Gerd Albrecht: Conductor who became a champion of new music but found himself under fire in the Czech Republic

 

Gerd Albrecht was a German conductor who led orchestras in the Czech Republic, Japan and Denmark and worked to bring music to children. He was a champion in particular of contemporary music, notably the works of Krzysztof Penderecki and Gyorgy Ligeti.

He served as general music director at the Hamburg State Opera from 1988-97, and also served a controversial stint as the first foreign principal conductor of the Czech Philharmonic. He led the Czech orchestra from 1993 until he resigned in 1996, blaming "political narrow-mindedness" following a dispute that underscored lingering tensions in Czech-German relations. In 1994, the Czech Philharmonic was invited to perform at the Vatican, but under the American conductor Gilbert Levine. Albrecht vetoed the engagement, ostensibly because the orchestra was too busy, though many suspected the real reason was that Albrecht was not invited to conduct the concert himself.

He had been appointed to help the orchestra achieve international acclaim, which he did, but many Czechs bristled at the idea of a foreigner, especially a German, heading a symbol of national pride. Albrecht complained to German media about his working conditions and accused Czech leaders of not showing enough support for his work.

Albrecht also served as principal conductor of the Tokyo-based Yomiuri Nippon Symphony Orchestra from 1997 to 2007 and led the Danish Radio Symphony Orchestra from 2000 to 2004. He also wrote books for children and set up a foundation to help talented young musicians. He opened a Museum of Sound in Hamburg and launched a mobile music bus that travelled to schools.

Gerd Albrecht, conductor: born Essen 19 July 1935; died Berlin 2 February 2014.

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