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Ultimately, Waving a Baton Beats Swinging a Bat
Townhall.com ^ | June 9, 2010 | Michael Medved

Posted on 06/09/2010 12:36:24 PM PDT by Kaslin

June grads: Don't believe your parents or grandparents if they tell you that the time you just spent in high school or college represents "the best years of your life." If that were true, then the road ahead could lead only downhill — denying the profoundly desirable possibility that the greatest experiences will come near the end rather than the beginning of your journey.

My own thinking has obviously changed on this score. Like many boys of the Baby Boom generation, I grew up with the conviction that a job as a Major League ballplayer provided the most glorious career on earth. More recently, I've become convinced that another of my childhood obsessions (classical music conducting) offers even more wondrous work, and that waving a baton actually beats waving a bat. To understand the contrast, you need only compare the current standing of two contemporary superstars: Seattle Mariners designated hitter Ken Griffey Jr. and a great British conductor, Sir Colin Davis.

Griffey, approaching his 41st birthday, offers a sad shadow of his former excellence, and our Seattle media deliver frequent complaints about his punchless season. In 2010's first 50 games, the once fearsome slugger has watched his average drop below .190, with no home runs, after slapping some 630 dingers in his previous 20-year Hall of Fame-worthy career.

Sir Colin, on the other hand, is batting close to a thousand in the major leagues of international conducting — taking his achievements to unprecedented heights at age 82. In the past decade, he has issued a series of spectacularly fine recordings with the London Symphony, including thrilling versions of the Edward Elgar symphonies and violin concerto, an explosive William Walton First Symphony, an impassioned account of Haydn's The Creation and much more. Always a solid, capable interpreter, Davis in old age delivers performances that glow with new warmth, intensity and spirituality.

Nor is he the first famous conductor to do his most celebrated work late in life. The Hungarian-born genius Fritz Reiner became music director of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra at age 64 and continued to lead the ensemble for the remaining 10 years of his life, creating a series of epochal recordings that have recently been reissued in Super Audio editions as unrivaled examples of orchestral precision and power. Bruno Walter, another immigrant conductor, worked incessantly till his fatal heart attack at age 85. He had assembled a group of handpicked musicians in the Hollywood American Legion hall near his Beverly Hills home, cranking out acclaimed recordings of Beethoven, Brahms, Mozart and Mahler to provide his final insights on the music he loved. Legendary maestros Leopold Stokowski and Pablo Casals both kept up with demanding schedules through the age of 95; for Casals in particular (who enjoyed previous renown as a cello soloist) all his most famous conducting accomplishments occurred after age 80.

The "sunset glow" suffusing the work of all these great orchestral interpreters also enriched the late creations of celebrated composers. Beethoven (The Late Quartets), Bach (The Art of the Fugue), Mozart ( The Requiem), Mahler (The Ninth and Tenth Symphonies), Bruckner (The Ninth Symphony), Bartok (Third Piano Concerto) — all forged eloquently elegiac masterpieces in the shadow of failing health and impending death.

In most fields of endeavor, even geniuses face declining powers in the final phase of existence: Leo Tolstoy wrote no big novels after Anna Karenina (completed 33 years before his death), and the immortal Shakespeare finished The Tempest, the last play definitively acknowledged as his work, at least six years before he died at 52).

Only in music, the most spiritual of all arts, has old age conferred frequent advantages, often bringing new richness, depth and even grandeur to the artistry of both composers and performers. Most of us spend the first third of our lives ignoring death, the second third denying it and the final third struggling against it. That struggle can shine through in musical expression with nobility that trumps youthful impetuosity. The British novelist E.M. Forster wrote: "Death destroys a man, but knowledge of death saves him."

This year's graduates should take note: The more spiritual the work you choose, the better the chance for rewards that last a lifetime. The more physical your focus, on the other hand, the quicker the decline from your youthful peaks.

In other words, the octogenarian excellence of Colin Davis hardly stands as an anomaly among musical giants; for princes of the podium, advancing age often brings soulful openings and insights, while demigods of the diamond face inevitable declines. The baseball immortals who fired my boyish adulation may have won louder cheers from bigger crowds in their prime, but music makers can make the glory last and regularly leave the scene in an uplifting trumpet blaze of imperishable late-inning glory.

In that regard, I wish this year's graduates an even more meaningful transition some 60 or 70 years from now, into what should be the most fulfilling and productive years of your lives.


TOPICS: Culture/Society; Editorial
KEYWORDS:

1 posted on 06/09/2010 12:36:24 PM PDT by Kaslin
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To: Kaslin

Betcha Griffey got laid more often.


2 posted on 06/09/2010 12:38:51 PM PDT by CholeraJoe ("Here is something you can't understand...")
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To: Kaslin

I love Elgar and Walton. Sir William wrote the score for
the classic movie “Battle of Britain”.

Fortunately old age is not a handicap for conductors, unlike for athletes.


3 posted on 06/09/2010 12:42:55 PM PDT by rahbert (Our enemy has yet to reveal himself...)
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To: Kaslin

4 posted on 06/09/2010 12:51:38 PM PDT by Bobalu ( "Israel must be like a mad dog, too dangerous to bother." ..Moshe Dayan:)
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To: CholeraJoe

Not by conductor groupies...


5 posted on 06/09/2010 12:51:44 PM PDT by green iguana
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To: Kaslin

Nobody [outside of a PBS fundraiser] knows, or will remember, who Colin Davis is. But a LOT of people know, and will remember, “Junior”.


6 posted on 06/09/2010 12:56:13 PM PDT by PzLdr ("The Emperor is not as forgiving as I am" - Darth Vader)
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To: PzLdr

You can count me as one of those who never heard of Colin Davis, and I have no idea who “Junior is” is either


7 posted on 06/09/2010 12:59:32 PM PDT by Kaslin (Acronym for OBAMA: One Big Ass Mistake America)
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To: CholeraJoe

“Betcha Griffey got laid more often.”

There are classical music groupies. More than you think.


8 posted on 06/09/2010 1:10:38 PM PDT by texmexis best (My)
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To: Kaslin
My mom and grandma used to tell me to enjoy my youth - they were the best years of my life. Frankly, I'm happier and more content now than I've ever been in my life.

Sure, when I get old, if I get disabled, I'll probably yearn for the good old days. But not now. :)

9 posted on 06/09/2010 1:37:50 PM PDT by MEGoody (Ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.)
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To: Borges

Perhaps of interest...


10 posted on 06/09/2010 1:50:00 PM PDT by Dragonfly
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To: Kaslin

Medved is wrong about Tolstoy not having written any more long novels after ‘Anna Karenin’. ‘Resurrection’ is over 600 pages in most editions.


11 posted on 06/09/2010 1:58:31 PM PDT by Borges
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To: .30Carbine; 1rudeboy; 2nd Bn, 11th Mar; 31R1O; ADemocratNoMore; afraidfortherepublic; Andyman; ...

Classical Music ping


12 posted on 06/09/2010 1:59:23 PM PDT by Borges
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To: PzLdr

Any Classical music fan the world over knows who Sir Colin Davis is. Ken Griffey Jr. is only known where baseball is a matter of interest...a much smaller subsection of the world.


13 posted on 06/09/2010 2:00:49 PM PDT by Borges
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To: Kaslin; Borges
A total leftist wacko in his personal life, but THIS is who I always picture when I hear the term "conductor":

Personally, I always thought that Lenny and John Cassavetes looked alot alike.

14 posted on 06/09/2010 2:03:49 PM PDT by Clemenza (Remember our Korean War Veterans)
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To: Clemenza

He lived such a dissolute life that at age 70 he looked about 90.


15 posted on 06/09/2010 2:05:13 PM PDT by Borges
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To: texmexis best; green iguana

Classical music groupies? Who knew? To each their own I guess.


16 posted on 06/09/2010 2:05:51 PM PDT by CholeraJoe ("Here is something you can't understand...")
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To: Clemenza

"LEOPOLD!"

17 posted on 06/09/2010 2:06:06 PM PDT by dfwgator
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To: CholeraJoe

Ever go to concerts? Lots of young people there these days.


18 posted on 06/09/2010 2:06:34 PM PDT by Borges
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To: dfwgator

The TRUE Conductor: “Michael Tilson Hare”


19 posted on 06/09/2010 2:08:06 PM PDT by stephenjohnbanker (Support our troops....and vote out the RINOS!)
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To: Kaslin
More recently, I've become convinced that another of my childhood obsessions (classical music conducting) offers even more wondrous work,

I remember when I was about six, one of my dad's friends asked what I wanted to be when I grew up. I said I wanted to conduct an orchestra. I think that's when my dad started hating me.

20 posted on 06/09/2010 2:12:56 PM PDT by Moonman62 (The issue of whether cheap labor makes America great should have been settled by the Civil War.)
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To: dfwgator
What's Opera Doc

Click for the Cartoon

21 posted on 06/09/2010 2:15:15 PM PDT by N. Theknow (Kennedys: Can't fly, can't ski, can't drive, can't skipper a boat, but they know what's best.)
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To: Kaslin

Is this guy really comparing a MLB player to a conductor? I mean, really?


22 posted on 06/09/2010 2:15:44 PM PDT by thefactor (yes, as a matter of fact, i DID only read the excerpt)
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To: N. Theknow

My all-time favorite Bugs Bunny cartoon.


23 posted on 06/09/2010 2:16:24 PM PDT by dfwgator
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To: Kaslin

Karajan conducted until his death, and he was north of 80, also....


24 posted on 06/09/2010 2:26:02 PM PDT by ConservativeDude
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To: dfwgator

someone should post a picture of Leopold.

His massive head is ...what can one say? Noteworthy? Freaky? Really cool? Not sure, but it is ...massive.


25 posted on 06/09/2010 2:29:07 PM PDT by ConservativeDude
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To: thefactor

Yes. Why the astonishment? Do you think MLB plays have inordinately more skill?


26 posted on 06/09/2010 2:35:19 PM PDT by Borges
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To: Kaslin
Couldn't a person do both, and be a rock star, and a life saving surgeon? You know, like Buckaroo Banzai???
27 posted on 06/09/2010 2:40:08 PM PDT by Zionist Conspirator (Vatiftach ha'aretz 'et-piyha vativla` 'otam ve'et-bateyhem; ve'et kol-ha'adam 'asher leQorach . . .)
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To: Borges

Most of the concerts and theater I’ve gone to in the last few years were at Colleges and Universities, so of course there are going to be tons of young people there. When I lived in Louisiana, the Conductor of the Baton Rouge Symphony was my neighbor, so I was pretty much at every performance. Now since I’ve moved to Indiana, I’m dating a Professor in the Theater Department at the local University, so I’m at every production and concert.


28 posted on 06/09/2010 2:48:38 PM PDT by CholeraJoe ("Here is something you can't understand...")
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To: thefactor; rahbert

See post # 3


29 posted on 06/09/2010 2:58:40 PM PDT by Kaslin (Acronym for OBAMA: One Big Ass Mistake America)
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To: thefactor

How many 80 year old guys do you see that still swing a bat and hit the ball? MLB player or not


30 posted on 06/09/2010 3:02:32 PM PDT by Kaslin (Acronym for OBAMA: One Big Ass Mistake America)
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To: Clemenza

Lenny was good! Also liked his televised young people’s concerts with expositions on the music and the composers. But a Leftist wacko I have to agree.


31 posted on 06/10/2010 6:04:48 AM PDT by luvbach1 (Stop Barry now. He can't help himself.)
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To: N. Theknow

That’s “Long-Haired Hare”!


32 posted on 06/10/2010 8:38:47 AM PDT by NotJustAnotherPrettyFace
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To: Kaslin

You can’t compare the two professions. Simple as that. Its like they just picked them out of thin air.


33 posted on 06/10/2010 9:14:21 AM PDT by thefactor (yes, as a matter of fact, i DID only read the excerpt)
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