Conductors defying age

What is it about orchestral conductors? I have just seen the punishing May schedule of the American conductor Lorin Maazel who is touring in France and Germany before returning to the U.K. for concerts in London, Hull and Gateshead. There are thirteen concerts in eleven cities over a period of sixteen days, and we shall be in the audience of one of them, in Frankfurt on Thursday. The programmes vary but several works are repeated with an emphasis on Mahler. But so much performance, in such a limited time! I hope the players sleep well (on or off their coach). Even more so the conductor. Maazel is 81.

I was reading an interview with the English conductor Colin Davies. He will be conducting Beethoven’s massive Missa Solemnis at the Henry Wood Promenade concerts in London this season, and the same work again and with the London Symphony Orchestra (once its Principal Conductor, now it’s President), touring the U. S.A. in the Autumn. ‘Whether I am going to survive it all is the big question’ but ‘its one of the great statements of any time’.

Reflecting on his love of music, Davies spoke of ‘the joy of communicating with other people and the feeling that you’re part of something that’s bigger than any of us.’ He is 83.

What is it about these older men that when others of their age have long retired, they keep going and often to greater acclaim as their art seems to mature and grow richer. It is of course an energetic job and therefore a form of continual exercise! But of course it’s more than that. They must be inspired and transported by their part in bringing music to life. Davies said in the interview, ‘in these concerts I’m beyond myself’

And then there’s Pierre Monteux who was once principal conductor of the London Symphony Orchestra. He was 86 when he was invited to take the post, and he famously accepted on condition that he had a 25-year contract, with a 25-year option of renewal.

He enjoyed an eventful career and was much loved by his orchestras. With the L.S.O. he gave the 50th anniversary performance of The Rite of Spring, at the Royal Albert Hall, London, in the presence of the composer, having conducted Stravinsky’s seminal work in Paris, followed by the famous riot that it evoked. Monteux made his last recording in 1964, the year he died., He was 89.

And Sir Adrian Boult, whom I have long admired. The Guardian’s obituary recalls that ‘it was in his late 70’s that the final and most glorious period of his career developed’. He only formally retired two years before he died. He was 93.

Perhaps we chose the wrong job!