Loss of a brilliant conductor

Nikolaus Harnoncourt Photographer: Werner Kmetitsch

Nikolaus Harnoncourt
Photographer: Werner Kmetitsch

Last week saw the loss of one of the worlds leading conductors Nikolaus Harnoncourt, he was a scion of the Hapsburg family, a pioneer of the period instrument movement and one of the most important collectors of historical musical instruments.  Harnoncourt started off life as a cellist and at the age of 17 decided to turn professional, four years later he had to step into the cello section of the orchestra for one of his teachers for a performance of Strauss's Salome (a very demanding work for the cello) at the Vienna State Opera where he sight read the entire part.  Although no stranger to modern music and instruments it was with the orchestra he founded in the early 1950s the Concentus Musicus Wien, Europe's first period instrument orchestra, where he initially made his name.  He had an extensive recording career which included selling over one million recordings of the Beethoven Symphonies with the Chamber Orchestra of Europe and over a period of 20 years he committed Bach's vast output of church cantatas to disc.  The Syriarte Festival was specifically founded for Harnoncourt in order to have him and his orchestra in Graz every year which he did for 31 years.

Harnoncourt had an aversion to jet lag and as such his forays abroad were few and far between.  However on one occasion he was with the Concentus Musicus Wien in New Orleans where, after their concert, the orchestra all went to a jazz club "They somehow smelt we were musicians, and our harpsichordist, violins and wood-wind joined in....it was a fantastic session" he recalled. 

The recording I recommend this week is the flambouyant Chinese pianist Lang Lang playing the Mozart Piano Concerto No 17 in G major and no 24 in C minor conducted by Nikolaus Harnoncourt.  This clip on YouTube is interesting because it shows the relationship between pianist and conductor as well as their individual characters,  it is also interesting that Lang lang, who is one of classical music's great show-offs says he finds playing Mozart very difficult.

Watch Lang Lang play and conduct Mozart Piano Concerto No 17 in G major from the keyboard on YouTube     
Download from iTunes   

Posted on March 18, 2016 .