My first introduction to the work of the legendary Spanish conductor, Rafael Frühbeck de Burgos (1933-2014) was a scratchy old recording of Carmina Burana – which was, and remains, one of the great interpretations of the Carl Orff megahit.
Coming back to Boston decades later, I quickly came to understand – and even witness first hand – the special relationship between Frühbeck and the Boston Symphony Orchestra. He guest-conducted the orchestra at both Symphony Hall and at Tanglewood every year from 2000 until just last November, and his performances tended to be Big Momentous Events – like conducting the Mahler Symphony No. 2 on Tanglewood’s Opening Night in 2002, opening the Symphony Hall season with the Verdi Requiem that same year, last summer’s All-Tchaikovsky Opening Night at Tanglewood with violinist Joshua Bell. But if I had to pick the most memorable performance of his during my time overseeing the BSO broadcasts, it would have to be his utterly idiomatic and captivating concert performance of Manuel De Falla’s La Vida Breve, with an outstanding mostly-Spanish cast that even included cantaor (Spanish folk singer) Pedro Sanz; flamenco guitarist Antonio Reyes, and the show-stopping flamenco dancer Núria Pomares Rojas
Oh, and on the first half of the program? The Suite Española by Isaac Albeniz, a piece that was originally a suite for solo piano that Frühbeck himself orchestrated half a century ago! And to top it off, the next night he was back on the podium to close out the Tanglewood season with the traditional performance of Beethoven’s 9th.
Part of the Frühbeck de Burgos mystique with the BSO was the fact that he apparently held the record for the longest stint BETWEEN appearances with the orchestra: He made one brief guest appearance with the orchestra in 1971, and wasn’t on the podium again until almost 30 years later! But what a difference a few decades make: legend has it that at the traditional end-of-season poll of the BSO players at Tanglewood, Frühbeck received the highest rating ever of guest conductors after his “return engagement” in 2000. No wonder he was asked back every year after that!
Unfortunately, no video of Frühbeck to share with the BSO, but plenty of audio, including last summer’s Tanglewood Opening Night performance with Joshua Bell, as well as another gem: the following night’s reading of Mahler’s epic Symphony No. 3, with Anne-Sofie von Otter as the shimmering soprano soloist, the PALS Children’s Chorus joining the Tanglewood Festival Chorus, and BSO Principal Trumpet Thomas Rolfs “pulling out the old Posthorn” for an incredible sound on a sweltering summer night.
And thanks to YouTube, you can see a clip of Núria Pomares Rojas together with Frühbeck and the Mariinsky Orchestra in the 2nd act flamenco from La Vida Breve.
And there’s lots of terrific video evidence of Frühbeck’s work with the Danish Radio Symphony Orchestra, where he was chief conductor for the past two and a half seasons….including his own arrangement of Granada from the Suite Espanola…