In praise of octogenarian maestros!
Yesterday's New York Times profile of one of the elder statesman of the podium brought a few age-old musical questions to mind: Is there any other profession with as large a percentage of its top practitioners in their eighties as orchestral conducting? Where would the Boston Symphony Orchestra have been without the 80-plus generation it turned to to fill the vacancies at Tanglewood and Symphony Hall left by the illness and departure of James Levine? And, even as we celebrate The Dude and his conducting prodigy peers, what would WFCR's classical shows be missing without the mature, masterful work of the maestros we celebrate in this blog post?
Well, questions are easy, but answers are hard. Let's instead go straight to the praise for the current class of veteran baton-wielders. Click on the highlighted text in their descriptions to discover their identities. That's the NY Times profilee pictured above, an 84-year old Englishman known for his Mozart, Berlioz, Elgar and Sibelius, for his tenures with the London Symphony Orchestra and the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra, and for being one of the Boston Symphony's most frequent and welcome guests for decades.
Next, we see Alan Gilbert's two predecessors as music director of the New York Philharmonic. On the left, there's the 84-year old former East German who first came to the attention of the west with his exciting performances with the Gewandhaus Orchestra of Leipzig, and who restored the reputation and authority of the New York Phil during his eleven-year tenure. On the right, there's the 84-year old one-time prodigy who led the Philharmonic from 2002-2009 after tenures in Cleveland and Pittsburgh, and who remains active as conductor, composer, and co-director of a summer festival on his Virginia estate.
Our last conductor's successor in Cleveland is pictured above on the left, the 82-year old German grandson of a renowned Hungarian composer, known for disciplined interpretations of both classic and contemporary compositions. To his right we see his exact contemporary, a Dutch maestro best-known for the calm mastery he brought to Mahler, Bruckner, the Impressionists and much more during his years with Amerstdam's Concertgebouw Orchestra, and who is currently the Boston Symphony's conductor emeritus.
The energetic conductor on the left is the eldest of our honorees, an 88-year old Polish-American who conducted the Minnesota Orchestra from 1960 to 1979, achieved notable success as a composer, and just five years ago completed an exciting series of concerts and recordings of Beethoven's Nine Symphonies. Alas, our final photo, on the right, is not a celebration but a commemoration. Even a year after his death at the age of 84, it is hard to accept the fact that the Schenectady-born, Engish-educated, Prague-trained Australian conductor known for everything from Handel to Mozart to Elgar, and even more so for his superb performances of the great Czech composers, is no longer with us. I can think of no better example of a musician who, even into his ninth decade, never stopped learning, listening, thinking, re-thinking and remaining eternally young. Farewell, Sir Charles. Your music, like that of your distinguished contemporaries, will long continue to be heard on WFCR.