The Music Plays On — Bruckner Conductors

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Stift St. Florian

There are basically two schools of conducting the music of Anton Bruckner. For lack of more apt musical terminology, one could be characterized as Apollonian and the other, Dionysian.

The Apollonian approach is, by far, the more common interpretative approach that conductors take with the music of Bruckner. Rhythmic drive is kept tightly in the reigns and is directly tied to formal structure. Much like conducting a Schubert, Haydn, or Mozart symphony, the rhythmic impulse of any given movement remains more constant. Bruckner conductors who follow this model are many and include great interpreters like Herbert Blomstedt, Herbert von Karajan, and Bernard Haitink. A great example of this approach is this beautiful performance of Bruckner’s Symphony №4 with Herbert Blomstedt conducting the Staatskapelle Dresden.

Or this very beautifully etched performanced of the Symphony №8 conducted by Herbert von Karajan and the Vienna Philharmonic.

Or this heartfelt performance of the Symphony №9 by Stanisław Skrowaczewski and the Frankfurt Radio Symphony.

The far less common is the Dionysian approach. It’s exemplified by a more emotional and dramatic characterization of the music. Each theme is treated more like a leitmotif, rather than an abstract melody. Given Bruckner’s complete devotion to and obsession for Wagner’s music, this is an absolutely valid approach but is arguably far more difficult to pull off. In this camp would the Jochum brothers (Georg and Eugen), Eduard van Beinum, and Manfred Honeck.

To hear what I mean, listen to this revelatory performance of the Symphony №9 by Georg Ludwig Jochum, the younger conductor of the more famous Eugen.

Or this other-worldly, almost mystical performance of Symphony №7 conducted by Eduard van Beinum with the Concertgebouw Orchestra.

Or this ruminative performance of Symphony №7 with Eugen Jochum conducting the Staatskapelle Dresden.

Perhaps the only living conductor who is carrying on this unique approach to Bruckner today is the Austrian conductor, Manfred Honeck. Watch this searing performance of the Symphony №8 with the WDR Symphony Orchestra Köln.

And this white-hot performance of Symphony №9 with his orchestra, the Pittsburgh Symphony.

Written by

Music Director of the California Symphony and Las Vegas Philharmonic

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