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August 29, 2015

George Cleve, Conductor Who Interpreted Mozart, Dies at 79

Margalit Fox, New York Times
George Cleve, a conductor known to New York audiences for his guest appearances with the Mostly Mozart Festival and the New York City Ballet, died on Thursday at his home in Berkeley, Calif. He was 79.

The cause was liver failure, said Khori Dastoor, a family friend.

Renowned as a Mozart interpreter, Mr. Cleve spent his career primarily on the West Coast. He was the music director of the San Jose Symphony from 1972 to 1992 and in 1974 founded the Midsummer Mozart Festival, an annual concert series in the Bay Area that he directed to the end of his life.

Mr. Cleve appeared as a guest conductor with orchestras around the world, including the New York and Los Angeles Philharmonics; the Boston, San Francisco and Montreal Symphonies; the Cleveland Orchestra; the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra of London, the Israel Philharmonic, the Vienna Symphony and the Orchestre National de France.

The distinguished soloists with whom he worked over the years included the pianists Van Cliburn, Peter Serkin and André Watts; the violinists Henryk Szeryng and Joshua Bell; the cellist Mischa Maisky; and the French horn player Barry Tuckwell.

George Wolfgang Cleve was born in Vienna on July 9, 1936, to an artistic family. His father, Felix, was a philosopher, violinist and newspaper film and dance critic; his mother, the former Melitta Monheit, taught foreign languages and played the piano. An aunt, Fanny Cleve, was a prominent soprano who sang under the batons of Richard Strauss, George Szell and Otto Klemperer.

The Cleves, who were Jewish, fled Austria after the Nazi annexation of 1938, settling in New York in 1940. As a youth, George studied the piano and violin, graduating from the High School of Music & Art in Manhattan.

He went on to study at the Mannes College of Music, and at Tanglewood he worked with the conductor Pierre Monteux, who became a longtime mentor.

Mr. Cleve made his New York Philharmonic debut in 1965 in a program that included Mozart, Liszt and Berlioz. Reviewing the concert in The New York Times, Harold C. Schonberg wrote: "Mr. Cleve turned out to be a most talented young man and one who steps on the podium completely assured of his right to be there. His confidence is not misplaced."

After holding conducting posts with the Winnipeg Symphony and the Iceland Symphony, Mr. Cleve assumed the music directorship of the San Jose Symphony. (He was succeeded there in 1992 by Leonid Grin; the orchestra ceased operations in 2001.)

Mr. Cleve made his Mostly Mozart debut in 1975 and over the next quarter-century returned to tfeaturesedit.php?pressID=24he festival more than half a dozen times.

He was also a frequent guest conductor with the New York City Ballet, making his debut there in 2000 in the world premiere of Twyla Tharp's The Beethoven Seventh. Over the next several years, Mr. Cleve conducted performances by the company that included George Balanchine's The Steadfast Tin Soldier and his Symphony in C, both to the music of Bizet.

Mr. Cleve's survivors include his wife, Maria Tamburrino, a flutist, whom he married in 1986; a son, Jeremiah Wiggins; and a granddaughter.

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