Zander started his musical life as a composer and cellist. At age twelve, he began studying composition under Benjamin Britten and Imogen Holst. At fifteen, he left home to train for five years in Florence and Cologne with the great Spanish cellist, Gaspar Cassadó. After completing his degree at the University of London, he was awarded a Harkness Fellowship which brought him to the United States. In 1965, he settled in Boston where he began his journey as a conductor.
Zander founded the Boston Philharmonic Orchestra in 1978 and has appeared as guest conductor with orchestras around the world. His performances have inspired thousands of musicians, renewed their sense of idealism, and shed fresh, insightful, and sometimes provocative light on the interpretation of the central symphonic repertoire of the 19th and 20th centuries. Critics and the public have been united in their praise of Zander’s interpretations of the central repertory.
For 25 years, Zander has enjoyed a unique relationship with the Philharmonia Orchestra. They have made eleven recordings together, including a nearly complete cycle of Mahler symphonies as well as symphonies of Bruckner and Beethoven. High Fidelity Magazine named their recording of Mahler’s 6th Symphony as ‘The Best Classical Recording’ of 2002; their Mahler 3rd was awarded ‘Critic’s Choice’ by the German Record Critics’ Award Association; their Mahler 9th and Bruckner 5th recordings were nominated for Grammy awards for ‘Best Orchestral Performance.’ Throughout his career, Zander has remained deeply committed to making classical music accessible and engaging for all listeners. With this mission in mind, he has prepared an audio explanation that is included as a separate disc with each of his Philharmonia recordings.
In 2012, Zander founded the Boston Philharmonic Youth Orchestra (BPYO), which draws young musicians aged twelve to twenty-one from the entire northeastern US to its weekly rehearsals and performances in Boston’s Symphony Hall. This tuition-free orchestra tours regularly and has performed in Carnegie Hall, Amsterdam’s Concertgebouw, and the Berlin Philharmonie, among many other renowned halls. In the summer of 2017 the BPYO toured South America; their 2018 tour includes performances of Mahler’s 9th Symphony in eight European cities.
From 1965-2012, Zander was on the faculty of the New England Conservatory of Music (NEC), where he taught Musical Interpretation, and conducted the Youth Philharmonic and the Conservatory orchestras. He was the founding Artistic Director of NEC’s joint program with The Walnut Hill School, a high school for the Performing Arts. Zander led the NEC Youth Philharmonic on fifteen international tours and made several documentaries for the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS). His interpretation classes, “Interpretations of Music: Lessons for Life,” have been viewed online by tens of thousands of people around the world. In 2018, the Benjamin Zander Center was established to support this dimension of his career. Through an immersive multimedia platform, the Center provides comprehensive access to all aspects of Zander’s musical work.
Zander enjoys an international career as a speaker on leadership, with several keynote speeches at the Davos World Economic Forum, where he was presented with the Crystal Award for “Outstanding Contributions in the Arts and International Relations.” The best-selling book, The Art of Possibility, co-authored with leading psychotherapist Rosamund Zander, has been translated into eighteen languages. In 2002, Mr. Zander was awarded the Caring Citizen of the Humanities Award by the United Nations. In 2007, he was awarded the Golden Door award by the International Institute of Boston for his “outstanding contribution to American society” as a United States citizen of foreign birth. His TED talk on The Transformative Power of Classical Music has been seen by over ten million people.