Started in Los
Angeles recording a background for a Stephen Foster TV Bio.
first concert, giving the American premiere of Respighi’s Laud
to the Nativity with first review (favorable) from Los Angeles
Times’ Walter Arlen.
on the prestigious Monday Evening Concert Series, premiered
Lidholm’s Laudi. Also premiered works by Miklos Rosza,
Michael Hennagin and Ralph Swickard for the National Alliance of
Schoenberg’s Opus 27 for Monday Evening Concerts. In
the summer, made their first tour of Europe appearing in the
International Eisteddfod in Wales, Salzburg’s Mozarteum and on
TV at the Brussels World’s Fair.
recording, “Music in Multidimensional Sound” came out on
the Verve label. GSS also sang Bach Cantata #4 with Robert
Craft in their fifth Monday Evening Concerts appearance.
under Igor Stravinsky at Franz Waxman’s Los Angeles Music
Festival. It was the beginning of a close relationship that
continued until the composer’s death in 1971.
In June GSS made
their second appearance with Stravinsky at the LA Festival and
subsequently recorded Stravinsky’s Mass for Columbia
Records. This was followed by a tour of Europe that included the
Edinburgh, Salzburg and Darmstadt festivals. Rave reviews (“one
of the Edinburgh’s four great concerts”) and a Time
magazine article on the Darmstadt program led to an offer by
impresario Kenneth Allen to tour nationally.
national tour had 63 concerts from coast to coast. Allen continued
booking the Gregg Smith Singers for the next ten years.
The first of four
Everest recordings, “An American Tryptich,” contained
works by Samuel Barber, Aaron Copland and William Schuman. It had a
great impact on choral conductors who had not heard these works
before. The Singers also gave the world premiere of Stravinsky’s
The Dove Descending in their eighth Monday Evening Concert
Director of Columbia Masterworks, signed GSS to a long term contract
to record all the choral music of Charles Ives (four albums).
Gregg moved to the
East Coast (Ithaca College) in order to be near New York City which
had a far better climate for classical music than Los Angeles. At
the same time a great deal of recording with Stravinsky commenced
with the West Coast GSS, making Mr. Smith a very busy commuter. The
first of the Ives recordings, “General William Booth enters
into Heaven” was made in June.
With a great
college choir at Ithaca, Gregg was able to augment GSS for more
Stravinsky performances and recordings — Persephone
on the West Coast and the world premiere of his last major
composition, Requiem Canticles at Princeton. This was also
the year of GSS’ first Grammy (“General Booth”).
GSS joined E.
Power Biggs and George Bragg’s Texas Boys Choir for the
historic recordings made in San Marco in Venice, “The Glory of
Gabrieli.” Upon their return to the United States GSS joined
the Ithaca choir in Carnegie Hall to perform and record with Leopold
Stokowski Four Songs for Chorus and Orchestra by Charles
A big award year:
1) GSS’ second Grammy for “The Glory of Gabrieli”
recording, 2) a High/Fi Stereo “Record of the Year”
(Billings album) and 3) the Montreaux award for their participation
in Robert Craft’s “Schoenberg — Vol. VI”
Having moved to
SUNY Stony Brook, Smith organized an all-Stravinsky concert (Robert
Craft conducting) with the University Choir, GSS and his newly
formed community chorus, LISCA. Stravinsky attended the concert in
what was to be his last public appearance. During the summer, Smith
traveled to LA to prepare the West Coast GSS for the world premiere
of Lalo Schifrin’s Rise and Fall of the Third Reich at
the Hollywood Bowl.
GSS toured and recorded Jack Beeson's delightful canon for CRI in 1969.
retired and Gregg joined forces with Walter Gould, beginning a
wonderful and unique artist/manager relationship that continued to
Gould’s retirement in 2000. On Christmas Eve, Gregg Smith and
Rosalind Rees were married at Saint Peter’s Church, NYC which
later became the home base of the GSS.
died in April the family sent Gregg to Venice to “round up”
a chorus and orchestra to perform the Requiem Canticles at
the funeral service there. It was an adventure like no other but
against the most improbable odds, he succeeded. Roz joined him a
few days later and ended up singing the alto solo.
Balanchine’s New York City Ballet in a massive tribute to
Stravinsky, closing the two-week festival at the New York State
Theater with Symphony of Psalms.
GSS recorded Ives Celestial Country in March of 1972 in St. Paul's Chapel on Columbia University campus with John McClure as recording engineer.
Both the GSS New
York Concert Series and the Adirondack Festival of American Music in
Saranac Lake, NY began this year. They continue today. The Singers
also began recording with Vox, celebrating the 300th
birthday of Heinrich Schuetz with a three-record Schuetz “Vox
With the 100th
birthday years of both Schoenberg and Ives, GSS took special
programs of their music to Europe, performing concerts and radio
broadcasts in Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Switzerland and
Bicentennial recording project (sponsored in part by the Ford
Foundation), “America Sings” (13 LPs in all) began with
the Vox Box “The Great Sentimental Age,” recorded in the
newly-refurbished Renwick Art Gallery in Washington DC.
GSS performed an
all American choral concert at Interlochen for the ACDA in July.
They then continued on to make their first tour of Asia (plus
Hawaii), appearing in the Philippines, Hong Kong, Taiwan and Korea.
GSS women recorded Elliott Carter's Harmony of Morning in the spring of 1976 at Brooklyn College.
GSS traveled to
Fort Worth to record their famous Christmas album, “A Festival
of Carols”, joining forces with the Texas Boys Choir and the
Dorothy Shaw Bell Choir. The project was sponsored by Mary D. and
Howard Walsh who, though non-musicians, attended all the rehearsals
and recording sessions. Re-released on CD, the album is still going
Gregg was given
the Alice M. Ditson award that honors conductors for their service
to American music, joining such luminaries as Leopold Stokowski and
Leonard Bernstein. He is the only choral director besides Robert
Shaw to have won this award.
With the help of
the Victor Herbert Foundation, GSS recorded in Saranac Lake the
first of four Herbert operetta “highlights” albums, The
Red Mill. Gregg orchestrated all four (Mlle Modiste, Naughty
Marietta, The Red Mill and Sweethearts).
Thanks to an award from the Alice M. Ditson Fund, GSS launched their own record company, GSS Recordings, to provide an outlet for contemporary American choral music. During the company’s ten-year existence the Singers recorded over 100 different pieces and produced eleven albums. Unfortunately it was the very time that LPs went out of business, to be superseded by cassettes and soon after that, CDs. It was not wasted effort however, because some of the recordings are now reissued on CD by other companies
Walter Gould landed the Gregg Smith Singers a contract with CAMI which meant many more touring dates because of the Community Concerts tie-in. A second recording made under the sponsorship of the Walshes in Ft. Worth, “A World of Folksong,” was GSS’ first digitally recorded album. In the winter of 1981 Watson Bosler presented the first Memorial Vespers, combining the Saint Peter’s Church Choir and GSS with orchestra, in memory of his mother.
GSS made their second tour of the Far East, this time under the aegis of the US State Department. In Singapore there was a billboard painted from our group photo — all the faces were Asian! Again, GSS joined the Saint Peter’s Church Choir for the Bosler Memorial Vespers which has become a traditional May concert with chorus and orchestra.
sponsorship of the Scandinavian composers union NOMUS, GSS toured
Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden. Highlights were two
concerts at the Bergen Festival and a concert at the Tivoli.
GSS recorded three Elliott Carter choral pieces including Emily Dickinson's Heart not so heavy as mine in 1983
GSS toured five
islands in Hawaii with a “side trip” to Hong Kong. It
was the year of the huge volcanic eruption on the big island,
Hawaii, and the ash affected our singers’ throats hundreds of
miles away in Oahu!
GSS got a boost
from the NEA with an Advancement grant, the first given to a
GSS made an
appearance with the New York Philharmonic as part of a special new
music series called “Horizons.” Gregg co-conducted
Lutoslawski’s Trois Poemes d’Henri Michaux with
Gunther Schuller. During the summer at AFAM, the Singers had the
great honor of performing with Dave Brubeck in the first of many
This year saw a
unique collaboration with the Ensemble Josquin Des Pres of France.
A spring recording for Vox — “A French-American Salute”
— was followed by a tour of the Picardy region of Northern
France in August. A highlight was two appearances in the immense
Amiens Cathedral. After a hiatus of twelve years, GSS rejoined
Robert Craft in what was the beginning of a new series of Stravinsky
concerts in New York’s Alice Tully Hall.
GSS was given the
coveted Berliavsky award from the American Academy and Institute of
Arts and Letters for their life-long contribution to American music.
GSS joined Gregg’s
Long Island community chorus, LISCA, in a tour of Spain featuring
portions of the Monteverdi Vespers. In December, GSS made the first
of four appearances with Garrison Keillor in his New York based
program, “The American Radio Theatre.”
The premiere of
Gregg’s children’s opera, Rip Van Winkle, took
place at the Central Park East Elementary School in collaboration
with their choir (Barry Solowey, director) and GSS. This was a
commission from NYSCA’s Arts in Education program.
Listen to: Excerpt from Rip Van Winkle
Stephen Paparo, baritone
Deborah Cunningham, piano
Silvio Piovesan, whose uncle had commissioned Stravinsky in the late
1950s, wanted to tour Les Noces. It was a great
collaboration between GSS, the Strasbourg Percussion Ensemble, GSS
Soloists and four former GSS pianists who had all received Fulbright
scholarships and were living in Europe. In the fall, GSS recorded
Les Noces and other Russian works with Robert Craft in a new
Stravinsky CD series for MusicMasters. In November in LA, GSS honored Leonard Stein's retirement from the Schoenberg Institute, UCLA, and then sang a concert in the living room of the Schoenberg house surrounded by the master's furniture and paintings!
GSS repeated the
Stravinsky tour of Italy with the same forces, this time with a
concert in Rome and three in beautiful springtime Sicily. Just as
in 1984 in Hawaii, the volcano (Etna) was active!
GSS took on a new
role as opera chorus in a concert version of Stravinsky’s The
Rake’s Progress at Alice Tully Hall. This was
subsequently recorded for the Stravinsky series on MusicMasters. Backstage at a tour concert in Florence Alabama, we met the last surviving original owner of a Frank Lloyd Wright "Usonian" house. Ms. Rosenberg invited us over the next morning for a tour and we sang a song for her in the living room some of us had seen in books by FLW for decades!
The highlight of
this year was the concert for Chorus America’s National
Convention in NYC on June 2nd. It was memorable not only
because of the very special audience, but also because six master
composers — Milton Babbitt, Jack Beeson, Lukas Foss, Morton
Gould, Hale Smith and Louise Talma — all honored GSS with a
personal appearance at a pre-concert panel on, naturally, writing
choral music. (Louise had the last word. When asked why she wrote
choral music, she said “Why, because the voice is the first
and most beautiful instrument.”)
GSS was invited to
the St. Petersburg (Russia) “International Spring Festival”
to perform four concerts of contemporary American and Russian music.
The fall saw a new recording of contemporary Mexican choral music
released and our gala 40th Anniversary Concert with 50
East Coast alumni joining the current GSS.
GSS began the year
with a repeat of the 40th Anniversary Concert on the West
Coast where GSS began — a gala evening for Monday Evening
Concerts. From LA we flew to Mexico City to perform three concerts
plus a composers workshop. Back to LA we started a four week, 17
concert cross-country tour, finishing in NYC.
GSS was invited to
participate in a choral festival in Legnano, Italy where we were the
featured chorus. We gave eight concerts in nine days in several
halls in this beautiful town just north of Milano. 1997 also marked
the 25th anniversaries of the Singers’ New York
Concert Series and the Adirondack Festival of American Music.
season climaxed with the Bosler Memorial Vespers in May when we
presented three masterpieces of Gustav Holst which utilized the
largest orchestra ever for the Bosler service. Together with Saint
Peter’s Choir, GSS sang the magnificent Hymn to Jesus.
A personal highlight for Gregg and Roz occurred in August when they
sold Penthouse West, their NYC apartment of 28 years, and moved to a
lovely house in Yonkers with, finally, enough room for GSS’
earlier, GSS had toured the state of West Virginia performing at
various colleges and universities. Under the West Virginia Arts
Consortium, they once again toured the state. The highlight of each
concert was the pairing of GSS and the local university choir in
Gregg’s lush setting for two choirs of West Virginia,
Alice McClain’s poem extolling the beauty of this state.
GSS had many
millennium projects, including performing composers born at the turn
of the 20th Century — Aaron Copland, Kurt Weill,
Ernst Krenek and George Antheil. Three new CDs were released: Music
of Lukas Foss, Like Shining and Music of Brian Schober. GSS again
became an opera chorus, performing in the Berkshire Opera Company
production of Bellini’s I Capuleti e I Montecchi (a
version of Romeo and Juliet). The Singers acquitted themselves
wonderfully and had splendid reviews.
birthday year. In May, GSS premiered Gregg’s children’s
opera The Dreameater with Barry Solowey’s Central Park
East Elementary Choir — the final project of a 5-year
Annenberg grant. David Hancock, dear friend and long-time GSS
recording engineer, died from Parkinson’s. The first concert
of the 30th year of our New York Concert Series opened
with Gregg’s poignant setting of Nancy Murphy’s text In
Memoriam — 9/11/01.
Our New York
Concert Series continued to feature Gregg’s music. GSS made
what was to be their last tour — several concerts in North
In March GSS began
a long-awaited Ives project with sponsorship from the Charles Ives
Society, recording several of Ives early church works from the 1890s
when he was still a very young man. In May, St. Mary’s
College, the sister college of Notre Dame awarded Gregg an honorary
In March GSS sang
the New York premiere of Gregg’s Emily’s Autumn,
a cycle of five Emily Dickinson settings. In June Chorus America
honored Gregg with the Louis Botto award for entrepreneurial spirit.
In accepting this $5,000 award, Gregg said “I never thought
of myself as being entrepreneurial, but I guess since the Gregg
Smith Singers are nearly 50 years old, I must be!”
Anniversary Year. Nearly 100 of our wonderful former singers
re-united in November for a special weekend of celebration. We sang
a concert of GSS “Signature works” with the current GSS
and, in the 2nd half, with GSS past and present.
Mendelssohn’s Heilig and Ives Psalm 90 were highlights. Of
course we ended with Gregg’s Now I walk in Beauty.
50th Anniversary celebration, GSS presented a Concert of
Commissions in January with ten new works written for GSS. In April
we joined with LISCA, Gregg’s Community Chorus in a long-time
GSS favorite, the Monteverdi Vespers of 1610. July marked
the 34th and final summer of the Adirondack Festival of
exclusively in NYC, GSS Concert Series presented two concerts
opening with Bach motets and featuring new American music. We
recorded Ned Rorem’s NEA-commissioned 50th
Anniversary Four Sonnets for Chorus and Piano which became the title
work of GSS’ 2nd Living Artists CD “I Am In
Need Of Music” released in November.
GSS received its
largest-ever NEA grant — $70,000 which we miraculously matched
— to present in April an American Masterpieces Festival called
THE GREGG SMITH SINGERS LEGACY — Celebrating the American
Masterpieces commissioned, recorded and performed over 50 years —
a symbolic passing of the torch to choruses of today: Cantori New
York, Saint Peter’s Church Choir, LISCA, and of tomorrow:
Syracuse Children’s Chorus. These five choirs including GSS sang
four concerts in three days.
Our March concert
was sung in memory of Lukas Foss, Gregg’s teacher at UCLA who
had often written for GSS, and of Edmund Najera, long time
singer/composer member of GSS. Thomas Schmidt became GSS’
associate conductor, sharing rehearsals and concerts with Gregg. In
December GSS’ long-awaited Virgil Thomson CD will be released
by Albany Records.