MSM History

Virtual Yearbooks: 1980s

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


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MSM Spring Bulletin 1980

Joseph W. Polisi is appointed Dean of Students.

Master classes are given by violinist Josef Gingold, flutist Carol Wincenc, bass Jerome Hines, violinist Isaak Vigdorchik, flutist Harvey Sollberger, baritone Renato Capecchi, and violinist Erica Morini.

Josephine C. Whitford, dean of students, retires. She is named Dean Emeritus.

Other Highlights of New York City Musical History:

  • Film musical Fame opens; features appearances by MSM Prep students Anne-Marie McDermott, Maureen McDermott, and Kerry McDermott, as well as alumnus Jonathan Strasser (MM ’70), who conducts the film’s finale, “I Sing the Body Electric.”
  • A Pulitzer Prize is awarded David Del Tredici (former MSM faculty) for his In Memory of a Summer Day, a work for soprano solo and orchestra.


The Business of Music: Anatomy of a Career is offered in the spring. Taught by Placement Director Richard E. Adams (MM ’61), it is the first course of its kind. Alexandra Honigsberg (BM ’81) writes: “When Richard came to the Placement Office he brought enthusiasm with him – and then he did the Business of Music class and I said, ‘Sign me up!’ and was not disappointed. He was practical, informative, and unfailingly positive. Our big project was to take a mythical string quartet on tour… so when I went on to be the tour manager for the band I was in as fiddle player, that was easy by comparison.”

At commencement, Margaret Hillis, founder and director of the Chicago Symphony Chorus, is featured speaker. She reminds students that it is talent, brains, and discipline that “gets one to Carnegie Hall.”

The New York Brass Quintet begin their residency at MSM; members are Robert Nagel, Allan Dean, Paul Ingraham, John Swallow, and Toby Hanks.

Other Highlights of New York City Musical History:

  • Glenn Dicterow (MSM faculty and chair of Orchestral Performance Program) appointed concertmaster of the New York Philharmonic, Zubin Mehta, music director and conductor.
  • Joan Tower’s Sequoia composed for the New York Philharmonic.
  • Philip Glass’s opera Satyagraha premieres at the Brooklyn Academy of Music.
  • Wynton Marsalis signs recording contracts for both classical and jazz labels simultaneously. His recording career is influenced by Irwin Katz (Class of BM ’51 / MM ’52), A&R for Columbia Records.
  • Martin E. Segal is elected Chairman of the Board of Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts.


April — John Crosby conducts a John Brownlee Opera Theatre double-bill of Le mariage aux lanternes by Jacques Offenbach and Eine florentinische Tragödie by Alexander von Zemlinsky.

woman singing in opera with cane

While still an MSM student, Dolora Zajick (MM ‘83) wins the bronze medal at the 7th Tchaikovsky International Competition. (She is pictured here as the Principessa in an MSM production of Suor Angelica.)

woman in white dress speaks to orchestra

Prep students in the Grand Ballroom of the White House with First Lady Nancy Reagan.

In July 1982, students from Manhattan School of Music’s Precollege (then called the Preparatory Division) are invited to perform at the Reagan White House. Dianne Flagello, former Director of the Prep, writes: “One of our prep students’ grandfather was a very close friend of Ronald Reagan and he arranged for the White House to send a representative to hear us. As a result we were invited to perform a concert. Burton Kaplan conducted our chamber orchestra and I asked alumnus/violinist Elmar Oliveira, who had just won the Tchaikovsky Competition, to present us. It was quite a wonderful affair.”

Jazz studies courses are offered for the first time.

man with violin teaching a student

Glenn Dicterow, concert master of the New York Philharmonic, joins the faculty.

Other Highlights of New York City Musical History:

  • Cats by Andrew Lloyd Webber, lyrics adapted from T.S. Eliot, opens with Betty Buckley at the Winter Garden Theater (7,485 performances).
  • Little Shop of Horrors, music by Alan Menken, lyrics by Howard Ashman, with Brooklyn-born Ellen Greene, opens off-Broadway at the Orpheum Theater (2,209 performances).
  • Violinists Midori and Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg make New York debuts.
  • Zubin Mehta, Itzahk Perlman, Isaac Stern, Pinchas Zukerman, and New York Philharmonic receive Grammy for Best Classical Performance for Isaac Stern’s 60th Anniversary Celebration.


women on stage in an opera

March – The John Brownlee Opera Theatre presents a triple-bill: Renard by Igor Stravinsky; Sancta Susanna by Paul Hindemith (Dawn Upshaw, pictured, sings the lead); and The Ring of Polycrates by Erich Korngold.

woman on stage

October — Birgit Nilsson (pictured) teaches a master class, her first anywhere, before a specially invited audience, organized by Dean of Students Peggy Tueller. This begins a series of annual appearances at the School for the next several years.

Other Highlights of New York City Musical History:

  • Ellen Taaffe Zwilich becomes first woman to receive a Pulitzer Prize in Composition for her Three Movements for Orchestra (Symphony No. 1).
  • Jessye Norman makes her Metropolitan Opera debut.
  • Philip Glass writes his opera Akhnaten.
  • The Next Wave Festival of new music is inaugurated at the Brooklyn Academy of Music.


string quartet

American String Quartet becomes quartet in residence.

Jazz/commercial music major is announced with courses offered are towards a master’s degree.

Other Highlights of New York City Musical History:

  • Steve Reich composes The Desert Musica work for voices and orchestra.
  • Sunday in the Park with George by Stephen Sondheim opens at the Booth Theatre (604 performances).
  • Dawn Upshaw (MSM alumnus) makes her debut with the Metropolitan Opera on October 11, and will go one to give over 300 performances with the company.


two men wearing graduation gownsViolinist Elmar Oliveira (Class of 1972) receives an honorary doctorate at commencement. (Pictured here with President
John Crosby.)

woman wearing wig, stage make-up

American mezzo-soprano Mignon Dunn, pictured here as Azucena for a Metropolitan Opera production of
Il trovatore, joins the voice faculty.

Other Highlights of New York City Musical History:

  • Leontyne Price gives farewell performance at the Metropolitan Opera.
  • Compact discs and CD players are introduced.
  • Dawn Upshaw (MSM alumna) receives the Walter W. Naumburg Foundation Voice Award.
  • Radio City Music Hall designated a New York City landmark.
  • Ebony Opera gives the world premiere of Dorothy Rudd Moore’s Frederick Douglass in Aaron Davis Hall at City College.
  • Sonny Rollins records an album of live solo-saxophone improvisations at MOMA.
  • Charles Neidich (to later join the MSM faculty) receives the Walter W. Naumburg Foundation Clarinet Award.


man wearing suit and tie

Gideon W. Waldrop — composer, conductor, and former dean of The Juilliard School — becomes president (president until 1989).

woman holding a drink talking to a man seated in chair

Dora Zaslavsky Koch, one of the School’s first graduates, is given an honorary doctorate for her 60 years of teaching excellence. (Pictured here with composer Virgil Thomson in her New York apartment.) Current faculty member Phillip Kawin (BM ’82 / MM ’85) writes: “Dora Zaslavsky imparted to me the limitless means of musical expression that are part of the tradition of the great masters. She was extremely instrumental in giving me the insight and necessary tools to communicate through the music. Dora is, and always will be, a guiding force and inspiration to me.”

man speaking to audience

Pianist Barry Harris gives a jazz master class in Borden Auditorium.

Other Highlights of New York City Musical History:

  • James Levine becomes Artistic Director of the Metropolitan Opera.
  • Carnegie Hall closes for 7-month, $60 million renovation.


Jazz/Commercial Music department offers new bachelor’s degree program.

Jazz Orchestra wins its first Down Beat magazine “Outstanding College Jazz Band of the Year” award, for its first recording, Shades of Time.

March — Classical guitar legend Andrés Segovia is awarded an honorary doctorate following a series of master classes. President Gideon Waldrop presided over the special convocation, where Butros Butros-Galli, Secretary-General of the United Nations, gave the keynote address.

A tribute concert is given in memory of percussion faculty member Paul Price, who had died in 1986, organized and directed by Claire Heldrich (MM ’72). The program included works by Richard Trythall, Lou Harrison, Lukas Foss, Frank Zappa, and John Cage (who was in attendance). The New York Times wrote: “One suspects that Mr. Price would have approved of this catholicity, of Ms. Heldrich’s splendidly efficient timekeeping, of the spirited, accurate performances, and of the enthusiastic audience that shouted itself hoarse.”

woman dressed as a man in an opera

Chérubin by Jules Massenet is presented by the Opera Theatre in March. Susan Graham (MM ’87 / HD ’08) remembers: “The School gave me … opera performances that got reviewed in the New York Times and set me off on a very satisfying career journey. I am forever grateful to Manhattan School of Music.” (Pictured is Ms. Graham in the title role at MSM.)

Gunther Schuller (alumnus of the Preparatory Division) is awarded an honorary doctorate at the May commencement ceremonies.

Other Highlights of New York City Musical History:

  • Bang on a Can Festival founded.
  • John Adams’ opera Nixon in China given New York premiere at Brooklyn Academy of Music.
  • Les Miserables, music by Claude-Michel Schonberg, lyrics by Alain Boubil and Herbert Kretzmer, opens at the Imperial Theater (6,680 performances).
  • Into the Woods by Stephen Sondheim, with Bernadette Peters, opens at the Martin Beck Theater (764 performances).


Frances Hall Ballard, a member of the piano faculty from 1932–81 and benefactress of the music library, is given an honorary doctorate.

New recording facilities and a performance space are established in memory of Charles Myers (Class of 1965).

Other Highlights of New York City Musical History:

  • David Del Tredici (former MSM Composition Faculty) appointed composer in residence of New York Philharmonic.
  • Phantom of the Opera, music by Andrew Lloyd Webber, lyrics by Charles Hart, directed by Harold Prince, with Michael Crawford and Sarah Brightman, opens at the Majestic Theater (6,075 + performances).
  • Dolora Zajick (MSM alumna) makes her debut on October 8 with the Metropolitan Opera, as Azucena in Verdi’s Il trovatore. She will go on to give 259 performances with the company.


man in suit at desk

Peter Simon, pianist and former director of academic studies at the Royal Conservatory in Toronto, becomes president (president until 1991).

The Honorable Richard Owen (Class of 1960) — a member of the Board of Trustees, a composer, and a U.S. District Judge — is given an honorary doctorate.

Marc Silverman (Class of 1983) is appointed chair of the piano department.

Other Highlights of New York City Musical History:

  • Blue Note jazz recording label celebrates 50th anniversary with Carnegie Hall concert, part of JVC Jazz Festival.
  • Mannes School of Music joins the New School for Social Research (known now as the New School).

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