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Former Mendelssohn Choir director Page dies

| Wednesday, Aug. 10, 2016, 5:39 p.m.
Robert Page, in 2013 before conducting the 2,000 singers rehearsing at Heinz Hall for the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra's 'Singing City' concert.
Justin Merriman | Tribune-Review
Robert Page, in 2013 before conducting the 2,000 singers rehearsing at Heinz Hall for the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra's 'Singing City' concert.

Celebrated choral conductor and teacher Robert Page, music director of the Mendelssohn Choir of Pittsburgh for more than a quarter century, died Sunday, Aug. 7, 2016. He was 89.

His final Heinz Hall concerts were in April, for which he prepared an All University Chorus to perform with Manfred Honeck and the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra.

“Pittsburgh and the music world at large have lost a legend,” Honeck said. “Bob Page was a musician and human being of the highest order, unmatched in his quest for excellence in everything that he did.

“I will always remember the incredible sparkle in his eyes, his fierce spirit, razor-sharp sense of humor and his truly amazing ability to inspire musicians to perform better and reach higher than they ever dreamed to be possible. ... I personally count myself so very fortunate to have had the chance to work closely with Bob.”

His tenure with the Mendelssohn Choir from 1979 to 2006 is considered its golden era, which included multiple performances each season with the symphony, as well as a distinguished series of independent concerts he led with the choir.

During his more than 60-year career, Mr. Page worked closely with many of the world's top conductors, including, most frequently, Eugene Ormandy, Lorin Maazel, Andre Previn, Christoph von Dohnanyi and Mariss Jansons. He enjoyed his close association with composer and Pittsburgh Symphony principal Pops conductor Marvin Hamlisch. Mr. Page led the premieres of many pieces, including by Samuel Barber, Alberto Ginastera, Ned Rorem and Krysztof Penderecki.

Born April 27, 1927, in Abilene, Texas, he was the eighth of 10 children. His mother provided early music training for each of the children, but he was intending a career as a journalist when he joined the Navy. While stationed in San Diego, he made his professional singing debut with the San Diego Civic Light Opera.

At 28, four years after completing his education and beginning his academic career at Eastern New Mexico University in Portales, he became professor of music and director of choral activities at Temple University in Philadelphia. He immediately began working with Ormandy and the Philadelphia Orchestra, with whom he made dozens of recordings and won his first Grammy.

Mr. Page did not need to apply for the major positions that followed because his reputation preceded him. He was assistant conductor and director of choruses for the Cleveland Orchestra, 1971-89; head of Carnegie Mellon University's school of music, 1975-80; and music director of the Mendelssohn Choir, 1979-2006. He retired from teaching at Carnegie Mellon in 2013.

Both of his daughters became professional musicians. Carolann, a soprano who has performed across the United States and in Europe, said her dad was “loving, caring, empathetic and taught us, my sister and I, a wonderful work ethic and the need to share what we know and do.” When they performed together, she called him “Maestro Daddy,” to the amusement of surrounding musicians.

He is survived by his wife, Glynn, daughters Paula and Carolann, three grandchildren and five great-grandchildren. A memorial tribute will be held at a later date.

Mark Kanny is the Tribune-Review's classical music critic. Reach him at 412-320-7877 or mkanny@tribweb.com.

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