Paul Lustig Dunkel was born in New York City in 1943, the son of Johanna Lustig, a Viennese pianist and Eugene Borisovich Dunkel, a Russian artist. He began studying the piano at the age of eight, and with the encouragement of Marianne Kuranda, his piano teacher, began studying the flute two years later. He credits his first flute teacher, Robert DiDomenica, as being his most important musical influence by introducing him to contemporary composers early on; by the age of thirteen he was playing works by Milton Babbitt. Dunkel continued his piano studies, first with the German pedagogue Lothar Epstein and then with Anka Bernstein-Landau, a distinguished Polish musician who assisted Prof. Richard Robert at the Vienna Conservatory in the development of such legendary pianists at Rudolf Serkin and George Szell. While attending the High School of Music and Art Dunkel performed actively on both instruments.
Dunkel continued his musical studies at Queens College (CUNY) with the distinguished teachers and composers Leo Kraft, Hugo Weisgall and George Perle. At the same time he continued his flute training with William Kincaid, the dean of American flutists and former Principal Flute of the Philadelphia Orchestra. While at Queens he was also a member of the National Orchestral Association, a training orchestra for students and young professionals that performed at Carnegie Hall. In the last year of his college tenure he studied with Samuel Baron, then on the faculty of Yale University and a member of the New York Woodwind Quintet.
Following his graduation from Queens, Dunkel matriculated in the Graduate Music Program at Columbia University while at the same time beginning his career as a flutist in New York City. During that time he played with both the New York City Opera and the New York City Ballet, as well as with other free-lance orchestras, operas and ballet companies, including the American Symphony Orchestra (where Leopold Stokowski named him Principal Flute in 1967), the Brooklyn Philharmonic, and the Royal, Stuttgart, Bolshoi Ballets and the D’Oyly Carte Opera on their American tours.
In 1966 Dunkel won a Silver Medal at the Birmingham International Woodwind Competition (James Galway/Gold) and soon after joined two of America’s premier contemporary music ensembles, Speculum Musicae and the Contemporary Chamber Ensemble (conducted by Arthur Weisberg), with whom he toured and recorded regularly.
In addition, he appeared at some of the world’s leading music festivals, including Spoleto, Lucerne, Jackson Hole, Caramoor, Stratford (Canada), Casals, Aspen and Marlboro. In addition, he has been a member of the Festival Winds and the New York Chamber Soloists.
Dunkel has also taught at the New England Conservatory, the Eastman School of Music, Queens College, Vassar College, the University of Connecticut and the College at Purchase (SUNY).
His interest in contemporary music led him to conducting. Mr. Dunkel began his conducting career as a fellow with the National Orchestral Association under Leon Barzin, and continued his studies with Kresimir Sipusch and Erich Leinsdorf. He was the recipient of the American Symphony Orchestra’s Leopold Stokowski Conducting Award in 1981. He has since been Music Director of the Denver Chamber Orchestra, Principal Guest Conductor of the Vermont Mozart Festival and has appeared with the Denver, Baltimore, Buffalo, New Jersey, Oakland, Syracuse and Richmond Symphonies, as well with the Brooklyn Philharmonic, American Symphony Orchestra, Orchestra of St. Luke’s and Musica Aeterna. He has conducted the Washington Opera production of “The Postman Always Rings Twice” by Stephen Paulus and a New York City revival of Virgil Thomson’s Four Saints in Three Acts.
In 1978, Dunkel, along with conductor Dennis Russell Davies and composers Francis Thorne and Nicolas Roussakis, founded the American Composers Orchestra. Dunkel selected the players for the orchestra and served as Manager and Principal Flutist until he was appointed Resident Conductor in 1989. While conducting the ACO on a regular basis, he was frequently called upon to conduct complex programs on short notice for ailing or stranded conductors, earning critical kudos for his quick mastery of complex new scores. When he left the orchestra in 2000 he was recognized for creating an ensemble praised for its brilliance and precision and for his work in the orchestra’s New Music reading program, which discovered and encouraged many of today’s important composers.
In 1983 – with a group of intrepid music lovers – Dunkel founded the New Orchestra of Westchester, an ensemble devoted to the performance of the classics as well as newly commissioned works. This group of the finest professional musicians from the New York metropolitan area quickly became the most important performing group in Westchester County. Renamed the Westchester Philharmonic, the orchestra attracted the world’s greatest soloists and more important, allowed promising young musicians to make their earliest appearances with a symphony orchestra.
The orchestra’s educational endeavors included a program that created a syllabus for elementary school children that was taught by Westchester’s school music teachers in collaboration with members of the Philharmonic. The program – reaching 7000 children yearly at it’s high-water mark – was hailed by the American Symphony Orchestra League and in 2000 received the league’s highest honor for educational programs, the Leonard Bernstein Award.
In 1998, Dunkel and the orchestra commissioned the composer Melinda Wagner to write a flute concerto for the orchestra’s 20th anniversary. The work won the 1999 Pulitzer Prize for Music and was released on Bridge Records (conducted by Mark Mandarano) to wide critical acclaim. In addition, the orchestra has also premiered the works of Derek Bermel, Tamar Muskal, David Malamud, Elias Tanenbaum, Francis Thorne, Laura Kaminsky, Elliot Sharp, Tod Machover, Carlo Antonio del Feo, and Robert DiDomenica.
Asked to reflect upon his experience in contemporary music, Dunkel said: “Imagine what it would be like to work with Mozart or Beethoven. Working with composers has been a privilege and an honor. I was born mid-century and got into music early, so I have worked with several generations of composers, starting with the leading composers of the 20th century – Stravinsky, Copland, Bernstien, Gould, Thomson and William Schuman, as well as Carter, Foss, Perle, Glass, Zwillich, Picker, Wagner, Tower, and many others who have carried their work into the 21st. When you get a ‘well done’ from any of these figures, it really means something. But the biggest thrill for me is discovering new talent or helping a new voice find an audience. The most encouraging development in music is seeing women and men from every group and every part of the country seeking and finding a place in classical music. I plan to continue to do my part to present the music of our time.”
Dunkel stepped down from the podium of the Westchester Philharmonic at the end of the 2007-2008 season. He is currently Principal Flutist with the New York City Ballet and a member of Music From Copland House, an ensemble he co-founded with the pianist Michael Boriskin, dedicated to the performance of American Chamber Music. Mr. Dunkel has recorded for Nonesuch, Columbia, Opus 1, RCA, CRI and Bridge. He continues to explore new music and give encouragement to young composers by actively performing their music.
When he is not engaged in musical activities, Mr. Dunkel can be found engrossed in a book (contemporary fiction), at the theater, watching thoroughbreds, or frequenting the gym – where he is trying to master the game of racquetball. He is an avid baseball fan – his Mets continue to provide fascination and frustration.