Telegraph, 15 Feb 2002 [Text only]
GÜNTER WAND, the German conductor who has died aged 90, did not attain international recognition of his extraordinary gifts as an interpreter until he was nearly 70; indeed, most of his career was spent in Cologne and Hamburg, where he was a Kapellmeister in the highest tradition.
Although he made his London debut in 1951, conducting the London Symphony Orchestra in a Beethoven programme at Covent Garden, it was not until 1981, when he conducted the BBC Symphony Orchestra, that he made the kind of impact on the British public and critics that the elderly Klemperer had made 25 years earlier. This appearance led to his appointment for several years as chief guest conductor of the BBC orchestra. His London concerts thereafter became occasions at which one could be confident of encountering the traditional virtues of lucidity, balance and integrity.
In recent years, his visit to the Edinburgh Festival with the North German Radio Orchestra of Hamburg, usually to perform a Bruckner symphony, was the musical climax of the festival. He was especially fond of the Eighth, which he also took to the London Proms on several occasions. Ironically, when he unexpectedly succeeded Klaus Tennstedt as the orchestra's conductor, it was booked for the Festival with Tennstedt. But because at that time no one in Edinburgh had heard of Wand, the booking was cancelled. The Proms invited him instead and enjoyed a triumph, often repeated.
The performance he conducted of Bruckner's Ninth Symphony in the Festival Hall in November 1986 was by common consent held to be one of the greatest in the hall's 35 years of existence. His Schubert Great C major had a momentum and vitality akin to Sir Adrian Boult's in this work, and his interpretations of the Brahms symphonies - fortunately available on discs, like his Schubert - were distinguished by tempi that sound exactly right, and by an inner fieriness that one feels comes direct from the music and not from something alien imposed upon it by the conductor. For Wand, time, space and light were of the essence.
It was, though, in Bruckner that Wand could be heard at his finest, not only in the monumental splendours of the last three symphonies but in the more problematical early examples, such as Nos 1 and 2, where cogency and enthusiasm combined to give a deeply satisfying result. He favoured the editions by Robert Haas.
He recorded all the nine symphonies with the Cologne Radio Symphony Orchestra, preferring to work with radio orchestras because they provided more rehearsal time, and re-recorded most of them with the Berlin Philharmonic or Hamburg orchestras. His style of conducting was unflamboyant, although he did not eschew the occasional expansive gesture. Flashiness, however, was outside his ken.
At the Edinburgh Festival in 2000, he looked almost too frail to reach the podium but, when he got there, unleashed a remarkable Bruckner Eight.
Gunter Wand was born at Elberfeld on January 7 1912. After lessons in Wuppertal and at Cologne University, he studied at Cologne Conservatory and High School for Music under Phillip Jarnach for composition and Paul Baumgartner for piano. He worked as repetiteur and assistant conductor at Wuppertal and Allenstein before becoming chief conductor at Detmold. He was then principally an opera conductor, specialising in Mozart and Verdi.
He was a conductor at Cologne Opera from 1939 until 1944, when the opera house was destroyed. For a year Wand went to Salzburg to conduct the Mozarteum Orchestra, but returned to Cologne in 1945 as music director of the opera. Cologne's population had been reduced by war from nearly half a million to 40,000, and Wand wanted to take part in the revival of the city initiated by his friend Konrad Adenauer.
He now began to study the orchestral repertoire so that from 1946 he could take over the Gurzenich concerts which had once been conducted by Fritz Steinbach. This engagement, on a 10-year contract, was later extended to a life appointment. Wand also joined the teaching staff of Cologne High School for Music, becoming a professor in 1948.
Although Wand's programmes usually had a classical basis (some would say bias), he did not neglect contemporary music. He conducted much Stravinsky and Bartók (he recorded the latter's Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta) and works by the Cologne composer Bernd-Alois Zimmermann. He also conducted works by Messiaen, Varèse and Ligeti. In 1974 he resigned his Cologne posts and went to Switzerland as guest conductor of the Berne Symphony Orchestra. He then began his regular association with the Hamburg Radio Orchestra, becoming its chief conductor in 1982, and with Munich. He was also a composer.
Wand was not the easiest of men to deal with. In his autobiography, Sir John Drummond, who encountered him when he was Edinburgh Festival director and later as Controller of BBC Radio 3, described a visit to the BBC Symphony Orchestra in 1995 when Wand was "frail, short-tempered, and endlessly critical of the orchestra". At dinner at the Hyde Park Hotel after a successful concert, Drummond asked Wand to cheer up and was shouted at for his pains. This, Drummond wrote, was typical of Wand's "Janus-like behaviour - all sweetness and light and `Du, mein lieber Freund' one moment and foul language and boorish behaviour the next".
Wand and his wife lived in Switzerland in recent years.
[Note: A tribute from The Guardian by Sir John Drummond appears at the bottom of this webpage.]
|The 1912 and 1913 Prom seasons
are singled out by historian David Cox as among the finest of this part
of Henry Wood's career. Among those conducting their own works or
hearing Wood conduct them were Strauss, Debussy, Reger, Scriabin,
Rachmaninoff and Schoenberg. Rehearsing Schoenberg's Five Pieces for Orchestra, Wood
urged his players, "Stick to it, gentlemen! This is nothing to what
you'll have to play in 25 years' time". The critic Ernest Newman wrote,
"It is not often that an English audience hisses the music it does not
like, but a good third of the people at Queen's Hall last Tuesday
permitted themselves that luxury after the performance of the five
orchestral pieces of Schoenberg. Another third of the audience was only
not hissing because it was laughing, and the remaining third seemed too
puzzled either to laugh or to hiss; so that on the whole it does not
look as if Schoenberg has so far made many friends in London." The
composer was delighted with the performance and congratulated Wood and
the orchestra warmly, "I must say it was the first time since Gustav
Mahler that I heard such music played again as a musician of culture
demands." Wood programmed the work again in 1914, when it was much more
-- From an article about Henry Wood
|After the war, Dohnányi
studied law in Munich, but in 1948 he transferred to the Hochschule
für Musik und Theater München to study composition, piano and
conducting. At the opera in Munich, he was a stage extra, coached
singers, and was a house pianist. He received the Richard Strauss Prize
from the city of Munich, and then went to Florida State University to
study with his grandfather.
His first position as assistant was at the Frankfurt Opera, appointed by Georg Solti, where he also served as a ballet and opera coach. He was general musical director of the Lübeck Opera from 1957–1963, then Germany's youngest GMD. He also served as chief conductor of the Staatsorchester Kassel and chief conductor of the Westdeutsche Rundfunk Sinfonie Orchester. In 1968 he succeeded Solti as general music director and later 'director' at the Frankfurt opera and served in both capacities until 1977. He took the positions of intendant and chief conductor with the Hamburg Staatsoper in 1977, and relinquished those posts in 1984.
As director of the Frankfurt Opera and with his team including Gerard Mortier (Director of Théâtre de la Monnaie, Brussels, Salzburg Festival, Opéra de Paris), Peter Mario Katona (Director of Casting at ROH Covent Garden) and Klaus Schultz, Dramaturg in Munich (Bayerische Staatsoper) and Berlin (Philharmonic Orchestra), then General Manager of the Stadttheater Aachen, Nationaltheater Mannheim, and Gärtnerplatztheater in Munich, the balance in programming of traditional opera performance and innovative Musiktheater, promoting the idea of Regietheater, established Frankfurt opera as a leading house at that time. He continued this concept in Hamburg.
-- From an article about Christoph von Dohnányi
Volatile conductor who specialised in Bruckner
John Drummond, The Guardian, Friday 15 February 2002 20.46 EST [Text Only]
The German conductor Günter Wand, who has died aged 90, was a latecomer to the music scene in Britain, but in the past two decades he established himself as one of the great interpreters of the 19th-century tradition, impressing most especially in his interpretations of the symphonies of Anton Bruckner.
Though Wand made his British debut as long ago as 1951, it was only on his appointment as chief guest conductor of the BBC Symphony Orchestra in the 1980s that his visits became a regular feature of the London concert season, and were eagerly awaited and highly praised. Yet this late stage told only part of the story.
Born in Elberfeld, he initially studied piano and composition at the Musik Hochschule in Cologne, a city he was to be associated with for much of his career. Beginning as a repetiteur, his early conducting engagements were in Wuppertal and Detmold, until, in 1939, he became a staff conductor at the Cologne Opera, where he worked until it was bombed in 1944. He moved for a year to the Mozarteum in Salzburg, but when the Cologne Opera reopened in 1945, he was appointed music director. In 1946 he became conductor of the Gurzenich Orchestra, the concert-giving element of the Cologne Opera Orchestra, and continued in this role until 1974.
During this time he was much associated with the new music of Varèse, Messiaen, Zimmermann and Ligeti, something which no doubt will come as a surprise to his British fans, who only heard him in a much more traditional repertoire. In this he resembled Otto Klemperer, who had also turned away from the contemporary in his later years. But even after Wand moved to Hamburg in 1981 as conductor of the Nord Deutsche Rundfunk Orchestra, he maintained a much wider range of works in his programmes than he ever offered in Britain. In addition to recordings made with orchestras in Cologne and Hamburg, he recorded commercially with the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.
His association with the BBC was the result of the then controller of music, Robert Ponsonby, checking out the new appointment in Hamburg. The orchestra, under their principal conductor Klaus Tennstedt, had been invited by me to the Edinburgh festival. When Tennstedt suddenly resigned, the management of the orchestra asked for a few weeks' grace to sort the situation out. After they appointed Wand, I felt unable to maintain the invitation since he was so completely unknown here. Ponsonby took the trouble to go to Hamburg to hear him, and the eventual result was the invitation to the BBC and many outstanding concerts.
On succeeding Ponsonby, I, as it were, inherited Wand, whom I had still not met, though I had heard him and been much impressed. At our first meeting he insisted he would only perform Mozart, Schubert, Beethoven and Bruckner (though he did on one occasion conduct Stravinsky's Firebird Suite). I did not find this a problem, since his interpretations of the composers he wanted to concentrate on were both memorable and authoritative.
He insisted on a minimum of eight rehearsals for a standard programme, a luxury that only a broadcasting organisation could afford to offer. His rehearsals were meticulous and much appreciated by the orchestra, who respected him as part of a vanishing tradition. He demanded the highest standards of players and their total concentration, finding it hard to cope with any absences, especially of players he came to know and like, notably the co-leader Bela Dekany.
But with the passing of time, the problems became more worrying. He became extremely reluctant to commit to programmes in advance, and tended to want to change at the last moment. This usually meant the substitution of whatever he had agreed by one of his favourite Bruckner symphonies. In 1995, he refused at the very last moment to conduct a Prom programme of Mozart and Tchaikovsky and insisted on Bruckner's Eighth, the fourth time he had conducted it in five years.
His rehearsals became more irascible, and usually included at least one walk-out with threats never to return. His English was limited, and after the retirement of Bill Relton, the manager, and Dekany, there was no one in the management who spoke good German. This led to misunderstandings and, coupled with increasingly poor health, to frequent cancellations. On one occasion, he cancelled a Prom after the first day's rehearsal, the more galling since he had appeared earlier that week in Edinburgh with his German orchestra.
Though he spoke often of his veneration for Furtwängler, in many ways his behaviour reminded one of Klemperer, outspoken in his contempt for his colleagues, notably those such as Dohnányi or Pritchard who had followed him at the Cologne Opera. He was capable of great kindness and considerable charm, but also of appalling bursts of irrational rage, directed most often at his long-suffering wife. Like Klemperer, he chose to live in London in the Hyde Park Hotel and, since he always ate in the restaurant and liked very expensive wines, complained regularly that his hotel bill was more than his conducting fee.
Despite the challenge of his unpredictable temperament, few conductors of our time have come closer to a deep understanding of either Schubert or Bruckner. Putting up with the insults was almost always worth it in the end.
· Günter Wand, conductor, born January 7 1912; died February 14 2002.
This interview was recorded at his hotel in Chicago on January
23, 1989. Portions
were used (with recordings) on WNIB later that year, and again in
transcription was made and posted on this
website early in 2013.
To see a full list (with links) of interviews which have been transcribed and posted on this website, click here.
Award - winning broadcaster Bruce Duffie was with WNIB, Classical 97 in Chicago from 1975 until its final moment as a classical station in February of 2001. His interviews have also appeared in various magazines and journals since 1980, and he now continues his broadcast series on WNUR-FM, as well as on Contemporary Classical Internet Radio.You are invited to visit his website for more information about his work, including selected transcripts of other interviews, plus a full list of his guests. He would also like to call your attention to the photos and information about his grandfather, who was a pioneer in the automotive field more than a century ago. You may also send him E-Mail with comments, questions and suggestions.