Leopold Anthony Stokowski (April 18, 1882 – September 13, 1977) -- British and American conductor of Polish-Irish origin. One of the leading conductors of the early and mid-20th century
Leopold Stokowski was born in London in the international family – his mother was Irish, his father - Polish. The lack of musical traditions in the family did not prevent the boy from demonstrating his musical talent rather early. From the age of eight, Leopold mastered the piano and violin, and then began to study composition and playing organ.
He studied the art of conducting from the age of 13 at the Royal College of Music, later he entered the University of Oxford, combining his studies with the work of a church organist.
In 1905, he arrived to New York, where for the next three years he worked as choirmaster and organist at St. Bartholomew's Church. He was very popular among the parishioners, but with the time, he gave up this position to continue his career as church orchestra conductor. In 1909, he became the creative director of a small symphony orchestra in Cincinnati. Here, for the first time, the brilliant managerial capabilities of the artist were manifested. He quickly reorganized the team, increased its body and gained high level of performance. While directing the orchestra, Stokowski for the first time in the United States performed a number of pieces by contemporary composers, in particular the Second Symphony by Edward Elgar. Despite great success in 1912, Stokowski left the orchestra due to disagreements with the administration.
He headed another orchestra in Philadelphia. However, before moving to Philadelphia for the position of conductor, Stokowski returned to England to perform two concerts at the London King's Hall. On May 22, 1912, Stokowski conducted the London Symphony Orchestra in the concert that he fully repeated 60 years later, at the age of ninety.
Stokowski gave a boost to Philadelphia Orchestra. He himself gained a reputation of a musical showman. His manner of conducting included unusual gestures such as throwing notes on the floor to demonstrate that he did not need them for performing. At the end of the 1929–30 season, Stokowski began conducting without baton. His free manner of conducting soon became one of his trademarks. From the musical side, Stokowski changed the orchestra and shaped the "Stokowski" sound, or what became known as the "Philadelphian sound". He encouraged "free-bowing" from the string section, and constantly changed seating arrangements in the orchestra. Stokowski is considered the first conductor to adopt the seating plan that is used by most orchestras nowadays -- the first and second violins sit together to the conductor's left, and the violas and cellos - to the right.
Stokowski was known for modifying orchestrations of some musical pieces he conducted. Among other things, he corrected the orchestrations by Ludwig van Beethoven, Pyotr Tchaikovsky, Jean Sibelius and Johann Sebastian Bach.
He created singular musical productions for movies. His name is associated with the development and promotion of stereophonic sound.
In 1940, Stokowski organized the All-American Youth Orchestra, with which he toured, but despite positive reviews from critics, the orchestra was dissolved. At the same time, he became the conductor of the NBC Symphony Orchestra, replacing Arturo Toscanini. During three years of collaboration with this orchestra, Stokowski performed numerous works by Igor Stravinsky and other contemporary composers, gave the American premiere the cantata "Alexander Nevsky" by Sergei Prokofiev and the world premiere the Piano Concerto by Arnold Schoenberg.
In 1944, on the recommendation of the Mayor of New York, Stokowski was involved in the creation of the City Symphony Orchestra with the aim of making music available for the middle class and workers. Low ticket prices were fixed, the performances were held at convenient time after working hours. However, the conductor resigned from the position a year later.
Stokowski participated in the creation of several motion pictures, The Fantasies by Walt Disney (1940) among them.
Stokowski launched a grand-scale international career in 1951 with nationwide tour through England -- he conducted the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra during the Festival of Britain celebrations. It was during this first visit that he made his debut recording of the symphonic suite “Scheherazade” by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov. He toured and conducted in Germany, Holland, Switzerland, Austria and Portugal during the same summer, setting the pattern for guest conducting abroad during the summer months while spending the winter seasons in the United States. This pattern had been preserved for the next 20 years, during which Stokowski conducted many of the world's greatest orchestras.
In 1962, at the age of 80, Stokowski established the American Symphony Orchestra (ASO). He continued to string along with the 20th century composers and perhaps his most famous premiere with the American Symphony Orchestra was the Fourth Symphony by Charles Ives in 1965, also recorded by CBS Records. Stokowski was the musical director of the ASO musical director until May 1972, when, at the age of 90, he finally returned to England. In 1976, he signed the Contract with recording company Columbia Records, according to which he was obliged to work with them until the age of 100.
Stokowski died of a heart attack in 1977 in Nether Wallop, Hampshire at the age of 95. His last recordings, made shortly before his death, for Columbia included performances of The Youth Symphony by Georges Bizet and the 4th Symphony by Felix Mendelssohn with the National Philharmonic Orchestra in London.
He is buried at the East Finchley Cemetery. His descendants from three wives did not become musicians.
Stokowski is considered the arch father of contemporary orchestral standards. He possessed truly glamour gift for generating perfect sound from both – prominent and middling ensembles.