"Conrad Susa" by Philip Brunelle
Date: November 25, 2013
Location: Oklahoma, USA
I received a call last night at midnight – Conrad Susa had passed away. He had not been well physically, but at 78 his mind was as keen as ever – and this man KNEW what music was about, still making his way to the San Francisco Conservatory to teach every day.
I first heard of Conrad when he composed incidental music for a Guthrie production in their early days. Then he was commissioned by Minnesota Opera to compose an opera based on Ann Sexton's book, Transformations, and I conducted the premiere with Ann and Conrad in the front row. That led to another Minnesota Opera commission, Black River, which I also conducted – a grand, 3-act work. He was back in 1980 for the American Guild of Organists' convention here, commissioned to write a work for organ and brass (which he barely finished in time….a Susa trademark!).
Vern Sutton and I traveled to Houston where I conducted and Vern directed Conrad's church opera, The Wise Women, a charming story about the wives of the Magi. In the 90s, for VocalEssence, he composed his setting of Mexican songs, Carols & Lullabies, which has become THE piece that choirs perform in December across the USA. In between there have been anthems and choral suites performed by many Twin Cities community and church choirs – at Christmas and throughout the year.
There was no one Susa style – there were many. But all of them showed his innate ability to spin a melody, lift a phrase and leave listeners feeling that they had just heard something VERY special. I will miss him greatly.
Artistic Director and Founder, VocalEssence
Choirmaster-Organist, Plymouth Congregational Church, Mpls.