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The Kennedy Center

Howard Mitchell



Biography

In 1933, an outstanding young cellist, only 22 years old, joined the National Symphony Orchestra. His name was Howard Mitchell, and the choice he made the day he took the job became a choice for a lifetime.

He would succeed Kindler as the National Symphony Orchestra’s music director in 1949, and would remain in that position for 20 years.

Born in Nebraska, Mitchell attended the Peabody Conservatory and graduated with honors from the Curtis Institute of Music in 1935. In addition to playing with the NSO, Mitchell made his conducting debut with the ensemble in 1941, and was named associate conductor in 1946. He was one of two candidates being considered to replace Hans Kinder, and in 1949 Mitchell began the longest tenure of any NSO music director to date, and one especially marked by his campaign to bring great visiting conductors to Washington. Praised for his enthusiasm, deeply involved in the community, a skilled fund-raiser and respected by musicians as one who had risen from the ranks, Mitchell embodied the optimism and “can-do” spirit of the time.

Few conductors anywhere have equaled Mitchell’s extraordinary commitment to community outreach and education. Under his leadership, the NSO presented “Young People’s” and “Tiny Tots” concerts, and a ground-breaking series called “Music for Young America”. The last initiative offered programs free to school groups visiting the Washington area. Mitchell also expanded the orchestra’s touring exponentially, including its first to Europe and an astounding three months of touring Latin America. A hallmark was the inclusion of at least one American work on every concert program. Making use of the burgeoning recording industry, he devised two educational recording anthologies with the NSO. The anthologies were accompanied by study guides, allowing teachers who were not themselves musicians to incorporate music in classroom settings.
Howard Mitchell