Russell Oberlin, American countertenor, Died at 88

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Russell Keys Oberlin was born on October 11, 1928, in Akron, Ohio and died on November 26, 2016.

He was a pioneering American countertenor.

Oberlin was a founding member of the New York Pro Musica Antiqua ensemble.

Oberlin studied at the Juilliard School of Music in New York from 1948 to 1951.

When he completed his education, Russell began a professional singing career as a countertenor.

During 1952, Oberlin was a founding member of the New York Pro Musica Antiqua ensemble, with which he appeared as soloist in works from the medieval and Renaissance periods.

He became the first countertenor in the United States to achieve general recognition; as Peter G. Davis wrote, he was “for many years the lone practitioner of any note” of “a voice type that had never flourished in America before.”

He was engaged by Leonard Bernstein for his 1955 recording of Handel’s Messiah.

Oberlin sang the role of Oberon in the Covent Garden premiere of Britten’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream in 1961.

Leonard Bernstein wrote a part for him in his Chichester Psalms (1965).

Oberlin recorded extensively, gave recitals and appeared as soloist with leading orchestras in the US and abroad.

He described himself as a countertenor whose “naturally high tenor voice” allowed him to sing the countertenor repertoire without using falsetto.

At 36 years old, Leonard retired from active engagements to become a teacher, joining the faculty at Hunter College in New York as Professor of Music, where he served from 1966 to 1994.

As a senior Fulbright research scholar, Leonard lectured extensively in the USA and England.

Following the reissue of his Expériences Anonymes recordings of the Lyrichord Early Music series, Oberlin appeared on radio programs including Performance Today, Millennium of Music and similar programs in interviews about his life and work in music.

He can be seen in a 1962 film performing Bach’s Cantata No. 54, with Glenn Gould performing the harpsichord part on a harpsipiano.

Oberlin can also be seen on Classic Arts Showcase on a 1962 Camera Three segment singing an aria from Handel’s opera Rodelinda, and on another 1962 segment singing an aria from Britten’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

Oberlin died in New York City.

Russell Oberlin passed away at 88 years old.

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