Conductor, recorder virtuoso and academic
Conductor, recorder virtuoso and academic
Born: October 30. 1934 Died: August 13, 2014
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Frans Bruggen, who has died aged 79, made his first Edinburgh Festival appearance as an agile, sprightly young virtuoso of the recorder, prancing on to the platform of the Freemasons' Hall for a morning recital in the 1960s during Peter Diamand's period as Festival director. But he developed into one of the great classical conductors of his day, directing performances of Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven of the utmost veracity and refinement with his own Orchestra of the Eighteenth Century.
Though he appeared many times with the Scottish Chamber Orchestra in Edinburgh and Glasgow, he was by then a frail figure, sitting on a stool to conduct, though he continued to bring the keenest purity of line and instrumental finesse to everything he touched.
His fair hair had now turned white. His face had grown gaunt, giving him a slight air of Boris Karloff in one of his sinister roles.
Still conspicuously tall and straight, he was a riveting and musically trustworthy presence on the podium. But his physical fragility was constantly evident.
As long as quarter of a century ago, every performance he gave - or so you tended to fear - might be his last. He was a sort of Dutch Otto Klemperer, in his time one of the great musical survivors, who was also extremely tall. The more pallid he looked, the more perceptively he conducted. It was music (Mozart's Requiem and last three symphonies, all nine Beethoven symphonies, Schubert, French baroque composers and the bracing humour and warmth of Haydn) that kept him going. His handling of Beethoven's Egmont overture was an indelible study in musical heroism.
Not only did he found the Orchestra of the Eighteenth Century, created in 1981 from up to 60 young specialist players, he conducted this and other orchestras all around the world. In Britain he was closely associated with the inspired and inspiring Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, with which he worked in conjunction with Sir Simon Rattle.
In his native Holland he conducted the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, which will be visiting Edinburgh with Mariss Jansons the week after next. He undauntedly conducted the Vienna Philharmonic, Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Zurich Tonhalle Orchestra and City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, Sir Simon Rattle's old outfit.
He loved big orchestras as well as smaller ones, such as the glorious Chamber Orchestra of Europe, and he savoured all sorts of musical enticements, resulting in such things as the entire Mendelssohn programme he once gave with the Scottish Chamber Orchestra, which culminated in the Scotch Symphony rather than the more popular Italian.
By the time he died he needed a wheelchair, but he continued conducting to the end. Nor was he deterred by the problems of opera. In Zurich, he famously and successfully tackled Mozart's vast teenage masterpiece Mitridate.
Born in Amsterdam, and musically educated at Amsterdam University, he seemed at first to be heading for a thoroughly academic career. By the age of 21 he was a professor specialising in baroque music at the Royal Conservatoire in The Hague. American appointments followed in Harvard and Berkeley, California, where his knowledge of baroque music resulted in his being hailed as one of the most gifted young scholars in his profession.
But it was the vanguard Italian composer Luciano Berio, who wrote his masterly Geste for Bruggen in 1966, who was one of the first to encourage his public potential outside the world of academe.
In addition to his expertise as a recorder player, he had by then developed a secondary career as a flautist.
Not only did the brilliant performance of baroque music become his metier but so, with Berio's support, did that of the modern avant garde. Among other things, the Dutch composer Louis Andriessen wrote a sensational piece for him, designed to be played by two alto recorders simultaneously, which became one of his established encores.
His major turning point, however, came with the formation of the Orchestra of the Eighteenth Century for performances of the classics using period instruments, played with impeccable style.
This was the achievement for which he will be remembered best, and fortunately many of his finest performances were recorded. In their beauty and clarity of definition, they will remain object lessons in how to play classical music correctly but with real vividness.
Frans Bruggen died at his home in Amsterdam on Wednesday. He was married to the art historian Nachtelt Israels, with whom he had two daughters, Zephyr and Eos. He was the uncle of Daniel Bruggen, recorder soloist with the Amsterdam Loeki Stardust Quartet.