It’s a shock that Robert Harth died — a shock and a great sadness. He was, first of all, a wonderful person, really strong and optimistic. And tough. There’s a wonderful bit in Anthony Tommasini’s piece about him in The New York Times, linked from ArtsJournal today. Tony would run into Robert, after writing something critical; Robert would greet him cheerfully, but with a glint of steel underneath. The same thing happened to me.
Tony’s piece is exactly right, in all of its praise. I’d add that, under Robert, Carnegie Hall was the best-run major music institution in New York, and certainly the one with the most vision. Some of that wasn’t Robert’s doing; he inherited some of the terrific Zankel Hall programming, and he would have been the first to credit Ara Guzelemian, Carnegie Hall’s Artistic Advisor, for putting that together. But Robert’s own musical outlook was completely in tune with what Ara did, and I’m sure Robert would have continued Ara’s work, even if Ara left. I saw them together; they looked like very easy partners.
In many ways, Robert may have been the first top classical music executive who completely embodied the new era we’re entering, an era where classical music needs to coexist with artistic music in other genres (which is exactly what it does at Zankel). Robert embodied that understanding in his own love of many kinds of music, as well as in his administrative leadership. I didn’t know him well enough to have much idea in detail of where he was going, but I trusted him. Wherever he went would be a good place to be.
He’ll be very badly missed.