Obituary: Choral Director & Composer Abraham Kaplan Dies at 92

By Francisco Salazar

On Sept. 6, 2023, Abraham Kaplan died at the age of 92.

Born in Tel Aviv, Israel, Kaplan was the son of Shlomo Kaplan, a prominent choral conductor and music pedagogue in Israel. He taught at the Jerusalem Academy of Music and was head of the music department of the Histadrut.

Abraham Kaplan first sang under his father in a young boys’ choir and became the leader of a choir at a kibbutz. He would go on to study at the Israel Academy of Music in Jerusalem and made his professional debut directing the Kol Yisrael chorus in 1952 at concerts in Jerusalem, Haifa, and Tel Aviv.

In 1954, he came to the U.S. where he won a scholarship from the Aspen School of Music and later went on to study at the Juilliard School where he was awarded the Damrosch Prize.

He also attended the Berkshire Music Center at Tanglewood as both a choral and an orchestral conductor.

His big break came in 1962 when he made his American debut as a choral director and conductor. He subsequently gained recognition as a composer as well.

While he returned to Israel, he decided to remain in the United States when Juilliard invited him to join its faculty as director of choral studies, a position he held with distinction from 1961 until 1977.

Kaplan would collaborate with such renowned conductors as Leonard Bernstein. His collaboration with Bernstein and teh New York Philharmonic saw Kaplan prepare choruses for numerous concerts and recordings—including the premieres of such major Bernstein works as the Kaddish Symphony and Chichester Psalms.

He also conducted important premieres of choral-orchestral works, such as Robert Starer’s Joseph and His Bretheren, Vincent Persichetti’s Stabat Mater, and George Rochberg’s third symphony.

He also founded the Camerata Singers and directed New York’s Collegiate Chorale. He also worked with the Symphonic Choral Society of New York and the Camerata Symphony Orchestra, the Israel Philharmonic, the St. Louis Symphony, the Calgary Philharmonic, the San Francisco Opera, and the Seattle Symphony.

In 1977 he relocated to Seattle and directed choral studies at the University of Washington. He also became an associate director for choral activities of the Seattle Symphony.

Kaplan was also a recognized composer who wrote such pieces as “Glorious,” “Arvit l’shabbat,” and the K’dusha Symphony, which was recorded with soprano Roberta Peters.