“Joel is one of the best musicians around. He has a pedigree of teachers and mentors going back a long way…One of the most musically text-oriented conductors…really one of the most erudite musicians on the scene, first-rate conductor…not worried about his position…He’s sympathetic, not arrogant and simply a joy to work with…” (Leon Fleisher)
Now in his fourteenth season with the Washington Sinfonietta, acclaimed by the Washington Post as “…one of Washington’s premier conductors of both old and new music…”, Joel Lazar was Music Director of the JCC Symphony Orchestra from 1988 through 2008 and has continued with that orchestra in its new identity as the Symphony of the Potomac. He conducted the Theater Chamber Players in engagements at the Kennedy Center, the Library of Congress and on tour from 1986 to 2003, and has appeared as guest conductor with many orchestras and contemporary music ensembles in the Washington area. During the 1990s, he was Music Director of Alexandria-based Opera Americana, and has been Principal Conductor for the In Series’ opera productions since 1991. A cover conductor for the National Symphony Orchestra from 1997 to 2001, Joel Lazar shared the stage with Music Director Leonard Slatkin in critically praised and enthusiastically received performances of Ives’ Fourth Symphony in April 2001.
Music Director of the Tulsa Philharmonic from 1980 to 1983, Joel Lazar has also appeared with the orchestras of San Antonio, Louisville, Pasadena, Oklahoma City, Richmond, Harrisburg, Wheeling and Johnstown, with Sarah Caldwell’s Opera Company of Boston, and was Music Director of the Richmond Philharmonic from 1990 to 1992. During a period of European residence he conducted the BBC Philharmonic, the Danish National Orchestra, the Tivoli Orchestra and the Scottish Baroque Ensemble in concerts, broadcasts and recordings. In summer 2002 he returned to Europe to conduct a highly-acclaimed performance of Bruckner’s Third Symphony with the Collegium Musicum Schloss Pommersfelden. His concerts and feature interviews have been broadcast by the BBC, Danmarks Radio, Bayerischer Rundfunk, WCLV-FM (Cleveland, Ohio) and National Public Radio.
A native New Yorker, Joel Lazar received undergraduate and graduate degrees in music from Harvard University, where he studied with Pierre Boulez, Walter Piston and Randall Thompson. In conductors’ courses at Aspen and Tanglewood he worked with Izler Solomon, Walter Susskind, Richard Burgin and Erich Leinsdorf, and at the Shenandoah Festival with Richard Lert. From 1961 until 1971 he taught and conducted at Harvard, New York University and the University of Virginia.
In 1969 Joel Lazar was elected to honorary membership in the Bruckner Society of America. Through colleagues in the Society he met the legendary Jascha Horenstein, master interpreter of Mahler and Bruckner and, in 1971, received a fellowship enabling him to spend two years overseas as Horenstein’s personal assistant, the only young conductor ever to serve in this capacity. After Horenstein’s death in 1973, he acted as his mentor’s artistic executor, inheriting his extensive music library and completing his recording of Carl Nielsen’s opera, Saul and David, with an international cast including Boris Christoff.
Gramophone Magazine published his major retrospective article on Horenstein’s life and work in November 2000; he currently writes insert notes for the ongoing BBC Legends series of Horenstein broadcast performances, for Vox Records’ reissues of Horenstein recordings from the 1950s and for archival releases on the Music & Art and Doremi labels. Joel Lazar’s notes have appeared in the program books of concert series in Washington and New York. He is a contributor to the final volume of Henry-Louis de la Grange’s monumental life and works of Mahler.