St. Louis musician and theologian, Robert Bergt, whose work and reputation are known around the world, died Tuesday, July 26, 2011 at the age of 81. He was music director and conductor of the American Kantorei and artist-in-residence at Concordia Seminary, St. Louis. He is survived by his wife of 57 years, Joan, who is herself an accomplished musician; four children, Jonathan, Philip (Iris), Marsha (Peter), and Joel (Mieko); and six grandchildren.
Rev. Bergt combined his passion for music with his deep theological understanding. He founded the American Kantorei in 1968, the first group of its kind in the United States. The Kantorei is a highly skilled choral and instrumental group that has performed in a variety of settings in St. Louis and beyond. Since 1993, the American Kantorei, under the direction of Robert Bergt, has performed regular concerts in the Bach at the Sem series in the chapel at Concordia Seminary in Clayton. The popular series of concerts featured the music of Johann Sebastian Bach and other sacred music composers and was open to the public at no charge. Also, many of these concerts were broadcast on KFUO-FM.
Bergt, recognized with numerous awards through the years, was a 1952 graduate of Concordia Seminary. He served Lutheran congregations in Illinois and Missouri and was music director, conductor, and instructor at Concordia Seminary, Southern Illinois University, Valparaiso University, and at the Musashino Academia Musicae in Tokyo, Japan during his lengthy career. As early as 1949 he was chosen to be concertmaster and assistant conductor of the St. Louis Philharmonic.
Rev. Bergt once wrote, “I have learned from teaching and praying the church’s liturgy that doxology and Gospel proclamation are the purpose of my life.” Kathy Lawton Brown, a member of the American Kantorei for many years said, “All of us are saddened by this news, but grateful beyond words to have had the inestimable privilege of making heavenly music with Bob…music that will resound within our hearts forever.”
Dr. Dale A. Meyer, president of Concordia Seminary, called Bergt a “singularly talented and devoted person who inspired so many with his abilities and with his strong Christian faith. He devoted his career to the musical glorification of God. We will always remember with thanksgiving his spirit, his outstanding abilities, and the powerful legacy he leaves.”
A memorial concert is being planned for September 25. It will take place in the Chapel of St. Timothy and St. Titus on the campus of Concordia Seminary where Rev. Bergt conducted so many concerts. The family has asked that memorial gifts be given to Concordia Seminary for the future of Bach at the Sem.