2014, the Year of Pierre Monteux (Remember Him?)

By James Inverne on Jan 08, 2014 02:34 PM EST

There will be some anniversaries celebrated this year, none wider than that of the birth of Richard Strauss. But here's a milestone that I suspect few will comment on. It is half a century since Pierre Monteux, the French-born conductor. Not just any conductor, one of the most influential and revered of the 20th century. And yet, these days, few music lovers are more than dimly aware of his name.

When Pierre Monteux died, he was chief conductor of the London Symphony Orchestra and had preceded that plum post with the leadership of, variously, the Boston Symphony, the Concertgebouw, the Orchestre Symphonique de Paris and the San Francisco Symphony. A regular at the Metropolitan Opera House, the Philadelphia Orchestra, the Royal Philharmonic, Vienna Phil--in fact, Monteux was very much seen as achieving the same rarified heights of his great contemporaries such as Arturo Toscanini, George Szell (another one less talked-about these days), Fritz Reiner, Thomas Beecham and the rest.

But Monteux's place in history would be assured if for nothing else than the fact that, under his baton, the world premieres of Stravinksy's Le Sacre du Printemps and Petrushka (Stravinsky and Diaghilev were great admirers) and Ravel's Daphnis et Chloé took place. He introduced, too, his favorite composers to the countries where he conducted--giving the North American premieres of works by Vaughan Williams and Honegger and, of course, Stravinsky.

And if by a conductor's students shall ye know him, there Monteux's record holds up well. He could count the likes of André Previn, Erich Kunzel, Neville Marriner, Seiji Ozawa and Lorin Maazel amongst his protégés. So, in this signal Monteux year, put on one or two of his great recordings, raise a glass of wine and toast a not-quite-forgotten and very great conductor.

Watch a slice of history here.

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TagsPierre Monteaux, 2014, London Symphony Orchestra, San Francisco Symphony Orchestra, Boston Symphony Orchestra, Metropolitan Opera, Concertgebouw, Philadelphia Orchestra, The Rite of Spring, Stravinsky

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