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In Memoriam

Remembering George Crumb 1929-2022

February 8, 2022
George Crumb

On behalf of the Chamber Music Society, we express our profound sadness at the passing of composer George Crumb, on Sunday, February 6, at the age of 92.

Beginning in the 1979-80 season with Celestial Mechanics (Makrokosmos IV), George Crumb became the most frequently performed living composer at the Chamber Music Society, with well over a dozen works appearing with regularity, many repeated, over a forty-year period. The Crumb tradition at CMS continues this season on May 3rd, 2022, with a main stage concert titled “The Innovators: Debussy to Crumb”, featuring a performance of Crumb’s Ancient Voices of Children.

During the 2018-19 season, CMS was privileged to celebrate Crumb’s 90th birthday with two consecutive all-Crumb concerts, performing ten works. The composer made the journey twice from his home in Media, Pennsylvania, to hear the performances, at which he was cheered by the musicians and packed houses of fans.

George Crumb and his wife Elizabeth with CMS artists at his 90th birthday celebration

It is not difficult to explain why “the Crumb effect” has been such a powerful force in music. Although his music certainly sounds different than Mozart, it has been crafted with the same care, skill and inspiration. Beethoven knew exactly how long to repeat himself before a change was necessary; Crumb knew as well. Ravel could create magical sonic landscapes with unusual orchestrations; so could Crumb. Bartok perfectly synthesized the folk music of his native Hungary; so did Crumb make the music of Appalachia his own. He was an artist, a true composer of genius with imagination to burn - in other words, the real thing.

We have been especially fortunate to have among our frequent artists the esteemed pianist Gilbert Kalish, a close friend of Crumb who has performed and often premiered Crumb’s works involving piano, such as Ancient Voices of Children. Gilbert Kalish has provided us invaluable interpretive insight into Crumb’s music, sharing his personal and musical experiences with the composer with a wide range of CMS artists, passing along performance traditions, artistic and practical knowledge that could easily have been lost.

The transference of knowledge about Crumb’s music at CMS has an added aspect of significance: a new generation of performers, many of them already artistic directors of festivals and concert series, now carry with them the passion and understanding of Crumb that will ensure his music a permanent place on concert stages world-wide. His legacy is indestructible, and his music will be forever loved.

David Finckel and Wu Han