Lyric Opera of Chicago

Lyric Opera of Chicago Principal Violist Keith Abbott Conant, 1962 - 2011

Monday, September 19, 2011

Lyric Opera of Chicago Principal Violist
Keith Abbott Conant
1962 - 2011

Keith Abbott Conant, principal violist with the Lyric Opera of Chicago Orchestra, died unexpectedly of a heart attack on Thursday, September 15, at the age of 49.

Mr. Conant was most recently heard with the Lyric Opera Orchestra during the “Stars of Lyric Opera at Millennium Park” free concert on Sept. 10, when he played the viola solo in the Act-Two Romance from The Tales of Hoffmann. That performance was heard by a capacity crowd of 15,000+ in the park and by countless others via live broadcast on 98.7WFMT.

Keith Conant served as Lyric Opera’s principal violist since the 1997-98 season. In the 1995-96 and 1996-97 seasons he served as acting principal violist. He joined the Lyric Opera Orchestra for the 1987-88 season as assistant principal violist.

Notable performances over the course of his tenure at Lyric Opera included The Damnation of Faust (Berlioz), Katya Kabanova (Janáček), Die Frau ohne Schatten (R. Strauss), Lulu (Berg), and Peter Grimes (Britten), among many others.

“I am shocked and deeply saddened by the news of Keith's death,” said Sir Andrew Davis, Lyric’s music director. “He was a wonderful musician and colleague whose kind and gentle spirit shone through in the musical gift he shared with us all.  As a section leader, he inspired by example.  Because of the level of his commitment to the orchestra, and their commitment to him, he was able to deliver the very best his section had to offer in every performance. He will be greatly missed.” 

“From both an artistic and a human point of view it is a great loss,” said Bruno Bartoletti, Lyric’s artistic director emeritus, who hired Mr. Conant in 1987. “He was a splendid first viola and we will miss him a great deal.” 

“I can’t think of another person who cared more for those around him and took the time to listen and support their needs if he could in any way,” said violist Patrick Brennan, a longtime member of the Lyric Opera Orchestra. “We truly lost a good friend and brother.” The orchestra’s first rehearsal of the season took place on Monday, Sept. 19. Terri Van Valkinburgh is acting principal.

Mr. Conant was a founding member of the Rembrandt Chamber Players and performed with the ensemble for 18 of its 22 years. The ensemble, which includes other members of the Lyric Opera Orchestra, is dedicating its 2011-12 season so his memory. He served as principal violist of the Chicago Philharmonic (previously known as Symphony II), an ensemble comprised largely of Lyric Opera Orchestra members, for several years.

Mr. Conant was formerly principal viola with the American Philharmonic Orchestra, the New York Youth Symphony, and the Tanglewood Young Artists Orchestra. From 1984 to 1986 he was a member of the Seattle Symphony Orchestra. He studied viola at the Juilliard School of Music with Paul Doktor, graduating in 1986. At Juilliard he held principal viola positions in the Juilliard Pre-College Orchestra, Juilliard Chamber Orchestra and the Juilliard Orchestra. Mr. Conant also studied with Karen Tuttle at the Aspen Music Festival, where he received four consecutive fellowships and was the principal violist in the Aspen Concert Orchestra.

Mr. Conant participated in chamber music festivals across the country including the Ravinia Festival, Second City Chamber Players in Seattle, and the Kingston Chamber Music Festival in Rhode Island. He performed on two commercially available chamber music recordings: George Flynn’s “American Rest” for clarinet, viola, cello, and piano on the Southport label; and “Lux Aeterna” by William Ferris for flute and viola on the Cedille label.

Mr. Conant appeared as a soloist with many orchestras including Symphony II, the Juilliard Philharmonia at Alice Tully Hall, the Highland Park Strings, the Windy City Strings, Bach Week in Evanston Festival, Contemporary Chamber Players, the North Shore Choral Society, the Eastern Connecticut Symphony, the Norwalk and Stamford Connecticut Youth Symphonies, the Fairfield County String Festival, and the Fairfield County Chamber Orchestra.

He taught viola privately and served as an adjunct professor at Valparaiso University. He was born in Rockville Centre, New York, and grew up in Westport, Connecticut.

Keith Conant is survived by his partner Daniel Goss; by his sister Katherine O’Shea (Don O’Shea) of California, his brothers Scott Conant (Joanne Conant) and Jim Conant, both of Connecticut, and seven nieces and nephews.

Visitation for Keith Conant will be 2 - 8 p.m. on Thurs., Sept. 22, Olson-Burke-Sullivan Funeral Home, 6467 N. Northwest Highway, Chicago.