Of the thousands of artistic émigrés who fled Europe in the 1930s and 40s, the largest portion moved to the United States, far from the terrors of the Nazi regime. Some settled on the East Coast and Midwest, but it was Southern California that beckoned most sweetly. Its temperate weather, affordable cost of living (how times have changed!), and burgeoning film industry held an almost mythical allure in the minds of these new arrivals and, following the call, numerous musicians and other creative types settled in Los Angeles and the surrounding area. The exact number of musical émigrés who made Southern California their adopted home during this time is unknown, but author Dorothy Lamb Crawford surmises that “it may well constitute the greatest migration in Western musical history to one concentrated area, in one period, for one reason.” Even so, the figures we do have record of is a remarkable “who’s who” of twentieth-century music—Igor Stravinsky, Bruno Walter, Arnold Schoenberg, Otto Klemperer, Alice Ehlers, Erich Wolfgang Korngold, Gregor Piatigorsky, Ingolf Dahl, the list goes on and on.
In 1947, as the world continued to process the recent conclusion of World War II and the unfathomable horrors of the Holocaust, whisperings of a new music festival in Santa Barbara drifted down the California coast. By this point, several émigrés had already returned to their war-torn homelands, but some chose to stay behind and make California their permanent residence. News of the Music Academy of the West was certainly most welcome. There were still relatively few opportunities for classical music in Southern California at the time, and though we have countless émigrés to thank for both forming and transforming a number of organizations—Otto Klemperer’s tenure at the Los Angeles Philharmonic being one example—many émigrés often derided the area as a cultural “wasteland.” This made the promise of another institution for classical music on the West Coast all the more enticing.