Sheldon Morgenstern, Eastern Music Festival Founder and Music Director Emeritus, died on Sunday, December 16, 2007, in Geneva, Switzerland, near his home in Collonges, France. He had lived in that area for several years following his retirement as EMF’s music director in 1998. He was 69 years old and had been diagnosed a few months ago, following surgery, with stomach cancer which did not respond to chemotherapy.
What Sheldon Morgenstern was able to imagine and bring to fruition in Greensboro nearly forty-seven years ago became one of its most significant cultural gems and put Greensboro on the map for music lovers everywhere.
Eastern Music Festival Executive Director Stephanie Cordick notes, “Music professionals and aficionados are grateful to Shelly Morgenstern for his incredible vision and commitment in founding Eastern Music Festival which has expanded beyond anything anyone could have imagined when he assembled the first group of young music students on the campus of Guilford College. Most of the Festival’s growth through the years can be attributed to excellent artistic leadership by Shelly from the beginning and continuing through the years to the present with Gerard Schwarz.”
Best known in Greensboro for Eastern Music Festival, Morgenstern was a respected guest orchestra conductor throughout eastern and western Europe, especially in those countries formerly behind the Iron Curtain. He was also known as a proponent of music education in the schools and government subsidy for the arts; as an outspoken critic of performing arts boards especially those with oversight for classical music organizations; and as a dedicated teacher of conducting and music performance. Because of students who came to Eastern Music Festival and went on to fame as solo musicians or as outstanding members of international orchestras and chamber music groups, he is recognized internationally as a music innovator and teacher. His book, “No Vivaldi in the Garage,” published in 2001 by Northwestern University Press, went through four printings, several revisions, updates and re-publications, including a paperback edition. While many reviewers considered the book an autobiography, others argued that it was a “must read” for anyone aspiring to or asked to serve on a board or committee associated with the arts. In July, 2006, it was still ranked as the No. 2 bestseller on Amazon.com’s list of several hundred books by music conductors.
Eastern Music Festival, which will celebrate its 47th anniversary season when it opens on June 28, 2008, was the realization of a dream for Morgenstern. In the spring of 1961, following a few years as a horn player with the Atlanta Symphony and conductor of their youth orchestra, Shelly returned to Greensboro, having in mind Guilford College, a small Quaker school on the outskirts of town, as the base for a music camp. Based on his own experiences as a student, he had come to believe that the value of students’ music study had not been properly oriented toward the student, that it had been to idiosyncratically focused on the teacher and the teacher’s interests, rather than the student’s. What he wanted was to get directly involved in teaching music for performance and having faculty members in ideal two-to-one ratios with students. He thought he could best do that by starting a music camp, and it was that music camp idea that became Eastern Music Festival today.
Dr. Samuel M. LeBauer, Shelly’s cousin and EMF Board Chair remembers, “Shelly Morgenstern’s main goal during his professional career was to promote classical music in the United States and abroad. He was especially concerned about the lack of state and federal funding for music education in the schools. Therefore, he felt he would try, in his own way, to provide classical music training for young students and envisioned a music festival which would bring students, ages 14-20, to Greensboro for a meaningful musical experience during the summer. Thus, Eastern Music Festival was created with a 2:1 ratio of student to faculty; no other music festival can boast this.
For thirty-six years, Shelly was the music director and conductor of EMF, bringing renowned guest artists from all over the world to Greensboro each summer. He not only conducted in Greensboro, but throughout the world, perpetuating classical music in our country and abroad.”
EMF Music Director Gerard Schwarz says, “Today, we are carrying on in the tradition Shelly established nearly fifty years ago; I’m proud to say that this tradition is one of the best educational concepts in the country.”
To honor Shelly, Eastern Music Festival’s 2008 Season will be dedicated to the legacy of this fine musician, conductor and teacher.