Harvey Sollberger, Conductor


Harvey Sollberger's formal instruction in conducting consisted of a one-semester course taken at the University of Iowa with James Dixon. After that, he learned “on the job”, and his teachers were some of the most exacting in the world, the New York City free-lance musicians who played under his baton in such ensembles as the Group for Contemporary Music, the Da Capo Players, Speculum Musicae, the New York New Music Ensemble, the Contemporary Chamber Players, the Ensemble and others. At the time of the Group's formation in 1962, performance standards and rehearsal time for demanding new pieces were far from satisfactory, and music in which subtleties of inflection and execution were critical was apt to be slighted. If the term “mission” could in any sense apply to Sollberger's life and work, it would surely be with reference to his decades-long engagement with creating a performance environment that guaranteed the responsible and sympathetic performance of complex and compelling works requiring more than speedy hose-downs or read-throughs. While it's clear from today's perspective that there is much music being created for which this is not an issue, it was an issue for the best music being created in the 1960s and after– works of, to name a few, Babbitt, Berio, Boulez, Carter, Davidovsky , Felder, Reynolds, Wolpe, Wuorinen - while it obviously remains one still today for all music which sets its sights above the commonplace. (Sollberger has been called many things in his life, but his favorite sobriquet is doubtless the “El Exigente” bestowed upon him by the Group's doughty principal percussionist, Raymond DesRoches.) His student ensembles at Columbia University, the Manhattan School of Music, Indiana University and the University of California, San Diego all absorbed his message, which he brought, as well, to such professional groups as the San Francisco Contemporary Music Players, Interlink (Tokyo), Griffin (Boston), sf sound (San Francisco) and the University of Chicago Contemporary Chamber Players and to student groups at Amherst College, the Cleveland Institute of Music, the University of Illinois, the California Institute of the Arts, Stony Brook University, the International Festival-Institute at Round Top (Texas), the University of Utah, and the University of Kentucky, among others.

Harvey Sollberger's orchestral conducting career took wing at Indiana University, and he subsequently conducted the San Francisco Symphony, the San Diego Symphony, the Buffalo Philharmonic, the June in Buffalo Chamber Orchestra and the Slee Sinfonietta before becoming the Music Director of the La Jolla Symphony (1997 - 2005). In a career that has, curiously, been the reverse of that of most conductors – Sollberger started by conducting new music and only subsequently “graduated” to the so-called standard repertoire in later years – he enjoyed his encounters with the likes of Beethoven, Mozart and Mahler while, with his La Jolla charges, presenting many world and American premieres of works by young and living composers.

Taking pride of place among his premieres, are two Pulitzer Prize-winning works: Donald Martino's Notturno in 1973 and Roger Reynolds' Whispers Out of Time (1989). Sollberger also conducted the premiere of Elliott Carter's Syringa with musicians of Speculum Musicae and the Group for Contemporary Music on Carter's seventieth birthday concert in New York and led the Group in performances on the New York Philharmonic's Horizons Series in 1984 and 1985. Other notable premieres include works by Milton Babbitt, Marita Bolles, Anthony Braxton, Richard Carrick, Benjamin Carson, Chen Yi, Chou Wen-chung, Antonio Cunha, Charles Dodge, Peter Edwards, David Felder, Myron Fink, Brian Griffith-Loeb, Kerry Hagan, Derek Keller, Matthias Kriesberg, Erik Lundborg, Donald Martino, Andrew May, Chris Mercer, Yumiko Morita, Stephen L. Mosko, Philip Neukom, Tobias Picker, Roger Reynolds, Francois Rose, Jason Rosenberg, Alejandro Rutty, Lukas Schulze, Sandra Sprecher, Rand Steiger, Avi Tchamni, Michael Theodore, Jude Weirmeir and Peter Westergaard.

Harvey Sollberger has, as well, given the American premieres of works by Chaya Czernowin, Antonio Cunha, Morton Feldman, York Hoeller, Todd Machover, Bernard Rands, Roger Reynolds, Jean-Claude Risset, Harvey Sollberger, Karlheinz Stockhausen, Leifur Thorarinsson and Iannis Xenakis.

W. H., 2013