Roger Englander had a tremendous impact on the television industry, and on the way many of us think about music. Like his longtime collaborator Leonard Bernstein, Englander was at precisely the right place at the right time to bring cultural television to new heights. Post-war American television was remarkably receptive to experimentation and innovation, and Englander’s expansive imagination was brought to bear on many vital projects. He brought a certain eagerness and a penetrating insight to everything he did.
Perhaps best known as the producer of CBS-TV’s The New York Philharmonic Young People’s Concerts With Leonard Bernstein, Englander also produced the first opera telecasts in history, Gian Carlo Menotti’s The Medium and The Telephone. That milestone NBC telecast in 1947 led to a two-year association with Menotti, during which Englander produced four additional operas by Menotti for the New York City Opera Company, the Chicago Opera Company, and road company tours.
He went on to produce musical programs for The Bell Telephone Hour, creating shows for Alfred Drake, José Ferrer, Isaac Stern, Howard Keel, Rosemary Clooney, Eileen Farrell, and the ballet Russe de Monte Carlo, among many others. He also directed programs for S. Hurok Presents, and, later, Vladimir Horowitz at Carnegie Hall (1968). He earned five Emmy Awards during his long career, as well as the Peabody Award, The Director’s Guild of America Award, the Prix Jeunesse from Munich, and the Prague International Festival Award. He is the author of Opera: What’s All the Screaming About? (Walker, 1983), and has written articles for the New York Times, Musical America, Opera News, and Television Age, among other publications.
Born in Cleveland, Ohio, on November 23, 1926 to William C. Englander and Frieda Osteryoung. Englander’s earliest musical ambition was, not surprisingly, to become a conductor. He played piano, French horn, and trumpet at Cleveland Heights High School, and eventually conducted the high school band and orchestra. But at the University of Chicago, which he entered at age 16, he turned to studying drama, composition, and theory, and he earned a Master’s degree in Music.
Among his composition teachers at Chicago was the renowned composer Arnold Schoenberg. Englander first met Leonard Bernstein in 1946 at the Tanglewood Festival in Lenox, Massachusetts, where he was stage manager for Bernstein’s legendary American premiere production of Benjamin Britten’s masterpiece, Peter Grimes.
The following year, Englander invited Bernstein to be guest lecturer for a series he was directing on The Dance at the University of Chicago. In 1956, Englander went to Boston to direct the Bernstein-hosted remote telecast for Omnibus. The two men had a remarkable chemistry–and throughout their lives, both retained the ability to see the world through youthful eyes, a talent that blossomed most famously in the Young People’s Concerts series. These telecasts, as fresh today as they were half a century ago, introduced a generation–and beyond–to the joy of classical music, and to the joy of concert-going. By eschewing gimmicks and by never “talking down” to the viewers, the programs were remarkably seductive and accessible, no small thanks to the enormously talented and attractive Bernstein, who always considered himself first and foremost a teacher. And Englander’s musicianship enabled him to organize the program’s camerawork along musical and dramatic lines.
The New York Times noted, “The exceptionally good camera work of the television crew worked as if it were part of the orchestration itself.” The program ran for 18 years with Bernstein, and then his protégé Michael Tilson Thomas, holding forth, with Englander at the helm. Englander continued to experiment and refine his camerawork and editing in ways that changed televised artistic performances.
By the time he directed Horowitz at Carnegie Hall–one of the cultural highlights of the entire decade–Englander’s visual energy was peaking. He choreographed his team quite elaborately, accommodating Horowitz’s finicky demands, including a talcum-powdered stage to prevent any squeaking from the slipper-wearing camera crew.
In 1975, Englander returned to CBS full-time to work as a producer and director for the Sunday morning arts series Camera Three, where he enjoyed true creative freedom. He won a Peabody Award in 1977 for his work on the program, but the show was canceled in 1979.
Englander quickly shifted his focus to live performances and the new technologies on the horizon. He produced a number of cultural extravaganzas for Elie Wiesel’s Foundation for Humanity, and for Pennsylvania Governor Robert Casey. And for Time/Warner New Media, he wrote an interactive CD-ROM musical guide to Mozart’s The Magic Flute.
He spearheaded a series of archival videotapes for Music Theater International, tapes that featured writers and composers of Broadway musicals who explained their production techniques that would become indispensable to fledgling theater companies.
Obviously, Englander was a hard worker, but he also took the time to make and keep a wide array of close friends. He had a marvelous sense of humor, and was insatiably curious.
In his later years, he divided his time between Manhattan and Newport, Rhode Island, eventually living in Newport for the past 20 years. He enjoyed the many cultural events of Newport, Tai Chi at the Edward King House, and touched the hearts of so many. He was cherished by his many friends, relatives, and cousins.
Roger died peacefully in Newport on February 8th, with his longtime companion, Michael Dupre by his side.