"Mr. Schiff disclosed pronounced ability to get at the heart of a composition,whether classic, romantic or modern, and make it come fully to life. Blessed with real musical instinct, he fully understood all the music under consideration, in every detail, as well as in its larger connotations, and his readings were marked not only by decided sensitivity, but by infectious rhythmic vitality and unusual rhythmic grace .…virtuosic presentation… masterly in its rich tonal sonorities, balance of choirs and sharpness of attacks and releases… invigorating... intensity… praiseworthy transparency, precision and coloring."
NEW YORK TIMES
"Excellently trained, this body of players achieved wonderful precision, responding as one to the directives of their dynamic conductor, Charles Schiff… remarkably performed… played with passionate intensity and fiery luminousness of tone."
"The conductor's poetic sensitivity and command of tension are unusually fine… clean,crisp phrasing and a multitude of tonal varieties that were beautifully employed."
NY HERALD TRIBUNE
"Mr. Schiff is a dynamic, imaginative conductor, with innate musicality and sense for orchestral colors… conspicuously gifted… a conductorial talent to be reckoned with… he has a rare sense of rhythm, tempo and admirable sensitivity… Brahms' Serenade No.2 exhausted virtually all the possibilities of the enchanting work."
Charles Schiff was a versatile musician who, while primarily a symphonic,
opera and choral conductor, was also a composer, orchestrator, arranger,
lecturer and teacher. Born and educated in New York City, at age twenty he organized his first professional orchestra which was incorporated as
The Manhattan Chamber Orchestra. For five years they performed in most
of New York's major concert halls and on the air, to unanimous critical
Subsequently he became the music director and conductor of other
orchestras, among them the Sussex (NJ) and Jamaica (NY) Symphony
Orchestras, Berkshire Chamber Orchestra (MA), Hollywood Symphonette (CA), City Symphony Orchestra of New York which, along with the regular season, during the summer performed symphonic and operatic concerts at the Central Park Mall, the Charleston Symphony Orchestra (re-named
West Virginia Symphony Orchestra) and the Sandy Springs Orchestra
(re-named Georgia Philharmonic). For several seasons he served as music director and conductor of the New Hampshire Music Festival which
presented symphonic concerts, opera, pops and youth concerts throughout
the summer. He also supervised the festival's chamber music concert
series. Additionally, he was the music director and conductor of several
choruses in New York, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and West Virginia.
His extensive guest conducting included several concerts with the New
York Philharmonic, the Netherlands Radio Philharmonic, Netherlands
Broadcasting Orchestra, Salonica State Orchestra, Athens Radio Orchestra,
Rhode Island Philharmonic, the symphony orchestras of Sacramento,
Honolulu, Baton Rouge, Northwest Indiana, and numerous other
orchestras throughout the United States, in Canada, Europe and Israel.
During his twelve-year tenure with the Charleston Symphony Orchestra,
Schiff founded the West Virginia Opera Theater of which he was artistic
director and conductor. For ten years this professional company performed
fully staged operas with orchestra and chorus in the tri-state area of WV,
Ohio and Kentucky. He introduced staged opera to the concert season of
the Charleston Symphony, which continued its collaboration with the Opera Theater annually. In addition he brought opera productions to the schools, receiving enthusiastic standing ovations from the students. Among many other innovations for which he received generous grants, he initiated annual pre-season concert tours with the Charleston Symphony Orchestra, funded by the National Endowment for the Arts.
Mr. Schiff collaborated on a regular basis with leading singers from the
New York Metropolitan Opera, including Robert Merrill, Phyllis Curtin,
Rosalind Elias, William Walker, Simon Estes, William Lewis, Frances Yeend
and Jerome Hines in his signature role of Boris Godunov, as well as many
other world class singers, instrumentalists and artistic groups. He worked
with various types of dance companies, among them ballet, modern dance, flamenco dancing with the legendary Jose Greco, his dance company and his partner Nana Lorca, and the world renowned Claude Kipnis and his Mime Theater, which interpreted symphonic music through mime.
His principal instrument was clarinet which for a number of years he
played professionally, in orchestras and with chamber music groups, and
was a founding member of the New York Woodwind Quintet. He was also
the first place winner in a competition sponsored by the radio station
WNYC, playing the Mozart clarinet concerto. His clarinet teachers were
Simeon Bellison, principal clarinet of the N.Y. Philharmonic, and Daniel
Bonade, principal clarinet of the Philadelphia orchestra. As a composer he
wrote for voice, various solo instruments, chamber ensembles and
orchestra. His music was performed in concerts and on the radio, and
several of his compositions for various woodwind ensembles were recently
published by the TrevCo Music Publishing Co. He won composition awards
at the Yaddo Festival of American Music, and at the Juilliard School. His
primary composition teacher was Vittorio Giannini.
After several years of playing piano, Schiff began his serious music studies
at the Fiorello H. LaGuardia High-school of Music and Art, pursuing clarinet
and composition. He continued his studies at the Juilliard School where he
majored in clarinet, (becoming the principal clarinet of the Juilliard
Orchestra), composition and conducting, and where he later received his
Bachelor and Master degrees in orchestral conducting. After graduation he
was awarded a conducting fellowship, and was appointed to the position of
assistant conductor of the Juilliard Opera Theater.
He was also a scholarship student at the Tanglewood Music Center which
he attended for five summers. First as principal clarinet in the advanced
student orchestra, playing under Leonard Bernstein, Erich Kleiber and
other comparable conductors. He then served as assistant conductor to
Eleazar de Carvalho, conducting the student chamber orchestra, later as
conductor-coach in the opera department under Boris Goldovsky, and
finally as a private student of Dr. Serge Koussevitzky and as a regular
conductor of the advanced student orchestra in its weekly concerts. In
addition to Maestro Koussevitzky, his principal conducting teachers
included Jean Morel at The Juilliard School, Pierre Monteux at L'Ecole
Monteux in Maine, and Franco Ferrara at the International Conductors'
Symposium in Hilversum, Holland, to which he was accepted through
competition. He was selected by the American Symphony Orchestra
League to participate in their Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra Conductor's
Workshop directed by William Steinberg during which he conducted
the Pittsburgh Symphony, and in the ASOL Eastern Institute of Orchestral
Studies at Orkney Springs, Virginia, directed by Dr. Richard Lert.
As an educator, Mr. Schiff was on the faculty of the music departments at
Yeshiva and Emory Universities, as well as several music schools and
colleges in the New York area. In addition to conducting the student
orchestras and choruses, he taught orchestral and choral conducting,
composition and orchestration among other subjects.
Throughout his career he was actively involved in helping further the
careers of gifted musicians. He showcased them with his orchestras and
contacted on their behalf other conductors and artists managers to help
generate additional performances. He also championed the music of new
composers, performing and premiering their works. At a time when
orchestras were not hiring African -American musicians, he sought out
qualified black orchestral players and engaged them for his own
Some of his other activities involved serving as a judge in the Metropolitan
Opera auditions for the Young Artists Development Program, serving as a
committee chairman in the American Symphony Orchestra League's
Conductors' Guild, extensive public speaking on variety of topics to various
audiences, including frequent invitations for radio and television
interviews, and hosting his own radio interview series to promote the arts
in the community.
When health reasons compelled Schiff to retire from conducting, he
devoted his time to teaching and lecturing in several colleges and universities, arranging, and writing transcriptions for various instruments.
He was regularly commissioned by the Atlanta Boy Choir to create
orchestral arrangements for their frequent tours in the United States and
abroad, including annual performances with the Atlanta Symphony
Orchestra under Robert Shaw. A number of his transcriptions for various
instruments have been published by International Music Company in NY,
Chester Music of London, and F.E.C. Leuckart Musikverlag in Munich, and
have been performed worldwide. Several works have been recorded by
various international artist on the NAXOS, EMI Classics and Sound-Star-Ton labels. The London- based STRAD magazine featured an article about
his transcriptions for cello and piano, some of which have received
numerous performances in Europe. Later, as a hobby, he took up
watercolor painting and writing books in prose and verse, which he
continued until his passing in March, 2007.
Charles Schiff was married to concert pianist Edith Karney Schiff, a
graduate of the Juilliard School who was also a full scholarship student at
the Tanglewood Music Center. They often collaborated in performing
works for piano solo and orchestra and in chamber music concerts. Their
two daughters, Talia, a professional cellist, and Leora, a strategy
consultant in the biopharmaceutical industry, live in Philadelphia and