10 Legendary Classical Musicians Teaching Today

10 Legendary Classical Musicians Teaching Today

photo via Wikimedia Commons

Classical music and academia go together like bread and butter.

Every prominent living classical musician either trained at a conservatory, university/liberal arts music program, or took private lessons with someone who did.

The tradition of classical music and academia is deep; even Tchaikovsky, one of the greatest of all composers, was himself a faculty member at the Moscow Conservatory in Russia. 

Other classical dignitaries who also taught in a university or conservatory? Gustav Holst, John Adams, Nadia Boulanger, Arnold Schoenberg, etc.

The number of prominent classical musicians who taught in the past must reach into the several thousands.

However, we are going to reveal 10 legendary classical musicians who are teaching today.

These musicians – composers, singers, and instrumentalists alike – are not only among the most influential in academia, they are also recognized in their craft outside of the classroom as well.

Here are 10 legendary classical musicians teaching today.

Itzhak Perlman

Itzhak Perlman might just be the most famous living classical musician – his career is as rarefied in the world of classical music as it gets, having performed as a soloist with just about every major symphony multiple times.

So why does Itzhak choose to teach, when clearly, he does not need to do so?

Perhaps Itzhak has never given a public interview about it, but we think he simply has a love of education.

This is evident not only throughout his Juilliard tenure, but also in his devotion to the Perlman Music Program, a summer camp for young musicians between the ages of 12 to 18 that has existed for 25 years.

Itzhak Perlman’s many accolades and accomplishments include 16 Grammy awards, a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award, and the Presidential Medal of Freedom, bestowed by none other than the leader of the free world.

Faculty Appointment: Juilliard

Bright Sheng

In his heyday, Bright Sheng was among the most important composers in the world, writing a distinct style of American-Asian crossover music delighting both US and international audiences.

Today, Bright Sheng has somewhat retreated from the spotlight in favor of devotion to his teaching position at the University of Michigan, where he is the Leonard Bernstein Distinguished University Professor of Composition.

Some of his most noted compositions, such as the Pulitzer-finalist Four Movements for Piano Trio, represent an authentic classical heritage few other composers can claim. 

Famously, Bright Sheng has said “I consider myself both 100% American and 100% Asian.” Listening to works like his Piano Trio, the Yo-Yo Ma commissioned 7 Tunes I Heard in China, and his more recent harp concerto Never Far Away, a listener can’t help but agree with Sheng’s own label.

Faculty Appointment: Michigan

Denyce Graves

One of the great opera stars of the last three decades, Denyce Graves holds an appointment at the Peabody Institute of Johns Hopkins. 

Making her Metropolitan Opera debut in 1995, Denyce Graves is known for her roles as the title character in Bizet’s Carmen and Saint-Saens’ Samson et Dalila.

One of Graves’ most memorable performances happened 3 days after the tragedy of 9/11, when she sang America the Beautiful in a memorial service. President George Bush was in attendance, among other government officials. 

Graves has also been a proponent of new music, having sung in the world premieres of Richard Danielpour’s opera Margaret Garner and Terence Blanchard’s opera Champion.

Joining the faculty at Peabody in 2012, Denyce Graves holds the title of Rosa Ponselle Distinguished Faculty Artist.

Faculty Appointment: Peabody Institute of Johns Hopkins

Paul Katz

As a cellist, Paul Katz performed for over 25 years with the Cleveland Quartet, in its time one of the foremost chamber ensembles in the country. Throughout their tenure, the Cleveland Quartet was ensemble-in-residence with the Cleveland Institute of Music, Eastman School of Music, and SUNY Buffalo. 

At the height of their popularity, the Cleveland Quartet gave 100 performances a year

It was with the Cleveland Quartet Paul Katz’ legendary tenure as a teacher began; under the coaching of Paul Katz and the Cleveland Quartet, eight ensembles won the coveted Naumburg prize.

Since the quartet disbanded in 1995, Paul Katz has taught full-time at New England Conservatory. His students have won positions in major professional orchestras worldwide.

Faculty Appointment: New England Conservatory

Garrick Ohlsson

The only American to win 1st prize in the International Frederic Chopin Piano Competition, an accomplishment dating all the way back to 1970.

Since then, Professor Garrick Ohlsson has become one of America’s most treasured classical pianists. His repertoire is decidedly from the Classical and Romantic eras of music. One of his more famous interpretations is Beethoven; in 2006, he performed all 32 piano sonatas at Tanglewood.

Ohlsson is one of the few recipients of the Avery Fisher Prize, one of the most significant awards for American classical musicians. Other winners of this rarefied prize include Edgar Meyer, Joshua Bell, and the Kronos Quartet.

Faculty Appointment: San Francisco Conservatory of Music

Gerard Schwarz

Schwarz was the Music Director of the Seattle Symphony and is partially responsible for its fantastic success. In 1983, the Seattle Symphony had just 5,000 subscribers; by 2008, it counted 35,000 subscribers.

With the Seattle Symphony Orchestra, Gerard Schwarz released over 100(!) recordings. He is particularly known as an interpreter of contemporary classical music, championing the work of Alan Hovhaness, David Diamond, and Walter Piston.

Schwarz retired from the Seattle Symphony in 2011 after 26 years with the orchestra. However, in 2019, he became the Director of the Palm Beach Symphony.

Also in 2019, Schwarz picked up his recent appointment with the University of Miami Frost School of Music.

His illustrious career has garnered 14 Grammy nominations, 4 Emmys, and a nod by Musical America as “Conductor of the Year” in 1994.

Faculty Appointment: University of Miami Frost School of Music

John O’Conor

John O’Conor is one of Ireland’s great classical pianists and former director of the Royal Irish Academy of Music, one of Europe’s oldest conservatories.

Today, John O’Conor is faculty at Shenandoah University, a fantastic liberal arts college music program based in Virginia.

John O’Conor’s recordings sit squarely in the classical era; his interpretations of Haydn and Beethoven are among his most popular on Spotify and other streaming platforms.

One particular composer John O’Conor champions is John Field, a classical era Irish composer whose brilliant work is overshadowed by contemporaries like Mozart. John O’Conor has recorded Field’s piano concertos, true hidden gems in the classical music repertoire.

Widely recognized in Ireland, his contributions to music have awarded him honorary doctorates at Trinity College Dublin, the Dublin Institute of Technology, and the National University of Ireland.

Faculty Appointment: Shenandoah University

Anthony McGill

Anthony McGill came to international prominence in 2008 when he performed John Williams’ quartet Air and Simple Gifts for Barack Obama’s inauguration.

At the inauguration, he performed alongside Yo-Yo Ma, Itzhak Perlman, and Gabriela Montero.

Professor Anthony McGill, alongside his brother Demarre McGill, are among the few African-Americans to hold positions in professional orchestras in the United States. Anthony McGill is the principal clarinetist of the New York Philharmonic while Demarre is the principal flutist of the Seattle Symphony.

McGill splits his teaching time among three of the best music schools in the country, the Curtis Institute of Music, the Juilliard School, and Bard College-Conservatory of Music.

He previously held appointments at Mannes and Peabody.

Faculty Appointment: Curtis, Juilliard, Bard

Yolanda Kondonassis

Everyone can name a star pianist, violinist, cellist, and conductor.

But, how many harpists have come to international attention like Yolanda Kondonassis?

Professor Yolanda Kondonassis, who is the harp teacher at Oberlin, is one of the world’s most recorded harpists. 

As a soloist, she has had an unusually accomplished career for a harpist, playing with dozens of professional orchestras.

She has also recorded nearly two dozen albums for Telarc, a prominent Ohio-based record label.

In addition to her harp playing, Kondonassis is also an active environmentalist, having published a kids book about protecting the planet.

Faculty Appointment: Oberlin College-Conservatory of Music, Cleveland Institute of Music

Richard Danielpour

Few composers have ever reached exclusive deals with Sony Classical in their careers. 

Who has? Igor Stravinsky, Aaron Copland, and Richard Danielpour. There may be a few others, but Danielpour is the only living composer who has had such a deal.

A long time faculty member at Curtis and previous faculty at Manhattan School of Music, Richard Danielpour only recently took up his Professorship at UCLA.

His most notable work is perhaps the 2005 opera Margaret Garner, a collaboration between Danielpour and novelist Toni Morrison (Morrison wrote the libretto). Margaret Garner is about the life of a runaway slave. Another legendary musician on this same list, Denyce Graves, portrayed the title role in that opera’s premiere.

Other prominent works of his include the Cello Concerto No. 2, commissioned by the New York Philharmonic specifically for musician Yo-Yo Ma.

Faculty Appointment: UCLA, Curtis Institute of Music

Classical Music Team

YES Classical Music is one of the leading sources for classical music news, reviews, and opinion online!

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