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Leon Botstein (Conductor)

Leon Botstein (born 1946 in Switzerland) is a Jewish American conductor and the President of Bard College (since 1975). Botstein currently serves as the music director and principal conductor of the American Symphony Orchestra and the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra. He is also co-Artistic Director of the Bard Music Festival. He also serves as the Board Chairman of the Central European University.

Botstein is a leading advocate of progressive education. He graduated at age 16 from the High School of Music and Art in New York, earned a bachelor's degree from the University of Chicago and a Ph.D. from Harvard University. He credits David Landes and Harold Farberman as his mentors.

Botstein became the youngest college president in the history of the country at age 23, serving from 1970 to 1975 at the now-defunct Franconia 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. In addition to the orchestra's main concert series in Avery Fisher Hall, Lincoln Center, 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 De-Classified," 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.

Botstein is the brother of biologist David Botstein and husband of art historian Barbara Haskell. Both of Botstein's parents were physicians.

In 2009, Botstein was awarded a Carnegie Academic Leadership Award. The Carnegie Corporation annually chooses exceptional leaders of American higher education who have demonstrated outstanding leadership in the realms of curricular innovation, reform of K-12 education and the promotion of strong links between their institution and their local communities.

In 2006, Botstein's recording of Popov's Symphony No. 1 and Shostakovich's Theme and Variations with the London Symphony Orchestra was nominated for a Grammy Award in the category of Best Orchestral Performance.

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. Botstein is also Bard's Leon Levy Professor in the Arts and Humanities.

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.

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 Musical Quarterly and a frequent contributor to periodicals focusing on music and education.

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