Stephen Simon, 75, Conductor Who Led a Handel Revival, Dies

February 3rd, 2013

Stephen Simon, a conductor who in the 1970s and afterward helped spirit the Handel revival into being in the United States, died on Jan. 20 in Manhattan. He was 75 and lived in Manhattan.

His death, at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center, was from a stroke, said Lee Ryder, a family spokeswoman.

Mr. Simon, who conducted ensembles in New York and Washington, was known in particular for bringing long-neglected operas and oratorios by George Frideric Handel to American audiences, demonstrating that there was far more to the composer than the “Water Music” and the “Messiah.”

In 1976, Mr. Simon founded what became the Washington Chamber Symphony, the resident chamber orchestra of the Kennedy Center; he was its music director for the next quarter-century, until it disbanded in 2002. Dedicated foremost to Handel, the orchestra also performed the work of other composers.

He also established the Kennedy Center’s annual Handel festival, serving as its music director in the 1970s and ’80s. Its programs featured concert performances of many Handel operas that had languished virtually unsung, among them “Poro,” “Radamisto,” “Orlando“ and “Alessandro,” which had their United States premieres at the festival.

Mr. Simon was previously the music director of the Handel Society of New York. In that post, which he held in the early 1970s, he conducted the New York premieres of several Handel operas — including “Ariodante,” “Athalia” and “Rinaldo” — at the society’s annual Handel festival at Carnegie Hall.

He was also the music director of Summer of Music on the Hudson, a yearly festival at Lyndhurst, the former Jay Gould estate in Tarrytown, N.Y., where he conducted the work of composers including Tchaikovsky, Leonard Bernstein and Charles Ives.

Stephen Anthony Simon was born in Manhattan on May 5, 1937, to a prominent family. His maternal grandfather was the publishing magnate Moses Annenberg; the philanthropist and diplomat Walter H. Annenberg was an uncle.

A skilled organist, the young Mr. Simon earned a bachelor’s degree in music from Yale and later studied conducting with the Austrian maestro Josef Krips.

Mr. Simon’s first marriage, to Ellen Friendly, ended in divorce. He is survived by his second wife, Bonnie Ward Simon; their two sons, Basil and Sebastian; four sons from his first marriage, Daniel, James, David and Adam; and four grandchildren.

His other musical ventures include founding the Simon Sinfonietta, a chamber orchestra in Falmouth, Mass., and l’Orchestre des Portes Rouges, an ensemble in residence at the Church of the Resurrection, on East 74th Street, named for the church’s red doors. He was also a founder of Maestro Classics, a line of classical music CDs for children.

Among Mr. Simon’s recordings as a conductor are a critically praised set of the complete Mozart piano concertos with Lili Kraus as soloist, the complete Beethoven piano concertos with Anthony Newman performing on a period fortepiano, and many Handel discs.

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