The monster conductor prowls once more

Richard Bratby, writing for The Spectator, mulls over the issue of bad behavior by prominent classical musicians. While there are plenty of horror stories about operatic divas and stellar instrumentalists, conductors have been exemplars, for intemperance (Arturo Toscanini), cruelty (Fritz Reiner) and sexual predation (James Levine).

Bratby writes that “the podium tyrant walks again in the person of Lydia Tár – the fictional conductor played by Cate Blanchett in Todd Field’s movie ‘Tár.’ ” (An updated tyrant, he notes, in that the character is an American woman.)

He traces the tradition of conductor as tyrant and orchestra musicians as lowly underlings to their respective status in the royal and aristocratic court orchestras and opera houses of pre-modern central Europe. For their conductors, “autocracy had been part of the job description,” Bratby writes:


I haven’t seen “Tár.” Even though it’s a film about classical music, and not many of those get made, fictional tyranny doesn’t seem enticing when there’s so much of the real thing around.

Letter V Classical Radio Jan. 9

Sampling music by five composers whose birth anniversaries are being celebrated this year: the 100th of György Ligeti and Ned Rorem, 150th of Sergei Rachmaninoff and Joseph Jongen, the 200th of Édouard Lalo.

1-3 p.m. EST
1800-2000 UTC/GMT
WDCE, University of Richmond
90.1 FM

Ligeti: “Romanian Concerto”
Berlin Philharmonic/Jonathan Nott
(Warner Classics)

Rachmaninoff: Symphonic Dances, Op. 45
Martha Argerich & Nicolas Economou, pianos
(Deutsche Grammophon)

Rorem: “Eagles”
Atlanta Symphony Orchestra/Louis Lane
(New World Records)

Lalo: Cello Concerto in D minor
Janos Starker, cello
London Symphony Orchestra/Stanisław Skrowaczewski

Jongen: Sinfonia concertante, Op. 81
Jean Guillou, organ
Dallas Symphony Orchestra/Eduardo Mata