Thursday, November 15, 2007

Kurt Masur

One of the highlights of the Henry Wood Promenade Season in London this year was an anniversary concert celebrating the conductor Kurt Masur’s 80th birthday. He conducted the two orchestra’s he continues to be associated with – the London Philharmonic and the Orchestre National de France. Together on the platform they performed Bruckner’s 7th Symphony. Sadly I didn’t hear it on the radio, but the critics raved about it the next day. The veteran conductor and his French orchestra played the same symphony yesterday in Bristol. I was there. It was one of those concerts where you feel privileged to be present. An event in itself and an overwhelming experience, wildly applauded by the audience, with Masur blowing kisses to the orchestra and to us.

It is 30 years since the only other time I have seen Masur conduct. He was then as he had been for many years, Director of the historic Gewandhaus Orchestra of Leipzig, East Germany with whom he gave nearly a thousand performances over twenty six years. The orchestra was on tour but were delayed and arrived at the Birmingham Town Hall thirty minutes late. It didn’t seem to trouble them. A stunning performance of Mahler’s 1st Symphony had many of us on our feet. Another memorable evening.

Masur still has immense dignity on the podium, full of authority in the Germanic European tradition for which he is famed, but with an enthusiasm and warmth that we responded to last night, as if he was a favourite Uncle but not one to be trifled with. He conducted without either score or baton. The Bruckner must be part of him. The music seemed to be in his body as well as in his mind, flowing out of him, as with an economy of gestures, he watched over the majestic progress of this wonderful work, played by his brilliant orchestra with passion and refinement.

Masur has been conductor of many fine orchestras and is following a rigorous programme of concerts in Europe and North America during the 2007-2008 season. The Bristol concert was one of five in the orchestra’s present English tour. Masur has a website which gives a good impression of this remarkable man’s long, fruitful and continuing career. I salute him!

(There are other Bruckner postings in this series which you may be interested in, October 21st 2005 and September 2nd 2006)


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