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In Memoriam: Kurt Masur

Posted December 19, 2015

The New York Philharmonic deeply mourns the loss of our inspiring and dedicated Music Director Emeritus Kurt Masur (Music Director, 1991–2002), who passed away on December 19, 2015.

Maestro Masur’s dedication to expressing humanism through music was most vivid 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. Masur’s Philharmonic tenure began earlier than expected, when he stepped in to conduct Mendelssohn’s Elijah following the sudden death of Leonard Bernstein. Over the next 11 seasons, Masur hired 42 Philharmonic musicians; led the Orchestra on 17 tours around the world, traveling to 75 cities in 30 countries, including the first-ever Philharmonic concerts in mainland China; and expanded the Philharmonic’s education programs.

Highlights of his tenure included profound performances of oratorios by Bach and Mendelssohn, his predecessors as Kappellmeister of the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra, and Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony on the U.N.’s 50th anniversary and the turn of the millennium; overseeing the four-season American Classics initiative; introducing a longstanding collaboration with Wynton Marsalis and Jazz at Lincoln Center; symphonic cycles of Brahms and Beethoven; and the commissions and premieres of 43 works, including the Messages for the Millennium. Masur presided over the Orchestra’s return to the radio and the creation of its own recording label, principally to release performances preserved in the Archives, and he conducted 32 live concert recordings released on Teldec Classics. New Yorkers still experience Masur’s humanist mark through the popular Annual Free Memorial Day Concert, which he introduced. From his 1981 debut until his last appearance in 2012, Maestro Masur led the Philharmonic in 909 performances.

New York Philharmonic Music Director Alan Gilbert said: “Kurt 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. 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. I will always be grateful for the support he gave me starting long ago when I was a student. I will miss him deeply.”

The December 19, 2015, performance of Handel’s Messiah is dedicated to Kurt Masur, in honor of the late conductor and friend of the Philharmonic. 

Join us in remembering Kurt Masur through these images that chronicle his tenure with the New York Philharmonic.