Sunday, November 13, 2011


The mesmerizing Arthur Nikisch (1855-1922), the greatest figure of the podium that ever lived.

Orchestral musicians throughout Europe were willing to die for Nikisch.


  1. When a young Jascha Horenstein was given the choice to attend the world premiere of Mahler's Symphony No. 9 with the Vienna Phil under Bruno Walter or a concert with the Berlin Phil under Nikisch during (what would become) the Wiener Festwochen in 1912, Horenstein chose to hear the Nikisch, even though the Mahler Nine would later become "one of my warhorses."

    Horenstein later said that he had no regrets over that choice.

  2. My maternal grandparents were present at the concert during which Horenstein suffered a heart attack while conducting the Minnesota Orchestra in Northrop Auditorium.

    Horenstein returned to the podium only weeks after his heart attack. He continued to conduct until his death, which occurred almost exactly two years after his collapse in Minneapolis.

    In the last years of his life, Horenstein was a frequent guest in Minneapolis—this was back when the Minnesota Orchestra engaged REAL guest conductors instead of turkeys such as Robert Spano—and my grandparents always spoke of Horenstein with reverence.

    My parents, too, heard Horenstein, and they recall him with fondness. My parents heard Horenstein AFTER the earlier heart attack. It was during Horenstein’s final series of concerts with the Minnesota Orchestra that my parents heard Horenstein.

    My parents cannot remember if they heard Horenstein once or twice (I just asked them). If Horenstein’s final Minnesota Orchestra engagement was for two weeks, they heard him twice. If Horenstein’s final Minnesota Orchestra engagement was for one week, they heard him once.

    Horenstein died shortly after returning to Europe from those Minnesota Orchestra concerts.

    A retired member of the Minnesota Orchestra who played under Horenstein has told my father that Horenstein possessed only a rudimentary grasp of the technique of realizing an orchestra’s sound and achieving true ensemble playing. Horenstein apparently did not know such basics as how to balance or how to voice an orchestra, or how to adjust an orchestra’s intonation. Horenstein, according to this retired member of the Minnesota Orchestra, was a profound musician, but a lousy technician.

    Have you been reading about declining attendance in Dallas? My interpretation of the situation is that Dallas audiences have not taken to Jaap Zweden (although no one will state, on the record, that Zweden is the problem).

    I always thought Zweden’s appointment an odd choice for Dallas. I can understand why Dallas audiences would not take to him.

    Dallas should have engaged Claus Peter Flor.

  3. Yes, I read about the predicatment in Dallas at ArtsJournal. It's interesting how the media can hype a mediocre conductor to the stars while, in the end, it is always ticket sales that tell the real story about a musician's worth.

    The audience of the New York Philharmonic have similarly voiced their collective judgment regarding Alan Gilbert, as you have previously noted. There is a blogger, "Lincoln in Cleveland," who recently posted his impressions of the NY Phil (November 12).

    I loved Horenstein's music making, though his orchestras did not necessarily play well for him. The best performance of the Nielsen Fifth on record (in my opinion), for instance, was Horenstein's on the old Unicorn (Nonesuch) label with the New Philharmonia, a recording that is sadly out of print. (A later, extant recording of the same work is nowhere as great.)

    On that older recording the New Philharmonia snare drum player comes in one bar too soon for the "battle scene" in Part I; then, when he realizes his mistake, he simply repeats his first phrase in the proper bar. Amusing.

    Such technical slips nowithstanding, the music making on that disc is as magical as I have ever heard.

  4. That particular recording of the Nielsen Fifth is legendary. It is amazing that it is no longer in print.

    It was while conducting the Nielsen Fifth that Horenstein suffered his heart attack in Minneapolis.

  5. Here are some comments by Horenstein on Nikisch:

    “For me Strauss and Nikisch were the greatest conductors of all.”
    “Nikisch and Fried were my idols in Berlin”

    [On the Vienna Festival 1912]
    “Festivals were not then à la mode nor the huge affairs they have become today. On this occasion three symphony concerts were presented. First, Weingartner conducted Beethoven’s Ninth, then Nikisch conducted an enormous program consisting of Leonore No 3, Brahms’ Fourth Symphony and Bruckner’s Ninth. It was the first time I heard the Bruckner Nine […] Nikisch's conducting made such an impression on me that to this day when I hear or conduct those three works I can still remember—and am influenced by—the way he took them. More than anyone, he probably influenced me to become a conductor.”

    “He could deliver the message when conducting. I heard him do Brahms’s First and Fourth symphonies many times. It was as if Brahms personally would have told you what he wants to say, what the purpose was of the symphony, what was the reason for it and its background.”

    Asked to elaborate on the orchestral sound and ensemble under Nikisch, Horenstein described it as “the polar opposite of Toscanini’s approach”:

    “Playing together, yes, but this was not his first priority. He didn’t try to ring every possible drop out of every note. His prime concern was to project the message of the entire piece. Rhythmically, he anticipated, he could see ahead. His performances were not concerned with the rhythm of the phrase or of the bar but with the rhythm of the whole movement. When he had to choose a tempo, say the second movement of Tchaikovsky’s Pathétique, he already had the tempo of the last movement in mind.”

  6. Drew,
    As far as I know, after WW2 Horenstein only conducted in Minnesota once (April 1 1971), and after the heart attack he did not conduct again for over 6 months. His first concert after Minnesota was Bruckner's 5th symphony at London's Promenade concerts on Sept 15, 1971. This concert was recorded and published on the BBC Legends label

    Some of Horenstein's best work appears on the Chesky label, standard classics splendidly played and recorded.

  7. My parents must be losing it. They claim Horenstein conducted the Minneapolis Symphony/Minnesota Orchestra a half-dozen times the last decade of Horenstein’s life, and that they distinctly remember hearing Horenstein conduct Wagner, Richard Strauss, Mahler and Hindemith in Minneapolis.

    Indeed, have there not been various written accounts of Horenstein’s final Minneapolis concerts, devoted to the Mahler Sixth or the Mahler Ninth?

    And wasn’t there a Horenstein performance or two on the multi-volume set of recordings the orchestra self-produced to commemorate its 100th anniversary?

  8. Drew,
    It was a long time ago, your parents must be confusing Horenstein with someone else.

    1) After WW2 Horenstein conducted in Minnesota only once, although he may also have conducted there during the early 1940s.

    2)He never performed Mahler in Minnesota.

    3) I haven't seen the Minnesota Orchestra's 100th anniversary set but I doubt if there is any Horenstein performance on it. If there is, please let us know.

    I probably own the largest collection of Horenstein recordings anywhere, I've been collecting them for 45 years and there's no recording from Minn... I also have a fairly complete database of his concert appearances so I'm pretty sure my answers are correct.

  9. Where is the Horenstein database?

    I am particularly interested in Horenstein's appearances in Boston, New York, Minneapolis and, most especially, Mexico City, where Horenstein did the bulk of his North American work.

    The Minnesota Orchestra's various centennial sets (of which there were at least three volumes) involved live performances taken from radio-broadcast tapes.

  10. Drew,

    The Horenstein concert database is on my PC, not published anywhere yet.

    Horenstein never conducted in Boston and only a few times in NY, just once with the NYPO for a few concerts in Lewisohn Stadium in July 1943. There was Busoni's Dr. Faust with the American Opera in 1964 and two concerts with the American SO in 1969. That's about it for the US. He was never invited to Chicago or to Philadelphia. From this you could say he had no career to speak of in the US, a great shame.

    What do you want to know about his performances in Mexico?

  11. I forgot to mention Horenstein's appearances in St. Louis, Los Angeles and San Francisco

  12. Most of Horenstein’s work in the Western Hemisphere occurred in Latin America, primarily Mexico, Venezuela and Argentina. Many Latin American musicians, including the late Eduardo Mata, have written about or talked on the record about Horenstein’s performances and Horenstein’s impact on their lives.

    Horenstein appeared with the Los Angeles Philharmonic and the San Francisco Symphony? I am not confident such information is accurate.

    Horenstein DID conduct the Saint Louis Symphony, but the bulk of his work in Saint Louis was with a secondary ensemble long since disbanded.

    Los Angeles-based Herbert Glass, still alive as far as I know, was something of an expert on the subject of Horenstein. In the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s, Glass wrote often and at length about Horenstein, primarily in American record magazines. Glass described how Horenstein, after decades of neglect by major American ensembles, received a “flurry” of engagements by U.S. orchestras in the 1960s—and “flurry” is the very word Glass used in an article in the Los Angeles Times still available on the Los Angeles Times website.

    For instance, in 1962, one of the New York Philharmonic’s final series of concerts at Carnegie Hall, immediately before moving to Lincoln Center, was conducted by Horenstein.

    A former contract clarinetist with the Boston Symphony, now living in Halifax, Canada, entered extensive and insightful comments on my weblog back in 2007 or 2008 on the subject of his personal experiences playing under Horenstein in Boston in the late 1960s.

    Comprehensive Boston Symphony programs (and Tanglewood programs, too) from the 1960s and 1970s used to be available online in old-style HTML format on someone’s website, but I could not locate them via a cursory search a few minutes ago.

  13. Drew, you seem to know a fair amount about Horenstein and I would be very interested to read the testimonies about him that you mentioned (Mata, Glass, the blogger in Halifax and maybe others).

    It's difficult to keep track of Horenstein's career since he moved around a lot. It is also very difficult to find concert reviews from Latin America, the archives over there are not well organized or accessible.

    But aside from the Far East and the USA I doubt if there is more than a handful of places with reasonable orchestras that he did NOT visit at some stage during his 50 year conducting career.

    He conducted Janacek and Mozart at the San Francisco opera in Oct/Nov 1966, and two concerts at the Hollywood Bowl in LA in July 1969. I have program booklets and newspaper reviews from both occasions.

    In St. Louis he guest conducted a group called The Little Symphony of St. Louis in 1955-57 and also the St. Louis Symphony.

    I have no information about a NYPO concert in Carnegie Hall in 1962, nor about a Boston Symphony engagement during the late 1960s, and would be happy to have the details on these if you have them.

    Horenstein did conduct in Florida but that was with the London Symphony during their stays at Daytona.

    The major US orchestras ignored him completely.