Zander started his musical life as a composer and cellist. At age twelve, he began studying composition under Benjamin Britten and Imogen Holst. At fifteen, he left home to train for five years in Florence and Cologne with the great Spanish cellist, Gaspar Cassadó. After completing his degree at the University of London, he was awarded a Harkness Fellowship which brought him to the United States. In 1965, he settled in Boston where he began his journey as a conductor.
Zander founded the Boston Philharmonic Orchestra in 1978 and has appeared as guest conductor with orchestras around the world. His performances have inspired thousands of musicians, renewed their sense of idealism, and shed fresh, insightful, and sometimes provocative light on the interpretation of the central symphonic repertoire of the 19th and 20th centuries. Critics and the public have been united in their praise of Zander’s interpretations of the central repertory.
For 25 years, Zander has enjoyed a unique relationship with the Philharmonia Orchestra. They have made eleven recordings together, including a nearly complete cycle of Mahler symphonies as well as symphonies of Bruckner and Beethoven. High Fidelity Magazine named their recording of Mahler’s 6th Symphony as ‘The Best Classical Recording’ of 2002; their Mahler 3rd was awarded ‘Critic’s Choice’ by the German Record Critics’ Award Association; their Mahler 9th and Bruckner 5th recordings were nominated for Grammy awards for ‘Best Orchestral Performance.’ Throughout his career, Zander has remained deeply committed to making classical music accessible and engaging for all listeners. With this mission in mind, he has prepared an audio explanation that is included as a separate disc with each of his Philharmonia recordings.
In 2012, Zander founded the Boston Philharmonic Youth Orchestra (BPYO), which draws young musicians aged twelve to twenty-one from the entire northeastern US to its weekly rehearsals and performances in Boston’s Symphony Hall. This tuition-free orchestra tours regularly and has performed in Carnegie Hall, Amsterdam’s Concertgebouw, and the Berlin Philharmonie, among many other renowned halls. In the summer of 2017 the BPYO toured South America; their 2018 tour includes performances of Mahler’s 9th Symphony in eight European cities.
In 2002 Mr. Zander made his debut with the Israel Philharmonic, and returned to conduct four performances of Mahler’s Third Symphony with the orchestra in 2003. Recently he has also conducted orchestras as distant and diverse as the Bournemouth Symphony and the Malaysian Philharmonic in Kuala Lumpur.
He toured with the newly formed Youth Orchestra of the Americas to Washington, Rio de Janeiro, and São Paolo, and appeared with the National Youth Orchestra of New Zealand in Wellington and Auckland. He has appeared with the Israel Philharmonic, the Scottish and Irish National Orchestras, the St. Petersburg Philharmonic and the Australian Youth Orchestra.
“He does not live on the music’s nerve but rather broadly and far-sightedly through his emotions, shaped by the music’s breath and pulse. I should love to watch him rehearse to see how he obtained that veiled valediction to song in the voices of the second violins and cellos in the symphony’s opening: to track his work balancing so finely the equal and individual voices in this least-instrumentally hierarchical of scores.”
– Hilary Finch, The London Times
1996 review of The Philharmonia Orchestra
Mahler 9th performance at the Barbican
“I just came back from your Mahler 9, and I must write you because what happened for me tonight was so powerful that I couldn’t even open my mouth to tell you about it. Only silent words seem a possibility right now.
You took me through a journey that I had not expected possible. I went tonight through life and death, love and fear, passion, torment, despair and renunciation…
During the brief instants of music that were – for the symphony seemed to last only a few infinite seconds to me – I traveled a thousand years. After the last note yielded to the universal silence, I felt like my life had been taken away from me; the music had stolen it. I felt exhausted, drained. I couldn’t even raise my hands to clap. I don’t even understand how people found the strength to applaud; I simply could not. I know I should have: it is what one is supposed to do when the music stops in a concert hall, but it seemed to me that an eternity of silence meant to follow the last written note. So, I just left. And I walked home in that silence, not knowing the world around me. I wish I could thank you. Or thank Mahler. But what was present in Jordan Hall tonight, that forced its way inside me, was neither you not Mahler, but Music itself.
My life has changed forever.”
– Stephanie Moraly, a violinist from France
Graduate Student, The New England Conservatory