OBITUARY : Max Rudolf

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The Independent Online
Max Rudolf, the German-born, naturalised American conductor who worked for 15 seasons at the Metropolitan Opera, New York, wielded an influence extending far beyond that of orchestral conductor. As assistant manager to Rudolf Bing, he was responsible for many artistic and administrative decisions on the engagement of singers and conductors, acting as adviser to Bing who, in his early years at the Met, relied heavily on his assistant. As an opera conductor, Rudolf specialised in Mozart and Richard Strauss. He was also a fine teacher: James Levine, the Met's present music director, studied conducting with him, thus stretching Rudolf's connection with the Met down to the present day.

Max Rudolf was born in Frankfurt am Main in 1902. He began musical studies there at the age of seven, learning the piano, organ, cello and trumpet. He also studied composition with Bernhard Sekler and had some of his chamber music performed. His first engagement, in 1923, was as assistant conductor at the Stdtische Theater, Freiburg. Later the same year he went to the Hessisches Staatstheater in Darmstadt as second conductor. Rudolf's years in Darmstadt were of crucial importance in his career.

There he learnt the operatic repertory and gained invaluable experience in all branches of theatrical and musical technique. In 1927 the conductor Karl Bhm became general music director and in 1928 Darmstadt acquired a new general manager, the actor and theatre director Carl Ebert. As, in those days, Ebert knew little about opera, he engaged as assistant, a young man then working as an agent in Vienna: Rudolf Bing. Though Rudolf left Darmstadt the next year, to become principal conductor at the German Theatre in Prague, the link with Bing was already forged.

Rudolf stayed in Prague for six years; then, as the Nazi menace began to spread throughout Central Europe, he moved to Sweden where he worked as an orchestral conductor in Gothenburg until, in 1940, he left Europe for the United States. After teaching in Chicago for some years, in 1944 he came to New York as conductor of the New Opera Company. The following year he was engaged as assistant conductor at the Metropolitan. Life back- stage at the old Met was a precarious existence. As Rudolf wrote later: "We were responsible for literally everything behind the scenes that needed synchronisation with the music. Co-ordination with the orchestra had to be achieved by ear, or by watching the conductor through small holes in the scenery."

Rudolf made his conducting debut at the Met in Der Rosenkavalier in March 1946. The same year he became an American citizen. When Bing was appointed General Manager of the Metropolitan in 1950, among his first actions was the appointment of Rudolf as his artistic administrator. Although Rudolf continued to conduct - he took over Tannhuser from George Szell in the 1953-54 season - his main duties were as Bing's assistant. "I could ask him how something worked," Bing wrote in 5000 Nights at the Opera (1972), "for example, the system for hiring and training `supers', the spear-carriers some operas need - and he could tell me." Bing also relied on Rudolf for his musical opinions.

Rudolf remained at the Metropolitan until 1958, when he left to become music director of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, a post he held for 12 years. From 1963 to 1970 he was also director of the Cincinnati May Festival, the second oldest (after Worcester) of all the US music festivals. In 1970 Rudolf moved to the Curtis Institute of Music, in Philadelphia, where he was head of the conducting and opera departments, the latter newly formed under his guidance. During his three years at the Curtis he conducted several very successful opera productions, including Britten's The Rape of Lucretia and Strauss's Ariadne auf Naxos, in which the orchestral playing of the students was particularly admired. He returned for two seasons, 1973-75, to the Met, where in 1974 he conducted Don Giovanni. Later, he conducted freelance with various American orchestras.

Rudolf wrote a highly praised and widely used textbook, The Grammar of Conducting (1950), which was reprinted in 1980. His recordings, which include Hansel and Gretel and selections from The Merry Widow, both sung in English, also feature a fine Madama Butterfly, recorded in 1949, with a superb Metropolitan cast: Eleanor Steber, Richard Tucker, Jean Madeira and Giuseppe Valdengo.

Rudolf, one of the last surviving conductors in the German Kapellmeister tradition, could turn his hand to anything.

Max Rudolf, conductor: born Frankfurt am Main 15 June 1902; Conductor, Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra 1958-70; Head, Opera Department, Curtis Institute, Philadelphia 1970-86; married (one son, one daughter); died Philadelphia 1 March 1995.