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Michael Korn (Choral Conductor)

Born: 1948 (?) - Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, USA
Died: August 29, 1991 - Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA

The American choral conductor and organist, Michael Korn, was born and raised in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. He started picking out melodies on a toy piano when he was 3 1/2, and started piano lessons seriously at 6. There were no musicians in his family; an aunt's wedding inadvertently led to organ lessons. Fascinated, he began organ lessons at age 10 1/2. Three months later, he had his first church job, which he kept until he left Harrisburg at 18.

A recital Michael Korn gave in New York's St. Thomas Church in October 1965 landed him an invitation to appear with Leonard Bernstein on one of the conductor's televised Young People's Concerts. Leonard Bernstein's secretary liked the recital and called to ask if Korn knew the Francis Poulenc concerto. He did not, but he said he did, learned the piece and prepared it for the show. When the program was filmed, there was no room for the organ concerto. Leonard Bernstein called Korn to apologize that his segment had been dropped. The renowned conductor made it up to him the following year with a performance of a Bach fugue on a Young People's Concert. It aired in 1967, making Korn the first organist to appear on the celebrated show.

Michael Korn's gift as an organ virtuoso brought him to Philadelphia in 1966. He was 19 and followed his teacher, the eminent pedagogue Alexander McCurdy, from Westminster Choir College in Princeton, where Korn had been a scholarship student, to the Curtis Institute. Here, with McCurdy's blessing, he also studied opera and orchestral conducting and began conducting. The same year, 1966, he became organist and director of the First United Methodist Church.

While in that job, Micael Korn founded the Germantown Music Society. A few years later it went broke, but it served as a model for the Philadelphia Singers, the city's only all-professional chorus, which he would start four years later, in 1971. He was its Artistic Director and Conductor until hid death. He frequently worked with the Concerto Soloists (Chamber Orchestra of Philadelphia), which he last led at the Academy of Music on March 29, 1991 when, with Mozart's Requiem, Korn introduced the the Philadelphia Singers Chorale, a 130-member chorus, an extension of the Philadelphia Singers that performs with symphony orchestras.

Besides his nationally regarded accomplishments with the Philadelphia Singers, Michael Korn had for decades been a key player with a number of the city's respected music institutions. These included the Bach Festival of Philadelphia, which he once ran and for which the Philadelphia Singers performed nearly all of J.S. Bach's masterworks and 200 cantatas. He also had a lifetime contract as associate conductor and chorus master of the Opera Company of Philadelphia, where he had conducted some productions. He one of the founders of Chorus America, a national service organization that raises money and provides services to professional and amateur choruses across the country, and served as its first President (1977-1985).

From bed in his Juniper Street home in Center City two weeks ago, Micael Korn spelled out the details of the Philadelphia Singers' next two seasons, which included guest appearances by such giants of choral music as Margaret Hillis, founder of the Chicago Symphony Chorus, and Robert Shaw, conductor emeritus of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and Chorus. Both were Korn's early mentors. He died of of complications from AIDS in Pennsylvania Hospital. He was 44 years old. He willed his scores, his collection of music books and his piano to the Curtis Institute. His would also provides for an endowed conducting chair for the Philadelphia Singers. Survivers are: his mother and his stepfather, Mary and Charles Noll, of West Palm Beach, Florida.

Source: Obituaries in New York Time (August 31, 1991) & (Author: Lesley Valdes, Inquirer Staff Writer; August 30, 1991)); Chorus America Website
Contributed by
Aryeh Oron (February 2014)

Michael Korn: Short Biography | Philadelphia Singers | Recordings of Vocal Works | Bach Festival of Philadelphia

Links to other Sites

Phila. Singers Founder Michael Korn Dies At 44 (
Michael Korn Choral Director, 44 (New York Times)

Michael Korn Founders Award for Development of the Professional Choral Art (Chorus America)

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