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Robert Harth, 47; Manager Took Carnegie Hall in New Directions

February 01, 2004|From Times Staff and Wire Reports

Robert Harth, who became head of New York City's prestigious Carnegie Hall days after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and led America's premier classical music venue into an adventurous new era, has died. He was 47.

Harth, who served as general manager of the Los Angeles Philharmonic from 1979 to 1989, second in command to former executive director Ernest Fleishmann, died Friday in his Manhattan apartment. The cause was a heart attack, Carnegie spokeswoman Ann Diebold said.

Harth had planned to announce Carnegie Hall's new season Tuesday, including the second year of programs at the Judy and Arthur Zankel Hall, the $72-million, 644-seat auditorium that sealed Harth's reputation as a cutting-edge arts administrator.

Harth spearheaded an eclectic blend of programming at Zankel, from new classical compositions, jazz and rock to avant-garde theater that drew a wider audience than usually attends Carnegie performances.

"Robert created a different atmosphere -- much more relaxed," said mezzo-soprano Marilyn Horne.

"He was so incredibly enthusiastic! He had a great spirit that permeated everything at Carnegie Hall," she said, remembering a moment at Zankel's inaugural concert when Cuban jazz pianist Omar Sosa tossed seashells onto the piano strings.

During the two-week festival inaugurating Zankel Hall in September, a beaming Harth could be seen every night in a balcony seat.

"We want the widest possible audience to experience the hall -- a window through which to explore the wonders of different musical genres," Harth told Associated Press. "We're stepping out of our comfort zone in Zankel Hall. We're being adventurous!"

Harth arrived in New York on Sept. 8, 2001, and was soon planning a Concert of Remembrance after the terrorist attacks. Metal detectors were installed at Carnegie's front entrance to screen those arriving for concerts.

That month, former Carnegie Hall president and famed violinist Isaac Stern died.

"For us at Carnegie Hall his death, so close to the September 11 attacks, stacked grief on top of grief," Harth wrote in the September-October 2002 issue of Symphony magazine.

"Baptism by fire? Absolutely," Harth wrote of his new job.

During his tenure, a proposed merger between Carnegie Hall and the New York Philharmonic was planned and later abandoned, mainly because of schedule and space conflicts.

Harth took over at Carnegie Hall after serving as president and CEO of the Aspen Music Festival and School in Colorado for 12 years.

In Los Angeles during the 1980s, he served as general manager of the Philharmonic, scheduling guest conductors and soloists and having particular responsibility for the Hollywood Bowl. He oversaw the beginning of the bowl's refurbishment.

Harth, who landed his job under Fleishmann when he was only 23, was the son of former Los Angeles Philharmonic concertmaster and associate conductor Sidney Harth and violinist Teresa Harth.

The Louisville, Ky., native was a trained violinist, flutist and composer. He began his career at the Ravinia Festival in 1975 as production manager of the Chicago Symphony's summer series.

Harth is survived by his companion, Stacey Buck; his parents, Sidney Harth and Teresa Testa Harth; a sister, Laura Harth Rodriguez; and his son, Jeffrey Curtis, and former wife, Melanie Harth.

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