Maestro Benjamin Zander of the Boston Philharmonic Orchestra


Keeping Scores


By Matt Robinson, Contributing Writer

“We musicians have the power to unlock the spirit that all human beings are born with that gets suppressed in most cases,” says conductor Benjamin Zander.Photo/Hilary Scott
“We musicians have the power to unlock the spirit that all human beings are born with that gets suppressed in most cases,” says conductor Benjamin Zander.
Photo/Hilary Scott

BOSTON – For nearly all of his 85 years, Benjamin Zander, the musical director of the Boston Philharmonic Orchestra and the Boston Philharmonic Youth Orchestra, has been crossing concert stages and continents. He enjoys sharing the beauty and majesty and also the educational and emotional benefits of music.

“It started very young,” Zander began when asked about his long and storied musical career.


Roots in Europe

Citing the ancient German tradition of Bildung (which has to do with absorbing art and literature into everyday living), Zander recalled that his father was “deeply immersed” in the arts. Even after the family immigrated from Germany to England to escape the Nazis, his attorney father would come home from a hard day of working to establish Hebrew University and, as he sat down at the piano, his body would visibly relax and “change” in very positive and inspiring ways.

“I started to absorb the idea that music was life-giving, joy-producing, and healing,” Zander recalled.

Zander was playing cello and piano and composing by age nine and studying with legends like Benjamin Britten and Imogen Holst at age 12 (when he also became the youngest member of the National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain). 


Arrival in Boston

He arrived in Boston in the mid-1960s and quickly joined the faculty of the New England Conservatory of Music (NEC), where he taught for 45 years.

“My sister Angelica married Neil Rudenstine,” Zander explained, mentioning the former Harvard president who at the time was a poetry instructor at the school. “I became fascinated by his work with poetry.”

So when he was awarded the Harkness Commonwealth Fellowship, Zander came to Boston to study more poetry and to try to work it into the study of music.

“That was the start of my pre-concert talks,” he explained, citing the popular pre-performance gatherings that he consistently hosts to help listeners get more out of the music. “I want to teach

people how to listen to music so they can get more out of it and that came from the study of poetry and my father’s love of all of art.”


Founding of local orchestras

Conductor Benjamin Zander of the Boston Philharmonic Orchestra
Conductor Benjamin Zander of the Boston Philharmonic Orchestra
Photo/Hilary Scott

In 1978, Zander founded the Boston Philharmonic Orchestra, which has since grown from an amateur assemblage to one of the premier orchestras in the region and around the world. In 2012, he created the Boston Philharmonic Youth Orchestra (BYPO) to gather the best young (ages 12-21) musicians in the Northeast in an orchestra that members can join tuition-free.

“I’m into providing the best opportunities to people regardless of their wealth,” Zander explained. “Give people an opportunity and they will give you back more love and glory than you ever expected!”

Having taken the BYPO to Africa and South America (where they played side by side with the El Sistema–inspired youth orchestra Sinfonia Por el Peru, which also supports low-income musicians), Zander is currently preparing for a tour that will include some of the world’s finest music halls, including those in Basel, Prague, Hamburg, Vienna, and Berlin.

“We are not playing in normal youth orchestra venues,” Zander clarified, noting that people can support the tour by visiting “We are playing at some of the finest halls in the world and many of them invited us to perform there.”


No slowing down

While most maestros have retired by the age of 85, Zander continues to seek new ways of bringing more music to more people. 

“I recommend the middle eighties,” he beamed. “I’m having the best time I ever had!”

Zander holds the record for views of a music-related TED Talk (over 20 million at last count) for his transformative lecture on “the Transformative Power of Classical Music.” He also maintains a record of his award-winning recordings, popular pre-piece lectures, and other educative and entertaining elements on his robust website,

“The website is where my life is captured,” Zander admitted, noting the recent addition of being named the very first recipient of the Titan Award from the Mahler Society of America.

When not touring with his own orchestras, Zander is a sought-after guest conductor who has led such other notable note-makers as the Israel Philharmonic, the Scottish and Irish National Orchestras, the London Philharmonia, the St. Petersburg Philharmonic, and the Malaysian Symphony. And while he embraces every opportunity to perform, Zander is especially eager to engage younger players and serves often as the conductor of the Youth Orchestra of the Americas and the National Youth Orchestras of New Zealand, Australia, and Venezuela. 

“The youth orchestra is an example of that part of life where you search for possibility and do not get caught in self-doubt,” Zander noted. “The younger players tell a different story―a story of exploration and excitement and love.”

In order to take their focus off grades and keep it where it belongs―on the music―Zander has his music students write him a letter in which they discuss who they will be at the end of the year.

“This unlocks the passion of their true selves,” he suggested, “and their soaring possibility.”


Inspiring and engaging listeners

Conductor Benjamin Zander of the Boston Philharmonic Orchestra
Conductor Benjamin Zander of the Boston Philharmonic Orchestra

Even when the world was locked down during the COVID-19 pandemic, Zander found ways to make music possible by hosting concerts in his driveway that were streamed internationally. “Everybody loves classical music,” he quipped. “It’s just that some people haven’t found out about it yet.”

“We had musicians who had nothing else to do and who were happy to play with each other,” he recalled. “We had some of the best players in town and it was great fun!”

In addition to inspiring his students, Zander strives to inspire and engage listeners through music.

“We musicians have the power to unlock the spirit that all human beings are born with that gets suppressed in most cases,” Zander suggested. “There is so much competition these days, especially among musicians. We reject all that! For us, it is about love and music. Music is a wonderful environment to express love.”



‘Chronicle’ producer has balanced second career as alternative rock musician (

Jazz musician nears 30 years managing Worcester’s WCCA-TV – Fifty Plus Advocate

Malden native Norman Greenbaum is still singing about that ‘Spirit in the Sky’ (