Who Was Antonia Brico? The Denver Philharmonic Pays Tribute To Its Founder

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Photo: Antonia Brico, conductor
Conductor Antonia Brico in 1948 founded the orchestra known today as the Denver Philharmonic.

Antonia Brico was a unique figure in classical music.

In 1938, she became the first woman to stand on the podium and conduct the New York Philharmonic. And in 1948, she founded an orchestra in Colorado.

Lawrence Golan is the current music director of the Denver Philharmonic, the orchestra Brico founded and led. (The group initially performed as the Denver Businessman's Orchestra, and later as the Brico Symphony.) Golan calls Brico a pioneer.

Photo: Lawrence Golan conductor
Lawrence Golan, music director of the Denver Philharmonic.

“Even today, female conductors are less common than male conductors," Golan said.

Starting this season -- which begins Friday at Denver's Central Presbyterian Church -- the Denver Phil will call attention to Brico’s legacy in a new way. They’ll play on a new platform at their home venue: The Antonia Brico Stage.

Brico may have been Colorado’s first major female conductor. But Golan, who teaches conducting at the University of Denver, says others followed her. Marin Alsop led the Colorado Symphony for 12 years and went on to lead orchestras around the world.

"Denver seems to have an affinity for female conductors because the most successful female conductor in the country ever really is Marin Alsop -- who of course was the conductor of the Colorado Symphony, is now the conductor of the Baltimore Symphony," Golan said. "But it even started before Marin with Antonia Brico.”

Photo: Marin Alsop
Marin Alsop

Despite her accomplishments, Brico often missed out on high-profile gigs that went to male conductors. A manager with the New York Phil famously told Brico she’d been born 50 years too early.

Brico died in 1989, but looked forward to a time when a talented female conductor could have a huge career. Even so, Golan said Brico left a big impact in Colorado.

“Every day you see it living on with the Denver Philharmonic itself," Golan said. "And, you know, it all goes back to the orchestra that she started many, many years ago.”

And from now on, her orchestra will play on a stage that bears her name.

Watch a clip from a documentary about Brico's life: