Conductor Kurt Sanderling has died, two days before his 99th birthday
Kurt Sanderling, once hailed as “the world’s greatest conductor,”
died yesterday, September 17, just two days before he would have celebrated his 99th birthday.
Born in East Prussia to Jewish parents on 19 September 1912, Sanderling began his professional career in 1931 as a répétiteur at the Berlin State Opera (now the Deutsche Opera) but was dismissed two years later as a “non Aryan” when the Nazis swept to power.
In 1936 he moved to Russia to work with the Moscow Radio Symphony Orchestra in 1936. For the best part of two decades he served as joint principal conductor of the Leningrad Philharmonic alongside Yevgeny Mravinsky. In Russia he encountered the music of the then-discredited Dmitri Shostakovich, with which he would become particularly associated, championing it while conducting in the Ukrainian city of Kharkov, and later in the West.
He returned to Germany in 1960 to lead the Berlin Symphony Orchestra, then locked in East Berlin as the Communist-funded competitor to the glamorous Karajan/Berlin Philharmonic partnership in the city’s Western sector. He stayed for 17 years, the last four of which also saw him at the helm of the Staatskapelle Dresden.
He enjoyed productive relationships with the Philharmonia Orchestra in London (who later appointed him as its Conductor Emeritus, his acclaimed 1981 recording of the complete Beethoven symphonies with them now available on Naxos Classics), the Los Angeles Philharmonic and the Madrid Symphony Orchestra.
He kept conducting well into later life, announcing his retirement only in 2002 on the eve of his 90th birthday, after more than seven decades on the podium.
Among his other key recordings are the complete Beethoven piano concertos with Mitsuko Uchida, the Royal Concertgebouw and Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestras (Philips); a Brahms symphony cycle (RCA); Shostakovich’s 15th Symphony with the Cleveland Orchestra (Erato); and a vital account of Deryck Cooke’s completion of Mahler’s Tenth Symphony (Berlin Classics).
A 16-disc set, Kurt Sanderling, Legendary Recordings, featuring largely early recordings, is available on Berlin Classics, and includes performances with the Berlin Symphony, Staatskapelle Dresden, Leipzig Gewandhaus.
A five-disc Harmonia Mundi set features Sanderling conducting works by Shostakovich and Prokofiev with the Berlin Symphony Orchestra.
All three of his sons – Michael, Stefan and Thomas – have established careers as conductors.