Leon Botstein

Leon Botstein (born December 14, 1946 in Zürich, Switzerland) is a Swiss-American Jewish[1] conductor and scholar, and the President of Bard College.

Leon Botstein
President of Bard College
Assumed office
Preceded byReamer Kline
Personal details
BornDecember 14, 1946 (1946-12-14) (age 72)
ResidenceAnnandale-on-Hudson, New York
Alma materUniversity of Chicago, Harvard University


Botstein is the music director and principal conductor of the American Symphony Orchestra (ASO) and conductor laureate of the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra (JSO), where he served as music director and principal conductor from 2003-2010. He is also the founder and co-Artistic Director of the Bard Music Festival. In 2015, Botstein founded The Orchestra Now (TŌN), a pre-professional orchestra and master's degree program at Bard College. TŌN performs regularly at such venues as Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center, and The Metropolitan Museum of Art, where Botstein, as music director of TŌN, leads Sight & Sound, a series of discussions and performances exploring the parallels between orchestral music and the visual arts. The orchestra is in residence at Bard's Richard B. Fisher Center for the Performing Arts, performing multiple concerts there each season. Botstein is a member of the Board of Directors of The After-School Corporation,[2] a nonprofit organization dedicated to expanding educational opportunities for all students. Botstein also serves as the Board Chairman of the Central European University, a graduate-level, English-language university accredited in the United States and Hungary and located in Budapest. He is a member of the Board of Trustees of the Open Society Foundation.[3] In July 2016, Austria's Grafenegg Festival, a major international Austrian festival for classical music, appointed Botstein artistic director of the Grafenegg Campus and Academy, effective in 2018.[4]

Botstein is the author of Jefferson's Children: Education and the Promise of American Culture and Judentum und Modernitaet. He graduated at age 16 from the High School of Music and Art in New York City, and earned a bachelor's degree from the University of Chicago and a Ph.D. from Harvard University in music history. He credits David Landes and Harold Farberman as his mentors.[5]

Botstein became the youngest (or possibly second youngest) college president in U.S. history at age 23, serving from 1970 to 1975 at the now-defunct Franconia College, after which he was named president of Bard College.

As music director of the American Symphony Orchestra, Botstein emerged as a significant proponent of "thematic programming," which attempts to assemble concert programs having a common theme grounded in literature, music history, or art. He also focused the ASO's programming on the performance of infrequently-performed works by major composers and the best examples of works by lesser-known composers, with a particular emphasis on U.S. premiere performances, many of which have been recorded by the ASO for the first time.[6] In addition to the orchestra's main concert series at Carnegie Hall, Botstein inaugurated the Bard Music Festival with the participation of the ASO, a summer series which focuses on one composer each summer for an intensive series of concerts, lectures, and panel discussions. He also presents a series called "Classics Declassified," devoting each program to a piece from the standard orchestral repertory. Botstein lectures about the piece for about an hour, using the orchestra to provide illustrations for his talk, then performs the entire piece, then opens the floor to questions from the audience directed at him and at members of the orchestra. This series, originally presented at Columbia University's Miller Theater, proved so popular that it was moved to Symphony Space for the 2007–2008 season. He also inaugurated an important series of recordings of neglected masterpieces with the Telarc label, using the ASO and a variety of European orchestras. In addition to his work with the ASO and JSO, Botstein has performed as a guest conductor with, among many others, the London Philharmonic Orchestra, New York City Opera, Los Angeles Philharmonic, BBC Symphony Orchestra, London Symphony Orchestra, St. Petersburg Philharmonic Orchestra, and NDR Symphony Orchestra. The Los Angeles Times called 2013's Los Angeles Philharmonic performance under Botstein "the all-around most compelling performance of anything I've heard all summer at the Bowl."[7] In fall 2013, Botstein also conducted the Sinfónica Juvenil de Caracas in Venezuela and Japan, making him the first non-Venezuelan conductor invited by El Sistema to conduct on a tour.[8] Many live recordings of his performances, including the prestigious operas performed every summer during the Bard SummerScape festival, are widely available on compact disc and on Internet sites such as iTunes, Amazon, and Spotify.

Botstein's many books, essays, and articles on music and culture have earned him a reputation as a leading musicologist. His essays in the Princeton University Press series[9] of books devoted to composers featured during the annual Bard Music Festival exemplify his efforts to address the complex social, political, and artistic influences and context of his subject. Of his recent essay in this series, on Jean Sibelius, the Times Literary Supplement wrote that Sibelius's "critical reputation is epitomized by Leon Botstein."[10] He has also written extensively about music and culture in 19th-century Vienna, Jewish European culture, and modernism. His book Judentum und Modernität: Essays zur Rolle der Juden in der deutschen und österreichischen Kultur, 1848–1938 was written in German and has been translated into Russian.

Botstein's unique position as a leading music scholar, performer, and founder and coartistic director of the Bard Music Festival has enabled him to have an impact on both music scholarship and performance. As the Wall Street Journal's Barrymore Laurence Scherer observes, "the Bard Music Festival…no longer needs an introduction. Under the provocative guidance of the conductor-scholar Leon Botstein, it has long been one of the most intellectually stimulating of all American summer festivals and frequently is one of the most musically satisfying. Each year, through discussions by major scholars and illustrative concerts often programmed to overflowing, Bard audiences have investigated the oeuvre of a major composer in the context of the society, politics, literature, art and music of his times."[11]

Leon Botstein is represented by Primavera Consulting.


Botstein is the brother of biologist David Botstein and husband of art historian Barbara Haskell. Both of Botstein's parents were physicians. He has three children, Sarah Botstein, Clara Botstein, and Max Botstein.[12]


Bard College

Botstein became Bard College's 14th and current president in 1975. Botstein, who is also Bard's Leon Levy Professor in the Arts and Humanities, has been a pioneer in linking the liberal arts and higher education to public secondary schools. In 1979, Botstein oversaw Bard's acquisition of Bard College at Simon's Rock, the oldest early college entrance program and the only accredited four-year early college to date. Along with administrators from Simon's Rock, he was instrumental in the founding of New York City's Bard High School Early College in 2001. During Botstein's 40-year tenure, one of the longest in the nation, Bard has established eight graduate schools, the Bard College Conservatory of Music, and the Levy Economics Institute of Bard College. With the purchase of the 380-acre (150 ha) Montgomery Place estate to the south of the college in 2016, Bard's campus consists of nearly 1,000 park-like acres in the Hudson River Valley.

Botstein has greatly extended Bard's reach internationally, leading the creation of new programs on several continents. In partnership with Saint Petersburg State University, Bard established in 1997 the first liberal arts college program in Russia, Smolny College, which offers dual degrees from Saint Petersburg State University and Bard. In 1998, the Institute for International Liberal Education (IILE)[20] was formed at Bard to advance the theory and practice of international liberal arts education. Bard's other international programs include the Al-Quds Bard Partnership,[21] a collaboration in Jerusalem between Bard College and Al-Quds University that was established in 2008 to improve the Palestinian education system; the International Human Rights Exchange (IHRE);[22] the Program in International Education (PIE); Bard College Berlin: A Liberal Arts University; and joint programs with American University of Central Asia and Central European University.

Botstein has also led Bard to become a regional and national leader in art and culture.[23] In 1990, Bard opened the Center for Curatorial Studies and Art in Contemporary Culture, which includes the Hessel Museum of Art. In 1993, Bard opened the Bard Graduate Center: Decorative Arts, Design History, Material Culture in Manhattan. In 2003, the college opened the Frank Gehry-designed Richard B. Fisher Center for the Performing Arts at Bard College, which houses two theaters, as well as dance and theater studios that provide rehearsal space for undergraduates. The Fisher Center is the home of the Bard Music Festival as well as Bard SummerScape, an annual festival of music, film, dance, and drama.

In February 2009, Botstein was accused by Joel Kovel of terminating Kovel from his position as professor at Bard in retaliation for the latter's political views, an accusation which Botstein denied.[24][25]


Botstein's written work includes Jefferson's Children: Education and the Promise of American Culture, in which he argues that high school-level education after the tenth grade should be abolished in favor of a national early college system, as well as several other books in the fields of musicology and education. He is editor of The Musical Quarterly and a frequent contributor to periodicals focusing on music and education.

Selected public appearances


  • Botstein, Leon. Music and Modernity. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.
  • Botstein, Leon (2013). Von Beethoven zu Berg: Das Gedächtnis der Moderne. Zsolnay.
  • Botstein, Leon (2011). Freud und Wittgenstein Sprache und menschliche Natur. Vienna: Picus Verlag.
  • Botstein, Leon (1991). Judentum und Modernität : Essays zur Rolle der Juden in der deutschen und österreichischen Kultur, 1848 bis 1938. Vienna: Böhlau. ISBN 3-205-05358-3.
  • Botstein, Leon (1997). Jefferson's children : education and the promise of American culture. New York: Doubleday. ISBN 0-385-47555-1.
  • "The Compleat Brahms" (New York, 1999), editor
  • "quasi una fantasia: Juden und die Musikstadt Wien" (Timms, Edward / Hanak, Werner / Botstein, Leon / Jüdisches Museum Wien ) (with 2 CDs; contributors: Karl Albrecht-Weinberger, Otto Biba, Philip V. Bohlman, Leon Botstein, Elisabeth Derow-Turnauer, Wolfgang Dosch, Albrecht Dümling, Tina Frühauf, Primavera Gruber, Michael Haas, Werner Hanak, Hartmut Krones, Elena Ostleitner, Michael Steinberg, & Sara Trampuz)

Selected articles, essays, and chapters

  • (2017) "Hungary's xenophobic attack on Central European University is a threat to freedom everywhere". Washington Post. April 4, 2017.[33]
  • (2017) "American Universities Must Take a Stand". New York Times. February 8, 2017.[34]
  • (2016) "Bard president draws parallels between European anti-Semitism and American racism to explain Trump's win". Washington Post. December 16, 2016.[35]
  • (2016) "The Election Was About Racism Against Barack Obama". TIME. December 13, 2016.[36]
  • (2016) "Why the Next President Should Forgive All Student Loans". TIME. August 12, 2016.[37]
  • (2016) Botstein, Leon (2016-08-09). "Walther Rathenau (1867-1922): Bildung, Prescription, Prophecy". In Picard, Jacques (ed.). Makers of Jewish Modernity: Thinkers, Artists, Leaders, and the World They Made. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. ISBN 9780691164236.
  • (2014) "The SAT is Part Hoax, Part Fraud". TIME. 183 (11): 17. March 24, 2014.
  • (2014) "How an Anti-Semitic Composer Created 'Kol Nidre' and 'Moses'". The Jewish Daily Forward. March 24, 2014.[38]
  • (2013) Botstein, L. (2013). "The Marginalization of Music: The American Example". The Musical Quarterly. 96 (2): 169–77. doi:10.1093/musqtl/gdt020.
  • (2013) Botstein, Leon (2013). "The Precision of Poetry and the Exactness of Pure Science: Nabokov, Stravinsky, and the Reader as Listener". In Levitz, Tamara (ed.). Igor Stravinsky and His World. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. ISBN 9780691159874.
  • (2013) Botstein, L. (2013). "Words and Music: The Legacy of Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau (1925-2012)". The Musical Quarterly. 96 (1): 1–13. doi:10.1093/musqtl/gdt008.
  • (2012) Botstein, Leon (2012). "A Grand and Glorious Noise: Circus Music in America". In Ames, Kenneth (ed.). The Circus and the City. New York: Bard Graduate Center: Decorative Arts, Design History, and Material Culture. pp. 256–304. ISBN 978-0300187472.
  • (2012) Botstein, Leon (2012). "Beyond the Conceits of the Avant-Garde: Saint-Saëns, Romain Rolland, and the Musical Culture of the Nineteenth Century". In Passler, Jann (ed.). Camille Saint-Saëns and His World. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. pp. 370–404. ISBN 9780691155555.
  • (2011) Botstein, L. (2012). "Richard Wagner at Two Hundred". The Musical Quarterly. 95 (2–3): 195–206. doi:10.1093/musqtl/gds024.
  • (2011) Botstein, L. (2011). "The Jewish Question in Music". The Musical Quarterly. 94 (4): 439–53. doi:10.1093/musqtl/gdr023.
  • (2011) Botstein, Leon. "Old Masters: Jean Sibelius and Richard Strauss in the Twentieth Century". In Grimley, Daniel (ed.). Jean Sibelius and His World. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. pp. 256–304. ISBN 978-0-691-15281-3.
  • (2011) Botstein, Leon (2011-09-29). "The Eye of the Needle: Music as History after the Age of Recording". In Fulcher, Jane (ed.). The Oxford Handbook to the New Cultural History of Music. New York: Oxford University Press. pp. 256–304. ISBN 978-0-19-534186-7.
  • (2010) Botstein, Leon. "Alban Berg and the Memory of Modernism". In Hailey, Christopher (ed.). Alban Berg and His World. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. pp. 299–343. ISBN 978-0-691-14856-4.
  • (2010) "The High School Sinkhole". New York Times. February 10, 2010.
  • (2010) Botstein, L. (2010). "Max Weber and Music History". The Musical Quarterly. 93 (2): 183–191. doi:10.1093/musqtl/gdq012.
  • (2010) "Why Mahler?". Wall Street Journal. October 9, 2010.
  • (2009) "For the Love of Learning". The New Republic. March 2, 2009.
  • (2009) Botstein, Leon (2009-08-23). "German Jews and Wagner". In Grey, Thomas (ed.). Richard Wagner and His World. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. pp. 151–197. ISBN 978-0-691-14366-8.
  • (2009) Botstein, L. (2009). "Mendelssohn as Jew: Revisiting Controversy on the Occasion of the Composer's 200th Birthday". The Musical Quarterly. 92 (1–2): 1–8. doi:10.1093/musqtl/gdp015.
  • (2009) "Recovery Depends on School Reform". New York Times. February 2, 2009.
  • (2008) Botstein, Leon (2008-08-24). "Beyond Death and Evil: Prokofiev's Spirituality and Christian Science". In Morrison, Simon (ed.). Sergey Prokofiev and His World. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. pp. 530–561. ISBN 978-0-691-13895-4.
  • (2008) "The Unsung Success of Live Classical Music". Wall Street Journal. October 3, 2008.
  • (2007) Botstein, L. (2008). "Music in Times of Economic Distress". The Musical Quarterly. 90 (2): 167–175. doi:10.1093/musqtl/gdn023.
  • (2007) Botstein, Leon (2007-08-19). "Transcending the Enigmas of Biography". In Adams, Byron (ed.). Edward Elgar and His World. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. pp. 365–406. ISBN 978-0-691-13446-8.



  1. Profile: Leon Botstein, Hadassah Magazine, "Botstein is a proud secular Jew not ambivalent or defensive about his identity. In I Am Jewish: Personal Reflections Inspired by the Last Words of Daniel Pearl (Jewish Lights), he writes: "In Judaism, learning is prayer, for it celebrates the human capacity for language and thought." He waxes nostalgic for the days of "exceptional Jewry," arguing that "Jews have entered the indistinguishable middle class…. We are no longer the people of the book; we are a people of ordinary vulgarity. The real tragedy of American Jewry—and Israel—is that we've used privilege to become absolutely ordinary.""
  2. "tascorp.org". tascorp.org. 2012-06-15. Retrieved 2012-06-22.
  3. "Leon Botstein".
  4. Elliott, Susan. "Leon Botstein Adds Grafenegg Festival". MusicalAmerica.com. Retrieved 13 July 2016.
  5. Gregory, Alice (2014-09-22). "The Duke of Bard". The New Yorker. ISSN 0028-792X. Retrieved 2017-12-25.
  6. "ASO". Retrieved 29 May 2013.
  7. Swed, Mark (August 28, 2013). "Music review: Botstein has last laugh with L.A. Phil at the Bowl". Los Angeles Times.
  8. "Oportunidad única!… la Sinfónica Juvenil de Caracas dirigida por Leon Botstein". Venezuela Sinfónica.
  9. "Princeton University Press Books in The Bard Music Festival". Press.princeton.edu. 2012-04-19. Retrieved 2012-06-22.
  10. Matthews, David (January 27, 2012). "Refuge in the Forest". Times Literary Supplement.
  11. Scherer, Barrymore (August 5, 2009). "Undeniable Influence". Wall Street Journal.
  12. Musleah, Rahel (May 2009). "Profile: Leon Botstein". www.hadassahmagazine.org. Retrieved October 28, 2019.
  13. "Watson School 2018 Ph.D.s". Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory. 27 April 2018.
  14. "Commencement". Goucher College.
  15. Sewanee: The University of the South. "Top Stories Homepage - Gowns awarded, honorary degrees conferred during Convocation - Sewanee: The University of the South".
  16. https://www.yivo.org/YIVO-90th-Anniversary-Gala
  17. Shannon Thomason. "UAB - UAB News - UAB presents Leon Botstein, 2014 Ireland Distinguished Visiting Scholar, on March 13".
  18. "www.abruckner.com". Retrieved 29 May 2013.
  19. "artsandletters.org". artsandletters.org. Retrieved 2012-06-22.
  20. "iile.bard.edu". iile.bard.edu. Retrieved 2012-06-22.
  21. "alqudsbard.org". alqudsbard.org. Retrieved 2012-06-22.
  22. "ihre.org". ihre.org. Retrieved 2012-06-22.
  23. "Undeniable Influence". The Wall Street Journal. August 5, 2009.
  24. "Anti-Israel Prof Loses Post at Bard". Inside Higher Ed. February 19, 2009.
  25. "Statement of Joel Kovel Regarding His Termination from Bard College". Joelkovel.org.
  26. "Hungarian Holocaust Memorial Year".
  27. "Through the valley of the shadow…;".
  28. "Watch funny exclusive videos and show clips". Comedy Central. Retrieved 2010-11-27.
  29. "Leon Botstein - The Colbert Report - 2007-04-06 - Video Clip | Comedy Central". Colbertnation.com. Retrieved 2012-06-22.
  30. "Leon Botstein - The Colbert Report - 2010-05-10 - Video Clip | Comedy Central". Colbertnation.com. Retrieved 2012-06-22.
  31. "A conversation about Middle Eastern education with Leon Botstein and Sari Nusseibeh". Charlie Rose. Retrieved 2012-06-22.
  32. "BBC Press Release". Bbc.co.uk. 2007-11-11. Retrieved 2011-12-09.
  33. Botstein, Leon. "Hungary's xenophobic attack on Central European University is a threat to freedom everywhere". washingtonpost.com. Retrieved 4 April 2017.
  34. Botstein, Leon. "American Universities Must Take a Stand". nytimes.com. Retrieved 8 February 2017.
  35. Ross, Janell. "Bard president draws parallels between European anti-Semitism and American racism to explain Trump's win". washingtonpost.com. Retrieved 16 December 2016.
  36. Botstein, Leon. "The Election Was About Racism Against Barack Obama". time.com. Retrieved 13 December 2016.
  37. Botstein, Leon. "Why the Next President Should Forgive All Student Loans". time.com.
  38. Leon Botstein (24 March 2014). "How an Anti-Semitic Composer Created 'Kol Nidre' and 'Moses'". The Forward.

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