• Born 1959
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Conductor Michael Stern is a prominent specialist in contemporary music and American music. Since 2005, he has been the music director of the Kansas City Symphony Orchestra.
Stern was born in New York on December 17, 1959. His father was the superstar violinist Isaac Stern, and he took up the violin at age three. As an undergraduate at Harvard University, Michael majored in history, but he went on for conducting studies at the Curtis Institute in Philadelphia, studying with Max Rudolf and graduating in 1986. Rudolf became a major mentor, and Stern was eventually invited to co-edit the third edition of Rudolf's conducting textbook. Stern also studied during summers at the Los Angeles Philharmonic Institute and the Pierre Monteux Memorial School in Maine and participated in Leonard Bernstein's conducting workshops with the New York Philharmonic. The latter post entailed conducting the Philharmonic in two concerts. He landed a post as the conducting assistant to Christoph von Dohnányi at the Cleveland Orchestra just before his graduation from Curtis, remaining in Cleveland until 1991 when he moved to France to become the permanent guest conductor of the Orchestre National de Lyon. From 1996 to 2000, he was the chief conductor of the Saarbrücken Radio Symphony Orchestra in Germany, becoming the group's first American conductor and touring with it across Europe and in China. Returning to the U.S., he founded the IRIS Orchestra in suburban Memphis, Tennessee, and has built it into an important specialist ensemble in contemporary music. He also conducted a large variety of major American and European orchestras, including the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, the Philadelphia Orchestra, and the Vienna Radio Symphony, which he led on a China tour. In 2005, Stern was named the music director of the Kansas City Symphony, a position he continued to hold as of 2020.
Stern's recording career began in 2001 when he and the Saarbrücken Radio Symphony backed pianist Stefan Litwin in a recording of concertos by Henry Cowell. He has recorded, mostly with the Kansas City Symphony, for the Reference Recordings, Naxos, and Avie labels, releasing an album of music by Jonathan Leshnoff with the Kansas City Symphony on Reference Recordings in 2020.