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Part 1—Carrying On the Tradition: Norman Mackenzie

With Norman Mackenzie at the piano, Robert Shaw began his choral workshops at Carnegie Hall in 1991. Succeeding Shaw as the Director of Choruses for the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, Mackenzie has meticulously maintained Shaw's tradition of excellence. For the 20th anniversary of the first workshop at Carnegie Hall, Mackenzie revisits Berlioz's Requiem—a masterwork that Shaw conducted at his 1993 workshop and that Robert Spano conducts this February in combination with the National High School Festival Chorus. In part one of a recent interview for the Weill Music Institute, Mackenzie discussed this anniversary and how the choral-music legend continues to inspire the next generation of artists. The second part will appear on the Blog tomorrow.

Carnegie Hall: What did Robert Shaw mean to the world of choral singing?

Norman Mackenzie: Simply put, he meant more than any other choral conductor of the 20th century. Through his performances, scholarship, and his uncanny ability to influence and inspire singers both amateur and professional, he almost single-handedly created a unique, communicative, and artistically uncompromising American choral style. And through the legacy of his numerous recordings, many of which are considered landmarks of the genre, he raised the standards of choral singing and performance all over the world.

CH: How did he influence your development as a musician?

NM: Working with him made me a better musician on every level. He was extremely demanding of those who worked closely with him, but always more demanding of himself. Only the very best was good enough. When you worked with Shaw, you were learning from a master who knew every millisecond of every measure of the score at hand. He had analyzed every formal and structural element of the work, solved all of its difficulties to his satisfaction before ever entering the rehearsal hall. In a very real sense, every rehearsal I conduct with our Atlanta choruses is the beneficiary of this extraordinary heritage and work ethic.

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