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August 2021 Obituaries

Our summary of those the
classical music world has lost this month


Here are brief details of some of the people lost to the classical music world during August 2021. May they rest in peace.

Polish soprano Teresa Żylis-Gara passed away in Łódź on 28 August, aged ninety-one. Born in Landwarów (now Lentvaris in Lithuania) on 23 January 1930, she studied with Olga Felixowna Olgina at the Łódź Music Academy. She made her professional debut in 1956, was a prize-winner at the 1960 ARD Music Competition in Munich, and this led to her continuing her career in Germany, to studies with Dietger Jacob and many appearances at major German opera houses, at the Wiener Staatsoper, Salzburg Festival, Palais Garnier, Glyndebourne, Covent Garden and New York Metropolitan Opera in the 1960s and 70s.

Italian organ builder Beniamino Giribaldi died on 27 August, aged seventy-nine, in Imperia. Born in the same city on 10 January 1942, he studied organ building with Celestino Gandolfo and learned to restore ancient organs while working at Barthélemy Formentelli's shop. He specialised in building Tuscan organs and founded his own workshop, Fiffaro, where he restored organs and built parts for organs.

German composer and conductor Siegfried Matthus passed away on 27 August at Stolzenhagen, aged eighty-seven. Born in Mallenuppen (now Sadoroschje in Russia) on 13 April 1934, he studied at Berlin's Hochschule für Musik Hanns Eisler and then composition privately with Rudolf Wagner-Régeny and with Eisler himself. He composed a series of stage works, some of which, including the opera Judith, were performed in East Berlin at the Komische Oper, where he became the youngest ever composer-in-residence. In 1990 he founded Kammeroper Schloss Rheinsberg, an opera festival for young singers, and directed it until 2018.

Chinese-born composer Paul Zicheng Fu died on 26 August.

After contracting COVID-19 in June 2021, one of India's highest profile classical tabla players, Subhankar Banerjee, died on 25 August, aged fifty-five, in Kolkata. Born in the same city on 20 August 1966, he studied with Manik Das (Benares tabla style) then Swapan Siva (Farukhabad style), becoming one of the most successful tabla accompanists and soloists.

Ukrainian violinist and teacher Igor Oistrakh died on 14 August, aged ninety.

Canadian composer R Murray Schafer died on 14 August, aged eight-eight, following a long battle with Alzheimer's disease.

English composer Hugh Wood passed away on 14 August, aged eighty-nine. Born in the village of Parbold in Lancashire on 27 June 1932 into a musical family, he was encouraged musically as a teenager by Alan Bush. After military service in Egypt, he wrote much theatre music whilst studying History at Oxford University and then studied music privately in London with Iain Hamilton, Anthony Milner, Mátyás Seiber and William Lloyd Webber. Prefering chamber music genres, he wrote much chamber, orchestral and vocal music, a reasonable amount of choral music but very little for solo piano. Many of his works have been recorded commercially. In addition to composition, Wood taught music at Morley College (1958-67), the Royal Academy of Music (1962-65), Glasgow University (1966-70), Liverpool University (1971-75), Leeds University (1975-6) and Cambridge University (1977-99). He also wrote about music and broadcast regularly for the BBC.

Hugh Wood (1932-2021). Photo © Jonas Persson
Hugh Wood (1932-2021). Photo © Jonas Persson

Italian-Monégasque conductor and composer Gianluigi Gelmetti died in Monaco on 11 August, aged seventy-five. Born in Rome on 11 September 1945, he had a teenage conducting experience when Celibidache let him conduct an orchestra and then took him on as a student. Later he studied with Franco Ferrara and Hans Swarowsky and won the 1967 City of Firenze Prize. His international conducting career was launched when he appeared with the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra. He was Principal Conductor of the Stuttgart Radio Symphony Orchestra (1989-1998), Musical and Artistic Director of Teatro dell'Opera di Roma (2000-2009), Principal Conductor and Artistic Director of the Sydney Symphony Orchestra (2004-8) and Principal Conductor of the Orchestre Philharmonique de Monte-Carlo (2012-2016). He also conducted in China, the Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Japan, Norway, Oman, Qatar, Russia, Spain and the UK, and left us with an extensive and complex legacy of recordings on many labels. His compositions include Algos for large orchestra (performed in London, Munich, Stuttgart and Sydney) and In Paradisum Deducant Te Angeli, performed by Rome Opera to mark the tenth anniversary of Franco Ferrara's death. Prasanta Atma was commissioned in 1999 to celebrate the life of Sergiu Celibidache and Cantata della Vita for cello solo, choir and orchestra was commissioned by the Teatro Comunale di Bologna. Gelmetti also taught conducting at the Accademia Musicale Chigiana in Siena and at Rome's Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia.

Gianluigi Gelmetti (1945-2021)
Gianluigi Gelmetti (1945-2021)

British choral director and composer Stephen Wilkinson passed away on 10 August, aged one-hundred-and-two. Born in Eversden Rectory in Cambridgeshire on 29 April 1919, he was a chorister at Christ Church Oxford during the time of 'Doc H' - William Henry Harris - and studied briefly with Thomas Armstrong. Wilkinson was an organ scholar at Queen's College Cambridge and studied with Edward Dent, Patrick Hadley, Hubert Middleton, Henry Moule, Boris Ord, Philip Radcliffe and Cyril Rootham. His music degree was interrupted by active service in the Royal Navy during World War II, where he was injured and noted for his courage and devotion to duty. He was director of the Hertfordshire Rural Music School at Hitchin (1947-53) and then worked for the BBC from 1953 until 1979, in Leeds then Manchester, conducting the BBC Northern Singers, later known as the Britten Singers. They appeared at UK festivals, travelled internationally and commissioned and gave many first performances of new works, such as two of the pieces from John McCabe's Mangan Triptych. The first of Wilkinson's commissions was a work by Wilfrid Mellers, and there were also compositions by Richard Rodney Bennett, Peter Dickinson, Stephen Dodgson, Elizabeth Machonchy, Nicholas Maw, Robin Orr and William Walton. He conducted other professional choirs such as the BBC Singers, Nederlands Kamerkoor and the RTÉ Singers, and was also active in the amateur choral world, working principally with the William Byrd Singers of Manchester until he was ninety.

Stephen Wilkinson (1919-2021). Photo © 2009 Stefan Schweiger
Stephen Wilkinson (1919-2021). Photo © 2009 Stefan Schweiger

Polish bass and opera manager Kazimierz Kowalski died on 1 August, aged seventy. Born on 30 July 1951 in Łódź, he studied at the Academy of Music with Antoni Majak and was a prizewinner in the 1976 International Vocal Competition in Toulouse. He sang at the Grand Theatre in Łódź, performing various leading roles, and became the theatre's general and artistic director (1994-1997). He created a long-running festival of opera and operetta in the spa town Ciechocinek and founded Polish Chamber Opera. He also became a presenter of Polish radio and TV shows.

Posted 15 August 2021 and last updated 8 October 2021 by Keith Bramich




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