You’re Never Too Old to Compose or Conduct

In 1973, a 91 year old conductor premiered a symphony written by a 91 year old composer.  Leopold Stokowski led the New Philharmonia Orchestra for the first performance of Havergal Brian’s Symphony No. 28.  The symphony is from 1967 when the composer was 91.  He unfortunately passed away at the age of 96, the year before Stokowski conducted the premier.  But still, there’s some kind of lesson about longevity here.

I knew that Ralph Vaughan Williams was still writing symphonies in his eighties (his last one, the Ninth, is from 1957), but Havergal Brian’s accomplishment must set some kind of record.  He completed 32 symphonies in all.  He’s already famous for writing what’s been said to the the longest symphony, titled Gothic.  Christopher Purdy wrote about that work a while back while describing the new Classical 101 by Request show on Friday afternoons.

Leopold Stokowski is, of course, also known for a great and long career as a major conductor and as a fine example of keeping doing what you love as long as you can.  He had a 60 year conducting career when he died at the age of 95 in 1977.

When we think of the people in music who died far too young, the composers whose greatness is assured, such as Schubert, Mozart and Mendelssohn, or conductors who didn’t live long enough to perhaps fully establish theirs, such as Thomas Schippers, Istvan Kertesz, or more recently, Yakov Kreizberg, it is good to appreciate that we have also had those who lived such long and productive creative lives.  All I can say is, keep on keeping on.

Here’s Leopold Stokowski conducting a portion of Havergal Brian’s Symphony No. 28:

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