During his 22-year tenure with the Nashville Symphony, Schermerhorn dramatically raised the orchestra's profile, leading it on tours, recordings, and on television. In a long career, he also served as music director of American Ballet Theatre, Milwaukee Symphony, New Jersey Symphony, and Hong Kong Philharmonic.
Born in Schenectady, New York, Schermerhorn studied clarinet, violin, and trumpet as a child and began performing professionally as a teenager. After attending the New England Conservatory of Music, he played trumpet in several orchestras, including the Boston Symphony.
In 1950, Schermerhorn was drafted into the army, where he was appointed to his first conducting position, as music director of the U.S. Seventh Army Symphony Orchestra. After leaving the service, he studied conducting with Leonard Bernstein at Tanglewood, and in 1957, at age 28, was appointed music director of American Ballet Theatre. While with the company, he also served as an assistant conductor at the New York Philharmonic under Bernstein's leadership, and as music director of the New Jersey Symphony.
Schermerhorn left ABT in 1968 to become music director of the Milwaukee Symphony. In 12 years in Milwaukee, he set a pattern that would be repeated in Nashville, leading the orchestra in its Carnegie Hall debut and on national and international tours.
In 1982, Schermerhorn was asked to assist the Nashville Symphony in its search for a new conductor.
"I was on the selection committee at the time," board chair Martha Ingram said yesterday. "Kenneth Schermerhorn brought such excitement to the orchestra and to the audience, and I remember asking him, 'Why don't we just hire you?' And he smiled as if he liked the idea. The rest is history."
A memorial service will be held at War Memorial Auditorium in Nashville on a date to be announced.