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Charles Gerhardt (conductor)

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Charles Gerhardt


Juilliard School

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February 22, 1999, Redding, California, United States

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Charles Allan Gerhardt (February 6, 1927 – February 22, 1999) was an American conductor, record producer, and arranger.


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Early years

Charles Gerhardt (conductor) A fourdecade friendship with Charles Gerhardt

Gerhardt grew up in Little Rock, Arkansas, where he studied the piano at age five and composition at age nine. He studied music and engineering at several colleges including the University of Illinois, the University of Southern California, and the College of William and Mary. He also studied piano privately and at the Juilliard School. His formal education was interrupted by World War II, during which he served in the Navy in the Aleutians as a chaplain's assistant.

RCA Victor

For a time, he was a clerk at the Record Hunter on Lexington Avenue in New York City. Between 1951 and 1955 he worked on the technical side of RCA Victor records. At first, this role consisted of transferring 78 rpm recordings of Enrico Caruso and Artur Schnabel to tape, including removing scratches preparatory to LP reissue. He also assisted at sessions for Kirsten Flagstad, Vladimir Horowitz, William Kapell, Wanda Landowska, and Zinka Milanov. In 1954, he worked with Leopold Stokowski and the NBC Symphony Orchestra on the experimental stereophonic recording of ballet suites from Gian Carlo Menotti's Sebastian and Prokofiev's Romeo and Juliet. He also became RCA's liaison with Arturo Toscanini, in the conductor's last years. It was Toscanini who encouraged him to study conducting.

For five years Gerhardt worked at Westminster Records in New York. With Westminster struggling (the company filed for bankruptcy in December 1959), he switched to recording pop singers including Eddie Fisher. His great opportunity as a producer came with a call from George Marek, the head of RCA Victor's Red Seal department, offering an opportunity to produce recordings for Reader's Digest in England.

Record producer

In 1960, he began to produce records for RCA and Reader's Digest. His partner was the legendary recording engineer Kenneth Wilkinson of Decca Records (then RCA's affiliate in Europe). This was the beginning of a partnership that lasted through 4,000 sessions. Their first major project was a 12-LP set for Reader's Digest Recordings: "A Festival of Light Classical Music", issued in both monaural and stereophonic versions. Over two million copies of this set were sold in a few years. In 1961, he produced the Reader's Digest set of Beethoven Symphonies with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by René Leibowitz.

One of Gerhardt's favorite productions was the 1964 release "Treasury of Great Music", another 12-LP set for Reader's Digest. This featured the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by such eminent figures as Sir John Barbirolli, Sir Malcolm Sargent, Antal Doráti, Jascha Horenstein, Rudolf Kempe, Josef Krips, Charles Münch, Georges Prêtre, and Fritz Reiner.

This was followed in 1966 by the album set All-Time Broadway Hit Parade, which included 120 songs from various Musical productions such as Carousel, The Music Man, Guys and Dolls, My Fair Lady, Pal Joey, South Pacific and many more. The songs found on this collection were not recorded by the original artists.

Many of the Reader's Digest recordings were later reissued on LP by Quintessence Records and Chesky Records; a few have been reissued on CD.


The Reader's Digest projects created so much recording work that there was need for another orchestra and conductor in London. Together with violinist and orchestral contractor Sidney Sax, Gerhardt formed an orchestra of top London orchestral and freelance musicians in 1964 for use in his recording sessions. He began to record this group in January 1964. The orchestra was incorporated as the National Philharmonic Orchestra in 1970 and Gerhardt himself conducted it in standard repertory, contemporary works, and film score music. Leopold Stokowski made some of his last recordings with this same orchestra.

Gerhardt had received some training in conducting, as well as advice from Jascha Horenstein. His 1967 conducting of the so-called "RCA Victor Symphony Orchestra" (which was actually the National Philharmonic Orchestra) of Howard Hanson's Symphony No. 2 (The Romantic) garnered the praise of the composer.

One particularly successful set Gerhardt conducted with the National Philharmonic Orchestra included the 14 LPs of the Classic Film Scores series for RCA, issued 1972–1978. This started with the 1972 release "The Sea Hawk: The Classic Film Scores of Erich Wolfgang Korngold." The whole series was notable especially for Gerhardt's own, extremely careful, preparation of the scores. Recordings were made in the acoustically outstanding Kingsway Hall and engineered by Kenneth Wilkinson. The producer of the series was George Korngold, the composer's son. The series continued with albums devoted to Max Steiner, Miklós Rózsa, Franz Waxman, Alfred Newman, Dimitri Tiomkin, Bernard Herrmann and John Williams as well as albums devoted to music in the films of Bette Davis, Humphrey Bogart, and Errol Flynn. A number of additional pieces were recorded but remain in the vaults. BMG reissued the Classic Film Scores on CD encoded in Dolby Surround. In 2010, RCA Sony rereleased six of the original CD releases. In 2011, additional albums were reissued. Although the new CDs do not mention it, the reissues still feature Dolby Surround encoding.

Another recording he conducted for RCA was flautist James Galway's "Annie's Song" album with the National Philharmonic Orchestra, which reached number three on the British charts in 1978.

In 1979, Gerhardt conducted the National Philharmonic Orchestra in Korngold's score for the Warner Brothers' 1942 film version of Kings Row, also produced by the composer's son George. This was an early digital audio recording available on the Chalfont Records label.


Gerhardt retired from RCA in 1986 but continued to work as a free-lance producer until 1997. He never appeared in public as a conductor, refusing all invitations due to his desire to remain private.

Illness and death

Charles Gerhardt moved to Redding, California in 1991. He was diagnosed with brain cancer in late November 1998 and died from complications of brain surgery. He is buried at St. Joseph Catholic Cemetery in Redding.


Charles Gerhardt (conductor) Wikipedia

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