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I am old-fashioned


Writing about the 'oldest conductor': David Randolph
Oliver Sacks Scientist
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A piece came to me, and was almost forced on me urgently just before Christmas last year.  I knew a conductor, a 95-year-old conductor who was called the oldest conductor at Carnegie Hall.  And he had worked also with the St Cecilia Chorus for 60 years, and he’d written a wonderful book about music, and he was just a marvellous old man who seemed so youthful and resilient and spritely.

When there was going to be a Messiah, some of the heavy singers would, you know, who were 60, some of them, would plod in with the heaviness of 60, and David, at 95, would leap onto the podium and... like a boy of 20, and in a beautiful mellow baritone voice he would always talk to the audience first about... say about the Messiah and how Handel had... how some of the most devout seeming and solemn songs, in fact, had been taken by Handel from bawdy Italian songs at the time.

David had a strong feeling there’s no such thing as religious music or military music, there’s music which can be used in the context of religion or falling in love or... or whatever.  And, in particular, David’s... he would do a Christmas oratorio, but he would also do the Messiah every Christmas.  And, now, for the first time in 60 years there was not a Randolph Messiah because he had died earlier this... that year, rather suddenly. And I wanted to write a piece about him, and to start the piece by saying, something is missing, you know, what we’ve had in New York for 60 years, every Christmas, has gone. And there was no time to... you know, I wrote the piece on December 20th and it had to be published by Christmas, it had to be published electronically, and I was very glad when I could send it to the Paris Review electronically.

Oliver Sacks (1933-2015) was born in England. Having obtained his medical degree at Oxford University, he moved to the USA. There he worked as a consultant neurologist at Beth Abraham Hospital where in 1966, he encountered a group of survivors of the global sleepy sickness of 1916-1927. Sacks treated these patients with the then-experimental drug L-Dopa producing astounding results which he described in his book Awakenings. Further cases of neurological disorders were described by Sacks with exceptional sympathy in another major book entitled The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat which became an instant best seller on its publication in 1985. His other books drew on his rich experiences as a neurologist gleaned over almost five decades of professional practice. Sacks's work was recognized by prestigious institutions which awarded him numerous honours and prizes. These included the Lewis Thomas Prize given by Rockefeller University, which recognizes the scientist as poet. He was an honorary fellow of both the American Academy of Arts and Letters and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and held honorary degrees from many universities, including Oxford, the Karolinska Institute, Georgetown, Bard, Gallaudet, Tufts, and the Catholic University of Peru.

Listeners: Kate Edgar

Kate Edgar, previously Managing Editor at the Summit Books division of Simon and Schuster, began working with Oliver Sacks in 1983. She has served as editor and researcher on all of his books, and has been closely involved with various films and adaptations based on his work. As friend, assistant, and collaborator, she has accompanied Dr Sacks on many adventures around the world, clinical and otherwise.

Tags: Messiah, George Handel, David Randolph

Duration: 2 minutes, 34 seconds

Date story recorded: September 2011

Date story went live: 02 October 2012