I was 17 when Leopold Stokowski premiered my 1st symphony

I was 17 when Leopold Stokowski premiered my 1st symphony


norman lebrecht

October 26, 2019

From an interview with José Serebrier:

Leopold Stokowski premiered my First Symphony when I was 17, as the last-minute replacement for the announced world premiere of Charles Ives’ 4th Symphony, which was still unplayable at the time. Then Stokowski recorded my symphony. Stokowski also conducted the US premiere of my early Elegy for Strings at Carnegie Hall, and a few years later he opened the Carnegie Hall season with my new Poema Elegiaco (2nd movement of Partita, Symphony No. 2). Conducting my Second Symphony in Washington with the National Symphony Orchestra, age 20, is also a great memory, but there are many other memorable premieres. Hearing a recording I didn’t know existed on the radio, my Symphony for Percussion, conducted by Sir John Eliot Gardiner. This work was just recorded again, in Moscow, and it will be part of a new SOMM CD of my music.



  • Vance Koven says:

    Well, Stokie did eventually get to premiere Ives 4 (I was at the performance), and if memory serves, Serebrier was one of the assistant conductors on the occasion (the other one was either Seiji Ozawa or Maurice Peress, but I now forget which).

    • For the Stokowski premiere at Carnegie Hall with the American Symphony Orchestra we had an entire month of rehearsals! For the first rehearsal, to which Stokowski invited the press and Ives’ scholars, he surprised me by asking me to conduct it…I said:
      “but Maestro, I’ll be sight-reading” to which he replied “So will the orchestra”. Excerpts of the film we made for TV can be seen on YouTube. A few years later I recorded it by myself, (no other conductors), with the LPO for RCA, still available.
      To be able to record it in 2 days, the LPO allowed me to first hold sectional rehearsals: 9 to 12 flutes; 12 to 3 oboes; 3 to 6 clarinets; 6 to 9 bassoons; 9 to midnight 1st violins and so on, for an entire week.
      Also, I had spent months correcting the parts, adding bowings for the strings, editing. To insure
      it worked, I first did it in Katowice, Poland with the wonderful radio symphony, and the film from that
      performance was shown on US television PBS several times. But it was Stokowski’s performance that made it all possible. Bernstein, who had championed Ives, came to the premiere, and many years later called me with the idea of conducting it himself, with the New York Philharmonic. In fact it was announced, but at the last minute replaced with Schubert’s 4th Symphony.

    • Peter says:

      The third conductor was David Katz.

  • Cubs Fan says:

    I will never understand why Serebrier isn’t better known – both as a conductor and composer. As a conductor, he’s terrific! I have so many excellent recordings he’s made. His Glazunov cycle is first-rate. So is the Dvorak cycle. Fine, fine conductor. As a composer, he’s one of the modernists who actually writes intelligible, attractive music that you might want to hear again, unlike the recently lauded Crumb. I wish his music would be programmed more.

    • Fliszt says:

      Serebrier & Ozawa were rising on the scene at the same time, but eventually Ozaza’s trajectory soared, and Serebrier’s didn’t. Glamour may have had something to do with it – Ozawa was something completely new, an Asian wearing tunics & love-beads, etc.

  • John Borstlap says:

    A Wunderkind:


    His 3rd symphony is a mystical one:


    His Wunderkind-symphony does not seem very interesting to me, but his 3rd is really very good – and traditional. That must be the reason I never heard of this man as a composer.

    • Jack says:

      I never heard of you until I found Norman’s blog. Still haven’t herd a note of your music.

      • John Borstlap says:

        A little bit of effort would have payed off.

        There are quite some composers out there, apart from what is sometimes called ‘the mainstream’ where mostly the silly and superficial is cultivated, which are truly interesting. David Matthews, Nicolas Bacri, Jonathan Leshnoff, etc. – but they explore deeper layers than the fashionable. Serebrier appears to be one of them (3rd symphony, Momento Psicologico).

        Why are they ‘less known’? Because there still circulates a trope through music life which says that new music must sound like the awfulness of modern life to be authentic, a very childish and ignorant idea, which is not welcomed by audiences who are supposed to be ‘conservative’.


        Robert Reilly: Surprised by Beauty
        Herbert Pauls: Two Centuries in one
        And my own book, of course.

        • Saxon Broken says:

          Jack: “I never heard of you until I found Norman’s blog. Still haven’t herd a note of your music.”

          Borslap: “A little bit of effort would have payed off.”

          The effort really would not have “payed-off”.