George Steel (musician)
George Steel is a musician living in New York City. He has been working in New York and around the world for 25 years as variously a conductor, a singer, a composer, a producer, a pianist, a musicologist, and a teacher.
He is founder and conductor of two groups, the Vox Vocal Ensemble (1990) and the Gotham City Orchestra (1998). Some of his notable concerts include Stravinsky’s orchestral music at the Park Avenue Armory , Bach’s B-Minor Mass in New York and at Caramoor, Feldman’s Rothko Chapel in a live radio broadcast, “Treasures of the Sarum Rite” with the Trinity Church choir, and an all-John Zorn program in Helsinki with the Avanti! Orchestra.
For four years, from 2009 to 2013, Steel served as General Manager and Artistic Director of New York City Opera. In January 2009, Steel was asked to turn the Company around after it had suffered a string of financial and managerial blows: a decade of multi-million-dollar deficits, a "dark" season in 2008-9 (i.e. a season with no staged opera performances), the depletion of Company's endowment to pay off a huge accumulated deficit, the market collapse of 2008, the radical reduction by the board of the budget and of the size of the season, and the sudden withdrawal of Gerard Mortier, who was to have become General Manager after a lengthy period without leadership (Paul Kellogg, the previous General Director had left in 2007).
At New York City Opera, Steel created acclaimed new productions of Don Giovanni, Così fan tutte, Leonard Bernstein's A Quiet Place, (in its New York premiere), and an evening of monodramas (including works by John Zorn and Morton Feldman in their New York stage premieres) directed by Michael Counts. In addition, Steel's tenure saw revivals of Chabrier's L'Etoile, Weisgall's Esther, and Madama Butterfly, among others.
On the business side, the Opera underwent tremendous change under Steel's tenure. Some of the steps Steel took in his efforts to save the Company were controversial, notably a contentious contract negotiation with the labor unions representing the orchestra and the singers, and the departure of the Opera from Lincoln Center. While the Company had for more than a decade discussed publicly the idea of leaving Lincoln Center, the Company's ultimate departure, driven by the financial reality that the Opera would otherwise have to close, was met alternately with praise and scepticism. Despite the controversy, these changes led directly to the Opera's first balanced budgets in an over a decade and a sold-out 2011-12 season. Notwithstanding some artistic successes, and dramatic changes to the Company's business model, the Opera ultimately succumbed to bankruptcy under his watch.
From 1997-2008, Steel was executive director of Miller Theatre, the performing-arts venue of Columbia University. In the 2004-2005 season, Steel received the ASCAP-Chamber Music America (CMA) Award for Adventurous Programming of Contemporary Music. He was awarded the 2003 Trailblazer Award from the American Music Center, the 2003 ASCAP Concert Music Award, and the 2001-2002 ASCAP-CMA Award for Adventurous Programming. New York Magazine named George Steel one of the most influential people in New York in its 2006 “Influentials” issue, and recognized his programming in its 2005 “Cultural Elite” issue, listing Miller Theatre as having the “Best Music Programming before 1800 or after 1990” and the “Best Night at the Ballet.”
Prior to his decade at Miller Theater, Steel worked as Managing Producer of the Tisch Center for the Arts at the 92nd Street Y, under Michael Barrett.
As an advocate for new music, Steel has commissioned dozens of new works from composers including Peter Lieberson, Sebastian Currier, John Zorn, Julia Wolfe, Marc-André Dalbavie, Anthony Davis, Gerald Barry, Benedict Mason, Benet Casablancas, and many others. As an advocate for early music, he has created or commissioned dozens of editions of early music, including publishing the complete works of composer Robert Parsons (d. 1572) on a website, which has led to a wave of performances and recordings.
Steel was a founding member of FACE, the French-American Cultural Exchange, a member of the Young Leaders Forum of the National Committee on US-China Relations, and the chair the Music Panel of the New York State Council on the Arts. He has lectured widely, including invitations to the Aspen Music Festival, the Eastman School of Music, the Operahögskolans in Stockholm, Yale College, and classes at Columbia University as adjunct professor of music.
Steel's first job in New York was as a teacher at St. Augustine School of the Arts, a Catholic elementary school in the Morrissania section of the South Bronx which had recently instituted an arts curriculum. The School was acclaimed for its work, and was the subject of an award-winning documentary film.
Steel received his earliest musical training in the Choir of Men and Boys at Washington National Cathedral, where he was a treble and later a countertenor. He continued to perform as a countertenor for a decade. His last work regular employment as a singer was at Saint Thomas Church Fifth Avenue in New York.
- Ross, Alex: Rite of Spring: A Celebration of Igor Stravinsky (May 19, 2008) 
- 2003 Concert Music Awards
- The Most Influential People in Classical and Dance - New York Magazine
- The Best in Classical and Dance - New York Magazine Culture Awards 2005