Kurt Masur, 88, a renowned conductor who led the New York Philharmonic for 11 years and played a crucial peacemaking role in the weeks before the collapse of communism and the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, died Saturday at a hospital in Greenwich, Conn. He had complications from Parkinson's disease, the New York Philharmonic said in a statement.
Mr. Masur spent much of his career in communist-controlled East Germany, gaining international renown as music director of Leipzig's Gewandhaus Orchestra.
He took over the orchestra in 1970 and built it into an ensemble of impeccable precision, known especially for its refined string sections. The orchestra recorded on major international labels, and Mr. Masur also led a music school in Leipzig and taught courses in conducting.
Mr. Masur made guest appearances with orchestras in Chicago, Cleveland, and Boston. He became principal guest conductor of the Dallas Symphony in the late 1970s but maintained his allegiance to the Gewandhaus. Over time, he became one of the most recognizable and respected figures in Leipzig.
As a pro-democracy movement gathered strength in 1989, Leipzig became a center of resistance to the communist regime. After witnessing the violent arrests of demonstrators, Mr. Masur went on West German television and declared, "I am ashamed."
On Oct. 9, 1989, Leipzig's streets filled with thousands of protesters. Armed with the moral authority of his leadership of the Gewandhaus, Mr. Masur convened a meeting of dissidents, musicians, and communist officials to draft a statement calling for nonviolence.
Against the orders of national authorities, the local police commander ordered his officers to withdraw. Mr. Masur went on Leipzig radio stations, pleading for restraint. He was immediately seen as a calming force at a crucial moment.
One month later, the Berlin Wall came down, as East Germany's communist government crumbled in a bloodless revolution after four decades. - Washington Post