Siegfried Landau, the founding conductor and former music director of the Brooklyn Philharmonic, died yesterday in a fire at his home in the Adirondack village of Brushton, about 150 miles north of Albany, according to local authorities.
Laundau, 85, and his wife, Irene, a former dancer, both died in the blaze.
Landau founded the Philharmonic, then known as the Brooklyn Philharmonia, with the backing of the director of the Brooklyn Academy of Music, Julius Bloom, and other civic leaders. The Philharmonia's first concert, an all-Beethoven program ending with the Symphony No. 5, was on May 3, 1955.
Landau, just 34 when he organized the Philharmonia, was a composer who had begun his conducting career at age 12 while still a resident of his native Berlin. The son of a rabbi, Landau was the only Jewish student in a Nazi gymnasium, and his family narrowly escaped to Britain from Germany in 1938. Most of his extended family perished in death camps.
Landau studied conducting at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama at Trinity College of Music in London, then moved to New York to study at the Mannes College of Music.
At the Brooklyn Philharmonia, Landau established a tradition of new and adventurous programming.
"It was a very important thing. He would always want to do one or two or three different things," a former chief executive of the Philharmonic, Maurice Edwards, told the Associated Press yesterday. "Back in the ‘50s, very few symphonies did. That was something that made the Brooklyn Philharmonic important."
The Philharmonia initially prospered, and by the mid-1960s, it performed an annual concert at Manhattan's Philharmonic Hall, brashly exporting a taste of Brooklyn culture. The Philharmonia began performing an ambitious schedule of concerts in public schools.
But soon after, the orchestra's finances began to sour, as many of its core supporters moved to Manhattan. In 1971, Landau told the New York Times that Brooklyn's newer black residents didn't support the Philharmonia. "The black community, right or wrong, does not feel that the white man's art truly represents him," he said. Later that year, when the Philharmonia failed to meet a $250,000 Ford Foundation challenge grant and was forced to reduce its schedule to four concerts a year, Landau resigned.
He was replaced by Lukas Foss, who turned things around. Mr. Foss is now the Philharmonic's conductor laureate.
In addition to conducting the Philharmonia, Landau was conductor of the Westchester (later White Plains) Symphony Orchestra between 1961 and 1981, and the Chattanooga Opera Association between 1960 and 1973. He held other appointments as well, including generalmusikdirektor of the Westphalian Symphony Orchestra between 1973 and 1975, and music director at Shearith Israel synagogue in New York.
As a composer, Landau is probably best known for the score he wrote for Anna Sokolow's dance drama "The Dybbuk," Mr. Edwards said.
Landau's wife, Irene Gabriel, studied with Martha Graham and had her own dance company in the 1950s and 1960s. Landau frequently served as its musical director.
The couple bought their upstate home in the late 1970s, the AP reported. The large white house was known locally as the Brush homestead, the second home built by Brushton's namesake, Henry Nielson Brush, in the 1860s, said Tim Lonkey of the Town of Moira Historical Society.
"They were a really nice couple, but they kept to themselves," grocer Ian Bolster told the Plattsburgh Press-Republican. "They came in a lot, but he didn't get around so good anymore."
The fire was reported about 5 a.m. by their mail carrier, fire officials said. A home health aide escaped from the burning home.