Michael Steinberg, widely recognized as one of the most important writers on classical music of our time passed away this morning at age 80. Steinberg, husband of recently retired Minnesota Orchestra Concertmaster Jorja Fleezanis was diagnosed with cancer three years ago.
During his career Steinberg worked as a critic for the Boston Globe, a lecturer at several colleges and universities including Smith College, Hunter College, Brandeis University,
and the New England Conservatory. He was in later years program annotator to the New York Philharmonic while also serving as an advisor to the Minnesota Orchestra.
Born in Breslau in Germany in 1928, he spent part of his childhood in England after his mother managed to get him included in the Kindertransport, the rescue effort which got 10,000 children out of Germany before the outbreak of World War II. He moved to the United States with his mother and brother before the end of the war.
It was in England that he first discovered his love of music. In his book “For the love of Music: Invitations to Listening” co-authored with Larry Rothe, Steinberg revealed it was not in a concert hall, but in an alley behind a movie theater.
“It was Fantasia, the original 1940 version that did me in. I saw it just once, at the Cosmopolitan, a dingy movie house in Cambridge England, and although this was more than sixty-five years ago, I remember it more vividly than most of the movies I have seen in the last sixty-five weeks. I saw it just once because as a schoolboy on threepence a week in pocket money – even in 1940 that bought hardly anything, and surely not more than half a movie ticket – I couldn’t afford to go again. Besides the guardians of Good Taste would not have encouraged, let alone subsidized, a return visit. But I also realized I did not need to see it again because the most important part was available for free. Behind the sweet little fleabag where Fantasia was playing, there was this alley where I could stand every day after school, stand undisturbed, and listen to the soundtrack of Leopold Stokowski and the Philadelphia Orchestra playing Bach, Beethoven, Schubert, and Stravinsky. On a recent visit to Cambridge I was happy to see there is still a movie theater on the same site, but it is now called the Arts Theatre and is a lot cleaner.”
In a statement today Rothe said this of Steinberg:
“In the last years Michael defined what it means to battle an illness. He
continued to hang tough, determined not to let anything keep him from doing
what he had always done, which was to put listeners in touch with the music.
In his writing and in his talks, Michael knocked down walls with
intelligence, wit, and a broad sense of culture. He was a great storyteller.
He expected much from his readers and offered much. You get a taste of all
this in his books: The Symphony, The Concerto, and Choral Masterworks, three
compilations of his program notes. Another book, For the Love of Music,
gathers his reflections on an array of musical subjects.
Concerts to celebrate Michael Steinberg’s life will be presented in San Francisco and Minneapolis at times to be announced.