It must be that overwhelming wave of affection that greets them when they come to work every day:
The sudden death of Jean-Marc Cochereau, the French conductor, has prompted the very readable music writer Norman Lebrecht to issue a warning about the health hazards of conducting. M Cochereau collapsed and died from cardiac arrest on the Monday before last while rehearsing Beethoven’s Eroica symphony with the Orleans Symphony Orchestra – during the funeral march, as it happens…
Other fatal podium collapses during the 20th century include Giuseppe Sinopoli (2001), Dmitri Mitropoulos (1960), Eduard van Beinum (1960), Franz Konwitschny (1962), Paul Kletzki (1973) and Arvid Jansons (1984). Lebrecht looked into some of these deaths – Sinopoli, especially – in an excellent piece he wrote in 2001.
He concludes that it’s not only stress which kills conductors. In most cases these individuals were getting on a bit: they were pushing 60 at least. Jansons had a dicky ticker. And with some of the others we find “lifestyle factors” that probably contributed to their early demise – heavy smoking for van Beinum and Sinopoli, booze for Konwitschny (hence his nickname, “Kon-whisky”), and poor diets very often.
I had always thought that conducting was a very healthy profession, at least for the successful members of the profession. Lots of exercise at work (and no mandatory sitting, which recent research suggests is quite harmful), a highly unusual respect for the value of age and wisdom, and lots and lots of control – perhaps the single most important key variable in determining chronic stress levels and one’s likelihood of falling victim to stress-related disease. And, of course, being the alpha baboon is known to reduce the harmful physiological effects of stress.
It would be very interesting to compare life spans between orchestra musicians and conductors. I personally have no doubt which profession is more conducive to longevity.