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Award-winning Swiss musician Michel Corboz dies at 87

Michel Corboz was an acclaimed Swiss conductor, composer and music teacher who also worked with orchestras abroad. Keystone / Salvatore Di Nolfi

Music lovers are paying tribute to Swiss conductor and choirmaster Michel Corboz who has died at 87.

This content was published on September 3, 2021 - 17:49
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The charismatic musician, specialized in the vocal arts and sacred music, died on Thursday of heart failure following an operation, his wife said on Friday.

Among his many achievements, Corboz founded the Ensemble Vocal de Lausanne (EVL), which he conducted for 50 years. He conducted his last concert at St Peter's Cathedral in Geneva in June this year.

"The musical world is in mourning, and French-speaking Switzerland has lost one of its most important figures,” the EVL said in tribute. “He was a conductor, but also a man whose influence will be remembered by everyone: singers, instrumentalists, composers and also the many spectators."

The City of Lausanne hailed him as an "emblematic figure of the vocal art". "He is an immense musician who just left us,” said Lausanne mayor Grégoire Junod. “The city will always be grateful to him for having carried the colours of Lausanne so high."

Corboz was born in canton Fribourg and studied singing, composition and conducting at the conservatory in Fribourg. His love of the voice led him to compose some twenty motets (sacred choral pieces sung in several parts), a mass and a cantata, as well as secular pieces for choir. Acclaimed recordings include Bach's "Mass in B" and "Passions", the "Requiems" of Mozart, Brahms, Verdi, Fauré, Puccini's "Messa di Gloria" and works by Frank Martin and Arthur Honegger.

Travelling the world

He founded the EVL in 1961, and in 1969 became the titular conductor of the Gulbenkian Choir in Lisbon. He has also conducted the Chamber Orchestras of Lausanne and of French-speaking Switzerland, the Danish Radio Orchestra, the Bavarian Radio Choir, the Sinfonia Varsovia and the Choir and Orchestra of the Theatro Colon in Buenos Aires. He taught choral conducting at the Geneva Conservatory for almost 28 years.

Asked in one of his last interviews what makes a beautiful voice, he said it has to have a soul.  “It is not enough that there is a voice. There has to be imagination, musical movement, a sense of rhythm, a desire to communicate with your voice,” he told Générations magazine last January.

Among his many awards, Michel Corboz was made Grand Cross of the Portuguese Order of the Infant Don Henrique and Commander of the French Order of Arts and Letters.

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