As much as he loved music, the prospect of being a starving artist was a bit scary to George G. Moross.
“At the end of high school I had a choice; go to Juilliard or go to Union [College], where I could do something and make some money because in music, if you’re not on top, you don’t make a living,” said Moross, who grew up in New York City, the son of Russian immigrants.
“So I chose the scientific route. When I was doing well and my career was well on its way, I decided to see what was left of my musical career.”
Evidently, quite a bit. Moross is up to 40 years and counting as conductor of the Octavo Singers. At 3 p.m. Sunday at the First Reformed Church of Schenectady, he will direct his group in one of its three yearly concerts. Sunday’s performance will be of Verdi’s Requiem.
“It’s probably the most beautiful, most gripping, most stirring piece of work out there,” said Moross, a Glenville resident who recently retired after a long career as a research scientist for the state Health Department. “It covers all the emotions, from pleading of the soul for salvation to the demanding of salvation. I hope we can communicate that to the audience. It’s probably the top choral orchestra work in the sacred literature.”
It was during the 1969-70 season that Moross, already a member of the choir, took over the reins from the club’s previous conductor, Gordon Mason. The group, which formed back in 1934 under Mason’s leadership and these days counts around 100 singers, is usually accompanied by Elinore Farnum on the piano.
For Gazette music writer Geraldine Freedman’s review of this show, click here.
Sunday’s event will add more than 30 musicians to the mix, while there will be four soloists, including mezzo-soprano Lucille Beer of New York City, winner of the Metropolitan Opera’s National Council Auditions and currently on the voice faculty at The College of Saint Rose and Schenectady County Community College.
Texas soprano Emily Newton, who was recently named champion of the Metropolitan Opera’s Western Regional competition, will also be performing, as will Albany bass Richard Mazzaferro and tenor Brian Cheney of Canaan. Another added performer will be Niskayuna High senior Margaret Vannorden, winner of the Octavo Singers 2010 Scholarship.
A physicist since graduating with a master’s degree from the University at Albany, Moross, now 70, says he has been a musician his whole life. When he was 3 he played the piano for Russian composer Sergei Rachmaninoff, and was also exposed to other great talents like Russian composer Igor Stravinsky, Russian choreographer George Balanchine and American composer Randall Thompson.
“Stravinsky was a constant visitor to my godmother’s house, and others as well, so I was very fortunate to grow up in that kind of Russian milieu of very talented people,” said Moross. “I was very lucky to have studied with some of the finest teachers in the country.”
But his mother was a librarian, his father an engineer, and academics were very important to the Moross family. So, he decided against going to Juilliard and went to Union College, where he studied physics and also found the Octavo Singers.
“My degree is in physics, but I do have a number of credits in music and I have studied quite a bit about it,” said Moross, who also taught physics at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and the University at Albany.
“I saw the Octavo Singers at Union, but I also listened to The Beatles. They had some extremely innovative ideas and they were head and shoulders above the competition. But, if I had the time back then I would usually sit and listen to classical music, or something I was going to perform.”
Moross says he doesn’t get upset with people who don’t appreciate classical music.
“If they don’t appreciate it, it’s probably because they weren’t exposed to it early enough,” he said. “You just can’t speak of likes and dislikes that easily, so I don’t criticize them. But I feel like if they knew more they’d be happier, and their range of appreciation would be greater. My knowledge of literature is not all that great, but I do read and I surely do enjoy it. Yet, somehow it’s not the first thing that grabs my attention.”
Reaching the audience
Listening to and conducting music is the thing for Moross, and he’s convinced that if people who don’t consider themselves big fans of classical music gave it a chance, they’d feel the same way he does.
“Imagine yourself as one of the most gifted poets in the world and you are trying to communicate something that is abstract to a diverse audience,” he said.
“I know the music is incredibly beautiful, the performers know it’s beautiful, and the people who know the work know it’s beautiful. But I want to communicate that to the person who hasn’t heard it before. I want to move that person to tears, and that’s what this music will do given the chance. I’m sorry some people don’t appreciate it more. I wish they would.”
How long will Moross continue to conduct?
“You ask the un-askable,” he said. “I really don’t know. I think a lot of depends on my health, because it is extremely tiring. For a concert like ‘The Messiah,’ which runs two and a half hours, it’s incredibly exhausting.”
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