University of Rochester

Walter Hendl: 1917–2007

INNOVATIVE LEADER: Walter Hendl, who led the Eastman School from 1964 until 1972, is credited with launching innovative curricula and programs at the school.

Walter Hendl, a distinguished conductor and former director of the Eastman School, died April 9. He was 90.

Hendl succeeded Howard Hanson as director of Eastman in 1964, leading the school until 1972. As director, he is credited with helping launch innovative curricula and programs in accompanying, conducting, jazz and contemporary media, and electronic music.

“In his eight years at the Eastman School, Walter Hendl accomplished some great and enduring things,” said former Eastman dean James Undercofler ’67E in April 2005, when Hendl visited the school to conduct the Eastman Philharmonia in Rachmaninoff’s Symphony No. 2, “from inviting such prominent composers as Stravinsky, Khatchaturian, and Penderecki for week-long visits, to establishing the Musica Nova ensemble, to encouraging innovative curricula in accompanying, conducting, jazz studies and contemporary media, and electronic music. But he will always be remembered as one of the outstanding American conductors of his generation.”

Born January 12, 1917, in West New York, New Jersey, Hendl studied with Fritz Reiner at the Curtis Institute, then taught at Sarah Lawrence College from 1939 to 1941. He began his career as a pianist and conductor at the Berkshire Music Center under Serge Koussevitsky.

In 1945, he was appointed associate conductor of the New York Philharmonic Orchestra, and in 1949, he was named conductor of the Dallas Symphony Orchestra. Hendl was associate conductor of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra from 1958 to 1964 before his appointment at Eastman.

A champion of contemporary music, he led premieres of major works by Peter Mennin, Bohuslav Martinu, and Heitor Villa-Lobos. In 1965, he led Eastman musicians in the American premiere of Dmitri Kabalevsky’s Requiem.

In 1976, he was appointed director of the Erie Philharmonic Orchestra, and in 1990, he became professor of conducting at Mercyhurst College.