A recent news item about Riccardo Muti, 69, music director of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, who collapsed at the podium during a rehearsal (it’s been determined he has a heart rhythm imbalance requiring a pacemaker), ironically made me think of why it is that conductors throughout history have generally been well-known for their longevity. From Bohm (87) to Boult (94), Giulini (91) to Stokowski (95), these seasoned maestros managed, for some reason, to keep the baton going well into the twilight years.

And apparently conductors do live about three to seven years longer than the average population. Sir Colin Davis (now 83) once said: “Nothing you are as a human being is not used — maybe this is why we tend to live so long.” The confluence of body/mind/spirit that constitutes the components of the conductor’s art — the wing-flappy waving of the arms that’s essentially an artistic “workout,” with all the consequent cardiovascular benefits; the mental state induced by music that results in increased alpha-wave activity, contributing to acuity; the range of emotions plumbed on a regular basis — would seem to bear this out.

English conductor John Barbirolli had a simpler explanation when he was asked why conductors lived so long; his response: “Because we perspire so much.”

Time to add some “cardio-conducting” to the exercise regime.

[Postscript: You can’t keep a good conductor down: despite the advice of his doctors, who asked him to wait a couple more weeks, Muti delivered a rousing Nabucco in Rome on March 12. Reports are he appeared “full of energy” as he conducted the three-hour-plus opera.]

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