Saturday, December 19, 2015

Kurt Masur (1927-2015)

Kurt Masur, the most prominent German conductor of his generation, who as music director of the New York Philharmonic (1991-2002) was credited with refining the artistry of the orchestra and taming the egos of its musicians, has died at 88.

During his long tenure as chief conductor of the Gewandhaus Orchestra of Leipzig (1970-96), Masur maintained the stature of that venerable ensemble under the East German regime, and was one of the public figures instrumental in peacefully ending communist rule in 1989.

At the Gewandhaus, Masur made a practice of advocating composers, German and foreign-born, who had worked or studied in Leipzig.

In 1986, during a US tour with the Leipzigers, the conductor prolonged a visit to Richmond to hear Frederick Delius’ “Appalachia: Variations on an Old Slave Song with Final Chorus,” performed by the Richmond Symphony and Symphony Chorus, Peter Bay conducting. Taking the chance to fill a gap in his experience, Masur said – he had never heard “Appalachia,” and the English-born Delius was a prominent alumnus of the Leipzig Conservatory.

An obituary by The New York Times’ Margalit Fox:

ADDENDUM (Dec. 21): The British author and critic Norman Lebrecht, who knew Masur for more than 30 years, recalls “a Kapellmeister of the old school” who also was a moral force. Link to a BBC interview via: