Presentation Speech - Titan Award 2023
DURING THE NEARLY 50 YEARS SINCE THE FOUNDING OF THE GUSTAV MAHLER SOCIETY OF NEW YORK, WE RECOGNIZED THE EXTRAORDINARY TALENTS OF THE GREAT MAHLER PERFORMERS AND SCHOLARS WHO WERE THEN WITH US BY INVITING THEM TO BE GUEST SPEAKERS. TONIGHT WE ARE PRESENTING OUR FIRST “TITAN” AWARD TO ONE OF THE MOST OUTSTANDING MAHLER CONDUCTORS WE HAVE THE GOOD FORTUNE TO STILL HAVE WITH US, MAESTRO BENJAMIN ZANDER.
MAESTRO ZANDER, WHO HAILS FROM ENGLAND—HIS MARVELOUS ACCENT INDICATES—WHERE HE STUDIED WITH BENJAMIN BRITTEN AND JOHN CAREWE. AFTER EMIGRATING TO THE US IN 1967, HE JOINED THE FACULTY OF THE NEW ENGLAND CONSERVATORY OF MUSIC AT WHICH HE TAUGHT FOR 45 YEARS AND BECAME EMERITUS AFTER HE LEFT.
MUCH OF THAT TIME WAS SPENT AS MUSIC DIRECTOR OF THE BOSTON PHILHARMONIC ORCHESTRA. 10 YEARS AGO HE CREATED THE BOSTON PHILHARMONIC YOUTH ORCHESTRA, A REMARKABLE ENSEMBLE OF YOUNG MUSICIANS WHICH HAS BEEN RECOGNIZED AS COMPARABLE TO MANY OF THE HIGH RANKING PROFESSIONAL ORCHESTRAS THE WORLD OVER.
BEN HAS BEEN AN AVID MAHLER ENTHUSIAST THROUGHOUT HIS CAREER, PERFORMING ALL OF MAHLER’S SYMPHONIES AND OTHER
WORKS BY THE COMPOSER, MOST OF WHICH HAVE BEEN RECORDED WITH THE PHILHARMONIA ORCHESTRA.
MANY OF THESE SYMPHONY RECORDINGS CONTAIN AN EXTRA CD IN WHICH THE MAESTRO DISCUSSES THE FEATURED WORK IN SUCH A
VERY SPECIALLY ABSORBING WAY AS TO ADD MEASURABLY TO THE LISTENER’S KNOWLEDGE AND UNDERSTANDING OF THE MUSIC, ITS CHARACTER AND HIS REACTIONS TO IT. BEN—WHO FOR YEARS GAVE SEMINARS ON BUSINESS MANAGEMENT USING ELEMENTS OF MUSIC
BY WAY OF EXAMPLES—STILL IS AND HAS ALWAYS BEEN A VERY STIMULATING SPEAKER. HIS VIEWS ARE CERTAINLY HIS OWN, SOMETIMES CONTROVERSIAL, OFTEN EMBELLISHED WITH MARVELOUS TIDBITS THAT ADD A TOUCH OF HUMOR THAT IS FASCINATING, CAPTIVATING AND INFORMING— AND ALWAYS PRESENTED IN HIS OWN INIMITABLE STYLE THAT IS PURE ZANDER!
I HAVE A FEW COPIES OF HIS RECORDING OF THE 6 TH SYMPHONY AVAILABLE GRATIS THIS EVENING. IF YOU’RE LOOKING FOR A CD OF THE 6 TH THAT IS BOTH POWERFUL AND STIMULATING, THIS IS IT. – THE HAMMERBLOWS ARE AMONG THE MOST AWESOME ON ANY RECORDING. I SHOULD ALSO MENTION THAT YOU WILL BE ABLE TO HEAR THE BOSTON PHILHARMONIC YOUTH ORCHESTRA’S REMARKABLE SKILLS ON THIS RECORDING.
BEN WORKS WITH THE YOUNG MUSICIANS WHO ARE CHOSEN BY HIM TO BECOME MEMBERS OF THE BOSTON PHILHARMONIC YOUTH ORCHESTRA FOR ONE SUMMER EACH YEAR. HE TAKES THE GROUP ON A TOUR TO A DIFFERENT PART OF THE WORLD EVERY YEAR WHERE THE YOUNG MUSICIANS PERFORM A VARIETY OF WORKS—FREQUENTLY PLAYING A MAHLER SYMPHONY.
THE BPYO IS NOT JUST ANOTHER YOUTH ORCHESTRA, HOWEVER. ZANDER MAKES THE YOUNG MUSICIANS’ TIME TOGETHER BOTH A MUSICAL AND A LIFE-ENRICHING EXPERIENCE. IN ADDITION TO REHEARSING AND PERFORMING, BEN GIVES THEM HIS BRILLIANT
PRINCIPLES ON LIVING THAT ENRICH THEIR LIVES. AS PART OF THE PROCESS, HE ENCOURAGES THE PLAYERS TO RESPOND TO HIM PERSONALLY BY HAVING THEM WRITE A “WHITE PAPER” OF THEIR THOUGHTS ON ANY ASPECT OF THE EXPERIENCE THEY WISH TO SHARE WITH HIM.
HERE IS AN EXAMPLE FROM ONE OF THE YOUNG MUSICIANS:
Dear Mr. Zander,
Next year, I won’t be here to journey through another Mahler Symphony with you, something that almost feels like tradition now. Next year, my Saturday evenings will be empty, and I’ll reminisce and smile.
I’m quite sad, to be honest. I don’t want to stop playing Mahler. I don’t want to leave BPYO, and I don’t want to say goodbye. I wish you held the last note of Nimrod forever today.
I don’t really like looking at the baton when you conduct. You always talk about shining eyes, and possibility, and sometimes it doesn’t really make sense. I’ve been here for so long, and I still find myself discovering new things about possibility.
I’d rather look past the baton, when you conduct. You told me, a long time ago, during one of your interpretation classes, that I should inform my face about my emotions. When I look past the baton, I can see everything I need to see on your face. Every note, every emotion. Romantic music is one-in-a-bar regardless; there’s no point seeing where the beats are if you don’t feel them, right? When you talk about possibility, about Mahler, your eyes shine too. Our eyes shine because we see what it’s like to live in possibility. Because we see your eyes.
Next year, I’ll be in college, pretending I know how to live. That’s what I told myself, after dragging myself through my final year of high school, telling myself to be happy.
But I already know how to live. I’ve been seeing how to walk with spirit and love for so long. I’ve seen it in the dancers in Soweto, in the crowds that cheer. I’ve felt it in the music, in the pizzicato that everyone finds together in the ending of the first movement, in the rubato of the second movement.
Today was the last time I will ever play Mahler. I have decided that! I will listen to it, remember it, close my eyes to it, but my bow will never string the first G of Mahler’s Resurrection ever again.
But I will never forget the soreness of my arm after the fifth movement, or the angels singing in the choir. I cannot express how grateful I am for all the memories and the possibility that have been instilled in me, by this orchestra, and by you.
Thank you, Mr. Zander. You are part of who I am, and I am proud to have been a violinist in the Boston Philharmonic Youth Orchestra.
OVER THE YEARS, I’VE BEEN FORTUNATE TO HAVE READ SEVERAL LETTERS FROM MEMBERS OF THE BPYO TO THEIR MAESTRO WHICH EXPRESS SIMILAR SENTIMENTS.
THE IMPACT MAESTRO ZANDER HAS MADE ON THESE YOUNG MUSICIANS IS MIRRORED IN THE PRAISE HEEPED UPON HIS MAHLER PERFORMANCES, BY REGULAR LISTENERS AND CRITICS ALIKE.
MAESTRO ZANDER HAS LONG BEEN A STRONG SUPPORTER OF OUR SOCIETY. THOSE OF YOU WHO ATTENDED THE SYMPOSIUM THAT WE GAVE AT COLUMBIA WILL RECALL HIS BRILLIANT FILMED TALK ON ELEMENTS OF RUBATO IN MAHLER.
AND SO AS THEY SAY WITHOUT FURTHER ADO, ON BEHALF OF THE GUSTAV MAHLER SOCIETY OF NEW YORK, I PRESENT TO BENJAMIN ZANDER, THE “TITAN” AWARD OF THE GUSTAV MAHLER SOCIETY OF NEW YORK FOR 2023.