Mitropoulos, Dimitri, celebrated Greek-born American conductor and composer; b. Athens, March 1, 1896; d. after suffering a heart attack while rehearsing Mahler’s 3rd Sym. with the orch. of the Teatro alla Scala, Milan, Nov. 2, 1960. He studied piano with Wassen-hoven and harmony with A. Marsick at the Odeon Cons, in Athens. He wrote an opera after Maeterlinck, Soeur Béatrice (1918), which was performed at the Odeon Cons. (May 20, 1919). In 1920, after graduation from the Cons., he went to Brussels, where he studied composition with Gilson, and in 1921 he went to Berlin, where he took piano lessons with Busoni at the Hochschule für Musik (until 1924); concurrently was répétiteur at the Berlin State Opera. He became a conductor of the Odeon Cons. orch. in Athens (1924), then was its co-conductor (1927–29) and principal conductor (from 1929); was also prof, of composition there (from 1930). In 1930 he was invited to conduct a concert of the Berlin Phil. When the soloist Egon Petri became suddenly indisposed, Mitropoulos substituted for him as soloist in Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto No. 3, conducting from the keyboard (Feb. 27, 1930). He played the same concerto in Paris in 1932 as a pianist-conductor, and later in the U.S. His Paris debut as a conductor (1932) obtained a spontaneous success; he conducted the most difficult works from memory, which was a novelty at the time; also led rehearsals without a score. He made his American debut with the Boston Sym. Orch. on Jan. 24, 1936, with immediate acclaim; that same year he was engaged as music director of the Minneapolis Sym. Orch.; there he frequently performed modern music, including works by Schoenberg, Berg, and other representatives of the atonal school; the opposition that naturally arose was not sufficient to offset his hold on the public as a conductor of great emotional power. He resigned from the Minneapolis Sym. Orch. in 1949 to accept the post of conductor of the N.Y. Phil.; shared the podium with Stokowski for a few weeks, and in 1950 became music director. In 1956 Leonard Bernstein was engaged as assoc. conductor with Mitropoulos, and in 1958 succeeded him as music director. With the N.Y. Phil., Mitropoulos continued his policy of bringing out important works by European and American modernists; he also programmed modern operas (Elektra, Wozzeck) in concert form. A musician of astounding technical ability, Mitropoulos became very successful with the general public as well as with the musical vanguard whose cause he so boldly espoused. While his time was engaged mainly in the U.S., Mitropoulos continued to appear as guest conductor in Europe; he also appeared on numerous occasions as conductor at the Metropolitan Opera in N.Y. (debut conducting Salome, Dec. 15, 1954) and at various European opera theaters. He became a naturalized American citizen in 1946. As a composer, Mitropoulos was one of the earliest among Greek composers to write in a distinctly modern idiom.
dramatic:Soeur Béatrice, opera (1918; Odeon Cons., Athens, May 20, 1919); incidental music to Electra (1936) and Hippolytus (1937). orch.:Burial (1925); Concerto Grosso (1928). chamber:Concert Piece for Violin and Piano (1913); Fauns for String Quartet (1915); Violin Sonata, Ostinata (1925–26). Piano: Sonata (1915); Piano Piece (1925); Passacaglia, Preludio e Fuga (e. 1925); 4 Dances from Cythera (1926). VOCAL: 10 Inventions for Soprano and Piano (1926).
S. Arfanis, The Complete Discography of D. M. (Athens, 1990); W. Trotter, Priest of Music: The Life of D. M. (Portland, Ore., 1995).
—Nicolas Slonimsky/Laura Kuhn/Dennis McIntire