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Remembering Robert Shaw

The music world remembered an icon recently as it marked the 100th anniversary of the birth or noted conductor Robert Shaw. The Atlanta Symphony marked the occasion with an appearance at Carnegie Hall, and Georgia Public Broadcasting released a new video, Man of Many Voices, which incidentally was produced by an acquaintance, Kikki Wilson (no relation!). Carnegie Hall has recently re-released its series of videos, created in the 1990’s called Preparing a Masterpiece.

In these fascinating films, Shaw explored several iconic choral scores and his style, his phenomenal ear, his unique techniques, his wit, his amazing command of the English language are all beautifully documented. Eight volumes traverse Elijah, the Brahms Requiem, Britten’s War Requiem, music of Verdi, Hindemith, and Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis all with choruses who came together from all over the country just for the unique experience. The results were stunning.

I had the fortune of working with Mr. Shaw back in the 1970’s, attending his rehearsals for the Beethoven Ninth Symphony, Berlioz Requiem, and the Brahms Requiem. His emphasis on each element, rhythm, text, pitch all are meticulously pursued individually as the music is almost dissected and then reconstructed. The “count-singing,” his technique of achieving rhythmic precision has been borrowed by countless conductors.

He allowed me to borrow his score to the Beethoven Ninth, and I was astonished at the meticulous way he marked. Likewise his editings of the choral score, creating a edition all his own, create an extraordinary historical document of this amazing mind. He commented that he wished he could start over every time he conducted a piece with a new score, a new set of parts, a clean slate.

It was his particularity.