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Leon Botstein

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Title: Leon Botstein  
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Subject: Franconia College, Bard College at Simon's Rock, Concerto Fantasy for Two Timpanists and Orchestra, Bard College, Anton Bruckner
Collection: 1946 Births, American Conductors (Music), American Educators, American Expatriates in Israel, American Jews, American Musicologists, American University and College Presidents, Austrian Music, Bard College, Bard College Faculty, Central European University Faculty, Fiorello H. Laguardia High School Alumni, Harvard University Alumni, Jewish American Musicians, Jewish Music, Living People, Swiss Emigrants to the United States, Swiss Jews, University of Chicago Alumni
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Leon Botstein

Leon Botstein
President of Bard College
Assumed office
Preceded by Reamer Kline
Personal details
Born December 14, 1946 (1946-12-14) (age 69)
Residence Annandale-on-Hudson, New York
Alma mater University of Chicago, Harvard University

Leon Botstein (born December 14, 1946 in Zürich, Switzerland) is a Swiss-born naturalized American conductor, scholar, and the President of Bard College.



Botstein is the brother of biologist David Botstein and husband of art historian Barbara Haskell. Both of Botstein's parents were physicians.


Botstein is the music director and principal conductor of the Central European University.

Botstein is a leading advocate of progressive education. He is the author of Jefferson’s Children: Education and the Promise of American Culture and Judentum und Modernitaet and has published widely on music, education, history, and culture. He graduated at age 16 from the High School of Music and Art in New York, and earned a bachelor's degree from the University of Chicago and a Ph.D. from Harvard University in music history. He credits David Landes and Harold Farberman as his mentors.

Botstein became the youngest (or possibly second youngest) college president in U.S. history at age 23, serving from 1970 to 1975 at the now-defunct Franconia College, after which he was named president of Bard College.

As music director of the American Symphony Orchestra, Botstein emerged as a significant proponent of "thematic programming," which attempts to assemble concert programs having a common theme grounded in literature, music history, or art. He also focused the ASO's programming on the performance of infrequently-performed works by major composers and the best examples of works by lesser-known composers, with a particular emphasis on U.S. premiere performances, many of which have been recorded by the ASO for the first time.[2] In addition to the orchestra's main concert series at Carnegie Hall, Botstein inaugurated the Bard Music Festival with the participation of the ASO, a summer series which focuses on one composer each summer for an intensive series of concerts, lectures, and panel discussions. He also presents a series called "Classics Declassified," devoting each program to a piece from the standard orchestral repertory. Botstein lectures about the piece for about an hour, using the orchestra to provide illustrations for his talk, then performs the entire piece, then opens the floor to questions from the audience directed at him and at members of the orchestra. This series, originally presented at Columbia University's Miller Theater, proved so popular that it was moved to Symphony Space for the 2007–2008 season. He also inaugurated an important series of recordings of neglected masterpieces with the Telarc label, using the ASO and a variety of European orchestras. In addition to his work with the ASO and JSO, Botstein has performed as a guest conductor with, among many others, the London Philharmonic Orchestra, New York City Opera, Los Angeles Philharmonic, BBC Symphony Orchestra, London Symphony Orchestra, St. Petersburg Philharmonic Orchestra, and NDR Symphony Orchestra. The Los Angeles Times called 2013’s Los Angeles Philharmonic performance under Botstein “the all-around most compelling performance of anything I’ve heard all summer at the Bowl.”[3] In fall 2013, Botstein also conducted the Sinfónica Juvenil de Caracas in Venezuela and Japan, making him the first non-Venezuelan conductor invited by El Sistema to conduct on a tour.[4] Many live recordings of his performances, including the prestigious operas performed every summer during the Bard SummerScape festival, are widely available on compact disc and on Internet sites such as iTunes, Amazon, and Spotify.

Botstein’s many books, essays, and articles on music and culture have earned him a reputation as a leading musicologist. His essays in the Princeton University Press series[5] of books devoted to composers featured during the annual Bard Music Festival exemplify his efforts to address the complex social, political, and artistic influences and context of his subject. Of his recent essay in this series, on Jean Sibelius, the Times Literary Supplement wrote that that Sibelius’s “critical reputation is epitomized by Leon Botstein.”[6] He has also written extensively about music and culture in 19th-century Vienna, Jewish European culture, and modernism. His book Judentum und Modernität: Essays zur Rolle der Juden in der deutschen und österreichischen Kultur, 1848–1938 was written in German and has been translated into Russian.

Botstein’s unique position as a leading music scholar, performer, and founder and coartistic director of the Bard Music Festival have enabled him to have an extraordinary impact on both music scholarship and performance. As the Wall Street Journal’s Barrymore Laurence Scherer observes, “the Bard Music Festival…no longer needs an introduction. Under the provocative guidance of the conductor-scholar Leon Botstein, it has long been one of the most intellectually stimulating of all American summer festivals and frequently is one of the most musically satisfying. Each year, through discussions by major scholars and illustrative concerts often programmed to overflowing, Bard audiences have investigated the oeuvre of a major composer in the context of the society, politics, literature, art and music of his times.”[7]


2015 - The Deborah W. Meier Hero in Education Award, given by Fairtest.

2014 - Caroline P. and Charles W. Ireland Distinguished Visiting Scholar Prize, University of Alabama at Birmingham[8]

2013 - Botstein was awarded The Foundation for Jewish Culture's Jewish Cultural Achievement Award.

2013 - Awarded the Bruckner Society of America's Kilenyi Medal of Honor.[9]

2012 - Awarded the University of Chicago Alumni Medal.

2012 - Leonard Bernstein Award for the Elevation of Music in Society.

2010 - Elected to the American Philosophical Society, the oldest learned society in the United States.

2009 - Awarded a Carnegie Academic Leadership Award. The Carnegie Corporation annually chooses exceptional leaders of American higher education who have demonstrated outstanding leadership in the realms of curricular innovation, reform of K-12 education and the promotion of strong links between their institution and their local communities.

2006 - Botstein's recording of Popov's Symphony No. 1 and Shostakovich's Theme and Variations with the London Symphony Orchestra was nominated for a Grammy Award in the category of Best Orchestral Performance.

2003 - Received the Award for Distinguished Service to the Arts from the American Academy of Arts and Letters.[10]

2001 - Austrian Cross of Honor for Science and Art

1996 - Received the Harvard Centennial Medal, an honor given by the Harvard Graduate School of Arts and Sciences to recipients of graduate degrees from the School for their "contributions to society".

1995 - National Arts Club Gold Medal.

Bard College

Botstein became Bard College's 14th and current president in 1975. Botstein, who is also Bard's Leon Levy Professor in the Arts and Humanities, has been a pioneer in linking the liberal arts and higher education to public secondary schools. In 1979, Botstein oversaw Bard's acquisition of Bard College at Simon's Rock, the oldest early college entrance program and the only accredited four-year early college to date. Along with administrators from Simon's Rock, he was instrumental in the founding of New York City's Bard High School Early College in 2001. During Botstein’s 40-year tenure, one of the longest in the nation, Bard has established eight graduate schools, the Bard College Conservatory of Music, and the Levy Economics Institute of Bard College.

Botstein has greatly extended Bard’s reach internationally, leading the creation of new programs on several continents. In partnership with Saint Petersburg State University, Bard established in 1997 the first liberal arts college program in Russia, Smolny College, which offers dual degrees from Saint Petersburg State University and Bard. In 1998, the Institute for International Liberal Education (IILE)][11] was formed at Bard to advance the theory and practice of international liberal arts education. Bard’s other international programs include the Al-Quds Bard Partnership,[12] a collaboration in Jerusalem between Bard College and Al-Quds University that was established in 2008 to improve the Palestinian education system; the International Human Rights Exchange (IHRE);[13] the Program in International Education (PIE); and joint programs with American University of Central Asia and Central European University.

Botstein has also led Bard to become a regional and national leader in art and culture.[14] In 1990, Bard opened the Center for Curatorial Studies and Art in Contemporary Culture, which now includes the Hessel Museum of Art. In 2003, the college opened the Frank Gehry-designed Richard B. Fisher Center for the Performing Arts at Bard College, which houses two theaters, as well as dance and theater studios that provide rehearsal space for undergraduates. The Fisher Center is the home of the Bard Music Festival as well as Bard SummerScape, an annual festival of music, film, dance, and drama.

In February 2009, Botstein was accused by Joel Kovel of terminating Kovel from his position as professor at Bard in retaliation for the latter's political views, an accusation which Botstein denied.[15][16]


Botstein's written work includes Jefferson's Children: Education and the Promise of American Culture, in which he argues that high school-level education after the tenth grade should be abolished in favor of a national early college system, as well as several other books in the fields of musicology and education. He is editor of The Musical Quarterly and a frequent contributor to periodicals focusing on music and education.

Selected public appearances

  • In May 2014, as part of Holocaust 70, the Hungarian government’s official program to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the Holocaust in Hungary, Botstein was a guest conductor at the Liszt Academy Concert Centre in Budapest for “Through the Valley of the Shadow,” a concert in memory of the victims of the Holocaust.[17]
  • Botstein was interviewed as a guest on The Colbert Report[18] on June 4, 2007[19] and again on October 5, 2010.[20]
  • On August 12, 2009,[21] Botstein appeared on the Charlie Rose Show on PBS to discuss the Al-Quds Bard Partnership,[12] a groundbreaking collaboration in Jerusalem between Bard College and Al-Quds University.
  • Botstein is regularly featured on Albany, New York-area NPR affiliate WAMC-FM.
  • Botstein was the Keynote Speaker at the Stuyvesant High School 2007 Graduation on June 25, 2007
  • He conducted the revival of John Foulds's World Requiem at the Royal Albert Hall in London on 11 November 2007.[22]
  • American premiere of the Herbstsymphonie (Autumn Symphony) by Austrian composer Joseph Marx on December 7, 2008 with the American Symphony Orchestra in Avery Fisher Hall, NY.


Selected articles, essays, and chapters

  • (2014)
  • (2014) [23]
  • (2013)
  • (2013)
  • (2013)
  • (2012)
  • (2012)
  • (2011)
  • (2011)
  • (2011)
  • (2011)
  • (2010)
  • (2010)
  • (2010)
  • (2010)
  • (2009)
  • (2009)
  • (2009)
  • (2009)
  • (2008)
  • (2008)
  • (2007)
  • (2007)



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Additional sources

  • Bigthink interview
  • Opera Lively interview
  • Maestro Botstein against composer Lokshin

External links

  • Bard College
  • American Symphony Orchestra
  • Richard B. Fisher Center for the Performing Arts
  • Bard Music Festival
  • Bard SummerScape
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