He went from New York Military Academy to the Juilliard School of Music in Manhattan. And by the age of 24, he'd hit a groove conducting and then meeting up with none other than Igor Stravinsky. Their ensuing collaboration is the stuff of storybooks.
Craft was bold enough to write to the famous composer while still a student at Juilliard to make inquiries about his music. Within a remarkably short period of time, their correspondence went from formal to familiar, with Stravinsky calling him "Bob" and exchanging ideas with him about musical and literary matters. It became clear to the elder - Stravinsky was 42 years older than Craft - that the young man's vast interest in both music and literature, and a great many other things, could be both nurtured and tapped. They met, began working together, and Craft soon became a member of the Stravinsky household for the remaining 23 years of the composer's life.
In a relationship that can only be understood as synergistic, the two seemed to recognize each other's brilliance and thus use their combined creative talent to their own separate benefits as artists. The Atlantic Monthly's Allen Shawn wrote that while Craft was sometimes Stravinsky's advocate, he was never his surrogate, never merely a valued assistant. And of Vera Stravinsky's understanding of the relationship, he reports that Craft said, "From the first, she believed that I, or someone like me, was essential to her husband if he was to remain in the midstream of new music."
In addition to his career in conducting orchestras from Boston to Caracas, Venezuela to Helsinki, Finland and beyond, and in recording the great works of a number of 20th-century master composers, Craft has authored more than 20 books. He's written columns for the New York Review of Books and the London Times Literary Supplement. Through his long-term association with Stravinsky, he became familiar not only with notables in the music world, but also with numerous poets and writers of fame: W. H. Auden, e. e. cummings, Aldous Huxley and T. S. Elliot, to drop but a few impressive names. Photographs included in his books, Down a Path of Wonder (Naxos Books, 2006) and Stravinsky: Chronicle of a Friendship (Knopf, 1972), depict the rarefied air of culture that he's lived and breathed for these many years.
After Stravinsky's death, Craft's writings served to detail this incredible relationship and correct misrepresentations laid out by others. Indeed, he "set the record straight" in both written words and in continuing efforts to produce the music. He is, in fact, a prolific writer of broad interests. His pursuit of knowledge and experience has taken him all over the world - to Cambodia, for example, to study the bas-relief sculptural depictions of ancient musical instruments. But it would be a mistake to categorize Craft's storehouse of incidental knowledge as merely "artifactual." His multilayered observations and immense vocabulary are offered with anecdotal candor. Again from Shawn: "He is intellectual but not academic, and totally undoctrinaire. Even in a testy mood, even when playing the role of fussy archivist...Craft is entertaining."
Craft's roots in Kingston run deep: He descends from some of the City's founders and remains a member of those family associations, and also of the Huguenot Historical Society. He's listed in Who's Who and in the Grove Musical Dictionary, and is a two-time recipient of the prestigious Grand Prix du Disque, as well as the Edison Prize. He is a walking, talking and writing source of fascinating cultural history, and a continuous producer of modern recordings of some of the last century's most important music. Currently in the midst of recording the complete works of Stravinsky, Arnold Schoenberg and Anton Webern with Naxos Records - no simple undertaking at any age, given the sheer mass of material to be covered - Craft has not deemed it time to slow his tempo.
It's with anticipated pleasure that the Friends of Historic Kingston presents this City's native son at the Old Dutch Church on Sunday, November 9 from 2 to 6 p.m. Recently celebrating his 85th birthday, Craft will honor attendees with readings from his various books, selections of his recorded works and by generally entertaining one and all at a reception to follow the talk. The event is being produced by Friends of Historic Kingston members Phyllis Craft Crawford (Craft's sister) and childhood friend Rose Abernathy Irvine. The Old Dutch Church is at 272 Wall Street in the Stockade District of uptown Kingston. This event is open to the public at no charge.