What is it about conducting that means octogenarians are a relatively common sight?

Herbert Blomstedt, the Swedish conductor, is 95 years old and still conducting Beethoven, Bruckner and Brahms on a regular basis.

The late, greatly missed conductor, Bernard Haitink, in an interview with Sean Rafferty as he was considering slowing down as he approached 90 said: “Retirement is all very well as long as it doesn’t interrupt the work.”1

So, what’s different for conductors? And, while we are at it, artists? Why doesn’t slippers and a pipe (or cruises and golf) cut it for them? Maybe, first stop should be a quick look at the whole idea of retirement and pensions.

From Chapter 12: Fennel and preserved lemons, "Are you willing to surrender?"
From Chapter 12: Fennel and preserved lemons, “Are you willing to surrender?”

So the original idea of a pension was for when you couldn’t work anymore rather than reaching a particular age and then stopping work.

David Hockney, at 85, has just finished curating a stunning collection of his work at ‘Lightbox’ in Kings Cross. As fresh and scintillating as a twenty-something talking about light and colour, shape and form.

So my hypothesis is this: they cannot not work. For them, the expression of who they are is inextricably bound up in the work they do. Without being able to work, they wouldn’t be ‘alive’.

© David Hockney Collection Centre Pompidou, Paris. Musée national d’art moderne – Centre de création industrielle

1 Listen to In Tune on BBC Radio 3, https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b069xdgb

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