How Harvard formed Hugh Wolff '75

by Victoria Aschheim

"[Wolff] always stays at the heart of the music"

— Anne Midgette in the Washington Post, November 20, 2009

Hugh Wolff’s strengths as a conductor were aptly described in a 2009 review of a National Symphony Orchestra concert in the Washington Post, together with Wolff’s qualities as "an urbane host," making his interpretation of Mendelssohn’s "Scottish" Symphony "an absolute delight." Paris-born Wolff, director of orchestras at New England Conservatory, graduated in 1975 from Harvard College, where he concentrated in music composition and had the rare opportunity of the inspiration of Leonard Bernstein, who was a visiting scholar at the time.

Upon graduation, Wolff went to Paris, studying composition with Olivier Messiaen and conducting with Charles Bruck, a protégé of Pierre Monteux, from whom Wolff imbibed knowledge of Debussy, Ravel and Stravinsky. After further piano study with Leon Fleisher, who stressed the German tradition, Wolff went to his first job as assistant to Mstislav Rostropovich at the National Symphony Orchestra in the nation’s capital. With Rostropovich, Wolff was immersed in the Russian repertoire and in the conductor's legendary, emotional approach to music. All these musical strands, together with his exposure to the teaching of Harvard's Leon Kirchner, the musical activism of Gerald Moshell (who was then a graduate student at Harvard) and the inspiring forum of the Bach Society Orchestra, provided Wolff with a profound musical background from which NEC and the Boston area now benefit.

In addition to concerts with the New England Conservatory Orchestras, Maestro Wolff will be conducting concerts in Belgium with the Orchestre National de Belgique this month, with the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra in November, and with the Utah Symphony in December, along with concerts in Tokyo and Yokohama with the Yomiuri Nippon Symphony Orchestra in December.

In a series of video interviews coming to you throughout the autumn, Maestro Wolff provides insights into his musical philosophy and transatlantic experiences as a conductor.


[Caption: Photo: Andrew Hurlbut/New England Conservatory]