Remembering composer Conrad Susa, 1935-2013

by Philip Brunelle, Special to Minnesota Public Radio
November 22, 2013

ST. PAUL, Minn. — I received a call last night at midnight — Conrad Susa had passed away. He had not been well physically, but at 78 his mind was as keen as ever — and this man knew what music was about, still making his way to the San Francisco Conservatory to teach every day.

I first heard of Conrad when he composed incidental music for a 1968 Guthrie Theater production, Sergeant Musgrave's Dance. Then he was commissioned by the Minnesota Opera to compose an opera based on Ann Sexton's book Transformations, and I conducted the premiere with Ann and Conrad in the front row. That led to another Minnesota Opera commission, Black River, which I also conducted — a grand, three-act work. He was back in 1980 for the American Guild of Organists' convention here, commissioned to write a work for organ and brass (which he barely finished in time....a Susa trademark!).

Vern Sutton and I traveled to Houston where I conducted and Vern directed Conrad's church opera, The Wise Women, a charming story about the wives of the Magi. In the 90s, for VocalEssence, he composed his setting of Mexican songs, Carols & Lullabies, which has become the piece that choirs perform in December across America. In between there have been anthems and choral suites performed by many Twin Cities community and church choirs — at Christmas and throughout the year.

There was no one Susa style — there were many. All of them showed his innate ability to spin a melody, lift a phrase and leave listeners feeling that they had just heard something very special. I will miss him greatly.

Philip Brunelle is the artistic director and founder of VocalEssence, as well as the choirmaster-organist at Plymouth Congregational Church in Minneapolis.


comments powered by Disqus

On Now

Listen to the Stream
  • Culai: The Muse 7:49 Ljova
    Brooklyn Rider
    Buy Now
  • Symphony No. 5 7:39 William Boyce
    Academy of St Martin in the Fields
    Neville Marriner
    Buy Now
Playlist
Other MPR Radio Streams
Choral Stream
MPR News
Radio Heartland

You can now listen to Classical and Choral Music on your iOS (iPhone, iPod Touch, and iPad) or Android device.

Classical Notes Blog

Read more