Entertainment & Arts

Conductor Wolfgang Sawallisch dies at 89

Wolfgang Sawallisch
Image caption Wolfgang Sawallisch's achievements included winning La Scala's Golden Baton award

Wolfgang Sawallisch, one of Germany's greatest conductors and a former music director and manager of the Bavarian State Opera, has died at the age of 89.

The conductor, who also once led the Philadelphia Orchestra, died at his home in Grassau, Upper Bavaria.

Throughout his career, Sawallisch was acclaimed for his natural talent, creativity and ability to lead.

Nikolaus Bachler of the Bavarian State Opera said all there were "deeply saddened" by the conductor's death.

"For decades, he left his stamp on our house with his great personality and his inimitable art. His name, like no other, is connected with the Munich opera and even today his influence can still be felt," Bachler said.

He added that a gala performance on Monday of Giuseppe Verdi's Requiem would be dedicated to the conductor.

Image caption Sawallisch became the youngest person to conduct the Berlin Philharmonic

During his career, Sawallisch also conducted at the Bayreuth Festival, La Scala in Milan and with the Vienna Symphony Orchestra, the London Philharmonic and Tokyo's NHK Orchestra.

He was also music director of the Philadelphia Orchestra, one of the most prestigious orchestras in the United States, between 1993 and 2003.

Born in Munich in 1923, Sawallisch began his career after World War II. He studied at the prestigious Munich conservatory and after graduating he took up his first position as a conductor in Augsburg.

He went on to become music director at the operas of Aachen, Wiesbaden and Cologne. In 1953, he made his debut with the Berlin Philharmonic, becoming the youngest conductor to lead that orchestra.

The post also led him to conduct at the internationally renown Bayreuth music festival, dedicated to the works of Richard Wagner.

'Enormous void'

In 1957, he made his debut at the famed La Scala opera house in Milan, where much later in 1993 he became the first non-Italian to be awarded the Golden Baton.

A statement from La Scala said Sawallisch "leaves an enormous void in the musical life of our time".

By 1960, he had become principal conductor of the Hamburg Philharmonic Orchestra. It was during the following decade that he was the chief conductor of the Vienna Symphony Orchestra.

In 1982, he became artistic director of the Bavarian State Opera and in 1993 he took the helm of the Philadelphia Orchestra, aged 70.

There he guided the ensemble through a decade of financial and artistic turmoil until his departure in 2003.

Other orchestras conducted by Sawallisch included Orchestra Nazionale di Santa Cecilia in Rome and the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra. He was also an accomplished a pianist.

During his career, the conductor was often either criticised for his traditional approach or praised for the purity of his performance.

The Vienna Symphony Orchestra said: "With Sawallisch the music always sounded simple, clear, uncomplicated and transparent."

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