Conducting at Curtis

Date: January 8, 2014 Category:

Composers lead colored

The Curtis Institute of Music was founded in 1924 to train a new generation of musicians. Ever since, Curtis alumni have filled positions in orchestras around the world and headed them as conductors.

This exhibit features the conductors who have led the Curtis orchestra—beginning with Leopold Stokowski, and including every music director of the Philadelphia Orchestra until the present day in addition to many others of international renown. The exhibit also highlights the development of the conducting program at Curtis, led by such luminaries as Artur Rodzinski, Fritz Reiner, Max Rudolf, and Otto-Werner Mueller.

 

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Conductors 1nwThe early years, 1924–31

The Curtis orchestra met for the first time on November 14, 1924 in the Common Room. By the sixth year of its existence it had performed in the Academy of Music and Carnegie Hall, broadcast on radio, and played for Curtis’s first opera production, Eugene d’Albert’s Tiefland.

The school’s early success was due in part to the close ties between its founder, Mary Louise Curtis Bok, and Leopold Stokowski. Stokowski was keenly aware that educating new talents would benefit the Philadelphia Orchestra. During Curtis’s first three years, he took charge of the Curtis orchestra himself, while all instrumental faculty were members of the Philadelphia Orchestra. “In other words, the students of The Curtis Institute of Music receive the training which has made the Philadelphia Orchestra the foremost in the World,” according to the Catalogue in 1926.

By the end of the 1926–27 season Stokowski left his position as conductor of the Curtis orchestra to the Polish-born Artur Rodzinski, who was then assistant conductor of the Philadelphia Orchestra. Stokowski remained involved, however, and when Rodzinski unexpectedly left for another position he recommended appointing the violinist, composer, and conductor Emil Mlynarski. In addition to leading the orchestra, Mlynarski taught conducting in a new program that Rodzinski had started in 1927. By the time Fritz Reiner took over in 1931, four students had majored in the subject.

 

Announcement about Stokowski’s engagement for the orchestra, 1924

Announcement about Stokowski’s engagement for the orchestra, 1924

The senior and junior orchestra only existed during the first two years at Curtis. [Source: Vertical files-- Stokowski]

Announcement about Stokowski’s engagement for the orchestra, 1924
Stokowski and Thaddeus Rich rehearse the orchestra in the Common Room, 1925

Stokowski and Thaddeus Rich rehearse the orchestra in the Common Room, 1925

Orchestra performances were given in the Academy of Music, home of the Philadelphia Orchestra. [Photographer: Kubey-Rembrandt Studios]

Stokowski and Thaddeus Rich rehearse the orchestra in the Common Room, 1925
Catalogue entry about the orchestra department, 1926

Catalogue entry about the orchestra department, 1926

From 1926–27 there was only one student orchestra. All instrumental faculty were members of the Philadelphia Symphony Orchestra. Students were taught orchestral techniques in an “Orchestra Class,” which during the first year was taught by Marcel Tabuteau, principal oboe in the Philadelphia Orchestra. This was Stokowski’s last year conducting the Curtis Orchestra. In 1927, Artur Rodzinsky took his place. [Source: Catalogue 1926–1927]

Catalogue entry about the orchestra department, 1926
Rodzinsky conducting the Curtis Orchestra at the Academy of Music, 1927

Rodzinsky conducting the Curtis Orchestra at the Academy of Music, 1927

On December 21, 1927 Rodzinsky performed for the first time with the Curtis orchestra. The program included Dvořák’s “New World” Symphony, Weber’s Oberon overture, Liszt’s Les Préludes, and an aria from Mozart’s Il re pastore (view the program) During its second year with Rodzinsky the orchestra performed twice in Philadelphia and once in New York at Carnegie Hall. [Photographer: Kubey-Rembrandt Studios]

Rodzinsky conducting the Curtis Orchestra at the Academy of Music, 1927
“Plan of Study” for conducting at Curtis, 1928

“Plan of Study” for conducting at Curtis, 1928

Rodzinski was the first conducting teacher at Curtis. The curriculum included score reading, instrumentation, principles of art expression, and history of music, in addition to conducting the student orchestra and practice groups (view audition requirements) [Source: Catalogue, 1928-29]

“Plan of Study” for conducting at Curtis, 1928
Stokowski to Mary Bok about Rodzinski’s resignation, 1928

Stokowski to Mary Bok about Rodzinski’s resignation, 1928

Stokowski, who had engaged Rodzinski as assistant conductor of the Philadelphia Orchestra in 1925, hoped that Mary Bok could persuade Rodzinski to remain in Philadelphia with a financial offer. When this was not possible, he suggested Mlynarski as a replacement at Curtis. "Prince" was Mary Bok's nickname for Stokowski. (view letter up close ) [Source: AD 2.3. President of the Board correspondence]

Stokowski to Mary Bok about Rodzinski’s resignation, 1928
Emil Mlynarski, 1929

Emil Mlynarski, 1929

Overtones published this photograph to introduce the new faculty member in 1929. Mlynarski wrote an article about his career in the same issue. [Source: Catalogue 1929-30]

Emil Mlynarski, 1929

 

 

Conductors 2adjFrom Fritz Reiner through the 1960s, 1931–68

When Fritz Reiner, the Hungarian-born conductor of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, was looking for a new position in 1931 he seemed the perfect replacement for Mlynarski, who turned out to have problems keeping order. Contrary to his predecessor, Reiner inspired respect and even fear. But the orchestra benefited greatly, and its quality soon attracted notice. Reiner demanded meticulous preparation from his conducting students, too. “You had no right to step up on the podium unless you knew everything about what every member of the orchestra had to do,” according to Leonard Bernstein (’41). “And if you didn’t, God pity you…” Bernstein was one of twelve students who majored in conducting under Reiner. Others included Boris Goldovsky (’34), Vincent Persichetti (’39), and Lukas Foss (’40).

Reiner left Curtis in 1941. Financial constraints had forced Mary Louise Curtis Bok and Curtis’s new director Efrem Zimbalist to cut costs, and the conducting program was discontinued. During the war years, when there were few students, the orchestra was disbanded. In 1945 it regrouped again under longtime violin faculty member Alexander Hilsberg, concertmaster of the Philadelphia Orchestra. Zimbalist continued to keep orchestra costs down throughout his tenure as director (1941–68). In 1953 Hilsberg was succeeded as head of the Curtis Orchestra by the new associate conductor of the Philadelphia Orchestra, William Smith, who worked on symphonic repertoire during reading rehearsals. During this period, the orchestra performed only occasionally.

 

Fritz Reiner, 1933

Fritz Reiner, 1933

[Photographer unknown]

Fritz Reiner, 1933
Fritz Reiner to Mary Louise Curtis Bok about the orchestra, February 13, 1932

Fritz Reiner to Mary Louise Curtis Bok about the orchestra, February 13, 1932

Reiner wrote this letter at the beginning of the second semester that he was employed at Curtis as head of the orchestra and conducting. View the complete letter [Source: AD 2.3. President of the Board correspondence]

Fritz Reiner to Mary Louise Curtis Bok about the orchestra, February 13, 1932
Audition requirements for conducting students, 1932

Audition requirements for conducting students, 1932

When Reiner took over the conducting program, he dramatically raised the expectations of prospective students. Previous requirements merely included a working knowledge of clefs, transposition, and theory; a good ear; and a fair knowledge of the piano, organ, or string instrument. Because of the onset of the Great Depression, there was no printed edition of the Catalogue in 1932. [Source: Catalogue, 1932–33]

Audition requirements for conducting students, 1932
Reiner conducts opera "Amelia al Ballo," April 1, 1937

Reiner conducts opera "Amelia al Ballo," April 1, 1937

During Reiner’s tenure, Curtis produced the world premiere of the opera Amelia Goes to the Ball by Gian Carlo Menotti in 1937. The opera, originally performed in Italian, was a great success and was produced at the Metropolitan Opera the following year. [Photographer unknown]

Reiner conducts opera "Amelia al Ballo," April 1, 1937
Leonard Bernstein's grade card for 1940–41

Leonard Bernstein's grade card for 1940–41

This is Bernstein's grade card for his second year at Curtis. Besides conducting, his classes included piano with Isabella Vengerova, orchestration with Curtis director Randall Thompson, solfège with Renée Longy Miquelle, and form and counterpoint with Richard Stohr. Bernstein is reported to be the only one of Reiner's students to receive an A in conducting. Reiner arranged for his students to attend two performances of Der Rosenkavalier that he conducted in Chicago in December 1940, in order to observe his leadership. [Source: AD 3.3. Student records. Displayed with permission of the Bernstein Estate. View the complete grade cards]

Leonard Bernstein's grade card for 1940–41
Leonard Bernstein with Randall Thompson and students, 1940

Leonard Bernstein with Randall Thompson and students, 1940

The composer Randall Thompson, director of the Curtis Institute of Music from 1939 to 1941, taught Orchestration. Bernstein is the third student from the left. [Photographer: William R. Rittase]

Leonard Bernstein with Randall Thompson and students, 1940
Hilsberg with Piatagorsky and Zimbalist, 1949

Hilsberg with Piatagorsky and Zimbalist, 1949

Hilsberg conducted the Curtis orchestra, augmented by 24 members of the Philadelphia Orchestra, during a gala concert on the occasion of Curtis's 25th-anniversary celebration on January 5, 1929, in the Academy of Music. The program included Berlioz's Roman Carnival Overture, the local premiere of Barber's Symphony No. 2, and Brahms’s Double Concerto in A minor. Curtis director Efrem Zimbalist (violin) and faculty member Gregor Piatigorsky (cello) were the soloists. (View the program.) [Photographer unknown]

Hilsberg with Piatagorsky and Zimbalist, 1949

 

 

Conductors 3adjA new era, 1968–85

When Rudolf Serkin succeeded Efrem Zimbalist as director of the Curtis Institute of Music, he asked his good friend Eugene Ormandy, music director of the Philadelphia Orchestra since 1936, to join the Curtis faculty to conduct the orchestra. Ormandy accepted, on the condition that his salary would be donated to benefit students in need. The appointment heralded a new era in which the orchestra performed more frequently. Ormandy also invited guest conductors of the Philadelphia Orchestra to work with the Curtis orchestra, thus starting a tradition that continues to this day. Ormandy, who referred to the Curtis orchestra as “his other orchestra,” remained on the faculty until 1977.

In 1970 Serkin also appointed the German-born conductor Max Rudolf to head the opera department and revive the conducting program. Rudolf appointed a member of the New York City Opera conducting staff, David Effron, as his assistant. When Rudolf left Curtis in 1973 Effron stayed on as opera conductor and also conducted the Curtis orchestra; in 1976–77 he was the orchestra’s principal conductor.

John de Lancie, succeeding Serkin as director in 1977, restructured the orchestra department. In 1980–84 Robert Fitzpatrick, the future dean, helped to lead the orchestra. Max Rudolf returned to Curtis from 1983 to 1986 as head of the orchestra department and conducting. Conducting graduates during this period included Robert Spano (’85), Barbara Yahr (’86), and Michael Stern (’86). Rudolf’s book The Grammar of Conducting is still used at Curtis to this day.

 

Ormandy and Serkin with the Curtis orchestra, February 4, 1973

Ormandy and Serkin with the Curtis orchestra, February 4, 1973

Eugene Ormandy and Rudolf Serkin take a bow after the performance of Mozart’s Piano Concerto No 17 during an all-Beethoven concert at the Academy of Music. It was a benefit concert for Curtis’s student assistant fund, to which Ormandy donated his Curtis salary each year. [Photographer: unknown]

Ormandy and Serkin with the Curtis orchestra, February 4, 1973
Ormandy to Curtis’s controller about working without a fee, 1968

Ormandy to Curtis’s controller about working without a fee, 1968

Ormandy's annual salary was directly deposited into Curtis's student assistance fund. This arrangement resulted in an annual exchange between Serkin and Ormandy, in which Serkin offered the position, and Ormandy repeated his request. [Source: Vertical files Ormandy]

Ormandy to Curtis’s controller about working without a fee, 1968
Ormandy’s rehearsal schedule for the Curtis orchestra, 1968

Ormandy’s rehearsal schedule for the Curtis orchestra, 1968

Ormandy met with the orchestra on Saturday mornings to read orchestral repertoire. [Source: Vertical files Ormandy]

Ormandy’s rehearsal schedule for the Curtis orchestra, 1968
David Effron rehearses the orchestra, 1973

David Effron rehearses the orchestra, 1973

[Photographer: George Krause]

David Effron rehearses the orchestra, 1973
William Smith conducting the Curtis orchestra, 1984

William Smith conducting the Curtis orchestra, 1984

When Eugene Ormandy became the new head of the orchestra in 1968, William (“Bill”) Smith continued to be a member of the department. He rehearsed the orchestra and prepared performances with guest conductors until 1993. [Photographer: Neil Benson]

William Smith conducting the Curtis orchestra, 1984
Max Rudolf during a rehearsal at the Academy of Music, 23 January 1985

Max Rudolf during a rehearsal at the Academy of Music, 23 January 1985

Max Rudolf is discussing the scores of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 3 in E flat major, Op. 55 (“Eroica”) with conducting students Barbara Yahr (’86) and Mark R. Smith (’87), and concertmaster Mitchell Newman ’86. The symphony would be played during an all-Beethoven concert the following day with Mieczyslaw Horszowski as piano soloist. (View the program.) [Photographer: Neil Benson].

Max Rudolf during a rehearsal at the Academy of Music, 23 January 1985
Guest conductor Sergiu Celibidache lecturing at Curtis Hall, 1984

Guest conductor Sergiu Celibidache lecturing at Curtis Hall, 1984

Curtis director John de Lancie invited the world-renowned Romanian conductor Sergiu Celibidache for a three-week residency in 1984. On February 27, 1984 Celibidache made his United States debut with the Curtis orchestra in Carnegie Hall. In the preceding weeks he rehearsed the orchestra and gave lectures, in which he often expressed unorthodox views. During this lecture, he discussed phenomenology. [Photographer: Felicia Robb]

Guest conductor Sergiu Celibidache lecturing at Curtis Hall, 1984

 

 

Conductors 4adjA conducting pedagogue and visiting conductors, 1986-2012

When Gary Graffman became Curtis’s director in 1986 he appointed Otto-Werner Mueller as conductor of the orchestra and head of the conducting department. Mueller would head the conducting program, supported by the Helen F. Whitaker Fund, for 26 years. The curriculum included extensive analysis of scores and orchestration, as well as instruction in conducting and rehearsal techniques. Students gained practical experience through weekly “lab orchestra” sessions and in orchestra performances in the Student Recital Series. The list of conducting alumni who graduated during Mueller’s tenure, many of whom hold notable positions, underlines his influence (browse the alumni database). In an Overtones tribute in 2012, Mueller–who held the Rita E. and Gustave M. Hauser Chair in Conducting Studies and also headed the conducting program at Juilliard–is described as “the most important conducting pedagogue of the last 50 years.”

The Curtis orchestra benefited from Mueller’s guidance during these years; and also worked with many visiting conductors, who led orchestra readings or performances. Reinforcing the Philadelphia Orchestra’s historic ties with Curtis, they included its music directors Riccardo Muti, Wolfgang Sawallisch, and Christoph Eschenbach. Continuing a tradition established by Eugene Ormandy, the Philadelphia Orchestra’s guest conductors also visited Curtis for readings (view excerpts of a reading by Simon Rattle in 1997). Other conductors worked with the orchestra to prepare performances in its annual three-concert season.

 

Gary Graffman, Otto-Werner Mueller, and Riccardo Muti, April 6, 1987

Gary Graffman, Otto-Werner Mueller, and Riccardo Muti, April 6, 1987

Riccardo Muti was the first conductor to visit Curtis for a repertoire reading during Gary Graffman’s tenure as director. “This rehearsal marked a reestablishment of a warm relationship between the Curtis and the Philadelphia Orchestra,” according to Overtones. Muti rehearsed Beethoven’s Symphony No 5.

Gary Graffman, Otto-Werner Mueller, and Riccardo Muti, April 6, 1987
Mstislav Rostropovich rehearses the Curtis orchestra, April 1989

Mstislav Rostropovich rehearses the Curtis orchestra, April 1989

Mstislav Rostropovich rehearses the Curtis orchestra, April 1989
A reading with Wolfgang Sawallisch, January 28, 1991

A reading with Wolfgang Sawallisch, January 28, 1991

In 1991 Wolfgang Sawallisch, who would be director of the Philadelphia Orchestra from 1993 to 2003, worked with the Curtis orchestra for the first time. During this reading he rehearsed the orchestra in Dvořák’s Symphony No. 8. (View article about the visit in Overtones) [Photographer: Jean Brubaker]

A reading with Wolfgang Sawallisch, January 28, 1991
Andre Previn rehearses the orchestra with Gary Graffman, 1993

Andre Previn rehearses the orchestra with Gary Graffman, 1993

The rehearsal preceded the world premiere of Ned Rorem’s Piano Concerto No. 4 on February 4, 1993 at the Academy of Music and Carnegie Hall on February 4–5, 1993. Curtis commissioned this left-hand concerto from Ned Rorem (Composition ’44) for the school’s president, pianist Gary Graffman. (view article about the concert in Overtones) [Photographer: David Swanson]

Andre Previn rehearses the orchestra with Gary Graffman, 1993
Simon Rattle during an orchestra reading, 1997

Simon Rattle during an orchestra reading, 1997

Rattle visited Curtis for an orchestra reading of Dvořák's Carnival Overture on November 1, 1997, when he was in Philadelphia for two series of concerts with the Philadelphia Orchestra. Rattle has worked with the orchestra several times; his most recent visit was in 2012. (View an audio slide show of the event; View article in Overtones) [photographer: Jean Brubaker]

Simon Rattle during an orchestra reading, 1997
Mueller instructing a conducting student during Lab Orchestra, 2006

Mueller instructing a conducting student during Lab Orchestra, 2006

During Lab Orchestra, conducting students led an orchestra of instrumental students who had to follow exactly what each young conductor communicated. The weekly two-hour sessions were videotaped. In this photograph Mueller is coaching Andrew Hauze (Conducting ’07). (View article about Mueller's conducting classes in Overtones, 2006.) [Photographer: John Paul Lacovara]

Mueller instructing a conducting student during Lab Orchestra, 2006
Christoph Eschenbach during Lab Orchestra, January 25, 2008

Christoph Eschenbach during Lab Orchestra, January 25, 2008

Christoph Eschenbach during Lab Orchestra, January 25, 2008

 

 

The next chapter

Curtis’s new conducting program, with Yannick Nézet-Séguin as mentor conductor, launches in the 2013–14 season—a new chapter in the history of conducting at Curtis and its longstanding relationship with the Philadelphia Orchestra. To read up on that history, come back to the Curtis Archives in 20 years. Or start following that history today!

 

DISCLAIMER: The images and documents in this exhibit are made available for purposes of education and research. The Curtis Archives has made every attempt to determine the copyright status of materials displayed, but due to the nature of archival materials we are not always able to identify this information. We are eager to hear from any rights owners, so that we may obtain accurate information. Upon request, we will remove material from public view while we address a rights issue.