Grammy awards Schenck's final conducting effort

February 26, 1993|By Stephen Wigler | Stephen Wigler,Music Critic

When the late Andrew Schenck won a Grammy Wednesday night, it was typical that scarcely anyone noticed his name.

Schenck, who died of cancer a year ago, won for his world premiere recording on the Koch label of Samuel Barber's "The Lovers." The prize was awarded for Contemporary Composition. Good as it is and deserving as it is, however, "The Lovers" is hardly a new work. That anyone knows about it -- that it got recorded at all -- is what Schenck was all about.

"The Lovers" was written 23 years ago and Barber, by that point, had been written off by most of the classical music establishment. Except for Schenck, that is, who recorded the piece with the Chicago Symphony in October 1991 at the last concerts he ever gave.

"It would have pleased Andy that Barber got all of the attention," said his widow Lois, a writer and Realtor who lives in Baltimore, about the posthumous award to the conductor and to the composer he served.

Though Schenck never achieved much celebrity in his short life -- he was only 52 when he died -- he achieved a lot of it for Samuel Barber. Schenck was the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra's associate conductor from 1973 through 1980, but afterwards went for several years without a permanent post. Then, after a performance of the Barber piano concerto in Pasadena with Tedd Joselson, he realized the concerto had not been recorded since it had won the Pulitzer Prize in 1962 and the composer deserved to be honored with a new recording of it on what would have been his 75th birthday in 1985.

Schenck had to fight to get that recording made, eventually finding a small British label game enough to try. That record won a Gramophone magazine Record of the Year award and it led indirectly to several recordings, beginning in 1988, of Barber's music with the New Zealand Symphony. Though the conductor was still almost a complete unknown and though most listeners didn't even know where New Zealand was -- much less that it had an orchestra -- the records shot to the top of the classical best-seller list and led to the surge of interest in his music that culminated in this week's Grammy award for Schenck's last and most beautiful recording.

If most of the newspaper accounts that listed the award neglected to mention the conductor who made it, that is probably the way Andrew Schenck would have wanted it. That he himself was on the verge of a major international conducting career scarcely mattered.

"I felt the greatest pride and the greatest loss," said Lois Schenck about how she experienced the news of her husband's Grammy. "The award is a testament to someone who never gave up."

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