Musical maestro and former East German dissident Kurt Masur dies

Sat Dec 19, 2015 3:45pm EST
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By Michelle Martin

BERLIN (Reuters) - Kurt Masur, the German conductor who revitalized the New York Philharmonic and played a key role in peaceful protests in Leipzig that paved the way for the 1990 reunification of postwar Germany, died on Saturday at age 88.

Masur's distinguished musical career saw him rise from an orchestra coach at a theater in communist East Germany to roles including music director of the New York Philharmonic and principal conductor of the London Philharmonic Orchestra.

New York Philharmonic President Matthew VanBesien said he had "set a standard" during an 11-year stint at the orchestra that ended in 2002 and had "left a legacy that lives on today".

"What we remember most vividly is Masur's profound belief in music as an expression of humanism," VanBesien said in a statement announcing the conductor's death.

"We felt this powerfully in the wake of 9/11, when he led the Philharmonic in a moving performance of Brahms's Ein Deutsches Requiem, and musicians from the Orchestra gave free chamber concerts around Ground Zero."

The Philharmonic said he died in hospital in Greenwich, Connecticut. It said a performance on Saturday of George Frideric Handel's 'Messiah' would be dedicated to Masur.

The London Philharmonic Orchestra said on its Twitter account that Masur was "a true musical legend, he will be greatly missed".

Masur was born in 1927 in the Silesian town of Brieg, then German and now Brzeg in Poland, and spent much of his life living under communist rule in East Germany. After studying piano, conducting and composition, he took up his first major role as conductor of the Dresden Philharmonic in 1955.   Continued...

File picture shows German maestro Kurt Masur conducting a concert in Santander, Spain August 23, 2006. REUTERS/Victor Fraile