Friday, October 22, 2021

Conductor Bernard Haitink dies at 92

The New York Times reports:
Bernard Haitink, an unaffected maestro who led Amsterdam’s Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra for 27 years and was known for presenting powerful readings of the symphonies of Mahler, Bruckner and Beethoven conducting orchestras on both sides of the Atlantic, died on Thursday at his home in London. He was 92.

Here he is conducting Beethoven's 7th Symphony — the famously moving second movement starts at 16:15:



The Times obit gives a sense of Haitink's personality:

Mr. Haitink let the music emerge from the orchestra, often transcendently, without imposing a heavy-handed interpretation that a star conductor might.

His self-effacing nature was noticed early on.

He was “not one of the glamour boys on the podium,” Harold C. Schonberg, the chief classical music critic for The New York Times, wrote in January 1975 after Mr. Haitink’s debut with the New York Philharmonic, conducting Bruckner’s Symphony No. 7.

“He does not dance, he does not patronize the best tailor on the Continent,” Mr. Schonberg continued. “But he is a dedicated musician, always on top of the music, getting exactly what he wants from his players.”

Reviewing his performance of the same symphony with the Philharmonic in 2011, the critic Steve Smith wrote in The Times: “Some conductors strive for mysticism in late Bruckner; Mr. Haitink, with his unerring sense of shape, transition and flow, lets the music speak for itself, with results that can approach the supernatural and often did here.”

Haitink conjures the towering greatness of Brahms's 4th Symphony:



More from the Times:

His reputation for being unassuming trailed him throughout his career. In 1967, Time magazine described him as “a short, quiet man who likes to take long bird-watching rambles in the woods,” and pointed out that “in a profession where flamboyance and arrogance are often the hallmarks of talent, the diffident Haitink is an anomaly.” A New York Times article in 1976 carried the headline “Why Doesn’t Bernard Haitink Act Like a Superstar?”

Mr. Haitink’s colleagues lauded his modesty, integrity and musicianship when he was awarded the prestigious Gramophone Lifetime Achievement Award in 2015. The pianist Murray Perahia, who recorded the complete Beethoven piano concertos with Mr. Haitink and the Concertgebouw, praised him as being “dedicated to a real collaboration: neither dictating an interpretation, nor slavishly following — but a natural give and take.”

Haitink brings Debussy's cinematic La Mer to life:



The Times on how wartime in Haitink's childhood affected him as a conductor:

Bernard Johan Herman Haitink was born on March 4, 1929, into a well-off family in Amsterdam. His father, Willem Haitink, was a civil servant, and his mother, Anna Clara Verschaffelt, worked for the French cultural organization Alliance Française. Neither were musicians. The family lived under Nazi occupation during World War II, and Willem was imprisoned for three months in a concentration camp.

Mr. Haitink referred to his youth as his “lazy days.”

“I wasn’t stupid,” he explained, “but I just wasn’t there. Half the time we were taught under our desks because of air raids. But even when things became normal, I wasn’t interested. Maybe this is why now, when I am over 70, that people always ask me why I work so hard.”

Shostakovich's merciless 4th Symphony:



The New York Times obit ends with this:

In 2011, in [an] interview with The Guardian, Mr. Haitink mused on the strange life of a conductor. “I have been doing this job for 50 years,” he said. “And, you know, it is a profession and it is not a profession. It’s very obscure sometimes. What makes a good conductor? What is this thing about charisma? I’m still wondering after all these years.”

And here's the last symphony by one of Haitink's signature composers: Bruckner's 9th.

Wednesday, October 20, 2021

Flow author Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi has died at 87

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, who wrote the famous 1990 book Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience, has died at age 87.

I haven't found any obituaries yet, but here's the announcement on his Facebook page.

In 2010, when I made a list of "the 12 books that have influenced me the most," I included Flow.

This post by Ann Althouse (my mom) quoted the book's summary of 8 features of the state of "flow":

First, the experience usually occurs when we confront tasks we have a chance of completing. Second, we must be able to concentrate on what we are doing. Third and fourth, the concentration is usually possible because the task undertaken has clear goals and immediate feedback. Fifth, one acts with a deep but effortless involvement that removes from awareness the worries and frustrations of everyday life. Sixth, enjoyable experiences allow people to exercise a sense of control over their actions. Seventh, concern for the self disappears, yet paradoxically the sense of self emerges stronger after the flow experience is over. Finally, the sense of the duration of time is altered; hours pass by in minutes, and minutes can stretch out to seem like hours. The combination of all these elements causes a sense of deep enjoyment that is so rewarding people feel that expending a great deal of energy is worthwhile simply to be able to feel it.

Here's Csikszentmihalyi's TED talk from 2004: "Flow, the secret to happiness."

In Psychology Today, English professor Vivian Wagner wrote in 2018:
The flow state, a concept first recognized and analyzed by positive psychologist Mihály Csíkszentmihályi …, is a worthy goal for anyone who wants to think and live more creatively. …

In my composition classrooms, I often have students "freewrite" about whatever topic we’re focusing on that day. I find that while they’re freewriting, they enter a state of flow. … This is an especially valuable state because it’s then that creative connections are made. The mind allows itself to think, without the constraints and expectations of the external world. There’s time enough later to look at what we’ve written while in a flow state, but it’s important to be able to stay there for as long as possible in order to reap the benefits from it. …

In our era of multiple distractions, it can be difficult to slip into a flow state. Often, in the middle of doing something — when I might actually be in a flow state — I stop to check my phone or my email or search the web, and those activities break it up. More even than when Csikszentmihalyi first theorized about flow, we’re in great need of it today. …

It’s a beautiful, mysterious process — one that will change your life for the better and bring in a daily dose of creativity. And during those moments of flow, you’ll find yourself making connections, forming ideas, and thinking differently.

(Photo of Csíkszentmihályi from his TED talk.)