Life and Works
Kurt Masur is a senior ambassador among conductors, recognised as a stalwart interpreter of the Austro-German classics. He brings an old-world fastidiousness to rehearsals, insisting on fidelity and attention to details such as dynamic contrast and balance between instrumental sounds. Masur is also recognised as a humanitarian, a stance which came to prominence in the run-up to the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. He was a vocal supporter of political change in the then German Democratic Republic, on one occasion intervening personally on behalf of protesters in a bid to prevent a demonstration turning bloody.
Prior to making his conducting debut in 1948, Masur had studied piano, composition and conducting in Leipzig. His appointments to provincial opera houses gave him a practical understanding of conducting and administrating. From 1955 to 1958 he was conductor of the Dresden Philharmonic, returning there in 1967 until 1972. In the meantime (1960-64), he was director of music at the Komische Oper in what was then East Berlin. In 1970 Masur accepted the venerable title of Kapellmeister of the prestigious Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra, a position he held until 1996. At the same time, Masur was forging relationships with the leading orchestras of North America, Great Britain and Europe.
From 1991 to 2002 Masur served as music director of the New York Philharmonic, then as principal conductor of the London Philharmonic Orchestra (2001-07) and as music director of the Orchestre National de France (2002-08). Throughout his career Masur has made many recordings, particularly in Leipzig and New York. His signature repertoire, that core of Austro-German classics, is of course represented, but he has also documented the music of Shostakovich and Tchaikovsky with commitment. Recordings on the LPO Live label include a notable Shostakovich Symphony no.5 and Britten's War Requiem.
Even in his ninth decade, Kurt Masur remains a powerful educator and veritable force on the podium. And his influence on the orchestral world continues through his son, Ken-David, who is also a conductor.