Jonathan Sternberg, American Conductor, Musical Director and Professor, Dies at 98

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Jonathan Sternberg, an American conductor, musical director, and professor of music, known for his work with symphonic orchestras in the United States, Europe, and China, died in Philadelphia on May 8, 2018. He was 98. The cause of his death was heart failure, according to his representative Gary Zarr & Associates.

Jonathan Sternberg, an American conductor, musical director, and professor of music, known for his work with symphonic orchestras in the United States, Europe, and China, died in Philadelphia on May 8, 2018. He was 98.

The cause of his death was heart failure, according to his daughter, Tanya Pushkine.

Over a long and distinguished career, Maestro Sternberg, who helped introduce modern American music to European audiences after World War II, collaborated with a range of artists in concert and opera, including Isaac Stern, Yehudi Menuhin, Henryk Szeryng, Paul Badura-Skoda, Alfred Brendel, Annie Fischer, Maurice Gendron, Philippe Entremont, Byron Janis, Teresa Stich-Randall, Lisa Della Casa, Hilde Gueden, George London, and Paul Schoeffler.

Born July 27, 1919 on the Lower Eastside of Manhattan to Louis and Henriette (Glickman) Sternberg, immigrants from Austria and Russia, he studied violin and viola at the Institute of Musical Art (now the Juilliard School) in New York from 1929 to 1931. After graduating from Brooklyn’s historic James Madison High School, he continued his musical and academic education at the Manhattan School of Music and New York University (NYU), receiving his B.A. from NYU in 1939.

During his undergraduate years, Mr. Sternberg was active as a New York critic for the Musical Leader of Chicago, attending performances and rehearsals of major orchestras on an almost daily basis. He continued studying musicology at NYU Graduate School (1939-1940), taking private lessons with Leon Barzin (1946), and participating in master classes with Pierre Monteux (1946-1947).

Maestro Sternberg began his professional career on Pearl Harbor Day, December 7, 1941, conducting the National Youth Administration Orchestra of New York in Aaron Copland's An Outdoor Overture. He enlisted and served in the U.S. Army from 1942 to 1946. At the end of WWII, while in Shanghai with the Army, he directed the Shanghai Symphony Orchestra in a series of performances.

After returning briefly to the U.S., Mr. Sternberg moved to Vienna, making his conducting debut there with the Vienna Symphony Orchestra in 1947. In addition to multiple performances and recordings with the leading orchestras in Vienna, he toured extensively as a guest conductor in Europe, North America, and Asia. He worked closely with notable Haydn scholar, H.C. Robbins Landon, in establishing the Haydn Society, for which Sternberg made a series of pioneering recordings, including Haydn’s ‘Nelson Mass’ and Mozart’s ‘Posthorn’ Serenade, along with several Haydn symphonies. Other major recordings by Sternberg during his Vienna years included, Schubert's Second Symphony, Rossini's Stabat Mater, Prokofiev's Fifth Piano Concerto, Milhaud's Fantaisie Pastorale and Charles Ives's Set of Pieces.

Maestro Sternberg presented modern American music to European audiences who, up to that time, had had little exposure to such repertory. With the RIAS orchestra in Berlin, he conducted the first European performances of a wide range of American scores, including, Leonard Bernstein's Serenade, Menotti's Violin Concerto and Charles Ives' Second Symphony. With other orchestras, Sternberg conducted the first European performances of works by Samuel Barber, Aaron Copland, David Diamond, and Benjamin Lees. He was also responsible for a number of world premières, including Ned Rorem's First Symphony (1951), and Lászlo Lajtha's Sixth Symphony (1961).

Mr. Sternberg held longer term engagements with the Halifax Symphony Orchestra (1957-1958), the Royal Flemish Opera in Antwerp (1963-1966), the Harkness Ballet of New York (1966-1968), and the Atlanta Opera Company (1968-1969).

Outstanding among Mr. Sternberg’s guest engagements were the first European tour of the Mozarteum Orchestra of Salzburg, several all-Beethoven concerts with the London Philharmonic Orchestra in the Royal Festival Hall, as well as appearances with L'Orchestre de la Suisse Romande in Geneva, the Orchestre Lamoureux in Paris, and the orchestras of Warsaw, Prague, Berlin, Munich, Stuttgart, Basel, Brussels, and Monte-Carlo.

Later in his career, Mr. Sternberg divided his time between conducting and teaching. He took a visiting professorship of conducting at the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, New York (1969-1971). He joined the faculty at Temple University in Philadelphia, where he taught conducting and led the University orchestra (1971-1989). With the Temple orchestra, he conducted a number of world premières, including, Music for Chamber Orchestra by David Diamond (1976), A Lincoln Address and Night Dances by Vincent Persichetti (1977), and Stanislaw Skrowaczewski's Ricercari notturni for three saxophones and orchestra (1978).

After retiring as a full-time professor, Sternberg remained active on the lecture circuit presenting subjects such as, “Do Conductors Matter?” He also continued teaching privately and served as Musical and Artistic Director of the Bach Festival of Philadelphia (2004-2008). Maestro Sternberg was also a frequent juror in conducting competitions.

Mr. Sternberg served on the Board of The Conductors Guild, and in 2009 received the Guild’s Award for Lifetime Service in recognition of long-standing service to the art and profession of conducting.

In 2014, his biography was published by Tricorn Books.

Mr. Sternberg had been married to the English-German painter Ursula Sternberg-Hertz, who died in 2000. He is survived by his sister, Anita; his brother, Robert; his daughter, Tanya Pushkine; his grandchildren, Lara-Sophia Rojas and Luca Gabriel Rojas; and his son, Peter Sternberg.

A private memorial service will be held in Philadelphia.

Gary Zarr | gary(at) | 917-683-9813
Jes Siart | jes(at) | 603-289-8707
Shannon Duer | shannon(at) | 631-487-5883

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