Sternberg Returns for Season-Opening Performance

Oct. 7, 1999

by Lori Scott Fogleman

The man who founded the Baylor Symphony Orchestra in 1944 and conducted the orchestra to new musical heights for more than 35 years, returned to the stage once again during the orchestra's season-opening performance Sept. 30 in Jones Concert Hall.

And the performance had special meaning in many ways for Daniel Sternberg.

The dean emeritus of the Baylor School of Music conducted Paul Hindemith's symphony, "Mathis der Maler," a work that Sternberg first performed in 1936 a half a world away from Baylor.

"I was part of the first performance of the work where I was at the time, which happened to be Russia, just two years after it was completed," Sternberg recalled. "Before you perform music, you first have to have a relationship with the music itself and I have known this work almost all my life."

And it's not often, as pointed out by Stephen Heyde, the Mary Franks Thompson Professor of Orchestral Activities and Conductor-in-Residence at Baylor, that members come in contact with the orchestra's founder, much less with someone so personally involved with the music they're playing.

"It is always highly inspirational and a real privilege to watch Dean Sternberg conduct. He has one of the finest musical minds around and he's a wonderful musician," Heyde said. "At our last performance, I was especially glad that our students had the opportunity to work with him because rarely do students have contact with the person who actually started the orchestra. Dean Sternberg actually knew Hindemith and has over 60 years of experience with his music. After the concert, I put a note up on the board to tell my students that they now have an historical connection with Hindemith and with this piece, and I hope they'll always remember that."

Sternberg's life and career, and how he came to Baylor, make for quite a story.

Sternberg was born in 1913 in Lwow, Poland, and educated in Vienna, Austria. The son of music-loving parents, he began piano lessons at age five and later added the cello to his musical studies. He graduated at the top of his class from the Vienna National Academy of Music, where he was a student of conducting.

Upon graduation, he became assistant conductor (under the eminent Fritz Stiedry) of the Leningrad Grand Opera and the Leningrad Philharmonic Orchestra. After serving as music director of the Tbilisi State Symphony Orchestra, he lived in Vienna, Riga and Stockholm. Then, in the fall of 1939, he escaped from Hitler's Nazi regime and emigrated to the United States with his wife, the Rumanian-born Felicitas Gobineau Sternberg.

Sternberg lived for a year in New York and then moved to Dallas, where he became head of the piano department and conductor of chorus and opera at the Hockaday Institute of Music.

He joined the Baylor University School of Music in 1942 and succeeded Roxy Grove as chairman the following year. Then, just after World War II, Baylor President Pat Neff conferred upon him the newly created title of Dean of the School of Music.

The next three-and-a-half decades saw unprecedented growth within the music program at Baylor University-in terms of enrollment, faculty and facilities. Sternberg created the Oratorio Chorus, the Baylor Symphony Orchestra, the Graduate Division and the Baylor Opera Workshop. He also supervised expansion of the Music School to include Roxy Grove Hall and Waco Hall East. The Baylor Student Council voted him "Professor of the Year" in 1960.

As a composer, Sternberg has won a film score award in Austria, a first prize for vocal composition by the Texas Federation of Music Clubs and the Dallas Symphony Orchestra's Harold J. Abrams Memorial Award for his Concert Overture, which he wrote for the Baylor University Centennial in 1945. He has also written and published numerous compositions in church music.

Much in demand as a speaker and lecturer, he is also an accomplished linguist-being fluent in several languages and with many opera translations to his credit.

In 1962, Sternberg became music director and conductor of the revived Waco Symphony Orchestra, a post he held with distinction for the next 25 years. In 1980, when he stepped down as dean of the Baylor School of Music after nearly 40 years at the helm, he left behind a legacy of progressive leadership that continues to be felt and appreciated to this day.

"I feel that I have been inordinately fortunate in having an opportunity to do what I did [at Baylor] and that people let me do it for which I'm truly grateful. Some things probably could have never come off if people had not been willing to work with me and to let me point the way and set the direction especially in the earlier years when the music school was hardly very developed," Sternberg said. "It has come a long way since I left because I have had a wonderful successor in Stephen Heyde who is a first-rate musician, a great friend and a man who has taken the orchestra where I left it and taken it up way above what I had achieved."

Sternberg later this month will begin a series of four talks through Baylor's division of continuing education. To this conductor, music has, and always will be, the essence of life.

"Music is not of the surface but of the essence of life; to be able to make or receive music as an expression of the human spirit and its endless possibilities of aspiring to ever higher levels of insight which great music offers you," said Sternberg. "Even when it's the same piece that you have performed a hundred times and heard a hundred times, it keeps offering and continues to reveal great insights."

Looking for more news from Baylor University?