America mourns a formative chorus conductor

Robert Page, Grammy-winning Director of Choruses for the Cleveland Orchestra from 1971 to 1989 and assistant conductor of the orchestra from 1979 to 1989, has died at the age of 89.

After 18 busy years in Cleveland, where he also conducted the opera company, he moved on to rebuild the Mendelssohn Choir of Pittsburgh from 1979-2005, making it one of the country’s finest. he was co-founder of Chorus America in 1977 and its president from 1990-1993.

Among many triumphs, he conducted the US premiere of Shostakovich’s 13th symphony and made choral settings of Candide arias for Leonard Bernstein.

robert page

Fine obituary here.

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  • In 1963, as a freshman in the choir at Temple University in Philadelphia, I first encountered Robert Page and his unrelenting intensity and unbridled enthusiasm for performing great music. We prepared the Berlioz Te Deum for a series of concerts with Eugene Ormandy and the Philadelphia Orchestra. His passion for conducting, both choral and orchestral, was especially evident in his graduate-level conducting classes. Even though he soon moved from Philadelphia to Cleveland then on to Pittsburgh, Bob Page remains one of the most influential teachers to a host of those Philadelphians who sang under his inspiring leadership.

    I expect that he will now tell the heavenly hosts to “stop rushing like a bunch of turtles” and to sing like angles and not as though they’ve just been “ridden hard and put away wet.” (An expression that he assured us came from his days in Texas on the back forty working with horses). Requiescat in pace, sir.

  • I was lucky enough to be working at Temple University starting in 1962. My first memory was seeing him conduct the Beethoven Choral Fantasy at Temple University. I was overwhelmed by the experience and knew that I had to be part of whatever he was involved in. I auditioned and was accepted into his select concert choir and switched voice teachers to him. He had the gift of instilling in his students a wonderful sense of confidence and I will always be grateful for this. The concert choir would join with the larger choir for performances with The Philadelphia Orchestra. Rehearsals were run with strict adherence to starting on time and sitting up straight with feet touching the ground. There was never any deviation from the beat and if he wanted the syllable to come on the eighth rest, that is where it would be, even if it required singing that syllable eight or more times. There was no room for shrinking violets; he was constantly challenging you with the extraordinary demand on your talent. Talent you didn’t even know you had. He was a giant to thousands of musicians all over the U.S. Rest in peace.

  • Norman, A small correction must be in your piece about Robert Page. He did not conduct the US premiere of Shostakovich Symphony No. 13. That was Eugene Ormandy with the Philadelphia Orchestra. Robert Page prepared the men of the Mendelssohn Club Chorus. The Symphony was recorded by RCA soon afterward, with the great Finnish baritone Tom Krause. This is a performance well worth hearing, and was transferred to CD. When Page directed the Choirs of Temple University, they often appeared with the Philadelphia Orchestra under Ormandy. One recording of note is the Requiem of Berlioz. In my book, the climax of the Lacrymosa has not been bettered.
    Robert Page conducted Mahler’s Symphony No. 8 in the Philadelphia area on two separate occasions. One was with the Piitsburgh Symphony at its shirt-lived summer residence at Temple University’s Amble, PA campus. The other was after Page had left Philadelphia. He came back as a guest conductor of the Mendelssohn Club Chorus (if my memory is correct), and an orchestra of professionals assembled for the occasion in the Academy of Music. Both of these were highly memorable, not just because of the profound musicianship and intensity Robert Page brought to the performances. Though Stokowski and the Philadelphia Orchestra had given the US premiere of Mahler 8 in 1916, during the Ormandy years, his orchestra was notably late to the Mahler “rediscovery” party. Page filled in for a concert-going public clammoring for this masterpiece.

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