After faltering, conductor steps down


Rafael Frühbeck de Burgos at Tanglewood in 2011. The conductor announced his retirement this week. (Photo: Hilary Scott)

Rafael Frühbeck de Burgos, the influential Spanish conductor, has announced that he is retiring from the podium, effective immediately.

“I have to recognize publicly that I have cancer,” the 80-year-old conductor said in a press statement issued on Wednesday, “and that in this state of health and with deep sorrow I am not able to conduct at my standards and the moment to quit professional matters has come.”

In March, Frühbeck de Burgos occasioned concern among players and audiences of the National Symphony Orchestra, where he was principal guest conductor from 1980 to 1988 and where he has frequently conducted since, when he slumped over on the podium while conducting Respighi’s “The Pines of Rome.” He continued to conduct, and was finally able to stand and finish the piece. The music never stopped. Frühbeck, who had led the first concert of the series without incident, did cancel the final night, and was replaced by Ankush Kumar Bahl.

It proved to be the last concert Frühbeck ever led.

Named Conductor of the Year by Musical America in 2011, Frühbeck was Chief Conductor of the Danish National Symphony Orchestra at the time of his retirement, as well as a frequent guest with a number of the world’s leading ensembles. In recent years, as the Boston Globe reports, Frühbeck had developed a special relationship with the Boston Symphony Orchestra, often stepping in for another maestro who was frequently in poor health, the BSO’s former music director James Levine. He was scheduled to lead that orchestra three times at Tanglewood this summer, and for two weeks this coming October. He was also scheduled to conduct the NSO in March, 2015, during the Kennedy Center’s “Iberian Suite” festival. His replacements for all of these concerts have yet to be determined.

Anne Midgette came to the Washington Post in 2008, when she consolidated her various cultural interests under the single title of chief classical music critic. She blogs at The Classical Beat.
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