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arts

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Conductors  
 
page: 1  2  3  4  

The clearest example of such a figure is Jean-Baptiste Lully (1632-1687), who was a central figure in French music in the late seventeenth century. In addition to being Louis XIV's royal composer, many critics consider him primarily responsible for the development of French opera. Even though he married Madeleine Lambert and fathered six children, he created a number of scandals because of his sexual relationships with men.

In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries scholars have much more easily identified conductors who would now be classified as gay, lesbian, or bisexual, even though their sexuality often imperiled their conducting careers or required them to exercise great discretion.

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The life and career of Dimitri Mitropoulos (1896-1960) highlights the difficulties gay conductors faced in the first half of the twentieth century. In the 1930s he caused a sensation when he debuted at the helm of the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra. His intensely physical conducting style, ability to conduct from memory without a score, and refusal to conduct with a baton marked him as an innovative and talented conductor. He assumed his first major position as conductor of the Minneapolis Symphony Orchestra, and after twelve successful years there, he became the musical director of the New York Philharmonic in 1950.

But Mitropoulos' tenure at the New York Philharmonic was troubled. In The Maestro Myth, Norman Lebrecht argues that not only did his critics dislike his musical tastes, but they also despised him for his homosexuality, which was an open secret in the musical world. As Mitropoulos' popularity waned, critics used his bachelor status and implicit homosexual sensibility against him.

Mitropoulos was ultimately replaced by a man who more adeptly cultivated the proper masculine, heterosexual image that audiences required of their conductors. Ironically, that man was Leonard Bernstein, himself a deeply closeted homosexual.

Exposing the that pervades the conducting profession, Lebrecht argues that the world of classical music fiercely protects the virile, masculine, mysterious image of the conductor. "Gay conductors," he writes, "are advised to hide their presumed vice as timidly as any country vicar." Often gay conductors have been free to pursue their sexual inclinations in private, but they have been required to maintain the image of the powerful, heterosexual maestro.

Aaron Copland (1900-1990) had a relatively easier time succeeding as a conductor than did Mitropoulos, but that was probably due to the fact that he was a composer-conductor. Although best known for his work as the American composer, or "Dean of American Music" as he came to be known, Copland also spent roughly the second half of his career actively conducting.

Early in his education, he studied conducting for a short period of time with Albert Wolff, but most of his training in conducting came informally through the opportunities he had to conduct his own early compositions.

During the 1950s, Copland began to pursue professional conducting more actively and expanded his repertoire to include works by other composers, mostly other twentieth-century figures. In January of 1958 he conducted the New York Philharmonic, and this performance led to an engagement with the London Symphony Orchestra later in the month, a symphony he would work with over the next twenty-five years. From this point, Copland's career as a conductor took off, and he began to tour around the world as a guest conductor.

Most critics agree that Copland accepted his homosexuality and was able to live his life in relative openness, even if he would not be regarded as publicly "out" by today's standards. Copland refrained from commenting explicitly on his sexuality and its relations to his work as a composer. Although the subject of the relationship of sexuality to music is now open to discussion, nothing has yet been written on Copland's sexuality in relation to his conducting.

Interestingly, critics generally tend to describe Copland's music as "masculine" and "manly," yet his presence on stage conveyed a subtly different impression. As his biographer Howard Pollack notes, "For all his restraint, he cut a boyishly vigorous figure on the podium." Other critics have noted his "verve," "élan," and "zest" while conducting.

Given the difficulties Copland experienced in garnering respect from some of the American orchestras that he worked with, it is tempting to speculate on the impact his sexuality--implicitly communicated or otherwise--may have had on his reception by the conservative classical music establishment.

Whereas Copland may have come to terms with his sexuality relatively quietly and discreetly, Leonard Bernstein (1918-1990) arguably never fully solved the torturing puzzle that his homosexual desires presented him. Married to actress Felicia Montaleagre in 1951, he was well aware at that time of his sexual attractions to men.

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