George Halverson Fiore
July 15, 1926 ~ August 27, 2013
The only son of Italian e;migre;s Giovanni and Elena Fiore, George was born in New York, NY. Much younger than his three half-siblings, Dominic, Henrietta and Louis, he spent his earliest years in Manhattan and Rome. George's parents wished a more practical career for their son, but were thwarted by his unrepentant interest in music (his godmother was legendary soprano Luisa Tetrazzini, and he remembered huddling next to the pedalboard of the organ at Wanamakers as the venerable Louis Vierne played.) Although he didn't begin formal piano lessons until he was thirteen, his talent was soon recognized, and after schooling at Brooklyn College, the Manhattan School of Music and eventually Julliard (where he became close friends with Van Cliburn,) he made his concert debut in 1950.
George's years in New York quickly split in two directions: as accompanist and coach, and as performer. He was principal pianist in William Pierce Herman's studio, learning about vocal
technique (Herman's students included Roberta Peters, who became another close friend,) and a vast range of opera scores, which put him in good stead years later, as a rehearsal accompanist at the Met. As a performer, George made his Town Hall debut in 1953, toured as a member of the "American Piano Trio," ("three grand pianos in a big truck,") and eventually mastered the multiple manuals of the organ. He spent eight years as organist and director of the boychoir of St. Saviour in Brooklyn, the experience of which won him the post of executive director of the Northwest Boychoir in the mid-70's.
George married Sherril Halverson
in 1956, and the couple moved with their two children, John Helmer and Claudia Christine, to Seattle in 1967 where George took the post of Principal Organist and Director of Music at St. James Cathedral. This was the first in a series of long-term appointments, including Seattle First United Methodist Church, Seattle First Presbyterian Church, and Prince of Peace Lutheran Church in Shoreline.
His knowledge of the operatic repertoire and rehearsal skills proved invaluable as Chorusmaster of Seattle Opera, a post he held for seventeen years, after which he assumed the role of Associate Conductor of the Seattle Symphony for Choral Activities. He retired from the Symphony Chorale in 2007 after seven years with the title "Conductor Emeritus."
He continued private vocal coaching from his basement studio throughout, and taught Vocal Repertoire at the Cornish Institute and the University of Washington, in addition to classes at Seattle Pacific University. George received an honorary Doctorate in Public Music from Alaska Pacific University.
As a solo pianist, George kept mostly to the Romantic repertoire, specializing in Chopin. As an organist, he was devoted to the music of J. S. Bach and Cesar Franck. He performed an impressive array of piano concerti with local orchestras like Thalia, Orchestra Seattle, Bellevue Philharmonic, Federal Way Symphony, Cascade Symphony, Highline Symphony and the Seattle Symphony. His repertoire encompassed several Mozart concerti, all of the Beethoven, Brahms and Chopin concerti, the Grieg, Tchaikovsky First and Franck Symphonic Variations.
What those associated with George remember first was his infectious enthusiasm. In rehearsal, his focus on musical values always outstripped dull repetition, and inspired his performers to surpass themselves. At the helm, George was old-school New York - insistent and brash, but never mean. What he demonstrated was a genuine love for the music (Orff's "Carmina Burana" excepted.)
Perhaps sharing music was a core mission for him. Students who glimpsed George's studio immediately understood his dedication to the core repertoire. An unalloyed zeal expressed itself in every aspect of his life, whether through his gift for teaching, virtuosity in performance, talent as a cook, or the sheer pleasure he drew from friends, colleagues and family.
George is survived by son John Fiore, daughter Claudia Fiore and her husband Rafe Dimmitt, brother Louis, and his 25-year-old goldfish, Greedy. To his many loving friends, perhaps there never was a man with a larger family of non-relations.
A memorial service will be held at noon on Saturday, August 31 at Prince of Peace Lutheran Church, Shoreline.
George in the 1950s
Published in The Seattle Times from Aug. 29 to Aug. 30, 2013.