Tuesday, September 08, 2015

Robert Commanday

Dammit, I have suspected for a while that I would be writing a blog post with Bob Commanday's name on it, and, dammit, today is the day. If I were writing for SFCV or the Chron, my obit would start this way:
Robert Commanday, flutist, choral conductor, longtime music critic at the S.F. Chronicle, and founder & editor of San Francisco Classical Voice, died on September 3 at his home in Oakland. He was 93.
All true, but, well, inadequate. Bob got me started as a music writer, back in 2004, after my reply to an SFCV Question of the Week mentioned that I had been a music major. (Michelle Dulak Thomson actually answered the query, with another question: "A reader....perhaps a writer?") I had been thinking off and on how cool it would be to write for SFCV, but it never occurred to me to ASK about it, even though I was friendly with a prominent SFCV writer.

I had written just a few CD reviews since my college graduation, for Janos Gereben, who was then arts editor at the Oakland Post, but I had been a technical writer for eight years at that point, so I had some experience with deadlines.

Bob was a very sharp editor, and set high standards for SFCV writers, besides being adamant that they had good musical training, including theory and history. He had a small number of rules for us to follow (including "do not back into a review" and "do not compare performers with past performers") but otherwise gave us a lot of latitude about how we wrote. He was extremely efficient in running SFCV, as well.

Over the last few years,  he'd been less active at SFCV, after turning the editorial reins over to others, but I'd see him at concerts, the opera, and Met HD broadcasts. We chatted often.

He didn't lose his evaluative faculties one bit as he aged. My last email exchange from him, in June when he turned 93, includes comments from him about the quality of librettos in SF Opera's recent new works, and he was spot on in every detail.

 He was incredibly supportive and helpful to me, and a genuinely kind and wonderful person. I'm grateful to have known him and tremendously sorry that he is gone. Deepest condolences to his dear Mary, his children, stepchildren, and grandchildren, and to all others who knew and loved him.

UPDATED: September 8, to add Kalimac and Holoman's obits and the SFCV tribute.


greg b said...

Dear Lisa,
I'm very saddened to hear of Mr. Commanday's death, although it can't be said that he didn't lead a long and fulfilled life.
He stood up in his newspaper column for one of my teachers, Elayne Jones, at the time she was denied tenure as timpanist in the SF Symphony.
For that I will always remember him fondly.
Glad you're enjoying your time at Bayreuth!
- Greg from SF

Lisa Hirsch said...

He did have a great life.

I am back from Bayreuth!