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In addition to the ongoing discussion concerning James Levine‘s persistent back problems,  two recent articles about musicians’ longevity caught my attention. 

NPR’s obituary for the wonderful cellist Bernard Greenhouse ends with this:

As Greenhouse noted in a 2008 All Things Considered profile, “I’m considered the old man of the cello right now. I don’t know of any [other] cellists over the age of 90 who are still performing. I fight against the closure of my ability, and I’m not going to let it happen.”

The following day, a New York Times review of the Emerson String Quartet and the 87-year-old pianist Menahem Pressler* had this to say:

In their late 80s, many musicians, no matter how mentally dexterous, may not have the finger agility and physical power necessary to play a late Beethoven sonata.

What factors should musicians consider later in their careers?

  • Is age in itself a reason to retire?
  • Playing ability must certainly be assessed.
  • Retaining one’s passion for communicating with the audience is equally important.

Although I haven’t thought too seriously about what my own reasons would be for retiring, I do know one thing.  I’ll take Earl Wild’s advice, offered to a master class at the Mannes College The New School for Music in his 90’s:  “Stay close to the keys.  It’s safer.”

* Thanks to C.I. for alerting me to this review.

What is likely to be on your list when considering whether to retire?  Please share your thoughts in the comment section below!


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