MSM History

Virtual Yearbooks: 1950s

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This information is arranged by year and includes MSM historical and other highlights of New York City’s music history.


man's head
Composer Nicolas Flagello (BM ’49 /
MM ’50) joins faculty.

man teaching violinist

Raymond LeMieux joins the faculty and begins a graduate program in music education.


Raphael Bronstein joins the violin faculty where he teaches until his death in 1988.

man at piano teaching voice students
The opera department is formed, headed by Fredrich Schorr (pictured at piano).

man playing drums

Maxwell Roach (pictured) begins work toward a Bachelor’s degree.

Jazz pianist Dick Katz (BM ’50) remembers: “The first vivid memory I have of MSM is taking the entrance audition with Mrs. Schenck in her office: I dutifully proceeded to play the required Bach Invention, and had begun a Mozart sonata when she said, ‘Very nice, but I see here on your application that your main interest is Jazz. Play me something.’ I played a little of Gershwin’s ‘The Man I Love’ and she said, ‘You’ll do just fine.’ ”

Other Highlights of New York City Musical History:

  • Metropolitan Opera appoints Rudolph Bing general manager.


man teching woman at piano

Robert Goldsand joins the piano faculty, where he teaches until his death in 1991.

Other Highlights of New York City Musical History:

  • Elliott Carter writes his String Quartet No. 1.
  • Charlie Parker records “My Little Suede Shoes” and scores a hit.
  • The King and I, by Rodgers and Hammerstein, choreography by Jerome Robbins, with Gertrude Lawrence and Yul Byrnner, opens at the St. James Theater (1,246 performances).
  • Gian Carlo Menotti’s Amahl and the Night Visitors, the first opera written for television, airs on NBC.


graduating class in gowns

Class of 1952 (photo courtesy of Blanche Heisler Blitstein ’52).

man looking at item in hand

Jonel Perlea, a conductor at La Scala and the Metropolitan Opera, is appointed to the faculty. A reception is shortly after he joins, where trumpet student Joseph Wilder, representing the members of the School’s orchestra, presents the maestro with a silver cigarette case in gratitude.

man playing violin, man at piano, man playing cello

October — A WNYC broadcast introduces the newly formed Manhattan Trio: Ernest Ulmer, piano; David Wells, cello; and Oliver Colbentsen, violin. They perform Mozart’s Trio in E Major.

Other Highlights of New York City Musical History:

  • John Lewis (BM ’52 / MM ’53) founds the Modern Jazz Quartet.
  • Dave Brubeck makes New York debut.
  • Goddard Lieberson oversees Columbia Record’s introduction of the long-playing record (“LP”), the 33 1/3 rpm vinyl discs developed by engineer Peter Carl Goldmark.
  • Percussionist Candido Camero moves to New York from Cuba and begins recording with Dizzy Gillespie.


man playing trumpet

Joe Wilder (pictured on trumpet) completes his Bachelor of Music degree. Mr. Wilder writes: “I still count among the highlights of my career, playing principal trumpet with the Manhattan School of Music Symphony under the direction of Jonel Perlea.”

two men talking

Ezio Flagello graduates with a Bachelor’s degree in voice (shown here, right, with John Brownlee). He will go on to sing some 528 performances with the Metropolitan Opera.

man in white suit reading a letter
Metropolitan Opera baritone John Brownlee
(shown here as Sharpless in Puccini’s
Butterfly) joins the voice faculty and heads
the opera department.

The Harpies, an opera by Marc Blitzstein, is given its belated world premiere on May 25, in a triple bill with Haydn’s Songster and Martinu’s Comedy on the Bridge.

Other Highlights of New York City Musical History:

  • Tony Bennett’s recording of “Rags to Riches” reaches #1 on the Billboard charts.
  • Wonderful Town, music by Leonard Bernstein, lyrics by Comden and Green, opens with Rosalind Russell and Edie Adams at the Winter Garden Theater (559 performances), receives New York Drama Critics Award.
  • Can Can by Cole Porter opens with Gwen Verndon at the Shubert Theater (892 performances).



School is expanded; library wing is added.

The School has 650 students representing 30 foreign countries and 36 U.S. states.

Other Highlights of New York City Musical History:

  • Composer Elliot Goldenthal (MSM alumnus) born in NYC.
  • Van Cliburn receives the Leventritt Award.
  • Kurt Weill’s Three Penny Opera opens with Lotte Lenya at Theatre de Lys (later renamed the Lucille Lortel Theater).


February — A broadcast on WNYC features a performance of Nicolas Flagello’s The Land, with basso Ezio Flagello ’53 as soloist. A new piano sonata by Ludmila Ulehla ’48 is given its World Premiere by pianist Leander Dell’Anno. Ms. Ulehla is interviewed during intermission.

Love Triumphant (L’Italiana in Londra) by Domenico Cimarosa is given its American Premiere by the Opera Department.

Other Highlights of New York City Musical History:

  • Marian Anderson and baritone Robert McFerrin are the first African Americans to perform at the Metropolitan Opera.
  • Brooklyn Philharmonic is founded.
  • Elvin Jones fails audition for the Benny Goodman band, instead joins the Charles Mingus band, and releases “J is for Jazz.”
  • Charlie Parker makes final appearance at Birdland.
  • Lukas Foss’s opera Griffelkin broadcast on NBC.
  • The Mayor’s Slum Clearance Committee (Robert Moses, chairman) is given the go-ahead to designate Lincoln Square for urban renewal to become Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts.


woman at piano

September — Janet Schenck retires as director; she remains on the School’s board of trustees and becomes director emeritus and trustees’ representative to the administration.

man in suit

Board of trustees appoint Metropolitan Opera baritone John Brownlee as the School’s new director. He serves as director/president until 1969.

School receives full membership to the Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools.

characters in an opera, man with sword

A Triple-Bill of operas is presented by the Opera Theatre in May: Rita by Gaetano Donizetti is given its American Premiere (pictured); The Ruby by Norman Dello Joio is given its New York Premiere; and The Fatal Oath by Boris Koutzen is given its World Premiere.

Other Highlights of New York City Musical History:

  • Maria Callas debuts at Metropolitan Opera.
  • Mstislav Rostropovich makes New York debut.
  • My Fair Lady by Frederick Loewe and Alan Jay Lerner, with Julie Andrews and Rex Harrison, opens at the Mark Hellinger Theater (2,717 performances).


man in room with percussion instruments

Paul Price

Paul Price joins the faculty and teaches percussion until his death in 1986. He also establishes a Percussion Ensemble, one of the first of its kind at a major music school. Read a comprehensive history of the MSM Percussion Ensemble here.

drawing plans for building expansion

First time School makes a widespread drive for funds; slogan is “Help us to raise the roof,” as new floors are to be added, one with a new dining room, the other to have a recital hall.

Under the baton of Jonel Perlea, the 86-piece Manhattan Orchestra gives the New York and radio premiere of Vittorio Gianinni’s Symphony No. 2 on American Festival Series, broadcast on WNYC.

Other Highlights of New York City Musical History:

  • Ezio Flagello (MSM alumnus) makes his debut at the Metropolitan Opera on November 9, as the Jailer in Tosca. Four days later, as a last minute replacement, he sings Leporello in Don Giovanni, and begins a career in the house that will see 528 performances.
  • Julius Rudel appointed conductor at New York City Opera.
  • Gil Evans/Miles Davis collaboration Miles Ahead recorded for Columbia Records.
  • Thelonius Monk relaunches his career with a landmark residency at the Five Spot Café leading a quartet that includes John Coltrane.
  • John Cage teaches “Experimental Composition” at the New School for Social Research.
  • Grammy Awards presented for first time.
  • West Side Story, music by Leonard Bernstein, lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, choreography by Jerome Robbins, opens at the Winter Garden Theater (732 performances).


Two additional floors are added, which include a large and beautiful dining hall, a recital hall, studios, and additional practice rooms.

Student body numbers 831 students.

two men shaking hands

Pablo Casals (pictured here with John Brownlee at MSM) returns to the School to teach a master class.

Other Highlights of New York City Musical History:

  • Mignon Dunn (current MSM faculty) makes Metropolitan Opera debut.
  • Leonard Bernstein appointed musical director and conductor of New York Philharmonic.
  • Itzhak Perlman, 13, appears on Ed Sullivan Show.
  • Vanessa, with music by Samuel Barber and libretto by Gian Carlo Menotti, premieres at the Metropolitan Opera.
  • Gil Evans/Miles Davis collaboration Porgy and Bess recorded for Columbia Records.
  • Photographer Art Kane shoots historic photo of 58 jazz musicians on East 126th Street for Esquire’s January 1959 issue.
  • Van Cliburn makes his Carnegie Hall debut after winning the Tchaikovsky Competition; becomes the only classical musician honored with a ticker-tape parade.


The Pearl Fishers by Georges Bizet is presented by the Opera Department (May). A double-bill of Cavalleria Rusticana and Pagliacci is presented by the Opera Workshop (December).

Other Highlights of New York City Musical History:

  • Elliott Carter’s String Quartet No. 2 receives Pulitzer Prize and New York Music Critics Award.
  • Gil Evans/Miles Davis collaboration Sketches of Spain recorded for Columbia Records.
  • Sound of Music by Rodgers and Hammerstein opens with Mary Martin at the Lunt-Fontanne Theater (1,443 performances).
  • President Dwight D. Eisenhower breaks ground for Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts.

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