He spent a brief but fruitful time at the College, where he engaged the lives of students, townspeople, and beyond. Shortly after Glenn Leggett became president, there was an all-campus convocation featuring an extraordinary performance of the Verdi Requiem, led by a not-yet-famous young conductor.
Denis de Coteau had gathered together students, faculty, and townspeople from all over Poweshiek County, as well as four distinguished soloists from New York City. With this fabulously unprecedented event that drew surprised kudos from the (then) top music critic of the New York Times, Mr. de Coteau, a member of the Grinnell College music faculty, began to attract worldwide attention.
Preparation for the concert involved night rehearsals twice each week for the school year. This was no small effort for the unique combination of town and gown. Don and I were fortunate to have attended this performance and were followed out of Roberts Theatre by the critic and entourage mentioned above. We heard him ask, "Who is this fine conductor? He's going to go far."
Denis de Coteau died in 1999 at the age of 70, after a celebrated career including a 24-year stint as music director of the San Francisco Ballet.
Originally published as an online web extra for The Grinnell Magazine, Summer 2008