Choral Conductor Leads Resounding Career
This article first appeared in Queens Magazine, the alumni magazine of Queens College.
Click Here to see the story as it appears in Queens Magazine (PDF).
With his baton, Harold Rosenbaum ’72, ’74 MA directs both
renowned soloists and amateurs, from youths to seniors, up
dizzying choral heights. Over four decades he has sounded these
high notes: choral conductor with 450-plus world premières and
more than 1,500 concerts—almost 100 in Europe . . . founder of
six choral groups and maestro of about 30 others . . . collaborator
with more than 100 leading orchestras, opera companies, and
other ensembles . . . associate professor of music at the University
of Buffalo . . . faculty member at his alma mater (1972-1998) . . .
namesake of the choral music series of the world’s largest music
publisher, G. Schirmer Music . . . organist and choir director at St.
Luke’s Episcopal Church in Katonah, NY . . . pianist, editor, composer,
coach, consultant, and clinician.
Rosenbaum “is not scared stiff of anything offbeat,” notes
Allen Brings ’55, composer, pianist, and QC professor emeritus of
music. Contemporary choral composers find in Rosenbaum and
his New York Virtuoso Singers the ideal interpreters. This professional
chamber choir, which he founded in 1988, is undaunted by
their most complex compositions.
While he has commissioned 50 of today’s best choral composers,
Rosenbaum also champions what he calls “the up-and-comers
who need the money.” For his annual competition and from unsolicited
stacks, each year he reviews 400 to 500 scores—8,500 to
date. “I get immense pleasure in finding a jewel,” he says. “I always
call the winners because I like to hear their happiness.”
Rosenbaum “has perfect pitch of a very highly refined
nature,” says Raymond Erickson, QC professor emeritus of music,
early music authority, and harpsichordist. “That’s one of the reasons
he can take on this extremely difficult music—he can hear it
in his head.” Adds Erickson, “Intense, uncompromising, Rosenbaum
lives for the art and not the applause. There are few people in the
artistic world who are so fundamentally self-effacing.”
Fortunately, others have beamed the spotlight on Rosenbaum,
including ASCAP and its 2010 Victor Herbert Founders Award.
This past June, Queens College awarded him an honorary degree.
“Music was in my blood,” Rosenbaum observes of his early life
in Flushing. His father was a musician and cousin of Victor Young,
composer of “When I Fall in Love” and other Hollywood favorites.
He began piano lessons at age four and in his youth earned $25
a year soloing with a Jewish choir. In New York’s All-City Concert
Choir, he was one of 16 chosen for a summer music camp, which
directed his career thoughts away from architecture and art. As a
teen he would “go to the piano, and dozens of kids would gather
around,” he remembers. “Name some songs, and I’ll play them,” he
would say. “I didn’t know any classical music. To say that Queens
College was a rigorous course of study is an understatement. I
loved every minute of it. It opened up a world of music.”
When he was about to get his MA, Rosenbaum started a
chamber choir. “I realized I needed to start my own chorus, to have
my own instrument,” he relates. He advertised for amateur singers
for Canticum Novum Singers (www.canticumnovum.org), now
entering year 39 of presenting early music and works from other
periods. Renting Carnegie Recital Hall for its first concert “was brazen
for a 23-year-old,” he realizes. But from that first New York Times
rave review in 1973 has risen a crescendo of acclaim.
Rosenbaum had organized a prep chorus, too. With ecumenical
enthusiasm, he brought together the QC Preparatory Choir,
Transfiguration Lutheran Church Choir of Harlem, and Westchester
Jewish Choral Society (which he also founded). Not on campus.
In Carnegie Hall—to perform Haydn’s Creation.
Among other concert highlights, the conductor cites his six
Ravel premières in Paris “to huge audiences” and a tribute to
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow with all five of the author’s greatgreat-
grandchildren present. He is excited about being named lead
choral conductor of Parma Recordings “because we’re going to
be making so many CDs.” (Information about Rosenbaum’s many
projects is available at www.haroldrosenbaum.com.)
Rosenbaum’s repertoire includes QC composers and performers.
Music for Voices by Allen Brings, recorded in LeFrak Concert Hall in 2004
with the New York Virtuoso Singers and others, is among the CDs
the composer considers his best. Brings says he turned to Rosenbaum
because “you realize how hand-in-glove he is with his performers.” He
recalls Rosenbaum as one of the few singers in his sight-reading class
“absolutely able to do anything I asked them to do.”
The night before our phone conversation, Rosenbaum had
been teaching a business student the rudiments of choral conducting;
the 16-year-old had won lessons from him in an auction. The
conductor’s bio doesn’t even mention the 75 high school clinics he
has led over the years. “I’m very parental. I love passing on wisdom
and guidance to the young,” he says. He and his wife, Edie, who
directs the Canticum Novum Youth Choir, have two daughters and
In 1983, while studying in London, Rosenbaum went to hear
Brahms’s Requiem. Transfixed during the soprano solo about paradise,
he had a vision of their son Joshua’s soul “carried aloft in a
ray of light,” he recalls. “I heard the next morning that he had died.
He was my best friend.” Joshua, age 11, had accidentally touched a
power line on a Long Island beach.
That fall, while directing the Queens College Choir and
Orchestra, Rosenbaum somehow got through a performance of
the same requiem, which he had scheduled to conduct the previous
spring. As he movingly stated at Commencement last June,
“Though the pain never goes away, the desire to survive with
dignity and the need to do good deeds, and to make people happy,
in my case through music, drive me forward and sustain me.”