Last night I had the great pleasure of sitting outside in Graz’s Glockenspielplatz sharing drinks and stories with other American musicians. The weather here in Graz has been mostly drippy since we arrived with only moments of sun and blue skies peeking through the rainclouds, so it was especially nice that, on the night of the World Cup finals, the evening was pleasant enough to bring many citizens, tourists, students, and summer residents out to the biergartens to watch the game together. Our makeshift television (a screen hung on the outside of the building for those of us dining al fresco) was delayed a few seconds behind the one in the neighboring restaurant, but it was easy to enjoy the game through the swells of excitment in the viewing audience.
(Yannick Nézet-Séguin seen here conducting in Munich a few weeks before the game)
I have been told that soccer will never achieve the same level of popularity as American football or baseball because its capacity for advertisement is much more limited, and though the format of the game and the impact on sponsors haven’t been entirely explained to me, I know that I saw very few advertisements and even fewer commercials during the couple hours between when the game started and when Mario Goetze led Germany to victory. When there was a pause in the action, there was one commercial that appeared right before the Austrian weather forecast for the week, and that was a short tribute to conductor Lorin Maazel who passed away yesterday at the age of 84. If I hadn’t seen the television broadcast with clips from Maazel’s illustrious career on the screen at that moment, it wouldn’t have taken long to hear the news. Here at the AIMS Festival I am surrounded by musicians, and Graz is typical of many European cities in its committment to arts and culture. Unlike many others here, I have never interacted with Maazel on a personal or professional level, but I did feel a sadness in his passing as every musician should feel when the world loses a great talent. Moreso than sadness at this loss, I felt grateful to be in a place where the announcement of a conductor’s death is important enough to squeeze in on fantastically expensive airtime. In the United States, when would a network choose to interrupt the commercial programming of an internationally-viewed broadcast for a classical music concern? It will be a long time before priorities are straightened. The NPR obituary can be found here.
Sadly, Maazel was not the only conductor who died this year. Just over a month ago, Spanish conductor Rafael Frühbeck de Burgos lost his battle with cancer. He had only just canceled concert engagements the week before, citing health issues that began to become apparent to orchestras and audiences earlier in the Spring. I have watched de Burgos conduct a number of times throughout the last decade, almost exclusively with the Philadelphia Orchestra, and his performances were never disappointing, never boring, never quite what might have been expected. In October, he led the Philadelphia Orchestra in his 150th performance with them. The New York Times obituary writes it well:
Reviewing his performance with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra of a program of Beethoven and de Falla in 2012, The Globe and Mail, the Canadian newspaper, wrote:
“At the podium, even seated as he was, 50 years disappeared before our eyes. He became a conductor of clarity, energy, style and grace — a magical transformation.”
It happens all the time for us. We play music of a different era, sometimes on instruments made before we were born (or before our parents, grandparents, or even country came into being); we perform alongside musicians much older or younger than ourselves and are led from the podium by artists who have studied every aspect of a piece’s composition in order to create something brand new in the moment of a concert. The non-musician may look at 80 and 84 years of life and think that death can be expected, but we know that music keeps our minds and our humors (and sometimes even our ears and fingers) young even with the rest of us can’t quite keep up.