June 26, 2014
Conductor Julius Rudel, known for a remarkably rich tenure with the New York City Opera, passed away in New York today at the age of 93.
"What lifted the musical performance out of the routine was the marvelously old-school Viennese - but surprisingly brisk - conducting of Julius Rudel, who worked a similar magic in the pit to that which Taymor supplied on stage."
- The Times (of London), in a review of Julie Taymor's production of Mozart's The Magic Flute
While it's impossible to encapsulate a career - much less a life - in one sentence, the quote above is a prism of what Julius Rudel meant to the art of music-making. His was an approach that "lifted" music from across boundaries of time, and even status. A musical omnivore, Rudel brought to life everything from the core of operatic repertoire to previously unknown works by Handel to Kurt Weill's potent mix of opera and theater.
(photos by Greg Hark)
His life was grounded in an "old-school Viennese" approach to music. As a teenager he regularly spent time in the upper-most galleries of the Vienna State Opera, absorbing all the spirit, passion, and drama that pinnacle of opera had to offer. But "old-school" Vienna was a dark and conflicted place in Rudel's youth, and in 1938, he left for the United States. In 1943 he joined the newly formed New York City Opera as working as a répétiteur for director Laszlo Halasz.
That was the beginning of a relationship with NYCO that spanned three-and-a-half decades, culminating in a 22-year tenure as General Director and Principal Conductor, a position he took after his friend and mentor Erich Leinsdorf took the company to the financial brink. During those years, Rudel conducted 19 world premieres and 12 commissions, and, in 1966, he inaugurated the company's home at Lincoln Center.
Beyond those achievements, Rudel established NYCO's signature approach as a company that proudly walked the fine lines of populism, new works, and standard repertoire experienced through unconventional productions. While the company suffered financially in the several years before it finally folded last year, Rudel's tenure continues to be an inspiration to those who see the future of classical music as a matter of breaking down barriers and taking artistic risks.
Rudel also conducted regularly at the Metropolitan Opera and the Vienna State Opera, and led some 165 operas at other companies around the world, including Covent Garden, the Lyric Opera of Chicago, the San Francisco Opera, the Washington National Opera, the Paris Opera, the German Opera of Berlin, and many others. At the request of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, he was the first artistic director of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C.
He was the music director of the Buffalo Philharmonic for six years and was a guest conductor at the Symphony Orchestras of Chicago, Dallas, Detroit, Montreal, and St. Louis. Rudel also conducted the Philadelphia Orchestra, the Orchestra of the Swiss Romande, the Israel Philharmonic, the Scottish National Orchestra, and many others.
In Boston he conducted the Boston Symphony Orchestra in April of 1968 in a program that included the first BSO performances of Mozart's Symphony No. 32, the U.S. premiere of Ginastera's Estudios sinfónicos, Op. 35, the Symphony No. 1 by Sibelius, and Wagner's Rienzi Overture. He also appeared at Symphony Hall in March of 1991 for a gala performance for the Boston Opera Association, with members of the BSO and featuring soprano June Anderson and tenor Alfredo Kraus.
Rudel's conducting career continued well into his 90's, and in 2013 his memories and thoughts were captured in First and Lasting Impressions: Julius Rudel Looks Back on a Life in Music, co-written with Rebecca Paller.
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