Monday, August 2, 2010

Maestro George Shangrow Killed in Head-on Collision on the Methow River

One of the Pacific Northwest's most vibrant musical pioneers and iconoclasts was killed Saturday near Winthrop Washington, as he was driving to a musical event:

George Shangrow, a longtime Seattle classical-music conductor, teacher and radio host, was killed Saturday evening in a head-on collision outside of Winthrop, Okanogan County.

Shangrow, 59, was on his way to lecture at the annual Methow Valley Chamber Music Festival on Highway 20 when an oncoming car crossed the center line and struck Shangrow's car. He died at the scene.

Shangrow was founder and music director of Orchestra Seattle and Seattle Chamber Singers, which he began 40 years ago. He had also hosted the nightly radio program "Live, by George" on KING FM, which featured live classical performances by local musicians.

Shangrow had a huge influence on the local classical-music community. He also toured and performed on piano and conducted operas in the U.S. and abroad.

George and I were close in the early days of his wonderfully rich career. My friend Michael Wiater, who was then Program Director at KRAB-FM radio in Seattle, hired George to do the latter's first radio music program. As station Music Director then, I worked with George from the beginning. He didn't need much help.

I'm in Seattle right now, so I don't have my notes handy to remember the name of the show, but I think it was called "Music from Anywhere." George went on to become a fixture at KING-FM in Seattle, with his live performance events, broadcast on evenings, and his important role at Seattle's flagship classical music station.

As performer, music director and cultural icon, George had a more important impact. He was one of the first people in the Puget Sound region to encourage historically informed performance prsactices for Early Music (the Middle Ages, Renaissance and Baroque eras). He was a harpsichordist's harpsichordist. His renditions, with the Seattle Chamber Singers, of many cantatas by Johann Sebastian Bach are one of the most underrated musical legacies of the region, perhaps the nation.

Peter Newman, from KING-FM, has written a touching, short memorial to George for Crosscut:

There is a big hole in the Seattle-area music community. Our friend and colleague George Shangrow did so many things and so many things well that he couldn’t help but touch many of us who care about music, community service, and communicating the joy of art to the public.


If you wonder why Seattle has such a rich classical music scene, why we enjoy chamber music, choral concerts, opera, ballet, symphonic music — all out of proportion to the size of our community — then you have George in large part to thank for this heritage.

He will be greatly missed because he was George and because there is so much more music that is waiting for us to explore and love.

From among my many George Shangrow stories, I'll share two:

In late September, 1972, when I was KRAB's Music Director, and George was doing his radio show there, we got together at my house between Northgate and Lake City. George was intrigued by my dog, D.S. (short for "Dumb Shit"). D.S. would sing when I played piano. He particularly loved Franz Schubert.

I had told George that DS would sing at the same places every time I played Schubert's op. 120 A Major Sonata. George didn't believe me. I offered to demonstrate. I played the first movement from its beginning. Three times. Each time, D.S. howled at the exact same places. George was impressed. He asked, "What else can D.S. do?"

I asked him if he believed I could get the dog to respond to a command to go up on the house's roof. "No!" George replied, "he can't do that."

I asked if he was willing to bet. We settled on $10.00, a lot back then.

We went outside. I called D.S. over.

"D.S. - the roof!" was my command. DS. went back to the rear of the house, climbed up onto a box, then onto the heating fuel drums, then onto the bottom of the roof. From where George and I stood, D.S. suddenly appeared at the top of the house's roof.

George started to hand over the money. I told him, "Let's settle for a couple of Martinis." We did.

About twelve years later, my friend James Acord told me George was directing the Seattle Chamber Singers in a performance of Brahms' German Requiem at the University Unitarian Church. Even though it was almost 100 degrees out, we decided to attend.

It was even hotter inside the sanctuary. George apologized to the audience. "The concert is free, the sauna costs ten bucks."

About 15 minutes into the masterpiece, a chorister up on the risers fainted, falling back to the floor. George stopped the ensemble, rushing back to see how serious the fall was. She was OK, but George wondered about whether or not to continue. The musicians wanted to go on. Audience members opened all the doors and windows possible.

It was the most stirring, stunning rendition of this remarkable work I've ever witnessed.

Here's George, last December, leading musicians from the harpsichord, in Comfort Ye Every Valley, from Handel's Messiah:

Thanks, George.

1 comment:

bourque801 said...

Thank you Phil for your touching tribute to Mr Shangrow.

The ability to perform music....whether conducting (Arthur Fielder or George Shangrow) or performing (Mario Lanza or Susan Boyle)just leaves me in awe.

Comfort Ye Every Valley....

Thank you again for posting this Phil, I think you were very lucky to have known him.

May God comfort George Shangrow's Family & Friends!!!!