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Richard Sparks (Choral Conductor)

Born: August 29, 1950 - Seattle, Washington, USA

The American choral conductor and music pedagogue, Richard Sparks, graduated from Shorecrest High School in Seattle. He obtained his Bachelor of Musioc degre in Music from University of Washington (1968-1975); his Master of Music degree in Music-Choral conducting from University of Washington (1978-1980) and his DMA in Choral Conducting, orchestral conducting from University of Cincinnati (1985-1998). His doctoral dissertation (Swedish A Cappella Music Since 1945) won the ACDA’s Julius Herford Award in 1997 (for best dissertation in the choral field) and was later published as The Swedish Choral Miracle--Swedish A Cappella Music Since 1945 (Blue Fire Productions, Hal Leonard, August 1997). He worked primarily with Elmer Thomas, John Leman, and Earl Rivers. Earl Rivers was his dissertation advisor. His cognate (minor) was orchestral conducting, working with Teri Murai.

Richard Sparks was a faculty member at Mount Holyoke College (September 1980-June 1983) and Pacific Lutheran University (PLU), where he was Director of Choral Activities from September 1983 to August 2001. At PLU he led the PLU Choir of the West, one of the top undergraduate choirs in the country, on regular tours and also made eight recordings with that ensemble.

Richard Sparks came to PLU to conduct the PLU Choir of the West in 1983 and was director for 18 years, until 2001. This followed a period in Seattle where he gained his early reputation founding and conducting Seattle Pro Musica (which is still going strong) and three years of teaching at Mt. Holyoke College in Massachusetts. Under Sparks, the touring tradition of the PLU Choir of the West continued with notable tours of the East Coast in 1986 (concerts in Minneapolis, Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Washington D.C., North Carolina, and Florida), England in 1988, Japan and China in 1991, Scandinavia in 2001, and many tours down the I-5 corridor and in the Northwest. One of the first big productions under Sparks was the first performance in the northwest of Benjamin Britten’s enormous War Requiem, with performances on campus and at St. Mark’s Cathedral in Seattle. As the Seattle P.I. said: “The performance was an inspired event… and by any standard, was outstanding. It is even more impressive considering the difficulty of the music, the size of the performing forces and the youthfulness of the musicians.” An accomplished conductor of orchestras, Sparks also involved the PLU Choir of the West in a series of performances with Seattle’s Northwest Chamber Orchestra, including J.S. Bach’s Mass in B Minor (BWV 232) and St. John Passion (BWV 245). Other projects included Igor Stravinsky’s Les Noces, Sergei Rachmaninov’s Vespers (the first complete performance by a University choir), and a performance of Johannes BrahmsLiebeslieder Walzer with pianists Robin and Rochelle McCabe. Also with Robin McCabe came an acclaimed commission from Peter Schickele of his The Twelve Months. With the opening of Lagerquist Concert Hall in 1995 (both its great acoustics and sound isolation from outside noise), a series of CD recordings was begun, and Sparks made five recordings with the PLU Choir of the West (including S. Rachmaninov’s Vespers and current COW conductor Richard Nance’s Mass for a New Millennium). He also started a series of Christmas recordings (released every other year), involving all the PLU choirs. Sparks’ career at PLU was capped in 2001 with a performance of the Verdi Requiem (with all Choir of the West alumni soloists) and the tour of Scandinavia. He left PLU to pursue conducting of professional choirs and to do guest conducting.

Richard Sparks, Chair of Conducting & Ensembles, joined the faculty at University ofNorth Texas (UNT): College of Music in 2009 with both a distinguished academic and professional career. He has been active in the professional world as well; guest conducting the Anchorage Music Festival (his first year substituting for an ailing Robert Shaw conducting Johannes BrahmsEin Deutsches Requiem), Portland Symphonic Choir, Portland Baroque Orchestra, Northwest Chamber Orchestra, Exultate Chamber Singers in Toronto, and the Swedish Radio Choir. He first worked with the Swedish Radio Choir in 2002, and again in 2007 and 2008, the first American in more than 30 years to work with that ensemble. With the Swedish Radio Choir he prepared them for a performance of the J. BrahmsRequiem with Valery Gergiev, which has been released on DVD on the BIS label. He was also the first non-Canadian conductor to direct the Canadian National Youth Choir and in 2008 he was Music Director/Conductor for a production of Monteverdi’s opera, Orfeo, in Edmonton with period instruments.

Richard Sparks founded Seattle Pro Musica and conducted three ensembles from 1973 to 1980 in over 70 concerts; conducted the Seattle Symphony Chorale from 1990 to 1994 (preparing the choir for nine recordings on the Delos label); founded and conducted Choral Arts in Seattle from 1993 to 2006 (with whom he made three recordings on the Gothic label); and Pro Coro Canada (Edmonton, AB) from 1999 to 2011. A professional chamber choir, Pro Coro toured regularly across Canada and broadcast on CBC Radio. He also served as Visiting Professor at College-Conservatory of Music -- Cincinnati (2009); Interim Choirmaster at Church of the Incarnation in Dallas, Texas (August 2011-August 2012); Interim Chancel Choir Director at Highland Park United Methodist Church (September 2013-December 2014).

Since coming to UNT Richard Sparks has led the UNT Collegium Singers to the Boston Early Music Festival three times and also the Berkeley Early Music Festival. The UNT Collegium Singers/Baroque Orchestra performance of Antonio Vivaldi's Gloria, led by Sparks, has over 1 million hits on YouTube. Last year UNT Collegium Singers did a performance of Monteverdi's Vespers of 1610 in a new edition edited by Hendrik Schulze of the UNT faculty, along with 10 UNT grad students, published by Bärenreiter. This year they HAVE been selected to sing at the prestigious NCCO conference in Portland, Oregon.

Source: University of North Texas: College of Music Website; Richard Sparks profiles on Facebook & LinkedIn; Pacific Lutheramn University Website; Wikipedia Website (April 2016)
Contributed by
Aryeh Oron (October 2016)

Richard Sparks: Short Biography | PLU Choir of the West | UNT Collegium Singers | Recordings of Vocal Works

Links to other Sites

Richard Sparks (UNT College of Music)
Richard Sparks (Wikipedia)

Richard Sparks - Music, Conducting, Choirs (Official Blog)
Richard Sparks on Facebook
Richard Sparks on LinkedIn

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