15 Interesting Facts about David Diamond

By Bridget Kinneary 

The Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra is performing David Diamond's Fourth Symphony this week. This summer marks the 100th anniversary of his birth. Here are 15 things you may not have known about David Diamond. 

  1. Rochester was David Diamond’s home. He was born in Rochester, and he returned to study at the Eastman School of Music after a few years of living in Cleveland and studying at the Cleveland Institute for Music.
  2. Diamond’s parents noticed his musical talent by the age of seven, when he was playing the violin and already composing his own melodies in his own strange form of notation.
  3. David Diamond’s longest symphony is just over 40 minutes long, and most of them last a mere 20 minutes.
  4. Minimalist music did not appeal to David Diamond; he (very) openly criticized the works of Philip Glass and John Adams, saying that their harmonies “go nowhere.”
  5. David Diamond was an extremely dedicated teacher. At one point in his life, he flew back and forth to New York City from upstate New York once a week, catching a plane at 5am and returning on a 5pm flight the same day in order to teach composition at the Julliard School.
  6. Mr. Diamond encouraged his students to constantly develop their inner ear. Unlike many composers and teachers, he did not believe in sketching pieces on the piano. Rather, he encouraged his students to begin their compositional process by having an idea of the orchestral textures they wished to hear.  
  7. Leonard Bernstein conducted many of David Diamond’s works, including the 5th Symphony with the New York Philharmonic. Bernstein had a great deal of respect for Diamond’s music, although Diamond usually did not appreciate the amount of liberty Bernstein took to alter his musical intentions.
  8. Diamond was notoriously difficult to work with, often saying things that irritated conductors and colleagues. He knew this about himself, and openly admitted it.
  9. Maurice Ravel was one of his biggest influences; he composed a deeply personal Elegy for brass percussion, and harps dedicated to Ravel when he died in 1937.
  10. David Diamond was awarded the American National Medal of the Arts in 1995 by the National Endowment of the Arts.
  11. Diamond’s 11th Symphony was commissioned by the New York Philharmonic for the orchestra’s 150th anniversary. Diamond viewed this symphony as a celebration of his work building the symphonic repertoire.
  12. David Diamond spent the 1950s and 60s in Europe, which left him unable to promote his work fervently in America. Because of this and a public interest in more experimental contemporary classical music, his music slipped into obscurity during those two decades. 
  13. Conductor Gerald Schwarz started studying, conducting, and recording Diamond’s works in the 1980s. This helped the viability of Diamond’s works greatly.
  14. Mr. Diamond loved wearing purple turtlenecks.
  15. David Diamond died in his home in Brighton, NY in 2005 at the age of 89.