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German conductor Kurt Masur has died aged 88

World-renowned German composer Kurt Masur has died at the age of 88 in the US. He was credited with helping prevent violence after the collapse of communism in East Germany and transforming the New York Philharmonic.

"It is with the deepest sadness that I write on behalf of the Masur family and the New York Philharmonic that Kurt Masur - our inspiring music director, 1991-2002, and music director emeritus - passed away," New York Philharmonic President Matthew VanBesien said in a statement.

Masur suffered from Parkinson's disease, which progressively disrupts the nervous system causing termors and muscular rigidity.

Born in 1927 in the German town of Brieg - now known as Brzeg in Poland - he led the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra for 26 years.

Masur was known as a mediator during politically-challenging times.

In 1989, at the height of pro-democracy protests in Leipzig that culminated in the fall of the Berlin Wall, he - along with a satirist, cleric and three party officials - made a statement calling for "no violence," effectively preventing a crackdown on the demonstrations by security forces.

During celebrations for Germany's reunification on October 3, 1990, Masur played Beethoven's Ninth Symphony in Berlin.

'Music as an expression of humanism'

"What we remember most vividly is Masur's profound belief in music as an expression of humanism. We felt this powerfully in the wake of 9/11, when he led the Philharmonic in a moving performance of Brahm's 'Ein Deutsches Requiem,' and musicians from the Orchestra gave free chamber concerts around Ground Zero," VanBesien added.

In 2013, Masur told Germany's DPA news agency that his focus had turned to encouraging young emerging conductors in their roles.

"The role of the conductor had to change because orchestras have become much stronger," Masur said. "The conductor used to be a kind of dictator - he was unassailable."

"Today that is no longer the case. Today it is all about making the partnership between conductor and orchestra so strong that the orchestra intuitively follows the conductors in what he wants," Masur noted.

Masur is survived by five children, including Ken-David Masur, who serves as the associate conductor at the San Diego Symphony.

ls/jlw (dpa, AFP, AP, ARD, KNA)