Leonard Stein was a pianist’s thinking-man, a musician’s musician. His dedication to music’s long historical adventure has influenced students, scholars and audiences with his knowledge of the past and illumination of the present. He championed new music for more than sixty years in Los Angeles and abroad.
His main influences were his piano teacher, Richard Buhlig, who gave the first performance in Berlin of Schoenberg’s Op. 11 Piano Pieces, which he taught to Stein; and Arnold Schoenberg, with whom Stein studied from 1935 until 1939 at USC and UCLA. Subsequently, Stein became Schoenberg’s assistant at UCLA and edited Schoenberg’s texts on harmony, counterpoint and composition in works such as Style and Idea: Selected Writings of Arnold Schoenberg, published in 1975. Stein led the legendary “Encounters” series in the 1960s bringing composers from the world over to discuss and present their latest works. He taught at several universities including USC, CalArts, Pomona College, Cal State Dominguez Hills, and Los Angeles City College, among others. His pupils included composers, conductors, pianists, singers, theorist, historians and other musicians. In 1975 Stein was appointed founding director of the Arnold Schoenberg Institute at USC, a position he held until 1991.
A much-sought-after speaker, lecturer and guest professor, he held his audiences spellbound, even when analyzing theoretically thorny works. Stein founded Piano Spheres with four other pianists in 1994 and remained its Artistic Director until his death, June 24, 2004.
See below for personal reminiscences about Leonard Stein
LA Times Articles:
Piano Spheres has lost its founder and Artistic Director. Leonard Stein, our dear friend and mentor, died peacefully in Burbank, California, June 24, 2004.
According to his will, Leonard’s ashes were scattered at sea on 7/9/04 off the coast of Long Beach, California. Members of the family, friends and the Piano Spheres artists participated in the simple ceremony. It was a beautiful day with blue skies as the boat circled while we threw flowers in the sea to mark the spot.
Stein was a revered musical resource in Los Angeles. He was composer Arnold Schoenberg’s teaching assistant at UCLA, personal assistant until 1951, edited Schoenberg’s Style and Idea as well as other theoretical and musical works of Schoenberg, and became founding Director of the Arnold Schoenberg Institute at the University of Southern California from 1975 until his retirement in 1991. Although Leonard Stein’s name will always be closely linked with Arnold Schoenberg as one of that composer’s foremost interpreters, he was ecumenical in his musical interests and befriended most of the world’s leading composers, conducting and performing their music throughout his career. He was mentor and teacher to some of the outstanding composers and musicians of today including Marni Nixon, Kimball Wheeler, Dean Drummond, LaMonte Young, Catherine Gayer and Jacalyn Bauer Kreitzer. As impresario, he presented over 400 composers (most of them still living) in his tenure at the Arnold Schoenberg Institute, and as Mark Swed wrote recently, his “…Encounters series in Pasadena [made] Southern California a focal point for the most advanced music from Europe, Asia and America.” After his retirement he founded Piano Spheres concerts enlisting, as he said, “the best, young pianists in Los Angeles” who with Stein have for 10 years performed piano music of many periods, prodding audiences to participate in appreciating the creation of new works, many commissioned by the pianists themselves. His lectures, lecture-concerts and participation in conferences and symposia seemed effortless and immanently approachable, belying exhaustive research and musical analysis as he offered inspired insights into the music; he continued to lecture and perform internationally until his death. Stein was a “musician’s musician”, raconteur and willing sparring partner with musical Los Angeles.
Piano Spheres presented a concert honoring the memory and accomplishments of Leonard Stein on Saturday, December 11 at 4:00 p.m. at the Pasadena Neighborhood Church, 301 No. Orange Grove Avenue, Pasadena, CA. The concert program highlights include several Schoenberg works: selections from the Brettl-Lieder (Cabaret Songs) and the Early Songs by Marni Nixon and Mark Robson–which Ms. Nixon recorded and often performed with Stein; the Fantasy for violin and piano performed by RoseMary and John Harbison; Op. 19 Piano Pieces by Gloria Cheng; and the Webern two-piano, four-hand arrangement of the Prelude to the Gurre-Lieder which will be performed by all four pianists from Piano Spheres.
Of special significance for this program, Leonard Stein’s own compositions will have their first known performance. His Waltz for piano, four-hands will be performed by Susan Svrcek and Vicki Ray; and the Viertel-Lieder, based on poems by Berthold Viertel, will be shared by Nixon, Kimball Wheeler, Rosemary Harbison and Ray.
Other works on the program include the Ravel Kaddisch from “Deux melodies Hèbraïques” sung by Wheeler with Mark Robson pianist; Busoni’s Berceuse by Ray; Ives’ “Thoreau” from The Concord Sonata by Svrcek; and the Schumann Romance in F# performed by Robson. Joel Krosnick will perform a work for unaccompanied cello (TBA), and RoseMary Harbison and Susan Svrcek will join Krosnick for a performance of a J.S.Bach Chorale Prelude, “Das alte Jahr vergangen ist”, a favorite of Stein’s arranged under his tutelage by Berthold Tuercke.
Leonard Stein, 87; Schoenberg Institute Chief, Pianist, Teacher
By Mark Swed
Los Angeles Times Staff Writer
June 25, 2004
Leonard Stein, who as a pianist and authority on the works of Arnold Schoenberg became one of the preeminent figures in Los Angeles’ musical life, has died. He was 87.
Stein, director of the Schoenberg Institute at USC from its inception in 1975 to 1991, died Thursday of natural causes at Providence St. Joseph Medical Center in Burbank.
With a passion for the newest of new music that he maintained throughout his life, Stein was a close friend of many of the great 20th century composers, such as Schoenberg, Igor Stravinsky and Pierre Boulez. But he also remained a champion of any number of young local composers and performers.
Until the last month or two of his life, when he began to show signs of frailty, he was regularly seen (and heard) at concerts of contemporary music, candidly expressing his opinions, open to almost anything new but suffering no fools. He continued to schedule concerts as well, and they nearly always included a premiere.
Stein was a no-nonsense pianist. He was – adamantly – not a demonstrative player. He valued clarity above all, and he had the rare ability to make immediate sonic sense of structurally complex music, especially that written in the 12-tone system. But he hardly limited himself to the piano or to Schoenberg, with whom he first studied in 1935. As a teacher who, at one time or another, was associated with most of the major universities and colleges in the Southland, Stein influenced a broad range of students, including avant-gardist La Monte Young – one of the originators of Minimalism – and Van Cliburn Competitionwinning pianist Jan Nakamatsu.
Stein also influenced musical life in Los Angeles as a concert presenter.
In 1960, he organized the Encounters series in Pasadena, making Southern California a focal point for the most advanced music from Europe, Asia and America.
Boulez, Olivier Messiaen, Karlheinz Stockhausen and John Cage were among the composers who participated. In 1994, three years after he retired from teaching, Stein organized Piano Spheres, a series of piano recitals that offers some of the liveliest programming in town. He also continued to play one recital a year in the series, although he canceled this year’s because of illness.
“He was a wonderful man, a wonderful pianist and a wonderful influence,” said Leon Botstein, president of Bard College in upstate New York and music director of the American Symphony Orchestra and the Jerusalem Symphony.
“We associate strong judgmental commitments with intolerance,” Botstein added. “But here was a person who had a profoundly rooted perspective on how music should be understood and written, and combined it with an enormously gracious and open-minded perspective.” Lawrence Schoenberg, the youngest of the composer’s children, also remembered Stein’s strong opinions. “He was very dedicated and always defending my father,” said Schoenberg, who fondly recalled being taken, as a child, to baseball games by Stein. “He was always the first to write a letter to the editor of the Los Angeles Times after a nasty review. As a teacher, he was the most important advocate of my father.”
Stein was a lifelong Angeleno. Born in 1916, he attended Los Angeles City College and studied with Richard Buhlig, a colorful local pianist with close ties to composer and pianist Ferruccio Busoni in Berlin. When Schoenberg fled the Nazis and settled in Los Angeles in 1934, Stein immediately enrolled in his classes at USC and UCLA. Stein said he always felt privileged to have learned about music in Los Angeles.
“I got a good education just by listening to fine music,” he told The Times in 2001, “because of the refugees and people like Buhlig…. I didn’t plan on a career as a pianist by going to the Eastern schools … which back then anyone who wanted to have a career had to do. I just stuck around.” While earning a master’s degree at UCLA – where he had also received his bachelor’s – Stein served there as Schoenberg’s teaching assistant from 1939 to 1942. From 1941 until the composer died 10 years later, Stein was his personal assistant, working closely with Schoenberg on the editing of his scores. Through the composer, Stein also gained entree into the local emigre community, where he got to know many writers, painters and musicians who had fled Germany and Austria. Only after Schoenberg’s death did Stein begin to play the composer’s piano music widely. During the ’50s, he was a frequent performer at the Monday Evening Concerts, which are now part of the music program at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.
It was also during this period that Stein began a long teaching association with Southern California institutions of higher education, including Occidental College, Los Angeles City College, Pomona College, UCLA, UC San Diego, Cal State Dominguez Hills, California Institute of the Arts and what is now Claremont Graduate University. Stein’s most important academic appointment, however, was to the directorship of the Arnold Schoenberg Institute at USC in 1975. Housed in a specially designed Bauhaus building on campus, the facility was the repository of Schoenberg’s archives. But, ever the practical musician and promoter of living composers, Stein began a groundbreaking concert series in the institute’s intimate concert hall, where he often featured such emerging artists as the Kronos Quartet playing cutting-edge music. Stein’s retirement in 1991 proved a fatal blow to the institute. USC, which had long had its eye on the building, eventually withdrew its support, and in 1998 the archive was transferred to Vienna.
Retirement meant little to Stein, who still played, taught and ran Piano Spheres. He also continued to write about Schoenberg and edit Schoenberg materials. Among the most important books he edited were several volumes of Schoenberg’s teaching manuals and “Style and Idea,” a collection of the composer’s writings. Mark Robson, one of the pianists involved with Piano Spheres, once compared Stein to the wizard of Oz. “It’s a funny metaphor,” Robson told The Times three years ago, “but [he’s] someone who tells you to go out and get the broomstick from the witch. He is someone who encourages people to flesh out things that they come up with themselves.”
Stein is survived by a niece, Betty Coleman, and a nephew, Phil Stein, both of Los Angeles. His wife, Marie D. Stein, died in 1986. Plans for a memorial are pending.
Times staff writer Chris Pasles contributed to this report.
© 2004 Los Angeles Times