The Stravinsky Years

Chronology Part 6:
1969: Stravinsky's Last Public Appearance


An all-Stravinsky concert entitled: “Homage to Stravinsky” was held at New York State University (SUNY) Stonybrook on April 27, 1969.

Gregg Smith: “I was now teaching at SUNY Stonybrook and directing the university choir. I also founded the Long Island Symphonic Choral Association (LISCA), a very impressive community choral group in that same year, as well as conducting the New York-based Gregg Smith Singers.”

The program, which was conducted by Robert Craft, featured Stravinsky’s “Three Russian Choral Pieces,” “Les Noces” and the “Requiem Canticles.” At the time of the program, Stravinsky was staying at the Hotel Pierre in NYC.

Gregg Smith: “One of my “biggest adventures” occurred just before Igor Stravinsky died. At that time, New York State was still spending a lot of money on music and music performances, which made this special Stravinsky concert, with Robert Craft conducting, possible.”

“Choral forces that I could call upon now included the New York-based Gregg Smith Singers, LISCA and the SUNY university choir. I recall that all of the groups were working on “Les Noces.” and the “Three Russian Choral Pieces,” and a smaller group on the “Requiem Canticles.”

“The entire concert was incredible and wonderful. But it was “Les Noces” that Stravinsky, who attended the concert, wanted to hear performed.”

“The concert hall had not yet been built at SUNY, so we had to use the men’s’ gymnasium for the concert, which was, of course, not graded. Stravinsky, who was seated in the front row center, just behind the conductor’s podium, could not be seen by the audience. Remember, while a giant among composers, Stravinsky was a small man. But the performers on stage could see him perfectly.

“The chorus had the best view in the house,” said Roz Rees, who sang at the concert. She added, “In spite of singing some very difficult music, some in Russian, and having to watch both the music and the conductor like a hawk, it was almost impossible to take your eyes off Stravinsky.”

She and the other performers could also see what occurred at the end of the concert. The audience was standing and cheering and yelling “Bravo!” and Stravinsky began to struggle to rise to his feet. Painfully. It was difficult to watch. It seemed to take him a long time, at least to the singers watching, but he at last stood, turned and took a bow. By this time, the audience knew that Stravinsky was at the concert, and they were cheering him as well as the performers.

Gregg Smith: “Stravinsky seemed much moved by the performance, and very focused during the performance.”

The standing ovation went on and on, as Stravinsky stood and bowed very slowly and solemnly to the audience, and also acknowledged Robert Craft and the performers on stage. This was his last public appearance.