Joseph Liebling, Guest Conductor


  Photo: Christian Fritze

Joe Liebling has had a special relationship with BCCO for many years. Introduced to the chorus by former Music Director Arlene Sagan, Joe has been a frequent guest conductor at music retreat weekends and has led regular rehearsals from time to time. He is always available to lend his extraordinary musical knowledge to the chorus, and he has been known to liven up BCCO parties by playing Broadway tunes and standards on the piano while everyone sings along.


As guest conductor for the entire fall 2010–spring 2011 season, Joe led BCCO in performances of Haydn’s Harmoniemesse that led one audience member to remark, “I can’t believe it’s a free concert, it’s so good.” That year’s spring performances of Brahms’s German Requiem, which he shared with Arlene, were a moving musical high point.


Joe’s career began in the High School of Music and Art in New York City and continued with degrees in piano and orchestral conducting from Juilliard and Columbia University. He played backup piano for Pete Seeger and Woody Guthrie at early hootenannies in New York, and he was the piano accompanist for the Pearl Primus Dance Company on tours in England, Israel, and the United States. He sang for seven years with Robert Shaw’s Collegiate Chorale. During that time, the group also performed under Toscanini, Koussevitzky, Stokowski, and Bernstein.


Joe co-founded the San Francisco Symphony Chorus and founded the Richmond Symphony Chorus, now the Contra Costa Chorale. He was music director of the Oakland Symphony Chorus for 22 years, where he was more than “just” the chorus conductor. Starting with his first season, he annually led the full orchestra and chorus in a program of his choosing. On several occasions, he also conducted the Oakland Symphony Youth Orchestra with the chorus. Under his direction, for many years the Oakland Symphony Chorus was the brightest light in the Paramount Theatre.


Joe was acknowledged by no less a composer than Igor Stravinsky, whose secretary wrote to Joe after performances of Stravinsky’s Symphony of Psalms and Requiem Canticles with the Oakland Symphony and Chorus that “your chorus is absolutely marvelous, and their performances were the best ever. Mr. Stravinsky has spoken several times of his delight at the sound of both of the pieces.”