Frail but feisty Masur opens Baltic music festival

Mon Sep 17, 2012 7:30am EDT
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By Michael Roddy

PEENEMUENDE, Germany (Reuters) - German conductor Kurt Masur, 85, frail but feisty as he opened the Usedom Music Festival in Germany by leading the Baltic Youth Philharmonic in Shostakovich's First Symphony, attributed his recovery after a severe fall partly to the power of music.

Masur injured his shoulder when he fell off a stage in Paris in April. He had to be helped to the podium on Saturday night for the opening concert in the vast turbine hall of a former power station that served the Nazi rocket program on the Baltic Sea island during World War Two.

Summoning up some of the vigour that made him a leading dissident as a young man in then-communist East German, Masur - startling the packed first-night crowd - in mid-concert shouted out "one" to the orchestra, to get the players back on beat.

In keeping with the history of the locale, Masur also made certain all of the piece's dark details, especially a kettle-drum roll that sounds like artillery fire, and which he forced the percussionist to perform a half dozen times in rehearsal, came through in the energetic playing of the youthful ensemble.

"If you love music and you like to listen to music you can be helped by music but if you have nothing of that you have a problem," Masur told Reuters before the concert, when asked how he found the energy to carry on.

The festival, in its 19th season, brings a high level of music-making to the island, a popular tourist destination during the summer months. This year's festival, which runs until Oct 7, explores relationships between German and Russian music and also featured master classes with Masur for seven young conductors.

"He really imparts knowledge no one else could give us," Gemma New, 25, of Wellington, New Zealand, the only woman conductor among the seven, said.

Masur, who lived much of his life in communist East Germany and helped to mitigate violence during its turbulent collapse before going on to a distinguished career in the West as music director of the New York Philharmonic, and later as principal conductor of the London Philharmonic Orchestra, said not everything had changed for the better with communism's demise.   Continued...

German conductor Kurt Masur gestures in front of the Christ the Redeemer statue in Rio de Janeiro June 1, 2007. REUTERS/Sergio Moraes