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Thomas Dunn (Conductor)

Born: December 21, 1925 - Aberdeen, South Dakota, USA
Died: October 30, 2008 - Bloomington, Indiana, USA

The American conductor, Thomas (Burt) Dunn, was involved in church music even as a teen-ager. He began as an assistant organist in Third Lutheran Church in Baltimore at the age of 11. When he was 16 he moved to the Episcopal Cathedral of the Incarnation first as organist and then Organist and Choirmaster. There he presided over a professional choir of men and women. He studied organ and conducting at the Peabody Conservatory with Charles Courboin, E. Power Biggs, Virgin Fox, Ernest White, and Ifor Jones, while earning a Bachelor's degree at Johns Hopkins University. After graduation he matriculated at Harvard University, taking a Master's degree, with courses in choral arranging with Archibald Davison and Fugue with Walter Piston. Among his teachers was also Robert Shaw (choral conducting). While at Harvard he organized an orchestra and chorus to sing Bach Cantatas. Afterwards he studied at the Amsterdam Conservatory, and his teachers in the Netherlands included Gustav Leonhardt (harpsichord) and Anthon van der Horst (orchestral conducting).

Thomas Dunn began his career as a church music director at Baltimore and Philadelphia. In 1957 he became Music Director at New York City's Church of the Incarnation. He organized a series of Incarnation Concerts at the church. These concerts were so successful that the church choir and the accompanying orchestra became the Festival Orchestra and Chorus, giving concert seasons in Carnegie Hall and Avery Fisher Hall in Lincoln Center. He led this festival from 1959 to 1969. In 1959 he was made Conductor of the Cantata Singers, an amateur chorus with an interest in performance practice. With this group he organized the first series of summer concerts in Avery Fisher - which became the Mostly Mozart concerts.

Thomas Dunn founded the Festival Orchestra of New York and became known to a wider public through a series of Bach concerts in Carnegie Hall, championing a return to small forces for larger Baroque works (George Frideric Handel's Messiah, J.S. Bach's Mass in B-Minor (BWV 232), etc.) and historical performance practices. He was an influential pioneer during the early music revival in the mid-20th century. One collaboration in particular led to the rare opportunity to perform the American premiere of a Haydn's Cello Concerto in C, which was lost to the world until its re-discovery in Prague in 1961. It was performed by cello virtuoso Janos Starker (now one of Iindiana University's distinguished professors of music) with the New York Festival Orchestra directed by Thomas Dunn. He became the Artistic Director of the Handel and Haydn Society in Boston in 1967, a post he held for 19 years (until 1986). The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians calls his performances "clean, transparent, rhythmic . . . "

Thomas Dunn continued to teach in New York until he became Editor-in-chief of E.C. Schirmer Music Publishers. Academic positions included Boston University, and Stanford University. In 1985 he was awarded an honorary degree Doctor of Music by Providence College. He taught at the Indiana University School of Music in Bloomington from 1990. He officially retired from Indiana University in May 1999, but continued to serve as choral mentor for the doctoral choral conducting students.

Source: Baker’s Biographical Dictionary of 20th Century Classical Musicians (1997); Cantate Music Press Website; Indiana University School of Music Website (December 2005)
Contributed by
Aryeh Oron (June 2001, November 2006)

Thomas Dunn: Short Biography | Recordings of Vocal Works

Links to other Sites

IU Choral Faculty: Thomas Dunn
WFIU Artist of The Month: Thomas Dunn

Choral Works of Thomas Dunn (Cantate Music Press)In Memoriam: Thomas Burt Dunn (Indiana University)

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