The American conductor, Robert Bass, grew up in the Bronx and Queens, and sang as a boy soprano in the children’s choruses of the New York City and Metropolitan Operas. He studied conducting with Richard Westenburg at the Mannes College the New School for Music.
Robert Bass, became the Music Director of the world renowned Collegiate Chorale in 1980 when he was 26, succeeding Richard Westenburg, and served in this post for 28 years. He was the sixth Music Director in The Chorale's 65-year history, and his tenure followed the distinguished leadership of his predecessors which include Richard Westenburg and legendary Robert Shaw, who founded The Collegiate Chorale in 1941, its name taken from its first rehearsal space, the Marble Collegiate Church.
As director of The Collegiate Chorale, Robert Bass continued some of the traditions started by Robert Shaw, like combining the professional choral singers with the non-professional choral singers in the 150-voice choir. “There is something about the passion of the amateur with the vocal expertise of the professional that makes an ideal combination,” Bass said in an interview with The New York Times in 2001. “That was Shaw’s philosophy eventually, and it’s one I share deeply.” Robert Bass skillfully effected the transition from a volunteer membership board to a professional board under whose leadership The Collegiate Chorale's budget now exceeds that of any choral group of its kind in New York and is in fact one of the largest of any chorus in the nation.
Robert Bass conducted choral repertory and opera for the Collegiate. His discography includes the premiere recording of Strauss’s Friedenstag and L.v. Beethoven cantatas with Deborah Voigt. Singers who made their Carnegie Hall debuts under his baton include David Daniels, Lauren Flanigan, Maria Guleghina and Salvatore Licitra. He worked with many other top-drawer vocal soloists, in recent years including Bryn Terfel, Elizabeth Futral, Dmitri Hvorostovsky and Ewa Podleś.
Under Robert Bass The Collegiate Chorale also performed operetta and multimedia presentations like The Juniper Tree, a collaboration between the composers Philip Glass and Robert Moran. The 2004-2005 season marked the 25th anniversary of Bass' conducting debut in Carnegie Hall, where he has since conducted a wide range of repertoire including choral works and commissions. He has introduced annual opera-in-concert performances which have become a highlight of each Carnegie Hall and New York concert season. Two of his performances at Carnegie Hall with The Collegiate Chorale have since become critically acclaimed recordings: the New York premiere of Strauss' Friedenstag (Koch, 1991) which reached the top 25 on classical Billboard charts; and L.v. Beethoven's cantatas Der glorreiche Augenblick and Auf die Erhebung Leopold des Zwieten zur Kaiserwürde with sopranos Deborah Voigt and Elizabeth Futral, and the Orchestra of St. Luke's (Koch, 1994). He presented many obscure works in their New York premieres, including the American premiere of Dvorak’s Dmitri in 1984 and the New York premieres of Ottorino Respighi’s Fiamma in 1987 and Friedenstag in 1989. In 1997 The Collegiate Chorale gave the first New York performance of Schubert's Fierrabras, continuing its collaboration with the Orchestra of St. Luke's at Carnegie Hall. More recently, little-known repertory programmed by Bass included George Frideric Handel’s Jupiter in Argos, Le Villi (Puccini’s first opera), Weber’s Oberon, Scott Joplin’s Treemonisha and Leonard Bernstein’s White House Cantata.
Robert Bass was one of the conductors of the Richard Tucker Foundation's Fifteenth Gala Concert at Avery Fisher Hall (televised nationally on PBS) conducting the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra and Renée Fleming. He has appeared as a guest conductor with the New York City Opera Company, Columbus Symphony Orchestra, the Nebraska Chamber Orchestra, and the Concert Association of Greater Miami. At Carnegie Hall, he led performances of Johannes Brahmss' Ein Deutsches Requiem, the Verdi Requiem, L.v. Beethoven's Missa Solemnis, Berlioz Requiem, Rossini's Stabat Mater, the Mozart Requiem, the Fauré Requiem, J.S. Bach's Mass in B Minor (BWV 232), and G.F. Handel's Messiah, among others. Robert Bass was privileged to appear with Marian Anderson in a series of benefit performances for the Dance Theatre of Harlem. Robert Bass was also a frequent judge for the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions and the artistic director of the Olga Forrai Foundation, which supports young singers and conductors.
In recent years Robert Bass led The Collegiate Chorale to unprecedented growth both institutionally and artistically. He instituted The Collegiate Chorale's successful Side-by-Side education program, which allows talented high school singers to join The Collegiate Chorale in a Carnegie Hall concert. In the summer of 2001, The Collegiate Chorale made its first European tour with Robert Bass, performing in Prague and Vienna. That same summer NPR's World of Opera broadcast The Collegiate Chorale's Carnegie Hall performance of Verdi's Macbeth, and followed up the next year with their performance of Weber's Oberon. In 2005, The Collegiate Chorale and Robert Bass were invited by James Levine to perform the Verdi Requiem at the prestigious Verbier Festival in Switzerland. The have performed there several times. Robert Bass conducted The Collegiate Chorale in Israel in July 2008, before it began a tour with the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra and Zubin Mehta.
Robert Bass received a heart transplant in March 2007 after amyloidosis was diagnosed, and a stem-cell transplant in September. “Having a new heart has changed everything,” he told The Times in July 2007. “I’ve just begun rehearsing again, and all of the sensations, whether they be as a musician or as a person - everything is different. There’s a lot to discover, and a lot of uncertainty at the same time.” He died at his home in Manhattan on August 25, 2008, at the age of 55. The cause was complications of amyloidosis, a rare disease in which abnormal proteins accumulate in the body, said Joshua Marcum, a spokesman for the chorale. He is survived by his wife, Juliana; his children, Miranda and Jonathan; his brother, Alan; and his parents, Janice and David, all of Manhattan.