Dancing to the Sound of Your Own Music: A Tribute to Conductor Harry Rabinowitz

Photo: Crista Cloutier

Harry’s Downfall.

That’s what they named the beer at an Oregon craft brewery in honor of Harry Rabinowitz’s 100th birthday. Harry’s Downfall.

It’s a fitting tribute to a man who’s been known to enjoy a pint. Not only did Harry oversee the making of Harry’s Downfall to his exact specifications, he was also a founding member of Britain’s Campaign for Real Ale.

Harry knows his beer.

But after enjoying life for 100 years, Harry knows a lot of things. It was Harry who taught me to appreciate a glass of rosé. Who taught me how make the perfect cup of coffee the European way, and to change my mind about oysters. Now, I devour them.

Because I want to be like Harry.

There, I said it. I want to be just like Harry Rabinowitz. Always have. Ever since I first met him nearly 20 years ago.

No, I don’t mean that I want to be a celebrated conductor. But rather, someone who continues to engage with meaningful work with no apologies to age.

Did you know that the London Symphony Orchestra is celebrating Harry’s 100th birthday this November and Harry’s set to conduct? I saw Harry conduct the London Symphony Orchestra when he was 95 years old. Why not 100?

Harry still practices the piano every single day. And I still stand on the street outside and listen whenever I can.

And when I visit in the summertime, I love to watch Harry as he sits by the pool listening to his ipod, conducting music that no one else can hear. But just by watching his graceful movements, by seeing how the music transforms him, I can almost hear the music myself.

Yes, I want to be like Harry.

I want to be like Harry because he’s lived an extraordinary life. Both personally and professionally, he’s never made the safe choices. He’s always strived for excellence.

And it’s taken him on an incredible journey; conducting for the BBC Orchestra as they moved from radio to TV. He’s conducted for blockbuster theatre productions on London’s West End. He’s conducted for countless albums, symphonies, audiences, and then he moved into film. There, he’s conducted scores of all the classics: The English Patient, City of Angels, The Talented Mr. Ripley, and Chariots of Fire, to name but a few.

And don’t even get me started on all the scores that he’s composed.

Exactly one week ago, I was interviewing Harry about his career for my upcoming podcast series. He was, as always, charming and delightful, brilliant and insightful. I can’t wait to share my Harry with you.

But I just learned that Harry has left us. Harry has met his downfall and this time it wasn’t beer. God damn. I truly believed he would live another 100 years.

I’ve got so many wonderful memories of Harry. This is a photo of him conducting a salad outside his beloved home in Provence. You can’t see them here, but his shoes were neon-orange running shoes. That’s our Harry.

But my favorite memory of Harry is from those hot and heavy days when he was courting Mitzi, his beautiful tenant. I was still in the dark as to their love affair the day I ambled up the driveway to pop in and say hello.

I didn’t yet realize that Harry was using his position as Landlord to make Mitzi fall in love with him. I didn’t realize that Harry was in love too.

Not until I stumbled upon them picnicking outside, “alfresco.” As it were. Eh-hem.

They were very gracious about the intrusion and, after quickly covering up, they even offered me a glass of wine. But the one thing that stuck with me was that as they were sunbathing, Harry continued to wear his black shoes and socks.

And therein lies his charm.

Throughout his 100 years, Harry was always 100% authentic. As a conductor, as an extraordinary man, Harry Rabinowitz was a true artist. He danced to the sound of his own music. We should all strive to be more like Harry.

Good night, Mate. Thank you for teaching me how to live. I hope that you were greeted in Heaven with a pint of Harry’s Downfall and an orchestra of angels, playing your song.