Paul Callaway has been making music in Washington for 38 years. When you look at the astonishing spread of his music activities and the sheer numbers of performances he has conducted or in which he has taken part, it seems incontrovertible that he has had a larger influence on the musical life of this city than any other person.
As of Sept. 1, Callawya will retire from his position as organist and choirmaster at the Washington Cathedral, which has always been the principal enter of his life as a musician. But he has never confined his energies either to that glorious place or to music associated with the church. At the cathedral Callaway performed regularly, week in and week out, as one of the greatest organist of the country.
In the course of a year, both in playing the services of the cathedral and in recitals, he traversed the great repertoire from Bach to the present, endwoing all he did with technical and sytlistic splendor. As a choirmaster,he had a special gift for building on the English tradition of men and boys to produce the particular kind of beauty the best suits the acoustics of the building in which his choirs sang.
In a larger arena, that of a the masterchoral works, Callaway moved promptly after he came to Washington in 1939, to establish the Cathedral Choral Society. At that time Washington did not have the array of excellent choruses that now fill the Kennedy Center and other concert halls with the great choral pieces. There was only the Washington Choral Society which eventually merged with the cathedral group under Callaway's direction.
In the short time he was in Washington before he left to serve in the Army for the duration of World War II, Callawat presented the Cathedral Choral Society in the Verdi Requeim, a concert that will be recalled on May 1 when he conducts the work again.
Once the war ended he could get back to his music - something he managed to teach to GIs in the South Paicific while he was in uniform - Callaway moved into high gear. In ghe ensuing years, every major choral work from Monterverdi to Samuel Barber and Benjamin Britten was heard in the cathedral.
Such giant works as the Mahler Eighth Symphony, the Berlioz Requiem and Elgar's "Dream of Gerontius" took advantage of the cathedral's steadily growing resources and space. And composers like Leo Sowerby and John LaMontaine, Lee Hoiby and Douglas Allanbrook praised Callaway for his scrupulous care in following meticulously the letter and intent of their scores as he gave their premiere performances.
If Callaway's activities had been confined exclusively to he cathedral, he would today be parised as one of this country's leading "church musicians," a label that is demeaning to no man in such position.But he would no have been the major influence on the musical life of this city that the became. His remarkable gifts soon created a demand for his conducting at the Library of Congress where, among other things, he'd led the world premiere of Gian Carlo Menoti's opera, "the Unicorn, The Gorgon, and The Manticore."
In these same years, some of the most remarkable concerts to be heard anywhere in the world were being given at Dumbarton Oaks. Because of the limited space in the Music Room there, the concerts were private and heard only by about 150 people at a time. But in that beautiful place, Callaway was a regular visitor, conducting chamber orchestras, choruses, and such world-famous artists as Leontyne Price, Joan Sutherland, Jennie TOurel and many more. This musician from a small town in Illionois was demonstrating complete mastery in styles that ranged from the Renaissance works of Palestrina and Gesualdo to the newest music of Stravinsky and Hindemith.
Callaway's largest noncathedral public came, however, in 1956 when he and Day Thorpe, then music critic of The Evening Star, founded the Opera Society of Washington. With a minimum of hassle, Thorpe and Callaway agreed on artistic and musical policies that, for the next decade and a half, gave Washington a brand of a opera that became famous throughout the operatic world.
It was a kind of opera that brought Rudolf Bing to town to see what was going on, and such singers as James McCraken, Lisa Della Casa, Adele Addison, John Reardon, Justino Diaz, Donald Gramm, Judith Raskin, Benita Valenta, and dozens more to sing here because they liked the way the new Opera Society of washington did business, and because they found in Callaway an exciting conductor with a style they could admire.
It was Callaway's grasp of varying styles that cemented hissuccess and laid the solid foundation upon which today's Opera Society is still profitably building. Like any truly great opera conductor, Callaway found the way into the secrets of Verdi's "Otello" and "Falstaff," every one of the great of Mozart, Bizet's "Carmen," and a host of others.
His repertoire with the OSW ranged from Monterverdi's "Orfeo" and "L'Incoronazione di poppaea," to Stravinsky's "The Rake's Progress," whild he gave life and beauty to lesser know operas by Lee Hoiby, Cavalli and Haydn - the latter long before the present new interest in Haydn opera. What surprised even Callaway's closer friends was his aristic achievements in something as rarely performed in this country as "Ariadne auf Naxos" by Richard Strauss.
When he and Frank Corsaro formed their happy alliance in preparation for "Konga" by Frederick Delius, they started the revival of interest in Delius operas that spread from Lisner Auditorium not only to New York City but to London and its recording studios as well. Opera in Washington would be still in its infancy if it were not for the work of paul Callaway years ago.
Now that he will no longer be responsible for the music at the cathedral, his presence at the Opera Society conducting stand should give tha spot a strength and vigor it has not always had lately.
During these same years, while conducting opera and orchestral programs and keeping the music at Washington Cathedral on the extraordinary high level to which he had raised it, Callaway's organ playing remained in its usual state of distinction. He was sought out for such important assignments as playing the world premiere by the Philadelphia Orchestra of Samuel Barber's Toccata for organ and orchestra, written to celebrate the installation of the new Aeolian Skinner organ in The Academy of Music. Some years later he performed a similar assignment when he played the first performances of "Wilderness Journal" by John LaMintaine, work commissioned by Mrs. Jouett Shouse to mark the completion of Filene Organ in the Kennedy Center.
Callaway has always had a special interest in young musicians: organists, singers, composers, and a particular brand of friendly encouragement for those in whom he recognized real ability combined with a true love of music. Among his less-frequently practiced activities is his unusual sympathy in accompanying singers in recitals. Only those fortunate enough to have heard him in this role know the kind of artistic finesse he applies to it.
The friends and admirers ofPaul Callaway are going to hold a big dinner in his honoron Friday night, at which time they will say all kinds of things that are usually said on such occasions. It is not, however, a time when anyone will be saying farewells, for Callaway will still be in Washington. If we are lucky, he will keep on making music here for many years to come.