Board Of Directors
Annabelle Prager has had a lasting impact on music education for children that will be felt far into the future. As founder of the InterSchool Orchestras of New York (ISO), she has been a master at filling unmet musical needs, devising and enriching programs and offering essential services that the schools and the community have not been able to provide for themselves. The lives of close to three generations of students have been transformed by their love of music whether they become distinguished professional artists or devoted amateurs.
In 1972, Mrs. Prager was one of the first to address the crisis facing music education for children when she discovered that budget cuts and other priorities had virtually chased music out of the education system. There were few places left where a child could play a musical instrument in an ensemble, much less receive any sort of education in music. Galvanized into action, she created ISO and its first orchestra, a small, 32-piece ensemble for children of all ages, economic and cultural backgrounds. The program, with its multiple orchestras and chamber groups, and its ability to reach out, engage and develop talent, had been operating successfully long before the mid 80’s when the tide of public opinion belatedly caught up with
Mrs. Prager’s pioneering mission. The New York Times finally sent out an alarm warning about the dismantling of arts programs in the schools. The Times also praised ISO for its unique hands on opportunities which creates unparalleled devotion to music among children.
In the forty-five years that have ensued since its creation, Mrs. Prager’s ISO has become one of New York City’s most important musical resources, offering spectacular, heretofore unheard of opportunities for thousands of children, audiences as well as players far and wide. It is a winner of the Bank of New York’s Award for Excellence in Orchestra Education.
No one has been a more persistent go-getter or been more inventive at raising funds and summoning up interest and support for ISO than Mrs. Prager. In praise of her adventurous spirit and never ending creative ideas, she has received awards from the Women’s City Club, the Municipal Art Society and induction into the Channel 13 Hall of Fame.
A graduate of Sweet Briar College, Mrs. Prager attended the Yale School of Fine Arts and married the late David Prager, Esq., a fellow aficionado of art and music who she met singing in a distinguished choral group. She is a talented artist, illustrator and an author of books for children. Among her notable publications have been the bestsellers The Surprise Party and The Spooky Halloween Party (published in several languages). Mrs. Prager has also written a series of highly admired booklets on the history of the music of Italy, France and Great Britain for the celebrated music festivals that she devised for ISO. Her illustrations have enhanced amusing concert programs for the ISO as well as decorative cards and beguiling posters to attract candidates for the orchestras.
Mrs. Prager laughingly likes to refer to herself as a “jock.” She was a champion figure skater, a ranked junior tennis player and was skiing blue trails until a chair lift accident put her out of commission in her late 80’s. Among the boards of philanthropic organizations she has graced are The Third Street Music Settlement, the Council of the New York Philharmonic, the Dalcroze School of Music, the Youth Division of the American Symphony League and American Friends of the Georgian Group.
On May 11, 2017, she was honored by her beloved ISO for her 45 years of “exemplary service, dedication and inspiring vision” at a gala dinner at LeParker Meridien. It was followed by a concert in her honor at Carnegie Hall which featured all the ensembles.
In June 12, 2017, at their annual meeting, the ISO Board of Trustees unanimously awarded her the title “Founder and Trustee Emeritus.”
At 95 years young, Mrs. Prager’s vision continues to be a vital part of ISO today, a vision that is irreplaceable.
ARTICLES AND SPEECHES BY ANNABELLE PRAGER
Thoughts by Annabelle Prager, Founder of ISO, from her speech given at the dinner in her honor at Le Parker Meridien, May 11, 2017
Exhilaration, admiration, excitement, pride, unadulterated bliss—these are just a few of the emotions I have experienced every day for the last 45 years since I founded ISO.
Wonderful people—professional musicians, conductors, teachers, composers, board members and especially parents—kept turning up to help me with my mission of bringing quality music education back into children’s lives. Without their expertise and devotion, this extraordinary organization wouldn’t be where it is today.
Every minute along the way has been fascinating—every rehearsal, all the free school performances and musical services, as well as spectacular events at prestigious venues, even as far away as Venezuela.
I have heard the most glorious music, often performed on a professional level, always with enthusiasm and dedication by children of all backgrounds, ages and skills.
I never cease to delight as the squeaks and honks of the beginner groups are transformed into an amazingly well-played piece of music.
I’m as proud as a stage mother when a child gives an exceptional solo performance or wins an award or gets into the music school or college of their choice.
The sun shines more brightly when I land a record breaking contribution from a generous friend or from a prestigious foundation. Every penny we raise goes towards more visionary programs for the children.
I pat myself on the back when one of the ideas that never stop springing from my busy brain can be worked into an unusual and innovative program. I’m good at filling unmet musical needs.
This was demonstrated in 2016 when I came up with the idea for Opera 360. By collaborating with a gentleman I had worked with in the past who runs the Metropolitan Opera Guild, the children studied opera. What a fabulous experience they had as they became opera lovers and, believe me, opera desperately needs new fans.
It was fun to be in touch with the consuls of great countries like France, England and Germany, enlisting their interest and support so we could put on youth festivals of the incomparable music from those countries. It created a lot of friends for us including illustrious ambassadors, the head of the U.N., Maestro Kurt Masur and a host of foreign corporate sponsors who donated free gifts and services.
Always a sucker for a compliment, I don’t hide my pleasure when an ISO alum raves about ISO and tells me that it has changed the course of his or her life.
ISO has certainly changed the course of mine.
My Exhilarating 45-Year Adventure
By Annabelle F. Prager, Founder of the InterSchool Orchestras of New York
Music-making has provided me with some of the most profoundly joyous moments of my life. I always assumed that my children, in fact all children, would be able to share in this great pleasure. So, in 1971 when my 12-year old son expressed interest in playing the clarinet, I approached a well-known children’s clarinet teacher and asked if he would give him lessons. “I’m inclined to say “No,” he told me. “Your son doesn’t go to one of the few schools left in the city that has an orchestra. There is simply no place for him to play except by himself at home.”
As crestfallen as I was affronted, I marched right over to the Collegiate School where my son was a student. “Where’s the orchestra?” I demanded. “Why don’t you start one” came the answer.
As an artist and an author of children’s books and a fervent choral singer, I didn’t know anything about starting an orchestra, but it didn’t take me long to learn that the remarks about the dearth of music in the schools were just the tip of the iceberg. In New York City, budget cuts and other priorities were rapidly eliminating music programs of all kinds from school curricula. Even the neighborhood music schools didn’t offer instrumental ensembles. Only 17% of the bands and orchestras that used to thrive in the schools across the nation remained in place. Someone would have to do something about this unfortunate situation and it looked as if that someone was going to be me.
I called a meeting of music teachers and hit the jackpot. David Hume, head of the St. David’s School, showed up. David was familiar with many schools, but more important than that, he felt strongly that making music belonged in the lives of children. He helped me put together a committee made up of music lovers, parents, influential musicians, and the heads of two of the most prestigious private schools in the city. We were on our way with a conductor from one of the few schools that had an instrumental ensemble.
In June 1972, a little orchestra made up of 32 children from sixteen supporting private schools and six additional public schools gave its first concert at the Chapin School. The ISO Orchestra (now the ISO Symphony) has had many triumphs since that time. It has performed in the pit for the Dance Theater of Harlem, it has rehearsed under the baton of Kurt Masur and made the front page of The New York Times playing at Grand Central Station. But I do not believe there will ever be an event that will equal the excitement of that first concert. Twelfth graders and fourth graders played side by side. There were lots of violins and too many flutes. Nobody minded—they were so thrilled to be making music.
The orchestra was a success. We divided it into two ensembles so that top players could progress more rapidly. Eventually beginning orchestras grew out of the realization that ensemble skills are best developed at an early age. We vowed to accept any student from any school who wanted to participate regardless of income. Talent should be nurtured in every child whatever his cultural or economic background.
Soon after they were founded we took our little orchestras into the schools, free of charge. The audiences were delighted to find children their own age making music and thrilled to discover that they would be able to make it too. We devised programs for fourth and fifth grades, giving mini-lessons so children could try wind, brass and string instruments. Our popular instrumental introductions, which launched dozens of children on musical careers, developed out of these efforts, so did our scholarship incentives to tackle more difficult instruments such as the viola and tuba.
By 1979 our programs had been in operation for seven years, but they were only known to a limited group of schools. We scheduled auditions to find an experienced, charismatic music director to help us broaden our horizons.
Choosing Jonathan Strasser from the Manhattan School of Music and the High School of Performing Arts (now LaGuardia High School) to be ISO’s new Music Director was one of the most important contributions I made to ISO in my 45 years.
We had many appealing, talented candidates, but I learned Jonathan was unique. He was the only candidate who was working successfully in the public schools and could bring new children to ISO because of his experience as a beloved teacher, along with his erudition, feisty, realistic attitude, and his matchless ability to inspire a love of music.
It was a significant turning point. We had success we never dreamt was possible. He was a Pied Piper. The ranks of ISO orchestras swelled. Musical standards improved dramatically.
From that time on schools and musically underserved institutions clamored to receive our program of free concerts, assemblies and instrumental introductions. They became so popular, there was a waiting list.
Jonathan was an ideal partner, always eager to work on new ideas and with the schools. Jazz and musical theater were added to the program. We gave awards. We created a percussion workshop. Jonathan taught conducting and organized the Teacher Intern Program (TIP), which gave teenage instructors a chance to work with beginning students in schools where music instruction was unavailable. Prestigious artists volunteered to play with us. There were annual rehearsals with the New York Philharmonic and London Symphony. I arranged festivals of the great music of France, Italy and Great Britain which were accompanied by booklets I wrote that were distributed to the schools. We traveled as far afield as Venezuela—all expenses paid. The exciting fundraisers and collaborations were too numerous to be able to list them all here.
Our ability to start more, new instrumental programs for public schools took a giant step forward when we came across a treasure trove of musical instruments, broken, dusty and forgotten in the basement of a Chinatown elementary school where we had given an assembly program. Calls to other schools turned up similar caches left over from days when bands and orchestras used to flourish. As luck would have it, on one evening I told this story to my dinner partner who happened to be a trustee of a children’s foundation that supplies equipment for not-for-profit organizations. He became wildly excited. “I’ll supply the funds to repair the instruments,” he declared, “if you find ways to help the schools use them.” He took special delight in the programs that were soon underway employing faculty who had lost their jobs due to budget cuts. At one beleaguered school, space was at such a premium that music classes were held in a stairwell.
The tide of public opinion began to turn in favor of our goals in the late 1980’s. The New York Times finally sent out an alarm about the dismanteling of arts programs in the schools. The Times also praised ISO for its unique hands on opportunities which create unparalleled devotion to music. More music began to be taught again in the schools and ISO continued to bolster and encourage it.
I couldn’t resist a smile of satisfaction when I heard that prestigious musical organizations were presenting special performances for the schools. These were the very organizations that turned a cold shoulder on me during my constant attempts to form a constructive partnership with them. With support from Itzhak Perlman and McGraw Hill, ISO organized productive music forums, “How Can We Best Serve Our Schools,” on two successive years. They enabled organizations like the New York Philharmonic to come together with funders to exchange ideas and pinpoint problems with the schools.
Today I am proud to say that the wide variety of performance and educational opportunities that ISO provides goes way beyond what most communities can offer. It is a treasured organization that ensures its teaching is superb, its environment is nurturing, its influence is felt far and wide, and its budget is balanced. (Of all the arts, music is the most expensive to fund.) When it comes to fundraising, I find the personal appeal works best. Nothing goes out over my name without a one to one note, letter or a persuasive phone call.
ISO is considered one of the most essential musical resources for children to be found anywhere, a winner of the Bank of New York’s Award for Excellence in Orchestra Education, and an inspiring 45-year example that other youth orchestras often follow.
I can’t stop bragging about ISO or making fabulous connections where the orchestras might be able to shine. What makes me proudest of all are the children themselves, from every possible background, from the most talented winners of ISO prestigious concerto competitions to the eager little six year-olds in the Morningside Orchestra, their enthusiasm, dedication to excellence and their joy in the task at hand are testimony to what music can do for young people and young people for music.
I have spent forty-five sensational years, nearly half of my life, on my urgent mission. In recognition of my devotion I have been fortunate enough to be honored by the Women’s City Club, the Municipal Art Society and the Channel 13 Hall of Fame.
But at age 95, it’s time to hand over the reins.
On June 12, 2017, the board of directors of the ISO voted unanimously to change my status to “Founder and Trustee Emeritus” for my 45 years of “exemplary service, dedication and inspiring vision.”
While I’m taking a step back, I will never relinquish my vision which I hope will inspire ISO forever and ever.
It has indeed been an exhilarating adventure.
Beatrice is a Co-Founder and Managing Director of Sperry, Mitchell & Company, an investment banking boutique which specializes in arranging the sale or merger of private mid-market companies. She also co-owns Percival Scientific, a leading Iowa-based manufacturer of biological incubators and plant growth chambers. She is a member of the Executive Committee and on the Board of the InterSchool Orchestras of New York, Chair of the Development Committee, on the Board of ICD – The Institute for Career Development and on the Board of Managers at Haverford College.
Beatrice is a regular lecturer at the Columbia University Graduate School of Business; she has also lectured at the Stern School of Business at New York University and the Darden Graduate School of Business at the University of Virginia. She has been widely quoted in the financial and business press, including The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, Financial Times, Forbes, Fortune, Business Week, Crain’s, USA Today, CNN Money Line and National Public Radio. In 2016, she was a featured speaker at The Bloomberg Breakaway Summit and also served as an Expert Panelist for a Merrill Corporation webinar. In 2016 and 2015, she was recognized as one of The Most Influential Women in Mid-Market M&A by Mergers & Acquisitions.
Beatrice is the co-author of The Complete Guide to Selling Your Business, which is in its third edition and is also published in Chinese.
Beatrice received a B.A. from Yale University and an M.B.A. from the Columbia University Business School.
Viola Kanevsky is a pediatric optometrist specializing in custom contact lenses, who has practiced on the Upper West Side for almost 25 years. An émigré from the former Soviet Union, Dr. Kanevsky lived in Netanya, Brussels, and Miami, until her family settled in New York City in 1979. Many years later, having earned a BS from Pace University and a Doctorate from SUNY State College of Optometry, she works and lives with her husband, daughter, and son in the neighborhood that she loves best. She owes much to the community that fostered her personal happiness and professional success and tries to give back to it whenever she can. She is the Metropolitan Trustee of the New York State Optometric Association board; a board member of the Optometric Society of the City of New York; she has served on the board of her residential coop for 10 years; she is vice president of the board of the Interschool Orchestras of New York, an organization dedicated to providing musical education to children regardless of ability to pay; serves as Trustee on the board of the Ilya and Emilia Kabakov Foundation and as such, produces benefit concerts for the Ship of Tolerance, an international art project whose goal is to promote tolerance amongst children of differing cultures; she serves on the parent advisory committee of Concerts in Motion, an organization that brings concerts and music therapy to homebound individuals, and is the treasurer of the NY chapter of Volunteer Optometric Services to Humanity (VOSH). Dr. Kanevsky also volunteers for the New York Youth Symphony and travels to orphanages in Peru on medical missions.
Brenda Kuehne joined the ISO Board of Trustees in 2013, and has been Treasurer since 2016. She is a Research Associate within the Credit and Debt Markets Research Program at the Salomon Center of the NYU Stern School of Business, where she works with Dr. Edward Altman conducting analyses on high-yield defaults and recoveries, corporate bankruptcies and distressed debt. She received a Master of Arts in Business Education in Higher Education from New York University, and a Bachelor of Science in Accountancy from The College of New Jersey (fka Trenton State College).
Having grown up without the financial ability to learn an instrument, Brenda is deeply committed to ISO’s mission to provide a music education to all school-aged children, regardless of their ability to pay tuition. Her son joined the ISO at Turtle Bay Orchestra in 2012, and has steadily worked his way up through various ISO ensembles. Brenda lives in New York City with her husband and two children.
MARTIN FRIDSON, CFA
CHIEF INVESTMENT OFFICER
LEHMANN LIVIAN FRIDSON ADVISORS LLC
Martin Fridson is “perhaps the most well-known figure in the high yield world,” according to Investment Dealers’ Digest. At brokerage firms including Salomon Brothers, Morgan Stanley, and Merrill Lynch, he became known for his innovative work in credit analysis and investment strategy. For nine consecutive years he was ranked number one in high yield strategy in the Institutional Investor All America Research Survey.
Fridson received his B.A. cum laude in history from Harvard College and his M.B.A. from Harvard Business School. He has served as president of the Fixed Income Analysts Society, governor of the CFA Institute, director of the New York Society of Security Analysts, and consultant to the Federal Reserve Board of Governors.
The Financial Management Association International named Fridson the Financial Executive of the Year in 2002. In 2000, he became the youngest person inducted up to that time in the Fixed Income Analysts Society Hall of Fame. A study based on 16 core journals ranked Fridson among the ten most widely published authors in finance in the period 1990-2001. In 2013 Fridson served as Special Assistant to the Director for Deferred Compensation, Office of Management and the Budget, The City of New York.
In 2000, The Green Magazine called Fridson’s Financial Statement Analysis “one of the most useful investment books ever.” The Boston Globe said his 2006 book, Unwarranted Intrusions: The Case Against Government Intervention in the Marketplace, should be short-listed for best business book of the decade.
Fridson’s commentary on economics and financial markets can be found on forbes.com
Mr. Ullmer joined the Board of Trustees in 2016. He has extensive financial and strategic experience accumulated over an international career in the finance industry. He is currently a Director at Perella Weinberg Partners, a leading independent corporate finance firm with offices in New York, London and the Middle East. He received a Bachelor of Science (Advanced Math) and Commerce (Finance & Accounting) from the University of Sydney.
Mr. Ullmer is passionate about youth education, particularly in the arts, having grown up playing the violin in his high school orchestra. He lives in New York City with his wife and three children.
With more than 30 years of experience working with not-for-profit and for-profit organizations, Karen Geer is a versatile executive, educator, trained musician, and lawyer – with a track record of success in increasing earned and unearned revenues, implementing extensive cost-savings strategies; garnering significant media attention; and building a loyal community of stakeholders.
Karen was the Executive Director of the Brooklyn Conservatory of Music (BCM) for over 5 years. During that time, Karen Geer reinvigorated the community music school which serves more than 15,000 individuals annually through music education, music therapy, and music performances in Brooklyn, Queens, and Manhattan. With excellence at the core of Karen’s strategic vision for the school, she launched savvy new programming with Grammy winners; established a public presence through large-scale community events and concerts with audiences of one thousand; and hosted first-time cultivation events to develop corporate partnerships and support.
During Karen’s five-year tenure, the Conservatory generated surpluses in its operating budget which hadn’t happened in more than a decade. Evidence of her success is most recently noted in the increase in corporate and individual support for the three Conservatory Galas in 2014, 2015 and 2016. Thanks to expanded outreach to public officials, Karen increased government giving by 120%. High-profile funders have taken notice, such as The Amy Winehouse Foundation which selected BCM as one of only two grant recipients across the nation. Media attention was secured through features in The New York Times and The Rolling Stone.
Prior to BCM, Karen served as Interim Executive Director of Opus 118 Harlem School of Music – the Harlem-based violin program made famous by Meryl Streep in Music of the Heart. Karen began her time at Opus 118 Harlem School of Music as Director of Programs, where she assumed roles of increasing responsibility. Under her leadership, Karen used the successful violin program as a model for after-school programming in piano, guitar, viola, cello, and voice. She also was instrumental in design and development of the Music Within preschool program and the Harlem Youth Chorus. Through collaboration with Columbia University, Karen developed the Community Programs Initiative, the earned revenue programming arm of Opus 118 that nearly doubled program outreach and developed partnerships with organizations that included the Association to Benefit Children and Harlem Children’s Zone.
While a champion of music education, Karen secured performances for the performing ensembles at Opus 118 including a partnership with the Netherlands Community Trust at Carnegie Hall and at the Children’s Inaugural Ball in Washington, DC. She also contributed to the re-branding and successful communications efforts of the Harlem institution and its features on NBC Nightly News, the CBS Early Show, and many other major musical events.
Before joining Opus 118, Karen was a lawyer at Harris Beach LLP where she was National and Regional Counsel to major medical device and nutraceutical companies. Karen managed a team of lawyers that handled lawsuits nationwide in federal court. Karen obtained her law degree from Fordham University School of Law, and an L.L.M. in Environmental Law from Pace University School of Law.
Before practicing law, Karen began her career in music education. Karen was a music teacher at the Ethical Cultural School in Manhattan and taught general, vocal, and instrumental music. Karen also led all school-wide assemblies including the Holiday Assembly, various musicals, and graduation ceremonies. Karen also taught Music and Movement for preschool children at the renowned Diller Quaile School of Music. Karen has taught in a variety of settings including “family music” at Caldwell College in New Jersey; singing and song leading at Pinewoods Music Camp in Plymouth, Massachusetts. Karen also received her Orff certification from the Bloomingdale House of Music and attended workshops in Austria and England for Orff teaching certification.
Karen received her undergraduate degree in Music Education from Kent State University and her Masters Degree from the Manhattan School of Music, where she studied tuba performance. Karen was soloist at the Brooklyn First Unitarian Church for over twenty years. She has performed with the Canton Symphony, Akron Symphony, Cleveland Women’s Orchestra, Kent Opera Theatre, The Opera Ensemble of New York, The Brooklyn Lyric Opera Company and was a regular performer with the Beekman Hill Recital Series in Manhattan.
Jonathan Strasser, Music Director Emeritus, who served as Music Director of the InterSchool Orchestras and conductor of the ISO Symphony from 1979-2008, guided the growth of the organization from two small ensembles to five orchestras, a symphonic band, percussion workshop, a chamber music program, and an outreach commitment to schools throughout New York City. As a conductor, violinist, and educator for some of New York’s finest learning institutions and performing organizations, he has enriched the lives of countless youngsters and their families. Mr. Strasser has both bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the Manhattan School of Music. He studied violin with Stanley Bednar; conducting with Anton Coppola and Nicolas Flagello; and chamber music with Lillian Fuchs and the Tokyo String Quartet.
In 1968 he began a 29-year teaching career at the High School of Music and Art, the School of Performing Arts,and F.H. LaGuardia High School of Music, Art, and Performing Arts, where he conducted the “senior” orchestra and taught a myriad of related subjects. From 1969 through 1992, Mr. Strasser was a conductor of New York’s High School All-City Orchestra,first as assistant conductor, and then for ten years as Music Director. For four summers he performed and conducted at Nicolas Flagello’s Festivale Musicale di Salerno on the Amalfi coast of Italy. He was a member of the Cosmopolitan Symphony Orchestra from 1965-1980 as concertmaster and assistant conductor, and made his official New York conducting debut at Avery Fisher Hall with the orchestra in December 1978.
Mr. Strasser has conducted in Europe, Taiwan, and South America, where he is a regular guest conductor of the Orquesta Sinfonica Venezuela in Caracas. He has worked with renowned soloists including Janos Starker, Artur Balsam, James Earl Jones, the McDermott Trio, Eugene Drucker, and singers from the Metropolitan and New York City operas. In 1997, Mr. Strasser was appointed Music Director of the Staten Island Symphony. Currently, he also serves on the faculty of the Precollege Division of the Manhattan School of Music, where he teaches violin, conducting, and chamber music since 1977, and conducts the Manhattan Philharmonic. He also conducted two critically acclaimed performances of The Piper of Hamelin by Nicolas Flagello, a CD of which is available of Newport Classic. On TV and in home video he can be seen as the conductor in the MGM movie Fame.