Famed conductor Kurt Masur dead: New York Philharmonic

Masur was one of the New York Philharmonic's longest-serving music directors.
Masur was one of the New York Philharmonic's longest-serving music directors.PHOTO: EPA

NEW YORK (AFP) - Conductor Kurt Masur, who helped bring a worldwide reputation to the New York Philharmonic while seizing on the power of music on key moments of history, died Saturday. He was 88.

The New York Philharmonic announced the death of Masur, one of its longest-serving music directors who led the orchestra from 1991 to 2002.

A German born in what is today Poland, Masur was an unlikely choice to lead one of the New World's leading orchestras as he had spent his career - both musically and politically - within the confines of communist East Germany and was closely focused on the classical canon.

But Masur won wide praise for polishing the musical bona fides of the New York Philharmonic and raising its global profile with 17 tours around the world including a first trip to mainland China, now a key country for the orchestra's overseas activities.

"Masur's years at the New York Philharmonic represent one of its golden eras, in which music-making was infused with commitment and devotion - with the belief in the power of music to bring humanity closer together," Alan Gilbert, the outgoing music director, said in a statement.

"The ethical and moral dimensions that he brought to his conducting are still palpable in the musicians' playing, and I, along with the Philharmonic's audiences, have much to thank him for," he said.

Masur was hailed for mastering the moment after the September 11, 2001 attacks scarred New York by leading the Philharmonic in Brahms' "German Requiem" in a nationally televised memorial service.

Masur was similarly credited with feeling the sense of history in 1989 shortly before the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Then the conductor of the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra and a loyal East German, Masur went on the radio in October that year ahead of a concert to urge calm as protesters amassed.

The troops did not open fire and Masur's performance went ahead, helping set the graceful, non-violent tone of German reunification.

But Masur's strict style did not always win him friends among the musicians and administration, and he later said that his departure from the New York Philharmonic was not voluntary.

He was given the title of music director emeritus and took two prominent positions in the European classical world - music director of the Orchestre National de France and principal conductor of the London Philharmonic Orchestra.