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Joseph Horowitz (born 1948 in New York City) is an American cultural historian whose seven books mainly deal with the institutional history of classical music in the United States. As a producer of concerts, he has played a pioneering role in promoting thematic programming and new concert formats. His tenure as Artistic Advisor and, subsequently, Executive Director of the Brooklyn Philharmonic Orchestra at the Brooklyn Academy of Music (1992–1997) attracted national attention for its radical departure from traditional functions and templates.
Life and work
Horowitz’s books treat the late nineteenth century as the apex of American classical music, before it generated into a “culture of performance“ spotlighting celebrity conductors and instrumentalists, whom he terms “performance specialists” in contradistinction to the composer/performers of an earlier era. He is also credited (as by Alex Ross in The New Yorker) with coining the phrase “post-classical music” to describe an emerging 21st century musical landscape merging classical music with popular and non-Western genres.
Horowitz’s treatment late Gilded Age culture challenges prevalent notions of “social control” and “sacralization” as defined by such cultural historians as Alan Trachtenburg and Lawrence Levine. In Wagner Nights: An American History and Classical Music in America: A History of Its Rise and Fall, he argues that American classical music of the late nineteenth century cannot be viewed as an instrument of affluent elites. In Understanding Toscanini: How He Became an American Culture-God and Helped Create a New Audience for Old Music, he treats the “Toscanini cult” of the mid-twentieth century as a metaphor for the decline of classical music in the United States, arguing that the conductor Arturo Toscanini became the first non-composer to be widely regarded the “world’s greatest musician,“ and that no prior conductor of comparable eminence and influence had been so divorced from the music of his own time. Wagner Nights also proposes that American Wagnerism of the 1880s and 1890s was (compared to European and Russian Wagner movements) distinctly meliorist and “proto-feminist,“ the vast majority of American Wagnerites having been women.
As a concert producer, Horowitz began as artistic advisor to the Schubertiade at New York’s 92nd Street Y, for which he created all-day Schubert symposia incorporating film, Lieder, and chamber music (1981–1994). During his tenure with the Brooklyn Philharmonic, the orchestra received the 1996 Morton Gould Award for Innovative Programming from the American Symphony Orchestra League, as well as five ASCAP/ASOL awards for Adventuresome Programming; according to Alex Ross in The New Yorker (November 1997), “When Joseph Horowitz became Executive Director, the Brooklyn Philharmonic more or less went off the grid of American orchestral culture. The subscription-series template -- overture, concerto, symphony -- has been thrown away. Programs have become miniature weekend festivals.” Beginning in 1999, Horowitz has served as a free-lance artistic consultant; he has conceived more than three dozen thematic inter-disciplinary music festivals for a variety of orchestras and performing arts institutions. In 2002, he co-created Post-Classical Ensemble, a chamber orchestra in Washington, D.C., for which he serves as Artistic Director.
Horowitz was a music critic for the New York Times from 1976 to 1980. Since 1998, he has regularly contributed to the Times Literary Supplement (UK); he has also written for a variety of scholarly publications, including the New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians. He is the author of the articles on “classical music” for both The Oxford Encyclopedia of American History and The Encyclopedia of New York State. He is the recipient of fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation in 2001, the National Endowment for the Humanities (twice), and the National Arts Journalism Program at Columbia University, and has served as Project Director of a National Education Project, “Dvorak in America,” for the National Endowment for the Humanities. He serves as Artistic Director of an annual music critics institute for the National Endowment for the Arts. In 2004, he was awarded a certificate of appreciation by the Czech Parliament “for his exceptional explorations – both as a scholar and as the organizer of Dvorak festivals throughout the United States – of Dvorak’s historic sojourn in America..” He has taught at the City University of New York, the Eastman School of Music, the Mannes College of Music, and New England Conservatory.
- Conversations with Arrau (1982)
- Understanding Toscanini: How He Became an American Culture-God and Helped Create a New Audience for Old Music (1987)
- The Ivory Trade (1990)
- Wagner Nights: An American History (1994)
- The Post-Classical Predicament: Essays on Music and Society (1995)
- Dvořák in America: In Search of the New World (for young readers, 2003)
- Classical Music in America: A History of Its Rise and Fall (2005)
- Artists in Exile: How Refugees from War and Revolution Transformed the American Performing Arts
- Fin-de-Siècle: Six Portraits from America’s Gilded Age (in preparation)