ROCHESTER, NY ― The distinguished American conductor Walter Hendl, former director of the Eastman School of Music, returns to the School ― and the podium ― to lead the Eastman Philharmonia in its closing concert of the season. Hendl, 88, will guest conduct Eastman’s premier student orchestra in a performance of Rachmaninoff’s powerful Symphony No. 2 at 8 p.m., Friday, April 15, in the Eastman Theatre (60 Gibbs St.). The concert is free and open to the public.
A native of New Jersey, Hendl was born in 1917 and studied conducting with Fritz Reiner at the Curtis Institute in the 1930s, and later with Serge Koussevitzky at Tanglewood. By 1958 he had held conducting positions with the New York Philharmonic, and the Dallas and Chicago Symphony Orchestras. It was there that he made a number of recordings for RCA Victor, collaborating with such soloists as Jascha Heifetz, Van Cliburn, Henryk Szeryng, and Gary Graffman. In addition to conducting, Hendl was highly regarded as a concert pianist, recording Beethoven’s Triple Concerto with the New York Philharmonic under Bruno Walter.
In 1964, Hendl was named Director of the Eastman School of Music, where he served until 1972. Early in his tenure at Eastman he initiated a series of Composer’s Weeks, each devoted to the in-depth study of the body of one monumental figure in contemporary music. Among the composers honored in this way were Igor Stravinsky, Peter Mennin, and Aram Khachaturian. Hendl also encouraged a great number of innovative programs at Eastman including curricula in accompanying, conducting, jazz studies and contemporary media, and electronic music, as well as the establishment of the new music ensemble Musica Nova. In 1976 he was appointed music director of the Erie (Pennsylvania) Philharmonic, and in 1990 he became professor of conducting at Mercyhurst College in Erie.
“We are honored to have Walter Hendl return to Eastman and conduct the Philharmonia,” said James Undercofler, current dean of the School who was an Eastman student when Hendl was director. “While he’ll find that much has changed in the years since he led the School, our unflinching commitment to excellence in artistry, scholarship, and leadership has endured.”
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