July 30, 2009

New England Conservatory President Tony Woodcock Pays Tribute to the Late Michael Steinberg ’66 Hon. D.M., Author, Critic, and Lecturer

Michael Steinberg (Jorja Fleezanis photo)Michael Steinberg (Jorja Fleezanis photo)New England Conservatory President Tony Woodcock paid tribute today to the late Michael Steinberg, his former colleague at the Minnesota Orchestra.  Steinberg, the greatly admired music critic (Boston Globe 1964-76), author, annotator, lecturer and artistic advisor to orchestras, died Sunday after a three-year battle with cancer. He had taught the introductory music literature course at NEC in the sixties and seventies and was awarded an honorary doctorate by the Conservatory in 1966 in recognition of his contributions to music criticism.

Woodcock, who was President of the Minnesota Orchestra before coming to NEC, had worked with Steinberg and lived in the same condominium building. He and his wife Virginia, and Steinberg and his wife, Minnesota Orchestra Concertmaster Jorja Fleezanis, were close friends.

Woodcock recalled not only Steinberg’s eloquence and passion as a writer and commentator but also his example of a life enriched by art.

“After the immediate shock on learning of Michael’s death, I did what we all do and asked the meaningless questions about ceremonies and rituals planned to honor his memory,” Woodcock said. “The answer was typical in a ‘Steinbergian way.’ No ceremonies, but instead the invitation to donate to a special fund ‘to spur curiosity and growth through the performing arts and the written word.’ This is so like him! I found this so moving and it reminded me why I love him so.  It reflects everything that made his life so unique and provided such a wealth of experience and insights to his friends and readers all over the country.

"I remember so clearly asking Michael and Jorja one year what they had done for their Christmas break.  Well…it turned out they had traveled all the way to the Highlands of Scotland, to a tiny village on the west coast warmed in the winter months by the Gulf Stream.  For a week, they stayed in a small pub, ate wonderful pies, delicious cheeses, thick wedges of bread, and warm British beer.  And…read poetry to one another. (Both Michael and Jorja read beautifully.) How beautiful and how simple and, my word, I want to do that!

"I had the great good fortune personally of experiencing his choice of poetry when he arrived at our house for dinner one night laden with bottles of wine, some Greek side dishes specially cooked by Jorja, and loads of books.  After dinner—Indian cuisine as I remember—and some excellent red wine, we settled into reading poetry: Cavafy, Millay, Auden, Ovid, Homer, Eliot—many lyrical beautiful lines interspersed by some music which seemed to select itself. There was the Cavatina from Beethoven’s Op. 130, Alfred Deller, Eddie South, all of Claudio Villa, and Sarah Vaughan, which complemented the poetry, enhanced the conversation and made for an unforgettable evening. The magic of it still resonates.  It was Michael who reminded me of Cavafy’s poem Ithaca, which became the inspiration for my Inauguration address at NEC.

"Michael was such an important person because he represented the importance, the centrality of the experience of art in our lives and the huge value that he placed upon this as a guiding force in all our lives. Our world can learn from his amazing love for this overriding passion.”


Recognized nationally and internationally as a leader among music schools, New England Conservatory offers rigorous training in an intimate, nurturing community to 750 undergraduate, graduate, and doctoral music students from around the world.  Its faculty of 225 boasts internationally esteemed artist-teachers and scholars.  Its alumni go on to fill orchestra chairs, concert hall stages, jazz clubs, recording studios, and arts management positions worldwide.  Nearly half of the Boston Symphony Orchestra is composed of NEC trained musicians and faculty.

The oldest independent school of music in the United States, NEC was founded in 1867 by Eben Tourjee. Its curriculum is remarkable for its wide range of styles and traditions.  On the college level, it features training in classical, jazz, Contemporary Improvisation, world and early music. Through its Preparatory School, School of Continuing Education, and Community Collaboration Programs, it provides training and performance opportunities for children, pre-college students, adults, and seniors.  Through its outreach projects, it allows young musicians to engage with non-traditional audiences in schools, hospitals, and nursing homes—thereby bringing pleasure to new listeners and enlarging the universe for classical music and jazz.

NEC presents more than 600 free concerts each year, many of them in Jordan Hall, its world- renowned, 100-year old, beautifully restored concert hall.  These programs range from solo recitals to chamber music to orchestral programs to jazz and opera scenes.  Every year, NEC’s opera studies department also presents two fully staged opera productions at the Cutler Majestic Theatre in Boston.

NEC is co-founder and educational partner of From the Top, a weekly radio program that celebrates outstanding young classical musicians from the entire country. With its broadcast home in Jordan Hall, the show is now carried by National Public Radio and is heard on 250 stations throughout the United States.

Contact: Ellen Pfeifer
Public Relations Manager
New England Conservatory