Obituary: Alexander Sander

Elizabeth Forbes
Thursday 19 August 1999 23:02

THE VIENNESE-BORN conductor Alexander Sander built up an extensive operatic repertory during his years as resident conductor in a number of German opera houses, and as a guest conductor in Europe, North America, South Africa and Australia. His wide-ranging sympathies, which embraced classical, Romantic and modern music, allowed him to conduct Mozart, Beethoven and Schoenberg with equal enthusiasm. He made his London debut in 1992 conducting Richard Strauss's Ariadne auf Naxos for English National Opera, where he returned several times, most recently in 1997.

Sander studied piano, conducting and composition at the Vienna University of Music and Performing Arts. In 1956, the Mozart bicentenary year, aged 16, he won first prize in a competition for young composers. Later he studied at the Mozarteum in Salzberg and worked as assistant to Ferdinand Leitner in Stuttgart. He also worked as an assistant to such conductors as Karl Bohm, Herbert von Karajan and Pierre Boulez at the Salzburg and Bayreuth Festivals.

In 1968, Sander conducted the first performance of Jan Smutny's Nocturnal Conversation in Stuttgart. This two-character, one-act opera was part of a festival of Czech music. Two years later he was gaining experience with Rossini's Il barbiere di Siviglia in Frankfurt. In 1974 he conducted Cherubini's Medea at the Vienna State Opera; at Florence in 1978 he conducted Schoenberg's Erwartung. At Hamburg he prepared Schoenberg's Die gluckliche Hand for a rare production.

During the early Eighties Sander worked in Kassel, where he conducted Mozart's Don Giovanni, Puccini's Il tabarro and Gianni Schicchi, and a piece by Lorenzo Ferrero, Marilyn, Scenes from the Fifties in which Paulette Barman gave a clever impersonation of Marilyn Monroe.

In the late Eighties Sander conducted in Pretoria, Johannesburg and Montreal. In the United States he conducted in Baltimore, Cincinnati, Denver, San Francisco, Philadelphia and at the New York City Opera, where in 1995 he conducted Jonathan Miller's production of Der Rosenkavalier, which originated at English National Opera.

After his much-admired debut with ENO conducting Ariadne in 1992, Sander returned in 1994 to conduct Bizet's The Pearl Fishers, which was equally successful; he also reprised Ariadne, in a performance even better received than before.

Sander's last two visits to ENO were both for Mozart operas, The Magic Flute and Cosi fan tutte. The Magic Flute in 1996 was particularly popular, with praise for the conductor's sense of style, his feeling for balance between stage and pit, his ability to hold together an opera liable to fall apart in less expert hands. Later in 1997 Sander conducted Cosi fan tutte in Sydney for Australian Opera. This performance, too, was greatly praised, and Sander had been invited back to Sydney in March next year for Richard Strauss's Capriccio.

Alexander Sander, conductor: born Vienna 10 April 1940; married: died Munich 7 August 1999.

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