Born in Brussels in 1900, the American conductor and pedagogue Leon Barzin was taken to America at the age of two. He studied the violin with his father, principal viola of the Metropolitan Opera orchestra, and later with Edouard Deru, Pierre Henrotte and Eugène Ysaye. He joined the New York Philharmonic in 1919 as a violinist and was appointed first viola in 1925, a position he retained until 1929, collaborating in those years with Willem Mengelberg, Wilhelm Furtwängler and Arturo Toscanini. It was at Toscanini's encouragement that he began his conducting career. In 1930 he was named principal conductor and musical director of the National Orchestral Association, America's leading proving ground for young professionals and a springboard for generations of young American instrumentalists. In this capacity he had a notable success for three decades. In public concerts and in weekly rehearsals, reaching a wide audience through the New York municipal radio station, he groomed his players in performances of the standard repertory. Leon Barzin influence on the quality of symphonic performance in the United States was enormous and long lasting, as thousands of young professional players emerged from the NOA to fill the ranks of the great American symphonic, ballet and opera orchestras. In 1958 he resigned from the association and moved to Paris, where he founded the Orchestre Philharmonique de Paris and taught conducting at the Schola Cantorum. He returned to New York as Music Director of the National Orchestral Association in 1970. In 1973 he took the NOA to Italy, where it was orchestra in residence at the Spoleto Festival Di Due Mondi, participating in Luchino Visconti's legendary production of Giacomo Puccini's Manon Lescaut. He resigned in 1976.
The great cellist Emanuel Feuermann considered Barzin to be one of the finest conductors of the twentieth century and indeed he was a most appreciated collaborator of the foremost soloists of the day. His years with the NOA were notable for the dazzling array of artists who appeared under his direction: Artur Schnabel, Claudio Arrau, Bronislaw Huberman, Nathan Milstein, Ernst Von Dohnanyi, Emmanuel Feuermann,William Primrose, Lilian Kallir, Joseph Szigeti, Felix Salmond, Myra Hess, Rudolf Serkin, Yehudi Menuhin, Ossip Gabrilowitsch, Lili Kraus, Mischa Elman, Elisabeth Schumann, Joseph Fuchs, Lillian Fuchs, Philippe Entremont, Leonard Rose, Zino Francescatti, Oscar Shumsky, Michael Rabin, David Nadien and Rosalyn Tureck.
Leon Barzin was one of the the founders of the New York City Ballet and of its predecessor, Ballet Society, with Lincoln Kirstein and George Balanchine. He remained as Music Director for ten years. A guest conductor with such orchestras as the New York Philharmonic and the Minneapolis Symphony Orchestra, he was Director of the Tanglewood Music Center and in charge of education at the New England Conservatory of Music.
Barzin was a much sort after teacher of
conducting in New York and later in France - at his home in the rue
Monceau, Paris and at the Pavillion
d'Artois, Vaux-sur-Seine - and in Switzerland. His distinctive
technique was taught as a standard at the Royal Academy of Music in
London. A wonder of modern medical science, he was active as an
educator right until his death in 1999. He received the Columbia
University Ditson Award, the Gold Medal of Lebanon, the Theodore
Thomas Award of the Conductor's Guild and was a recipient of the
Leon Barzin conducts Wolf-Ferrarri
Wolf-Ferrari: Overture to The Secret Of Susanna
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National Orchestral Association