About This Site

Music – the making of it, the enjoyment of it – is by its very nature a shared activity. How that sharing manifests itself varies greatly. It can mean being in a hall, or a practice-room, or even out on the street, making music with one’s friends, or by oneself in front of an audience; being part of that audience, experience the melodies in the same heartbeat. And even when one seems completely alone – studying a score, in front of your CD player or streaming music via your laptop – you never are, not really. Time and space are transcended as you connect with the composer and with all who have ever experienced this music.

Yet for as long as music has existed, the spaces around music – where we listen to it, where we study it, where we discuss it – have had special meaning. The court, the cathedral, the concert hall, the study–the spaces where music is heard affect how we connect with it.

The Leon Botstein Music Room is a devoted online space where the lovers of music, practitioners and listeners, can delve in and out of materials about classical music, of great performances, of thoughts about repertoire familiar and obscure, and ideas about music education. It draws from the work and multi-faceted career of Leon Botstein, President of Bard College, Music Director of the American Symphony Orchestra, and the Bard Music Festival, and Conductor Laureate of the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra.

This site, a metaphoric visit to Dr. Botstein’s private study (always overflowing with books, scores, and interesting visitors) located at his residence on the campus of Bard College in upstate New York, is jam-packed with ideas from the various sides of his own musical life – as conductor, educator, advocate for the arts – as well as ideas from colleagues and fellow musicians.

The Music Room has four corners:

At The Music Stand – the professional life and activities of a conductor.

At The Desk – covering a wide range of topics and issues from Botstein’s articles and public speeches.

Let’s Talk Music - a place, as it sounds, where music is discussed, including monthly thoughts on music from Botstein and guest articles from colleagues.

Let’s Talk  Education - the future of music and arts education is of paramount importance for the future of society, and this is a forum for ways of teaching, as well as specific teachings on music, to be discussed and materials to be gathered.

Like any music room, this is a place to explore, to enjoy, to learn, to contribute and to discover. All of which are pretty good descriptions of the activity of making music. Leon Botstein invites you into his music room…

If you have an article you would like published in Leon Botstein Music Room, or any thoughts or suggestions, please contact us.

About Leon Botstein Leon Botstein

Music is a speechless form of life that can renew our respect and gratitude for our own life and the lives of others. –Leon Botstein

Leon Botstein was born in Zurich, the youngest son of two eminent Polish Jewish physicians who left Poland, studied medicine in Switzerland and who became members of the faculty of the University of Zurich.  After waiting for more than 12 years for a visa to immigrate to the United States, his parents moved to New York and ultimately joined the faculty at Montefiore Hospital and the Albert Einstein School of Medicine, where they remained for the rest of their careers.

Unlike his older brother and sister, Botstein chose not to go into medicine or science but instead into the arts and humanities. He studied violin with the legendary Roman Totenberg in the US and during the summers studied with faculty from the National Conservatory in Mexico City, where other surviving family members had settled.  He attended the High School of Music and Art and graduated at the age of 16.  He then attended the University of Chicago, where he graduated in history and philosophy. His music teachers there included the Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Richard Wernick and the eminent musicologists H. Colin Slim and Howard Mayer Brown.  While at Chicago Botstein was concertmaster and assistant conductor of the University orchestra, and founded Chicago University’s chamber which still exists today. In 1967 he studied at Tanglewood and then went on to graduate school at Harvard where he completed a Ph.D. in history under David Landes, writing on musical life of Vienna in the 19th and early 20th centuries.  At Harvard Botstein was the assistant conductor of Harvard Radcliffe Orchestra, and conductor of the Doctors’ Orchestra of Boston, an ensemble of conservatory students and medical professionals which performed at the Gardner Museum.  In 1969 Botstein won a Sloan Foundation Fellowship which brought him to New York City where he worked as special assistant to the president of the Board of Education.   A year later he was recruited to become president of an experimental college, Franconia, which operated from 1964 to 1978 in New Hampshire. At age 23 Leon Botstein became the youngest college president in history.  While at Franconia he founded the White Mountain Music Festival, an offshoot of which is still operating.

In 1975 Botstein left Franconia to become the president of Bard College, a position he still holds. Under his leadership, Bard has developed into a distinctive liberal arts institution offering a vast range of undergraduate and graduate programs. In 1981, in the wake of the death of his second child, an 8-year-old daughter, he decided to return in earnest to the career in music he had begun at Chicago.  He became principal conductor of the Hudson Valley Philharmonic and led its chamber orchestra series. In 1992 he was named music director of the American Symphony Orchestra, a position he still holds.  During his directorship, he transformed ASO into a pioneer, presenting great works long-ignored by history, alongside the acknowledged masterpieces, in concerts curated thematically, using history and ideas to catch the imagination of a wider and non-traditional audience.

In 1990 he established the internationally admired Bard Music Festival, who success helped in the development of the beautiful Richard B. Fisher Center for the Performing Arts, a multi-functional facility designed by Frank Gehry on the Bard College campus.  Opening in 2003, the Fisher Center inspired a programmatic expansion, Summerscape, that includes opera, theater, and cabaret over six weeks every summer.  These events, as well as his concerts in the American Symphony Orchestra’s Carnegie Hall series, embody Leon Botstein’s guiding principle of offering access and understanding of music by placing it in its historical context and connecting it to other disciplines and interests. He has always sought to combine music and scholarship in a way that enlightens not only written exposition, but performance.  His body of writings include books on education, history, and on music, in both German and English, with an acclaimed series of essays published as part of Princeton University Press’s Bard Music Festival annual volume.  He has curated exhibits for the Jewish Museum in Vienna.  From 1990 to the present, Botstein has been editor of The Musical Quarterly, one of the most distinguished academic journals of music.

In 2003 Botstein became the music director of the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra.  His concerts with the JSO were broadcast in regular series across the United States and Europe, and he led the orchestra on several tours, including twice across the United States and to Leipzig to open the 2009 Bach Festival with a performance Mendelssohn’s Elijah in Bach’s Thomaskirche. In 2011 he stepped down from that post and became the JSO’s Conductor Laureate.

While in Israel, he formed a partnership between Al Quds University and Bard College that offers an honors liberal arts college and a Masters Degree training program for high school teachers. Under his leadership, and in collaboration with the University of St. Petersburg, Bard established the first liberal arts college for Russian students in Russia.  Bard’s acclaimed Prison Initiative, which offers degrees to prisoners, has become a model for prisons across the United States.  Bard’s High School Early Colleges, which are a growing national movement, were singled out by President Barack Obama as exemplary of what American education should accomplish.  Recently, Longy School of Music in Boston became part of Bard College, adding its graduate programs to Bard’s undergraduate music program.  Leon Botstein recently led Bard’s own renowned conservatory orchestra on tours of China and Eastern Europe.  In addition, Botstein has led the Youth Orchestra of Caracas in Venezuela and on tour to Japan.  Through his experience with YOC and El Sistema in Venezuela, Botstein helped found Take a Stand, a national music program in the United States based on principles of El Sistema.

Botstein has guest conducted many orchestras around the world, among them the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the BBC Symphony and London Philharmonic; the Royal Philharmonic and the Royal Scottish National Orchestra; ORF-Vienna and the Vienna Tonkünstler, NDR orchestras in Hamburg and in Hannover; the Russian National Orchestra and the St. Petersburg Philharmonic, Teatro Real Madrid, Taipei Symphony, and scores of other orchestras and ensembles. He appears in numerous recordings including several operas by Strauss (including Die ägyptische Helena with Deborah Voigt), as well as works by Shostakovich, Hartmann, Reger, Copland, Chausson, Liszt, Perle, Mendelssohn, and Bruckner among others.  His recording of Popov and Shostakovich with the LSO was nominated for a Grammy in the category of Best Orchestral Performance.

Leon Botstein’s entire life and his work in all its aspects is devoted one mission: the improvement of peoples’ lives through education and exposure to the arts.  A child of a generation that experienced extreme prejudice and barbarity, his firm belief that a better and more equitable world can be created by cultivating the life of the mind remains the principle that informs and connects all of his performances, writing, public service, and teaching.

“When it comes to ambitious, fearless orchestral programming there is Leon Botstein…and then there is everyone else.” – Steve Smith, New York Times


Leon Botstein photos: Ric Kallaher; Matt Dine (album covers)
Background photos: Larry Ford