'Artistic genius,' York native Dominick Argento dies at 91

Rebecca Klar
York Dispatch

Dominick Argento, a York-born composer, may have lived the past six decades of his life in Minneapolis — but his influence never left his hometown. 

"We were able to take great pride in the fact of such significant talent and artistic genius that was born right here in our own city. That was very special and meaningful to everyone in the symphony family," said Michael Reichman, executive director of York Symphony Orchestra.

Argento died Wednesday, Feb. 20. He was 91. His wife of 51 years, Carolyn, died in 2006. They had no children. 

Argento was born in York in 1927. He attended the Peabody Conservatory in Baltimore, where he earned his bachelor's and master's degrees, and he went on to receive his doctorate from the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, New York, according to his bio courtesy of Boosey & Hawkes. 

In 1975, Argento received the Pulitzer Prize for music for his song cycle "From the Diary of Virginia Woolf." He's widely considered one of the most prominent American composers of the past century, largely due to his operas and choral works. 

Dominick Argento, a Pulitzer Prize winning composer born in York, died at 91 (Photo by King Elder)

"He was a monumentally influential composer throughout the entire industry, representative of some of the great works in the 20th and 21st century," Reichman said.

The York Symphony Orchestra often performed, and on several occasions premiered, Argento's pieces, Reichman said. 

Despite reaching the "pinnacle of his chosen profession," Argento was not a pretentious man, said his nephew, Mike Argento, a columnist for the York Daily Record. 

"He was extremely down to earth," Mike Argento said. 

Dominick Argento's adoptive Midwest home is equally as proud of its ties to the composer.  

"I’ve always loved his music and programmed it often, and then to have this relationship with him as a composer laureate was just icing on the cake," said William Schrickel, music director of the Metropolitan Symphony Orchestra in Minnesota. 

Dominick Argento, a Pulitzer Prize winning composer born in York, died at 91 (Photo by King Elder)

Dominick Argento left for Minneapolis in 1958, when he joined the music faculty at the University of Minnesota. He taught there until 1997.

He had initially planned to stay a couple of years, according to his nephew, but fell in love with the city where he decided to live out the rest of his long life. 

"He loved Minneapolis and loved that city, but he never forgot where he came from. He always had great affection for York," Mike Argento said.

While in Minnesota, Dominick Argento served as as the composer laureate for the Minnesota Orchestra and later the Metropolitan Symphony Orchestra in the Twin Cities. 

"Maybe one of the nicest things that anybody ever said was when Dominick was talking about our orchestra and said, 'The Metropolitan Symphony Orchestra, it's one damn fine symphony orchestra,' and I thought that's going to stick with me for the rest of my life," Schrickel said. 

Dominick Argento, a Pulitzer Prize winning composer born in York, died at 91 (Photo by King Elder)

While others may have felt the impact of Argento's work, in his own words music was about self discovery. 

In an interview with the Minneapolis Star Tribune in October 2017, ahead of his 90th birthday, Argento said he didn't view music as a social or political statement. For him, art was "all about beauty and edification." 

"A lot of my colleagues really think music can change the world. But for me, music has been about discovering who I am — not for telling other people who they ought to be," Argento said. 

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Argento's death is a "loss to the music world," but he leaves behind an incredible volume of work, Schrickel said, which will continue to be played throughout the symphonies he touched. 

The Metropolitan Symphony Orchestra had already scheduled to play one of Dominick Argento's pieces in their final concert in the May season. The symphony regularly plays one or two of Argento's pieces in each five-concert season. 

Argento's work will also continue to play throughout his hometown of York. 

"It was a life well lived, and we're grateful to carry on his musical legacy whenever possible," Reichman said