Music@Menlo mourns the passing of writer, musicologist, critic, and lecturer Michael Steinberg. Michael was one of classical music’s greatest scholars, educators, and advocates. The festival community has lost its de facto artistic conscience, an invaluable advisor, and one of our warmest and most generous friends.
Michael first joined Music@Menlo in 2003 with his wife, violinist Jorja Fleezanis, and immediately became one of the festival’s most beloved figures. As one of the first Encounter leaders, Michael played a pioneering role in forging a defining component of Music@Menlo. He would lead an Encounter in each of the festival’s first six seasons; audiences came to look forward to these evenings for Michael’s singular insights and expertise in illuminating any aspect of music and the arts, from the Romantic poets to postmodernism—or, most especially, the music of Franz Schubert, for which Michael harbored a deep personal affection. In addition to leading six Encounters, Michael often delivered pre- or post-concert remarks (and even, on one occasion, a mid-concert lecture during an extended intermission). These were typically arranged on short notice, and always given with Michael’s characteristic eloquence and grace.
Michael’s presence at Music@Menlo has been especially felt by the young artists of the Chamber Music Institute, to whom he tirelessly devoted his time, energy, and thoughtful advice during his six seasons at the festival. His encyclopedic knowledge and insightful musicality, offered with a unique sensitivity and wit, have represented a vital dimension of the festival experience of hundreds of young artists. Beyond the time spent with the Institute students in coaching sessions, Michael could reliably be found exchanging ideas with or offering counsel to the festival’s young musicians whenever and wherever sought. The Chamber Music Institute tradition of students giving spoken introductions to their repertoire from the stage owes much to the assistance and encouragement Michael lent to their preparation. With Jorja, Michael has been, in the words of pianist Gilbert Kalish, “the heartbeat of Menlo, tending gently and with great affection to the students.”
During Music@Menlo’s first season, Michael offered to lead a poetry reading for the Chamber Music Institute students. This informal session was received with great enthusiasm by the coterie of students, artists, and visitors who attended. The following year, the event was formalized as part of Music@Menlo’s maiden Café Conversations series. Each season since, the Café Conversations have featured a Poetry Reading Workshop, led by Michael Steinberg. These have grown into one of Music@Menlo’s most cherished traditions, not only among the Institute students for whom Michael conceived the idea, but moreover throughout the entire festival community of audiences, artists, and staff.
Michael was to lead this season’s Poetry Reading Workshop on Friday, July 31, at 12:00 p.m., in Menlo School’s Martin Family Hall. The event will proceed as a celebration of Michael’s life, and in honor of his immeasurable contributions to Music@Menlo.
Through his Encounters, teaching, and other activities, Michael established a standard of excellence for the festival’s overall educational mission that continues to challenge and inspire. His generosity, insatiable curiosity, and, most of all, tremendous passion for music encapsulate the festival spirit. Music@Menlo dedicates its 2009 season in memoriam Michael Steinberg, who personified the values and ideals towards which the festival strives.
In lieu of flowers, donations may be sent to The Michael Steinberg & Jorja Fleezanis Fund to Spur Curiosity and Growth through the Performing Arts and the Written Word / attn. Shelli Chase / CHASE FINANCIAL / 7900 Xerxes Avenue South / Suite 910 / Minneapolis, MN 55431.