The Lord Of The Baton In the Land Of The Delta

If you had the job of a customs officer in the Danube's ports at the end of the 19th century, this meant that you had to go from Sulina to Galaţi and from Giurgiu to Corabia and, to be sure, Leonte Georgescu was not spared such compulsory travels required by his position; however, the passion for the world of the sailors and the wonderful landscape of the delta of the great river is bound to make you forget all the hardships of daily life. The feeling of incertitude and vexation, the worries about the uncertainty of an artist's career that had to be built far from the great music centers abroad did not certainly bother the young son of Leonte, the customs officer, who felt an early inner attraction for the art of the sounds and set his mind on going to study at the Conservatoire in Bucharest. Young Gogu Georgescu was 19 when he finally left his parents' house to go to the Capital of the country, but the only doors that were open for the enthusiastic lad from Sulina were those of the bass class of the Italian professor Ercole Carini. The "class" of the young student, his extraordinary gift for music immediately drew the attention of his teachers, D. G. Kiriac and Alfonso Castaldi (the Italian had just arrived in Romania to teach harmony and conducting), who requested that young George Georgescu should be transferred to the cello class of master Constantin Dimitrescu. As his father refused to financially support the future "fiddler" of the family, young George had to accept to sing in a church choir and to play in the operetta orchestra at Raşca Garden in order to provide for himself. This is where the surprising debut of the young conductor George Georgescu took place: as the orchestra's head, Grigore Alexiu, suddenly fell ill, the players suggested that the young cellist should replace him to avoid the cancellation of their next performances. Only four years later (in 1919), a recital on the stage of the Romanian Athenaeum got the young virtuoso an unexpected grant to study in Berlin. "Der liebe Gogo" made a good profit of his stay in Berlin as, beside taking lessons from Hugo Becker, he managed to win the hearts of the great maestros in the German capital who directed him to Arthur Nikisch, a famous teacher. He was the sensation of the famous "Henri Marteau" quartet in which the French teacher had allowed Georgescu to replace him as a cellist. Bad luck soon struck, however, as he suddenly felt his fingers stiffen one night, while he was playing the Cello Concerto by Eugen d'Albert. It was the first sign of the cramp of the fingers that put an end to his career as a cellist. He therefore turned to conducting and started his new career in the house of magnate Frantz von Mendelssohn in Berlin (1918). It was a resounding success. A few weeks later, a German pianist who wanted to play Grieg's concert hired the Berlin Philharmonic and invited George Georgescu to make his debut as a conductor of the orchestra led by the famous Furtwängler. "The king is dead! Long live the king!" wrote the commentator of the Berliner Mittagszeitung on February 23, 1918. Soon after that, the Romanian conductor helped Claudio Arrau make his debut in the Capital of Germany. The local press was enthusiastic: "Only Weingartner can match him," concluded Algemeine Zeitung of February 20, 1919. His German adventure would soon come to an end, however (in 1920), as conductor and cello teacher Dimitrie Dinicu was seriously taken ill and he called George Georgescu to ask him to take over the Philharmonic Orchestra of the capital of Greater Romania. On January 4, 1920, at 5 pm, the concert hall of the Romanian Athenaeum witnessed the triumph of the new head of the orchestra, aged 33. The press saw in him "one of our glories", an artist who "fills our hearts with pride and enthusiasm". This was the starting point of the brilliant career of the man who was to be acknowledged as the "lord of conducting in Romania". In three different stages, (1922-1926), (1930-1933), (1939-1940) for a total period of eight years, he also led the Romanian Opera, the Philharmonic Orchestra also playing in the pit of the most important Lyric Theatre of Romania. In the memory of the music loving public of Bucharest, George Georgescu's genius left its mark on many famous performances with Carmen, Aida, Faust, Tosca, La Bohème, Boris Godunov, Manon Lescaut, Salome, the Flying Dutchman, the Valkyrie, Parsifal, Fidelio, the Magic Flute, the Queen of Spades as well as A Stormy Night and A Wedding in the Carpathians, Paul Constantiniu's ballet. The Romanian conductor replaced Arturo Toscanini at the New York Philharmonic (1926-1927) and then conducted the great symphonic orchestras of Vienna, Paris, Moscow, Leningrad, Rome, Prague, Helsinki, Berlin. He was the brilliant partner of renowned soloists like Pablo Casals, Arthur Rubinstein, Yehudi Menuhin, David Oistrach, Sviatoslav Richter, Alfred Cortot, Jacques Thibaud, Wilhelm Kempf, Emil Sauer as well as the enthusiastic supporter of young Romanian musicians like Dinu Lipatti, Ion Voicu, Clara Haskil, Valentin Gheorghiu, Radu Aldulescu, Lola Bobescu, Maria Fotino etc. He had a most valuable and matchless number of recordings with performances including both Romanian and foreign masterpieces (works by George Enescu, Paul Constantinescu, Richard Strauss, Beethoven, Brahms, Tchaikovsky). They granted him a unique position among the great conductors of the world. His elegance, his mastering of the musical scores, the originality of his artistic vision and interpretation, the warmth of the melody born from the talent and vibration of the cellist – as a conductor he particularly transmitted a part of the generosity of his soul to the strings – all these made George Georgescu, the son of an anonymous customs officer in an unknown port at the mouth of the river Danube (he was born in Sulina in 1887) a shining, lasting beacon (he died in 1964 at the age of 77) of a nation with a particular gift for music.

by Viorel Cosma (b. 1927)