An MIT Alumni Association Publication

Bradley Cooper Used this MIT Alum’s Batons in "Maestro"

  • Ken Shulman
  • Slice of MIT

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In early 2021, Mark Horowitz ’71 received a call from the props master for a new film about Leonard Bernstein called Maestro. “He wanted to know if I could make a few batons for Bradley Cooper, the star and director of the film,” says Horowitz, a retired software developer and actuary who moonlights crafting batons for orchestral conductors.

A photo of Mark Horowitz in his workshop turning the handle of a baton on the lathe

Mark Horowitz turns the handle of a baton on a lathe in his workshop.

Horowitz was not entirely surprised. His father, Dick Horowitz, a Juilliard-trained percussionist and timpanist, had made several batons for Bernstein—and for a virtual who’s who of classical and operatic conductors. It is even rumored that Bernstein was buried with one of the elder Horowitz’s batons, along with a copy of the score of Gustav Mahler’s Fifth Symphony. “He probably expected me to fall off my chair,” says Horowitz, who learned to fashion batons working alongside his father in their home workshop in the 1960s. “I didn’t have the heart to tell him I’d never heard of Bradley Cooper.”

Born to musician parents in New York City, Horowitz and his brother, Robert ’73, grew up immersed in music and museums. Their mother, Bernice, was a harpist who played in the pit at musicals including The Fantasticks and A Chorus Line. Their father, Dick Horowitz, played timpani at the Metropolitan Opera for 66 years—including decades as the principal timpanist. Nicknamed “the Stradivari of Sticks” for his baton-making prowess, Dick Horowitz was also the resident orchestra handyman. He made his very first baton for Leonard Bernstein, who’d broken his baton while rehearsing Candide. “My father looked at life as an opportunity to solve problems, to repair the world,” Horowitz remembers fondly. “It’s very much like the MIT ethos of mens et manus.”

Horowitz was an outstanding student at Andrew Jackson High School in Queens. He supplemented his studies by attending lectures at colleges and universities across New York, and on more than one occasion filled in for his high school math teacher when the teacher was absent. At night he studied the copy of the MIT course catalog he’d written away for, and that he kept by his bedside. “I used to read about all the courses they offered in physics and math,” he recalls. “It was all very exciting. And when it came time for me to apply to college, MIT was the only place that made sense for me to attend.”

Horowitz came to MIT in 1967 with sky-high expectations. He says MIT exceeded them. “I discovered and took courses on subjects I didn’t even know existed,” says Horowitz, who graduated with bachelor’s degrees in both math and electrical engineering and computer science (EECS). He sang with the MIT Glee Club with choral director John Oliver; Oliver recruited Horowitz and several other MIT students for the Boston Symphony Orchestra’s Tanglewood Festival Chorus. “We sang Mahler’s Second Symphony there,” says Horowitz. “Under the direction of Leonard Bernstein.”

Retired since 2017, Horowitz lives with his wife Enid—a timpanist and a former student of his father—just north of Philadelphia. After his father died in 2015, Horowitz took over the trade, making about 50 batons a year. The slender, elegant, 7-gram birchwood sticks sell for $100 apiece and are all custom made. While demand has surged since reports of his work on Maestro hit the media, Horowitz has no plans to ramp up production. “I love making batons,” he explains. “And I’m proud to have contributed, in a small way, to the film. But I have too many other things I want to do right now. Travel. Sing. Finalize a few inventions I’m working on. I don’t want this to become a full-time job.”

A photo of three conducting batons with a cork handle on the right and wooden shaft on the left, laying on a tan surface with white paint marks.

Mark Horowitz displays three custom batons that he made, including a Bernstein-style baton in the middle.

Photo (top): Bradley Cooper in Maestro. Credit: Jason McDonald/Netflix.

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