Ara Guzelimian on George Steel



Ara Guzelimian presents George Steel with the first-ever AMC Trailblazer Award
Photo by R.J. Capak

My best explanation of George Steel is to tell you my favorite George Steel story, which happened not very long ago. I found myself climbing in a belfry at St. Thomas Church on Fifth Avenue looking for the perfect carillon and as we climbed—it was still winter, it was cold—as we climbed this, cold, stony spiral staircase and I had visions of an bad road company production of Hunchback of Notre Dame, I thought to myself, what the hell am I doing here? What I was doing was following George Steel up those stairs because we were in search of the perfect carillon on which George could perform the complete carillon works of John Cage.

Who else but George would lead you on this adventure? And I’m happy to say that the carillon we heard met the requirements. I didn’t know until that day that carillons came in multiple octaves and had all sorts of requirements, but I freely admit my ignorance of carillons when I’m in the company of somebody like George. And the result is he, in October, will be playing the complete carillon works of John Cage as part of a collaboration between Carnegie and Miller Theatre which is the last chapter of our “When Morty met John” festival, the music of John Cage and Morton Feldman. The best place to hear the complete carillon works of John Cage will be on the sidewalk of Fifth Avenue if you want to plan ahead.

It was the perfect George Steel moment and I realized—and George, forgive me for saying this in public—that George is a new music pioneer trapped in the body of an English choirboy. He never ceases to amaze me with his range of enthusiasms, the breadth of his knowledge and his unfailing courage to act on his musical passions.

There are people in our field who make us better than we are because they come up with good ideas where you say, “Why didn’t I think of that?” And I find myself looking to George and saying that constantly. As much as he is a trailblazer and a pioneer, there’s also something wonderfully old-fashioned in the sense of George as impresario. He’s not one for market studies and elaborate mechanisms about programming and decision-making. He’s an impresario like Serge Diaghilev was an impresario. He leads with his personal taste and his passion and we’re all the better for it. He is an inspiration and I’m very proud to say he’s also a friend. George, you are a trailblazer.