NASHVILLE -- Kenneth Schermerhorn, who was an assistant conductor for Leonard Bernstein at the New York Philharmonic and led the Nashville Symphony for more than 20 years, died yesterday. He was 75.
Mr. Schermerhorn died at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, where he was admitted March 22 for treatment of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, symphony officials said.
He joined the Nashville Symphony as music director and conductor in 1983.
Under Mr. Schermerhorn, the Nashville Symphony made its first East Coast tour in 2000 that culminated in a well-received debut at Carnegie Hall. He conducted the symphony's 2003 Grammy-nominated recording of Amy Beach's Piano Concerto and its performance at a July 4, 2003, concert broadcast on the A&E cable network.
''The musical world today across the country joins me in mourning the loss of this great man," said Nashville Symphony's president, Alan Valentine. ''He gave the city an incredible gift of music."
A native of Schenectady, N.Y., Mr. Schermerhorn became a professional musician at age 14, joining a dance band that played in nightclubs.
He graduated from the New England Conservatory of Music and played trumpet with the Boston Symphony Orchestra, the Kansas City Philharmonic, and several other orchestras before being drafted into the Army.
The military sent him to Germany and gave him, by chance, his first conducting job when a general eager to prove the sophistication of Americans boasted that the US Seventh Army had a symphony orchestra.
''Well, the next day the order went out to form a symphony orchestra and I found myself conducting a group of soldiers who turned out to be graduates of very good music schools -- Juilliard, the New England Conservatory, and the like. It was great fun," Mr. Schermerhorn recalled, according to a symphony news release.
After the service, Mr. Schermerhorn began studying at Berkshire Music Institute at Tanglewood, where he won the Serge Koussevitzky Memorial Conducting Award for two consecutive years. He also met Bernstein, who named him assistant conductor at the New York Philharmonic.
''He was my first real and certainly my most important teacher," Mr. Schermerhorn said of Bernstein.
Mr. Schermerhorn was appointed music director of the American Ballet Theater when he was 28. After leaving in 1968, he returned to the company in 1982 for two years at the request of then-artistic director Mikhail Baryshnikov.
Mr. Schermerhorn conducted the orchestra for the 1977 video recording of Baryshnikov's ''The Nutcracker."
Mr. Schermerhorn previously was the music director of the Milwaukee Symphony for 12 years and music director of the New Jersey Symphony. He also composed more than 50 choral, orchestra, and chamber works.
A new symphony hall under construction in Nashville is named for Mr. Schermerhorn and is to open next year.
He leaves two daughters, a son, a sister, and several grandchildren.
A memorial service and concert will be held April 25 in Nashville.