Samuel Krachmalnick

Samuel Krachmalnick

Samuel Krachmalnick (b. St. Louis, MO, 1926; d. Burbank, CA, 1 April 2005) had a long and varied career conducting musical theatre on Broadway, opera, ballet, and symphonic music both in the United States and around the world, before settling down as a professor of music at two distinguished west-coast universities. A close associate of Leonard Bernstein, Marc Blitzstein, and Gian Carlo Menotti, he earned a Tony® nomination as the musical director of the first Broadway production of Bernstein’s Candide.

Sam Krachmalnick gave his first piano recital at the age of eight. Scholarships sent him first to the Eastman School of Music, where he studied piano, French horn, and theory, then to The Juilliard School in New York City, where he studied conducting under Jean Morel, the eminent French pedagogue. (Between the two schools he had done a stint as a horn player in the Washington National Symphony. With ample opportunity to scrutinize guest conductors, he had come to the conclusion that “if these jokers can do it, it’s got to be easy.”) After graduating from Juilliard he remained for two years as Morel’s teaching assistant. He also studied conducting under Leonard Bernstein at Tanglewood, where he was awarded the Koussevitzky Memorial Prize in 1954, the first year it was given.

Late that same year, he debuted as associate musical director and conductor under Thomas Schippers for the world premiere of Gian Carlo Menotti’s opera The Saint of Bleecker Street on Broadway. In the cast, in the part of Desideria, was mezzo-soprano Gloria Lane – one of the great voices of the century – whom he married on April 2, 1955, the very day The Saint closed on Broadway. The show went directly to La Scala in Milan, where Lane’s career would keep her as “the American Carmen” for the next twenty years. The couple settled briefly in Milan, and from that point on, shuttled frequently back and forth across the Atlantic.

Krachmalnick returned to the States to conduct Marc Blitzstein’s unsuccessful opera Reuben, Reuben (1955) in Boston, and joined the conducting staff at New York City Opera, where he directed the 1957 revival of Blitzstein’s Regina, starring Brenda Lewis, and its recording for Columbia Records. Also in 1957 he led the brief (73 performances) but famous first run of Leonard Bernstein’s Candide on Broadway, earning a Tony Award® nomination as Best Musical Director. His next and last Broadway show was Happy Town (1959) by Gordon Duffy, a complete flop.

For three years Krachmalnick was principal conductor at the Stadttheater in Zurich, appearing as a guest in many other European venues: the Rome Opera, the Zagreb Opera, and the opera companies of Genoa, Naples, Turin, and other Italian cities. He also led symphony orchestra concerts in Zurich, Oslo, Rotterdam, Helsinki, and Warsaw.

Back in the States, he assisted Arthur Fiedler on the first transcontinental tour of the Boston Pops Orchestra, and served as musical director for numerous television programs including “Omnibus” and the PBS broadcast of Carlisle Floyd’s one-act opera Markheim (1966).

As well as serving on the staff of the City Opera, Krachmalnick was associate music director and conductor for the inaugural tour of the Metropolitan Opera National Company in 1965–66, and its final tour in 1966–67. He guest-conducted regional opera companies throughout the United States and Canada, including Cincinnati, Seattle, Portland, Toronto, Vancouver, and Edmonton. Over the years, he also directed the American Ballet Theatre, the Symphony of the Air, the Boston Arts Festival, and the Harkness Foundation and Ballet.

The Krachmalnick family was based in Bucks County, PA, from the mid-sixties, while Sam toured, Gloria flew back and forth to La Scala, and their two children, Robert and Magda, went to school. In 1971 Sam was offered a job teaching conducting at the School of Music of the University of Washington, and they moved to Seattle. The University hosted a prestigious summer training program for the nation’s young string players, the Congress of Strings, of which he was the director.

In 1976 the family moved again, to Studio City, California, where he joined the UCLA music faculty as Director of the Symphony and Opera Workshop. He retired in 1991, ending his fifteen-year tenure there with an acclaimed production of Candide, but continued to teach privately. In 1999 he became an invalid, requiring intensive care until his death from a heart attack in 2005, exactly one day before what would have been his fiftieth wedding anniversary.

One of his private students, Daniel Gary Busby, later on the faculty at UCLA and at Irvine, testified to Krachmalnick’s efficacy and brilliance: “Sam had the ability to make the most complex musical things simple. Whatever you learned from him was immediately usable. …Generations of singers, conductors and instrumentalists were influenced by him.”

– Lucy E. Cross