GEORGE BARATI (1913 - 1996)
The composer, conductor, and cellist George Barati exerted a strong influence on American musical life from the moment he took up residence in New Jersey in 1938 until his death in 1996 at the age of 83. Born in Gyor in northwestern Hungary, the 25-year-old Barati arrived in the United States a full-blown musician, having been well prepared at Budapest's Franz Liszt Academy, where his teachers included Zoltan Kodaly and Leo Weiner. Yet despite his eventual importance as conductor and composer, initially Barati made his mark as a cellist, serving in orchestras and other ensembles including the Budapest Symphony and Opera Orchestra, where he was principal cellist during his last two years in Hungary.
Arriving in Princeton, Barati first took up compositional studies with Roger Sessions, a composer whose density of thought and texture gradually found its way into Barati's music, but primarily he busied himself with performance: he was co-founder of the Pro Ideale String Quartet in Princeton and was hired to establish a string department at the city's Westminster Choir College. During these years (1938-1943) he also taught the cello at Westminster and at the New Jersey State Teacher's College. Barati became an American citizen in 1944, just in time for a short period of last-minute war service: from 1944 to 1946 he led the Alexandria (Louisiana) Military Symphony. Moving to San Francisco after the war, he played the cello in that city's orchestra under Pierre Monteux. Before long he was a key figure in the musical life of northern California, and at the end of his career as at the beginning, it was clear that his life as performer was essential to his compositional life.
Barati became a conductor of the first rank, and throughout his life he asserted the vital importance of this activity for his creative work. "It's like hearing music from outside-in," he said, "versus from inside-out." In 1948 he founded the Barati Chamber Orchestra, and two years later was invited to become music director of the Honolulu Symphony - a position he held until 1968. Later in life he led the Santa Cruz County Symphony, the Villa Montalvo Chamber Orchestra, and the Barati Ensemble, which he founded in 1989. During all this time he was also guest conductor for some 85 orchestras worldwide.
Among Barati's honours were the Naumburg Award for the Chamber Concerto, which was recorded by Eugene Ormandy and members of the Philadelphia Orchestra in 1962, a Guggenheim Fellowship (1965-66), a Ditson Award for the performance of contemporary American music, and a doctorate honoris causa from the University of Hawaii. He also received grants from the U.S. State Department for performance and research tours abroad. In 1991 the University of California at Santa Cruz established a George Barati Archive