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Thomas Schippers

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Thomas Schippers was one of the most talented of American conductors and was a particular champion of the music of Samuel Barber. He showed musical gifts early. He played at a public piano recital at the age of six and was a church organist when he was fourteen. He continued his piano studies at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia (1944-1945). He also studied privately with Olga Samaroff (1946-1947). He went on to Yale University, where he had some lessons in composition with Paul Hindemith. In 1948 he took second prize in the Philadelphia Orchestra's young conductor's contest. He took a job as organist of the Greenwich Village Presbyterian Church in New York. He and group of other young musicians formed a group called the Lemonade Opera Company, which he conducted for several years. In 1950 shortly after composer Gian-Carlo Menotti opened his opera The Consul. On Broadway, Schippers began conducting it shortly after the world premiere. This began a strong association with Menotti, and with Menotti's house-mate, Samuel Barber. This led to Schippers conducting the premiere performance of Menotti's short Christmas opera Amahl and the Night Visitors, the first opera commissioned especially for television broadcast, on the NBC-TV network on December 24, 1951. On April 9, 1952, he conducted Menotti's The Old Maid and the Thief at the New York City opera and remained on that company's conducting roster into 1954. He made his first appearances with the New York Philharmonic Orchestra, La Scala in Milan, Italy, and at the Metropolitan Opera were in 1955. When Menotti organized his new Spoleto Festival of Two Worlds he chose Schippers as its music director. He frequently guest conducted the New York Philharmonic Orchestra, and made some classic recordings of music of Samuel Barber with them. When the orchestra made its historic tour of the Soviet Union under Leonard Bernstein in 1959, Schippers also went as its alternate conductor. It was he who was conducting at the Metropolitan Opera on March 4, 1960, when baritone Leonard Warren died on stage. In 1962 he conducted the world premiere of the late Manuel de Falla's cantata Atlantida. In 1964 he made his first appearance conducting at the Bayreuth Festival. The Metropolitan Opera often called upon him to lead newer operas, including the world premiere of Barber's Antony and Cleopatra, which opened its new house in Lincoln Center. In 1970 he accepted the position of Music Director of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, becoming one of the few American-born conductors to hold such a post at a major American orchestra. He also became a faculty member at the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music in 1972. His wife died of cancer in 1973. He was himself struck by lung cancer and unable to open the Cincinnati Orchestra's season in 1977. The management gave him the title of conductor laureate. He died before the year was over, and bequeathed the orchestra five million dollars. ~ Joseph Stevenson

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09 March 1930 in Kalamazoo, MI

Years Active:

'50s, '60s, '70s