January 30, 2014

NEC Mourning the Death of Sarah Kidd, Student in Elite Orchestral Conducting Program

NEC is mourning the death of Sarah Kidd, 27, who had been a student in the elite orchestral conducting program directed by Calderwood Director of Orchestras Hugh Wolff. A native of Bloomington, Indiana, Kidd died of cancer, January 28. She had received her Bachelor’s degree in 2009 from the Jacobs School of Music at Indiana University where she was a cellist as well as a budding conductor. In 2011, she received a Master of Music in orchestral conducting from the Juilliard School working under James DePriest. At NEC, she studied with Wolff, conducted the Conservatory Lab Orchestra, and assisted Associate Director of Orchestras David Loebel in a performance of Ives’ Holidays Symphony in 2012.

Although the first woman accepted into the highly selective conducting program and part of a persistent minority of professional women conductors, Kidd found the issue of her gender irrelevant, as she somewhat impatiently explained in an article she wrote for The Juilliard Journal in 2010. “What I mean is that a tall, skinny person and a short, fat person could not use identical gestures to get an identical response from an ensemble,” she wrote. “I view my gender as just another variable: because I’m female, my gestures will have a slightly different effect. Every conductor has to figure out what works for him or her, and in this regard, I don’t feel like my gender gives me any real disadvantage.”

Musicians who played under her seemed to feel the same way. “Her own peers seemed truly inspired by her as a conductor and a person,” said Margie Apfelbaum, NEC’s Administrative Director of Orchestras. “People were jazzed by her. The whole gender thing dissolved as soon as she was on the podium.”

Her teachers and fellow conducting students were also impressed with Kidd’s inherent talent and her ferocious work ethic. Calling her death a “tragedy,” Hugh Wolff said, “I feel such loss at the notion that she came here full of promise and full of energy. She had that rare combination—that conductors need—of being comfortable and natural with authority, with being in charge of things, but also of being very open to learning and realizing that there was potential and opportunity to really grow, to learn, to absorb things.”

Loebel, remembering Kidd’s entrance audition, said “it was clear that she was somebody who was going to have a career. She had all the tools. There was also an indefinable something that really fine conductors have. At her age, it was not fully developed but the seed of it was there.”

Apfelbaum, for whom Kidd worked in managing the orchestra department, recalls her being “incredibly organized and someone who asked great questions all the time. And she studied like hell. In the morning conductors’ seminars, she came prepared every day and was so impressive. She definitely was getting every ounce of knowledge that she could extract from her study here.”

“Her death is a terrible loss,” Wolff said. “It’s a loss for her family and loved ones, for the school, and the wider musical community. She’ll be missed.”


MUSICIANS OWN MUSIC BECAUSE MUSIC OWNS THEM. VIRGIL THOMSON