Robert Black, pianist and Hopkins conductor

November 19, 1993|By Fred Rasmussen | Fred Rasmussen,Staff Writer

Robert Black, a conductor, composer and pianist who conducted the 80-member Hopkins Symphony Orchestra from 1991 until this year, died Sunday of melanoma at an apartment he was renting in Palo Alto, Calif. He was 43.

Robert Black was described as a "red hot, Texas chili-cooking third baseman in a New York City softball league, a poet, a Dallas Cowboy fan, former high school fullback and swimmer and, when he wants some extra excitement, scuba diver at Grand Cayman Island," in a 1991 story by the music critic of The Evening Sun.

In addition to conducting the Hopkins Orchestra, he conducted the Tidewater Festival Chamber Ensemble in St. Mary's and the Baltimore Chamber Orchestra at the Baltimore Museum of Art.

Jed Gaylin,who replaced Mr. Black as conductor of the Hopkins Symphony, said, "On the podium he was exacting, combining efficiency with fire. His dedication to new music instituted the Hopkins Symphony Orchestra's on-going annual commission of an orchestral work. I will miss him. We are all saddened by his sudden passing."

Mary Ellen Porter, special assistant to the dean of Homewood Student Services at the Johns Hopkins University and a longtime friend of Mr. Black's, said, "He was a wonderful, warm person who left Hopkins only because his career in Europe took off. Scheduling became very difficult and he was commuting between Stanford University, New York and Baltimore. When he left, he expressed his affection for the orchestra and said they were special and that he was going to miss them."

Mr. Black's last concert was at Shriver Hall in May when he conducted "Festive Sounds," a new work written by David Froom.

His agent, Sandra Elm, remembered, "He touched so many lives musically and was so committed to the music world and the various groups that he worked with."

Mr. Black was born in Dallas in 1950 and studied at the Oberlin Conservatory and the Juilliard School where his teachers were Beveridge Webster, the pianist, and composers Roger Sessions and David Diamond. According to the New York Times, Mr. Black was a "fixture in the new music world in New York City," and he founded the New York New Music Ensemble in 1975 and the Prism chamber orchestra in 1983 and had been a member of Speculum Musicae since 1978.

He gave many premieres of new works, including Ralph Shapey's "Three for Six," Joseph Schwantner's "Music of Amber" and Dane Rudhyar's"Epic Poem." He also recorded new music which won some critical acclaim such as "In Sleep and Thunder" by Elliott Carter and "Nature's Breath" by Tod Machover.

Mr. Black had taught at Stanford, C. W. Post, Princeton and the University of California at Santa Barbara as well as at Oberlin. As a young performer he was nominated by the Franz Liszt Academy in Budapest for a Grand Prix du Disque for his recording of the early works of Liszt on Orion Records.

In 1987 he was appointed music director of the New Amsterdam Symphony, where he conducted the Mahler cycle and Mozart concertos. He conducted Beethoven's Ninth Symphony at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York in 1992 and was made artistic director of the Kuopio Orchestra of Finland last year.

Private services are to be held in Dallas with memorial concerts planned in the future in New York and Palo Alto.

The Hopkins Symphony Orchestra will dedicate to his memory its March 5, 1994, concert featuring a performance of Schubert's "Unfinished Symphony" and a world premiere of a work by Carlos Sanchez-Guitierrez.

Mr. Black is survived by his wife, the former Georgia Gaviotis; a brother, William Black, a concert pianist in New York; and L LTC sister, Beverlie Whiteley; and his parents, Frank Black and Gladys Kathleen Verrill, all of Dallas.

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