Erich Leinsdorf (born Erich Landauer) (February 4, 1912 – September 11, 1993) was an Austrian-born American conductor. He performed and recorded with leading orchestras andOPERA companies throughout the United States and Europe, earning aREPUTATION for exacting standards as well as an acerbic personality. He also published books and essays on musical matters.
In November 1937, Leinsdorf travelled to the United States to take up a position as assistant conductor at the Metropolitan Opera in New York City. As it turned out, his departure from Austria came a few short months ahead of the Anschluss of March 1938, when the country was taken over byNazi Germany. With the assistance of freshman Representative from Texas Lyndon B. Johnson, he was able to stay in the United States, and became a naturalized American citizen in 1942.
While at the Met, Leinsdorf was particularly noted for his Wagner performances; after the sudden death of Artur Bodanzky in 1939, he was named the Met's "head of German repertoire". From 1943 he had a brief three-year post as Music Director of the Cleveland Orchestra, but was absent for much of this tenure because he was drafted into the United States Armed Forces for World War II; the orchestra did not renew Leinsdorf's contract. Many years later, in the transition in Cleveland from Lorin Maazel to Christoph von Dohnányi between 1982 and 1984, Leinsdorf returned to lead several concerts; Leinsdorf described his role as "the bridge between the regimes".
Leinsdorf was the principal conductor of the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra from 1947 to 1955. He came to despair of what he saw as Rochester's insular musical culture, famously remarking that "Rochester is the best disguised dead end in the world!" Subsequently he was briefly head of theNew York City Opera, before resuming his association with the Met. In 1962 he was named music director of the Boston Symphony Orchestra. His time in Boston would produce many recordings for RCA, but was also marked by controversy, as he occasionally clashed with musicians and administrators.
Leinsdorf with the BSO appeared regularly on local broadcasts from WGBH-TV. On August 17, 1967, Leinsdorf conducted the Boston Symphony Orchestra in a two-hour primetime special telecast in color on NBC, a reflection of the days when a commercial network would periodically broadcast a full-length classical concert. The program, entitled An Evening at Tanglewood, featured violinist Itzhak Perlman as guest soloist.
Ladies and gentlemen, we have a press report over the wires – we hope that it is unconfirmed, but we have to doubt it – that the President of the United States has been the victim of an assassination. [gasps from audience] We will play the Funeral March from Beethoven's Third Symphony.
—Erich Leinsdorf informing the audience at a BSO performance at Symphony Hall and over WGBH radio of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, November 22, 1963,