Entertainment & Arts

Conductor Kurt Masur dies at 88

Kurt Masur during his final concert at Avery Fisher Hall in New York. 18 July 2002 Image copyright AFP
Image caption Kurt Masur was musical director of the New York Philharmonic for 11 years

Kurt Masur, widely regarded as one of the world's greatest conductors, has died in the US at the age of 88.

The German was music director of the New York Philharmonic from 1991-2002 and was credited with reinvigorating the ensemble.

Prior to that he led the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra in then-Communist eastern Germany for almost 30 years.

The German government praised Masur for his role in 1989 as the GDR regime was threatened by mass demonstrations.

The conductor was one of the prominent Leipzig citizens to appeal for no violence as tens of thousands took to the streets.

His influence helped prevent a bloody crackdown on pro-democracy protesters - and the Berlin Wall fell, peacefully, within weeks.

"The unified Germany owes him an enormous debt of gratitude as a trailblazer and as guarantor of a peaceful transition to unity," said German Culture Minister Monika Gruetters.

The BBC's Brian Hanrahan on reporting on the October 1989 Leipzig demonstrations

In the celebrations marking the reunification of Germany on 3 October 1990 Kurt Masur directed a performance of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony in Berlin.

Some had suggested he should become East Germany's first post-Communist leader but instead he moved to the US.

Masur's death on Saturday was announced by the New York Philharmonic.

Philharmonic President Matthew VanBesien said Masur had "left a legacy that lives on today".

Image copyright AP
Image caption Kurt Masur is survived by his wife Tomoko Sakurai-Masur

"What we remember most vividly is Masur's profound belief in music as an expression of humanism," he said.

"We felt this powerfully in the wake of 9/11, when he led the philharmonic in a moving performance of Brahms's Ein Deutsches Requiem and musicians from the orchestra gave free chamber concerts around Ground Zero.

"Today, New Yorkers still experience this humanist mark through the popular Annual Free Memorial Day Concert, which he introduced."

Masur served as the principal conductor of the London Philharmonic between 2000 and 2007, after which he became honorary musical director at the Paris-based National Orchestra of France.

In April 2012 he fell off the stage while conducting the National Orchestra of France in Paris and was treated in hospital.

The same year, after cancelling several concert engagements, he revealed on his website that he was suffering from Parkinson's disease.

Masur was born in 1927 in Lower Silesia, Germany - now part of Poland - and studied piano, composition and conducting in Leipzig, Saxony.

He is survived by his third wife, Tomoko, a soprano from Japan, and five children.

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