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ENDING ON A GOOD NOTE: Joseph Flummerfelt, artistic director and principal conductor at Westminster Choir College, has been named the 2004 Conductor of the Year by Musical America. The prestigious honor came during the last of his 33 years at the college. He will retire in June after spending most of his musical career at Westminster.
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Westminster Choir College Director Is Named 'Conductor of the Year'

Candace Braun

Joseph Flummerfelt, artistic director and principal conductor at Westminster Choir College of Rider University, was recently named Conductor of the Year for 2004 by Musical America International Directory of the Performing Arts.

Typically given to an orchestral conductor, Dr. Flummerfelt, 66, said he is deeply honored to be given such an award.

"It's an extraordinary recognition to receive," he said.

Dr. Flummerfelt received the honor at a ceremony in New York on Thursday, December 11.

"Joseph Flummerfelt is recognized as the foremost choral conductor of our time," said Musical America Editor Sedgwick Clark. "In the words of New York Philharmonic Music Director Lorin Maazel, 'Conducting a Flummerfelt-prepared chorus is like driving a Rolls just back from the only honest garage in town.'"

In recognition of his award, Musical America will be publishing a feature article about Dr. Flummerfelt in its 2004 edition. In it he will be acknowledged as "the foremost conductor of our time."

Having recently announced his retirement from his position as choral director at Westminster, Dr. Flummerfelt will conclude his 33-year career at the college next June. He said that while conducting has been a large responsibility, it has also been a very fulfilling position.

"It's been an incredibly rich and rewarding career [at Westminster]," said Dr. Flummerfelt. "It was just an amazing period in my life."

Born in Vincennes, Ind., the conductor came to Rider in 1971, at the recommendation of mentors Robert Shaw and Dr. Elaine Brown. At the time he was working as the director of choral activities at Florida State University. Since his appointment at Westminster, the conductor has never strayed.

"Westminster Choir College has accomplished much under Joseph Flummerfelt's leadership," said Westminster Dean and Director Robert L. Annis at the announcement of the conductor's retirement.

Dr. Flummerfelt received his bachelor's degree in organ and church music from =ACDePauw University in Green Castle, Ind. He then moved northeast to attend the Philadelphia Conservatory of Music, getting a master's degree in choral conducting. He then received his doctorate from the University of Illinois, studying with music greats Nadia Boulanger, Julius Herford, and Dr. Brown.

The choral director has been able to put many accomplishments under his belt, such as collaborations with nearly 30 conductors, including Abbado, Guilini, Mehta, Ozawa, Sawallisch, Steinberg, and Masur. He has also appeared as guest conductor for the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra, the Orchestra of St. Luke's, the Spoleto Festival Orchestra in the U.S. and Italy, and the Bochumer Symphoniker in Germany.

Currently, he is the chorus master for the New York Philharmonic, and founder and conductor of the New York Choral Artists. For five years he also served as music director of Singing City in Philadelphia.

Dr. Flummerfelt has been honored with one Grammy Award and two Grammy nominations, as well as four honorary doctorates. He was also honored with the French award, le Prix du President de la Republique of L'Academie du Disque Francais.

In addition, he is the Scheide Chair of Choral Music and the Elsie Hilliard Hillman Chair for Artistic Direction.

Dr. Flummerfelt has taken the Westminster Choir many places over the years, touring and performing in almost every state in the U.S., as well as Korea and Taiwan. Some of the orchestras the choir has performed with are the Philadelphia Orchestra, the National Symphony, the New Jersey Symphony, and the Los Angeles Philharmonic.

Westminster was the resident choir for the Spoleto Festival in Italy for 22 years, and has been the resident choir for the Spoleto Festival U.S.A. since it was started in 1977.

To celebrate Westminster's 75th anniversary and the 30th anniversary of Dr. Flummerfelt's position as conductor, he conducted the New York Philharmonic and the Westminster Choir in a series of performances of Stephen Paulus' Voices of Light in 2001.

When it comes to building a good relationship with the choir members, Dr. Flummerfelt said his main focus is to get the students to sing as beautifully as they can.

"My connection with the people I work with is the music I am able to make," he said. "My role as a teacher and conductor is to make other people make beautiful music."

Dr. Flummerfelt said he has been inspired musically by many conductors. "I look to many conductors as wonderful music makers," he said.

While he said there are "many giants in the world of music," some of his favorite pieces of music include Brahm's Requiem, Mozart's Requiem, and Bach's Mass in B Minor.

Right before his retirement, he will be conducting Beethoven's Misssa Solemnis for the first time at the Patriots Theater at the Trenton War Memorial.

Rather than hold one concluding concert for the conductor, Westminster Choir College will hold a series of concerts throughout New Jersey and across the country that will be conducted by Dr. Flummerfelt.

"Celebrating Flummerfelt" began during the Thanksgiving holiday at Princeton University Chapel, and will continue in various locations in California in February, in Tennessee, Florida, Alabama and Georgia in March, and throughout the Midwest in April.

Although Dr. Flummerfelt will be leaving Westminster Choir College, he will remain active in music by continuing as music director of the New York Choral Artists and artistic director for the Spoleto Festival U.S.A. He said he will also remain strongly connected with the New York Philharmonic.

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