Benjamin Zander the Musician

Benjamin Zander was born on March 9, 1939, in Gerrards Cross, Buckinghampshire, England. He demonstrated remarkable musical talent in his early childhood and even began composing at the age of nine; his burgeoning artistry on the cello was also of a rare caliber. Eventually he attracted the notice of Benjamin Britten and Imogen Holst, daughter of composer Gustav Holst, both of whom began teaching young Benjamin. At the age of fifteen, Zander left England, eventually to take up studies on the cello with Gaspar Cassado. He then toured Europe giving many highly successful concerts before finally deciding to return to England to enroll at the University College London. After graduation, he traveled to the U.S. for post-graduate studies at Harvard University.

Zander has lived in Boston since the mid-'60s and he began teaching there at the New England Conservatory,
where he taught an interpretation class, in 1967. Five years later, he became conductor of the NEC Youth Philharmonic Orchestra. In 1979 the Boston Philharmonic Orchestra was founded and Zander appointed its music director, a post he still holds in the 2000-2001 season. While both he and the orchestra remained in relative obscurity for their first 15 or so years, together they began to garner considerable recognition in the 1990s, both in the concert hall and on recordings. Their account of the massive Mahler Eighth Symphony, performed in the 1998-99 season and repeated in 2000 at Symphony Hall in Boston and at Carnegie Hall in New York, received much critical acclaim.

Because of his successes in the recording venue, Zander has moved near to superstar status, owing mostly to his recordings of several Mahler symphonies with the Boston Philharmonic and the Philharmonia Orchestra. He has established a relationship with this latter group, and in 1998 began a cycle of Beethoven symphonies with them for Telarc Records that will reach completion in the early 2000s. In 2000, Zander was nominated for a Grammy award in the "Best Orchestral Performance" category for his recording of the Mahler Ninth Symphony with the Philharmonia Orchestra.
Their latest recording, Mahler's 2nd Symphony, was nominated for a Grammy in 2014.

Mr. Zander is unusual in that he also has a career as a motivational speaker in management development. He is one of the most sought after speakers in the world. He appears regularly before groups from various corporations and organizations, and works in this endeavor with his wife Rosamund Stone Zander, a noted psychotherapist. Together they wrote the book The Art of Possibility, published in September 2000 by Harvard Business School Press. He has given both the opening and the closing Keynote address at the World Economic Forum in Davos, where on another occasion he was awarded the Crystal award for "outstanding contributions in the Arts and international relations". In 2002 he was awarded the "Caring Citizen of the Humanities" Award by the International Council for Caring Communities at the United Nations. In honor of his 70th birthday, and 45 years of teaching, he was recently awarded an Honorary Doctorate by the New England Conservatory.

In January 2000, Zander was featured on a 60 Minutes segment, which dealt with both his musical and speaking careers. He has also appeared on the ABC News program Nightline, on BBC television and on PBS television with a program entitled, Living on One Buttock. Zander has recorded for several labels including Telarc, Carlton Classics, and CPI. Besides his continuing involvement with the New England Conservatory of Music, he also teaches gifted students at the well-known Walnut Hill School.
Comment on Benjamin Zander  by David St. George, musical advisor to Benjamin Zander:
Expecting the Unexpected
I don't know how many of Ben's rehearsals and performances I've attended over the 30 years that we have been collaborating - many hundreds, certainly. You would think there would be no surprises left. But in fact the opposite is true - the only thing of which I can be absolutely sure with Ben is that I will be surprised - in every rehearsal, in every performance. He is like the proverbial well from which you can draw endlessly and that always remains full, beckoning you to return yet again.

Ben grew up in a deeply cultured family, steeped in 19th century German musical traditions. Yet he has spent a lifetime questioning those traditions, reevaluating received opinion about interpretation, about the fundamental meaning of the music he performs, about the very nature of the conductor's art itself. It has been an ongoing process of growth and change, for him, for his interpretations, for all the musicians and friends who have been fortunate enough to come into his orbit.

Remarkable is the meticulousness with which he studies scores - "investigates" them is maybe more apt (even "interrogates" sometimes comes to mind). In rehearsal with the orchestra, every trace of the scholar in his study disappears. Rehearsals are a testing ground for Ben's thoughts and feelings about the music - never for a moment doctrinaire or routinized repetitions, but rather impassioned quests, in which each player in the orchestra joins him in his attempt to find the most truthful and direct path to the meaning of every moment of the music.

But no matter how closely I follow the rehearsals, nothing quite prepares me for the impact of the performances themselves. What one hears in parts, fitfully in the rehearsals, as Ben shifts his attention from one aspect of the piece to another, coalesces at the time of performance into an unbroken arc of impassioned music-making. Despite the extraordinary care, the attention to detail, and the great intellectual understanding that underlie Ben's interpretations, the miraculous thing about the performances is that they seem to be made up at that moment, they seem to spring from one impulse and follow their course with an intuitive sort of inevitability from first note to last. Typically, audiences are spellbound, even the least musically tutored listeners are aware that something entirely out of the ordinary is happening.

And it never happens the same way twice. Ben has nothing but encomiums for his players, but I suspect that, in his heart, he is never truly satisfied with himself, that he feels there is always something more to be discovered, something more that he could give of himself, could give to the players, that would bring them all even closer to the heart of the work.

So, from performance to performance, nothing remains the same. I sit there, in my usual seat, expecting only the unexpected.

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