Distinguished Spanish maestro loses his battle with cancer at 80.
The most successful Spanish conductor of his generation, Rafael Frühbeck de Burgos has died at the age of 80. The maestro, who died in Pamplona, had been unwell for some months and had cancelled a number of engagements. Just a week before his death, he announced that he would cease all professional activities as a result of cancer.
Rafael Frühbeck was born on September 15, 1933 in Burgos, the Spanish city whose name he added to his own to create his professional title. He initially studied violin, piano, and composition in Bilbao and Madrid, only taking up conducting while doing his military service in the Spanish Army. He subsequently studied at the Hochschule für Musik in Munichwhere where he won the Richard Strauss Prize.
Among his many appointments over a 55-year career Frühbeck de Burgos was music director of the Rundfunkorchester Berlin, the Deutsche Oper Berlin, artistic director of the Montreal Symphony Orchestra and chief conductor of the Bilbao Orchestra and the Vienna Symphony. He was principal guest conductor for many orchestras in Europe, Japan, and the United States. World premieres include conducting the first production of Gian Carlo Menotti’s opera Goya.
His impressive discography is spread across a number of labels including Decca, EMI, and the sadly defunct Collins. He was best known for his recordings of Spanish repertoire, especially Granados, Albéniz, Turina, Rodrigo and the complete works of Manuel de Falla. His series of recordings with the pianist Alicia de Larrocha contains many benchmarks and his orchestration of Albéniz’s Suite Española is frequently heard. His recording of Orff’s Carmina Burana with Lucia Popp is particularly highly rated as is his Carmen with Grace Bumbry and Jon Vickers.
His career never really slowed down, and in later years he served as principal conductor of the RAI National Symphony Orchestra from 2001-2007 and as music director of the Dresden Philharmonic from 2004.
As recently as 2011, the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra announced Frühbeck de Burgos' appointment as the Creative Director of its Masterworks Series. The same year saw the Danish National Symphony Orchestra announce a three year contract as Chief Conductor. However, on June 4 2014, he was forced to resign disclosing his battle with cancer for the first time. His final concert as a conductor was in Washington, DC on March 14, 2014.
Rafael Frühbeck de Burgos: September 15, 1933 – June 11, 2014.