The American conductor, Jonathan Sternberg, is regarded by many as one of the most distinguished conductors appearing on the international podium, his performances having been unanimously acclaimed by critics, musicians and public alike from Berlin to Buenos Aires.
Jonathan Sternberg was born in New York of Austro-Russian parents. As a child he studied violin at the Institute of Musical Art (now the Juilliard School) in New York from 1929 to 1931. He continued his musical and academic education at the Manhattan School of Music, New York University, receiving B.A. in 1939 with viola and musicology as principal subjects. He followed that by studies in musicology at NYU Graduate School and Harvard from 1939 to 1940. During his undergraduate years, he was active as a New York critic for the Musical Leader of Chicago; he also attended rehearsals of the National Orchestral Association conducted by Leon Barzin, from whom he acquired his conducting technique. Apart from two later private sessions with Barzin (1946) and two summers (1946-1947) of conducting lessons with Pierre Monteux, he was self-taught.
Jonathan Sternberg began his professional career on Pearl Harbor Day, December 7, 1941, conducting the National Youth Administration Orchestra of New York in Copland's An Outdoor Overture, before entering military service. At the end of the war he found himself in Shanghai where he took over the Shanghai Symphony Orchestra for a season.
After returning briefly to the USA, Jonathan Sternberg moved to Vienna, making his conducting debut with the Vienna Symphony Orchesta in 1947. Then he toured extensively as a guest conductor in Europe, North America, and the Far East. He worked closely with the Haydn scholar H.C. Robbins Landon, scouring the libraries, monasteries and churches of Austria for lost manuscripts, until Robbins Landon set up the Haydn Society, for which Sternberg made a series of pioneering recordings, initially of Haydn and Mozart, not least the ‘Nelson Mass’, ‘Posthorn’ Serenade and some dozen Haydn symphonies. Other recording premières under Sternberg included Schubert's Second Symphony, Rossini's Stabat mater, Prokofiev's Fifth Piano Concerto, Milhaud's Fantaisie Pastorale and Charles Ives's Set of Pieces.
Jonathan Sternberg also began to present modern American music to European audiences that had heard little of such repertory. With the RIAS orchestra in Berlin he conducted the first European performances of a large number of American scores, including Leonard Bernstein's Serenade, Menotti's Violin Concerto and the Second Symphony of Charles Ives. With other orchestras, Sternberg conducted the first European performances of works by Barber, Copland, Diamond and Benjamin Lees. He was also responsible for a number of world premières, including Rorem's First Symphony (1951) and Lászlo Lajtha's Sixth (1961).
After a year at the helm of the Halifax Symphony Orchestra (1957–1958), Jonathan Sternbereg was Music Director and the Principal Conductor of the Royal Flemish Opera in Antwerp, Belgium for five years (1961-1966). In 1966 he returned to the USA to accept an appointment as the Musical Director and Principal Conductor of the Harkeness Ballet York (1966-1968). Concurrently he was Musical Consultant to the Rebekah Harkness Foundation for their Ballet Commissioning program. Some years later he was appointed musical director and conductor of the Atlanta Municipal Theater in charge of opera and ballet performances at the new Memorial Cultural Center (1968-1969), opening the new Atlanta Memorial Arts Center with the American stage première of Purcell's King Arthur. He has also been associated with Col. De Basil's Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo. Outstanding among his guest engagements have been the first European tour of the Mozarteum Orchestra of Salzburg, several all-L.v. Beethoven concerts with the London Philharmonic Orchestra in the Royal Festival Hall, appearances with / L'Orchestre de la Suisse Romande in Geneva, the Orchestre Lamoureux in Paris, the orchestras of Warsaw, Prague, Berlin, Munich, Stuttgart, Basel, Brussels, Monte Carlo, etc.
After Atlanta Jonathan Sternberg has divided his professional time with the academic world. He took up a visiting professorship of conducting at the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, New York (1969-1971). On leaving he took up a similar position at Temple University, Philadelphia, PA, where he taught and conducted for 20 years (1971-1989). Here, too, he conducted a number of world premières, including Music for Chamber Orchestra by David Diamond (1976), A Lincoln Address and Night Dances by Vincent Persichetti (1977) and Stanislaw Skrowaczewski's Ricercari notturni for three saxophones and orchestra (1978). From 1989 he has been a lecturer at Chestnut Hill College. In addition he has continued pursuing his career as guest conductor on five continents. In his 80s he was still active on the podium and as a lecturer. From 2004 to 2008 he he was Musical and Artistic Director of the Bach Festival of Philadelphia, sister Festival in the USA to Bachfest Leipzig.
A long list of recordings made in Vienna, Salzburg, Paris and Zürich has made the name Jonathan Sternberg a familiar name to discophiles internationally. Among the artists with whom he has collaborated in concert and opera, are Isaac Stern, Yehudi Menuhin, Henryk Szeryng, Paul Badura-Skoda, Alfred Brendel, Annie Fischer, Philippe Entremont, Byron Janis, Teresa Stich-Randall, Lisa Della Casa, Hilde Gueden, George London and Paul Schoeffler.
In January 2009 Jonathan Sternberg received The Conductors Guild's Award for Lifetime Service in recognition of long-standing service to the art and profession of conducting.