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Kurt Masur (1927 - 2015)

Associated Press / Mark Lennihan

Kurt Masur (1927 - 2015)

Kurt Masur, the maestro who tamed the New York Philharmonic and united a divided Germany, has died of complications of Parkinson's disease, The Associated Press and the New York Philharmonic report. Masur, who died Saturday, Dec. 19, was 88.
Born July 18, 1927, in Brieg, Germany — now Brzeg, Poland — Masur studied at the Music College of Leipzig. From 1955 to 1958, and again from 1967 to 1972, he served as chief conductor of the Dresden Philharmonic in East Germany, before moving on to the prestigious Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra as Kapellmeister, or music director.
Beloved in East Germany, Masur used his position to keep peace during 1989's mass pro-democracy protests in the flashpoint city of Leipzig. As tensions rose, Masur joined with other East German notable figures and recorded a statement calling for peace that was broadcast throughout the streets of East Germany as young people prepared themselves for war. For these efforts, Masur is credited with preventing the outbreak of violence, and he played Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony at the reunification ceremony after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1990.

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In 1991, Masur faced a different sort of challenge when he took over the New York Philharmonic. Widely viewed as the "bad boy" of American orchestras, many feared Masur's strict work ethic and Germanic conducting style would be no match for what some viewed as an unruly group of ungovernable egos. Masur defied all expectations and flourished in his new role, and the Philharmonic enjoyed a renaissance and an era of artistic prominence with expanded education programs, its own recording label and collaborations with Wynton Marsalis and Jazz at Lincoln Center. His performance of Brahm's "German Requiem" as a nationally televised 9/11 tribute concert shortly after the attack was named by The New York Times as "his finest hour, and a gift to the city." He stepped down from the Philharmonic in 2002, and his contributions earned him the rarely bestowed title of "music director emeritus," an honor accorded to only one other Philharmonic conductor, the legendary Leonard Bernstein.

According to The Associated Press, Masur is survived by his third wife, Tomoko, a soprano from Japan; and five children, including Ken-David Masur, the San Diego Symphony's associate conductor.

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