John Oliver (1939-2018) founded the Tanglewood Festival Chorus in 1970 and prepared the TFC for more than 1000 performances, including appearances with the Boston Symphony Orchestra at Symphony Hall, Tanglewood, Carnegie Hall, and on tour in Europe and the Far East, as well as with visiting orchestras and as a solo ensemble. He had a major impact on musical life in Boston and beyond through his work with countless TFC members, former students from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (where he taught for thirty-two years), and Fellows of the Tanglewood Music Center who now perform with distinguished musical institutions throughout the world. Mr. Oliver's affiliation with the Boston Symphony began in 1964 when, at twenty-four, he prepared the Sacred Heart Boychoir of Roslindale for the BSO's performances and recording of excerpts from Berg's Wozzeck led by Erich Leinsdorf. In 1966 he prepared the choir for the BSO's performances and recording of Mahler's Symphony No. 3, also with Leinsdorf, soon after which Leinsdorf asked him to assist with the choral and vocal music program at the Tanglewood Music Center. In 1970, Mr. Oliver was named Director of Vocal and Choral Activities at the Tanglewood Music Center and founded the Tanglewood Festival Chorus. He prepared the chorus in more than 200 works for chorus and orchestra, as well as dozens more a cappella pieces, and for more than forty commercial releases with Seiji Ozawa, Bernard Haitink, Sir Colin Davis, Leonard Bernstein, Keith Lockhart, and John Williams. He made his Boston Symphony conducting debut at Tanglewood in August 1985, led subscription concerts for the first time in December 1985, conducted the orchestra most recently in July 1998, and returned to the BSO podium to open the BSO's final Tanglewood concert of 2010 with a TFC performance of Bach's motet, Jesu, meine Freude.
In addition to his work with the Tanglewood Festival Chorus and Tanglewood Music Center, Mr. Oliver held posts as conductor of the Framingham Choral Society, as a member of the faculty and director of the chorus at Boston University, and for many years on the faculty of MIT, where he was lecturer and then senior lecturer in music. While at MIT, he conducted the MIT Glee Club, Choral Society, Chamber Chorus, and Concert Choir. In 1977 he founded the John Oliver Chorale, which performed a wide-ranging repertoire encompassing masterpieces by Bach, Beethoven, Mozart, and Stravinsky, as well as seldom heard works by Carissimi, Bruckner, Ives, Martin, and Dallapiccola. With the Chorale he recorded two albums for Koch International: the first of works by Martin Amlin, Elliott Carter, William Thomas McKinley, and Bright Sheng, the second of works by Amlin, Carter, and Vincent Persichetti. He and the Chorale also recorded Charles Ives's The Celestial Countryand Charles Loeffler's Psalm 137 for Northeastern Records, and Donald Martino's Seven Pious Pieces for New World Records. Mr. Oliver's appearances as a guest conductor included Mozart's Requiem with the New Japan Philharmonic and Shinsei Chorus, and Mendelssohn's Elijah and Vaughan Williams's A Sea Symphony with the Berkshire Choral Institute. In May 1999 he prepared the chorus and children's choir for André Previn's performances of Benjamin Britten's Spring Symphony with the NHK Symphony in Japan; in 2001-02 he conducted the Carnegie Hall Choral Workshop in preparation for Previn's Carnegie performance of Brahms's Ein deutsches Requiem. In December 2011, John Oliver made his Montreal Symphony Orchestra debut conducting sold-out performances of Handel's Messiah. John Oliver was the 2011 recipient of the Alfred Nash Patterson Lifetime Achievement Award, presented by Choral Arts New England in recognition of his outstanding contributions to choral music.