Califoano, viola; and Arnold Janser, ‘cello. This was not only a working orchestra, but a hard-working orchestra, playing essentially three gigs a day: down the river on the Day Liner, back up the river, and then hike their instruments up State Street hill to the Ten Eyck for the evening show.

“This same group functioned on the Day Line steamers, playing as far as Kingston Point and returning on the up boat from New York and showing the through passengers from the Metropolis what a good orchestra really sounded like . . . During the reign of Strauss, the Waltz King, and at the time Puccini was just beginning to be known as an opera composer, Prof. Holding and his group could be heard every evening, either on the hotel mezzanine or in the State street grill. Requests were welcomed by the professor and graciously played by his men, and there were very few numbers asked that Mr. Holding, senior, did not have at the tips of his agile fingers.”

William Holding was listed as a professor of music in the 1910 census; it appears he was a private instructor. He was 64 and living with wife Lodeska at 98 Chestnut Street then. He had earlier addresses on Morton, Central and Clinton.

Claude Holding, who was said to have joined his father’s orchestra as a violinist before he had turned 12, actually left Albany for New York City for about 10 years, returning in 1902. “Claude Holding has the distinction of having been a member of the Philharmonic orchestra of New York under the baton of Emil Paur, and numbers among his intimate friends of that former period, such outstanding figures in the musical world as Anton Seidl and Victor Herbert. The Albany man owns Seidl’s baton, which, inscribed to him, hangs on the office wall; the maestro’s beret and gown and smoking set; priceless relics of the Golden Age of music. Mr. Holding had a rich experience as violinist in the orchestras of the Empire, Garrick, Madison Square, Knickerbocker, Herald Square theatres; the Manhattan Opera house and the Brooklyn Academy of Music. He was also a member of the Richard Arnold String Sextette, one of the finest chamber music organizations of New York at the time it was considered the ranking organization in a highly specialized field of music.

In 1956, Van Olinda wrote, “And some day, if you are interested, drop into the Wellington Hotel lobby, and look at the oil painting of Bill Holding and his Day Line and Ten Eyck Hotel ensemble. No rock ‘n’ roll in that era.”

Claude Holding did quite well for himself. It was noted in 1957 that he had owned an 11-bedroom mansion and boathouse at Still Bay on Lake George. He was also highly regarded: “The late Claude Holding, hotelman, had many fine traits. One day at his Lake George home he wanted to introduce an Albany man to some friends. He had forgotten his name for the moment, so he asked him. In a few days the man received a letter apologizing.”

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