By Lesley Grimm
Siegfried Landau, the founding conductor of the Brooklyn Philharmonic, died Tuesday morning along with his wife, Irene Gabriel, in a fire at their home in upstate New York. Mr. Landau was 85. His wife, an accomplished dancer, was 77. “Maestro Landau was a visionary who brought music back to Brooklyn,” read a statement from the Brooklyn Philharmonic confirming the two deaths. “Maestro Landau leaves an incredible legacy.” Siegfried Landau led the orchestra — then known as the Brooklyn Philharmonia — during its first 17 years, as both music director and conductor. On May 3, 1955 Landau conducted the symphony’s inaugural concert, an all-Beethoven performance. “That first concert was very exciting,” said Maurice Edwards, a former Philharmonic executive director and author of “How Music Grew in Brooklyn.” “He had a conducting style all his own,” said Edwards, who remembered Landau as energetic and dramatic. “Of course the ladies fell for him.” Over the next 17 years, Landau and his orchestra established a tradition of bold and innovative programming – something rarely seen during that era. Landau became a champion for neglected masterpieces and new music. “He tried to have two or three premieres every season,” Edwards said. Under his direction, the Brooklyn Philharmonic initially thrived. The orchestra even performed a series of concerts in public schools. But later, the orchestra fell into financial difficulties. In 1971, Landau resigned when the Philharmonic shortened its season, therefore restricting the conductor’s pioneering work. Landau was born in Berlin in 1921. His father was an Orthodox rabbi. In Germany, he studied at the Stern and Klindworth-Scharwenka conservatories. When his family fled to London in 1939, Landau continued his training at the Guildhall School. He moved to New York a year later, where he studied under Pierre Monteux. Before founding the Brooklyn Philharmonic, Landau conducted several Carnegie Pops concerts, the Hunter College Series and the Brooklyn Museum. He also taught at the New York College of Music and was music director for Shearith Israel Synagogue in Manhattan. As a composer, Landau was best known for writing the score to Anna Sokolow’s 1951 dance-theatre production “The Dybbuk.” After his tenure at the Brooklyn Philharmonic, Landau continued conducting for the White Plains Symphony Orchestra and held other appointments, but later retired after suffering a series of heart attacks. Landau’s wife, Irene Gabriel, also had a career in the limelight. She was a respected modern dancer, who studied with Martha Graham and had her own dance company in the 1950s and 1960s. The couple formerly lived in Manhattan, but retired to a large historic home in the village of Brushton, in Franklin County, about 150 miles north of Albany. The fire at the Landaus’ home was reported just before 5 a.m. on Tuesday morning. Their home health aid escaped from the burning building. “It progressed real rapidly,” said Brushton Fire Chief Dominic Barse, who noted that the couple’s large collection of books helped fuel the raging fire. By Wednesday afternoon, officials had yet to determine the cause of the fire. Siegfried and Irene Landau are survived by their two sons, Robert and Peter, and Mr. Landau’s sister, Lotte Landau. The Brooklyn Philharmonic will dedicate its March 10 “Bridge to the Beyond” concert in memory of Maestro Landau and his wife Irene.