Lee Hoiby, 1926-2011

“For me, composing music bears some likeness to archeology. It requires patient digging, searching for the treasure; the ability to distinguish between a treasure and the rock next to it and recognizing when you’re digging in the wrong place. The archeologist takes a soft brush and brushes away a half-teaspoon at a time. Musically, that would be a few notes, or a chord. Sometimes the brushing reveals an especially lovely thing, buried there for so long.”

Lee Hoiby, master of opera and song and longtime collaborator with American Opera Projects, died on March 28, 2011 at Montefiore Hospital in New York City, following a short illness.  Mr. Hoiby was 85.

Born on February 17, 1926 in Madison, Wisconsin, Hoiby was introduced to opera by legendary composer Gian Carlo Menotti, his teacher at the Curtis Institute of Music.  His musical catalog incorporated operas, oratorios, choral works, concerti, chamber works, song cycles, and more than 100 songs.  Hoiby’s first opera, The Scarf, was declared by Time Magazine and the Italian press as the Spoleto Festival’s first hit, and his setting of Tennesse Williams’s Summer and Smoke was championed as “the finest American opera to date.”  His last opera, a setting of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, awaits its world premiere.

In addition to being a longtime collaborator of AOP, Hoiby was also a longtime friend.  He served as a Composer Chair for two years on AOP’s Composers & the Voice series, and in 2006, AOP commissioned his setting of Thomas Hardy’s poem The Darkling Thrush as part of the multimedia opera Darkling.  Another of Hoiby’s operatic works, This Is the Rill Speaking, had its first professional and orchestrated performances through AOP at SUNY Purchase and New York’s Symphony Space in April of 2008.  This Is the Rill Speaking was based on a play by Lanford Wilson, who died last week on Thursday, March 24th, just four days before Hoiby.

Rounding out AOP’s collaboration with Hoiby, AOP Artistic Partner Steven Osgood (Composers & the Voice) worked with the composer and conducted both A Month in the Country and Summer and Smoke with the Manhattan School of Music Opera Theater.  The latter was produced this past fall to celebrate the work’s 40th anniversary; both MSM productions were recorded by Albany Records, with the Summer and Smoke recording to be released later this year.  (To purchase A Month in the Country, click here.)

For more information regarding The Lee Hoiby Institute for American Music, please visit www.leehoibyinstitute.org.  A memorial service will held on a date to be announced later this spring.  Mr. Hoiby is survived by his partner Mark Shulgasser.

For the NYTimes obituary, please click here.
For the Schott Music tribute to Mr. Hoiby, please click here.

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