Famed Countertenor Russell Oberlin, a Leader of the Baroque Revival
The Glenn Gould Foundation is saddened to learn of the loss of Russell Oberlin, who passed away at the age of 88. Russell was a gifted musician, part of the revival of the countertenor (male alto) vocal tradition that coincided with the Early Music and authentic performance practice movements in the second half of the twentieth century. He had unprecedented success in the United States, becoming the first prominent countertenor in American history.
His voice sounded as though an angel were singing from on high, in some celestial tongue unknown to man.
He was a founding member of the New York Pro Musica ensemble founded by Noah Greenberg, performing pieces from the Medieval to Renaissance periods. Some of his notable performances included a celebrated 1962 CBC broadcast collaboration with Glenn Gould, in which the two performed Bach’s Cantata, BWV 54 (“Widerstehe doc der Sünde”), the Play of Daniel, a medieval liturgical drama, and a recording of Handel’s Messiah under Leonard Bernstein. In the latter half of his career Russell worked as a Fulbright research scholar, lecturing extensively in the United States and the United Kingdom.
Russell altered public perceptions and expanded possibilities for today’s countertenors.
Russell was a tremendous talent with devoted admirers. Joel Cohen, former director of the Boston Camerata, once described Russell’s voice “as though an angel were singing from on high, in some celestial tongue unknown to man.” As outlined in an interview with David Daniels, “[Russell] altered public perceptions and expanded possibilities for today’s countertenors.” Russell was a true, emergent talent that will live on through his music and teaching endeavours.
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