Joel Lazar, Music Director

"Joel is one of the best musicians around....really one of the most erudite musicians on the scene, first rate conductor...He's sympathetic, not arrogant and simply a joy to work with..."

-Leon Fleisher, Concert Pianist and Conductor
[The Montgomery Gazette, 3/3/2000]

Joel Lazar has been acclaimed by the Washington Post as "…one of Washington's premier conductors of both old and new music…." He has conducted the Theater Chamber Players in engagements at the Kennedy Center, the Library of Congress, and on tour from 1986 to 2003. He has appeared as guest conductor with many orchestras and contemporary music ensembles in the Washington area, including a 20-year tenure as Music Director of the JCC Symphony Orchestra from 1988 until 2008.

During the 1990s, he was Music Director of Alexandria-based Opera Americana, and has been Principal Conductor for the In Series' opera productions since 1991. He was a cover conductor for the National Symphony Orchestra from 1997 to 2001, sharing the stage with Music Director Leonard Slatkin in critically praised and enthusiastically received performances of Ives' Fourth Symphony in April 2001. In June 2007, Joel Lazar was appointed Principal Guest Conductor of the Washington Sinfonietta, and since 2008 has been serving as that orchestra's Principal Conductor.

Music Director of the Tulsa Philharmonic from 1980 to 1983, Joel Lazar has also appeared with the orchestras of San Antonio, Louisville, Pasadena, Oklahoma City, Richmond, Harrisburg, Wheeling and Johnstown, with Sarah Caldwell's Opera Company of Boston, and was Music Director of the Richmond Philharmonic from 1990 to 1992. During a period of European residence he conducted the BBC Philharmonic, the Danish National Orchestra, the Tivoli Orchestra and the Scottish Baroque Ensemble in concerts, broadcasts and recordings. His performances and feature interviews have been broadcast by the BBC, Danmarks Radio, Bayerischer Rundfunk, WCLV-FM (Cleveland, Ohio) and National Public Radio.

"Joel Lazar conducts the tiny orchestra with his usual stylistic sensitivity."

-The Washington Post
[review of The Magic Flute by The In Series]

Joel Lazar has enjoyed successful collaborations with many leading artists of our time, including:

  • Pianists Leon Fleisher, André Watts, Lorin Hollander, Garrick Ohlsson, Gary Graffman, Malcolm Frager, Charles Rosen and Alon Goldstein
  • Violinists Shlomo Mintz, Cho-Liang Lin, Jaime Laredo, Timothy Fain, Elisabeth Adkins, Ricardo Cyncynates, Amy Beth Horman and Elmar Oliveira
  • Violists Donald McInnes and Nokuthula Ngwenyama
  • 'Cellists Leonard Rose, Evelyn Elsing, Stephen Honigberg, Amit Peled and Stephen Kates
  • Hornists Barry Tuckwell and Robert Routch
  • Bassoonist David McGill
  • Oboists Ray Still, Rudolph Vrbsky and Sara Watkins Shirley-Quirk
  • Clarinettist Alex Fiterstein
  • Singers Phyllis Bryn-Julson, Roberta Peters, Jeannette Walters, Maureen Forrester, Ben Holt, Marvis Martin and Charles Williams

as well as many members of the National Symphony Orchestra, the New York Philharmonic, the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, the Cleveland Orchestra, the Chicago Symphony and the Washington Opera.

Highlights of Joel Lazar's performances include George Crumb's Ancient Voices of Children and Lukas Foss' Time Cycle, conducted in the presence of the composers, and narrating Schoenberg's Ode to Napoleon. He has also conducted premieres of major works by Frances Thompson McKay and Robert Parris, the first American performance of Michal Vích's Opera La Serra, presentations of Schoenberg's Suite, Op. 29 and Pierrot Lunaire, and a concert in Bavaria with the orchestra of the Collegium Musicum Schloss Pommersfelden, including the Third Symphony of Anton Bruckner. In November 2006, he conducted Mozart's The Magic Flute for the In Series and Handel's Giulio Cesare at the Catholic University of America.

"Informed and informative booklet-notes are now sufficiently rare as to merit special mention, and they don't come much better than [Joel] Lazar's essay on the performance history of the Seventh."

-David Gutman
[Review of Jascha Horenstein's recording of Mahler's Symphony No. 7, Gramophone, 12/2000]

A native New Yorker, Joel Lazar received undergraduate and graduate degrees in music from Harvard University, where he studied with Pierre Boulez, Walter Piston and Randall Thompson. In conductors' courses at Aspen and Tanglewood he worked with Izler Solomon, Walter Susskind, Richard Burgin and Erich Leinsdorf, and at the Shenandoah Festival with Richard Lert. From 1961 until 1971 he taught and conducted at Harvard, New York University and the University of Virginia.

In 1969 Joel Lazar was elected to honorary membership in the Bruckner Society of America. Through colleagues in the Society he met the legendary Jascha Horenstein, master interpreter of Mahler and Bruckner and, in 1971, received a fellowship enabling him to spend two years overseas as Horenstein's personal assistant, the only young conductor ever to serve in this capacity. After Horenstein's death in 1973, he acted as his mentor's artistic executor, inheriting his extensive music library and completing his recording of Carl Nielsen's opera, Saul and David, with an international cast including Boris Christoff.

Another reason for acquiring this issue [of Mahler's Symphony No. 7] is the excellent booklet note by Joel Lazar, who was Horenstein's faithful and indefatigable assistant during the last three years of the conductor's life. Lazar deftly analyses Horenstein's art and the distinct strengths that he brought to Mahler's music in general and to this symphony in particular."

-David Patmore
International Record Review, Vol. I, No. 9, p. 47

Gramophone Magazine published his major retrospective article on Horenstein's life and work in November 2000; he currently writes insert notes for the ongoing BBC Legends series of Horenstein broadcast performances, for Vox Records' reissues of Horenstein recordings from the 1950s and for archival releases on the Music & Art label. Joel Lazar's notes appear in the program books of concert series in Washington and New York. He is a contributor to the final volume of Henry-Louis de la Grange's monumental life and works of Mahler.

Joel Lazar was invited to lecture on Horenstein's recorded legacy by the Gustav Mahler Society of New York in January 2000, by the internationally-acclaimed Gustav Mahler Musikwochen Toblach/Dobbiaco in July 2003 as the first in their series of major presentations related to Mahler, his music and his interpreters, and by the Conductors Guild for their annual meeting in New York in January 2006.

Closer to home, Joel Lazar presented an eight-week series of lectures on the history of the string quartet for Smithsonian Associates in spring 2004, and taught a graduate seminar on the music of Beethoven as guest lecturer at the University of Maryland during the fall semester, 2004. He regularly gives pre-concert talks at the Kennedy Center, the University of Maryland, the JCC of Greater Washington and for Bösendorfer New York.

Joel has been conductor of the Symphony of the Potomac since its inauguration in 2008.