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Category: classical music

Composer Peter Lieberson dies at 64

American composer Peter Lieberson, who wrote his most inspired songs for his great love, the late mezzo-soprano Lorraine Hunt Lieberson, has died. He was 64.

Lieberson died Saturday at a hospital in Tel Aviv, Israel, of complications from lymphoma, said Peggy Monastra, an executive at his New York-based publisher, G. Schirmer.

The New York-born composer, who lived in Santa Fe, N.M., was in Israel for medical treatment. He had been diagnosed with the cancer while still mourning his wife's 2006 death of breast cancer.

Lieberson was a well-established artist years before he met Lorraine Hunt in 1997. His works were being performed by the top U.S. orchestras and soloists including cellist Yo-Yo Ma and pianists Emanuel Ax and Peter Serkin.

A follower of Tibetan Buddhism, Lieberson came from a generation of composers whose classical music was suffused with references to more popular, audience-friendly styles such as jazz and Broadway.

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Sidney Harth, former Los Angeles Philharmonic concertmaster, dies at 85

HarthSidney Harth, a violinist who was concertmaster and associate conductor of the Los Angeles Philharmonic from 1973 to '79, has died. He was 85.

Harth died Tuesday of respiratory complications at UPMC Shadyside hospital in Pittsburgh, said publicist Janice Mayer.

Harth resigned from the Los Angeles Philharmonic in 1979 because "numerous conducting and solo engagements are making it impossible … to spend an adequate amount of time with the orchestra," he said.

Martin Bernheimer, then The Times' music critic, wrote that Harth won nearly universal acclaim as a violinist but was criticized by some because of his absences to conduct or perform as a soloist elsewhere.

His career included a variety of orchestras and academic posts. He was interim concertmaster of the New York Philharmonic in 1980 and also worked with orchestras in Louisville, Ky.; Chicago; Jerusalem; and Puerto Rico, among others.

Harth was head of the music department at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh when he was hired by the Los Angeles Philharmonic. He also taught at Yale and several other universities.

Harth was born Oct. 5, 1925, in Cleveland and graduated in 1947 from the Cleveland Institute of Music.

He is survived by a daughter, Laura Harth Rodriguez, and a grandson. His wife, violinist Teresa Testa Harth, died last year. Their son, Robert, a former general manager of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, died in 2004.

Services will be held at 10 a.m. Friday at the Homewood Cemetery chapel in Pittsburgh.

-- Keith Thursby

Photo: Sidney Harth in 1978. Credit: Los Angeles Times


Composer Milton Babbitt dies at 94

Composer Milton Babbitt, who was known for his complex orchestral compositions and credited with developing the first electronic synthesizer in the 1950s, died Saturday. He was 94.

Paul Lansky, a composer and Princeton University colleague who was once a student of Babbitt's, said Babbitt died at a Princeton hospital. Lansky said he did not know the cause of death.

Born in Philadelphia, Babbitt earned degrees from Princeton and New York University. He joined Princeton's faculty in 1938 and became a professor emeritus of music there in 1984.

In the 1950s, RCA hired Babbitt as a consultant as it was developing the Mark II synthesizer. He became a founder and director of the Columbia-Princeton Electronic Music Center, where the synthesizer was installed.

He blended electronic music with vocal performances in compositions such as “Vision and Prayer” and “Philomel” in the 1960s and “Reflections” in 1975.

Princeton awarded Babbitt, then 75, a doctorate in 1992, 46 years after his dissertation on the 12-tone system of modern composers was rejected.

“His dissertation was so far ahead of its time it couldn't be properly evaluated at the time,” Theodore Ziolkowski, dean of Princeton's graduate school and a close friend of Babbitt, said.

The music department then awarded doctorates for historical musicology, not composing.

Ziolkowski said faculty members weren't satisfied with the honorary doctorate Princeton awarded Babbitt the previous spring.

“We thought it wasn't right that such a distinguished composer and music theoretician who has contributed so much to music in this country should not have the degree he had earned,” Ziolkowski said then.

Babbitt received a special Pulitzer citation for his life's work in 1982, won a MacArthur Foundation grant in 1986 and received the Gold Medal of the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters in 1988.

-- Associated Press

Opera star Margaret Price dies at 69

Opera star Margaret Price, considered one of the world's leading sopranos, has died at her home in Wales. She was 69.

Price, who was known for her exquisite renditions of Mozart's complicated music, died of heart failure Friday, British press reports said.

Price, who rose to prominence after her debut as Cherubino in Mozart's "Marriage of Figaro" at the Welsh National Opera in 1962, had performed in most of the world's great opera houses by the time she retired in 1999.

She was known for the striking purity and beauty of her voice.

After her debut in Wales, Price went on to play Cherubino at the Royal Opera House at Convent Garden.

Over the course of her career, Price was honored in many countries, received honorary degrees from top universities and was made a Dame Commander of the British Empire by Queen Elizabeth II in 1993.

She also appeared on numerous records and performed for television.

-- Associated Press

Indian vocalist Pandit Bhimsen Joshi dies at 89

Vocalist Pandit Bhimsen Joshi, a leading figure of Indian classical music, died Monday after a prolonged illness. He was 89.

Joshi was hospitalized three weeks ago in the western city of Pune complaining of shortness of breath, a Sahyadri hospital official said. He later underwent dialysis following kidney failure.

The son of a school teacher in the southern state of Karnataka, Joshi moved to the entertainment capital Mumbai in 1943 to work as a radio singer and released his debut album by age 22.

He received India's highest civilian award, the Bharat Ratna, in 2008.

Pandit Jasraj, another top vocalist, said: "His death is a great loss to Indian classical music."

Joshi is survived by three sons and a daughter.

-- Associated Press

One year ago: Felix Wurman

Wurman Felix Wurman found inspiration in church one Sunday.

Wurman, a cellist with the New Mexico Symphony Orchestra, wasn't religious, but playing with other musicians at a church in 2007 made him think about offering people a service with music as the main element.

He started the Church of Beethoven performance series in Albuquerque, recruiting other musicians from the symphony to play Sunday-morning concerts in an abandoned gas station off Route 66.

The crowds became big enough to move to another location in 2008. Wurman was diagnosed with cancer that year and others stepped in to keep the Church of Beethoven series going. Wurman died a year ago at age 51.

The concerts, which include poetry, will continue in 2011. The group's website calls the concerts "not church … more than Beethoven."

-- Keith Thursby

Photo: Felix Wurman in 2008, asking for donations during a concert. Credit: Morgan Petroski / Albuquerque Journal

Helen Boatwright, soprano known for Charles Ives performances, dies at 94

Helen Boatwright, a soprano famed for her pioneering performances of the songs of American composer Charles Ives, died Wednesday at a nursing home near Jamesville, N.Y., the Syracuse Post-Standard newspaper reported. She was 94.

Her family said Boatwright was still teaching until three weeks before her death, and the final piece of music she listened to was the last soprano aria of Handel's "The Messiah."

Boatwright was celebrated for singing the music of American composers such as Ives, as well as her husband, Howard Boatwright. In 1954, she became the first person to record a full-length album of the songs of Ives, "24 Songs" with pianist John Kirkpatrick.

She worked during her career with luminaries in the world of music, including conductors Leopold Stokowski, Erich Leinsdorf, Seiji Ozawa and Zubin Mehta.

-- Associated Press

German tenor Peter Hofmann dies at 66

Hofmann German tenor Peter Hofmann, who became famous for his performances of Richard Wagner operas, died Tuesday. He was 66.

The Rheinische Post newspaper quoted Hofmann's brother, Fritz, saying he died at a hospital in Bavaria.

"Peter Hofmann, unlike few others, bridged the gap between entertainment and serious music," Culture Minister Bernd Neumann said in a statement.

"His accomplishments as rock singer in the 'Phantom of the Opera,' but even more his exceptionally gifted interpretations of Wagner, are unforgettable."

Hofmann made his name performing at the annual Bayreuth festival celebrating Wagner's music.  

His international breakthrough came in 1976, when he played Siegmund in Wagner's "Ring" cycle at Bayreuth.

Starting in 1990, he starred 300 times in the German version of Andrew Lloyd Webber's musical "Phantom of the Opera," performed in Hamburg. He also hosted a TV show in Germany and performed Elvis Presley songs on a tour across Europe.

Hofmann had Parkinson's disease for several years and stopped performing in 1999.

--Associated Press

Photo: Peter Hofmann in 2000. Credit: Associated Press

Polish composer Henryk Gorecki dies at 76

Polish composer Henryk Mikolaj Gorecki, famous for his "Symphony of Sorrowful Songs," including one about a woman who was held prisoner by the Gestapo, died Friday following an illness. He was 76.

Gorecki died in the cardiology ward of a hospital in his home city of Katowice in southern Poland, Joanna Wnuk-Nazarowa, the director of Polish Radio orchestra in Katowice, told the Associated Press.

The composer was suffering from a number of ailments, chiefly a lung infection, she said.

Wnuk-Nazarowa said she and another Polish composer, Krzysztof Penderecki, had visited Gorecki in the hospital on Wednesday.

"Penderecki insisted on seeing him," Wnuk-Nazarowa said. "We tried to joke, make plans for the future. Penderecki promised he would direct [Gorecki's] 'Beatus vir' for the 80th birthday" that both would celebrate in 2013.

The work was commissioned by Archbishop Karol Wojtyla before he became Pope John Paul II to mark 900 years since the death of Roman Catholic martyr, Stanislaw, bishop of Krakow — whom Pope John Paul II later made a saint. The composition, completed in 1979, is a psalm for baritone, choir and orchestra.

Gorecki was best known internationally for his Symphony No. 3, Opus 36, for a soprano and orchestra, which was published in the United States in 1992. It later became a best-selling recording, with more than 1 million copies sold.

Although his early works were more avant-garde, Gorecki was later influenced by traditional Polish music and themes of his nation's history, as reflected in works such as the "Symphony of Sorrowful Songs."

Its three movements contain soprano parts about Mary, the mother of Jesus; a female Polish prisoner held by the Gestapo during the Second World War, and a Polish folk song about a mother searching for her dead son. The second song is based on a prayer that was found inscribed by the prisoner on the wall of her cell in a Nazi police prison in occupied southern Poland.

In awarding him an honorary fellowship in 2008, Cardiff University praised Gorecki for "his independence of thought and independence of spirit. His work is grounded in a profound humanity and is rooted in the folk and religious culture of his native Poland."

Gorecki was born Dec. 6, 1933, in Czernica, near Rybnik in the coal mining Silesia region in southern Poland.

In 1960 he graduated from the State Higher School of Music in Katowice, where he studied composition. Eight years later he joined the faculty and was its head from 1975 to 1979.

His music uses simple harmony, minimal means and repetition in a style often called the "New Simplicity."

Conductor Antoni Wit said that Gorecki did not compose much in recent years, even though he knew his works would be welcome.

"He refrained from writing at times when he believed he did not have anything important to write," Wit told the PAP agency. "He did not care about so-called career."

Last month, in his hospital bed, he received Poland's highest distinction, the Order of the White Eagle, bestowed by President Bronislaw Komorowski.

The composer is survived by his wife, piano teacher Jadwiga; his daughter, pianist Anna Gorecka-Stanczyk; and his son, composer Mikolaj Gorecki.

-- Associated Press

Photo: Henryk Gorecki conducting a concert at USC in 1997. Credit: Los Angeles Times

Mezzo-soprano Shirley Verrett dies at 79

Shirley Verrett, an acclaimed American mezzo-soprano and soprano who was praised for her singing in Verdi repertory staples, has died. She was 79.


Manager Jack Mastroianni of IMG Artists says Verrett had been suffering from heart trouble and died Friday in Ann Arbor, Mich. Mastroianni was notified of Verrett's death by the Metropolitan Opera Guild.

Verrett was one of the top black opera singers of the 1970s and 1980s.

Born in New Orleans to parents who were devoted Seventh-Day Adventists, she moved with her family to Los Angeles as a child. She studied at the Juilliard School in New York and won a Marian Anderson Award and a scholarship from the John Hay Whitney Foundation. She was a 1961 winner of the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions.

-- The Associated Press


Joan Sutherland, opera singer, dies at 83

Sutherland The family of soprano Joan Sutherland says the Australian-born opera singer has died. She was 83.

The celebrated singer, known to her Italian fans as "La Stupenda," died Sunday at her home, according to a statement released Monday by Sutherland's family.

Sutherland was acclaimed from her native Australia to North America and Europe for the wide range of roles she took on during a career that spanned four decades.

She is survived by her husband, Richard Bonynge, and son Adam.

A complete obituary will be posted later at

-- Associated Press

Photo: Joan Sutherland in a photo from the mid-1990s.


Soprano Dolores Wilson dies at 82

Wilson Dolores Wilson, a soprano who found fame on the opera stage and later on Broadway, has died. She was 82.

Wilson died Sept. 28, said Jordan Strohl, administrator at the Lillian Booth Actors Fund Home in Englewood, N.J., where Wilson lived. No cause was given.

Wilson, who was born in Philadelphia, made her debut at the Metropolitan Opera in 1954 in the title role of "Lucia di Lammermoor" opposite American tenor Jan Peerce.

Wilson had 26 appearances with the Met, including seven with its touring company, in a variety of performances, spokesman Sam Neuman said. Her roles included Rosina in "Il Barbiere di Siviglia," Susanna in "Le Nozze di Figaro" and Zerlina in "Don Giovanni."

Her last performance at the Met was in a 1959 revival of "Lucia" that also costarred Peerce.

She debuted on Broadway in 1965 in the musical "The Yearling" and also appeared in "Fiddler on the Roof" and "Annie."

-- Associated Press

 Photo: Dolores Wilson in 1954. Credit: Associated Press


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