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Günter Wand, one of the last torch-bearers of the great Austro-German conducting tradition, has died in Ulmiz, Switzerland, of an unspecified illness, five weeks after his ninetieth birthday.
Born in 1912 in Elberfeld, Germany, he studied composition and piano at the Hochschule für Musik in Cologne prior to cutting his teeth as a conductor in the Rheinland towns of Detmold and Wuppertal. Moving on to the Cologne Opera in 1939, he quickly established himself as a staff conductor to watch and, immediately after the second war, was appointed Music Director at the opera and conductor of the Gurzenich Orchestra.
Cologne was a ferment of new music and ideas after the war and it’s a surprise to generations of music lovers who only encountered Wand in his later years that many works by living composers found their way into his concert programs. Wand was as comfortable conducting Ligeti and Messiaen as he was Beethoven and Mozart during this period.
With age came a deepening interest in the great Austro-German symphonic tradition and Wand gradually shed the contemporary composers in favor of the eighteenth- and nineteenth-century masters. Haydn, Mozart, Schubert, Beethoven and, most notably, Bruckner became his daily bread as a maestro.
Although he was a welcome guest conductor with many orchestras the world over, including the Berlin Philharmonic and Chicago Symphony orchestras, his unwavering insistence on eight rehearsals per concert perhaps curtailed the high-profile, jet-setting conducting careers enjoyed by many of his contemporaries. Ambitions such as conducting at Carnegie Hall were often thwarted by his intransigence on these rehearsal periods.
An irascible individual, prone to storming out of rehearsals, he was nevertheless highly respected by orchestral musicians for insisting upon and maintaining the very highest standards in the long and detailed preparation of a work. Fine recordings, by RCA/BMG in particular, bear testament to the depth of his knowledge and understanding of the classics of the European standard repertoire.
Mon Feb 18 2002 (4:08:08 PM)