HISTORY OF THE NATIONAL ORCHESTRAL ASSOCIATION

The National Orchestral Association (NOA) was founded in 1930. Its early mission was to train American orchestra musicians in orchestral techniques and repertoire, providing them with the necessary experience and level of expertise to enter professional orchestra careers. Until that time, American orchestras were comprised almost entirely of European-trained musicians. However, with the establishment of the NOA and its founding conductor, Maestro Leon Barzin, American musicians began to assume their rightful positions in American orchestras.

Barzin was an early proponent of focal point conducting, which he developed while playing under some of the greatest conductors of the early 20th Century, including Arturo Toscanini, whom he was able to study for many years from the pit of the old Metropolitan Opera and during his tenure as principal viola with the New York Philharmonic. Over the years, Barzin codified and propagated techniques of focal point conducting based on his observations of Toscanini and others. While training American orchestral musicians at the NOA for more than 30 years (1930-1958; 1970-1976), he also “raised the bar” on conductor training. His goal was to promote a conducting technique that was visually compelling and communicative while producing professional-level orchestral ensemble and dynamic control. He continued teaching conducting well into his 90s.

Barzin’s principles of focal point conducting embraced Toscanini’s podium technique, i.e., the centralization of beat motions, the binary nature of individual beats, and an arc-like shape of beat motions designed to deliver clear and precise wordless directives to orchestral players. Since Toscanini never taught conducting, it may be said that Barzin became the advocate and codifier of the Toscanini style, which can be seen to this day in the opera pits of Italy and France.

Barzin was music director of the NOA Orchestra and, with George Balanchine and Lincoln Kirstein, was a co-founder of the New York City Ballet (NYCB), where he served for a decade (1948-1958) as music director. His work at the NOA and the NYCB firmly established him as one of New York’s finest conductors, and a peerless teacher of conducting and orchestral performance techniques.

Since its inception, the NOA has presented numerous concerts at Carnegie Hall and other venues around the country, providing both orchestral musicians and young conductors with an opportunity to refine their professional techniques so as to reach the standards of world-class orchestras and soloists.

In addition to training orchestral musicians, the NOA established numerous groundbreaking initiatives, including a conducting program and performances of American orchestral music designed to advance the careers of young American composers. From the 1940s until the present, the NOA has enriched the lives of thousands of school students. It was one of the first organizations to bring classical music outreach to the public school students in and around NYC; its rich tradition of encouraging future generations of music lovers and concertgoers continues to this day.

During the 1990s, the NOA evolved into a multi-dimensional organization sponsoring a wide variety of performing organizations and educational programs. The NOA’s New Music Orchestral Project promoted the careers of American composers by sponsoring world premiere performances at Carnegie Hall. Later in the decade, the NOA began a sponsorship of smaller organizations, and was instrumental in the creation of a new American string orchestra, the String Orchestra of New York City ("SONYC"). It has continued to expand its outreach projects throughout the country by sponsoring performances, master classes and school education seminars.

Current initiatives include ongoing support of a variety of musical organizations, as well as sponsorship of conducting seminars featuring the focal-point techniques of Leon Barzin. In 2004, the NOA was pleased to partner with the Conductors Guild, Inc. in sponsoring a conducting workshop at the Cleveland Institute of Music. In the fall of 2008, the NOA again partnered with the Conductors Guild to co-sponsor a conductor training workshop held at West Chester University’s (PA) School of Music.

Since 1930, the NOA has been helping to nurture the careers of American classical artists, and has done so through wars, the Great Depression and several recessions. It does not solicit or accept government funding, and depends entirely upon the generosity of private contributions to sustain its work in support of aspiring American classical musicians and composers. The NOA is a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization, and all donations are tax-deductible to the fullest extent allowed by law.

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