• Ian Passmore

Passmore's Picks: Five Underrated Conductors

I was recently copied on an email thread with two of my former teachers, discussing the underrated conductor Rudolf Kempe; and that got me thinking about some of my other favorite underrated conductors. It's no secret that I have always been fascinated with "lost" musicians; those composers, performers, and conductors who, for whatever reason/s, simply didn't rise quite to the level of notoriety enjoyed by some of their contemporaries. Music is a strange and fickle business....

So, this month, we're covering five of my favorite underrated conductors, starting with...

- Ferenc Fricsay: The Hungarian Fricsay was one of the truly great conductors of the twentieth century. Many even believed that he should have taken the helm of the Berlin Philharmonic, rather than Herbert von Karajan. Sadly, after a lifetime of various illnesses, Fricsay died of stomach cancer in 1963 at the relatively young age of 48.

- Istvan Kertesz: Another great Hungarian conductor, Kertesz led virtually all of the world's best orchestras during his short lifetime. He died tragically on a concert tour in 1973, drowning off the coast of Israel at the age of 43.

- Rudolf Kempe: The German conductor Kempe enjoyed a long and successful career, exclusively in my knowledge, anyway. His Strauss recordings with the Staatskapelle Dresden are the finest I've ever heard. Kempe died in Zurich in 1976 at the age of 65.

- Gunter Wand: Similar to Georg Solti, Gunter Wand was a late bloomer when it came to widespread recognition as a conductor, working in relative obscurity in the European opera house system for many years. Major orchestras such as the Berlin Philharmonic and Solti's Chicago Symphony didn't have Wand as a guest until he was nearly 80 years old! Wand died in 2002 at the age of 90.

- Jeffrey Tate: An English conductor who suffered from spina bifida, Jeffrey Tate actually practiced medicine in London before starting his music career! He died in 2017 at the age of 74.

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