I met Robert Harth at the very beginning of my professional life. I was a young pianist who was called at the last minute to substitute for an ailing Alexis Weissenberg at the Ravinia Festival in 1975. When I arrived at the Chicago airport, nervous and wide-eyed, Robert, the newly hired driver for the Festival, met me at the gate. By the time we arrived at Ravinia, a half-hour later, I had fallen under his spell, as so many of us did.
Robert had a wonderful ability to include everyone he met in his enthusiasm and love of life. His work at Carnegie Hall was a culmination of major achievements all across the world of music – he was a linchpin at the Los Angeles Philharmonic for many years, and brought an energy and vision to the Aspen Music Festival that were unequaled – and everywhere he made lifelong friends. At the funeral on Tuesday, one could see the richness of Robert’s life just by looking around and seeing the loss written on everyone’s face.
The last time I spent time with Robert was simply a lucky coincidence – we found ourselves called on jury duty on the same day in January, and I spent two days in the jury room, waiting to be called, having lunch, talking to him about the exciting season that he was about to announce, and his happiness with the Carnegie Hall administration. He was really proud of the way that the administration and the board had come together to form a family devoted to each other and to the future of the Hall, and of the music world in general. Here was a man who had a mission, and looked forward to many years of important and fruitful work with good friends. Three weeks later, he was gone.
I feel very lucky to have had that time – Vietnamese food and all – and I will miss, most of all, coming to hear a concert at Carnegie and being greeted with a joke and a hug from my teddy-bear friend. Distraught as we are now, in time I know that our memories of Robert will be happy and inspiring ones, and that he will be a part of our lives always.