The Mexican conductor, Jorge Mester, was born in Mexico City to parents who had emigrated from Hungary. He studied conducting with Jean Morel at the Juilliard School of Music in New York, and worked with Leonard Bernstein at the Berkshire Music Center and with Albert Wolff. An accomplished violist, he performed with the Beaux-Arts Quartet for several years before focusing exclusively on conducting.
In 1955 Jorge Mester made his debut with the National Symphony Orchestra of Mexico. His first important post came in 1961, when he was appointed Music Director of New York's Greenwich Village Symphony Orchestra. He served just one season, but by this time was busily exploring other vistas, including opera -- he had successfully debuted with Salome at the 1960 Spoleto Festival in Italy.
Jorge Mester became Music Director of the Louisville Orchestra in 1967 and served in the post until 1979. He was noted for its advocacy of new and neglected music. He has long been considered an ardent champion of contemporary music. In this time he gave over 200 world premieres of works commissioned by the orchestra, by such composers as Philip Glass, Peter Schickele, Michael Daughtery, Carl Ruggles, Joan Tower, and George Tsontakis. Mester made 72 world premiere recordings with the orchestra, a prolific achievement for both conductor and orchestra. Mester recalls, "It was an exciting challenge to find music deserving of a permanent record. During that time, I got an incredible overview of contemporary music around the globe." Among the composers whose works he recorded are Leonardo Balada, Samuel Barber, Bruch, Carlos Chavez, Henry Cowell, George Crumb, Luigi Dallapiccola, Alberto Ginastera, Granados, Koechlin, Frank Martin, Peter Mennin, Krzysztof Penderecki, Walter Piston, Petrassi, Peter Sculthorpe Gunther Schuller, and Dmitri Shostakovich. "I have gained tremendous insight from working with these composers," says Mester. "What I have learned about their feelings about tempo, balance and musical structure helps me understand how other composers from the Classical and Romantic eras may have thought about their own music."
Jorge Mester was Music Director of the Pasadena Symphony for 25 years from 1985 to 2010. From 1998 to 2002, he served as Artistic Director of the Orquesta Filarmonica de la Ciudad de Mexico (Mexico City Philharmonic Orchestra) in Mexico City, with which, in 2000, he conducted an unprecedented 10-month retrospective of 20th Century music. In Cape Town, he programmed and directed a two-month long contemporary music festival. He was Music Director of the Naples Philharmonic in Naples, Florida from 2004 to 2012. He also served as Chief Conductor of the West Australia Symphony Orchestra in Perth and Principal Guest Conductor of both the Adelaide Symphony and the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra.
Jorge Mester put his unique stamp on the Puerto Rico Festival Casals during the seven years he served as its Music Director, beginning in the late 1970's. He served as a guiding force in the music world during his 21-year affiliation with the prestigious Aspen Music Festival (1970-1991), an organization he describes as having its own unique dynamics and personality due to the synergy between the distinguished faculty, acclaimed guest artists and gifted young musicians. He founded there the Aspen Chamber Symphony. He is now Aspen Music Festival's Conductor Laureate. He says, "That made it possible for me to put together programs that set the festival apart both in scope and quality." It is a characteristic for which Mester is still widely regarded. As the Artistic Director of the National Orchestral Association's New Orchestra Music Project from 1988 to 1992, he became familiar with an impressive number of American composers and had the opportunity to present many new works at Carnegie Hall. Mester also served as Artistic Director of the Young Musicians Foundation and its Debut Orchestra for the 2011-2012 season. Indeed, throughout his career, Mester has brought excellence and prominence to each of the organizations he has led.
During the 2006 season, Jorge Mester returned to once again lead the Louisville Orchestra as Music Director, on an "open-ended" contract of unfixed duration, until the orchestra secures a new music director, with Mester as a member of the search committee. Notably, Mester's passion for conducting extends from the stage to the classroom.
Jorge Mester has also guest conducted the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra of London, Boston Symphony Orchestra, Philadelphia Orchestra, Detroit Symphony Orchestra, Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, Seattle Symphony Orchestra, Oregon Symphony, Milwaukee Symphony, Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra, Buffalo Philharmonic, Cape Town Symphony Orchestra and Orchestre de Chambre de Lausanne. He commanded worldwide attention when he conducted the opening ceremonies for the Getty Center in Los Angeles in 1997 and subsequently served as artistic director of the Center's first classical music series.
A noted opera conductor as well, Jorge Mester has led numerous productions for the New York City Opera, the Sydney Opera, Spoleto and the Washington Opera, including Der Rosenkavalier, Cavalleria Rusticana, Ì Pagliacci, La Bohème, Le Nozze di Figaro, Madama Butterfly, Salome, and The Cunning Little Vixen. In November 2006, he led a staged operatic production of Mozart’s Don Giovanni with the Naples Philharmonic Orchestra. The following season, he led a concert performance of Samson and Delilah by Camille Saint-Saëns in Louisville as a joint-production with Kentucky Opera. The production was so successful that in 2008-2009 both organizations collaborated to co-present Tchaikovsky’s Iolanthe.
Mester expanded the boundaries of classical music presentation through an ongoing series of original "symphonic theatre" productions, semi-staged productions that incorporate classical music, dance and drama. The first production, a collaboration with actor/director John de Lancie, was the world premiere in 2001 of a semi-staged presentation of A Midsummer Night's Dream with incidental music by Felix Mendelssohn and film composer Erich Korngold. Mester and de Lancie's second project married Molière's Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme with Richard Strauss's incidental music, and their third focused on Romeo & Juliet and featured the music of Berlioz, Prokofiev, Leonard Bernstein and other composers, with a cast of singers, actors and dancers.
A noted teacher, Jorge Mester was on the faculty of The Juilliard School for most of the period between 1958 and 1988 (1958-1968; 1976-1978; 1980-1988);). He has served as director of Juilliard's conducting department during the early 1980's and, this past season, led a series of conducting workshops for the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra. He has also been a guest conductor of concerts and operas at the USC Thornton School of Music. Says Mester, "I love teaching. I hope to pay back the help which Leonard Bernstein, Gregor Piatigorski, William Schuman, and Jean Morel gave me early in my career. I want to help others they way I was helped." Indeed, he has taught several generations of conductors, including James Conlon, Dennis Russell Davies, Andreas Delfs, JoAnn Fallett, and John Nelson. In addition, he has mentored early in their careers such internationally acclaimed artists as Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg, Midori, Renée Fleming, Cho-Liang Lin, and Robert McDuffie.
Jorge Mester Mester has a long-standing affiliation with Peter Schickele and the P.D.Q. Bach concerts, dating back to 1965, when he conducted the first public P.D.Q. Bach concert.
In 1985, Jorge Mester received Columbia University's prestigious Ditson Conductor's Award for the advancement of American music. Other Ditson Awards recipients include Leonard Bernstein, Eugene Ormandy and Leopold Stokowski. In 1987, he participated in the documentary A Woman Is a Risky Bet: Six Orchestra Conductors, directed by Christina Olofson, where he comments on the conservative attitudes towards women in the world of classical music. Mester's recordings are available on a wide variety of labels, including Naxos, Albany Records, Vanguard, and Telarc. In 1998, he conducted a series of archival recordings for the Milken Family Foundation in Barcelona, Spain. He has also made two recordings with The Pasadena Symphony for the Auracle label. The first, a numbered limited edition, was released in 1994 and features Strauss's Also Sprach Zarathustra! and Camille Saint-Saëns' Symphony No. 3 in C Minor. The second, released in 1997, features Igor Stravinsky's Le Sacre du Printemps and Sergei Rachmaninov's Symphonic Dances.
Jorge Mester has been married twice. His first marriage to Paula Seibel ended in divorce. His second marriage, which also ended in divorce, was to the American mezzo-soprano Kimball Wheeler, with whom he had a daughter, Amanda. His long-time girlfriend/fiance is Claudia Ford. He resides in Southern California.