Anderson Center’s Floyd Herzog remembered
When asked to come up with just one word to describe Floyd Herzog, most people seem a bit perplexed, struggle for words, and, after a great deal of thought — can’t do it. Add another word or two, however, and “larger than life” comes out the winner when describing the 77-year-old, long-time producer and director of the Anderson Center for the Performing Arts who died July 18, 2013.
“He was larger than life in everything and a presence to be reckoned with,” said Gary Pedro, who succeeded Herzog as director of the Anderson Center. As an example of what it took to create that presence: Herzog was a stutterer as a child, but worked hard to overcome it, in part by performing on stage. “His voice was very commanding, and there was no mistaking it,” Pedro said. In fact, in recent years Herzog was tapped for voiceover work, including doing the voice of God reciting the Ten Commandments for a religious-themed park in California.
Herzog arrived at Binghamton University Jan. 1, 1985, as the Anderson Center’s artistic director. Five years later he assumed the director’s position, overseeing all managerial and artistic concerns down to the last detail until his retirement in June 2010. He remained an artistic consultant for the center through December 2012.
“He was the heart and soul of this place, from its inception, even before it opened,” Pedro said. “He was the first hire, along with Steve Machlin, and Floyd put his mark on the place early. He defined what the Anderson Center has become.”
As a doctoral student at Ohio University, Herzog was a Fulbright Scholar and traveled to Milan where he gained valuable experience in staging at Italy’s La Scala Opera House — the queen of all opera houses and a place he cherished — before completing his dissertation and earning his PhD in comparative arts.
Herzog then worked as head of academic affairs for United States International University’s School of Performing Arts in San Diego, Calif., and as director of the Centre College Regional Arts Center in Danville, Ky., before coming to Binghamton. While in Kentucky, he produced, in collaboration with the American Institute for Verdi Studies at New York University, the Fifth International Verdi Congress. The book Verdi’s Middle Period, which chronicles the 1993 Belfast International Verdi Congress, is dedicated to Herzog.
Called a true impresario as an administrator by Mark Alpert, artist manager and vice president of Columbia Artists Management, Herzog presented artists from more than 26 countries and all continents except Antarctica during his tenure at the Anderson Center. Alpert said he and his wife “had a high regard for [Herzog’s] intellect, his extraordinary warmth and his great sense of fun in all aspects of life. It was always a joy to be in his company. He always made us laugh.”
“I’ll miss his sense of humor,” Pedro said. “When I initially started in the box office, Floyd used to call me up and disguise his voice as a southern belle and pretend he wanted to buy tickets. He would go on and on. The first couple of times I went through the whole thing and he started to give me a little hard time and then he would burst out laughing. He loved playing practical jokes.”
“He did the same to me, and I fell for it hook, line and sinker,” said Pat Benjamin, Herzog’s long-time assistant. “I was afraid to stop him and ask in case it wasn’t him!”
“He was artistically so talented, but on a personal level, just seeing him in the office, we’d always joke and laugh,” Pedro added. “He would be totally focused and serious at times, and then would turn around and be joking about having to get his hair done. He was always saying that, and other goofy things. He had booming laughter; the place was always filled with it.”
“Floyd was a fabulous storyteller,” said Michael McGoff, senior vice provost and Herzog’s supervisor for a dozen years. “It was always fascinating to hear him share his experiences, especially about artists he had worked with — such as his friendship with Pearl Bailey, and the time he drove in a blizzard to pick up a stranded Joan Sutherland, just getting her there in time to go on stage, without even enough time to change out of her travel clothes.”
“While he told a lot of tales from previous places he had worked,” Pedro said, “I think he felt his crowning achievement was his work at the Anderson Center. He felt he had really helped put Binghamton on the map as far as a place that would bring international artists to campus and in getting recognition from that perspective for Binghamton.”
Herzog directed three major international festivals while he was at Binghamton. The first two, Northern Ireland in 1992, and Scotland in 1996 — both in collaboration with The British Council — established a model for other British Council international partnerships in 100 countries.
The third festival, the four-month, semester-long Homage to Greece: A Celebration of Hellenic Culture in 1999, was perhaps his proudest achievement said colleagues, in part because it took so long to put together. The festival was developed in collaboration with the ministries and impresarios of Greece and was the first time Greece ever collaborated on such an endeavor anywhere.
“It was why I was hired,” Benjamin said. “It was a monumental task to put together, just insane. The seating had to be perfect, and all the details, right down to who sat where or he wasn’t happy.”
The international festivals were not solely performance-based either, Benjamin added. “Floyd didn’t make the Anderson Center an exclusive department,” she said. He always tried to embrace everyone. Even athletics and the Decker School were involved with the Greek festival.”
“He talked about his successes with the international festivals,” McGoff said. “He really felt that those best integrated education and the arts and the whole campus came together.”
His incredible attention to detail carried through for every performance he brought to the Anderson Center, Benjamin added: “He would almost re-choreograph a performance if it didn’t meet his specifications. When we presented it, it was seamless and the audience had no idea what we went through to get that performance on stage.”
But his perfectionism paid off, Benjamin said. “There was no obstacle that was insurmountable for Floyd. He worked with more state departments than you could imagine!”
“Floyd deeply cared about what went on stage. His mission was to present the Anderson Center and more than that — the University — in the best light,” McGoff said. “He would travel to performances of artists who were scheduled to appear at the Anderson Center and would leave that performance with a list of the things that would need to be changed before he would put them on the Anderson Center stage. He would also provide his critique to the artists’ management company so that future performances were made even better — and the management company loved it!”
“He himself was very well-educated and knew a lot about a lot of things,” McGoff added. “He really cared about how the Anderson Center fit into the educational mission and didn’t want anything on stage that didn’t do us proud.”
“I learned an enormous amount about the arts from him,” McGoff said, “and about how the arts and a performing arts center can contribute to the life of an excellent university.”
In that vein, McGoff said that, above all, Herzog was an educator. “He would look for ways that an upcoming performance could be integrated into the academic programs — from guest lectures, to artists teaching master classes, to an exhibition in the museum — he always looked for ways to add to the audience’s appreciation.”
Herzog helped place Binghamton University among the very few institutions of higher education that are noted and celebrated for leadership in international education. In 2007, he was recognized for his efforts with the Binghamton University Award for Excellence in International Education.
“Floyd was always high energy, and one time he said he was sorry to be so dramatic,” McGoff said. “But I said, ‘Floyd, we pay you to be dramatic.’
“He always kept his ears open and was paying attention to what was (happening) on the campus and thinking about how he could advance the campus through the Anderson Center.”
Herzog also made friends of everybody. “Everyone from the performers backstage to the person who was cleaning up, he could communicate well with anyone,” Pedro said.
One to give credit to others and share praise, “Floyd often said ‘I’m only as successful as my staff allows me to be’ and he always recognized us and truly appreciated us and treated us very well. We laughed and we cried together,” Benjamin said.
“All I can say is that we were fortunate to know Floyd and to have shared his great joy of life and all things artistic and creative,” Alpert said. “He loved performance and, in many ways, Floyd lived each and every day as if life itself was a wonderful performance to behold.”
Donations in Herzog’s memory may be made to the Binghamton Fund for the Anderson Center for the Performing Arts at Binghamton University. Checks may be made payable to “BU Foundation Account #10309” and mailed to: Binghamton University Foundation, PO Box 6005, Binghamton, NY 13902-6005. Be sure to indicate “In memory of Floyd Herzog” in the memo section of your check. Secure, online credit card gifts may be made at http://www.giving.binghamton.edu Select “Binghamton Fund for the Anderson Center for the Performing Arts” from the account drop-down menu, and then type “In memory of Floyd Herzog” in the Comments section.