Saturday, December 19, 2015

Kurt Masur, for music

My everyday memory of Kurt Masur,
who died in Greenwich the other
day, is based on luminous analog
recordings of Beethoven, meticul-
ously pressed in Japan. But my
primary memory is shared by mil-
lions; and my dearest memory, by
possibly a few hundred San Fran-
ciscans who heard him conduct
Leipzig's Gewandhaus Orchestra,
rather less in front of us than
from within us.

Absolutely no one who lived an-
xiously through the swift demise
of the postwar division of Ger-
many, will forget Masur's exer-
cise of immense cultural pres-
tige as director of the Gewand-
haus, in demanding humane treat-
ment of East German citizens
then assembling for their free-
dom; in his patient call for dia-
logue, between the belatedly col-
lapsing government, and a people
he participated in leading from
unimaginable imprisonments.

But there was nothing in this
public intervention, that bore
an element unembodied in the
stupefying warmth of tone he
extracted from this Orchestra.
We loved that instrument, and 
we drew our own hopes from it. 
It is one of the intricately
accidental evolutions of German
culture, and has been one of its
most exacting proving grounds,
since before Félix Mendelssohn
undertook its leadership, as an 
assimilated Jew.

Who can be surprised to know,
he was responsible for the re-
invigoration of the New York
Philharmonic? Who can wonder,
that his guest conducting vis-
its to San Francisco were in-
stantly sold out? 

After conducting the Gewand-
haus that night in San Fran-
cisco, Kurt Masur unaccount-
ably found himself not seized
by one of the city's aggres-
sive hostesses, and strolled
across the street to a little
pizzeria called, Spuntino. I
could not believe my eyes as
he strode in with 2 or 3 as-
sociates, to stand in line to
order an after-concert bite 
to eat. I could not resist 
requesting his autograph. 

You know it well - the swirl-
ing, weeping fog that late; 
yellow, looming lamps of elec-
tric buses, the silence of the
cruising Jags, the belches of
the Porsches. Guys in baseball 
collars, watching limo's doub-
le-park. But, too, a tautening 
line of music, in chills that 
shouldn't soothe, but are our
beaker of refreshment, beneath
lights that flicker on.

Like a kid at the ball park, 
I shivered to offer thanks.
I don't recall that I slept
that night, and I'm sure, I
didn't mind.

Jack Hurrell

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