Old age can be approached with a sense of excitement

I am sharing an extract from Oliver Condy’s wonderful book

Old age can be approached either with a sense of excitement for the new dawn ahead, or with resignation, benign or otherwise.

For musicians, however, it pays to look on the bright side.ย  There is a simple reason why so many old classical musicians, particularly conductors, refuse to retire. It takes a long time to become a master of your craft, and most oldies still conducting orchestras will happily admit to only being half proficient from around the age of 70. In many cases, they are right. Italian maestro Claudio Abbado left the best until last, his final performances with the Lucerne Festival Orchestra producing some of the most radiant Mahler and Bruckner on record. The Late Nikolaus Harnoncourt, most famous earlier in his career for coruscating recordings of Bach, Beethoven and Schubert, let his hair down in the final years of his life with a blistering – and totally unexpected – recording of Gershwin’s opera ‘Porgy and Bess’, made just months shy of his 80th birthday Charles Mackerras’s Mozart, Colin Davis’s Nielsen, Roger Norrington’s Beethoven – the list goes on.

It is not just conductors. There was a luminescence to Russian pianist Vladimir Horowitz’s playing as he entered his final decade that you can see and hear in a solo recital from Vienna’s Musikverein of Chopin, Liszt, Schubert and more – brilliantly performed at the age of 84. At 82 the American pianist Leon Fleisher was made Instrumentalist of the Year by Britain’s Royal Philharmonic Society.

Old age can often bring out the best in composers, too.

Giuseppe Verdi wrote his operatic masterpiece ‘Falstaff’ at the age of 79, having completed Otello just six years previously. Heinrich Schutz’s astonishing ‘Schwanengesang’ (‘Swansong’), a collection of 13 choral motets, was completed when the composer was 86. At any time in history that would be impressive – in 1671 it was extraordinary.

Throughout composer Elliott Carter’s life he had been a respected modernist, but in his final decade, Carter stripped away much of the complexity of his early music, finding a new clarity.ย  ย The mercurial Flute Concerto written a the age of 99, is a perfect example, as is the brief but mischievous Dialogues II, his final piece. He wrote it at 103.

Does this convince you that old age is no barrier to success?

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