Caltech Mourns the Passing of Orchestra Conductor Allen Robert Gross

Published : Friday, August 23, 2019 | 5:11 AM

Allen Robert Gross, longtime director of the Caltech Orchestra who retired in May after 36 years at the Institute, died on August 20 following a prolonged illness. He was 75.

Glenn Price, band director and director of performing and visual arts, praised his colleague’s service, dedication, and talent, saying that “for 36 years Allen Gross brought something special to Caltech.”

“Thoughtfully selected repertoire, holding players to a high musical standard, and an unswerving vision of the artistic core of each composition he conducted were some of his most salient attributes. Audiences were always entertained and edified by the fascinating insights he offered in his spoken remarks during concerts,” Price says.

As orchestra director and concert presenter, Price adds, Gross “provided the orchestra members an outlet for artistic expression and touched the lives of countless Caltech students as well as the Caltech community.”

Born in New York City in 1944, Gross earned a doctorate in conducting from Stanford University and degrees in music and musicology from Queens College in New York and UC Berkeley, and he studied at the Vienna Academy of Music and Arts. He began his professional conducting career in Germany, where he was a staff conductor in the opera houses of Oldenburg, Aachen, and Freiburg; conductor of the Junges Kammerorchester Heidelberg; and music director of the Heidelberg Castle Festival.

Before coming to Caltech in 1983 to direct the Occidental-Caltech Symphony, he made guest-conducting appearances at concerts in Cuba and China, and directed the orchestra and opera programs at the University of Louisville in Kentucky.

During his time at Caltech, Gross also served as music director and conductor of the Santa Monica Symphony Orchestra and of Orchestra Santa Monica, and he led tours of the Santa Monica Chamber Philharmonia. In addition, he worked at Occidental College until 2014, when he retired as emeritus professor of music.

Throughout his career, Gross enjoyed working with developing players, serving as music director/conductor of the Pasadena Young Musicians Orchestra from 1987 through 1991 and as conductor of the Pasadena Summer Youth Chamber Orchestra for 20 years.

In May, Gross’s final concert at Caltech featured Haydn’s Symphony No. 104, which he described in a recent interview with Caltech magazine as “very near and dear to my heart.”

“For me, Haydn makes the world whole,” he said. “There is this great human optimism that pervades Haydn throughout. And I thought, ‘OK, this is a good piece to end my career at Caltech with.’ It’s a piece with a great sense of harmony in it. In the slow movement, Haydn seems to deliberately lose his way. He veers off into very strange harmonic territory. And it stops, and it tries to get back on track, and it does get back on track. So, it’s very subtly poignant.”

Gross is survived by his wife, Karen; children Alexander and Miriam; son-in-law Martin; and grandchildren Oren and Leo.

The funeral will take place on Friday, August 23 at 10 a.m. at Mount Sinai, Hollywood Hills.

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