Joseph E. Fields, Conductor, Composer and Pianist, Is Dead at 53
July 21, 2008
Joseph E. Fields, a pianist, conductor and composer who was a former music director and principal conductor of Dance Theater of Harlem, died on July 4 in Scranton, Pa. He was 53 and had homes in Scranton and New York City.
John Fetsock, a family spokesman, said he died after a short illness.
After working with Dance Theater of Harlem from 1998 to 2004, Mr. Fields became the orchestra director and administrator of the music school at Marywood University in Scranton in 2005. He was also an associate professor there.
One of his major contributions at Dance Theater came during the company’s 2003 Lincoln Center Festival premiere of “St. Louis Woman,” a ballet based on the 1946 Broadway musical of that name. Mr. Fields provided orchestration and arrangements of the Broadway score by Harold Arlen and other songs, while also writing some original music. Choreographed by Michel Smuin, the ballet did not remain in the repertory but received praise for its entertainment value. From the start, the overture conducted by Mr. Fields had many viewers rocking in their seats.
Mr. Fields also conducted orchestras for the company’s tours in the United States, Europe, China and Australia.
Joseph E. Fields was born on Jan. 3, 1955, in Miami, Okla., and graduated summa cum laude from Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music, where he also received a master’s degree before earning a doctorate at Manhattan School of Music.
He was executive director of the Brooklyn Music School from 1997 to 1998 and also performed as a piano soloist and with chamber groups. Bernard Holland, reviewing a piano program by Mr. Fields in The New York Times in 1988, wrote, “How satisfying it was to hear music-making in which every line, voice and texture had been thought through and cared about.”
At Marywood, Mr. Fields wrote several works, including song cycles based on poems by E. E. Cummings.
Mr. Fields is survived by his companion, Ron Melichar of Scranton and New York; a brother, David, of Miami, Okla.; and a sister, Sara, of Tulsa.