New York mourns a choral leader

Gregg Smith, founder of the Gregg Smith Singers, has died at 84.

His chorus blazed trails in contemporary music. He recorded 100 albums and composed 400 works.

gregg smith

First obit here.

 

share this

Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin
Share on google
  • If one is in Europe it may be hard to know the importance that Gregg Smith played in contemporary music in the US from the 60s on through the century. Unlike the UK (who had the BBC Singers and the John Aldis Choir), we didn’t have any choruses made up of top notch musicians who could approach singing like good orchestral musicians. They were great – their Ives recordings of the Psalms were the first we ever heard of these remarkable pieces. He will certainly be remembered fondly for bringing us Ives, Stravinsky, and Schoenberg when no one else was singing them.

  • Gregg Smith was a super-talent (picking out notes out of thin air for rehearsals with his singers), an EXCELLENT composer, had a remarkably omnivorous musical taste for a wide variety of styles, premiered many hundreds of works by contemporary composers (including several of mine over forty years), was much more interested in performing the music than promoting himself. And many of us miss him now, including me, as do his wonderful Singers who loved him greatly.

    His performances of Stravinsky and Ives are legendary, which I repeatedly listened to in college before I ever met him. Let’s hope the two Columbia LPs of Charles Ives Choral Music are finally re-released! The Gregg Smith Singers sang Stravinsky’s “Otche Nasch” (Lord’s Prayer) and “Bogoroditse Dievo” (Ave Maria) at his funeral in NYC in 1971. One time he surprised me by explaining how when he sang in his college choir as a student he really didn’t like Stravinsky’s “Symphony of Psalms” because it was “so modern”. (A lot of taste is acquired, if not all of it.) And other time he started crying simply when I remarked how extraordinary Monteverdi’s music had become to me. But of any memory of his concerts, the one I most cherish is his performances of Ives’ “Psalm 90.”

    Above all Gregg was a wonderfully kind, unpretentious and remarkably cheerful man, even in his last years, when his wife Roz (a wonderful singer!), increasingly and faithfully cared for him. If I may I’d like to share something she put on Facebook a few days ago:
    GREGG – memories July 15, 2016 – Gregg was so optimistic always. He was truly and clearly a happy and confident artist who believed in himself and loved all the pathways of his life. As his health slowly limited his work, he gathered some inner strength and never became depressed or sad. I asked once “Are you bored?” – his incredulous glance, then wise loving smile – “Oh no, I’m hearing music.” Always, in his mind and in his heart…

    And now, in the words of his most well-known canon, he “walks in beauty,” as I pray we all will.

    Bill Vollinger

  • What a role model Gregg Smith was. In addition to his spectacular musicianship, Gregg was a champion of the composers of his time: founding and leading the Gregg Smith Singers; forming his own record label to record new works; commissioning new repertoire and resurrecting the forgotten; and adopting an entrepreneurial approach to the music business that was brave, committed and driven by a burning desire to make things happen.

    Gregg was so fortunate to be loved by his wife, the superb soprano, Rosalind Rees. I cherish my years working with them, and all that they taught me.

  • >