Kurt Sanderling

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Erich Honecker and Kurt Sanderling during a concert celebrating the 750th anniversary of the city of Berlin in 1987

Kurt Sanderling, CBE (19 September 1912 – 17 September 2011) was a German conductor. He worked in Germany and the Soviet Union.

Life and work[edit]

Sanderling was born in Arys, Kingdom of Prussia, German Empire (now Orzysz, Poland), to Jewish parents. His early work at the Deutsche Oper Berlin, where he served as repetiteur (rehearsal director) for Wilhelm Furtwängler and Erich Kleiber, was cut short when the Nazi regime removed him from his post because he was Jewish.[1] He then left for the Soviet Union in 1936, where he worked with the Moscow Radio Symphony Orchestra. From 1942 to 1960, he was joint principal conductor with Yevgeny Mravinsky of the Leningrad Philharmonic. As a German refugee with a broad cultural outlook, he grew very close to Dmitri Shostakovich.[2]

Sanderling was a favorite of musicians world over. His easy going conducting manner proved he could get the finest results with orchestras of much lesser calibre. His Brahms and Sibelius cycles are held in highest critical acclaim. Listeners may note a warmth of approach more akin to old world conductors rather than the current "jet-set" style modern interpreters.

He returned to East Germany where he led the Berlin Symphony Orchestra and Dresden Staatskapelle. He made his British debut in 1970. He later became particularly associated with the Philharmonia Orchestra in London starting in January 1980, with a series of performances of the complete Beethoven symphonies at Wembley. The Philharmonia later appointed Sanderling their Conductor Emeritus. He was also Emeritus Conductor of the Madrid Symphony Orchestra.[3]

Sanderling had conducted several major symphony orchestras, including the Los Angeles Philharmonic, who had asked Sanderling to be the permanent conductor of the orchestra, however, Sanderling's commitments made him refuse the offer. Martin Bernheimer praised Sanderling's conducting skills. He announced his retirement from conducting in 2002.[4]

In September 2002, he was appointed a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE).[5]

His recordings include sets of the complete Beethoven symphonies with the Philharmonia Orchestra, and the piano concertos with pianist Mitsuko Uchida, Nos. 3, 4 with the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra and Nos. 1, 2 and 5 with the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra. He was among the first conductors to perform and record Deryck Cooke's completion of Gustav Mahler's 10th symphony, which his friend Berthold Goldschmidt had premiered.[citation needed]

Sanderling died on 17 September 2011, two days before his 99th birthday in Berlin.[2][5][6][7][8]


Sanderling was married twice. His son by his first wife, Nina Bobath, whom he married in 1941, is the conductor Thomas Sanderling. His marriage to his first wife ended in divorce after his return to East Germany in 1960. His second wife was the former Barbara Wagner, a double bassist in the Berlin Symphony Orchestra; they had two sons, the conductor Stefan Sanderling, who in 2002 became music director of the Florida Orchestra, and the cellist/conductor Michael Sanderling.[2][5]


  • 2002: Kurt Sanderling & Ulrich Roloff-Momin: Andere machen Geschichte, ich machte Musik. Parthas, Berlin 2002, 431 pp., ill., discographie, ISBN 3-932529-35-9, (Biography; in German)


  • Seine Liebe zu Brahms. Kurt Sanderling unterrichtet die 4. Sinfonie. (with the Radio-Sinfonieorchester Stuttgart of the SWR) Documentation, 60 Min., a film by Norbert Beilharz, First transmission: 2. November 2003, Inhaltsangabe des SWR (German)


  1. ^ William Grimes, "Kurt Sanderling, Eastern Bloc Conductor, Dies at 98," New York Times, 20 September 2011,| URL=http://www.nytimes.com/2011/09/20/arts/music/kurt-sanderling-eastern-bloc-conductor-dies-at-98.html
  2. ^ a b c Norman Lebrecht: Great conductor dies. Arts Journal, 18 September 2011
  3. ^ "Director Honorífico" (in Spanish). Madrid Symphony Orchestra. Retrieved 17 August 2009. 
  4. ^ "Sanderling" Scena; 3 January 2002
  5. ^ a b c Kurt Sanderling obituary in The Telegraph, 19 September 2011
  6. ^ Mort du chef d'orchestre Kurt Sanderling - Lefigaro.fr (French), 18 September 2011
  7. ^ YOMIURI ONLINE (Japanese), 18 September 2011
  8. ^ Peter Uehling. "Andere machten Geschichte, er machte Musik". Berliner Zeitung. Retrieved 2011-09-21. " gestorben, am Sonnabend, zwei Tage vor seinem 99. Geburtstag" (German), 21 September 2011

External links[edit]

Preceded by
Hermann Hildebrandt
Principal Conductor, Konzerthausorchester Berlin
Succeeded by
Günther Herbig