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Joel Sachs, Founder and Conductor of New Julliard Ensemble, Wins Ditson Conductor's Award

By Kristin Sterling

Joel Sachs, conductor of the New Julliard Ensemble
Photo by Steven J. Sherman

Joel Sachs, founder and conductor of the New Juilliard Ensemble, a chamber orchestra for new music, has won Columbia's 2002 Ditson Conductor's Award for his commitment to the performance of American works. Conductor/pianist Sachs received the award at the first concert of The Juilliard School's 18th Annual FOCUS! festival, which he conducted on January 25. Sachs is also the founder, producer and director of this six-concert series that runs through February 1.

One of the most active presenters of contemporary music concerts in New York, Sachs has also directed members of the Ensemble in residencies in Poland, Russia, Israel and Germany. As co-director of Continuum, an internationally acclaimed new music group, over the past 30 years he has performed nationally and internationally, including festivals and concerts in Central and South America, the Near East, Armenia, Mongolia, and Uzbekistan.

Jack Beeson, MacDowell Professor Emeritus of Music at Columbia and member of the Alice M. Ditson Fund, presented the citation from Columbia's President George Rupp to the conductor at the concert. In his citation, Rupp praised Sachs for his peripatetic life as a conductor, pianist and entrepreneur and for his performances of American music in the U.S. and abroad with various chamber ensembles, including the New Juilliard Ensemble, The Juilliard School's FOCUS! festival and Continuum.

The Ditson Conductor's Award, the oldest award honoring conductors for their commitment to American music, was established in 1945 by the Alice M. Ditson Fund at Columbia. Past recipients include Leonard Bernstein, Eugene Ormandy, JoAnn Falletta, Michael Tilson Thomas and James DePreist.

Sachs' career as a pianist took root while he was a music student at Harvard. As an accompanist of the Harvard Glee Club, he participated in a nine-week tour of Asia. After his graduation from Harvard in 1961, Sachs spent two years in London, studying piano with Ilona Kabos. His previous instructors included Ray Lev, Miklos Schwalb and Rosina Lhevinne. Upon returning to the U.S., Sachs earned his M.A. and Ph.D. in musicology at Columbia.

In 1968, Sachs joined Continuum, and he began conducting in the 1970s, while studying with Gene Forrell and Jorge Mester.

Sachs is a member of Juilliard's music history faculty and was the first chairman of its music history department. He is currently writing a biography of the American composer Henry Cowell, and makes frequent appearances on the radio as a commentator on new music.

Published: Jan 28, 2002
Last modified:Sep 18, 2002

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