American conductor Michael Alexander Willens is unusual in that he has spent almost all of his adult career in Europe. He is the longtime music director of the K├Âlner Akademie in Cologne, Germany. Willens was born in Chevy Chase, Maryland, on October 6, 1952. His two grandfathers, Alexander Olshanetsky and Herman Yablokoff, were both noted figures in the Yiddish theater tradition. Willens was raised in the Jewish faith but drifted away from it while studying in the U.S.; he reconnected with Judaism when he moved to Cologne. He attended the Juilliard School in New York, where he studied conducting with John Nelson and also took courses in double bass and composition. He went on for a master's degree in conducting at Juilliard, taking a master class with Leonard Bernstein at the Tanglewood music festival, and studying choral conducting ...
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