(Friday, November 3, Los Angeles) – The Colburn School, one of the world’s preeminent schools for music and dance, received a $4 million gift to name the chair of conducting studies held by Esa-Pekka Salonen in honor of Ernst H. Katz. Through the remarkable generosity of the T. Robert Greene Foundation, the Maestro Ernst H. Katz Chair of Conducting Studies will recognize and celebrate the 72-year legacy of Ernst Katz, founder of one of the longest-standing youth orchestras in the country. A member of the Colburn School’s faculty since 2018, Esa-Pekka Salonen leads the Conservatory of Music’s Negaunee Conducting Program.
Maestro Ernst H. Katz (1914-2009) began changing the lives of young people through classical music when he founded his symphony orchestra on January 22, 1937 in Los Angeles. For nearly seven decades, he dedicated himself to the Jr. Philharmonic Orchestra without accepting public or private contributions and without charging membership or audition fees. Following his motto “Give Youth A Chance to be Heard,” he touched the lives of thousands of musicians from diverse social, economic, and ethnic backgrounds.
“The Colburn School is incredibly grateful to the T. Robert Greene Foundation for this generous and meaningful gift,” said Sel Kardan, President & CEO. “Ernst Katz’s dedication to youth in music and the community is a remarkable and inspiring example which aligns with Colburn’s mission. We are proud to recognize and celebrate his legacy and the importance of training the next generation of young artists.”
“Maestro Katz had an enormous amount of vitality and he gave his tremendous energy in service to the community,” said Terry Robert Greene, nephew of Ernst Katz and a former member of the Jr. Philharmonic Orchestra. “He was a mentor to young people, an advocate for musicians, and a lasting example of how music can make a difference in so many lives. The T. Robert Greene Foundation made this gift to preserve his profound influence on the youth of Southern California and to support the young artists of the future.”
“Ernst Katz’s selfless generosity and passion for educating the next generation made the Jr. Philharmonic an invaluable part of Los Angeles’s musical fabric,” said Salonen. “ I am honored to celebrate his legacy through the Negaunee Conducting Program at Colburn School.”
As founding head of the Negaunee Conducting Program at the Colburn School, Esa-Pekka Salonen works with a select group of young conductors known as Salonen Fellows. These Fellows develop their craft and nurture their talent through personal mentorship from Salonen, gaining significant real-world podium experience on and off campus to prepare them for professional careers. As part of their fellowship roles, they will serve as assistant conductors to Salonen for several of his programs with the San Francisco Symphony during the 2023–24 season.
In his role as faculty at Colburn, Esa-Pekka Salonen will also conduct the Colburn Orchestra at The Soraya on November, 4, 2023, as part of its annual performance series. The program includes Elizabeth Ogonek’s Moondog and is part of the California Festival: A Celebration of New Music. Other works on the program include Shostakovich’s Cello Concerto No. 1 with soloist Benett Tsai, and Brahms’s Symphony No. 4.
About Esa-Pekka Salonen
Esa-Pekka Salonen is known as both a composer and conductor. He is the Music Director of the San Francisco Symphony, where he works alongside eight Collaborative Partners from a variety of disciplines, ranging from composers to roboticists. He is the Conductor Laureate of the Philharmonia Orchestra, Los Angeles Philharmonic, and Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra. As a member of the faculty of the Colburn School, he directs the pre-professional Negaunee Conducting Program. Salonen co-founded, and until 2018 served as the Artistic Director of, the annual Baltic Sea Festival.
Beginning with the Opening Night Gala, Salonen will lead the San Francisco Symphony in twelve weeks of programming. Highlights include world premieres from Jesper Nordin, Anders Hillborg, and Jens Ibsen; projects by Collaborative Partners Pekka Kuusisto and Carol Reiley; the launch of the inaugural California Festival; a tour of southern California; and a program of Ravel and Schoenberg featuring choreography by Alonzo King and staging by Peter Sellars.
He will also conduct many of his own works this season. Among them are a new work commemorating the 20th anniversary of Walt Disney Concert Hall, premiering with the Los Angeles Philharmonic; Karawane, also with the Los Angeles Philharmonic; his Sinfonia Concertante for Organ and Orchestra with the Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra and Philadelphia Orchestra; and kínēma with the San Francisco Symphony and Philadelphia Orchestra.
Salonen has an extensive and varied recording career. Releases with the San Francisco Symphony include recordings of Bartók’s piano concertos, as well as spatial audio recordings of several Ligeti compositions. Other recent recordings include Strauss’s Four Last Songs, Bartók’s Miraculous Mandarin and Dance Suite, and a 2018 box set of his complete Sony recordings. His compositions appear on releases from Sony, Deutsche Grammophon, and Decca; his Piano Concerto, Violin Concerto, and Cello Concerto all appear on recordings he conducted himself.
About Maestro Ernst H. Katz
Ernst Katz—son of Russian immigrants who by his teens had made a name for himself as a concert pianist—nurtured thousands of young musicians during 72 years as the founding conductor of the Jr. Philharmonic Orchestra of California. During the Great Depression of the 1930s, a young Ernst Katz believed the city of Los Angeles needed the uplifting power of music. Katz formed what he originally called the Little Symphony in 1937 with four youths and built it into a 120-member orchestra. He never missed a practice or performance.
His Los Angeles Times obituary states, “The 10,000 youths who have performed in the orchestra since its founding were charged no fees to participate. If they needed instruments, Katz lent them. If they couldn’t afford the tuxedos required for performances, Katz paid for them. He financed the organization almost entirely out of his own pocket, conducting free public concerts at such venues as the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion and Shrine Auditorium. ‘Everyone said I was crazy’ to launch a symphony during the Depression, Katz recalled in a 1996 LA Times interview. But he was determined to give youths ‘a chance to be heard.’ That idea became the orchestra’s motto.”
Katz taught not only musicianship and the historical context of the pieces they were learning, but also lessons about individual responsibility, including the importance of being on time and attending all rehearsals. Katz instilled the discipline and structure that enabled young people to attain success in their lives. He was also a mentor to his musicians—many described him as the grandfather that they never had.
The orchestra defied any preconceived notions about both the cultural diversity of Los Angeles and the nature of the orchestral community. Katz broke barriers, admitting young women to his orchestra from its inception. He also combined classical and popular music in the concerts, a practice that was unheard of then, but is now widely accepted.
Today, numerous youth orchestras provide young musicians with opportunities for artistic development, musical education, and performance experiences. Yet, during the era of the Jr. Philharmonic Orchestra, there was nothing comparable. The orchestra became one of the longest-standing youth orchestras in the country.
One of the most highly anticipated events of the year was the Jr. Philharmonic Orchestra’s annual Concert Spectacular, the culmination of its season, which featured the Celebrity Battle of Batons, a star-studded competition allowing many of Hollywood’s best-loved characters to lead the ensemble. Celebrity guests who appeared on the podium included Pat Boone, Chevy Chase, Jimmy Durante, Buddy Ebsen, Henry Fonda, Richard Pryor, Mickey Rooney, “Weird Al” Yankovic, and more, including Red Hot Chili Peppers bassist Flea.
Speaking to the Los Angeles Times in 2009, Pat Boone recalled that Maestro Katz “was like a musical Mother Teresa. He had that kind of passion and personality to completely sacrifice his other interests to enrich and nurture the lives of young people through music.”
About the Colburn School
A performing arts institution located in the heart of Los Angeles, the Colburn School trains students from beginners to those about to embark on professional careers. The academic units of the School provide a complete spectrum of music and dance education united by a single philosophy: that all who desire to study music or dance should have access to top-level instruction.
Each year, more than 2,000 students from around the world come to Colburn to benefit from the renowned faculty, exceptional facilities, and focus on excellence that unites the community.
The Colburn Center, designed by Frank Gehry, is a multi-faceted campus expansion expected to open in the fall of 2026. Located across the street from the School’s existing campus at the intersection of Olive and Second Streets, the Colburn Center will enable the School to expand its mission of presenting programs for the public. Gehry’s design includes Terri and Jerry Kohl Hall, a 1,000-seat in-the-round concert hall, four professional-sized dance studios, a 100-seat flexible studio theater, and gardens that bring fresh air and green spaces to the downtown landscape.
Learn more at www.colburnschool.edu.
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