Lifelong Musical Ambassador Taken By Incurable Cancer

Charles Ansbacher conducting the Boston Landmarks Orchestra. (courtesy of Boston Landmarks Orchestra)
Charles Ansbacher conducting the Boston Landmarks Orchestra. (courtesy of Boston Landmarks Orchestra)

Conductor Charles Ansbacher, visionary founder of the Boston Landmarks Orchestra, passed away Sunday night after battling incurable brain cancer. He was 67.

Ansbacher believed in the humanistic power of music and was dedicated to the idea of "free concerts for all." So dedicated, in fact, that for the 13 months after he received his cancer diagnosis, and in declining health, Ansbacher continued to take the stage. He conducted his final concert on Sept 1.

Ansbacher staged innovative classical performances at the Hatch Shell on the Esplanade, but also on stages in Boston communities that normally wouldn't have access to orchestral music — always free of charge.

This year Ansbacher conducted the first-ever symphony concert at Fenway Park, while ill. More than 10,000 free tickets were given away.

Many of the Landmarks Orchestra concerts were geared towards children and featured original works that young audiences could easily connect with, including the book-inspired piece titled, "Make Way for Ducklings."

But Ansbacher's impact reached far beyond Boston and he was known as a musical envoy. During his career the conductor lead major orchestras in more than 40 countries — usually nations struggling with political unrest, including South Africa and Bosnia.

President Clinton once called Ansbacher "the unofficial ambassador of America's Music." In 2008, he was the first American conductor to lead the Lebanese National Symphony Orchestra.

This year Gov. Deval Patrick dedicated a plaque to Ansbacher for "ensuring classical music for all." It will be mounted on a bench along the Esplanade.

The conductor's musical legacy will live on in Boston with his $20 million "Free For All" concert fund, the organization Ansbacher created to guarantee the continuation of free classical concerts for generations to come.

According to the Boston Landmarks Orchestra website, Ansbacher passed away peacefully at his home in Cambridge, surrounded by loved ones.

Ansbacher will be remembered for his life-long devotion to classical music and his kind, generous, deeply human spirit. He touched so many of us with his firm belief in music's ability to uplift and unite us, regardless of our differences.

He is survived by his wife, Ambassador Swanee Hunt, his three children, and his grandchildren.

This program aired on September 13, 2010. The audio for this program is not available.

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Andrea Shea Correspondent, Arts & Culture
Andrea Shea is a correspondent for WBUR's arts & culture reporter.



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