Reflections on Rafael Frühbeck de Burgos

Last summer, the Tanglewood Festival Chorus and PALS children’s chorus performed Mahler’s third symphony with Maestro Rafael Frühbeck de Burgos. After one of the rehearsals, John Oliver addressed the children. They listened attentively, perhaps expecting one of his usual quips, but John had something serious to say:

Kids, I want you to watch this conductor carefully. He’s very old — older than they say he is, which is 80.

The kids’ eyes widened while the adults chuckled. John continued.

His health isn’t as good as it once was, but when he’s conducting, he comes alive. Music is what keeps him going. Some of you will find, as you get older, that music is what keeps you going too.

This story came to mind when I learned of Rafael’s death, a week after he announced his retirement. He lived to make music until his body would no longer allow it, and what glorious music it was.

My favorite performance with Rafael was Beethoven’s ninth symphony, a piece I’ve heard and performed so many times, I almost take it for granted. Usually during the third movement, the slow one, my mind starts to wander. My bottom has started to go numb, the temperature on stage is too hot, and the bugs are creeping me out. But that year, I was awestruck when the third movement began. The strings produced a sound so exquisite, even in their consistent greatness, I’ve yet to hear it again. It was one of those tingle-inducing moments when I knew, too, that music is what keeps me going.

Last week, the BSO and TFC dedicated the Verdi concert to Rafael, who was originally to have conducted the performance. But in our hearts, many of us sang for him the night before during Mahler’s “Resurrection” Symphony, a much beloved piece for a much beloved conductor. Was entstanden ist, das muss vergehen! Was vergangen, auferstehen! What has come into being must perish! What has perished must rise again!

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