Word came simultaneously from Emmanuel Music and Richard at Ear Trumpet that Craig Smith died yesterday. Smith became music director at Boston's Emmanuel Church in 1970, and promptly founded Emmanuel Music, with a mission to perform the complete cycle of church cantatas by J.S. Bach—within their original weekly-service context—a mission completed in 1977. After that, he embarked on a series of similar explorations, the bigger, the better—the Mozart-Da Ponte operas with director Peter Sellars, the complete vocal and chamber music of Franz Schubert, a similar Schumann cycle—all the while still mounting a Bach cantata every Sunday.
I only met Smith a couple of times, and I can hardly say I knew him, but in a sense, living in Boston, you ended up absorbing his musical personality anyway—Emmanuel Music and the musicians who have passed through it are such a potent constituency in the city that the fabled six degrees of separation shrink down to one or two. Smith fostered his share of big stars throughout the years, but also engendered an enviable amount of loyalty and stability, especially given the amount of local college-town transience. The last time I saw him, back in April, it felt, as Emmanuel productions often felt, like a bit of a family reunion, with a couple new cousins to be introduced around by their genial bear of an uncle. At the time, one heard whispers that Smith's heart troubles had been getting worse, but you wouldn't have known it to see him on the podium; he simply wasn't going to let health or age get in the way of making the music that needed to be made. Smith conducted his last cantata on November 4th: BWV 72, Alles nur nach Gottes Willen—"everything solely according to God's will." One suspects that God, in this case, was glad to have the help.