Schippers, Thomas, greatly gifted American conductor; b. Kalamazoo, Mich., March 9, 1930; d. N.Y., Dec. 16, 1977. He played piano in public at the age of 6, and was a church organist at 14. He studied piano at the Curtis Inst. of Music in Philadelphia (1944–45) and privately with Olga Samaroff (1946–47); subsequently attended Yale Univ., where he took some composition lessons from Hindemith. In 1948 he won second prize in the contest for young conductors organized by the Philadelphia Orch. He then took a job as organist at the Greenwich Village Presbyterian Church in N.Y.; joined a group of young musicians in an enterprise called the Lemonade Opera Co., and conducted this group for several years. On March 15, 1950, he conducted the N.Y. premiere of Menotti’s opera The Consul; also conducted the television premiere of his Amahl and the Night Visitors (N.Y, Dec. 24, 1951). On April 9, 1952, he made his first appearance at the N.Y.C. Opera conducting Menotti’s The Old Maid and the Thief, remaining on its roster until 1954. On March 26, 1955, he led the N.Y. Phil, as guest conductor. On Dec. 23, 1955, he made his debut at the Metropolitan Opera in N.Y. conducting Don Pasquale; conducted there regularly in subsequent seasons. From 1958 to 1976 he was associated with Menotti at the Spoleto Festival of Two Worlds. Other engagements included appearances with the N.Y. Phil., which he accompanied in 1959 to the Soviet Union as an alternate conductor with Leonard Bernstein. In 1962 he conducted at La Scala the premiere of Manuel de Falla’s cantata Atlantida. In 1964 he conducted at the Bayreuth Festival. He was a favorite conductor for new works at the Metropolitan Opera; conducted the first performance of Menotti’s opera The Last Savage and the opening of the new home of the Metropolitan with Samuel Barber’s Antony and Cleopatra (Sept. 16, 1966); he also conducted the first production at the Metropolitan of the original version of Mussorgsky’s Boris Godunov (1974). In 1970 he was appointed music director of the Cincinnati Sym. Orch., one of the few American-born conductors to occupy a major sym. orch. post; was also a prof. at the Univ. of Cincinnati Coll.-Cons. of Music (from 1972). There was an element of tragedy in his life. Rich, handsome, and articulate, he became a victim of lung cancer, and was unable to open the scheduled season of the Cincinnati Sym. Orch. in the fall of 1977; in a grateful gesture the management gave him the title of conductor laureate; he bequeathed a sum of $5, 000, 000 to the orch. His wife died of cancer in 1973. When he conducted La forza del destino at the Metropolitan Opera on March 4, 1960, the baritone Leonard Warren collapsed and died on the stage.
—Nicolas Slonimsky/Laura Kuhn/Dennis McIntire