Tribute For Joel Revzen, Conductor and Music Festival Leader, Dies at 74


This obituary is part of a series about people who have died in the coronavirus pandemic. Read about others here.

Joel Revzen, a conductor who thrived in regional opera and music festivals, but whose career also took him to the Metropolitan Opera and the Mariinsky Theater in St. Petersburg, Russia, died on May 25 at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in Manhattan. He was 74.

The cause was Covid-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, his wife, Cynthia Rhys, said.

Critics often noted Mr. Revzen’s clarity and instinct for shaping drama in music. One review in The Washington Post described him as “a graceful and intelligent conductor who pays attention to the smallest details,” adding, “He is also a fine musician and adept at focusing listener’s attention on the individual voices of his orchestra so that they are lovingly underscored.”

Joel Nason Revzen was born on June 27, 1945, in Chicago, to Morris and Selma Revzen. When he was a junior in high school, he joined the chorus of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra; at the time, he was the youngest person to be accepted.

The orchestra’s music director was Jean Martinon, with whom Mr. Revzen studied score reading and conducting. He later attended the Chicago Musical College at Roosevelt University, then earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the Juilliard School in New York.

For a decade beginning in the mid-1970s, Mr. Revzen served as the dean of the St. Louis Conservatory, though a majority of his career was spent as a conductor — particularly as the leader of regional companies, including Berkshire Opera and Arizona Opera. Since 2012, he had been the artistic director and principal conductor at the festival Classical Tahoe in Nevada.

Among his champions was the Russian conductor Valery Gergiev, who invited Mr. Revzen to conduct at the White Nights Festival in St. Petersburg. He led operas by Mozart and Rossini, as well as music by Berlioz and Leonard Bernstein.

Starting in 1999, Mr. Revzen was an assistant conductor at the Metropolitan Opera. Yet he led only one production. It was in 2017, when he stepped in on short notice to conduct performances of Tchaikovsky’s “Eugene Onegin.”

The stakes were high, and the cast, including Anna Netrebko, was starry. Ms. Rhys — who survives Mr. Revzen along with their daughter, Shira — recalled another of the Met’s assistant conductors, Howard Watkins, asking her before the show whether her husband was nervous.

“Absolutely not,” Ms. Rhys told him. “This is the situation that Joel was born for.”



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