Curtis mourns its conducting professor

We have received notice of the death, at 89, of Otto-Werner Mueller, professor of conducting at the Curtis Institute, possibly the most sought-after tutor in America.

His students included Paavo Järvi, Alan Gilbert, Miguel Harth-Bedoya and Rossen Milanov.

Notification below.

UPDATE: This challenging giant was never Mueller light.

Muti, O-WM, Gary Graffman, 1987

Dear Friends and Colleagues,

My heart is heavy, and I’m filled with sadness as I share the news that my beloved husband Otto-Werner Mueller passed away peacefully at ​our ​home ​in Charlotte ​on Thursday evening, February 25.

I will soon provide more information ​on ​Otto’s amazing life and memorials to honor him in Charlotte, New York and Philadelphia.



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  • One of my greatest memories as a musician was to play with my youth orchestra – 30 years ago – in an American Symphony Orchestra League (as it was known at the time) conductors workshop led by Otto-Werner-Mueller. It was a revelation to go through passages with several very competent 30-ish conductors, and then have Otto step up and with the smallest gesture of his hands or the raising of an eyebrow, get the orchestra to do something wonderful. It wasn’t the first time I came to appreciate what a difference a conductor makes, but probably the most impactful.

  • Once I asked Claudio Abbado to study conducting with him. He said “Oh, no, the only thing I’m good at teaching is chamber music. For conducting you should go to Otto-Werner Mueller. He’s the best.”

  • My deep condolences,Ginny.
    You took beautiful care of the Maestro.
    He had a big impact on my Juilliard students.

  • Deeply saddened by the loss of our teacher. He was a revelation, inspiration and his respect for the music was rare among his colleagues! So privileged to be have been among his students!
    Rest in peace Maestro! I am sure you are in great company in the pantheon of music!

  • My experience with Maestro Mueller goes back to 1972. He was the “prep” conductor for the Milwaukee youth orchestra for one semester, Boy, did he put us on our toes. It was Petrouchka. He didn’t do the concert–Kenneth Schermerhorn did– but my memories were almost entirely of Mueller.

    • Rick – I’m Otto-Werner Mueller’s widow, Virginia Allen, and I’d like to be in touch with you regarding my research on his life and work. I know it’s been more than two years since you posted this tribute on Slipped Disc, but I’d be grateful if you would contact me at
      Thank you!

  • Total respect for this unforgettable, lighthearted genius. Disciplined, intense, but always with a sparkle in his eye. Such a joy to scale the heights of great music with him at Yale. He was just beginning to learn Chinese when I met him in 1977, his seventh language I think…

  • If anybody has some footage of him conducting/rehearsing/teaching, please share it. It would be extremely interesting for so many people.

    • I would love to say I had some of that footage, but I doubt any exists. He was a true pedagogue and his appearances with major orchestras were fewer than few. I think he was pleased to see his students take the limelight. Once in a while he’d guest conduct one or another of their orchestras.

      I do remember a brief segment on CBS Sunday Morning on American conductors where for a few seconds he was observing and instructing a student in front of the Juilliard Orchestra. And he was interviewed for maybe thirty seconds. And he is conducting on a couple of really old Canadian videos featuring a very young Jon Vickers, but orchestra and conductor are never on screen.

  • My deepest condolences, Ginny. During his tenure at Yale, OWM was fond of quoting the university’s motto “Lux et veritas”, stating quite emphatically to our conducting class that bringing light and truth to each composer’s score was our primary duty. OWM’s Wednesday morning score analysis class was followed immediately by a marathon score analysis seminar for the conducting majors; by 3 or 4 pm OWM was still fresh as a daisy, whereas our brains were ready to explode from analysis overload. Nonetheless, we cherished those marathon Wednesdays and marveled at OWM’s musical depth and unbelievable ability to remain totally focused for hours on end. All of this was brought to bear during OWM’s rehearsals and performances with the Yale Philharmonia, and news of his passing brings to mind a 1983 performance of “Death and Transfiguration”. I shall never forget that performance for the sheer sonic beauty of the orchestra and the mesmerizing continuity of the music from first note to last. May this maestro of all maestri rest in peace.

    • So true, Carol. I remember Otto (while at the University of Wisconsin) saying that your conducting technique (he hated that word) comes from your knowledge of the score, and that your most important conducting tool was your brain.

      And my gosh, I played Death and Transfiguration under him in Wisconsin (on the English horn). Will never forget it.

  • Very sad to hear of the Maestro’s passing. He was such an inspiration to us all! We looked to him with such awe! He was a symbol of excellence, one to which Curtis students strived endlessly to meet. One of the great teachers of conducting in history! Rest in Peace Maestro. You live forever in the hearts and minds of your students!

  • As an undergrad clarinet student at Juilliard 1990-1994 I experienced both the wrath (he said he was going to put a seatbelt on me because I moved around too much) and kindness of this very demanding yet wonderful educator/conductor. He was in many ways one of the best teachers I ever had. He knew how to not only conduct but to truly educate and inspire. I will always remember a concert he conducted at the Bermuda festival of the Juilliard Orchestra. He told us all to look into the audience that night and we would see a child in that audience that had never before experienced Beethoven and to play for that child. Sure enough I looked up during the Beethoven piano concerto we were playing and a young boy was leaning over the railing of the upper deck of the hall watching us with rapt attention. He was one of the truly great conductor/educator’s and will be greatly missed by all who worked with or knew him.

  • Dear Maestro Mueller; dear Otto,
    I want a share some words with all my respect admiration and care. The honor of been close to you as a person while I was studying orchestra conducting at Curtis is in my integrity as a conductor and human been.
    You will be in my mind always
    Juan Carlos Lomonaco

    • So sorry for your loss Juan Carlos! I can remember how close you two were at Curtis. May he rest in peace! All the best to you!

      • Dear Heather;
        Thank you so much, I send you all the best always, with all my care,
        Juan Carlos

  • A legend and a genius has left us.
    Maestro Otto Werner Mueller. I spent my teenage years sitting around your kitchen table. You were the conductor of the Victoria Symphony and my Dad was your manager. You and Dad started the Victoria Conservatory. You were so very handsome, so fierce, so kind, so intensity passionate about music and so scary smart. You learnt fluent Russian in about three months?? Marga was my first singing teacher. You made everything profound. with love..thank you for it all.

    • Helga, I’m Otto-Werner Mueller’s widow, Virginia Allen, and I’d like to be in touch with you regarding my research on his life and work. I read your post on SlippedDisc soon after he died, and although it’s been more than two years since then, I’d be grateful if you would contact me at
      Thank you! 

  • So saddened to hear of the passing of Maestro Mueller. He was a towering figure in the world of conducting pedagogues. I remembered fondly his teachings at Curtis, his attention to details and last but not least, the twinkle in his eyes when he explained something complex into something very relatable to a young musician.I can still recall him asking me as if it was yesterday, if I knew what Shanghai literary meant in Chinese! His teachings on Brahms “hairpins”, intricate details on differences between the various accents in music scores were amazing! I went to all my orchestral rehearsals with him , eager to hear what he had to tell and share with us. I truly miss him! Rest in peace, Maestro Mueller

  • My deep condolences to Ginny. You have taken care of him so beautifully and well! Thank you for all these years.

    One of the greatest, strongest and most influencial teacher, educator and genuine artist of current times has left us. Maestro Mueller, you were unsurpassed in your knowledge, musical competence and mastery. You taught me scores like no one else ever could – and opened a path that wouldn’t have been one for me without your strong and deep influence on the art of conducting and music making.

    You once told me in a similar personal situation: “don’t be sad for someone to leave, but be grateful for the time you had with him.” Yes, Maestro, I am deeply grateful for all your selfless and yet passionate contributions to my growth as a person and artist. You will never be forgotten!

  • Wow, this is the passing of a Titan musician and human being, a perfectionist who would not quit! There are a cornucopia of lessons to be learned from our experiences with him. My first orchestral rehearsal as a Curtis student was with Bruckner 4 Romantic. The strings started their tremolo, and the horn had to wait for 30 minutes until we got the sound right to OWM’s exacting inner ear – a blanket of atmosphere. Poor thing! That, the forte onlys, and supporting the diminuendos opened up a new and better sonic reality/expectation. Lab orchestra: his students trained in an environment that chucked pride out the window, and boy did he dish out incredible instruction. Rossen and Juan Carlos know some tough love. Condolences to Ginny and all those who served as caretakers. Please count me as one of the many who was touched and made better by him.

  • Coming late to this sad event. I will not forget when OWM conducted a reading of my first orchestra piece with the Yale Philharmonia in 1981. He worked through the piece with great care, and he followed this with an afternoon session at his house going over the score (which was marked up with at least four different colors of highlighting pens) with a fine-tooth comb. It is my most vivid memory from my time at Yale.

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