Music is Lifeblood for Conductor Kurt Masur | BTHVN2020 | DW | 26.08.2008
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Music is Lifeblood for Conductor Kurt Masur

Internationally renowned conductor Kurt Masur will direct the Orchestre National de France in performing all nine Beethoven symphonies at this year's Beethovenfest in Bonn. DW takes a look at the man behind the baton.

Kurt Masur

At 81, Kurt Masur is still hard at work

Masur has been a leading conductor for over four decades. Deep in concentration but in constant eye contact with the musicians while on stage, he has a way of drawing the music out of his orchestra with spare but energetic gestures.

Intensity, passion and energy exude from the 81-year-old when he takes up his baton.

Born in 1927 in Silesia, now part of Poland, Masur studied music and conducting in Leipzig but didn't finish to receive his diploma. Nevertheless, he gathered extensive experience on the stages of the former East Germany, conducting and working as a vocal coach in Halle, Erfurt, Schwerin and at the Comic Opera in East Berlin.

Beethoven portrait

DW offers live recordings of Masur conducting Beethoven

In 1967, at the age of 40, Masur became director of the Dresden Philharmonic Orchestra. Three years later he returned to Leipzig, which would become the most significant station in his career.

Spokesman for democracy

As the music director of the Gewandhaus Orchestra in Leipzig, Masur quickly became one of the most celebrated conductors in East Germany. He led the ensemble on numerous tours, performing in over 900 concerts between 1970 and 1997.

As the Soviet Union began to crumble in the late 1980s, Leipzig became a center of political protest in communist East Germany. Masur made his voice heard as well, joining in the famous Monday Demonstrations.

"Our common concerns and responsibility have brought us together today," the conductor said in front of the Nikolaikirche in Leipzig on a Monday in 1989.

"We are affected by the developments in our city and are looking for a solution," said Masur, addressing the government. "We urgently ask you to be prudent, so that peaceful dialogue is possible."

Music for lonely people

In 1991, Masur left his newly reunified country to direct the New York Philharmonic, succeeding Zubin Mehta. Over the next 11 years, he developed a special program structure that not only appealed to New Yorkers, but went over well across the country.

Times Square

New York is full of lonely people, concluded Masur

He said he discovered his secret while taking a walk in the Big Apple.

"I found out that New York is actually full of lonely people, and I decided to make my programs so that everyone who came to the concert would feel at home," he said.

Masur has since moved his workplace from the Hudson River to the Seine -- with a layover on the Thames as principal conductor of the London Philharmonic Orchestra from 2000 to 2007 -- and now directs the Orchestre National de France. Thoughts of retirement seem to be far from his mind.

"I hope that I can cut back slowly," he said. "If I stop tomorrow, you'll certainly be reading my obituary pretty soon because music is part of my life."

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