One of the brighest lights of the Boston classical music scene. A great
Craig Smith, 60; with Emmanuel, he created a nexus of joy and music
By Jeremy Eichler, Globe Staff | November 15, 2007
Craig Smith, the conductor and pianist who founded Emmanuel Music
and built it into a cherished hub of Boston's musical life, died
yesterday morning at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. He
The cause of death was heart failure as a result of diabetes-related
kidney failure, according to a Pat Krol, executive director of
"He represented the meaning of devotion," said pianist Russell
Sherman yesterday. "He always found this light of meaning and
beauty in music. It was a torch he carried for us and for the
Mr. Smith founded Emmanuel Music in 1970 as the resident ensemble
at Emmanuel Church, but his ambitious vision quickly established
that this would be much more than a church group. Over the first
seven years of Emmanuel Music's existence, Mr. Smith conducted
a complete cycle of Bach cantatas, the first cycle of its kind
in the country. The habit stuck and a weekly Bach cantata has
been part of the Sunday morning service at Emmanuel Church for
37 years. Mr. Smith led his last cantata on Nov. 4. It was BWV
72, "Alles nur nach Gottes Willen" ("Everything According to
God's Will Alone").
While Bach dominated the ethos of Emmanuel Music, Mr. Smith also
led the US premieres of several Handel operas in their uncut
versions. He led the choral works of Heinrich Schutz and programmed
large surveys of the chamber and vocal music of Schubert, Brahms,
Debussy, Ravel, and Schumann. In the 1980s, he collaborated with
Peter Sellars in iconoclastic productions of Mozart's Da Ponte
operas, stagings that have been performed internationally and
released on DVD. Mr. Smith and Sellars also collaborated on a
famous production of Handel's "Orlando" that placed the action
both at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla., and
on the planet Mars. The choreographer Mark Morris was also a
close collaborator, and Mr. Smith led the world premiere of
Morris's most acclaimed work, "L'Allegro, il Penseroso, ed il
Moderato," in Brussels.
But it was less for his occasional adventures in opera and dance
and more for his daily devotion to discovering the vital expressive
core of every piece that made Mr. Smith a much-loved figure among
local audiences and musicians. One violist who played in the
Orchestra of Emmanuel Music and later sang in the chorus was the
late Lorraine Hunt Lieberson. She became a revered mezzo-soprano
but continued her collaboration with Mr. Smith and Emmanuel
Music, most notably in a gripping staging of two Bach cantatas,
directed by Sellars and conducted by Mr. Smith. The theater piece
toured widely and was recorded on the Nonesuch label. The large
group of musicians associated with Emmanuel Church includes the
baritone Sanford Sylvan, and composer John Harbison wrote several
works that were premiered at Emmanuel Church.
Mr. Smith "had a very pure relationship to music that never
wavered; he was completely invested in everything he did,"
Harbison said yesterday. "Through a unique kind of energy he
brought all these people together and convinced them this was a
way to exist - and now Craig's community of musicians spans
generations, and some of them have spread all over the country."
Mr. Smith was born in Lewiston, Idaho, in 1947. He began piano
at 4 but was involved in music even earlier. It was ubiquitous
in his home, and his mother, a teacher, and his father, a building
contractor, encouraged his love of listening and playing. Besides
piano, he played the flute, and even the bass drum in the marching
band. At Washington State University, he was given his first
exposure to opera. "That changed my life," Mr. Smith said in
a Globe interview in 1981.
In 1967, he attended a summer program run by New England
Conservatory and decided he would transfer to that school. His
formative teachers included Sherman and the violinist Rudolf
Kolisch, with whom he studied chamber music. Mr. Smith was still
an undergraduate when he joined the choir at Emmanuel Church.
At just 21, he was offered the job as director.
Over the years, he assembled an excellent orchestra and chorus
of devoted local musicians who were seemingly drawn to the joyful
purity of his music-making. He had a wide-ranging musical intellect
and a gift for dreaming up large-scale projects, such as a
51-concert Schubert cycle that took seven seasons to complete.
Mr. Smith maintained ties with his former teachers, including
Sherman, who remained in the orbit of Emmanuel Music through the
"Everything he touched he cherished, and relished with an
incredible tenderness, conviction, and belief, and with complete
selflessness," said Sherman. "Everything he did, he did with
flair, a cherubic smile, and a Mozartean sense of absolute
pleasure and happiness in the task itself. And he created a place
for music that was indomitable."
Mr. Smith conducted in numerous US cities, and in Hong Kong,
the Netherlands, Israel, and New Zealand. From 1988 to 1991, he
had a conducting appointment at the Theatre Royal de la Monnaie,
in Brussels. But Mr. Smith by and large chose to focus his
activities on what he could create at home with his Emmanuel
musicians. According to Harbison, "Craig always knew that the
world's scorecard didn't always correspond to fundamental artistic
values, the basic sense of being there for the music."
Speaking of Emmanuel Music in a 1981 Globe Magazine interview,
Mr. Smith put it simply: "There is not much room to do more. Our
job is just to do better."
Mr. Smith leaves a brother, Kent, of Brussels. A memorial service
will take place at Emmanuel Church at a date to be announced.
Copyright 2007 The New York Times Company
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