Something to Sing About: New York City Opera Names New Director

The New York City Opera just sent out a release announcing the appointment of George Steel, former executive director of Columbia University’s Miller Theater, as its new general manager and artistic director. Two months ago, the Paris Opera’s Gerard Mortier, who was supposed to become City Opera’s general manager starting with its 2009/2010 season, backed out of the position, citing budgetary restrictions. (Aside from being homeless at the moment, City Opera has also been in financial turmoil for the past several years.) Mr. Steel, most recently director of the Dallas Opera, was first reported as a possible candidate in a Dec. 22 Bloomberg story. That same day, Bloomberg ran a second piece in which Mr. Steel boldly proclaimed, “I’m not interested in the job at New York City Opera.” He explained his wavering to The New York Times:

For months, and as recently as Dec. 22, Mr. Steel sought to quash rumors that he was interested in the job, saying he was happy in Dallas and denying outright that he was in talks. But in an interview this week Mr. Steel said he was seriously approached by City Opera in mid-December and gave it earnest consideration during a Christmas break at the home of his in-laws in Washington. He called the decision wrenching.

“Being asked to play a role in its future is something I really couldn’t brush off and take lightly,” he said of City Opera. The “outpouring of support” from the opera world for an institution in crisis helped solidify his decision, he added. “New York is unthinkable without it,” he said.

The full memo from City Opera after the jump:


New York City Opera Appoints George Steel

As General Manager and Artistic Director


New York, NY, Jan. 14, 2009 – The Board of Directors of New York City Opera has announced the appointment of George Steel as the company’s new General Manager and Artistic Director. Mr. Steel is expected to assume his responsibilities as of February 1, 2009.


A respected, accomplished and innovative figure in the American performing arts, Mr. Steel is best known for his outstanding eleven-year tenure as Executive Director of the Miller Theatre at Columbia University, from 1997 to 2008. Under his leadership, the theater became known as one of New York City’s leading showcases for early and modern music and multi-disciplinary programming.


 "George Steel is both a brilliant artistic producer and a highly effective institution-builder," Susan Baker, Chairman of the City Opera Board, commented. "He is also someone with a deep commitment to the historic mission of New York City Opera, in both its adventurous programming and its dynamic educational initiatives and audience outreach. We are confident that his strong, visionary leadership will take City Opera to a new level of artistic achievement and popular success."

"It is an enormous honor, and an enormous responsibility, to be asked to participate in building the future of New York City Opera," George Steel stated. "My goal is to help ‘the People’s Opera’ renew its indispensable mission as an important producer of early opera, a proponent of American singers and new works, a force for rediscovering vital but lesser-known works, and an originator of visionary productions of classic repertoire."


Mr. Steel took primary responsibility for fundraising, financial and personnel management, marketing, publicity, and facility planning at the Miller Theatre, while programming 60 to 80 events a year in music, opera, dance, film, theatre, and intellectual discussion. He also initiated commissioning projects and developed collaborations with major national and international cultural institutions, including New York City Opera.


Mr. Steel, who is 42, has most recently served as General Director of The Dallas Opera. He is also known for his earlier work as Managing Producer of the Tisch Center for the Arts at the 92nd Street YW-YMHA (1995-97) and as the founder and conductor of two respected New York City music ensembles, the Gotham City Orchestra and Vox Vocal Ensemble.


George Steel

A respected and innovative figure in the American performing arts, George Steel has achieved a notable record of success as a producer, administrator and multi-disciplinary programmer of opera, early and modern music, dance, film and theatre. Known for his fresh and revelatory approach to presenting the performing arts and for his dynamic talent for audience outreach, Mr. Steel, 42, has been hailed by The New York Times as "a spokesman of national stature about ways to make classical music matter to new generations of listeners."

Born into a musical family, Mr. Steel began to perform regularly at age nine as a singer in the National Cathedral Choir in Washington, DC. Through the Choir, he met one of the formative influences on his career, Leonard Bernstein, and while still a student worked as Bernstein’s production assistant on the revival of the composer’s Mass. Mr. Steel subsequently attended Leonard Bernstein’s conducting seminar at the Tanglewood Institute for four consecutive summers, 1986-1989. Following his graduation from St. Albans School in Washington, DC, Mr. Steel taught music and social studies at St. Augustine School of the Arts in the South Bronx and then attended Yale University, graduating with a BA in music in 1994.


Mr. Steel first made his mark in New York City as Managing Producer of the Tisch Center for the Arts at the 92nd Street YW-YMHA. From 1995 to 1997 he created a variety of new series (including Today’s Composers and Dawn Upshaw’s Voices of the Spirit), produced Haydn’s Philemon and Baucis and Michael Korie and Stewart Wallace’s Hopper’s Wife (the latter co-produced with the Long Beach Opera) and was responsible for budget, production, marketing, contract negotiations and artist relations.


Mr. Steel then became the Executive Director of the Miller Theatre at Columbia University, where over the course of an eleven-year tenure (1997-2008) he transformed this venue into one of New York’s most acclaimed showcases for early and modern music. Among his many innovations at the Miller, he introduced full-scale opera productions with such notable works as the U.S. premiere of Iannis Xenakis’s Oresteia, the New York stage premiere of Elliott Carter’s What Next?, the U.S. stage premiere of Olga Neuwirth’s Lost Highway, and operatic works by Peter Maxwell Davies, John Eaton, Shirish Korde, Steve Mackey, Viktor Ullmann and The Gogmagogs. While at the Miller Theatre, he also commissioned new ballets by Edward Liang, Tom Gold, Brian Reeder, Luca Veggetti, Alison Chase and Amanda Miller and presented Christopher’s Wheeldon’s Watching Ligeti Move. While programming 60 to 80 events a year, he took primary responsibility for fundraising, financial and personnel management, marketing, publicity, and facility planning.


Mr. Steel also has been active throughout this period as a conductor and performer, having founded the Vox Vocal Ensemble in 1995 and the Gotham City Orchestra in 1998. He has led these ensembles in performances of repertoire ranging from ancient Greek chant and Tallis to John Zorn and Julia Wolfe, at venues that include Carnegie Hall, Caramoor, Riverside Church and the Park Avenue Armory.


Most recently, Mr. Steel has served as the General Director of The Dallas Opera, a position to which he was appointed in August 2008.


George Steel has acted as a programming consultant to the Lincoln Center Festival 2000, where he programmed the Electronic Evolutions series; the Sacred Music series of the Holland Festival (2000-2001); and the World Trade Center Summer Music Festival 2001, which included the program "Leonard Bernstein’s New York." He has served as a member of FACE, the French-American Cultural Exchange (2003-2006), and the Young Leaders Forum of the National Committee on US-China Relations (2005-2007).  He chaired the Music Panel of the New York State Council on the Arts and performed committee service for the Pew Charitable Trusts and the Mary Flagler Cary Charitable Trust, among others.


For his work, Mr. Steel has twice received the Chamber Music America Award for Adventurous Programming (2001-02 and 2005), as well as the 2003 Trailblazer Award from the American Music Center and the 2003 ASCAP Concert Music Award. New York magazine named him as one of the most influential people in New York in 2006 and in 2005 listed his Miller Theatre as having the "Best Music Programming before 1800 or after 1990" and the "Best Night at the Ballet."



  Something to Sing About: New York City Opera Names New Director