Benjamin Zander to lead new Hub youth ensemble

N.E. Conservatory let conductor go

The Boston Philharmonic’s head said he had no reservations about Benjamin Zander leading the youth orchestra.

Benjamin Zander, the renowned conductor who was let go from the New England Conservatory after school officials learned that he hired a convicted sex offender to film its youth orchestra, will lead a new youth ensemble at the Boston Philharmonic Orchestra.

“I am very excited to have an opportunity to continue my life work of teaching talented young musicians in the area,’’ Zander said Thursday night by phone. “We’re going to have a wonderful time.’’

The 73-year-old Zander is a cofounder of the Boston Philharmonic, and currently serves as its conductor and music director. He had led other prominent ensembles, including as guest conductor of the Philharmonia Orchestra of London. He has also been a longtime instructor of youth while on the staff at the New England Conservatory and oversaw its program with the Walnut Hill School for the Arts in Natick.


But he was ousted in January from the Conservatory - where he had taught for more than 45 years - after school officials learned that he hired Peter E. Benjamin, 69, to film performances of the school’s Youth Philharmonic Orchestra for at least a decade, despite knowing about his criminal history.

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In 1994, Benjamin was sentenced to five years in prison after pleading guilty to rape and sexual abuse charges. Authorities alleged he secretly videotaped himself having sex with three male teenagers, one of whom was abused when he was 13.

Benjamin has not been arrested for any subsequent sex offenses. Zander asserted in January that Benjamin mostly filmed college or graduate-level performances at the Conservatory.

Asked if he feared coming under scrutiny for his new venture in light of the Conservatory incident, Zander said no, but declined to discuss it further.

“I’m moving on,’’ he said.


The executive director of the Boston Philharmonic, Mark Cantrell, said he had no reservations about Zander leading the new youth orchestra. The Philharmonic’s board of directors also released a statement acknowledging that Zander’s departure from the Conservatory was a serious matter.

“While acknowledging the serious nature of issues at the center of those events, we agreed that commenting on them is appropriate only for the people and organizations directly involved in the matter,’’ the statement said. “We look ahead to 2012 and beyond, with Benjamin Zander, our visionary maestro, leading the Boston Philharmonic.’’

The Boston Philharmonic Youth Orchestra is inviting musicians up to age 21 to audition, and the inaugural season, scheduled to begin in November, will include works by Gustav Mahler and John Harbison, the Philharmonic said in a statement.

“This is an opportunity for the Boston Philharmonic Orchestra to create a unique environment of musical excellence and leadership development under the direction of Maestro Zander for the next generation of musicians,’’ Cantrell said in an e-mail.

A spokeswoman for the Conservatory declined to comment Thursday.


A number of Zander’s students at the Conservatory and their parents publicly supported him, including violinist Ben Rabin, 17, of Wayland. Rabin said Thursday he was pleased to learn of Zander’s new venture.

“I support it 100 percent,’’ Rabin said. “Obviously it’s unfortunate that he can’t do it as part of NEC, but I think it’s a great thing.’’

Travis Andersen can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @TAGlobe.