Joseph Leavitt


Joseph Leavitt, 74, the former executive director of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra whose leadership helped the BSO gain national prominence, died in Boca Raton, Fla., Friday night of complications from a stroke.

There will a memorial service in Boca Raton in November.

Mr. Leavitt ran the BSO from 1973 to 1984, a period in which the orchestra built the Meyerhoff Symphony Hall, weathered several financial crises, went on its first European tour, made its first records for major labels and hired David Zinman as its music director.

When he retired from the BSO he moved to Boca Raton, where he oversaw the merger of two local orchestras into the Philharmonic Orchestra of Florida, perhaps the state's premier symphony.

John Gidwitz, who succeeded Mr. Leavitt as executive director of the BSO, said Mr. Leavitt, the late Joseph Meyerhoff and former music director Sergiu Comissiona "were the ones who put this orchestra on the map."

Mr. Leavitt was a former percussionist who, because he had been a musician, had rapport with his players. "As a guy who had been a player himself, he knew what it took to make something really good," said Phillip Kolker, the BSO's principal bassoonist.

Mr. Leavitt grew up near Boston, graduated from the New England Conservatory and served in World War II. After the war, he became principal percussionist of the BSO. In 1949, he moved to the National Symphony Orchestra. He gradually moved into administration as the orchestra's assistant manager. He became general manager of the New Jersey Symphony in 1969 and, while still running that organization, became the first executive director of the Wolf Trap performing arts center in Vienna, Va.

In 1986, Mr. Leavitt was awarded the Louis Sutler Award of the American Symphony Orchestra League, the highest honor for an American orchestra manager. He served on several music panels for the National Endowment for the Arts.

Survivors include his wife of 46 years, Sally Leavitt; a son, Howard Leavitt of New York City; and a daughter, Joan Leavitt of Buena Park, Calif.

His body was being cremated. The family suggested donations in his memory to the Philharmonic Orchestra of Florida's endowment fund in Fort Lauderdale.

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