Craig Smith, the founding director of Emmanuel Music, a Boston-based orchestra he led to prominence with authoritative performances of music by J.S. Bach, has died. He was 60.
Smith, who also fostered the careers of major music talents, particularly the late mezzo soprano Lorraine Hunt Lieberson, died Nov. 14 of complications from diabetes and kidney disease at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, according to Pat Krol, executive director of Emmanuel Music.
He was appointed music director of the group -- the ensemble in residence at Emmanuel Church in downtown Boston -- in 1970. Soon afterward he began conducting Bach cantatas for Sunday services and set out to conduct the full cycle, some 200 cantatas in all, a project that took seven years.
He went on to conduct the orchestra in performances of Bach's Mass in B-Minor, the Christmas Oratorio and other works by the composer.
Although Bach was the orchestra's mainstay, it performed a range of other works, including choral pieces by Heinrich Schutz, songs by Schubert and surveys of chamber and vocal music by Debussy and Ravel.
Under Smith's direction, Emmanuel Music made a number of recordings but is perhaps best known for "Lorraine Hunt Lieberson, Bach Cantatas BMV 82 and 199" (2003) with Lieberson as soloist. She had been a violist with the orchestra before launching her singing career.
Her live performances of the same cantatas, staged by Peter Sellars and conducted by Smith in 2001, played in New York, Amsterdam, Paris, London and Vienna as well as Boston.
Smith first worked with Sellars in the 1980s when Sellars was a fledgling iconoclast and opera director in his 20s. They went on to collaborate on Mozart's "Nozze di Figaro," "Cosi fan Tutte" and "Don Giovanni," as well as Handel's "Giulio Cesare." A number of their collaborations were staged internationally.
Leading musicians were drawn to Smith's open-minded style. Among those who were associated with the orchestra over the years were baritone Sanford Sylvan and composer John Harbison as well as Lieberson.
Smith also had an ongoing collaboration with choreographer Mark Morris. He conducted the premiere of Morris' critically acclaimed "L'Allegro, Il Penseroso ed il Moderato" in Brussels, where he was principal conductor for the Theatre Royal de la Monnaie from 1988 to 1991.
Born Jan. 31, 1947, in Lewiston, Idaho, Smith graduated from the New England Conservatory of Music, where he earned a bachelor's degree in 1969 and a master's degree in 1972.
Emmanuel Music remained his base, but he was a guest conductor at the Chicago Lyric Opera, the Houston Grand Opera and elsewhere. Smith also taught music at the New England Conservatory, the Juilliard School in New York City and several other schools.
Smith is survived by a brother, Kent Smith, of Brussels.