Sad news: Spain’s greatest maestro has died

Sad news: Spain’s greatest maestro has died


norman lebrecht

June 11, 2014

Rafael Frühbeck de Burgos, the most successful Spanish conductor of the past century – perhaps of all time – died last night in Pamplona. He was 80 years old and had been suffering from cancer. Last week, he announced his retirement.


fruhbeck de burgos



Of Austro-German parentage, Frühbeeck was a favourite of General Franco’s (as was the present King) and was known early on as the Caudillo’s Maestro.  A law student, he learned to conduct military bands while serving in the Spanish Army.

He proved his worth as music director with such diverse orchestras as Berlin Radio, Montreal, Vienna Symphony, Yomiuri Nippon and, latterly, Danish National. He was a much esteemed guest conductor of many US and European orchestras. He made many recordings for various labels.

Discreet, well organised and unpolitical, he was never easy to pin down. ‘You have to be very careful, nice, inspiring, ‘ he told Hilary Hahn (below).



  • Awful horrible news, nevertheless – Rest in Peace Maestro !

  • ruben greenberg says:

    A fine musician. Further proof that conductors don’t retire; they die.

  • Ilya Isakovich says:

    He always used to address the orchestra in his coarse spanish voice as “Ladies and Yentlemen” 🙂

  • Sarah says:

    I have very tender memories of being under his baton in May 2006 with the Choeur et Orchestre de Paris for de Falla’s ‘La Vida Breve’… singing under his direction was an unforgettable experience. A lovely, warm man, so expressive and fluid. So deeply sorry to hear he has left us…

  • Steven Honigberg says:

    Three months ago, in his final concert as conductor conducting the National Symphony Orchestra in Washington DC, Maestro collapsed on the podium. The night before, our opening night, he was marvelous having conducted as usual, flawlessly from memory – which prompted me to go into his dressing room to tell him that he was an inspiration. This man loved music so very much. All of us whose lives he touched will miss his dignified, stately and genteel self.

  • Leonard Slatkin says:

    A fine conductor and true gentleman. Orchestras loved playing for him. He could be a gentle taskmaster but always settled for nothing less than what he wanted. Truly someone who will be greatly missed.

  • Noah Bendix-Balgley says:

    Very sad news. I was lucky enough to work with him in Pittsburgh just a few times.
    Fruhbeck was a true Maestro, the rare conductor who was universally loved and respected by musicians. His command and knowledge of the score was complete. Often he rehearsed without even opening the score. He would take the most difficult passages apart, show precisely what was really going on, and make them easy for the orchestra. And there was a great warmth to his music making. It felt like he was constantly inviting the musicians to simply make music with him. We played Scheherazade with him last fall. I will never forget how in the many instrumental solos in this piece (violin, flute, oboe, horn), he would simply turn towards you, extend his hand, and give a little smile, inviting you to join him.
    Rest in peace.

  • Alexander Hall says:

    My first musical memory of the Maestro was in an NPO concert in London’s Festival Hall in February 1968 during which he easily persuaded me that the strings of the then New Philharmonia were far superior to the other London orchestras of that time, in scintillating performances of Mozart 25 and Schumann 3. My last memory of him was at the LSO concert he conducted on 25 March 2012 with a typically colourful performance of Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherezade. In between I had many other happy memories of him conducting big choral works and the standard orchestral repertory which he always delivered with conviction. So sad that he is no longer with us.

  • Juliette Kang says:

    What a great maestro he was! His requests to the orchestra were usually framed by “Let’s agree, ladies and gentlemen, to…” Perfect wording. I feel very very lucky to have worked with him often, and wish everyone could have had the same privilege. His dedication to music was inspiring, as was his kindness and charm, and his elegant and friendly demeanor. RIP.

  • Bliss Michelson says:

    I still regard his performance of “Carmina Burana” on EMI from the ’60’s as the best on record. He will be greatly missed.

  • Andrey Boreyko says:

    Thank you, Maestro, for so many wonderful rehearsals, concerts, recordings!
    Musical world will always remember you!

  • Tom Gossard says:

    I love it! 🙂

  • Adel Sanchez says:

    An amazing musical icon, mentor and dear friend; a gentleman of remarkable gifts and grace. He will be missed deeply.

  • Adel Sanchez says:

    An amazing musical icon, a great gentleman, mentor and dear friend. He will be deeply missed.

  • Adel Sanchez says:

    Alle Menschen müssen sterben. A loss of an amazing musical icon, gentleman, mentor and dear friend. A life fully lived! He will be deeply missed.

  • Loren Lind says:

    From berfore and as a member of the Philadelphia Orch., for over 40 years, Rafael’s performances were so often the BEST! Our family will miss him greatly, as will our orchestra!

  • Robert Garbolinski says:

    I remember being an extra in a chorus and going on tour to Paris (St Denis) and performing Elijah and then t Rouen and performing Carmina Burana with him – happy days and performances.

  • Israel Kastoriano says:

    Great conductor ,great man.
    I loved his huge hand movements,his “Spanish” voice, his achieving wonderful balance by just pointing his finger to the instrument the orchestra members should listen to.
    He was a proud patriot so that he relentlessly programmed Spanish composers .
    A big thank for being with us.

  • Jane Moss says:

    A very sad loss indeed. Amazed that no-one has mentioned his signature Agua Brava cologne which he carried with him at all times in massive Mateus Rose type bottles and which he liberally sprinkled over himself at every orchestra break and before a concert. He was such a gentleman (in every sense of the word) on and off stage (not something which can be said about many conductors of that era, or any other…) and all of us who were there will have many great memories of his performances with the NPO / Philharmonia in the 1970’s and 1980’s. May he rest happily in peace and his memory live on.