Werner Torkanowsky

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Werner Torkanowsky (born on March 30, 1926; died on October 20, 1992) was a successful German conductor in both the concert hall and opera house.

He was born in Berlin, Germany, and raised on a kibbutz in Israel, coming to the United States in 1948 to study the violin. From 1954 to 1958, however, he studied conducting under Pierre Monteux. Following his debut with the Ballets Espagnoles, he became Music Director of Jerome Robbins's "Ballet USA."

In 1959, Torkanowsky made his debut with the New York City Opera, with Gian Carlo Menotti's The Medium, with Claramae Turner in the name part. The next year, he led The Consul with the company. It was around that time that he was conductor for a film of that opera, starring Patricia Neway and Chester Ludgin. (It went unseen until 2004, when it was released by VAI on DVD and Compact Discs, to much acclaim.) He returned to the City Opera in 1962 for, again, The Consul.

In 1961, Torkanowsky first led the New York Philharmonic as guest conductor, and was to make his first recording with that ensemble: George Rochberg's dodecaphonic Second Symphony, for Columbia (c.1962), which was released by CRI on Compact Disc, in 1997.

He went on to conduct many major orchestras, including those in Israel, Philadelphia, Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles and Detroit, as well as at the Spoleto Festival (Samuel Barber's Vanessa, 1961).

From 1963 to 1977, he was Music Director and Chief Conductor of the New Orleans Philharmonic-Symphony Orchestra, with whom he made an album for Orion in December 1971. On that recording were works by Carlisle Floyd, Alan Hovhaness (Fra Angelico) and Ned Rorem (Lions). The Floyd compositions were three excerpts from his "solo cantata on biblical texts," Pilgrimage, with Norman Treigle. He also conducted performances of Boito's Mefistofele with Treigle, for the San Diego Opera (1973) and Seattle Opera (1974).

In 1981, he was named Music Director of the Bangor Symphony Orchestra in Maine, where he remained until he succumbed to cancer in Bar Harbor, Maine, at the age of sixty-six. Following his death, the Symphony published a double Compact Disc set of various performances dating from 1989 to 1992. Included are Beethoven's Die Weihe des Hauses, Tchaikovsky's Roméo et Juliette, Sibelius' Symphony no.2 (his final performance with the ensemble), Ravel's Daphnis et Chloé, Schuman's New England Tripych, Balada's Fantasias sonoras, as well as his own composition, 3 Movements for Maine. His son, David Torkanowsky (born in 1956, from the first of his three marriages), is a jazz performer in New Orleans.


  • "Staying in Shape: A Violinist's Maintenance Notebook", by Werner Torkanowsky, Phœbus Apollo Music Publishers, 1992. ISBN 0-9753953-1-9


  • "Maestro's Legacy," by Brian Morgan, OnStage, Spring 2008.

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