In the last week, this blog has received numerous hits while searching for “McNeil Robinson,” who died on May 9, 2015. Here is what the American Guild of Organists posted on its website:
McNeil Robinson 1943-2015
The American Guild of Organists is sad to announce the death of internationally renowned organist and composer McNeil Robinson on Saturday, May 9, 2015, in New York City, following a long illness. The Guild extends its deepest sympathies to his family and friends, especially his wife, Cristina Cassellato Robinson.
McNeil Robinson, who chaired the organ department at the Manhattan School of Music for more than two decades, was a world renowned improvisateur who taught more winners in the AGO National Competition in Organ Improvisation than any other teacher. He was a commissioned composer for the AGO National Conventions in San Francisco (1984), Boston (1990), and New York City (1996).
Mr. Robinson served as organist of New York City’s most celebrated houses of worship for more than half a century. These included the Church of St. Mary the Virgin, the Church of the Holy Family (United Nations), Park Avenue Christian Church, Park Avenue Synagogue, and Holy Trinity Roman Catholic Church.
A memorial service will be held at a later date. Details regarding time and location will be posted on this website.
I look forward to the official obituary which will be posted on the AGO website soon.
Organist McNeil Robinson studied in New York at the Juilliard School and in Spain at the University of Salamanca. He is organist of the Park Avenue Christian Church and the Park Avenue Synagogue in New York City, and he is chairman of the organ departments at the Mannes College of Music and Manhattan School of Music. For two decades he served as organist and choirmaster at the Church of St. Mary the Virgin in New York. Robinson is also active as a conductor and composer and has recorded for Decca and the Musical Heritage Society. He has had works commissioned by the Archbishop of Canterbury, the San Francisco Symphony, Musica Sacra, numerous American churches, and the American Guild of Organists, and has had his music performed at New York’s Lincoln Center, on network radio, and regularly in churches throughout the United States. He has also composed Hebrew liturgical settings. (From the Naxos website)
I can say with all certainty that after my husband, Carl Crosier, McNeil Robinson was the second most influential person on my life and my organ playing. I attended all three of his inaugural concerts of the Beckerath organ in 1975 and was fortunate enough to spend about 20 hours in lessons with him at that time — my Bach playing on a tracker organ, phrasing and articulation, was shaped by him and I in turn have taught it to countless number of students.
Two years after he played the inaugural concerts, he came back to Hawaii to play an all-Bach concert at the Lutheran Church of Honolulu, and an all-Franck concert at St. Andrew’s Cathedral. The next weekend he stayed to play our wedding, and I will never forget the recessional he improvised on “Hyfrydol” and “Lobe den Herrn” which I have embedded below. Throughout the years, our meetings with Neil were few and far between, but each time, he greeted us like old friends. After we had not corresponded in years, we had a chance encounter with Neil on the streets of New York — go back and read my post “It’s a small world after all” — he obviously remembered us.
The newsletter chair of the New York City American Guild of Organists, Neal Campbell, wrote this note to me: I last saw Neil in Sept at the NYC AGO chapter event at which Joey (Fala) played and it was at the reception afterward that Joey told Neil of your husband’s death and he was terribly upset. He obviously held you each with much affection.
And call it karma, or fate, or mere coincidence, on Sunday, May 10th, a day after receiving notice of his death and not at all intentionally planned, the LCH choir sang two choral compositions by McNeil Robinson: Lo, the winter is past and God is love, a fitting tribute to this beloved man.
Here is a short video which was posted on the Park Avenue Synagogue website where Neil worked from 1965 to 2012: “Neil” Robinson came to PAS in 1965, at the invitation of Hazzan David Putterman. Hazzan Putterman took the young organist under his wing, teaching him the words of the siddur and the nuances of Hazzanut, and claiming that Neil had a yiddisha neshama, a Jewish soul. In addition to accompanying our cantors, Neil Robinson has directed our choirs and has composed many settings for our liturgy. Thanks to his extraordinary leadership, Park Avenue Synagogue has not only preserved the musical legacy of the past, but has also been a leader in the creation of contemporary liturgical music.
This composition, Ma Tovu, was composed by Neil for Park Avenue Synagogue. It was recorded in 2013 by Cantor Azi Schwartz, Organist David Enlow and the PAS Choir conducted by Cantor Ben Ellerin. Watching the video and listening to this hauntingly beautiful music brought tears to my eyes.
Dear, dear Neil, the world will miss you.