'Only life suffered can transform a symphony from a collection of notes into a message of humanity.' - Dimitri Mitropoulos
'I never use a score when conducting my orchestra ... Does a lion tamer enter a cage with a book on how to tame a lion?' - Dimitri Mitropoulos
Greek conductor, pianist and composer Dimitri Mitropoulos was born in Athens on 18 February 1896 and showed musical ability from an early age. It was reported that he had a perfect photographic memory. He studied at the Athens Conservatory and also in Berlin and Brussels. His teachers included Ferruccio Busoni. He was known to be deeply religious and to live like a monk, and also to be 'quietly homosexual'.
He was assistant to Erich Kleiber at Berlin State Opera (1921-5) and then worked as a conductor in Greece. When the piano soloist was sick for a 1930 Berliner Philharmoniker concert, Mitropoulos played the solo part in Prokofiev's third piano concerto, leading the orchestra from the keyboard, one of the first to do this.
Mitropoulos was active as a composer mostly early in his life, with this aspect being eclipsed by his high profile conducting career. His earlier compositions showed a strong Greek nationalism, but Busoni persuaded him to turn away from this, as shown for example in the austere Passacaglia, Intermezzo e Fuga for piano of 1924.
Later he settled in the USA after conducting the Boston Symphony Orchestra in 1936, working as principal conductor of the Minneapolis Symphony Orchestra from 1937 until he started working with the New York Philharmonic Orchestra in 1949. He worked tirelessly to extend the New York Philharmonic's role, making recordings, conducting performances in a popular cinema and expanding the repertoire by way of commissions and performing Mahler's symphonies.
Mitropoulos also worked in opera, conducting New York's Metropolitan Opera and working in Italy. At his death in Milan from heart failure on 2 November 1960, aged sixty-four, while rehearsing Mahler's Symphony No 3, he left a large number of recordings, many with the New York Philharmonic for Columbia Records, and many preserved by New York Metropolitan Opera from broadcasts.
CD Spotlight. A Pianist who Deserves Attention - Geoff Pearce enjoys listening to Can Çakmur. '... a stellar performance by this fine young pianist.'
Taming the lion - Jabez Dolotz talks to British conductor Sir Henry Collard-Barker about experiences in and out of the concert hall