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A German maestro has died

Gerd Albrecht, who led Hamburg State Opera and the Czech Philharmonic in the 1990s, has died at the age of 78.

A prolific recording artist, Albrecht spent almost his entire career in Germany with the exception of posts at the Zurich Tonhalle and Danish Radio and four years (1993-96) when he was controversially elected chief conductor of the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra and subsequently deposed.

In the introduction to the German edition of my book The Maestro Myth, I reported that Albrecht had won the Czech vote by promising a record contract that he could not deliver. Albrecht applied to have the book banned, but the judicial process never got off the ground after Czech musicians supplied me with the incriminating faxes. In the immediate post-communist confusion, a part of the orchestra had become bedazzled by the prospect of western wealth.

Albrecht’s Wikipedia entry describes his period in Prague as ‘a musical success’. Not many who heard the orchestra in that time would share that conclusion. It was an unhappy period, ending in a bust-up with the President, Vaclav Havel.

Albrecht left behind a deeply divided orchestra. He was invited back for further engagements at the 2004 Salzburg Festival and for a 2006 South America tour. The orchestra has lately reverted to Jiri Belohlavek, the music director whom Albrecht displaced.

From 1997 to 2007, Gerd Albrecht was principal conductor of the Yomiuri Nippon Symphony Orchestra in Tokyo. Since September 2012 he has been musical cirector of the Besançon International Music Festival.

His podium work can be judged on more than 50 recordings, some of them reviving music by Schreker, Korngold and other composers who were banned under the Nazi regime. Albrecht’s father had been an official in that regime.

 

gerd albrecht

 

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Comments

  1. Alexander Hall says:

    No human being is entirely good or bad, so perhaps I can share one of the several – and in this instance entirely positive – concert experiences I had with Albrecht on the podium. Georg Solti was scheduled to perform Haydn’s The Creation with L’Orchestre de Paris and the then New Philharmonia Chorus to celebrate the UK’s accession to the then European Economic Community in an RFH concert in January 1973. A victim to flu, he was replaced by Albrecht. There was clearly a special magic at work between the Chorus and Albrecht – he was later to give several fine opera performances as Generalmusikdirektor at the Hamburg Opera – and I will never forget the quite astonishing crescendo he achieved on the word “ewig” in the great chorus “Der Herr ist groß in seiner Macht/The Lord is great in his might”, rising from a hushed ppp to an ear-popping fff which brought the house down. In a string of live performances of Haydn’s great work I have never heard the treatment of the choruses bettered.

  2. Terribly sad to learn. An underrated conductor. I heard him conduct an outstanding program in the late ’80s or early ’90s in Prage at the Rudolfinum. It was the Czech Philharmonic naturally. RIP.

  3. first hand witness says:

    I will never forget how he got the most hushed ppp sound from the Czech Philharmonic orchestra unlike any other conductor with them. In the rehearsal he simply forced them to play softer and if it wasn’t soft enough for him, he would stop immediately, say nothing but ‘piano’, and start again. Perhaps he didn’t create a friendly environment, but he got results. Unfortunately, I also witnessed a rehearsal that was perhaps during the worst of times with that orchestra where he entered the stage without greeting anyone, did not shake hands, say hello, or make eye contact with even the concertmaster. Without even saying ‘let’s begin with the Schubert 1st movement’ (obviously the orchestra knew what was on the schedule), he just began conducting. The orchestra had not yet even quit their slight warming up, and gradually they caught on to the fact that he had started without them. I attended many of his rehearsals, and was always impressed by the results he got, but he was clearly in the old-school style of conductor who wasn’t there to try to make everyone like him. The new generation seems to think that the conductor must shmooze the players and win them over with a pleasant personality before they will give him any respect. I don’t mean to criticize, but merely point out what I saw.

  4. Apart from the Czech episode that dominates Norman’s report on Albrecht I would like to point to another important aspect of his career which was bringing music to children and young people. Albrecht wrote children’s books and has directed and presented over fifty TV films and recordings for children. I saw many of these in Germany and they are excellent productions ,comparable to Bernstein’s efforts from decades earlier.
    In 1989 he set up the Hamburger Jugendmusikstiftung, a foundation to promote talented young musicians, and was financed by him until his death.It also runs the Klingendes Museum (Museum of Sound) in Hamburg, which is accessed by many thousands of schoolchildren every year. From 2002 onwards the Museum has also been operating in Berlin, with a wide range of music workshops for children and young people as well as family concerts. Sound mobiles in Berlin, Hamburg and Frankfurt, as well as other German cities, are supplying instruments and music teachers into schools and nurseries.

  5. A good man and distinguished artist. He gained my respect, when in his role as chief conductor of the Danish National orchestra (IIRC) on the eve of the 2nd Iraq war he went out on stage and gave a statement of a concerned human against the then blind Danish support of the Bush/Cheney war criminals. It almost cost him his job, his contract ended soon afterwards and he was never asked back. Also the US had an embargo on him since.

    He was one who didn’t bend to the abuse of power and defended his humanist convictions even under threat.
    Rest in peace.

    “…In Copenhagen, the German conductor of the Danish National Radio Symphony Orchestra, Gerd Albrecht, issued an impromptu denunciation of Danish support of the war before a packed concert audience, Agence France-Presse reported.

    “Should musicians stay silent?” Mr. Albrecht said. “The answer is no.” Some audience members cheered him loudly, while others walked out…”

    http://www.nytimes.com/2003/03/21/international/worldspecial/21CND-PROT.html

  6. ruben greenberg says:

    Albrecht was a very, very fine conductor. From what I was told, his problems with the Czech Philharmonic were at least partly due to his not having been Czech. This is what musicians of that orchestra themselves told me.

    • Petros Linardos says:

      Any comments from Czech PO musicians about Ashkenazi and Mackerras not being Czech?

  7. Michael Schaffer says:

    Was the recording contract he promised with Exton/Canyon or with Orfeo (or both)?
    They actually recorded the Bruckner symphonies 4-9 and Schubert 8+9 with Albrecht for that label (I think Exton and Canyon somehow are connected).
    There were also at least half a dozen releases with them on Orfeo, including two albums in the “Musica Rediviva” series with music by persecuted composers such as Ullmann, a complete recording of Dvorak’s “Dimitry” for Supraphon and a world premiere recording of a work by Rihm – all with the CP and Albrecht.
    Not too bad at all for the few years he was actually there.

  8. With apologies for formatting, here is an Albrecht opera discography:

    Berlioz – troyens – Les – Albrecht/Dernesch/Ludwig/Lilowa/Chauvet/Schöne/Ghiuselev – 1976 – live in Vienna – Gala
    Busoni – Arlecchino – Albrecht/Bellamy/Wörle/Lorenz/Pape/Lika – 1992 – Capriccio
    Busoni – Turandot – Albrecht/Plech/Schreckenbach/Protschka/Pape – 1992 – Capriccio
    Dvořák – Armida – Albrecht/Borowska/Ochman/Kříž/Fortune/Daniluk – 1995 – live in Prague – Orfeo
    Dvořák – Devil and Kate (Čert a Káča) – The – Albrecht/Romanko/Breedt/Straka/Mikuláš – 2007 – Orfeo
    Dvořák – Dimitrij – Albrecht/Hajóssyová/Ághová/Vodička/Kusnjer/Mikuláš – 1989 – Supraphon
    Dvořák – Jakobín – Albrecht/Danková/Ághová/Lorenz/Lehotsky/Bronikowski/Stephinger – 2003 – Orfeo
    Dvořák – King and Collier (Král a uhlíř) – Albrecht/Ághová/Breedt/Lehotsky/Schäfer-M/Jenis/Mikuláš – 2005 – live in Cologne – Orfeo
    Dvořák – Vanda – Albrecht/Romanko/Tchistiakova/Breedt/Straka/Kusnjer/Kusnjer/Daniluk – 1999 – Orfeo
    Gurlitt – Soldaten – Albrecht/Müller/Barainsky/Breedt/Harper/Mohr/Burt – 1998 – Orfeo
    Gurlitt – Wozzeck – Albrecht/Lindsley/Wottrich/Wörle/Scharinger/Hermann – 1993 – Crystal
    Halévy – juive – La – Albrecht/Ghazarian/Tokody/Carreras/Merritt/Siepi – 1981 – live in Vienna – abridged – Legato
    Henze – Bassarids – The – Albrecht/Lindsley/Armstrong/Riegel/Tear/Schmidt-A/Murray-W/Burt – 1986 – Koch
    Henze – verratene Meer (Gogo no Eiko) – Das – Albrecht/Midorikawa/Takahashi/Mihara – 2006 – live in Salzburg – Orfeo
    Hindemith – Cardillac – Albrecht/Schweizer/Schunk/Nimsgern/Stamm – 1988 – Wergo
    Hindemith – Mathis der Maler – Albrecht/Rossmanith/Hass/Protschka/Kruse/Hermann/Stamm – 1989 – Wergo
    Hindemith – Mörder – Hoffnung der Frauen – Albrecht/Schnaut/Grundheber – 1986 – Wergo
    Hindemith – Nusch-Nuschi – Das – Albrecht/Schweizer/Lindsley/Sieber/Schreckenbach/Gahmlich/Knutson/Stamm/Halem – 1987 – Wergo
    Hindemith – Sancta Susanna – Albrecht/Donath/Schnaut/Schreckenbach – 1984 – Wergo
    Janáček – Osud – Albrecht/Ághová/Straka – 1995 – live in Prague – Orfeo
    Krenek – Karl V – Albrecht/Jurinac/Ciesinski-Kr/Schwarz/Moser-T/Melchert/Schreier/Adam – 1980 – live in Salzburg – Philips
    Liebermann-R – Freispruch für Medea – Albrecht/Pollet/Spingler/Kowalski/Haugland/Mist – 1995 – live in Hamburg – Musiques Suisses
    Marschner – Hans Heiling – Albrecht/Zeumer/Schröder-Feinen/Gilles/Siukola/Weikl – 1972 – live in Turin – Voce
    Massenet – Thérèse – Albrecht/Baltsa/Araiza/Fortune – 1981 – live in Rome – Orfeo
    Mercadante – giuramento – Il – Albrecht/Bernard/Baltsa/Carreras/Kerns – 1974 – live in Berlin – House of Opera
    Mercadante – giuramento – Il – Albrecht/Zampieri/Baltsa/Domingo/Kerns – 1979 – live in Vienna – Orfeo
    Meyerbeer – africaine – L’ – Albrecht/Brunner/Arroyo/Lamberti/Milnes – 1977 – live in Munich – Myto
    Puccini – Gianni Schicchi – Albrecht/Ghazarian/Lilowa/Ramiro/Berry – 1979 – live in Vienna – Orfeo
    Puccini – Gianni Schicchi – Albrecht/Rossmanith/Dernesch/Ombuena Valls/Duesing – 1995 – Hamburg – V – Encore
    Puccini – Suor Angelica – Albrecht/Lorengar/Meyer – 1979 – live in Vienna – Bella Voce
    Puccini – Suor Angelica – Albrecht/Gallardo-Domâs/Dernesch – 1995 – Hamburg – V – Encore
    Puccini – tabarro – Il – Albrecht/Zschau/Atlantov/Bruson – 1979 – live in Vienna – Bella Voce
    Puccini – tabarro – Il – Albrecht/Daniels/Margison/Grundheber – 1995 – Hamburg – V – Encore
    Reimann – Lear – Albrecht/Varady/Dernesch/Lorand/Knutson/Götz/Holm/Boysen/Fischer-Dieskau/Plöcker – 1978 – live in Munich – DG
    Schnittke – D Johann Fausten – Historia von – Albrecht/Schwarz/Raunig/Büchner/Lorenz-E/Freier – 1995 – live in Hamburg – RCA
    Schoeck – Penthesilea – Albrecht/Gessendorf/Marsh/Dernesch/Lipovšek/Hiestermann/Adam – 1982 – live in Salzburg – Orfeo
    Schönberg – Erwartung – Albrecht/Nielsen – 2003 – Chandos
    Schreker – ferne Klang – Der – Albrecht/Schnaut/Juon/Moser-T/Hermann/Helm/Nimsgern – 1990 – Capriccio
    Schreker – Gezeichneten – Die – Albrecht/Martin-Ja/Riegel/Becht/Adam/Meven – 1984 – live in Salzburg – Orfeo
    Schreker – Schatzgräber – Der – Albrecht/Schnaut/Kruse/Protschka/Haage/Helm/Stamm – 1989 – live in Hamburg – abridged – Capriccio
    Schumann – Genoveva – Albrecht/Faulkner/Behle-R/Lewis-K/Stamm/Titus/Schultz-C – 1992 – live in Hamburg – Orfeo
    Spohr – Jessonda – Albrecht/Studer/Soffel/Moser-T/Hermann/Hölle – 1985 – live in Vienna – Voce
    Spohr – Jessonda – Albrecht/Varady/Behle-R/Moser-T/Fischer-Dieskau/Moll – 1990 – live in Hamburg – abridged – Orfeo
    Spontini – Olimpie – Albrecht/Varady/Toczyska/Tagliavini/Fischer-Dieskau/Fortune – 1984 – Orfeo
    Ullmann – zerbrochene Krug – Der – Albrecht/Barainsky/Breedt/Künzli/Hermann – 1997 – Orfeo
    Wolf – Corregidor – Der – Albrecht/Donath/Soffel/Hollweg/Fischer-Dieskau/Halem – 1985 – Koch Schwann
    Zemlinsky – florentinische Tragödie – Eine – Albrecht/Soffel/Riegel/Sarabia – 1984 – Schwann
    Zemlinsky – König Kandaules – Der – Albrecht/Warren/O’Neal/Pederson – 1996 – live in Hamburg – Capriccio
    Zemlinsky – Traumgörge – Der – Albrecht/Martin-Ja/Protschka – 1988 – Capriccio
    Zemlinsky – Zwerg – Der – Albrecht/Nielsen/Haldas/Riegel/Weller – 1983 – Schwann

    • Missing from your list:
      Zemlinsky – Der Geburtstag Der Infantin – Cheryl Studer /Inga Nielsen/Kenneth Riegel/Beatrice Haldas/Dieter Weller/Olive Fredericks/Marianne Hirsti – 1983(?) – Schwann

      Thank you for the catalogue of recordings.

      • Michael Schaffer says:

        Yes, Albrecht was mainly known for his championship of rare and neglected repertoire, but I hadn’t realized quite how extensive his discography is even just in the field of opera.

      • = Der Zwerg (a great piece). Studer is not a principal.

  9. Victor Medem says:

    One of the most outstanding personalities I have met in my 13 years in the music business. A rebel. Yes, he was edgy, difficult but wise and with great devotion to music. And his immense work for young people and children was completely advanced to his time. Many present educational initiatives were inspired in his work. The Frankfurter Allgemeine has put a great tribute to him todayç: http://www.faz.net/aktuell/feuilleton/nachruf-auf-gerd-albrecht-was-jeden-packen-und-mitreissen-muss-12783274.html
    I was only happy to work with him once and that was with a major tour in Spain in 2012 with Beethoven’s Ninth and Missa solemnis of 8 concerts. I found him very inspirational and intelligent, one of the few people in music business to look up to as a human being.
    RIP, Maestro.

  10. M. Hurshell says:

    I first met him during my studies in Vienna, when – as a member of the Wiener Jeunesse Chor – I sang in a concert production of Busoni’s Faustus. I recall the live radio broadcasts of his Schreker and Zemlinsky operas, among other neglected works. His conducting style was not everyone’s cup of teas (whose is), but he did a lot for verfemte Musik.

  11. Suzana Stefanovic says:

    So sorry. Excellent musician and conductor, promoter of lesser known but good music…I enjoyed his visits to my orchestra, the Spanish RTV, a lot.

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