New York Philharmonic: Kurt Masur Conducts Brahms
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The last date listed for Masur Conducts Brahms was Saturday November 17, 2012 / 8:00pm.
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Kurt Masur is well known to orchestras and audiences alike as both a distinguished conductor and a humanist. In September 2002 he became music director of the Orchestre National de France in Paris, and, in September 2008, became that ensemble’s honorary music director for life. From September 2000 to 2007 he was principal conductor of the London Philharmonic Orchestra. From 1991 to 2002 he was Music Director of the New York Philharmonic, and was subsequently named Music Director Emeritus — the first New York Philharmonic music director to receive that title, and only the second (after Leonard Bernstein, who had been named Laureate Conductor) to be so recognized. The New York Philharmonic established the Kurt Masur Fund for the Orchestra, which endows a conductor debut week at the Philharmonic in his honor in perpetuity. From 1970 until 1996 Mr. Masur served as Gewandhaus Kapellmeister of the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra, a position of profound historic importance; upon his retirement in 1996 the Gewandhaus named him its first-ever conductor laureate. Mr. Masur is a guest conductor with the world’s leading orchestras and holds the lifetime title of honorary guest conductor of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra. In July 2007 he celebrated his 80th birthday in a concert at the BBC Proms in London, where he conducted the joint forces of the London Philharmonic Orchestra and the Orchestre National de France.
A professor at the Leipzig Academy of Music since 1975, Kurt Masur has received numerous honors, including the Cross of the Order of Merits of the Federal Republic of Germany (1995); Gold Medal of Honor for Music from the National Arts Club (1996); the titles of Commander of the Legion of Honor from the French Government, and of New York City Cultural Ambassador from the City of New York (1997); and the Commander Cross of Merit of the Polish Republic (1999). In March 2002 the President of the Federal Republic of Germany, Johannes Rau, bestowed upon him the Cross with Star of the Order of Merits of the Federal Republic of Germany, and in September 2007 he received the Great Cross of the Legion of Honor with Star and Ribbon from the President of Germany, Horst Köhler.
In September 2008 Mr. Masur received the Furtwängler Prize in Bonn, Germany. He is also an honorary citizen of his hometown, Brieg. He has made more than 100 recordings with numerous orchestras, and in 2008 celebrated 60 years as a professional conductor.
Concerto for Violin and Cello, Op. 102, “Double Concerto” (1887)
The Double Concerto was Johannes Brahms’s last concerto and his last orchestral work. It was also a kind of “peace offering”… salve for a wounded 30-year friendship. When the composer’s great friend, collaborator, and musical advisor, violinist Joseph Joachim — after years of suspecting his wife, contralto Amalie Spies, of infidelity — filed for divorce, Brahms took Amalie’s side in a letter of support. Construing this as an act of betrayal, Joachim broke with Brahms. They did not speak for years, despite Brahms’s several attempts to communicate with Joachim. But finally, in 1887, Brahms composed this noble “double” concerto and offered it to Joachim as an act of reconciliation, and inscribed it: “To him for whom it was written: Joseph Joachim.” The catalogue of Brahms’s concertos is slim: two piano concertos, one violin concerto, and the present “Double Concerto.” He never composed a cello concerto, and cellists wistfully speculate about what might have been. Writing a concerto in which two or more strong (and sometimes quite distinct) instrumental personalities are in play was a technical challenge not undertaken by many composers before Brahms (the combination of violin and cello had never been attempted). And in typical Brahmsian fashion, the composer made deprecating remarks about his piece, calling it a “folly.” He wrote to Clara Schumann: “It is a very different matter writing for instruments whose nature and sound one only has a chance acquaintance with, or only hears in one’s mind, from writing for an instrument that one knows as thoroughly as I know the piano.” But hearing this titanic work gives the lie to this worry. Joachim and the renowned cellist Robert Hausmann were the soloists in the premiere of this symbolic musical give-and-take between friends, in which drama, lyricism, and emotional capital abound. As for the peace offering? Joachim apparently accepted it.
Symphony No. 2 (1877)
While it took Johannes Brahms until age 42 to write his dramatic First Symphony, his genial Second was completed just a few months later. He himself called it “cheerful and sweet,” and others have referred to it as his “Pastoral” symphony (though Brahms teasingly previewed it to his publisher in quite another vein: “The new symphony is so melancholy that you won’t be able to stand it. I have never before written anything so sad and mournful. The score will have to be published with a black border.”) His creative process must have been aided by the congenial surroundings of small-town Pörtschach on Lake Wörth in the Austrian Alps, where, the composer wrote in a letter to Clara Schumann, “Melodies are flying so fast that you need to watch that you don’t step on any of them.” A simple motif of three notes, D, C-sharp, D, stated at the beginning, is developed and put through its paces throughout the four movements. In fact, the beginning of the fourth movement, Allegro con spirito, uses the identical motif — though at a different tempo. But the symphony isn’t all sweetness and light. There are mood shifts aplenty, as well as changes from major to minor mode, and the finale drives the symphony home with brasses ablaze and joy all around. At the Vienna Philharmonic premiere, led by the legendary Hans Richter, the audience demanded an immediate repeat of the lovely, dance-like third movement. The usually curmudgeonly critic Eduard Hanslick declared it a “great, unqualified success.”