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Virginia Babikian (Soprano, Choral Conductor)

Born: 1925 - Everett (Middlesex), Massachusetts, USA
Died: March 22, 1997 - Houston, Texas, USA

The American soprano, choral conductor and teacher, Virginia Babikian, studied at the Westminister Choir College in Princeton, New Jersey, where she earned her Bachelor of Music degree in voice and cello in 1951 and her Master of Music degree in choral conducting in 1952. After graduating she came in 1952 to Houston to be minister of music at River Oaks Baptist Church. While in Houston, she studied cello with Alfred Urbach, a member of the Houston Symphony Orchestra's cello section and founder of the Houston Symphony Chorale.

On Urbach's suggestion, Virginia Babikian auditioned as a singer for Leopold Stokowski, who became Music Director of the Houston Symphony Orchestra in 1955. That led to her professional debut with the orchestra in January 31, 1956 as soprano soloist in the Texas premiere of Carl Orff's Carmina Burana. The performance was a big success for everyone and gave her musical career a huge boost. In 1956 she also participted in the American premiere of Orff’s The Triumph of Aphorodite with the same conductor and orchestra. With Leopold Stokowski's assistance, Babikian received a Fulbright scholarship for intensive advanced vocal training at the Rome Opera in 1956. In Europe she made concert tours of Italy and Spain and in 1957 made her operatic debut in Spoleto, Italy. Leopold Stokowski invited her back to Houston in 1958 for a revival and recording of Carmina Burana for Capitol Records. The recording, available on CD, made her career. She won the New York Madrigal Society’s annual Town Hall award, and made her debut there on March 28, 1958. From a base in New York City, she pursued a distinguished career in opera and orchestral performances. While traveling throughout the USA, Europe, South America, Central America and East Asia, she sang with world-renowned orchestras, opera companies and conductors such as Leopold Stokowski, Leonard Bernstein, Hermann Scherchen and Jenkins. In April 1960 she sang George Frideric Handel’s Messiah at the Lindsborg Music Festival and in March 1961 L.v. Beethoven’s 9th Symphony with the Kansas City Philharmonic Orchestra under the baton of Hans Schwieger..

Virginia Babikian pursued her career until 1964 when she married George Stein of Seguin, texas and she moved there. In 1965, she became artist-in-residence and associate professor at Houston Baptist University (HBU). After a year of commuting, her family moved to Houston, where she remained for the next 27 years. She continued to teach at HBU until 1982 and pursue her career both locally and internationally. In 1982, she joined the faculty at Rice University's Shepherd School of Music, where she was was chairman of the voice instruction department and professor of voice..

Virginia Babikian had been assistant conductor and vocal coach.of the Houston Symphony Chorale for 8 years (1969-1977), before becoming its director for 9 years (1977-1986). She made a crucial contribution to Houston choral music and was credited with raising the Houston Symphony Chorale' vocal standards significantly. "Virginia Babikian created a milestone in Houston's musical history by building up the Houston Symphony Chorale," said Sergiu Comissiona, Music Director of the Houston Symphony Orchestra in a prepared statement. "With devotion, patience and knowledge of the human voice, she has added another dimension to the Houston Symphony Orchestra."

Virginia Babikian retired to spend more time with her husband. Her husband died in 1991.She died in 1997 at age 72 after a long battle with cancer. She is survived by a sister, Eleanor Babikian of Cambridge, Massachusetts; stepdaughters and sons-in-laws Barbara Elise and Vincent Burlaos of Hawaii and Virginia and Tom Bromley of Baton Rouge, La.; several granddaughters and a great-grandson; and her "adopted" daughter and caretaker, Rita R. LaRue of Houston.

Source: Lawrence Journal-World (March 22, 1961); CHRON - Houston Chronicle Archive Website (1986, 1997); Rice University Website
Contributed by
Aryeh Oron (December 2012)

Recordings of Bach Cantatas & Other Vocal Works




Sergiu Luca

Choral Conductor

BWV 230

Links to other Sites

Symphony chorale director to retire in July (CHRON)
Soprano and choral conductor Babikian dies (CHRON)

Virginia Babikian (Zoominfo)
Voice department chair dies at age 72 (Rice University)

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