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Charles Bestor 1924-2016


Faculty Member and Administrator

Charles Bestor in the 1950s



Charles Bestor (BM ’51, composition), a Juilliard faculty member and administrator in the 1950s, died in his sleep on January 16 in Amherst, Mass. He was 91 and is survived by his six children and five grandchildren. His wife, Ann, predeceased him.

Charles Bestor

Charles Bestor, left, handled all the logistics of the Juilliard Orchestra's first European tour, in 1958.


Born in 1924, Charles Lemon Bestor spent much of his childhood at the Chautauqua Institution, where his father, Arthur, was president. He studied French horn in the Juilliard Preparatory Division and got his bachelor’s degree in political science from Swarthmore. When World War II started, he was in a naval officer training program at Yale where he studied composition with Paul Hindemith, and during his naval service he conducted the Midshipmen’s Choir and the Seventh Fleet Symphony in Algiers. He came to Juilliard in 1950 and studied with Peter Mennin and Vincent Persichetti.

Bestor got involved in administrative work soon after he arrived at Juilliard, organizing the sixth annual Symposium of Student Composers and then moving on to the staff. He taught theory, harmony, and composition; wrote all Juilliard’s program notes and weekly radio broadcast scripts; negotiated with local businesses, created the elevator operator schedules; and did countless other tasks. He also managed all the logistics and financial arrangements of the Juilliard Orchestra’s first European tour, in 1958, which included 26 engagements and 93 musicians. Not too long afterward, he informed Juilliard that was planning to retire because (not surprisingly) his administrative work didn’t leave much time for teaching or composing.

He was able to spend the rest of his life doing just that, starting at the University of Colorado at Boulder and winding up as the head of music and dance at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst and the director of the electronic music studio there. His early works tended to be dodecaphonic and dissonant, while in later years they became more tonal and jazz-influenced with, not surprisingly, lots of electronic components. He won many awards, was commissioned and published widely, and created installations with visual artists. At the time of his death he was working on The Summing Up, a double album of his works that’s to be published by Albany Records this spring. Among the musicians on it are incoming Juilliard String Quartet cellist Astrid Schween (Pre-College ’80; BM ’84, MM ’85).

Last fall, when The Journal was soliciting anecdotes for the Persichetti centennial, Bestor sent an amusing one about some advice his teacher had given.

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