1969–70, Music Advisor and Senior Guest Conductor
b. Budapest, Hungary, June 7, 1897
d. Cleveland, Ohio, July 30, 1970
George Szell was born in Budapest, Hungary (then part of Austro-Hungary) in 1897, and his earliest teachers included Max Reger and J. B. Foerster. At first he pursued composition, going so far as to make his debut with the Vienna Symphony Orchestra as pianist, composer and conductor. Richard Strauss then hired him for his music staff at the Berlin Staatsoper. Conducting debuts followed in Strasbourg, Darmstadt, Prague and other cities. His American debut came with the Saint Louis Symphony in 1930. During World War II, he was affiliated with a number of New York musical organizations, including the Metropolitan Opera, the Mannes College of Music, and The New School for Social Research. In 1946 Szell became music director of the Cleveland Orchestra—a post he would hold until the year of his death. It was under his intelligent, if rigorous, leadership that Cleveland rose to the heights of excellence, taking its rightful place among the world’s great orchestras.
Szell made his Philharmonic debut on July 4, 1943, in one of the Orchestra’s weekly Sunday afternoon broadcasts that for decades formed an integral part of American culture. Following his debut, he was a frequent guest conductor. When Leonard Bernstein stepped down as Music Director in 1969, Szell served the Philharmonic as Music Advisor and Senior Guest Conductor for the 1969-70 season. By the time of his death in 1970, he had been one of the Orchestra’s most admired guest conductors.