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Wolfgang Sawallisch

Wolfgang Sawallisch

Sad to note the passing of Wolfgang Sawallisch, who was the conductor of the Philadelphia Orchestra for most of the 1990s.

From the nytimes obituary for Maestro Sawallisch:

Mr. Sawallisch embodied the German type of the “Kapellmeister” in the best sense: a man steeped in music, who knew every note of every score he conducted (often from memory), who was a supportive accompanist as well as an informed interpreter and who understood how to train, develop and lead an orchestra.

In part because his specialties were the so-called classics, from Haydn and Mozart through Schumann to Wagner, Bruckner and Strauss, he was sometimes labeled conservative or even dull, descriptions his performances belied. Never flashy, even somewhat understated, he was, at his best, insightful and illuminating.

While Mr. Sawallisch was renowned throughout Europe, he might have remained little known to American audiences had the Philadelphia Orchestra not tapped him to take over as music director in 1993. When he arrived at age 70, he underwent a veritable renaissance, evidently enjoying a new freedom, both artistic and political — far from the political squabbling that had increasingly overshadowed his last years in Munich.

“The last 10 years, with the Philadelphia Orchestra,” he said in 2006, “were really the top years of my symphonic life.”

And the Philadelphia Inquirer's obituary:

"Stokowski was the most charismatic conductor I ever played under, but Sawallisch was the most musical," said violinist Morris Shulik, who died in 2001. "In my opinion, Wolfgang Sawallisch is the best conductor we ever had."

Asked with whom she'd love to work again - of all conductors living or dead - soprano Elisabeth Schwarzkopf named Mr. Sawallisch: "It's as if you're [making music] in private. A wonderful sensation."

Though Mr. Sawallisch was justly credited with restoring the famous "Philadelphia sound," he demanded playing more transparent than Eugene Ormandy's velvety ideal and discarded the razor-sharp edge Muti had sought. He inspired unquestioning admiration from the orchestra and guest soloists for his single-minded pursuit of his own sound, his musicality, absolute rhythmic security, and elegant conducting technique that stood with James Levine's and Lorin Maazel's as the most perfect of our time.

Mr. Sawallisch had come to Philadelphia after tiring of infighting and turmoil at the Bavarian State Opera, and no sooner did he set up house on Rittenhouse Square than drama on his new job began.

The orchestra's deficits mounted. Fund-raising for its new hall sapped time, energy, and money from other projects. In 1996 came word that EMI, its longtime recording partner, was dropping the orchestra, and by fall, musicians were on strike, a noisy dispute that lasted 64 days.