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Boston Herald
Boston Herald
24 Feb 2024
Jed Gottlieb

NextImg:Benjamin Zander still igniting passion for classical music

A few days before his 85th birthday, Benjamin Zander will lead the Boston Philharmonic Youth Orchestra through a program as awesome as it is unlikely. The March 3 Symphony Hall concert will run through a selection from a Benjamin Britten opera, Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto No. 1, ragtime and Stephen Foster-inspired “Three Places in New England,” and the sweeping Suite No. 2 from Ravel’s “Daphnis et Chloé.”

“It’s the most ambitious program I have ever put together,” Zander told the Herald. “It would be a challenge for any orchestra because the sounds of those four pieces are totally different so you have to train an orchestra to switch from (piece to piece).”

The maestro has put together a lot of programs, hundreds probably, but maybe nothing tops the Britten-into-Tchaikovsky-into-Ives-into-Ravel line up of March 3. Oh, and he’ll bring to life these epic and intimate masterworks with scores of teenagers — the Boston Philharmonic Youth Orchestra runs in age from 21 to 12 (amazingly, there are three 12-year-olds in the group).

Zander has been educating musicians (and audiences) for decades. He founded the Boston Philharmonic Orchestra in 1978 and the Boston Philharmonic Youth Orchestra in 2012. He has no plans to stop, or even slow down.

“My dream is to die at 100 while conducting,” he said with a big laugh.

After decades working with players of all ages and a range of abilities, he has a unique vantage point of a few generations of classical music enthusiasts. He’s as impressed with the young talent as he ever was.

“The first trumpet of the youth orchestra has said that he’s listened to about a hundred different performances of the Mahler’s fifth symphony,” Zander said. “It’s incredible. It’s an example of how (this generation) is so passionate. There is certainly no diminishment and it may be that there’s an increase in attendance of the mind and heart and their engagement with the music. Classical music is more important to them than ever.”

Part of programming such a challenging concert is to showcase these kids’ skills and fire. Part of it is just that it’s good fun for Zander, who is restless in his quest to bring new ears to great works from across the centuries.

“Britten is the quintessential English clear sound of nature,” he said. “Tchaikovsky is the ultimate romantic, the ultimate heart on sleeve and there is no more intense, passionate music in the world than Tchaikovsky and particularly that concerto.”

“Then ‘Three Places in New England’ is one of the absolute most characteristically American pieces,” he continued. “Then we go from that immediately into ‘Daphnis et Chloé,’ the most garishly colorful music that has ever been made for a gigantic orchestra. And they know it, they love it.”

And Zander thinks everyone will love it too.

Whether he’s leading concerts or giving his wildly popular talks (his Ted Talk has tens of millions of views), he’s teaching generation after generation to discover classical music.

“I always say, ‘Everybody loves classical music, they just haven’t found out about it yet,’” he said with a warm smile in his voice.

For tickets and details to both Boston Philharmonic Orchestra and Boston Philharmonic Youth Orchestra concerts, visit